An even longer time ago, in a galaxy just as far away...
Aeoni woke with a start, sitting bolt upright in her bed she clutched at her chest whilst fighting to catch her breath as her eyes slowly adjusted to the still darkened room. After the waking moment passed, Aeoni controlled her breathing and closed her eyes to force her mind back into a more meditative state. As she fought off the disturbing visions of her nightmare, Aeoni felt herself shiver as her entire body was coated with a cold sweat. She again opened her eyes – calmly and controlled this time – Aeoni knew that what she had just experienced was no ordinary nightmare. Wrapping the bed cover around her cold body, Aeoni thought back to the story her Master – Orgus Din – would often recite to her during training. The story of how Master Din first encountered her as a baby and of the terrifying vision she had of the siege on Balmorra, and the death of her twin sister, Kuci. The thought of this past vision, and how it heralded her sister’s death sent an even more chilling shiver down Aeoni’s spine than the cold had done moments before. Pulling the bed cover tight around her body now as she lay back down, Aeoni curled herself up as tight as she could whilst she attempted to force her body back to sleep. After all, she had an early start for training in a few hours and Aeoni knew she would be able to speak with Master Din then.
Early the next morning, Aeoni stood in the courtyard of the Tythonian Jedi Temple patiently awaiting the arrival of Master Orgus Din. She watched younglings scurry about as Padawans and Jedi of all disciplines went about their business. Aeoni loved to sit and watch all the people, wondering to herself what each of them were doing at any given time. Master Din would often frown upon her for this, telling her that she was young woman now; and not to allow herself such juvenile distractions. Despite being an emotionally mature 16 year old girl – due in no small part to the highly disciplined Jedi training she had known her whole life – Aeoni sometimes regretted the loss of a normal childhood and as such would always respond to Master Din’s scalding by sticking her tongue out at him as soon as his back was turned; always thinking she had gotten away with it, whilst Master Din would smile quietly to himself at the young girl’s playful nature.
On this particular morning Aeoni found herself enthralled by the sight of a Knight Sentinel practicing on the training dummies adjacent to the courtyard. The young girl watched in awe as the Knight’s lightsabers twirled around in what she likened to a beautiful dance. Subconsciously she stood and began to mimick the Knight – holding imaginary lightsabers in both her hands. Starting out gently as she observed the Knight, her confidence grew with her observed knowledge of ‘the dance’. Before long she was prancing about an imaginary training dummy of her own, majestically twirling her imagined lightsabers as she would thrust and parry at the air in front of her.
Seeing his young student perform in such a manner piqued Master Din’s curiosity as he exited the temple. Deciding to study this amusing sight for a moment he leant his shoulder against the adjacent wall and crossed his arms as he continued to observe Aeoni. He watched her move with calculated precision and control whilst making the whole thing look as elegant and majestic as a ballet, as he took in the unusual sight of a youngling showing so much flare and natural skill for the combat driven lightsaber forms, he quickly reminded himself that his student was no ordinary youngling. Recalling the day he first encountered Aeoni as a baby and how through her connection to the force she willed his lightsaber from his grasp whilst laying in her crib. His curiosity quickly developed into concern however, since the longer he watched; the more aggressive her movement became.
As he looked more closely he could see a pained expression forming on the young girl’s face as tears began to roll down her cheeks and she even appeared to have developed a nosebleed. Din moved towards Aeoni with rapidly growing concern for the young girl’s wellbeing but before he could take two steps, Aeoni swung around on the balls of her feet and reached both her hands out towards the Sentinel she had initially started off mimicking; willing his lightsabers from his moving hands. The lightsabers both flew across the courtyard into Aeoni’s waiting grasp – startling many of the courtyard’s populous. With one sweeping motion Aeoni whipped the two lightsabers out of the air and spun around once more, flourishing the lightsabers in the process, she then let out a loud scream and launched them both clean across the other side of the courtyard in opposing arcs – narrowly missing a group of Padawans and taking the head clean off an ancient statue – before they returned to her waiting hands. "AEONI!" Master Din shouted as loud as his aging voice would permit in the hope to get his students attention before she did anything more. Upon hearing her master’s call, Aeoni dropped both lightsabers to the floor – falling to her knees in the process and lowering her head into her hands.
