Chapter 12 – The Flame
If there was one thing Louise found annoying it was how impossible it was to share her headphones with friends. It was rude enough walking with Khem through the streets of Nar Shaddaa, one ear covered. But the headphones were built for one person and one person alone. So, there wasn't much she could do.
Still, she guessed it didn't matter much. Khem was still brooding. A silent sentinel of angst clad in his dramatic black cloak draping around his form. Intimidating to most, amusing to herself. But she still decided against music for now.
Louise, too, was wearing a cloak. Kind of. It was called a 'duster' here, and though it was shaped similarly to the Sith cloaks, it was different. She had bought it for her 'Karin' costume. All the bounty hunters and smugglers seemed to be wearing them, these days. It wasn't black, rather a dark brown weaved from a strong and durable canvas. It was long, too, which was good because underneath was her robes.
It was a bit uncomfortable, to be fair, but a little uncomfortableness was better than attacked by some anti-Imperialist.
Louise cut the music upon entering the Outpost, quickly being directed to the primly dressed Admiral Jefand Ange. As if waiting for her, he had been sitting reclined at his desk, a pleasant smile on his lips that twisted darkly upon her entry.
"Welcome back to Outpost Drazaal, my lord," he said, though his eyes were on Khem, boring into the stoic giant. "Though, I must ask, what have you brought into my chambers?" Disgust twisted and coiled around the man like a toxic miasma.
Louise fought a scowl. Don't tell me he's a karking xenophobe… "This is my companion, Khem Val the Devourer. He will be accompanying us at the meeting. This won't be a problem, will it?"
Irritation seeped into her final comment, enough that Ange seemed to pick up on him. Irritation grew despite the faux smile returning to his lips. "Of course not, my lord."
Good. "When are we leaving?"
"About a half-hour, thereabouts," Ange replied, seemingly thankful for the change in topic. "Until then, you're free to relax. Prepare yourself for what's to come."
Louise nodded but felt she wouldn't be relaxing much.
Not only would she an hour away from jumping head-first into a fight with a quasi-immortal terrorist but, by Ange's 'request,' she was to serve as a representative of the Sith Empire. And somehow, that last bit terrified her more than any other seemingly impossible fight.
"Before we leave, is there anything else I should know about this meeting?" she asked, hoping that he'd give her some idea on what to do.
"You shouldn't worry about the meeting, my lord," he said, easily. "I'll be doing most of the talking. But—if I may be frank—should the Hutts bring you into things, remember one thing: respect. I don't know if you've interacted with these arrogant slugs, but they're very temperamental creature. They think they're gods to be worshipped. They won't respond well to being treated flippantly."
By the Emperor, this meeting is going to be exhausting… "And the Flame?"
"Yes…" Ange frowned. "Unfortunately, there's not much I can tell you. We'll only have a small squadron of soldiers with us—we're already understaffed on this damned moon and we don't have the time or resources to call for reinforcements."
"So, it'll just be us?"
Ange nodded. "You and yours, me, a squadron of Imperial troops, and whatever the Hutts bring. Yes."
Huh… better than I expected, Louise thought and promptly left Ange's office. There wasn't anything more to say. No pressing questions. Khem left her side soon after exiting the office, wanting to "prepare" himself for the upcoming fight. So, while he did that, she took to a seat off in the corner of some uncrowded chamber and put on her headphones.
The humdrum of the office life became muffled and, after turning on the audio player, the twang of a guitar filled her ears. It was soothing yet melancholic, soon joined by the siren-voice of a woman. She sang in Sith, of home and longing to return, with a thick Zoisti accent. Passionate, like all good Sith music, she conjured grand vistas of snow-topped mountains and misty rivers with each verse—of battle-scarred land and ruins of old.
It was foreign, the descriptions. Yet, it reminded her of home. Of Tristain.
But that was only one of the songs she listened to, eyes closed and almost in a meditative trance. Song melted into song, and genre into genre. A melting pot of music, from soft classical tones similar to the music of home, to the electronic and pop music that was becoming familiar in this new world. She even had a few of those 'rougher' songs pass by.
