It goes without saying that I do not profit from this work, nor do I own the characters used within (something which I'm sure we're all grateful for.)
Cover image by DashRenders. (I'm still working on a decent art name.)
Seduced By The Light
12. When All Is Said And Done
"You sure didn't."
There was a fraction of a second - a minuscule moment in time - where Maul realised that the hilt of Bridger's lightsaber had been tampered with. What seemed like a bulbous cap at the end flashed a tiny light. It bleeped softly before it grew into a keen whining sound. The old Sith summoned as much of the Force as he could as one of Sabine Wren's paint bombs, held onto by the Seventh since they landed on Naboo, burned hot and then exploded.
The energy of the destroyed lightsaber arced up and outwards. An emerald slash that bathed the chamber in a soft light before it died. The force of the explosion ripped downwards through the grating at the same time. Old metal twisted and spread outwards, into the vacuum below. Reinforced struts, ancient and forgotten about, groaned under the sudden strain. Thick layers of dust and paint were sent flying, and the air itself took on a foul taste. Somewhere in the ebony shadows, frighteningly close by, a stressed catwalk had been pushed to it's limits and it came free with a shriek of steel on steel.
The old energy pylons, dutifully carrying on for who knew how long, ground to a halt as some vital function had been cut. The endless humming softened and stilled. The light they gave off faded, plunging the entire chamber into pitch blackness. A heartbeat later everything was bathed in red as countless emergency lights came on, revealing the damage done to the platform.
The ex-Inquisitor, still clinging to the railing, forced herself to stand. The explosion had knocked her legs out from under her, but fortunately kept her from going over the edge. The Mirialan held her breath as she looked about the grating, finding Ezra Bridger still slumped on the other side. This time, however, he seemed to be unconscious. Whatever injuries he had taken since first falling down into the chamber had taken their toll. And Maul -
The Seventh's eyes narrowed dangerously as she looked at the wide, concave hole in the grating. Burned black and speckled with purples and oranges and the other paints that Wren liked to use. And defying all reason was the charred stump of Darth Maul, clinging to the edge with a look of frantic rage. She couldn't make it out clearly, but it looked as if his droid legs had been blasted loose. Most of his lower section was missing, and the wet, horrifying mess on one side told her that it wasn't just the mechanical elements that he had lost.
"You have more luck than anyone has a right to," she snarled bitterly, letting go of the railing and tumbling forward. One of her legs screamed in protest and she realised too late that the blast had done more than knock her over. Whatever, she decided. An ex-Inquisitor with a limp was still better than an old Sith with no legs at all.
"Treacherous," Maul bit back, swallowing a lump as he clung to the bent frame. "Even to the last. I stand by what I said - you would have made a superb Dark Side user."
"I was always 'superb,' damn it." Dragging her injured leg, the Seventh came as close as she dared to come to the hole, admiring her work. Maul had both arms, but judging from the burns, blood and, amusingly enough, the paint, he wasn't going to get any use out of the one that hung down by his side. Not that she expected him to live much longer. Not if she had anything to say about it. "And you know what? Even with all that, you still came close to destroying me. So they're not that great."
Golden eyes blazed as she withdrew a wickedly sharp piece of scrap that she had salvaged from working back on Yavin IV. Some discrete, makeshift blade that tucked inside her clothes for an emergency. Dropping to her knee, she held it up just long enough to see recognition dawn in his eyes.
"And what do you know - I didn't really need them at all in the end, did I?" The Mirialan turned the shiv downwards, lifted her arm high, and brought it down in a savage arc.
An invisible Force froze her in place just as she would have buried it in the middle of his face. The Seventh tugged on her hand, finding her entire arm locked, and roared in frustration.
"Just stop and think how strong you'd be with them, girl," the Sith seethed. The arm hanging onto the lattice of the floor didn't seem to be tiring, and his eyes bored into her with a cold, calculating look. Even now, half of him missing and the rest of his life in her hands, he regarded her with curiosity. A feeling of hot anger burned through her.
"You want to know what I could do? You think you were special? I tortured. I murdered. I lit fires and cut through lives whenever I wanted. I was a monster. That didn't stop everything turning to trash the moment some damned boy called me 'pretty.' So forgive me - " Her voice dropped into a low hiss, full of bile and venom as her own wicked Sith eyes glared hatefully down at him. " - but I've had just about enough of the blasted Force."
A dry, humourless laugh echoed from the beneath her as Maul, still dangling, cackled at her.
