Chapter 8: Mortification

Pelleaon sat and stared; the holoimage not really holding his attention, just something to focus his gaze up. The darkness of the room contrasted with the brightness of the illusion of hyperspace, a constant reminder of the mission which they now pursued. His orders to continue towards the meeting with the New Republic hierarchy had not been countermanded by Illyana, and so he could only hope that this indicated her full support of the peace treaty.

He relaxed back into the chair, a wave of tiredness aching in his limbs. The day had been overwhelming, he felt exhausted, as he had not felt for a long time. The emotional strain of facing up to the past, of meeting Illyana, and of having to conduct the investigation into the Empress' death was immense, not made any easier by his age or experience. Closing his eyes, he tried to wipe away the thought of Illyana's resemblance to her mother, the only difference being the Chiss colouring of the young woman.

The report on Dania Laquila's death had not made for happy reading. He glanced at the datapad in his hand, and read the first paragraph again. The post mortem had revealed that she had been poisoned by a rare plant, with no known cure. A holo-recorded message confirmed suspicions of suicide. He had concluded that she must have heard the rumours of Thrawn's apparent return, the report also noted she had also received a number of communiqués both from Moff Disra, and an unnamed sources on Bastion in the days leading up to her death. Could one of them have been from Flim, cajoled into it by Tierce and Disra?

He suddenly had an image of Dania's reaction to a transmission of Thrawn, and he saw her wild eyes, her terrible fear, her confusion and her tears. His Empress had relied upon him since the loss of her Consort; he'd seen enough of her behaviour to picture her utter panic the sudden reappearance would trigger. Dania had not allowed herself to cry during the period of Thrawn's death, had gone through the motions of mourning for him. She had retained in control, despite calls for her to step down. But inside, he knew that she had shattered.

She had resisted all manner of attempted assassinations, had gone to Byss during the return of Palpatine, had been willing to give up her existence in loyalty to the New Order with which she had been entrusted. It had been fortunate that Anakin had distracted Palpatine's attention away from her. But her love and devotion to the Empire's legacy was perhaps not so much as wanting to uphold Palpatine's beliefs, but because she did not wish to have had Thrawn die in vain.

Yes, she had loved Thrawn with all of herself; but she was more afraid of succumbing to her insanity again. To her, suicide would have seemed logical; it had taken her over a decade to at least get some vague assurance of loyalty from the Imperial Remnant, something that Thrawn had had from the start. To have that taken from her, or rather, for there to be a threat to lose her respect, it would have been enough to tip her over the edge.

She had decided to concede to the New Republic and offer a peace treaty; the remaining moffs had been unhappy, and more likely to support Thrawn to usurp her. Her life would have fallen apart, everything she had strived so hard, so pointlessly, to hold together would have collapsed inwards, and once again, the being she had married would become her taskmaster again; she'd find she was once again chained to someone who tried, but could not find it within himself to love her.

Pelleaon swore he would discover exactly what had occurred in the morning, when his interview with Flim would begin. The conman seemed willing to co-operate, even if it was out of fear of his life. Pelleaon wondered if Flim would regret his actions towards the Empress, knowing that it had probably tipped the scales in her choice.

He returned his attention to the holo, and his expression softened; it was an image of Dania, recorded after a successful deal with the moffs, her smile wide and her eyes shining. In the background, a former Bastion's bright yellow foliage and exotic plants made her simplistic elegance all the more effective. Age hadn't seemed to touch her, her face unlined, and her hair as dark as it had been the first time he'd met her. She was so sure of goodness in everyone, so unchanging; even after all the dark deeds that had occurred around her.

Which is what made his position all the more terrible. He should never have allowed himself to be drawn towards her. His attachment made her death all the more awful; Thrawn would never have allowed such a thing to happen to her, so why had he been unable to protect someone he had genuinely had feelings for? He had betrayed her. He had lost the Empire.

With a touch of sadness he sighed; Dania had not deserved to die alone. At least Thrawn had had the chance to die in battle, with honour, with his family nearby to mourn him. Their sorrow had been genuine. Few would miss Dania. With Illyana here, her right to Ascension would be cemented. If Illyana truly was her father's daughter, she would very quickly seize control and the loyalty of her people; and Dania's well-meant efforts would sink into obscurity

Tigellinus closed in on Dania.