Master Din hurried to his student's side and knelt in front of her, grasping his hands on her shoulders "Aeoni?" he spoke in a much softer tone now. Slowly she raised her head to meet his eyeline, as her face pulled away from her hands he could see that she had been crying and her nose was indeed bleeding. It was this bleeding that surprised him the most since the whole time he was observing her before, not once did she miss any movement or do anything that might have caused such an injury. Aeoni raised her eyes to meet the concerned look on her master’s face "Master..." her voice was trembling and Din could see the fear and confusion in her eyes. She tentatively reached a hand up to investigate the feeling of warm blood against her upper lip "Master... wha... what’s happening to me?"
Cutee and Mako were relaxing aboard their ship, casually perusing the available bounties over the holonet to see if any piqued their interest. In the years they had been working together – ever since Cutee was smuggled off Nar Shaddaa by Mako’s friend Major Storrm – the two had developed a keep partnership and deep friendship. Having built herself a reputation as one of the finest bounty hunters in the galaxy following her success in the Mandalorian Great Hunt, Cutee could afford to be a little more picky with the contracts she and her team took on. At that point, the holoterminal beeped to indicate an incoming transmission.
Mako and Cutee shared a quick glance before Mako proceeded to receive the transmission. Upon doing so, the terminal's overhead view of open bounties was replaced with the face of a beautiful young blonde haired woman. Cutee quickly took note of the fact that the woman was clearly wearing the robes of a Sith, though she took the unusual stance of showing her full face – not even wearing a hood up. "Mercenary! How wonderful that I found you!" The young woman’s overly cheery tone made Cutee feel uneasy "Please, allow me to introduce myself. Oh I do hope I’m not intruding; My name is Lord Zash of the Sith Empire" Still the blonde woman spoke with an eerily pleasant smile, she continued "I have a very special job I need undertaking, and my sources tell me you would be an ideal candidate to help me!".
Still feeling slightly off-put by Zash’s cheery tone, Cutee stepped forward towards the terminal "Well that depends." Cutee enjoyed the momentary look of confusion which appeared on Zash’s face "on?" she asked. "On who you want dead, and how deep your pockets go" Cutee spoke with a coy sureness in her words, the confidence reaped from years of success.
Realising now that she had fallen right into the classic bounty hunter ploy of bringing credits into the conversation as early as possible, Zash nodded with a smile "Oh don’t you worry Mercenary, you will be well rewarded for assisting me. However do not presume to know my intentions before I have revealed them to you." The slight hint of venom in Zash’s words reminded Cutee of who – and what – she was dealing with here. "You see Mercenary, I need you to aid me in a rescue mission of sorts" Cutee rolled her eyes "of sorts?" she queried – poking Zash to reveal as much information as possible. "Yes, you see; I have arranged the liberation of a group of slaves from Nar Shaddaa. I need you to collect them and escort them safely to Korriban". At hearing this, Mako turned to Cutee and whispered under her breath "Out of the frying pan, into the fire!".
"What’s the catch?" Cutees probing for information had become much more direct now "Dear me Mercenary, why would you presume there to be some kind of a catch? We’ve only just met and you think you know me so well?" Cutee was surprised to hear Zash sound genuinely hurt by this. "I simply intend to submit these slaves for training at the Sith Academy, and I will eventually take one as my own apprentice. Surely that’s got to be better than a slave’s life for these people – the opportunity to become a great and powerful Sith?" Cutee pondered Zash for a moment "I guess..." "Splendid! I’m sending you the coordinates for the meeting point now! Then I shall look forward to your arrival on Korriban, and do care of my Acolytes – I really would be rather upset should anything happen to them." With that rather chilling reminder of who Cutee was dealing with, Zash ended the transmission. Cutee and Mako looked to each other in a moment of disbelief before Mako turned towards the cockpit of their ship "I guess I’ll set a course for Nar Shaddaa then!"
Aeoni sat cross-legged alone in a darkened meditation chamber, searching her mind for the answers to explain what came over her earlier that day. She fidgeted uncomfortably as she found herself unable to piece together the puzzle. Her eyes shot open when Master Orgus Din entered the room, closely followed by a young Twi'lek girl. He approached silently as Aeoni hurried to his side in a fluster "Master, please forgive me for what happened in the courtyard – I promise I have no idea what happened, I..." "Aeoni, calm yourself" Din spoke with a strong air of reassurance and comfort in his voice which had an instantly soothing effect on the panicked teenager "I know it wasn’t your fault child. Now I need you focused so you can help me figure out what did happen" Aeoni recognised Din’s teaching voice and knew that he already had the answers, this was just his way of bringing her to the same conclusions on her own.