Something tapped her head.
She scowled, recoiling away as she glared up at the perpetrator. "What do you want, Éléon—!"
It was Khem.
"It is time, little Sith," he grumbled, looking the least bit irritated. Or was just that his face these days?
"Oh." She shifted, pulling off her headphones. "Alright, then…"
Standing up, Louise was suddenly filled with the immense desire to just go home, to get back on her ship and bury herself in her quilt. She did not want to go with Admiral Ange. She did not want to fight any quasi-immortal terrorist. She certainly did not want to attend some meeting with the Hutts.
Fighting, she could do. She'd rather not fight but she could do it. But… talking? Diplomacy? Mother, Father, and some of the instructors they hired to teach had taught her how to talk, how to act as a noble scion should. But this was different.
But she had to do it anyway.
They met with Ange soon after Louise collected her wits and together the three boarded a skycar and headed off to the meeting.
The trip was short and silent. Mercifully silent. Sharing a skycar with an Admiral who so clearly disliked her Dashade companion was… uncomfortable, to say the least. But it was silent, and she found herself happily preoccupied with picking at the leather seating, trying to ignore the suffocating tension in the cramped compartment.
They landed far in the outskirts of the Duros Sector, in an industrial district from the looks of things. Factories and warehouses scattered the area, creating misshapen towers and hills of buildings. Patches of industry were abuzz with workers—both organic and droid—wandering about performing their labours. Others were quiet.
Considering the Empire's position, Ange was quick to advise inconspicuousness. He had donned a deep blue and thin cloak, covering his Imperial garb, and had removed his cap in the meantime. Louise would've thought him strapping had her opinion of him not sunk beyond measure.
They walked down winding streets and back alleys, quietly, eyes open for an ambush. Yet, nothing came. The most they ever came across was the occasional gaggle of workers on break, or the odd street urchin hiding away in their hole. She couldn't even sense much. No hostility in the air. Just irritation and mindless boredom, intermixed with faint tertiary emotions of joy, anger, and more.
They were safe, or at least according to the weird magic energy field she didn't fully understand.
Soon enough, though, they arrived at their destination. It was a warehouse, dingy and depressing. Windows were shattered, the walls rusted. Had she not known it was a front, she would've been very confused.
Along the way, Khem hummed thoughtfully. "Abandoned Warehouse. Not suspicious at all…"
Louise agreed but otherwise stayed silent.
They approached the door, a large slab of metal shut tight and unmoving. She had no idea how thick it was but the whole warehouse—despite its dilapidation—felt more like a vault more than anything else. Considering how seriously the Hutts took their business, it was probably built like a vault.
Ange walked up to the door confidently and slammed his fist against the door. Each hit resounded deep and loud and after knocking, Ange stepped back and waited. And waited. And waited.
Louise opened her mouth, a question on her lips. What's taking so long? But the second her lips parted, a mechanical eye jutted out the wall, startling the Imperials.
It undulated atop an arm-like stork in a supremely uncomfortable fashion, whizzing around before landing on Admiral Ange. Huttese she could barely understand garbled from the eye, and it took Ange a moment before he could reply.
"Uh, yes," he said, quickly regaining his composure. "I am Admiral Jefand Ange of the Sith Empire, here to meet with your masters."
It didn't reply. It just sat there, silently, red glowing eye boring into Ange's soul, reading him with the air of an uncaring god, before vanishing back into the wall.
"Well, that was unpleasant…" Ange muttered, and Louise agreed. But before more could be said, the massive door screeched piercing. The centre split, parting and revealing an antechamber—small and rectangular and lit by a warm orange glow.
Two towering Trandoshans stood inside, guarding another, smaller door. They eyed the Imperials warily, particularly Khem who looked to rival them in height.
