Interlude: Taking the Ring

Debinani Rahl whipped the speeder around violently, barely missing Paemos in the ion wash, and fired off into the mountains of Dathomir at a blinding pace.

“I still don’t understand why I’m being forced to tolerate these fools,” he growled at his passenger who hadn’t been there a moment before. She stretched languorously, her silk shift clinging to her body, jet black hair flowing in a wind that almost, but not quite, matched that which was whipping past the open-air cabin of the speeder. She shifted in her seat so she could lay her small feet in his lap against his groin.

“I would love to be here in person to oversee your training, dear heart,” she said quietly, yet he heard her clearly over the noise of the wind,” but my presence would attract unwanted attention. We just have to do it the hard way.”

“Palpatine.”

She nodded. “Most notably – amongst a small handful of others, yes.”

He sighed and continued driving, trying to ignore the warmth of her feet against his groin and her sweet, earthy scent.

“Faster,” she cooed with a devilish grin.

“You’re kidding right? I’ll be scattered all over this cursed rock.”

She shifted in the seat, tucking her legs under her – he couldn’t help but feeling it was a form of punishment for questioning her.

“Stop paying attention to what’s in front of you – your eyes already see that – pay attention to what’s beyond what is in front of you. Stretch out.”

He did, and felt the now-familiar yet unnerving sensation of something deep within himself cooling, going dark. He sensed the presence of the trees, the rock, the miscellaneous fauna, for hundreds of meters in every direction. He increased the throttle of the powerful vehicle to its maximum – something he would normally be hesitant to do in the Tatooine Dune Sea much less the craggy nightmare of Dathomir.

“Good,” she whispered, reaching across and tracing the edge of his ear with her cool finger, “now, a few kilometers ahead there’s a small camp.”

“Yes,” he said coolly. “Five of them, warrior priests from Arilon.”

“Veeery good, my love, you’re coming along nicely. See? I told you that you could learn all this yourself”

“I’m having difficulty with them though…it’s like…like they’re trying to hide.”

“Yes,” she said, her voice darkening a bit, “but that’s no fault of yours, I’m amazed you can feel them at all. They worship our enemy – and they’ve come a very, very long way looking for you.”

“Me?”

“Not you specifically. They’re hunting for my chief emissary in this part of the galaxy – they think they’re looking for Lieutenant Garin-“

“They don’t know he died on Arkazi.”

“Correct. Either way, they’re going to make pests of themselves, they need to be disposed of.”

He nodded and shifted the course of the speeder slightly as it hurtled through the crags and valleys. He altered his approach to the camp slightly at the last minute and caught their lone sentry searching the murk for sign of his approaching speeder, driving the AV-21 through and over the priest with a messy thud. When the speeder broke the tree-line into the small camp, he kicked the throttle down to zero, using the devastating inertia to flip himself out of the vehicle and into the middle of the four men – who it would seem had just sat down for a meal.

His armored feet came down square in one man’s lap, crushing his legs and groin, and in the same motion he allowed his own legs to crumple so he fell into a roll, coming up in front of another priest frozen in shock as his head was nearly severed by the attacker’s vibroknuckler. A swift kick to the temple crumpled a third. The fourth man stood his ground with a small fencing sword, appearing a little pale as he faced down gore-covered mercenary amid the screams of his companion with the crushed groin. The Colonel casually pulled out a small blaster and shot the man in the face. He approached the whimpering survivor and sank into a crouch.

“Aluviel protect me, Aluviel guide me, Aluviel embrace my spirit and defend me from darkness…” the man droned in a pained whimper.

“Not this time, mate,” he said, and performed The Rites.

When he returned to the speeder, idly taking note of the bloody disaster the sentry had made of the input manifolds, he found Her in the passenger seat, breathing heavy, her back arched as she fondled herself through her shift.

“I am soooo going to enjoy your tenure in command of my Company,” she purred ecstatically, “what wondrous things we will do together.”

He snorted softly as he climbed into the speeder and shot off into the night, carrying himself and his Goddess back to civilization.

——————————-

The TIE Oppressor roared down through the clouds of Dantooine, its pilot having performed the approach so many times he could do it in his sleep – which was lucky because he was very nearly falling asleep in the pilot’s couch.

“Rose One, IS-984 Control,” crackled the comms, jerking the man awake, “we have you on approach and you’re cleared for retrieval – call the ball.”

“IS-984, Rose One,” the man responded, “I have the ball, approaching 275, speed 490.”

