The Prisoner, Part Two

I wrote up and published the first part of “The Prisoner” before I realized the scene had more to do here in Part Two. Here’s the link to the first part:

This also contains references to Brant’s training as a Sith, found here.

Other notes… More cameos of canon characters from SWTOR here, with two that become part of my plot in a big way. It was especially fun to inject Tanno Vik of Havoc Squad here. As if Kellaro needed any more headaches…

Though the spoilers are fairly general ones, this does contain spoilers for the Chapters storyline and the Ziost storyline for SWTOR, regarding the Emperor’s role and identity.

Author’s Note

Vette was as good as her word, keeping pace beside Brant as he stumbled through the tight corridors of the Republic ship and down its gangplank to the docking bay’s floor. The air devolved into cacophony, and as he knew no one but Vette and Kellaro, he couldn’t make heads or tails of the mass of humanity blooming in his Force-heightened senses. With a firm hand on his waist, her arm cleverly tucked in his like he was escorting her, Vette guided him into one spot and had him stand there.

He wasn’t entirely blind at least, he found as he stood there waiting for only the Emperor knew what. The glaring lights of the hangar was like seeing a sun from deep underwater: nothing was illuminated and the light wavered constantly, but at least he could orient to what was up, down, dark, and light.

The other voices in the bay suddenly quieted, and he could pick out a set of footsteps slowing advancing towards him from the left, stopping what sounded like every few feet to have a conversation. Kellaro had said something about an inspection muster. Was Brant to be inspected as well? And where was Kellaro? Brant felt an unreasonable anger rising at being so abandoned.

Soon the footsteps stopped right before him, and a voice he didn’t recognize said, “What’s this then? New recruit? What’s with the quasi-Jedi getup?”

“I will show you quasi-Jedi,” Brant started to growl, when a new voice, one he surely did recognize, interrupted him.

“Well hello, my lord. For nearly three years in carbonite, you are looking well.”

He was stepping out of Vette’s hold to confront the first speaker, and now he changed course awkwardly in mid-air to swing around to face the second. “Lana? Don’t tell me you’ve become wrapped up with the Republic too?”

“Not the Republic,” said Lana. “The Alliance. Are you sure he’s well enough to be on his feet?” This she was saying to Vette. Then, to Brant again, “A little more to the left, Darth. Look at me.”

Someone touched his cheeks, and he smelled a whiff of perfume, but a sensible amount of it: definitely Lana. She was examining his eyes, and for once, Brant began to relax. Lana being here didn’t mean he was among allies, but if anyone knew how to maneuver herself into a position of security among deadly enemies, it was Lana. The others seemed to respect her, and that caused Brant to feel safer, too.

“Hibernation sickness,” said Lana, and Brant heard the other officer typing something into a datapad. “A bad case of it. It may take a few days to run its course.”

“So light duty?” the officer grunted. “Is he one of ours?”

“He is no one’s,” said Lana firmly. “No one’s but his own, but we’ll treat him as so for now, yes. Have you met the Commander, Brant?”

“No,” said Brant, a swirl of feelings as she used his personal name. He didn’t have the energy at the moment to flirt with her, but he took one of the soft hands on his cheeks in his and squeezed it. She squeezed back, and that, too, gave him an extra sense of security.

“I think you’ll like him,” said Lana. “Stubborn, but in all the right ways.”

“Not all the wrong ways, like me?” He felt her smile. “I’ll need you to fill me in on what’s happened, Lana. I’ve been out since Ilum.”

“I will as soon as there’s a quiet moment,” Lana assured him.

“Attention! Major on deck!” another soldier called, and Brant felt Lana pivot so she was standing beside him. He had lost track of her secretary.

“At ease,” called the major, and Brant cursed softly. It was Kellaro’s voice. Vette pinched him and he considered stamping on her foot, but he couldn’t see it to do it and just went still.

“I’ve received word the Commander won’t be on board the Dauntless, so you boys have it easy,” Kellaro went on. “So easy, you’ll get two helpings of slop instead of one in the mess.”