Louise raised an eyebrow. Maybe I should've brought that old Scorekeeper relic with me…
"You are early, Dark Ones. Come, the Glorious Hutts will be here soon," one hissed, sounding menacing despite there being no malice in their words. Ange nodded curtly and the two Trandoshans escorted the Imperials deeper into the warehouse. Past the antechamber and a long, heavily guarded hallway, they entered the main chamber. And, the second Louise passed the threshold, she felt as if she had been teleported to a completely different building altogether all together.
A bright, golden light set the room aflame with colour and warmth. It was beautiful with carved stone statues and a pair of water fountains that acted as guides towards a grand table—an octagonal slab of sleek grey metal. Above hung a ring of holoprojectors like a chandelier. Off to the side was a lounge with several comfortable looking chairs scattered about. Behind that, was a bar manned by a humanoid-looking droid.
The walls were gilded and decorated with grand frescos of the Hutts themselves, standing grand in their decadence. Opulent, obviously, but opulent that was different from the grandiose but malevolent designs of the Sith. It reminded her more of her homeworld if simply… more.
Among it all, there were many armed guards. Mercenaries. Two guarded the entryway, six guarded each side of the meeting hall, and a few others scattered about.
And then there was the Imperial squadron, sitting at a small table to the left. Their black armour standing out among the reds and blues of everyone else.
"Admiral Ange!" an Imperial said, standing at attention along with his men. A Sergeant, from the make of his armour.
Ange joined them and Louise followed. "Ah, Sergeant Actos, I'm sure your trip here was pleasant?"
"Yes, sir!" Actos replied and the conversation quickly became a debriefing. Have they seen anything suspicious? How have the mercenaries treated them? What was security like?
The Sergeant was quick to reply: nothing suspicious so far; the mercenaries ignored them; security was tight.
Satisfied with the reply, Ange took his leave to question the mercenaries about when the Hutts would arrive. Louise left the Admiral be. He didn't need her following him like a lost puppy, and the less she had to do, the better. So, she loitered near the Imperials and began preparing herself mentally for the upcoming meeting.
Louise had never seen a Hutt in person. Status, holograms, and art? Yes, but never in person. Seeing one now… They were massive. At least as tall as Khem and three times as long, considering the tail. Wrinkly with an asymmetrical face, they looked like giant slugs but with flabby arms and large, intelligent reptilian eyes.
Jaw tight, Louise watched the Hutt enter. Nails bit into her palms, the pain being the only thing keeping her focused in the moment.
It—Kadogga—was being carried in on an ornate palanquin, hoisted on the shoulders of slaves. Six of them, all dressed in refinery. The only sign that they were slaves were the heavy metal collars digging into their neck.
Beside her, Khem grumbled, eyes sharp, "For one who holds themselves up so high, I could slay them in an instant…"
Louise wished he would.
Kadogga was led in from a back room and, as he approached, everyone got into position. The soldiers and mercenaries moved to their positions about the room, and Louise, Ange, and Khem took their place at the conference table—choosing to stand, instead of sitting.
The slaves carried Kodogga before the table, opposite from the Imperials, and set him down. As his palanquin settled on to the ground, the chandelier flickered to life and two grainy blue Hutts appeared on either side of him.
Louise blinked, eyeing the Hutts warily. Did they really just coordinate their entrance?
"Welcome, Dark Ones," Kodogga said in heavy Huttese only to be translated by one of their slaves. But the slave didn't just translate what the Hutt said. He aggrandized it beyond measure and drew out the simple greeting into something unnecessary and irritating.
"The glorious Hutt, Kodogga, Master of Four Sectors," said the slave, voice empty and monotonous, "welcomes the Dark Ones into their illustrious home."
Louise struggled to hide her irritation. Stars, I wish I had a mask, she thought. It wouldn't be out of keeping for a Sith, and she could simply ignore the Hutts and ignore the slaves that left her skin feeling fuzzy and warm. Distant.
"It is our pleasure," Ange lied. "We are humbled by your presence."
He bowed and Louise followed suit automatically—Khem as well, begrudgingly. And at that moment, she dearly hoped there were no Force-sensitives among the Hutt's entourage. Disgust burned in Ange's heart, Khem's too, scorching like the sun of the summer months.