"Aeoni, this is Mysti" Din said gestering towards the Twi'lek girl as she promptly stepped forward. "Mysti is exceptionally gifted with visions and the ability to interpret them, so I have asked her to join us in that she may help us discover the roots of what happened to you earlier. She was also one of the students you nearly decapited this morning." Din's droll humour did not amuse Aeoni, who turned to face Mysti raising a hand in protest and clearly panicking that she wouldn't be able to find the right words to express her remorse over what happened. Seeing this, Mysti was quick to step in "Don't worry Aeoni, nobody was hurt. My lekku may be a little shorter now, but..." "Mysti!" Din was quick to step down the girls playful tease "Forgive me Master, simply trying to lighten the mood." She bowed her head in apology as she once again stepped back to observe.
"So tell me child, has anything happened to you recently that I should know about? Remeber, even the most insignificant events are all driven by Force." Aeoni looked sheepishly at Master Din out of the corner of her eye as she turned to face the dimmed window, looking out over the rolling hills of Tython. "Master; tell me that story again – the one about when you first found me on Coruscant." Briefly taken aback by this request Din quickly pieced it together. Approaching Aeoni, he laid a hand on her shoulder as she dropped her head slightly "Aeoni... you have had another vision haven't you?" "I’m not sure Master; I woke up this morning after what felt like a nightmare. I didn’t see anything happen it was just... a feeling." Aeoni shuddered at the mere memory of her waking moments after the nightmare. Din patiently waited for the girl to continue at her own pace, sensing the trouble within her at recalling the memory "It felt... as though I was being consumed by darkness. It enveloped me and kept tearing at me, slowly pulling me away from my own body until there was nothing left. It felt like I was... dying" Aeoni started to cry as the memory became too overwhelming for her, she turned and buried her face into Master Din’s chest as he attempted to comfort her.
After a short time Aeoni regained her composure and once again sat cross-legged across from Master Din as they meditated together on what Aeoni had experienced, whilst Mysti observed silently from the corner. "Aeoni, why did you liken this experience to that you had as a child?" "I can’t quite explain it Master, but the vividness and strength of the vision that Master Oteg theorised was through the shared connection to the force between my sister and I. It felt like that, like I was experiencing things through her eyes." Master Din considered Aeoni for a moment as he calculated a response "But Aeoni, your sister – Kuci – died at that time. You know this already" "But Master I..." "Enough Aeoni." Master Din’s tone whilst still that of a seasoned Jedi and teacher, was noticeably sterner and reinforcing that previously "What you experienced cannot be linked to the death of your sister, your strong connection to the force may have simply amplified what many of us would have experienced as a more manageable vision. But that is all." Aeoni pouted as she resigned herself to her masters interpretation of events. "Focus your mind child and do not allow your powerful emotions on this matter cloud your reasoning; you know your sister died many years ago. So what you experienced today – whilst feeling comparable in intensity – must relate to something else, something that is yet to happen. Come now, let us meditate further on this." Aeoni once again closed her eyes as she settled into a deep meditation, seeing the truth of her masters words she began to search her mind for further clues as to the ambiguous nature of her dark vision.
Cutee walked through Nar Shaddaa’s Slippery Slope cantina with one hand on her blaster. She knew the place well and was rightly distrustful of everyone there. She passed straight through to the far side of the cantina unopposed, despite drawing the attention of many uneasy patrons who took notice of the rare sight of a Chiss in the Outer Rim – particularly one who bore close resemblance to the infamous bounty hunter who won the Great Hunt – of course none would brave the wrath of the Grand Champion by questioning her presence... or legitimacy. As she entered the private lounge where she was to meet the slave trader, Cutee was taken aback by the sight of a large yet relatively young Hutt sitting across the room – surrounded by Gammorean bodyguards, protocol droids, slaves and dancing girls – yet by far the one thing that caught Cutee’s eye above all else in the chaotic room, was the large purple and gold helmet adorned by this Hutt.