There was nowhere to run; her eyes quickly cast about for a place to escape or jump from, but in this gown, movement was restricted. The figure advanced towards her, and even as she made to duck to the side, she felt a strong hand on her wrist, pulling her backwards to face him, fury emanating from him.

Her heart beat increased as she tried to think her way out of the situation. The flickering darkness of Tigellinus' eyes robbed her of hope, even as she fought against his restrictions. She felt the solid pillar at her back, and once again met his gaze, terrified of the repercussions of her actions, of even deigning to see Thrawn.

"Good evening, Dania." His white uniform opalescent in the darkness, Tigellinus' dark eyes flashed, gleaming with smugness at her discomfort. "I hope you don't mind, I need a private word with you…" She struggled to answer, paralysed by terror. As a man, and as an Admiral, he carried a great deal of weight against her pathetic existence as a Doll, and so, helplessly, she responded.

"Grand Admiral, I wondered where you were…" She stumbled with her words; geisha were supposed to know exactly what to say at all times; at present, she was too shocked to even be able to breath properly. His lips twitched from a smile of smugness to an ugly sneer of disgust.

Dania gasped for air; his body was pressed tightly to hers, squeezing the breath from it, his forearm restraining her collar. Their eyes were level as he pushed his full weight onto her, and she tried to hide the fear she felt suffocating her, cruel amusement playing on his features.

"Did you? I also wondered where you were, a few days ago." She felt flecks of spit touch her face; he was unbelievably angry at her, and he was not keeping it under very good control. For someone so usually measured, she wished she hadn't gotten onto the wrong side of him. "Mistress Roganda said you were cavorting with … the freak."

Roganda. Of course, she'd have had to have a hand in this. An image of the smug concubine, standing behind Palpatine, smiling at her misfortune of being placed with an alien, of all people…It would suit the concubine if she fell, before she was even given a chance to catch the Emperor's eye. But what had she done to anger Roganda? She was nobody, practically worthless.

"No agreement between us was made, Roganda-" She tried to get herself of the situation, tried to quieten the flames, but he wasn't buying the lie, he was using them as fuel for his rage. His hand was bought before her, and she felt it viciously slap across her cheek. Her ears rang with pain, and she raised her hand to her face, tasting blood on her lips. She looked up at him, eyes wide, still pinned tightly.

"I made my interest quite clear, Dania, when I sent you your gift…" The hand that had lashed out at her carefully touched her cheek, burying itself in her hair and undoing the pins that held it in place. She avoided his gaze; she had not seen the comb since the day she had been around to Thrawn's apartment. It had not seemed prudent to ask Thrawn why he might have kept it from her, even though it was probably worth of small fortune. "He took it from you, didn't he?

The words hung between them as the hand in her hair carefully fisted the locks, keeping her eyes focussed on him. Blood was flowing freely now, she felt it dribble down onto her bosom. His eyes carefully followed its progress, and she felt ice in her veins; it was not anger his eyes were darkened with, it was lust. Suddenly choked up, she grasped for breath desperately, fear making her panic.

"I cannot allow this slur, Dania, I hope you understand. You don't seem to want to accept responsibility, and so I will not offer you redemption. I'm sorry…" A finger slipped under the ribbon that held the jewel Thrawn had given he, and delicately tugged, pressure on her throat building, and then the ping of the gem hitting the hard floor. Making a sobbing noise, she felt his hands clawed at her dress, using the loose folds to pull her onto him, catching her lips in a bloody kiss, excited by her struggles. She groaned into the kiss, disgusted.

"You wouldn't dare…" She hissed, as they broke apart, his hands now at the folds of her dress, bodyweight holding her secure. Was he really so insulted that he felt he had to do this? Did he really think so little of aliens he'd rather ruin her this way? His reaction to her words was to restrain her neck again, forcing her to look into his eyes, at the pain she had caused, the wounded pride, and the intended punishment for such audacity.

"Wouldn't I? Do you really think they'd trust the word of a slut, willing to spread her legs for an alien, over a Grand Admiral?" Her eyes glared into his and his smile widened into a sneer. "Yes, you're a slut, you know you are. You can't deny it; you barely even fight against me…" In the split second he removed his weight from her she drove her palm into his face, shattering his nose, and ran, as fast as she could, down the Grand Corridor.

She barely had the time to wonder where she had learned such a move, before she fell to the floor, tackled by Tigellinus. Landing hard on the shining floor, she heard her wrist snap, before being grasped in a powerful fist and painfully twisted, turning her over from her stomach to her back. Looking no less powerful, and all the more aggressive with a broken nose, she was face to face with Tigellinus. And she knew this time she would not escape.