"So many deeds to brag about - do you really think you're on the right side of this little conflict?" His golden irises shone in the darkness as he gazed up at her. "Do you really think you deserve a happy ending, with friends and freedom and him over there...?"
A chill passed through the Mirialan. It felt like something had been sucked out of her. Something warm and, until that moment, something she needed. Some tangible piece of her that had been growing inside of her. And now it felt like some great, aching emptiness was chewing at her insides. Beneath her, the Sith choked on a mouthful of blood, and she felt her veins turn to ice.
She still had something left. The blade in her hand was poised in the air, inches from his face. Sooner or later he would slip. His life was literally dripping out of him. And she wouldn't give him the satisfaction of falling without twisting her weapon as deeply as she could into his skull. She wouldn't let the fall or the bomb take him out. She had waited too long to pay him back for slashing her open on Malachor.
"Just look at you," he murmured, his voice warbling from fluids dripping down the back of his throat. "You're so close to attaining such power and you don't even know it. This - all of this - has been your true test. All you needed was the right... push."
Metal groaned suddenly behind her and the Seventh turned as best as she could. Her immobilised arm kept her stuck, but sideways she could see well enough to know what had happened. The railing that Ezra had been slumped against had neatly bent outwards, and an arm and a leg had begun to hang over the edge. Not enough weight to topple him over. Not yet, anyway.
"Bastard," she hissed, and even in the faint glow of the emergency lighting, she could make out a mouthful of blood as Maul smiled up at her.
"Such a child, screaming in the darkness, when you could be a predator. Ask yourself... Were you always this emotional? Or did all this start when you fell into bed with a Jedi? If only you weren't so afraid of what you could be..."
"I'm afraid of nothing," she growled, and in an instant he proved her wrong. The pressure in the air shifted and the metal behind her groaned again. Without looking back, she just knew that the old Sith had forced more of Bridger's railing to bend out into the space. And she couldn't help the sudden bolt of fear that shuddered through her.
"You and I both hold life and death in our hands, dear," Maul wheezed, and it became clear that Wren's bomb - and the destroyed lightsaber it had been attached to - were taking it's toll. "I hold his. My dear old apprentice, and your shameful weakness. Kill me and we'll both fall." The arm that clung to the grating seemed to tremble then, and the Force that held her in place faded. The Seventh pulled her arm back defensively, as if at any given moment it could once again be locked in place, but she knew it wouldn't. Not now that he was seemingly dangling a choice in front of her.
"You survived what I did to you because you were meant to do something great," he coughed. Something thick and sticky dribbled down the corner of his mouth and they both ignored it - he was about to die anyway. It was just a question of how. "Do it. Take your vengeance. Cut the Jedi from your life and you will know a power that few could only dream of. Never again would you feel lost or hunted. Never again be forced to make choices you didn't want...
"... or you can remain here, no longer welcome in the dark. All alone because of some boy you had sex with."
Alone. The word tore at her like it was some foul, personal insult. Whatever appeal her old life and career had - of roaming capital ships and hunting strangers - had all but evaporated.
There was a lesson she had been learning for some time, now - ever since the evening in a cold, crumpled escape pod where Bridger had first kissed her icy lips and started the entire chain of events. And that was the dark side of the Force was overrated, and she was not alone.
The Seventh raised her weapon high, her mouth open and screaming bloody murder. A look of knowing passed over Maul's burnt, weathered face - a look of acceptance as she brought the blade down on top of him.
The ex-Inquisitor missed his face, burying the blade deep into the hand that was clinging to the grating. Maul cried out in pain and anger, in confusion at the sudden trickery. His fingers sprang free from where they had held tight, but the makeshift blade was all but pinning him to the grating now. What little that was left of him was held entirely by the scavenged steel.
"Don't look so surprised," she snapped. "It's the second time today I've kriffed you over." Tearing herself away from the broken grating, she turned, tried to stand, toppled forward and began crawling as best she could towards the bent railing. The Seventh cursed with every step, pushing herself to move as the Sith behind her struggled to free himself.
"Ezra blasted Bridger," she growled, cutting her arm as she scraped against the damaged floor. "You wake up right now before I get really mad." Dexterous hands grabbed hold of his front as she rolled him back towards her, pulling his hanging limbs away from the edge. "You better be paying attention, now. You better live to be a hundred. And you better love me every kriffing day after all is said and done - !"
With a shake and a slap across his face, Ezra's eyes flew open and he sat up sharply, looking around suddenly as if he were trying to piece together where he was and what was going on. Before he could have a chance to ask she sucked in a breath and pulled him close, arms wrapping possessively around his shoulders. And for a long moment the Mirialan was content to just hold him.