As the rooms’ attention was drawn to Cutee, so was that of the Hutt "Aah, Grand Champion! I was wondering who the witches pet would turn out to be. Oh how the mighty have fallen! Come, let me share a drink with the once great bounty hunter!" The hutt’s voice boomed across the room, followed by his deep bellowing laughter. Luckily for Cutee, she was fluent in Huttese so was able to understand every word the Hutt said, however she did not let this on and allowed the protocol droid standing next to the Hutt to offer his translation "The mighty Karagga welcomes you to the Slippery Slope Cantina. As a representative of the much respected Sith – Lord Zash – you are invited to join the mighty Karagga for a drink while your slaves are prepared for transport". Cutee chuckled to herself at the protocol droids attempts to diplomatically translate the words of the Hutt, Karagga "Why not! It has been a long trip. And how could I say no to that renowned Hutt hospitality?" Still chuckling to herself, clearly proud of her own wit, Cutee took a seat at the table next to Karagga and threw her feet up onto its surface, crossing her legs in the same motion as she leant back with her hands behind her head whilst the Hutt looked down at her, clearly not amused. "So Karagga baby, what’s your deal with this Zash? It’s not like a Hutt to give up so many slaves so easily"
Karagga grumbles incoherently for a moment, "The witch pays me for slaves, what she does with her property is her own business." The Hutt swung his stumpy arms in the air as best as his physique would permit as the protocol droid once again chimed in "The mighty Karagga wishes to reiterate that the specifics of any business arrangement are confidential and does not wish to forsake the Hutt Cartel’s ongoing arrangement with the Empire by divulging privileged information"
During this time a servant had appeared and made their way across the room carrying a tray of drinks. Cutee watched as the servant approached, whilst completely enshrouded by a hooded robe Cutee could clearly see from the protrution on the back of the neck that the servant was wearing a shock collar under the hood and whilst clearly walking with a feminine gait, she was also walking with a distinct limp. Coupled with the timid body language, the arms held tight in at the sides, the downwards stare and the small shuffling steps, Cutee surmised that this slave had clearly been overly disciplined. Whilst an unsettling sight to Cutee, it was one she was more than familiar with since she had come across many Twi’lek slaves in her years who rebelled against their enslavement and would consequently have suffered the cruel punishments of the Cartel’s slave masters.
The servant girl approached Karagga and tentatively raised up the drinks tray. Karagga reached for his drink, but paused before his stubby arm could reach the glass. Instead waving over one of the guards whilst barking at him in huttese "Drink this! I do not trust this broken slave." The guard nervously approached and took the glass from the tray, which the slave promptly lowered. Taking an uncertain snort of the drinks odour with his large Gamorrean snout he shrugged his shoulders then chugged the whole drink back. Cutee watched as the body language of the slave girl seemed to tense up. The guard looked up at Karagga with a blank expression on his face before getting overwhelmed by a grimacing pain in the pit of his stomach. The guard dropped his axe and grasped his stomach with both hands, screeching in agony before collapsing in a heap on the floor.
The slave spun around sending her outer robe fluttering to the floor and reached an open hand towards one of Karagga's henchmen, casting a stream of purple lightning at him and causing him to recoil backwards in pain before falling to the floor. She turned again towards Karagga and brought her second hand, but before she could cast again Karagga jammed a stubby digit against the control panel on the side of his throne to activate the girls slave collar "How many times slave? I am Karagga the Unyielding! You think I will be bested by a pitiful slave and glass full of poison?!" His bellowing laughter once again started to echo around the room as the girl convulsed and screamed with the agonising pain the shock collar was coarsing through her body. She stubbornly dropped to her knees as one of the guards swiped the handle of his axe across her face - still grasping at the collar around her neck - as it continued to send wave after wave of pain through her body - her screams drowning out even the maniacal laughter of the Hutt.
Crumpled on the floor, the slave girl writhed and twisted as the pain began to fade. As she regained control of her body and got to her hands and knees she flung her head back, the hood peeling away in the process, as she stared at Karagga with eyes full of hatred and vengeance she spoke with an unusually elequent, albeit venemous tone "One day you will be mine you foul slug. I will tear that stupid helmet from your corpse and jam it so far down your throat the tip will pierce the very end of your slimy tail." Cutee watched in awe as all this transpired. Too frozen in shock to act in any way, for as the slave girl had whipped her head back revealing her face, Cutee not only saw the bruising from repeated beatings and the nosebleed from the guard's blow - but most importantly her bright golden eyes staring through the pain and straight at Karagga - eyes that she had seen but once before; the day she looked upon the twin daughters of her old friend and Captain - Althearia. "No..." Cutee whispered under her breath at the realisation of who she was looking upon. Tears filled her eyes as her mind registered that the beaten and broken girl infront of her was none other than Althearia's firstborn daughter - Kuci.