“Oh, come on!” shouted one trooper. “You can do better than that!”

“Shut up, Vik,” said Kellaro pleasantly, and Brant noted with approval that the out-of-line comment hadn’t rattled him at all. Kellaro went on, “I think you’ll find the slop will taste unusually good tonight, because tomorrow we’re shoving off again, and we’re heading in deep.”

“How deep, sir?” asked a crisp female voice. Brant recognized an Imperial accent and thought it odd. A defector? Surely she was too obvious to be a spy…

“Zakuul deep,” answered Kellaro.

That was all he needed to say. A ripple of dismay spread out along the line, so strongly Brant didn’t even need to strain to sense it.

“Isn’t Zakuul the home-world of the Eternal Empire?” he hissed to Lana. “What do the Pubs want there?”

“Shh. Not now.”

“That’s the bad news,” Kellaro was saying. “The good news is, we’re not taking armaments.”

“Excuse me, sir, but how is that good news?” This voice had the resonance of a Cathar. “We’ll be sitting mynox without weapons.”

“We would be, if this were a combat operation. It’s not. That’s the good news, because even the big Corellian ships are sitting mynox against the Eternal Fleet. This is special ops, Sergeant: more of a scouting mission, in and out. Pack light, and don’t plan on making a scene.”

“Can we make a scene even if we haven’t planned on it?” asked Vik.

Kellaro ignored him this time. “I’ll have more details for you once we’re in the atmosphere. Take no uniforms, only your comms, and jam the identifier signals as soon as we leave base. Blizz will doublecheck the rest of the gear and outfit you if you’ve got anything outstanding. We’ll be departing from Dock 33-A. I want us all on board by 600 hours.”

“All of us, or just Havoc Squad?” Vette called out.

Havoc Squad. Brant knew that name, Imperial as he was, and for the first time, he felt quietly impressed by his brother’s status.

Kellaro, in the meanwhile, seemed suddenly uncomfortable. “I’ll talk to you about that later. There’s been a little chaos at HQ, and they might not be needing you back for a good week, Vette.”

Vette groaned. “If that little red twerp of a Devaronian is behind it, give him a horn twist for me, will you?”

“Glad to,” answered Kellaro. “Lana, er, Darth, er, Merce… you’d better report in for that meeting too.”

“So I will finally get to know what’s going on?” Brant growled.

“Yes,” said Kellaro shortly, in the same tone as he had answered Vik, and Brant sensed he wouldn’t get anymore out of him. “Any questions?” he asked the rest of the squad.

There was a general murmur of negative’s and no’s, then the stamping of a formal salute, followed by the patter of booted feet dispersing to other duties. Lana touched Brant’s arm.

“They’ll have him running circles with the desk jockeys all night,” she said, “so it should leave a few hours to recuperate before that meeting. Do you want to lie down? Or the cantina on board isn’t bad. It should be nice and quiet at this time of day, too.”

“I don’t care,” said Brant, “so long as someone finally tells me what’s going on.”

“Patience,” said Lana, and she followed it with a kiss on his cheek. That, more than anything else that day, settled Brant’s nerves.

“I’ll meet you,” said Vette hurriedly. “Kellaro pulled me from some work I’ve been putting off. I’ll make extra special certain to go over it twice if you think you’ll need the extra time alone,” she added coyly.

“Mm, do that,” Brant grunted. Vette giggled as she hurried off.

“Take my arm,” said Lana. “I’ll make it look like we’re two lovers out for a stroll.”

“Aren’t we?” said Brant. Lana didn’t answer, because she was smiling.

The walk to Lana’s suite would have been long, and Brant was tiring quickly, so they ended up going to the cantina — though not before a little time spent in an out-of-the-way corner. It wasn’t much more than holding each other, re-establishing their broken ties with murmured words, but the exhausted Sith warrior had nothing more to give even if he could. When they entered the cantina, they were much more professional, and Vette seemed to pick up on that, not cracking any jokes and carefully ignoring the hand-holding going on under the table.

