The Force worked in mysterious ways sometimes.

That was never more apparent to Xiaan Amersu as she sat in a medical bay, a cloak draped over her body to conceal the revealing slave wear she had been made to wear. She sat beside the bed of her Jedi Master, J'Mikel. Captured by the Black Sun, tortured and enslaved after trying to undermine their slaving operations.

And their savior was none other than Darth Vader himself.

She shivered as she felt his presence. It was everywhere on this ship as if proving this entire construct was his domain. His Force presence was not focused on her, mercifully, but she knew it well. He was still as imposing now as he had been five years ago...

A cough from her sleeping master dragged her from her memories with a start. she shook her head free as she looked him over. He was injured heavily. They'd be putting him in a bacta tank soon after they were sure they removed anything that had been...lodged into him.

She tried not to think about the bloodied pieces of jagged metal she had seen being disposed of just before she had been brought here.

Still, Force willing, he would live. So would she.

"You are barely more than a child."

She wasn't startled by the voice next to her. She had felt her approach in the Force. In fact, it had been all but broadcasted to her.

She turned and saw a hooded woman, a human as far as she could tell. She was half seated on the table next to her, one leg off the side, the other propped up on the edge.

"Are you Vader's apprentice?" Xiaan asked, the words almost automatic.

"Bold of you to assume he has one. It'd be bolder of me to answer," the woman answered. "You may call me Palawa."

Palawa. The name was foreign to her, but something about it made the Force tingle at her lekkus. "Did he send you to watch over us?"

"Nothing of the sort," Palawa waved off. "...You're untouched."

Xiaan noted a tint of surprise in the woman's voice. "He...trained me, but never actually..." she swallowed thickly. "He was saving me for a...special buyer."

Palawa nodded slowly. "Are there any more Jedi we have to worry about being captured or killed?"

"Not with us, no," Xiaan answered with a sigh, reaching up to her neck, touching the metal collar still on her neck.

"Be patient, Lord Vader wants those off you all as soon as possible," Palawa informed with a gentler edge. "He just doesn't trust there not to be an auto-detonation feature if they are forced off."

Xiaan nodded. "I understand. It just...feels like he's still there. Not Vader, but...the Vigo. That he'll punish me any moment now for misbehaving."

Palawa allowed the silence to come over them for a moment, a soft cry drawing their attention elsewhere.

Further down the medical bay were the rest of the freed slaves, gathered around while sitting on chairs and two medical beds. One of them was crying softly into the shoulder of another.

"What will happen to them?" Xiaan asked uncertainly.

"I'm not sure myself. It's not important for my duties, so I didn't inquire. But you likely won't be seeing them again once you leave this ship and go your seperate ways," Palawa informed.

Xiaan frowned, looking at her master in worry.

"I'm a woman, but that doesn't mean I can sympathize or help you with this," Palawa admitted bluntly. "Your master will live, and he will know you are close. You should go, and be with those that can understand your pain. Many are not that fortunate."

"Is it fortunate? To have another know the same pain as me?" Xiaan asked softly.

"It is fortunate you are all alive and have time to share in being free," Palawa answered, nodding to the group. "Go. I will leave, so you don't feel the need to worry about your master."

Xiaan nodded in agreement. If the woman stayed, she would be worried about Palawa subtly poisoning or killing her master. Because Sith or not, this woman was strong and had power in the Dark Side of the Force.

Palawa stood and left, while Xiaan gathered her courage and resolve. She slowly got to her feet and joined the others.

Meanwhile

A bone snapped sickeningly, a scream coming from behind gritted teeth as a blaster clattered to the floor.

"The depths of your foolishness are impressive, Sing."

Aurra Sing breathed deeply as she snapped her wrist back into place. "I'm still alive. Why?"

Darth Vader regarded her with such ease and indifference, it was insulting. "You are still of use to me. I am merely deciding how."

"Well, I doubt it's for my company. You have some of that already," she said with a smirk, hiding her fear as she tried to think her way out of this situation.

Vader's helm tilted minutely. "You do not speak of the freed slaves."

Aurra snorted derisively. "I may not be the most charming, Vader, but I have learned to tell what kind of woman a man likes. Easier to trick them if I can play the part," she said with a chuckle. "I heard what you did to Ertern. About what I would have done if I had been sent to kill him. I enjoy a touch of irony in my kills, if the situation allows."

Vader said nothing, allowing her to speak more.

"No, a man like you needs no simpering slave girl, fearful of your every word. Why, if you wanted any servile lover, I imagine you'd want them much more...aggressive. Like an attack dog," Aurra Sing mused, showing a bit of teeth. "Was that what you were intending to keep me for? Or does that Palawa already fill that role?"