The Hutt continued laughing for some time, chosing to ignore Kuci's threats as he waved his guards over to drag the girl away. He promptly turned his attention back to Cutee "Some slaves just won't learn. Now, let us gather your witches purchases." he gloated, still laughing slightly as his protocol droid once again chimed in "The mighty Karagga apologies for the disruption and wishes you assured that as the Empire's representative you are meant no disrespect from this unfortunate outburst." Cutee no longer seeing the funny side of the droid's interpretations simply rolled her eyes as she eased back into her seat " Tell me something Karagga baby, is that slave included in the deal?" "Why would I risk my business with the Empire by sending the witch a broken slave as this? She is no use to you".
Cutee grew suspicious of Karagga's unwillingness to part with such a clearly troublesome slave. Acting on impulse, she rose from her seat drawing her blasters in the process before the protocol droid could begin it's diplomatic translation. Quickly picking off the few remaining guards in the room she turned one blaster on Karagga and the other on the protocol droid "Let me be clear Karagga... baby: That girl is leaving here with me, along with the rest of your slaves you promised to Lord Zash. Or; I make her dreams come true and blow a hole in your head large enough to fit that... whatever that thing on your head is!"
Begrudgingly accepting his situation, Karagga's natural Hutt instinct for self preservation kicked in and he reluctantly agreed to Cutee's demands. Cutee kept her blasters trained on Karagga and his droid as a group of slaves were escorted into the room. Cutee quickly scanned the crowd of downtrodden faces and soon came across Kuci - whilst standing proud and strong she still bore the grimace of pain on her face and her bloodied nose had not yet been tended. Carefully working her way back towards the door whilst keeping her blasters trained on Karagga, the slaves dubiously followed her out of the cantina and on to their new lives.
With the troublesome Mandalorian Grand Champion out of his way, Karagga promptly turned his attention to his holo terminal - the outgoing transmission he had just sent was now being received. As the terminal flickered into life the looming figure of Darth Malgus appeared, striking fear into the Gamorrean guards present at his mere appearance. "What do you want Hutt?" As Malgus spoke the distortion from the mask covering the lower part of his face could clearly be heard in his voice. "I have news of your pet Malgus" Darth Malgus simply stared silently at the Hutt "She is no longer under my protection, a bounty hunter has stolen her away for the Sith witch Zash".
Malgus' eyes narrowed as he focused on Karagga, who began to shift uncomfortably with the fear of what was to come. "You brainless slug! I brought you that child so that she would be kept away from the Sith until I wanted her!" As Malgus spoke with a poisonous venom in his voice he raised his hand subtly and Karagga began to choke, his tail flickering with involuntary convulsions. "THIS... This could work even better than I anticipated..." Malgus trailed off as his mind began to contemplate the repercussions of these events before releasing Karagga from his grasp. As the Hutt gasped for air Malgus continued with no regard for the Hutt's suffering "You did well bringing me this information Hutt but our business ends here." Karagga opened his mouth to protest, but still gasping for breath from Darth Malgus' grasp he knew better than to oppose the Sith's ruling "No longer will I raise you above that swamp you call a planet - the Cartel will have to find somebody else for their prestigious new embassy on Makeb. For your incompetence has shown you are not fit to leave Hutta. Return to your palace on the planet's surface, and continue your festering life there without me ever hearing your name again." With that, Malgus promptly ended the transmission whilst a very despondant Karagga lowered his head in self pity.
Safely back aboard her ship and en route to Korriban, Cutee paced backwards and forwards unable to relax. "What's up girl? I've not seen you like this before." Mako made as little effort as ever to sugar coat her concern for Cutee. "I... I don't know what to do about her, I still can't believe it's really her..." Cutee was interrupted by the bleeping of the holo terminal. Upon answering it she was greeted by the smiling face of Lord Zash "Mercenary! I'm so glad to hear of your success on Nar Shaddaa! And I must say, it was very thoughtful of you to forward me a dossier on all my new Acolytes" Cutee threw a questioning look towards Mako who merely shrugged her shoulders, clearly as confused as Cutee over Zash's claim to have received this information. "It says here you even picked up an extra candidate for me, this one does look promising - I simply can't wait to meet her!" With that, Zash ended the transmission leaving Cutee and Mako staring at each other dumbfounded. "Well..." Mako started as Cutee's gaze fell into the crowd of freed slaves below and upon the face of her friends daughter, Cutee's heart sank as she already knew what Mako was about to say "...I guess that's answered the question of what you're going to do with Kuci: she's going to train at the Sith Academy."