“So,” said Lana briskly as she settled. “You’ve been out for approximately two years and seven months. Major Kellaro was on mission to intercept a shipment of political prisoners to Zakuul. We had been told it was likely to contain several Jedi and Sith, but we didn’t expect you to be part of the cargo.”

“Honestly, we lost track of you shortly after the ambush on Ilum,” said Vette. “I tried pulling a few favors, but no one wanted to touch it. It was all Zakuul interference this or Sith business that.”

“Why were we ambushed?” asked Brant. He already knew, but he wanted to see how much the others had found out. “All I seem to recall was a lot of screaming and fighting, mostly fighting.”

“I’m not sure,” said Vette. “I’m pretty sure they were Sith, but not any of your old rivals. Not that that says much. You’re always ticking off someone new…”

“Don’t look at me,” said Lana. “My own investigations turned up nothing. It was a rather pleasant surprise to find you here, actually: safe and, well, mostly sound.”

“Lana, dear, I couldn’t look at you if I wanted to.” Brant put his chin in his arms, hoping that would stop his head from swirling around so much. “Ugh! How long is this supposed to last, anyway? Being unable to see is so… tiresome.”

“It’s hard to say,” said Lana slowly. “I haven’t much experience with hibernation sickness. The only other I know of who’s been under for as long as you was the Commander, and he pretty much jumped straight out, ready to murder his jailers.”

“Who is this Commander I’ve been hearing so much about? Kellaro acts like he’s some saint.”

There was a pause, and Brant had the distinct impression the two women were exchanging glances.

It was Lana who spoke first. “Do you remember the tale of the Outlander?”

“Yes… something something killed an Emperor, then all the Mandos stupid enough to try and track him down. And?”

“Add half a decade on, and that is the Commander. As for Kellaro’s take on him… maybe it’d be better if he told you that himself.”

“One of his ‘surprises’,” Vette muttered sarcastically.

“How long have you known Kellaro, anyway?” Brant asked sharply. “How long have you known him and never saw fit to tell me?”

“Only in the past year or so, I promise,” said Vette. “After failing utterly to find you, I tried running salt with a Devaronian near Tatooine — long story, trust me. Anyway, we got all caught up in some battle between Alliance Pubs and the Zakuulians, and he was nice enough to pull us out of it and not turn us into the authorities. Then I saw his face, and, well, I just knew I had to find out more. So I’ve been working for him since. Not as Havoc Squad, but on the down-low. Smuggling jobs, you know.”

“As for me,” said Lana, “I had known him by reputation for a few years before I met you. Some Mandalorian who was scared straight and joined the Republic, they said: made a real splash by being reckless and heroic on his missions, even by Havoc Squad standards. It was only after working for the Alliance when I came to know him personally, my lord, and it was quite a shock, believe me. You were long gone by then, so I couldn’t inform you.”

“Fine,” growled Brant. “So what about this Alliance? What on Korriban’s sand is that?”

“I’ll explain that,” came Kellaro’s tired voice, “If you’ll give me just a moment so I can buy something for my throat. Damned bureaucrats could make me a whole second energy shield with all the paperwork they want on the current one, I swear.” He settled heavily next to Brant, armor creaking, and Brant scooted away.

“Some things don’t change no matter what side you work for,” said Lana, and the warmth in her tone irked Brant. Yet she placed a hand over his and squeezed it, and that made him feel a bit better.

“That’s why I don’t bother with them,” said Vette, “or else I run with a Sith Lord who’d happily sweep them all out of the way — with his lightsaber!” She jostled Brant.

“Heh.” That made Brant feel a bit better, too.

Kellaro paused though. “Well, here that would only get me buried deeper in my pile of paperwork, so I’d rather you didn’t sic him on anyone, Vette.”

“I’m too sick to sic,” Brant muttered.

Vette laughed, and the tension at the table lessened slightly. Kellaro didn’t speak, as he was ordering and downing his throat lozenge drink, and Lana massaged Brant’s knuckles. “You’ll get through this,” she told him. “Only a few days recovery.”

Brant sighed.