The Hutts looked unimpressed and Kadogga rolled his body as if to say, "Get on with it."
With a very irate twitch of his eye, he cut to the point. "The Empire is facing a revolt by the denizens of Nar Shaddaa. Terrorist sects are growing, and criminal syndicates are taking advantage of the situation. We're asking you to help root these groups out and keep the streets safe from outside threats."
"Help?" Godoba—as one of the slaves revealed in their translation—laughed. "The mighty Sith Empire comes begging us for help?"
Before Ange could reply, Kadogga cut in. "These sects are an enemy of your own making and solely your own enemy," he said. "The Eagle is domestic, and the flame has no interest in anyone not Imperial. Why should we help?"
"The Empire has been a good friend to the Hutts. Nar Shaddaa's trade has improved in the past decade." Ange said, speaking as if he had prepared the speech weeks previous and practised endlessly. "However, if we do not get assistance with these… rebels, we'll be forced to take matters into our own hands."
"You have a tendency to make enemies easily, Imperial," said one of the Hutts. "You would turn Nar Shaddaa into a war zone."
"It wouldn't come to that if you helped us," replied Ange, something dangerous in his tone. "If you helped, we could deal with this threat quickly and decisively. Relations would continue and the Empire has always richly rewarded its allies."
"It isn't so simple," said Rezzeks—the final Hutt—briefly eyeing Godoba. "You've already made powerful enemies here on Nar Shaddaa. Who's to say they won't find our interference the perfect opportunity to expand their enterprises?"
Something about what the Hutt said rankled Louise's nose. She wasn't sure if it was hinting at what she thought it was, but she didn't care.
"The Exchange will be dealt with in due time," she said, voice firm and tinged with annoyance.
Godoba laughed. "Your confidence does nothing to stop the Exchange from sending your operatives back in pieces. How many have you lost? How many died 'dealing' with the Exchange?"
"And how many will die if you do nothing?" Annoyance turned swiftly to anger and it took all her self-control to stay composed. "If this gets anymore out of control—and it's already out of control—how many will die when we decide enough is enough and decide to act?"
She could sense irritation grow in the Hutts and she relished every second of it.
"More than that," Ange cut in, giving Louise a warning look, "what do you think will happen if you do forsake the Empire? What will the other Hutts think? That you're all too afraid to aid your allies? That you're too weak? It'd be blood in the water for your competitors and there wouldn't be anyone by your side to help."
"I'm sure the Republic would be very thankful for any information on the Empire's movements…" replied Rezzeks, looking down at the Ange with a tilted head.
"And I'm sure the Republic would pay handsomely for that, at first," said Ange, easily. "and the second it is convenient, they'll drop you. Cut all ties. Deny ever dealing with you. And you'll be back to square one. The Republic doesn't care about you; the Republic has outlawed half of what you deal in! But we, the Empire? Have we not already shown you to be good business partners? Have we not already shown that we are more than ready to reward our allies, to protect them, and help them prosper?"
Louise frowned. She knew what the Hutts dealt with. Drugs. Weapons. Slaves. It made her sick. It made her sick even being here in the room with them. The Empire was better than this. No, it could be better than this. Better than the Hutts. Better than the barbaric act of slavery.
The Hutts were silent for a time, looking between each other. They didn't look convinced. Godoba especially. Kadogga opened his mouth, and—
A thunderous crack rocked the building. Blaster fire, muffled by walls, filled the air.
Everyone snapped to the door, hands reaching for their weapons.
Kodogga hissed, eyes blazing. "What's going on, here?"
"It appears we have some visitors," Ange replied, teeth bared in a feral grin. "Soldiers, ready yourselves!"
At the order, the Imperials snapped into action. Blasters were primed, their safeties off, and some slinked away behind cover, barrels aimed at the door. The mercenaries hesitated, eyes darting around from the door to the Imperials to their master, before readying their own weapons.
"What's going on?" Koddoga repeated, the other Hutts shifting anxiously. "Who is attacking?"
But nobody answered.
