Notes: Many thanks to Rilla for her excellent beta help! This fic was written as a challenge response on the TFN boards, and I'm finally getting around to loading it here. I hope you enjoy!
Know Thy Enemy
Sweat dripped down Brodren Bala's brow, but he dared not bring a hand up to wipe it away. Even the smallest movement could reveal his position. Eyes strained to see in the darkness, but all he could make out were rough shapes, patches of purest black against the darker gray of the surroundings.
He would be successful.
Somehow, he kept his breathing slow and steady. The warning claxon had surprised him; he'd been certain no one had detected his presence. Preparation for just such an incident had been something he'd covered, however, and so he did not worry overmuch. It was simply a matter of waiting, now. The guard would be lowered, in time, and he would be free to continue on his mission.
Prince Xizor would die. Even if it meant Brodren's own death, as well - vengeance would be worth that price.
His mother and sister and brother would certainly object to that sentiment. But, since their deaths were the reason for his presence here, in Prince Xizor's lair, their unvoiced objections were easily ignored. Their ghosts did not speak to him; not yet.
Brodren frowned as a bead of sweat slid into his eye, the salty sting causing him to blink. It was hot under this grating, and he wondered if there was some secondary generator or other heat source close by. It was possible. The leader of Black Sun seemed to like having backup plans, and a redundant power system wouldn't be a surprise. It would be just his luck to have chosen the grating closest to the secondary system. His life had been riddled with one event after another that proved his lack of "luck".
His mind, once again, showed him the images of that night. He'd been gone, out for an evening of carousing with friends, and when he'd returned a horror had awaited him. The Black Sun had called in a neighbor's debts. When the man couldn't pay, a "lesson" had been dealt, swiftly, as was the way of Black Sun. Prince Xizor's organization was strong and omniscient, its tentacles stretching into every corner of the galaxy. Brodren had admired it, once, as he had its Falleen-born leader.
But now, remembering the look of consternation on another neighbor's face when he told Brodren that his mother and siblings had entered the then-smoldering building just minutes before it exploded, he felt nothing but seething hatred. Innocents, caught in the crossfire of the Black Sun. Vengeance had been promised there, in the smoke from the burning building. Vengeance would be his.
His neighbor had heard, had understood. Though he objected to the target – madness, he claimed, madness and suicide – he pledged to help Brodren… so long as that help remained secret. A vow was made, and hands were shaken, and the man eventually followed through on his promise. An informant within the castle of Prince Xizor contacted Brodren the next month, and plans were quickly made.
And so he found himself under a grate in the bottom level of Prince Xizor's castle. A wicked weapon hung at his belt, and according to the man he had bought it from, he'd only need to be near enough to scratch the Falleen's green skin for it to do its job. Just one scratch. Surely he could manage that?
He blinked rapidly, trying to dislodge the salty sweat from his eye. The heat was rising, if that was even possible, and his back and thighs were beginning to prickle with the increased temperature.
Distracted by the heat, he didn't notice when two figures walked close to his location, and when he heard a deep voice suddenly speak, he almost gasped.
"If he was down here, we'd have found him. I have my men moving on the upper floors, now."
The next voice was female, which was another surprise. "Very good. When you have the intruder, contact Prince Xizor immediately. He's… intrigued."
"I will do so."
"I hope, for your sake, that you catch the intruder quickly. Prince Xizor is not impressed with the fact that someone made it past your defenses." Without waiting for an answer, the woman strode away, her feet pounding on the grate above his nose, causing small bits of dust and metal filings to trickle down from the silver mesh.
And that was the moment his body betrayed him; that was the moment his luck proved its worth, once again.
Prince Xizor strode through the corridors, far below his private offices at the top of one elegant spire. Guri walked beside him, silent since she announced that the intruder had been captured, and his background researched. Before she could tell him more, he'd held up his hand, wanting to hear the story directly from the prisoner before the facts were presented.
It was more amusing, that way.
When they reached the holding area, Guri went ahead of him, inspecting the way. He could, of course, handle any altercations that might occur, but she did seem to enjoy the sound of bones cracking. If she could be said to enjoy anything.
Prince Xizor entered the small room, his eyes immediately focusing on the prisoner. The thin young man stood between two guards, his bearing straight and tall despite the bruises on his face. The proud silence was quite different than the normal sniveling and begging for mercy – mercy! – that he encountered when he ventured down to visit with a prisoner, and it intrigued him. Perhaps this one would offer more entertainment than most.
"So. You enter my castle, armed." Prince Xizor studied the young man critically. "Why?"
"You killed them!"
More of the same, after all. Prince Xizor was disappointed; he'd hoped for a unique situation, one that would interest him. He waved one elegant hand in a dismissive gesture. "These things happen, sometimes, in business."