A wet cry from the middle of the damaged catwalk brought her back to reality, and she watched over Ezra's shoulder as Maul pulled himself up with his broken, bleeding arm. His face was wet with sweat and blood as he managed to yank the blade free of his hand before turning his attention towards them both.
The Seventh struggled to make sense of what she saw. Maul didn't look angry, or resentful in any way. Golden eyes widened in surprise, but he seemed to grow still as he stared at her, watching from over Bridger's shoulder as the pair held one another.
"Look at that. How very..." She heard him exhale. Saw life ebbing out of him. "... disappointing." His final word was a bitter whisper before he tumbled backwards through the damaged grating, down into the depths of Theed's foundations once again. And with him, any chance to finally get her revenge. How long did she train and dream of it? And now...
It didn't seem to matter so much any more. It was gone. Maul was gone. And she couldn't care less. Not when there was that now-familiar hand stroking along the breadth of her back. Almost reluctantly she gave him a push, and Ezra gently released her. The Mirialan wet her lips and pushed her sweaty hair back off her forehead.
"Well, then," she swallowed. "I trust you'll find us a way out of this damned mess. It's only fair, you know. I mean, I can't do everything myself all the time, you know - what?"
Ezra said nothing. He was staring at her as if he was just seeing her for the first time. "I missed some things, didn't I?"
"An understatement if ever there was one," she sniffed, before narrowing her eyes. "Or is it possible you were conscious during all that...?"
He didn't answer her - broad, dusty hands held her face as he continued to stare at her.
"I say this knowing we're alone down here," she said, her voice muffled with the way he held her cheeks. "But Ezra? Darling? You're being weird and sappy. What in the pit has gotten into you now?"
"Oh. You know what? I'll show you afterwards. It's a surprise."
The Seventh sighed and shook her head. In the din, with only the emergency lighting to lead them, there was still no mistaking it - instead of gold and black and wicked Sith eyes, clear, dark Mirialan irises watched him with amusement.
"Well it better be a good one," she murmured. "I'm sick of all the surprises lately."
"Yeah, but... they were worth it in the end. Weren't they?"
"I don't know..." The ex-Inquisitor shifted closer. An old, damaged catwalk beneath a royal palace, where at any moment they could tumble off the edge towards their end, seemed as good a place as any to indulge. She finally wiped the grime from his scarred cheek before planting her knees either side of him. "I can think of a few things that I'd do all over again." She descended on his lips before he could get another word in.
It took three days of debriefing, explaining and exploring before Kanan, Ezra, Kallus and Zeb finished with the labyrinth beneath Theed's hanger. What damage that had been done to the batteries were of little consequence. The Queen of Naboo accepted them in her disguise as a handmaiden once again, and calmly explained that the facility was mostly used for the long-gone N1 fighters. As the squadrons were decommissioned gradually, they had been all but forgotten about.
"I believe they were hydroelectric pylons," she informed the collected Spectres. "The same run off that feeds the palace waterfall pushes through turbines further in. It's unsettling to think we had such a trespasser here, but... perhaps unsurprising, also."
"With your permission, Your Highness, we would like to put them to use." Ever the diplomat, Kallus launched into a spiel of what he had in mind.
An extra day of exploring lead the team to Maul's old Nightbrother ship. Waiting in a large hanger, beneath the surface of the Royal Palace no less, it was in remarkable condition. All obvious signs showed that the old Sith either expected to use it in a hurry, or had found a way to swoop in through the capital city and remain undetected. A little reverse engineering of the on board flight plan revealed a much simpler, clever plan - a winding tunnel that lead out of Theed and into Naboo's rolling fields. A natural fissure that nobody would see, unless they knew of it.
Ezra wondered aloud if it was the same passage Maul used to escape from his first plummet, which Zab found hilarious.
"You know, it's not a bad theory," Sabine mused.
"Oh, no no, I'm not doubting it - just picturing 'im walking on his hands, up and down, 'round and 'round, all that way. Heh. It's - oh come on. Am I the only one who thinks it's funny?"
"Not at all," the Seventh smirked, crossing her arms and favouring the Lasat with a knowing look. "I can almost hear him telling himself that he needs to come back here one day and turn it into a secret squatters camp."
"See! She gets it."
"I'm just going to say it," Sabine said, eyeing the pale Mirialan who stood beside Ezra. Her dark eyes shone with mirth as the Mandolorian made it clear that she still found her "definitely wicked."