Louise ignited her lightsaber, setting herself into the stance of Soresu. It wasn't perfect. The Sith preferred offence to defence and she had few opportunities to practice. But she had allies—mercenaries and soldiers—and she hoped they'd help.
"Finally," growled Khem, deep and reverberating, drawing his own sword.
The blaster fire died a moment later.
Silence reigned. Tense. Anxiety-confusion-fear-anger filed the room, a whirlwind of emotion that left Louise uneasy. She knew what was coming yet she didn't know—she could feel beyond the wall, beyond the door (less dots on a map and more ripples in a pool) people and their chaotic emotion and the thrill of a fight and vindication and so much all around her and beyond her. Frigid cold and hot enough to burn.
And then the door exploded.
Time seemed to slow down to a standstill. Seconds felt like minutes as Louise watched the fire rip through the reinforced durasteel.
Four mercenaries, too close to the blast, were thrown off their feet—blood spraying as thick metal shards ripped through their armour and flesh like it was nothing. Those further away braced themselves and threw themselves behind cover. Most were lucky. Others fell to the floor, limp, like a puppet losing its strings.
And as the smoke billowed out the newly made hole, it was set alight all over again. Sapients of all kinds poured through the door, blasters blazing in a rabid fervour—a deluge of superheated death. Those not behind cover were quickly cut down, charring flesh and piercing armour.
A technicolour nightmare.
Only Louise and Khem stood, sentinels among it all—lightsaber and sword carving through the air until they were nothing more than blurs of raging gold and cold silver. Bolts of plasma clashed, deflected off in random directions. No control. No finesse. Just desperate, frenzied swings—a constant stream of pure instinct intermingled with the guiding presence of the Force.
Louise knew she couldn't keep it up for long. Neither of them could. They were two against what seemed like a small army armed with assault blasters and cannons.
Pain lanced across her shoulder, bright. Intense. Another, across her thigh. Flesh charred even with a glancing blow. She hissed, dropping to her knee, eyes burning with hatred. Enough!
Pain turned to rage burning bright in her gut and singing through the Force. And with a roar of frustration, she slashed her blade towards the attackers.
Lightning arched, exploding in a wave of telekinetic energy, shredding the floor, incinerating water, and shattering statues. Bolts of plasma were battered away like birds in a storm—people thrown off their feet, bodies breaking against walls as electricity ravaged their bodies.
In the brief reprieve, Louise snapped her fingers, pooling all that hate and anger deep inside ash she ripped at the Force—demanding it to obey her command.
Fire bloomed, a savage crimson—too red to be natural—and bent it into a wall that split the room.
The Flame's men shrieked—those few who survived—some caught in the blaze that swiftly consumed them to naught but ash. Others, terrified, fled, backing into corners, hiding behind statues, or crawling back from where they came from.
She smiled, teeth bared and gritted, lips split viciously.
Their fear—their terror—it was like the sweetest of Ithuun's apples and she gorged herself on it, fulling the flames of her luminous wrath made manifest.
Courage tempered their fear, and she could feel a new presence enter the room—old, bitter, angry.
Sneering at the interloper, she drew back, ready to unleash her hate upon—
"Sith." A voice spoke. A voice of a thousand men all speaking in unison. Their hate, their anger bubbling in that deep baritone. Unnerving. It gave Louise pause, reverberating throughout the hall, clear as day. "We have no business with you."
Her golden eyes narrowed, turning swiftly to pink as the winds left her sails. "Who are you?" she asked. "The Flame, I presume?"
She could feel him approach the wall of fire, inquisitive. Irritated. So bright in the Force yet blind to it nonetheless. He didn't reply. Not yet. He was simply content with inspecting her sorcery which struggled and bucked against her control—struggling for freedom, hungry to consume everything it touched.
Ange swore, quietly.
Crouched behind the statue, he was a pitiful sight—holding his shoulder as if wounded. Was he shot? Shrapnel? He didn't look pained—but Imperial education often taught tolerances to such things. "It's a blasted Gen'dai!"