Vader found it fascinating that, ever since that fateful day on Mustafar, this was perhaps the least insulting speculation he had ever heard about his possible sex life. It was also amazing how often grown adults pondered such things in less than private areas.

"You presume much of yourself, " Vader retorted flatly. "I am tempted to turn you over to the Jedi."

"But you can't, I know too much," Sing said with a confident smirk.

It died as she felt a dark amusement radiating from Vader, almost as if he was chuckling through the Force itself. "Do you?"

Sing narrowed her eyes.

"You know the planet my forces use as a base. You know of some of my dealings around the galaxy. You believe that it would be detrimental for others to learn this, that being able to reveal this information gives you power. It does not," Vader remarked. "Or are you foolish to believe that Palawa was all I hid from you?"

Sing's nails scraped against the metal wall, her stance tense. She knew Vader would never show all of his cards to her, but it was becoming very clear she had known far less than she previously suspected. "What do you want?"

The Force congealed around Vader as a menacing, terrible thing. He approached and the bounty hunter found herself backing away, her bravado evaporating. "To teach you a lesson in choosing your betrayals wisely."

Sing backed up against the wall as Vader approached her. She had three choices.

One, suicide. Not her ideal choice any day, but she wasn't confident Vader wouldn't accidentally kill her during this "lesson" she was to receive.

Two, run. Getting by Vader and out of the room was a dismally slim possibility. Even then, getting off this ship would be highly unlikely.

Three, let it happen. That was almost more unappealing than dying, just taking her punishment and not fighting back. But if Vader wanted to keep her useful, he wouldn't cripple her. Not too much.

He was almost in front of her now.

Well, there was option four.

Resist.

With a snarl, she used the Force to throw everything in the room at Vader. Medical equipment, mostly. At the same time, she jumped over Vader, kicking off the wall.

Vader casually stopped the wall of hurtling debris, reaching up to grab Sing by the ankle and hurl her back into the wall.

"You are not trying to escape," he observed pointedly.

"Yeah, I'm screwed," Sing agreed with a smirk, ignoring the pain as she picked herself back up. "I just didn't want to make it easy for you. I'm sure you can respect that."

He could, and he did.

That didn't mean he would make this any less painful for her.

Meanwhile

Anakin yawned as he stood off to the side of a meeting room as his master tried to keep the diplomatic gathering civil.

Tried being the operative word.

No fists had been thrown. Yet, at least. But there was a lot of yelling, accusing, and many curse words native to this planet.

Besides Qui-Gon and himself, everyone in the room was an Albingi; on the surface, they were humans with a very shiny skin tone that was an actual shade of copper. It almost looked like polished metal.

He largely tuned out the debating at the point they were all starting to repeat and circle back on themselves and took stock of the situation.

There were three factions here. The Albingi were a united planet on paper, led by a very small council, overseen by a High Counsellor.

Of course, many places were not so united on a global scale. A civil war was possible to break out here and they had been sent to manage the negotiations and also look into the origin of the situation.

"That is enough!" the High Counsellor called, tapping a ceremonial staff. "We are all high on temper and short on words. We will retire for the day."

"But High Counsellor, we-" one of the faction leaders started to protest, but another stamp of the staff made him bite his tongue in annoyance. "Very well."

The group of a dozen statesmen, plus their bodyguards, all filed out. None looked particularly happy with the meeting's ending, grumbling to their colleagues.

The High Counsellor sighed, running a hand through his thin green hair. "I am happy you are here, Master Jinn. I fear they would have been more willing to speak with fists if you were not present."

"So I felt," Jinn noted.

"Speak honestly, what is your first impression of the situation?" The High Counsellor questioned with a tired, wise look about him.

"I would actually hope you don't mind if I ask my Padawan that myself, High Counsellor?" Qui-Gon asked, looking at Anakin with interest.

Anakin approached the table, nodding in respect to the elder Albingi. "Sir."

"Children often notice what we ignore. Speak, young one," The High Counsellor asked.

Anakin nodded. "May I start this with an apology? I know that there are three distinct people of Albingi, but-"

"I am aware," The High Counselor said with a look of near amusement. "Most humans can't perceive the difference in how our skin appears. You cannot see the shimmer of the Altin, the shade of the Patipo, or the flow of Maspu."

"But the colors of the uniforms and clothes are all unique enough that I could keep track of who was who," Anakin mused. "To my understanding, the issue is that each race actually is biologically reliant on a species of berries. Your infants are all reliant on it, their bodies needing something from the berries to help them grow and survive past their first years. Am I getting that all right so far?"

"All you have said is correct," The High Counsellor assured. "It is normally not a problem. The Alberry is easy to grow and can thrive in most regions of our planet."