"Stop it, don't touch me…" A tear of fabric, and the outer fabric of the dress was ripped. Closing her eyes, she wondered how such a perfect evening had gone so wrong, how she had been stupid enough to allow herself to fall into this position, a virgin lying under the form of Rufaan Tigellinus, with no one able to help her…

She vaguely heard him command her to open her eyes, and then, his hands about her neck, squeezing life from her, her head hitting the floor repeatedly as his order kept coming. But she could not bring herself to look at him, at the bloodied mess that had once been a pleasant enough face, unable to deal with the reality of what was happening. Better that she just pass out and him damage her in whatever way he felt best suited her crime…

"Take your hands off her!" She had a sense of weightlessness, and then she was lifted to her feet. Two male voices spoke to each other, and then footsteps ran away. Gasping, she felt a rough fabric jacket wrapped around her shoulders, and a blue hand, tentatively opened her mouth, to check for anything inside. A voice reassured her, and then blackness claimed her.

Voss Parck leant back in the chair, dazed at the pace at which the evening had gone. It had not seemed ten minutes since he had planted the audio bug on Tigellinus, surreptitiously slipped into a pocket as he had spilled the wine. The exchange with Thrawn had been subtle, and enough to confuse their enemies who had been watching them.

What he had heard on the device had chilled him to the bone; Tigellinus had closed in on Dania, trapping her like an animal, his purposes most assuredly cruel. Upon hearing the Doll's voice over the audio line, he had made his excuses quickly, exiting the Audience Chamber to the Grand Corridor, Thrawn behind him.

Dania was lying on the floor, her attacker fleeing. He ran on, trying to catch the Grand Admiral in the act, or at least pretending to search. Tigellinus was not foolish enough to allow himself to get caught at a scene like this, and even though he and Thrawn knew it had been him behind the assault, they had no legal proof.

But knowledge was enough; Thrawn's aims of drawing a line in sand and of re-entering the political game had been achieved. Even as Voss Parck had returned from his fruitless pursuit, Thrawn had lifted the Doll to her feet, removing his uniform jacket to wrap around her shoulders, covering her modesty as members of Court flooding out of the chamber to see what had occurred. As he had escorted Dania away, whispers had rippled; exactly the response Thrawn had predicted would occur.

The young woman lay in the bed next to his chair, wearing the robe she had been given before by Thrawn, restless dreams making her toss and turn. Looking at her troubled face, he felt a pang of guilt; it was hardly fair to manipulate this –well, girl- like this. She barely understood Court, the tactics employed by those willing to kill to stay in favour. And she was, practically the right-hand of Thrawn's campaign, with no knowledge of how badly she was about to be screwed over. By Court, and by Thrawn, who just needed a pretty, naïve young face.

The door to the room opened, and Thrawn entered the darkened room, his eyes glowing in a demonic way through the shadows. He sat down on the bed, and lifted the broken wrist, opening the medpack he had retrieved, and carefully applying the bacta treatment to the damaged joint. Voss Parck watched, Thrawn almost afraid to touch her. Her title of Doll never seemed more appropriate; here Thrawn was, at the end of his game, fixing her up.

"When will you tell her?" The question hung between them as the alien leant forwards, pressing the treatment against her damaged lip, wiping the dried blood away with the other hand. Only then did Thrawn turn towards him, that glowing gaze all the more penetrating in the semi-darkness. Voss Parck held it, unwilling to submit to the eeriness.

"I won't. She played her part a little too well; I did not expect her to lash out at Tigellinus." Thrawn snapped the medpack shut again, and pulled the covers over her exposed shoulders. It seemed somehow ironic that she had ended up in his bed after their first night together. Who would have thought this mere girl would have the nerve to strike out at a Grand Admiral? A small smile lit his face; yes, she had the courage enough to stay in his little circle of allies.

"She hit him?" Parck said questioningly, sounding as surprised as Thrawn had felt when he had deduced it first. Thrawn nodded curtly, and then indicated tiny splashes of blood upon her visage he had not yet wiped off.

"The way blood has splashed on her reveals a singular upwards attack that probably broke, if not shattered, his nose. " He smiled. "Our little wallflower is not as shy as she thinks she is. There is nowhere else that blood came from; as you saw, her lip split, but that was allowed to run downwards. Tigellinus' rage against her will be all the more potent now; I am the only person she will accept to protect her now."