"I like you, too," the Seventh hummed. "You and your bombs, anyway."
The Ghost wasn't going to fit in Maul's bunker - that was obvious right away. But that wouldn't stop them from bringing the recovered Gauntlet fighter out through the passage. The engines and hyperdrive were in no way compatible with the VCX-100, but it gave them some options. Naboo had already been stripped of most of it's warfare resources, and if the Spectre cell was going to repair their boat, they were going to need parts. Time and manpower. Or droid power, and Chopper wouldn't stop bleating one evening until Hera finally agreed to try and find a way to smuggle AP5 onto the planet.
"Who in the pit is that?" the Seventh asked as the astromech performed a whoop of victory.
"A recovered Imperial data droid," Ezra answered as he moved his Dejarik piece across the holo-table.
"So then, it's a tradition to take in lost enemies with numbers for names?" She made her move, and a holographic figure body-slammed Ezra's character. The avatars froze as the game declared 'Player 7' as the winner.
"Only the really dangerous ones," Sabine chimed in, all but shoving Ezra out of the way as she took his spot and fired up the table again. "Ay-Pee-Five can talk a person into a coma. Chop's probably still the most dangerous one, though."
"I'm sorry," the Seventh said with mock affront, gesturing to herself as Ezra scooted into the seat beside her. "Are you implying that I am not as dangerous?"
"You can't even settle on a name yet." Light dawned on Sabine's face as she looked at the figures on the board. "Tell you what - how about a wager? If I win this match, you let me choose a name for you. Eh?"
"Forget it," the Mirialan sniffed. "I'd rather let you dye my hair instead."
"Deal." Sabine entered her command and the game began before anyone had a chance to stop her.
Outside of the ship, Kallus finished prepping the Nightsbrother. "Rebel command has some of the parts needed to repair the Ghost, but not all of them. Not if you want to be back up to optimal levels. There's some old SuroSuub hyperdrives that can be cannibalised from some fighters, but it won't bring you back up to full speed."
"And we'll be taking more ships off the map," Hera said, shaking her head. Lekku bobbed about as she sighed. "Tell them not to bother - but we'll accept some relief aids."
"Planning on staying a while?" he asked, looking up from his work as Kanan walked down the gangplank.
"In many ways, Naboo is in the same shape that Lothal was back in the day," the Jedi offered. "The Queen is able to keep the peace for the better part, but there's a lot of unhappy citizens. Push them too far and they might revolt."
"And they are in no way ready for the pushback that the Empire will give them," Hera finished, crossing her arms. "But if we're able to lend some aid where it really counts, we'll win hearts and minds, and we may be able to set up a nice smuggling operation here in the meanwhile. Plus, we've got access to run-off electricity and with Maul's old bunker, we can sneak supplies directly into the heart of the city."
"I think I see," Kallus hummed, stroking his chin. "Meanwhile, we can bring in the parts you need to repair the Ghost, some respite for Theed's people, and export some of the native produce."
"And credits - Naboo sees plenty of tourists. If we're going to be staying here a while longer, we might see about how we can make the most of it."
"A daring endeavour indeed," the agent finished, smiling. "I'll wish you luck with it all."
"Eh, luck's nice," Kanan chirped. "But a quiet travel route would be much nicer."
"And AP5 and the supplies, too, of course," Kallus quickly confirmed, reaching out and clapping Zeb's arm in a friendly handshake before bidding them farewell. The Gauntlet took off and sped towards the sky, stealthy enough to bypass any Imperial dragnets and observations.
"Well - I guess now we just wait," Hera hummed, leaning against the bulkhead of the Ghost. Her hand patted the ship affectionately. "It's going to take us a while until she's ready to fly free. Who knows when we'll get back in the thick of it all."
"Maybe that's a good thing," Kanan said. "You know, something about that last one above Scarif... it felt like something much bigger was just on the horizon."
"I hope not," she sighed. "I'd rather be dealing with it head on than sitting back on the sidelines."
"Oh, you never sit back - I give it a few weeks and you'll be commanding a bigger operation here than the ones we had on Lothal." Before anyone had a chance to argue, a loud whoop of victory came from within the freighter. Whatever the kids were doing, they decided, Sabine had been the obvious winner.
"Well - at least we've got our family all together again," Hera agreed.
Inside, Sabine cracked her fingers and rose above the frozen Dejarik game. "So tell me..." There was an almost menacing tone in her voice. "Orange? Pink? Green? Ooh, what about silver?"