"And now one of your continents has a famine," Anakin added in grimly. "The one that...Maspu, I believe, live primarily in."

The Old Albingi nodded slowly, expectantly.

"So, if I followed all that screaming correctly, the Maspu are accusing the Altin and Patipo of holding out on shipments of the crop. The Patipo claim to be doing the best they can, but are worried about the famine spreading and are angry that the Maspu is endangering the rest of the planet. And they were being very subtle about it, but it seemed like the Altin was accusing the Maspu of...exaggerating the famine? And maybe trying to get a monopoly on the Alberry by letting the famine spread?"

The High Counsellor chuckled morbidly at that. "It wasn't subtle, not for us. The three of Albingi only came together three hundred years ago. Long enough for old grudges to die, but not long enough for all biases to be forgotten. But one cannot blame any side overtly. The Mapsu's newborns are starving and dying now, the Patipo fear the same for their own in the future, and the Altin are wary of being oppressed by either side again."

"Past, Present, and Future," Qui-Gon mused. "High Counsellor, may I ask what is known about the cause of the famine, in terms of facts?"

"Very little, I'm afraid. "The continent is quarantined. We have been transporting the berries by transport ships, placing down entire containers without truly landing," The High Counsellor explained with a head shake. "Alberries famines have happened before, but never on this scale."

"They're all being driven by fear, but most of their concerns are legitimate," Anakin mused before taking a breath. "High Counselor? I won't pretend to be a voice of wisdom, but I can usually tell when a situation is worse than it looks. I believe there is still a chance to resolve this peacefully without anyone feeling backed into a corner. I'm just not sure how, personally."

"Good, honest words," The High Counsellor said with a nod, looking to Jinn. "Do you have a suggestion, Jedi Master?"

"If there is a plot against the unity of your people, the easiest way to expose it would be by attempting to protect that unity," Qui-Gon answered. "Tell me, do Alberries grow on any other planets?"

"Yes. While the taste is mild for us, certain other worlds find it delicious. We export a small amount of it, but there is another planet that grows it plenty," The High Counsellor answered.

"Why haven't you reached out to them yet?" Anakin asked in curious surprise.

"The Council voted against it. At the time, it was believed we could handle the strain. I am the High Counsellor, but I am not a ruler. That is not a decision I have the power to make without approval," he explained with a sigh. "But you are right, my Jedi friends. It is time we push that option again before our young are buried by our fears and hubris."

It wasn't too long later that Padawan and Master were leaving for their own guest quarters in the council building. "What do you think, Master? You believe there is a plot?" Anakin asked, keeping his senses keen for anyone listening in.

"I'm not sure. A famine like this could just be a cruel coincidence of nature," Qui-Gon mused with a frown ."But I feel something is going on all the same. We should know more once we investigate this famine."

Famine. It was such a strange concept to Anakin sometimes. He had once been so used to Tatooine that he had trouble believing that droughts and famines weren't a planet trying to return to a more barren state naturally.

He glanced back for a moment before shaking his head.

Qui-Gon hummed and decided to continue this more privately. 'You can sense Vader, can't you?' he asked through their Force bond.

Anakin smiled sardonically. 'He was angry again, now he's not. Someone is probably either dead or in a lot of pain right now.'

Ever since that vision or meeting in the Cave of the Dark Side, Anakin found himself being able to sense Vader from across time and space. He didn't know where he was or what he was doing, but certain spikes of emotion or uses of the Force got Anakin's attention.

Qui-Gon frowned to himself, wondering just who and what had drawn that Sith's ire now. 'Back in the cave, you're sure he didn't try to contact you through the Force?'

'He was definitely watching, but I don't think he was watching me exactly,' Anakin answered with an uncertain look.

When he had left the Cave, mind still reeling, he had found himself in the Force and realized that Vader's attention was aimed towards him.

Towards him, but not at him.

"Ahh, Master Qui-Gon, was it?"

Anakin came out of his inner musing as a new voice grabbed their attention.

"Hmm, I wasn't expecting you here," Qui-Gon greeted idly.

"In a galaxy filled with tinder, I am hoping this spark will be easier to calm."

Anakin furrowed his brow. This person was vaguely familiar, but he couldn't place the name for some reason.

"This is my Padawan, Anakin Skywalker," Qui-Gon answered civilly. "Anakin, this is the Magister of Damask Holdings, Hego Damask."

Darth Plagueis wore his smile perfectly. "Always a pleasure to meet a new, aspiring Jedi."

The Dark Side grinned over Anakin's shoulder.

Meanwhile

Eventually, Vader was finished with Sing. She would live but would require a bacta tank to recover in a day or so. With that lesson done, he left to tend to another matter.