"But why, Thrawn? What makes this girl so special?" Thrawn's expression was unreadable, his eyes fixed, unmoving on the pone figure of Dania, lying in her troubled dreams. There was no hint to his emotion in either his body language, and he offered no explanation. Parck wondered if perhaps he had intruded too far. Thrawn explained his motives only when appropriate, preferring to keep his plans to himself. Whatever the reason for his need for secrecy, he did not wish to intrude upon Thrawn's privacy.

Finally, after a minutes silence, Thrawn looked at Voss, an almost reflective expression on his face. Parck's feelings of concern evaporated, and he moved forward on his chair, to hear the better.

"A time ago, when I was a commander for the Expansionary Fleet, I meet humans for the first time, three Corellian traders whose pursuers I destroyed. We had an exchange of sorts, in which I learnt Basic from them, in exchange for some mediocre trading goods. One of the traders was a young woman called Maris, and it was from her I learnt a great deal of your Old Republic and various other issues. Dania reminds me a lot of her."

"But why should her similarity to a ghost of the past affect you?" Parck pressed onwards, interest piqued. He had heard very little about Thrawn's past; as his mentor, he had not cared, as no details had been offered. As his subordinate officer, it had not been his place. And as his friend, it had never seemed fair to ask such personal questions.

"Maris was very much the idealist, and in those days, I too was alike her, to a degree. Since then, I have become somewhat bitter; my ideals have been warped for my own selfish reasons. Maris was at my side for a number of arguably pre-emptive strikes, forever the voice of my conscience. When she left, I found that my own disdain for my people's morals went with her." He sighed gently, Parck wouldn't have noticed it from anyone, but such an action was rare for Thrawn. Revealing his past, even to Parck, had been a task for him. "Dania's presence is a reminder of the cruelty of some of my decisions; of the effects my manipulation has on others. I suppose she could also be seen as my responsibility. Naiveté brings its own unique insight that I often overlook in my experience."

"She makes you nostalgic?" Parck understood, all of a sudden, he had an insight into the alien's mind. He had lost a great deal, Parck could tell, when he had joined the Empire, and before that, when he had been exiled. Dania represented a figure from his past, of whom he had privately been fond, and it was with her loss that everything had gone wrong. He had never known Thrawn be sentimental like this, it was something of a paradox; she was both prized by him, and considered a burden.

"To a degree. But we will have to tread very carefully around her; she's the key to our success, but she could also bring us crashing down." Voss Parck looked towards the window, suddenly aware of light flooding the room; the sun rose carefully over Coruscant, its rays reaching into their room, enlightening and gently warming the occupants. Voss smiled, despite himself. The immediate future looked bright, and he very much looked forward to meeting it.

"And with, Illyana, your mother, Captain Parck and I took Court by storm; I doubt anyone was as successful as fast as we were. We rose through Court, building a powerbase, and silent support for my ulterior plans for the Unknown Regions. But as to what happened…you must solve the next piece of the puzzle. This piece should have been found in the hands of the Supreme Commander of the Empire, be that your mother, or be it Captain Pelleaon.

The next piece is in the possession of the New Republic, concealed on the planet I took you for your first public appearance. You may be confused as to the purpose of this game; consider them a way for me to continue to guide and advise you.

If you have this datapad, then I have failed in my mission; it is left to you to continue it, and I am fully confident in my Empire's Commanders to have trained you to be the leader I hope you will be. I did not plan to leave you; but I have had to make arrangements in case of betrayal. I have no use for you to be a warrior-leader, aggressive and domineering, bent on conquest. I want you to have a higher purpose than that, whatever it may be. If you choose to turn back, and remain in the Empire of the Hand, or if you choose to bring the two parts together, be fair, and be just.

I have soiled my hands so that you will be able to be a fair and virtuous leader; I very much doubt I could stop now. It is my hope that you hold your mother's strength of belief in the goodness and beauty within all things, and I wish that you hold onto it, as it will serve you better in the long run to be as your mother is.

I have no regrets, Illyana, except not having made the galaxy a safer place for you to be born into; incredibly selfish perhaps, but I never meant to hurt you. Forgive me my absence from your life, and I wish you luck with your negotiations."