Pure unrelenting rage, so unlike her own, flooded the room, choking the air with its potency. Hotter than her fire; hotter than the stars themselves: it was an ancient rage and its epicentre was the newcomer.
"Is that the Admiral I hear?" he asked, the barest hint of a sneer marring his tone. "How nice to finally meet you, even with this fire between us."
Ange bared his teeth, crawling out from behind cover and strode towards the blazing wall. A retort was on his lips and she had no doubt whatever he would say would be as lethal as the blaster in his hand. But the fighting had stopped. For now. The few Imperials who still lived hid, weapons at the ready, mercenaries by their side. And while she couldn't see her attackers anymore, they hadn't taken advantage of the lull in the fight—a lull Louise hoped to stretch as far as she could.
"What do you mean you 'have no business' with me?" she asked, glaring past the fire and at the man she assumed was the Flame.
She could feel his eyes return to her, boring into her as if the wall of fire wasn't there at all. "You were not one of the Sith who came to my world to destroy it. It was the Admiral who led that attack and it is the Admiral who will die for it."
"What did he do?"
What did he do? What did he do. The Flame told her what he did. He came to their planet and destroyed it. It was as simple as that. Yet, even as her skin bubbled with simmering anger, she couldn't help but want more. What did he do.
"My lord, I didn't bring you here to talk!" barked Ange. "Burn the monstrosity, now!"
"Silence!" Louise spat, rounding on the Admiral. The room flickered blue, the flames shifting and changing—a physical manifestation of her emotional state.
With a slash of her hand, the fire split where the Flame stood, revealing him to the Sith and Imperial.
He was large. Hulking. Almost as tall as Khem, perhaps taller. He was dressed in thick, heavy armour—blue in colour with white highlight. But it wasn't his dress that caught her eye. Rather, it was his face. Bulbus and scaled, almost lizard-like with two beady red eyes and needle-like fangs jutting from his mouth. But there was something off. He was almost human—certainly with a human-like face—but even then that was inadequate in describing just how wrong he left her feeling. Too human. Too in-human. A mix of the two and something nothing of either.
Louise tried her best to stay steely calm, stoic in the face of her supposed enemy. but her unease was clear in the subtle shift of her stance and the tilt of her brows. "What did the Admiral do?"
Briefly shocked by her lowering of the fire—and the hesitation she could sense as he wondered whether he should act and kill the man he felt such unimaginable hatred for, or if he should wait—he looked between the two. His anger returned, burning and brighter and brighter as his eyes lingered on the Admiral, but before he could do anything more, she repeated the question. "What. Did. He. Do?"
The Flame snapped from his trance, looking at Louise with narrowed, intelligent, and frightening eyes.
"He destroyed my home" he said with thinly veiled contempt. "He destroyed my people. We had done nothing to your people when your Empire set upon us. Led by the esteemed Admiral Jefand Ange no less. They set upon us, bombing our planet to glass, slaughtering our people—our children—or simply selling them as slaves. In fact, every sapient here—every one of them—has suffered at the hand of your Empire unprovoked!"
"And it was nothing less than you abominations des—akh!" The Admiral clawed at his throat, an invisible force lifting him high into the air, squeezing tighter and tighter.
When she turned to look at the Admiral, her eyes were ablaze with the hatred and anger, not just her own but of the Flame and all his men. Sweet Ithuun's apple turned bitter in her mouth. "Admiral," she hissed, positively furious, "I told you to be silent!"
With that scream, she slammed Ange into the ground with a sickening thud and banished the wall of fire—letting all see what was transpiring.
"Khem," she continued, "if the Admiral speaks again, cut off his head." Khem, who had been watching the proceedings quietly with narrowed eyes, nodded his head slow and approached the coughing Admiral, blade at the ready.
She turned back to the Flame and tried her best to reign in her temper. "If you hate the Empire so much, why bother speak with me? Why not just fight and get your revenge?"