That matter being the freed slave that was so quick to give up her freedom.

The double-lekku Twi'lek had been provided a room aboard the Star Destroyer. It was truly just a more cushy holding cell, very sparse in anything superficial. A given, being on a military ship.

He opened the door and found her already kneeling on the floor, waiting to greet him.

It might have surprised another, thinking she had knelt there and been waiting for hours. But he knew that she had sensed him drawing closer.

"Sarhoha," she greeted with a smile, bowing her head in respect.

Vader allowed the door to close behind him, and let his presence bear down on this woman for a long moment.

If he was Anakin Skywalker, he probably would have chaffed against this situation. But he was Darth Vader, and he was above such weaknesses. Regardless, he was as cautious as he was curious. Who was this Twi'lek? She had power in the Force, but she was untrained. Yet she had seen visions of his coming to liberate them and had all but sworn herself to him. Or implied as much.

"Rise," he ordered. As she did, he only now noticed that she was wearing something more modest, a simple pair of grey pants and shirt they had managed to provide. "Who are you?"

"'Master' Etern called me T'lanan," she answered, saying the title of Master like it was something disgusting.

Vader approved of that if nothing else. "He called you Prize," he said, recognizing the Twi'lek word. "What is your true name?"

"I don't have one," she answered honestly, but far too casually. "As far as I know, my mother was not even permitted to name me before I was taken away. I have been a slave since all my days could remember, Sarhoha."

There was that title again. It was like Master, but more along the lines of Lord or Liege. "Why do you wish to serve me?"

The nameless one smiled a sad, bitter smile. "I would have died without you, Lord Vader."

Vader tilted his helm, inquiring her to elaborate.

"I knew that if I could not escape the Vigo, I would one day die. I had dreamt of it, like a pleasant nightmare. Terrifying to die, but a promise that this would all end eventually. Then, five years ago, I dreamed of you. And I have dreamt of you ever since," she answered softly.

"You should be wary of dreams and visions. They rarely mean what you believe," Vader said as he allowed his hold over the Dark Side to let slip. "You may find me more terrible than the Vigo."

"I know."

Vader could safely admit, he didn't imagine he'd be surprised by such a quick and honest answer.

"You are dark and terrible to behold," she said, her eyes glazed as she looked into the Force. "I have no doubt that if you desired, you could make my life one of unending suffering and agony."

Vader observed her for a moment. Despite all that, there was no fear or doubt in her. But also no...expectation. No hope, no nothing. Just a strange contentment that he couldn't truly attribute to the Light Side. "Then why do you wish to swear yourself to me, instead of seeking your own freedom?"

"Serving you is my freedom, Sarhoha," she answered with a smile. "Nothing in my life has ever been my choice. And even if I did, I'd have no idea what to do with freedom. it is...like a piece of art behind a display to me. I can see it. I can describe it. But I can't have it, I can't use it, and I can't make it for myself."

Vader understood that sentiment very well.

"Please do not misunderstand and think of me as a stray beast hoping to stay," she requested softly. "I'm not choosing to serve you because I feel like I have to. I want to. And if you're cruel to me? Horrible to me? Then it will still sting less, knowing it was my own choice that led me there."

Vader grew silent in contemplation. "This is the first choice you have ever made. Even if it is a foolish decision, I will not belittle its importance to you," Vader granted. "You are powerful in the Force. You know of this?"

She hummed thoughtfully. "I do, somewhat. Etern was...conditioning me to be a better companion with my abilities. To be able to sense someone's desires and to soothe their emotions."

The man had been using a connection to the Force as a way of boosting this woman's worth as a slave. Vader suddenly wished Etern had been strong in the Force, strong enough for Vader to bind his spirit someplace unpleasant for eternity.

"I will find a place for you among those that serve me," Vader said finally. He wasn't quite sure what to do with her yet, but perhaps the Force had brought him to her for a reason. Perhaps she could be useful in the long term.

The Twi'lek smiled brightly. "Thank you, Sarhoha. But may I ask one thing of you?"

"That would be?" Vader asked bluntly.

"Is my name still T'lanan?"

He somewhat regretted asking.

End of Chapter

So, yeah, recovery chatper for all of the Black Sun victims, along with Anakin and Qui-Gon dealing with something on another plane- and Plagueis is there. Yeah. Trying to play right what Xiaan an d the others are going through.

Okay, so, T'lanan. OC of mine. Her creation and inclusion was completely spontaneous, but also felt like a fun curveball to throw at Vader. She's probably going to be a background/minor character for the most part. To quote DBZ Abridged, her mindset is "This might be a mistake, but it's mine to make."

Early viewing of chapters 15-16 avaliable on my pat-reon:

p a treon . com (slash) akumakami64