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Thinithil
30 December 2004, 11:58 AM
Chapter 84



Thrace Starwind’s head was throbbing, and at first all he could perceive was a dim glow, high above. Then something moved to stand over him, something huge, blocking out all of the light. As he struggled to focus, a thin, hatchet-like face leered down at him, its mouth twisted into a cruel grin. Half of that face gleamed coldly, as though it were metal, one eye was glowing bright red.

The figure raised an arm, and a whip-like appendage suddenly issued forth from its hand. It crackled and hummed dangerously, like a live wire.

Thrace tried to move away, but found that he couldn’t - his wrists are restrained to the wall behind him. His captor swung the vibrowhip back and forth, slowly, and casually. Then his arm swung up and forward with startling speed-- and searing pain lashed across the Jedi’s chest.

A voice cried out in Thrace’s head, familiar and female, a voice he was used to sounding calm and serene, but right now it sounded wracked with agony.

“Thrace, don’t worry about me, take care of the others,” the voice implored. “It was a trap, we walked right into it...”

Thrace shuddered, and with a start his eyes flew open. Beautiful blue eyes gazed back into his. He smiled at the woman’s lovely face, framed with ash-gold hair, and she smiled back...

”Thesme, I... ”

...But the blue in her eyes was a little too cold, and her hair was too long and fair. It wasn’t Thesme’s face at all...it was...

“—Oriana. Thrace, it’s Oriana,” the lovely young woman, shook him gently. “It’s okay... we’re back on Belial.”

Thrace tried shaking his head on his own and looked around at his surroundings. In a daze, he noticed that he was lying on a luxurious couch in a high-ceilinged, vaulted chamber. The walls were made of fitted gray stone, the doors-polished wood. The room was decorated with woven cloth tapestries and elaborate furniture, and sunlight streamed in through narrow vertical windows. This certainly didn’t seem like Bespin-Mod architecture, but it was familiar... with a start he realized that he must indeed be in Zurich’s palace, or perhaps Zandar’s, Oriana’s home.

How, he had no idea.

“Belial?” He managed, “We couldn’t possibly be back on Belial.”

Wheels within wheels, visions on top of visions, the young Jedi was feeling extremely disoriented both from his injuries and the (imagined?) torture session. He attempted to stand.

“Where are Ivory and Thesme?” he asked, wondering exactly how perhaps the most helpless person on Tibanna City could have rescued him... if this was a rescue... His mind quickly became clearer, “Where are the others!” he demanded.

“Please try to relax, Commander,” the Princess soothed. “You’ve been out for quite a while. We’ve all been very concerned.” She smiled again. “Some things have changed in the meantime, but don’t worry -- the others are here, and they’re fine.”

A cold feeling began to gnaw at Thrace’s core. This had to be some sort of compound or Force induced hallucination. But if it were some sort of manipulation, he would sense it... somehow... wouldn’t he? He tried to calmly, and briefly, make contact with the energy that was his ally.

“Carefully.” He warned himself. “Oriana is sensitive enough to the Force that she will sense any but the most minor... “

Then, a new thought seized him. “What if he was mistaken the whole time? What if what appeared to be such a naive young woman was actually one well versed in the Force... or the dark side?” He stopped thinking along those lines. “Impossible.”

He succeeded in making contact with the Force and it was a comforting feeling. However, he received the faint impression of being watched. It wasn’t an unpleasant sensation but there seemed to be a barely-perceptible, lingering presence here other than the two of them. Perhaps this was only a dream, an intense vision of some kind... but still, “Still, I can’t be certain of anything.”

Wondering again about the warning in his vision he more carefully looked at Oriana, studying her face, trying to note if there was anything there, around the eyes, the mouth, anything, which would give him just a clue about the truth here.

“I’m relaxed,” he outright lied, “just a little startled.” Thrace was reminded now of Oriana’s incredibly beautiful features, “who brought us here? Did Shar, the bounty hunter who kidnapped you earlier, manage to get us all?”

Upon hearing Thrace’s questions, Oriana frowned slightly, looked away, and slowly rose. Thrace noticed for the first time that she was dressed in a robe of deep red; the intense hue of the fabric contrasting sharply with her pale skin and platinum cascade of hair. He didn’t recall ever seeing her not wearing white or silvery garments, but perhaps she was trying out a new look. Thesme kept him guessing as well.