The Flame hesitated only briefly, watching the proceedings with unreadable glint in his eye. "We Gen'dai were a peaceful people," he said eventually. "Before your Empire came, war was a forgotten thing—an artefact of a bygone age. Killing was but a mercy save only for those Gen'dai poisoned by their immortality. Though my goals call for the destruction of your Empire, I will not betray my people and their teachings. I will not kill needlessly."
Louise could tell he was only speaking half-truths but ignored it as something he said stuck in her mind like a splinter. "You won't kill needlessly? Are you telling me Agent Metis' death was necessary? That he needed to be mutilated and crucified for everyone to see? Does your culture routinely disembowel and crucify spies?"
"That spy was an… unfortunate event." Disgust and displeasure wafted off the Gen'dai like a bad smell. His words were true, if from a certain point of view. "I did not perform in his butchering. And not everyone follows my people's beliefs."
"The filthy bitch got what he deserved!" hissed one of the terrorists. A Twi'lek woman of green skin and blue tattoos—heavily armoured like her leader.
Louise's lips twitched, the desire to do unto her what she had done unto Ange agony to resist. Yet resist she did, focusing on the pain in her shoulder—the chafing stinging pain—and the aching in her leg to ground her. "If you cannot control your friend's tongue as I do mine, this conversation is over. I will have no one insulting the dead just as I will have none of the Admiral's xenophobic refuse."
The Flame tilted his head. "You are a curious Sith. Courtesy for courtesy, then. Onith-Xesh, show this Sith the same respect she has shown us."
"I said what I said," the Flame said, turning to his compatriot and pinning her with a pointed look. "If this Sith can be cordial, so can we." He turned back to Louise. "Okay, Sith, what have you to say?"
The air was tense. Brittle. Like a sheet of glass. Imperials, mercenaries and terrorists alike stood ready, blasters in hand. Yet, at the Flame's word and the Sith's actions, the fighting had ceased. So, they waited. And waited. And waited, watching dutifully, fearfully, or begrudgingly as the Sith and the Gen'dai talked.
"I sympathise with your plight, Flame. I am familiar with the bite of slave collars—" She briefly glanced at Ange, finding an aspect of Commander Bosket glinting madly in his eyes, sickening her to her stomach. Absently, she rubbed her neck— "and I am disgusted by what the Empire has done to your people. To all your people."
The admission was genuine, for all the aliens about the room, but she could sense the disbelief as if it were oily hair several days unwashed.
"Then give us the Admiral and we shall part peacefully."
"And what would you do then?" Louise replied. "You said it yourself, you want to destroy the Empire and, that, I cannot allow. I cannot allow you to continue terrorizing Imperial citizens. I cannot allow you to continue killing my people. And if I let you have the Admiral, there's no stopping you from continuing your attacks. So, tell me, why would I do that?"
"You already know that I do not die easily. You would be trading his life for yours."
Ange huffed but the greatsword by his neck forestalled any words.
Louise regarded him, briefly, trying to probe what he wanted to so obviously say. In the end, she decided to simply let him talk. "Speak, Ange, but if you provoke anyone here, I will give you to him."
The threat was empty—she had just gone on length about why she wouldn't do that—but it served his purpose. Ange knew disobeying would bring about her wrath and he seemed to have some survival instincts.
He looked to the Flame, meeting his fiery red eyes with his own brown ones. "We know who you are, the Flame. We know what you are. You said it yourself, I spearheaded the attack on your—" Ange hesitated, biting back whatever obviously offensive comment he was going to say— "homeplanet. You don't have the element of surprise anymore. You will either lose this fight—especially if my lord pulls her little fire trick again—or you will lose the next one. It is only a matter of time."
The Flame considered Ange's word with the clear disgust that entailed. "Then it seems we are at an impasse. I will not leave without the Admiral being punished for his crimes against me and my people."
"Hmm…" Louise was silent for a time, humming in thought. "If you continue this course of action, it won't end well," she said, echoing Ange's own thoughts. But thinking on it, she felt it wouldn't just be the Flame's life that would be on the line. "Your code of honour, the beliefs of your people—the Gen'dai. Do you believe that these beliefs will hold true if you continue this crusade against the Empire? Do you believe that, if through some luck you succeed, that you'll be the same Gen'dai you were when your planet was first invaded? What would your younger self think if they met you now?"