The heavy fighter flew towards the Imperial garrison in a path to overshoot and as it passed over the pad was gently plucked out of the air by the garrison’s tractor beam. The pilot throttled down as the tractor pulled his craft into a waiting rack, which then proceeded to carry the vessel into the garrison’s underground docking facility.

“IS-984, Rose One, interlocks secure, fire control locked, throttle to safe, signing off.”

“Rose One, IS-984 confirmed, you’re off the board. Welcome home, Colonel.”

He closed his eyes for a moment as he waited for the docking arm to move him into his berth, trying to capture a few moments of rest before he had to face the world again.

In the strange netherworld between wakefulness and sleep, he suddenly felt warm, and he was surprised how foreign it felt after the months of the chill of working to channel Kishara’s power. His darkened cockpit suddenly seemed flooded with white light.

“Deb…Deb I need you to pay attention…,” came the voice. It was a woman’s voice, a warm alto, and sounded like the speaker was alarmed but trying to keep calm for the sake of others. “You need to listen to me – this is very likely my last chance to speak with you. You must not take the ring. Do you understand me? You are the first – the first commander of the Rose who has served any length of time without it – the first one in the centuries since Stephan’s Betrayal – this may be your company’s only chance.”

“Only chance for what?” he mumbled groggily.

“To be free of Her you bullheaded old coot! You are a slave and you know it, if you take it you will be Hers for the rest of your life – which I might add will be unnaturally long, cold, lonely and miserable – at least until you stop entertaining Her.”

“The ring is the mark of my station…it’s mine by right.”

He swore in his dream-like state that he heard the voice sigh in frustration.

“Nothing is worth your soul, soldier,” the voice said quietly.

“My soul is already Hers,” he responded with an inner grin, “may as well get the power and the perks for the trade.”

The voice grew cold.

“So be it-”

The voice was cut off as he was jerked awake by the fighter bouncing down against the hard-plate of the dock and Debinani Rahl found himself alone in the dark.

——————————-

He sat beneath the twisted tree, next to the corpse of the leader of the Sith Shadows. The others who had come with him were cheering, dressing their wounds, kicking the bodies, and all the other things men do when they are victorious in battle. He felt Her kiss the back of his neck, then tug at his earlobe with Her teeth, but he didn’t turn around.

“It’s time to go back,” She whispered.

“Back where?” he responded.

“To the beginning.”

——————————-

On Arkazi 2, the winds blew harsher than ever before.

As if it were a final act of revenge for the slaughter of her crew, the crash of Khevoran’s Pride in the southern wastes of the planet had created a valley twenty kilometers long and over three hundred meters deep, irradiating an area of over ten thousand square kilometers, and ejecting millions of tons of weapons coolant, reactor fuel, dust, ash, and other debris into the atmosphere – utterly devastating the already barely-inhabitable environment of Arkazi 2. Most of the native inhabitants had retreated to underground bunkers or left the planet entirely. Their Ri’Cha allies thought it felt a lot like home – which was probably their intent from the very start, much to the increasing chagrin of the newly-formed People’s Governance of Arkazi.

At the site of the wreckage, a tiny outpost was built to guard the thing against looters until the government found the time and the resources to loot the bones of the feared battleship themselves. The fires that had been burning in the wreckage for over two years cast surreal shadows against the tiny plastisteel hut and the relatively large and deadly-looking Ri’Cha interceptor parked outside, whose pilot, bored with her CAP around the crash site, had decided to drop in on the two young men assigned to stand watch over the deadliest spot on the planet for a diversion.

The Ri’Cha were a small race of avians – their bodies slight and their gossamer wings impossibly frail – and the females tended to produce a natural musk that drove most humanoids into fits passion. This musk was so infamous in surrounding sectors of the Outer Rim that most planets never allowed Ri’Cha anywhere near their populace unless they were wearing sealed encounter suits that masked the pheromone. The two young Arkazi men who manned the outpost had never seen a Ri’Cha female, much less one who cast aside her encounter suit (and undergarments) upon fluttering through the radiation lock – one of them had never even kissed a female before this night, which found the three in a squirming and moaning pile on the floor of the hut and not, as their superiors would hope, intercepting or indeed noticing the Imperial Decimator gunboat coming to rest next to the fighter outside. A lone occupant emerged and stopped long enough to take note of a silhouette of Kevoran’s Pride stenciled beneath the canopy of the fighter.