“So the Alliance,” Kellaro said after a loud gulp. He put his cup down on the table. “It’s what it sounds like. Fa — the Commander put it together a few years ago, after he assassinated Emperor Valkorian, and the Knights of Zakuul came after him. After their defeat, the Republic and the Sith Empire still had wounds to lick, so they didn’t want to take official action, and all sorts of Jedi, Sith, and other mercenaries came boiling out of the woodwork to get the chance of a shot at the regime in their place. Allying with them all worked pretty well, and we made up a lot of ground.”

“That’s old news,” said Brant. “I was hearing about it before they iced me. What’s happening now?”

Kellaro shook his head, or so Brant assumed by the pause, because he hadn’t picked back up his cup. “It started as just rumors among the Force-sensitive. Some claimed they felt the Emperor coming back.”

“The Sith one, or the Eternal one?” Brant quipped.

Unexpectedly, no one answered him, until Lana said, “They’re the same person, Brant.”

That silenced him, sat him up. “Judging by your aiding the Alliance, you don’t like that,” he replied.

“He killed an entire planet,” Lana said quietly.

“This is war,” Brant retorted.

“You don’t understand,” said Lana. “An entire planet. Every living thing. The Force, snuffed out. Entire cities, forests, even the oceans — gone in a puff of ash. I am as loyal to the Empire as the next Sith, Brant, but even I cannot condone such destruction. He would destroy us all, if he could.”

Silence settled heavily on the table, only broken by Kellaro lifting his glass and taking another sip.

Brant was angry. “How are you supposed to fight against something like that then? If he can kill entire armies…”

“Consume them, more like,” Kellaro grunted.

“We fight him any way we can,” said Lana, in that perfect calm that Brant knew so well — the one that hid her fearsome willpower. “That is why I serve the Alliance, Brant, and your father.”

“I thought we were letting Kellaro tell him that,” said Vette on the side.

Brant sensed Lana’s growing furor and knew this was the wrong time to make a joke. He had barely registered what Vette had said after the revelation about the Emperor. “Sorry, my what?”

“Father,” said Kellaro. “Brant, Father is the Commander.”

“That’s nonsense,” said Brant quickly. “He’s dead.”

Kellaro sighed a long, suffering sigh. Maybe he had been told that one a lot… “No.”

“We watched him blow up!”

The reference to that time, when they were still brothers, clearly shook Kellaro, but he pressed on. “We — no. His ship. We watched his ship blow up. They captured his escape pod, took him to the Emperor. They fought, and then–”

Brant’s head was throbbing, and it was from more than the hibernation sickness. The thought of the carbonite only brought the memory roaring back stronger.

“…put him in carbonite, and there he stayed for seven years, even longer than you.”

He couldn’t focus suddenly. Seven years. Seven years old. He had been taken by the Sith when he was seven years old, put through the trials at eleven. Half a decade training under the Emperor, made a Darth by age 19. He had met Vette then…

“Brant, are you listening?”

Brant closed his eyes — they were useless, anyway — and nodded to Kellaro, even though he wasn’t doing as Kellaro had asked. The news had come rapidly one day: the Emperor assassinated by Jedi, and another, rival nation eating up the star systems in the vacuum of power that had been left. Then, their Emperor was assassinated by a lone bounty hunter–

“Mother didn’t want to believe it either, but when I got to the cantina, there he was, in the same old armor as ever…”

A lone bounty hunter — a Mandalorian wearing Mandalorian armor.

He was remembering more quickly now. The ambush over Ilum had happened days after the appearance of the Eternal Empire. Rogue Sith had docked and swarmed aboard his starship before even Jaesa had felt anything. The attackers had been zealots, talking about an awakening, and he, he was to be the new Wrath…

“…would upset you. Our parents didn’t like me signing up for the Republic troopers either, but I just felt it was right, after everything else that had happened. They stood for something…”

Brant had refused the zealots. Clearly neither Vette nor Lana knew. The zealots had cornered him on the bridge after gunning Jaesa down near the hatch and throwing Pierce out the airlock. He winced. Both of those losses still hurt…

“…I know, but it doesn’t matter. We are all in this together.”