The datapad fell silent. Illyana placed it down on the table before her, and put her face in her hands, shock overcoming her. Thrawn's abilities were awesome, she realised, even more so than she had thought. To have anticipated a move against him, and to have this contingent plan in place just for her…

Also, he had a fairly good estimation of what would have befallen the Empire; he knew of the negotiations, somehow, he had known. And he had known of her confusion, of retreating to an Empire, where she had no enemies or animosity to fight against, or of claiming what had been given to her by birthright.

Placing the next piece of the puzzle on Honoghr had been genius; she remembered the day she had gone there perfectly, her lack of vision not detracting from the amazing change of sensory perception; all her life she had spent on a Star Destroyer made for very dull, very repetive experiences. For all its apparent backwardness, the planet had been an amazing revelation. It would be a day she would never forget; and so it was perfect place to hide technology for her to discover.

On another level, it was also a subtle indicator that the peace treaty with the New Republic was the best option; there was no way she could ever go to Honoghr without peace being announced between the two organisations. Sighing, she leaned to grope for the pad before her, tapping keys in the correct order to set up a long range communication. Carefully calming herself, she spoke loudly, and clearly, voice free of any accent as she sent the communication back to Niruauan.

Leaning back in the chair, she wondered if she had been premature in announcing her arrival; should she have perhaps remained secret, until she could have been sure of the intentions of Pelleaon, as Voss Parck had recommended. She smiled; the old general had always been in her life, first as a supporter, then a mentor, and when she came of age, a trusted advisor.

For a brief period, he had also been her commanding officer; but despite her inexperience, she had excelled in leadership. Had it also been the same with her father? She knew Parck and Thrawn went back quite a long way, further than her mother had. He always spoke of her mother with gentle tones, as if recalling something pleasant, and yet painful. Her father, as he seemed to have a habit of, amongst both Chiss and Human, was recalled with echoes of reverence and loyalty; she sometimes feared the Empire of the Hand only served her out of respect for her father.

But she was not him, and she never would reach his achievements, or be able to be measured up to him. Yes, she shared in his Exile, and it was arrogant of her to continue to use his Family name without the permission of the Family. The Chiss that served the Hand at first, at least, had considered her to be something of an abomination, kept locked away in the High Tower like some kind of half-blood freak.

A slight vibration and she carefully touched the communicator on her collar. With a feeling of nervousness, she realised they had arrived. No one would dare disturb her otherwise.

"Supreme Commander, I assume we have reached the rendezvous?" She let none of her nervousness tough her voice, speaking clearly and authoritatively. It mattered not what she felt on the inside, the image of integrity was essential for her to maintain, if she was ever going to become a successful leader.

"Yes, Ma'am. The representatives from the New Republic are launching a shuttle as we speak. They are willing to meet with you and negotiate the full terms of our surrender."

"Very good, Supreme Commander." She paused, considering how best to word the next part. Pellaeon had taken good care of her mother, had been a loyal confidante to her father, and had guarded her birthright as well as he was able. And here she was, sweeping him aside. She could not bring herself to simply dismiss him. "Will you join me at the designated meeting room? As a negotiator of more experience, I would value your presence."

"It would be an honour, Ma'am" His voice distinctly perked up, and as he signed off, she allowed a smile to her lips.

Half-Human, half-Chiss; but a complete person, nonetheless.

As she had with the Empire of the Hand, she would earn the approval, the respect and the trust of the Galaxy; and she would do it to protect the citizens from the terrible invasion her father knew would be coming. Standing up slowly, she allowed her lips to widen into a perfect smile. How she relished a challenge.

Author's Note: Okay, I need to give all my readers the buzz. From now on, all updates will be in Inertia II, the second part of this trilogy. Partly because it follows the pattern of great Star Wars tradition, and partly because it means I can cut out all the pointless months between events, Inertia will be continued as another story.

I've written this fic in rather a short space of time; because of exams, and the lack of time before they arrive, Inertia II will be updated a lot less frequently; but it WILL be completed. Illyana and Dania are very important to me, and I could never leave a fanfiction incomplete.

As always, reviews, comments, and queries are always welcome. Please feel free to contact me through just to whet your appetites for what is to come…

…Illyana returns to the Noghri Homeworld…

…Dania's true purpose is revealed…

…Thrawn is betrayed…

…the Heir to the Empire is discovered…

…A former ruler is buried, and another announced….

I know what really happened in OBF, and Thrawn's reasoning, but I did not think Thrawn would reveal too much of his past to even Voss Parck.