"I've changed my mind," the Seventh said dismissively. She stretched her arm around Ezra's shoulder... and pulled him forward with a quick jerk. "I'll let you paint sweetheart here, instead."
"Hey, wait!" The Jedi squirmed and wriggled about, casting a betrayed look from Sabine to his partner and back. "Don't I get a say in this?"
"Of course you do," Sabine grinned. "You can pick the colour. I'm really digging silver. Hey - it'll give us a chance to see what you'll look like when you're older. Maybe distinguished, maybe... I dunno, start taking better care of it now. You know?"
Ezra's mouth opened and closed as he struggled to find the right words. Eventually, helplessly, he turned to the older Mirialan to silently plead with her for mercy.
The Seventh slowly blinked at him, smirking her dark lips and watching with soft, dark eyes. Ezra wilted under her gaze.
"Alright - let's go with the silver, I guess," he conceded. Sabine crowed as the Seventh favoured him with a sly kiss against his cheek.
The Force - when all was said and done, who really needed it, anyway?
AN: After making you all wait so long, I thought it was only fair to give you both final chapters in one go. For what it's worth, what started as a one-shot became fully formed before I ever wrote the second chapter. Maul was going to be the big bad guy, but only at the very end. I wanted there to be the classic three acts, and noted them all down at once:
Our little Inquisitor would escape her situation, but end up in the thick of a whole new one. She would overcome that before being finally tested. And then..
I'll admit right now - I was still deciding right until the end whether or not to give her a happy ending. The Seventh Sister in this tale might be one of the least in-character portrayals in fiction, purely based off how quickly she stopped being such a sadist. I didn't want to white-wash that history, though : this is a lady who had done some truly terrible things over time, and just because she hadn't been taking her job seriously for some time before our story started, doesn't give her a free pass. If she wasn't so useful to the Alliance, she probably would've been executed as soon as she stepped foot on Yavin Iv. (But then that would be a short tale indeed.) I knew if we did go the happily-ever-after route (which we did) that it would end with her eyes going 'back to normal.' Hence why there was so much emphasis on them all throughout the story. (By the way - you can thank my better half for that, who after reading this demanded I give them "a happy ending." So that put it all in cement.)
Originally when I started to write SBTL, Rebels was still in production. The only real break from canon was that the Seventh Sister survived. You know... the whole relationship with a younger man wasn't really canon either, but whatever! It's what we all came to see, right? When the Ghost appeared in Rogue One, I went ahead and added those characters and that scene just to really reinforce that this was a story that could fit in that universe. I wanted to explain why these characters weren't in the original trilogy, barring the obvious "they weren't invented at the time." They were in Rogue One and then they were locked on Naboo and making the most of it. No Kanan or Ezra or Sabine on Hoth or Endor because they're living their lives, healthy and alive, etc etc.
Of course, Rebels ran right on schedule, and this story became VERY AU when.. well, more than just the Seventh Sister died on screen. Like Maul. And Kanan. I'm assuming by now that if you're reading this, you've watched the series.
All of these things didn't push back the release of these chapters - they're just tidbits I wanted to share. Two main factors kept me from being able to sit down and get these written: first, I was an acting carer for my mother, and to anyone who's cared for a family member - whether they're short term, long term or palliative - my hat's off to you.
Second, and this is the main one... I decided I really wanted to learn art. Something I always told myself 'you had to have a talent for', I finally said a few years ago "No - I'm going to learn this thing."
Now, when you work and you're a carer, that's damned hard. Not even time wise - many days you just find yourself unable to put pencil to paper. But it was something I really, really wanted to do. And I wanted to be able to bring you all these last two chapters with some bit of proof that I haven't been screwing around all this time - that I've got something to show for it.
So before I sat down and wrote these together, I spent a day drawing the new cover artwork for this story. I've still got a lot to go - lots of studies and practice and focused learning. But I'm happy enough with how it turned out (especially the Seventh) and so, I'm happy to bring this story to a close.
Sorry again for how damn long it's been, but I hope these made it worthwhile. From here on, I think of myself as mostly retired from writing. I might sit down and do something if I really want a story to be written (and I'll tell you now - I've got one in the works based on PS4's Spider-Man) but for the better part you can find me on Tumblr, Twitter, and a few other places under the name DashRenders. (As in rendering art... I'm not married to the name and I'm accepting any and all ideas on changing it, as well as critiques and feedback - it's the only way to learn in creative works.)
It feels appropriate to end a Star Wars story with a "May the Force be with you," but as we've established along the way... eh. It's overrated. So on that note:
May the bravery to try new things be with you,