The zealous Sith had laughed at him when he refused their offer, only saying the Dragon was already inside him, and perhaps an ice-rock prison of his own would help him remember. One then put a blaster to his head, a specialized sort he had seen his father using often as a child. It would coat live bounty targets in diluted carbonite until they could be delivered to a proper freezing facility for long-range transportation. Brant hadn’t even completed that thought before the Sith had pulled the trigger, but now he knew that must’ve been what had happened to him, in the end.

“I really, sincerely believe that. I just hope… Brant?”

And Kellaro had found him on their way to Zakuul, the very heart of the Eternal Empire, for only the Emperor knew what purpose.

Brant snorted at the thought. Maybe the Emperor did know…

“Brant?” That was Lana’s voice now, and Brant turned towards her. “I sense your… terror. Is something wrong?”

“I thought you would have liked to know Dad was still around,” said Kellaro, and he sounded hurt.

Brant’s throat unstuck from whatever was holding it shut. “Not that,” he said. He felt the irresistible urge to get up and pace, but the cantina was too crowded, and he would likely bruise his shins on something. He felt Vette back away, sensing his unrest, but Lana took both his hands and held them tight.

“Tell me,” she said.

Brant swallowed, spoke coldly. “So the Emperor has returned, and Dad is going to fight him… again.”

“And win,” said Kellaro determinedly.

“He will try to,” said Brant. He didn’t tell them the connection he had just made. His vision in the killing rings on Korriban… he had sensed his father’s battle with the Emperor, had helped him win it, but he couldn’t have known about the true identity of the Dragon — the snake-like Presence that had tried to kill Keel’ath — the thing Brant saw become like his father’s skin.

And the zealots believed it was still inside him now?

“My head hurts,” he said quickly. He needed to think about it — alone, where the keen-sighted Lana could not know. It was the best excuse he had.

“You’ve had a busy day,” said Lana gently.

“Yeah. Sorry,” said Kellaro. “It is a lot to hit you with all at once.” He touched Brant’s shoulder.

“Your best friend, an old lover, your long-lost brother and dad? Yep, no biggie,” said Vette.

“Current lover,” Lana corrected coolly.

Brant didn’t even pull away from Kellaro’s hand this time. He saw two fields laid out on front of him: the Dark Side and the Light. He saw the Emperor, the Dragon of Zakuul, waiting for him on one side, and the rest of his family strewn out on the other.

And as he had seen in the desert, there lay a narrow wending path between the two, that he feared he must follow… or be destroyed. Brant swallowed.

“I am tired. I’d like to lie down,” he said.

“I don’t think he should come on your expedition to Zakuul,” Lana was saying to Kellaro. “I know that was your hope, but as you can clearly see, he needs more rest. Vette and I will be enough.”

“Rest would be nice,” said Brant. If Lana and Vette were going with Kellaro, he’d have time to investigate the influence of the Dragon alone, he added to himself.

“Yeah,” said Kellaro. Brant noted he was reluctant to remove his hand from Brant’s shoulder still.

“I’ll be fine. You’re the one going into danger.” Brant swallowed, forced himself to say it. “…brother.”

Kellaro said nothing, but he was now squeezing Brant’s shoulder very hard. Brant put his hand on top of his, partly to reassure him, and partly to pry his fingers off where it was starting to hurt.

“Let’s see…a run through the Zakuulian blockade, hiding out in a swamp full of things wanting to eat us, and, oh, lets not forget the daring infiltration of the highest spire city on any planet ever,” said Vette. “Yep, no biggie, as I said.”

“You’re no help at all,” said Kellaro, and Brant couldn’t help a grin — it was something he would have said to Vette, too.

Lana made to stand, but something stopped her, and she leaned down to kiss Brant’s cheek. “Talk to me later, before we leave,” she whispered in his ear. “I can see something is still bothering you.”

“I will,” said Brant, though privately, he planned to sleep right through Kellaro’s 600 hours rendezvous. “May the Force serve you well.”

“And you, my love.”

“It will,” said Brant, but this time, to himself.

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