It was an uncomfortable question—a terrible question. One she didn't want to answer herself but one she needed to ask if she was to resolve this peacefully.
The Flame didn't answer for a time, staring at Louise with those unreadable eyes of his. Emotion fluttered about him, chaotic and unreadable in their complexity. He just stood there, back straight as an arrow, silent.
When he did speak, it was low and thoughtful. "Then… what would you have us do?"
"Leave. Find the rest of the Gen'dai, those spared the Admiral's barbarity. Find a new world and make it our home. If you do this, if you all do this," she said to all those who had followed the Flame, "I promise you that you will be spared and you will be able to live out your lives peacefully. In return, I will make sure your actions—the lives of all those Imperials dead, the factories burned and suffering you've caused—falls on the Admiral's head."
Louise held out a hand, staying Khem's blade. "Admiral, you failed. You attacked the Gen'dai world unprovoked. You murdered them, destroyed their planet, and enslaved the rest. It is because of these actions—your actions—that the Flame did any of this. Revenge for what you did. I will make sure that everything comes back to you, sir, and you and I both know how the Empire treats 'failures.'"
Ange looked up at her, flashes of dark emotions swirling around him. Inky black. But in the end, he stayed silent, stewing in his own helplessness. There wasn't much to do, especially when a blade hung near his throat.
"You have given me much to think about…" he said, sounding unsure. Unconvinced.
"The Empire knows what you are now," Louise said. "If you continue on your quest to destroy the Empire, you might not be treated with the same respect. Your rebellion will be crushed. All hope for the Gen'dai to live on could very well be ruined. Nothing will change. You will achieve nothing."
"Change…" He hummed, thoughtful.
"Sir, you can't be considering this?" asked one of the Flame's men—a Togruta. "Are you just going to give up? She and her ilk have destroyed countless worlds. Even now their evil spreads through the galaxy like a poison!"
The Flame shook his head, waving the Togruta off. "No, we will discuss this later," he said in a tone that brooked no argument. "For now, we shall accept the Sith's offer to leave peacefully. Go, collect the fallen. We're done here."
And with that, he left. The rest of his men followed (begrudgingly), taking with them their fallen comrades. And only once they had left the building—once she had sensed them leave the area—did she relax, taking a deep breath and sagging as if sapped of all strength. Her wounds hurt but the pain was negligible. They would be dealt in due time.
She dismissed Khem with a wave of her hand and a few muttered words. He stalked off to take a seat at the lounge, and she was left with a royally infuriated and defeated Admiral Ange.
He clicked his tongue, absently testing the wound on his shoulder—a shrapnel wound from the looks of things. "I will respect our decision, my lord—" Somehow, he managed to make the term of address an insult— "but if these aliens continue to strike against the Empire, it will be on your head—not mine!—that the responsibility falls to. And I hope you are prepared for what the Empire does to failures…"
"Had you left the Gen'dai alone, Admiral," Louise replied, glaring down the man who stood a head and a half taller than her, "we wouldn't be dealing with him. But if the Flame and his men betray their word, I will personally amend their mistake."
He rolled his eyes, all pretences of respect gone. "Return to Agent Madel and make your report. I'm sure I'll have personal matters to deal with within the week."
A retort was hot on her lips, biting and snide, but before she could say anything, a loud cough resounded throughout the chamber—jarring in the tired quietness of post-battle and aggressive negotiations.
Louise arched an eyebrow, casting her gaze over to the far corner of the room. A bar with gilded inlays and decorated shelves of shattered bottles. And behind the bar was a Hutt, easily visible with is bulky mass jutting above the countertop like a particularly wrinkly island in the sea. It coughed again and wiped its hands down its sides, looking remarkably lost for one who held themselves so high moments before.
"I—er… cannot speak for the other two," Kadogga said in Basic, unsure and unpractised, "but you have my support."