The situation was beginning to seem real enough and he decided he didn't feel as though his mind was being manipulated... or if it was, it must be in an imperceptibly subtle way -- beyond his training to sense... he still hadn’t quite shaken off the feelings of the earlier experience, though and the sting of the vibrowhip lingered faintly; and that anguished voice must have been Thara, but where and when?

Oriana remained regally calm, smiling benignly down at him. Now she quietly paced a couple of steps, and then turned to regard him again.

“Commander, what do you last remember happening before awakening here?”

“It certainly explains away my confusion," Thrace said, rising to follow after her, smiling in the friendliest, way he knew, a way he felt would be insulting to anyone older than the woman before him, “you were with Jevelle and Enrec. Ivory, Thesme, and I went to find Thesme’s contact, Det Calliak, in his Tibanna City rooms... And we were ambushed.” Thrace didn’t think the truth could hurt at this point. He was prepared to believe he was still dreaming rather than actually in Oriana Zandar’s sitting room.

“I’m very happy to find you here waiting for me to awaken and your caring is important considering your gifts.” He placed a hand on her shoulder to still her thoughtful walk around the room, “But please understand how disorienting all of this is. Are we actually in your father’s palace? And, I must know that my friends are safe.”

The Princess smiled warmly back at him as he spoke and turned to face him; if she were on her guard at all, she didn’t show it. She was still so young; he couldn’t help but think. Despite her striking beauty and regal poise, she was barely more than a girl.

“I understand that it may be difficult for you at first,” she replied, again her choice of words baffling Thrace, “though I assure you, we are in the palace of my royal family, and your friends are safe. My husband is currently meeting with a delegation from offworld, but he will be checking in on you as well. He’ll be glad to see that you are on your feet again.”

She paused, as though just remembering something, and her eyes met Thrace’s curiously. “Commander, if you don’t mind, I was wondering... who is ‘Andru’?”

“Well, at first... “ Thrace couldn’t stop from saying as he started towards the polished doors. “Could we stretch our legs a little? While I tell you about Andru of course, I feel like I haven’t moved about in ages.”

He checked for his lightsaber as he picked up he small satchel laying across a chair, trying to shield the motion with his body... the familiar weight was absent. He decided against the walk and feigned a moment’s weakness to lean on the wall near the door.

“I’m okay, give me just one second.”

But the Princess quickly moved to his side, showing concern despite his reassurances.

“You should lie back down, Commander, you’re still recovering.”

Thrace summoned every ounce of concentration he had. Possibly he would only get one chance, maybe two, and he didn’t want to let this situation get too far out of hand. Nothing made sense or seemed like it was going to very soon. Stretching out with his senses, he sought out the one person who he felt could have orchestrated this whole event.

Dron.

If this was some sort of Force strengthened hallucination Dron must be at its center. What was worse, Thrace was certain that the Dark Jedi did not have the raw power necessary to accomplish all of this and that meant Dron must somehow be using Oriana and her abilities, perhaps tricking her into helping him.

For an intense moment, time slowed down as the Force flowed through him. He reached out, seeking his old enemy, and yes, he sensed Dron’s malevolent presence, but he was away, far away, much further than he had expected. His imprint was very much on this reality, like a bad taste in the back of Thrace’s throat.

And there was another presence as well. Someone familiar, a presence he had barely sensed earlier, an old voice, stirring up memories, echoed faintly through his head...

“It is the future you see... remember, the future is ever-changing,”

...And then Dron's voice, equally faint, but harsh and unpleasant, “You cannot interfere... “
“No!” Oriana shouted, shattering Thrace’s concentration.

He turned and saw her gazing fixedly at him -- and suddenly an immense force, like a giant invisible hand, struck him head-on, hurling him across the room, slamming into a side table only to keep flying backwards, until he hit, with bone-crunching impact, against the far wall.

Stars exploded in front of his eyes; as he fought to remain conscious, he saw Oriana advancing towards him, delicate hands balled into fists.

“Don’t bring him here, do you understand? He frightens me...” Then slowly an expression of horror and confusion crossed her face and she faltered. “What have I done? Thrace, I didn’t mean...“ She crouched down next to him, looking tearfully into his eyes, as everything began to go dark. “Thrace, can you hear me? I’m sorry... Thrace?”