A disruptor bolt blew in both doors of the radiation lock of the small hut, instantly irradiating the two men with a fatal dose of the ‘Pride’s secondary plasma reactor coolant, leaking from a ruptured conduit in the wreckage a few hundred yards away – though they didn’t, of course, realize it at the time, nor would they live long enough to find out. The Ri’Cha pilot screamed in pain and terror and the rush of superheated air shriveled her fragile wings in an instant. The three shocked, naked figures huddled together against the wall as a man strode through the remains of the doors, his black robes swirling in the howling wind. He, also, was unprotected from the heat and radiation, but it didn’t seem to be affecting him, nor did he particularly seem to care even if it was.

Without any ado whatsoever the intruder shot and killed both men before discarding his disruptor rifle, causing their bodies to pin the whimpering Ri’Cha woman against the wall. He strode over to her, lifted her from the floor and pushed her against the wall with a low growl. She saw the cold blackness of his eyes, felt his cool breath against her face even through the superheated howl of the wind rushing into the hut, and then she saw the pin on his lapel – an archaic sword entwined by a black rose – and she screamed.

For hours, she screamed.

The robed figure walked through the fire and debris for several hours before finding the remains of the ‘Pride’s bridge, which had survived the battleship’s fiery descent relatively intact. The Commander’s Chair wasn’t where it should be and was instead pinned against the back wall of the compartment by a sizable piece of an un-detonated Ri’Cha missile which has apparently found its way through the bridge viewport and right into the center seat and its occupant. The man couldn’t help but whistle appreciatively at the marksmanship even as he removed bits of debris from the charred and desiccated remains of his Commander.

He reverently removed a gold ring inset with a smoky-white gem from the fingers of the corpse before laying his hand on the skull.

“My Lady,” the man whispered into the wind, “take this soul of Your loyal servant as Your own; use his strength to weaken the chains that bind You; may his sacrifice free You from Your prison to once again walk among us as our Savior.”

Upon completing The Rites, the corpse of the Commander seemed to lose what little had remained holding it together, and fell to dust.

“Put it on,” she said.

He turned around and found her, utterly naked this time, sprawled quite unabashedly across what was left of the weapons control console. She sat upright, her legs spread, bosom thrust out, a look of unnatural need across her face.

“It’s time for you to join me, Commander, it’s time for you to bring all that was lost back into my gaze.”

He strode over to Her and held the ring up between their faces, she nearly gasped in anticipation.

“You should put some clothes on,” he said darkly, “I’m old enough to be your grandfather.”

She smiled coyly and gave his shoulder a playful shove.

“You know full well how old I am,” she said, her voice fading from playful into demanding, “now put…it…on.”

He sighed slightly and nodded.

“I take this ring,” he chanted,” a symbol of my station as Commander of The Sackcloth Rose, and join the line of Talh’Mearis in a life of service to The Lady of Tablenhelm.”

He placed the ring upon his finger.

The black flecks of Her power which had been swirling in his eyes became as fierce as a black hole, until the orbs were entirely dark.

At once, thousands of years of Ringwiedlers flooded into his consciousness, the Commander he had known, his predecessor, Stephan the Betrayer, others whose names he could barely pronounce, all of which pebbles compared to the landslide of consciousness that was Tor’Ellian Er-Evandrel Tahl’Mearis, The Lady’s lover and the first to bear Her ring. The man’s sheer brilliance, experience, and malice flowed over him and through him, and with it came a power the likes of which he had never imagined. Finally, there was an instant when he saw Her – dark and terrible and merciless, just moments younger than time itself, chained for millennia to a black throne with her dead, lifeless eyes staring out a window to a misty, murky sea – and he knew a kind of terror and horror that shook him to his core.

The last warmth of his soul became extinguished by the cold tide.

His consciousness was pulled back to his immediate surroundings by Her passionate, desperate kisses.

“Oh my love,” she breathed, “it has been far too long.”

He tried to enjoy (or rather, allow the part of him that was now Tahl’Mearis enjoy) the embrace for a few confused, terrified moments before pulling away from her, shivering with the cold of death, trying to retain his focus on protecting himself from the heat and radiation.

“This is not the place for reunions,” he said.

“Of course not,” she giggled, wriggling against the cold steel of the console, “we have much to do now, yes, much to do.”

She hopped off the console and took his arm, leading him excitedly back to the ship.

“But first,” she cooed, “first why don’t we see if we can build you one of those wonderfully devilish glowing swords….”

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