"Astute observation. The Falleen are, quite literally, a cold-blooded race." Prince Xizor smiled, his air that of a man having a casual conversation with a visitor.
"Murderer! My mother, my brother, my sister – none of them were involved with your Black Sun! None of them deserved to be blown away like-"
Xizor raised a finger and the tirade stopped – a silence encouraged, no doubt, by the arm one guard had wrapped around the boy's neck at Prince Xizor's gesture. Stepping forward, he peered at the young man in the dim light. A certain fire lit his eye, the glow of the righteous, and it intrigued the Prince. "Explain," he murmured to Guri.
"His family was killed, by accident, after an unsuccessful debt-collection mission." Guri's voice was a lilting beauty to the ear, not at all like the mechanical drone of a typical droid. He had paid handsomely for the human replica, and she was well worth every credit.
"My mother, my brother, my sister… they went to visit a neighbor. Just minutes before…. They were all I had left." The boy's voice stopped, and he slumped against the guard. Prince Xizor studied him, and as he remembered his own reaction to the deaths of his family at the hands of Vader, a foreign sensation overtook him. Could this strange feeling be pity, he wondered absently, staring at the young man. It was possible. His own family had been killed by Vader, and that black-robed man had shown no more regret than if he had sent an irritating insect to its death.
Of course, all records of the deaths had been destroyed, thanks to his connections through Black Sun. Vader would never know why he was being targeted and, if Prince Xizor played his hand right, he would never know that he was being targeted at all. Yes, he would have his vengeance, and he would orchestrate it in a far better manner than this young man had. It was only to be expected; he had the might of the galaxy at hand. This young man had nothing.
Turning to Guri, he raised one eyebrow. "And the associate who made the… unfortunate mistake?"
"He has been taken care of. As soon as I was informed of his clumsy error, he was removed from our service."
Removed from our service – it was a pretty way to say he was tortured, and then killed. Carelessness was not tolerated in the Black Sun, and the warning would be clear as the whispers spread through his organization. "Very well. What more is there?"
"His weapon, your Highness." One of the guards standing beside the young man stepped forward smartly and handed Prince Xizor a strangely shaped instrument. He took it in one strong hand and gazed down at it, his eyes cool. It was a crude piece, bearing a hooked blade on one end and a large blunt pommel on the other end. Likely, it was all the young man could afford. At the thought, that foreign feeling threatened to overwhelm him once again.
Still staring at the blade, he nodded, expression emotionless, then lifted his gaze to the prisoner. After several heartbeats, he said, "Let him go."
"But-" The guard quickly stopped when Prince Xizor's cold eyes fell on him. A reminder of what happened to those who did not follow his orders immediately, and without question, may be in order. Perhaps sensing Prince Xizor's thoughts, the guard amended his objection. "Yes, your Highness."
"Drop him on one of the Outer Rim planets. If he resists, in any way, kill him." Dismissing the guard with a gesture, he turned back to the boy. "You forgot the key components of exacting vengeance. Plan carefully, always have a backup plan, and – most importantly - know your enemy."
He watched as the young man's expression became one of pure confusion and, satisfied, Prince Xizor turned on his heel and walked out. Guri followed, waiting until they were around the bend of the corridor and in one of the private areas before speaking.
"You allowed him to live."
"He is no threat."
She simply nodded. "I will determine who – or what - allowed the breach of security so that the boy could enter."
"Do it." Prince Xizor wasn't concerned; the boy would never have gotten close enough to him to do any harm, but he needed to know any weakness in his security. A human that young and inexperienced should never have been able to make it through the outer defenses. Unless…. "Check all of the lower-level guards' histories. If any come from his province, kill them."
"It will be taken care of," Guri replied and, with a small bow, she turned and headed off to do his bidding.
Back in his private office, he looked at the weapon once more, inspecting it closely. The dark oily shine along the blade was, no doubt, some sort of fast-acting poison. He wondered if it had been specifically designed for the physiology of a Falleen, and had to assume it was. On the whole, the weapon was primitive, but effective… if one could get close enough to the target to attempt an attack. And to do that, the attacker would need to know his enemy.
His own enemy, he knew well. Such a crude attempt would never work in his case – Lord Vader was cunning and perceptive, and had the ear of the Emperor. No, Prince Xizor's vengeance would need to be as shrewd as Vader himself, and as stealthy as a dragonsnake slipping through the blackest swamp water towards its prey.
Striding to the cabinet, he smiled coolly and opened the clear crystal doors. After one more long look, he placed the weapon on a shelf within, tilting it so that the blade's darkened edge showed clearly in the cabinet's pure light. The crystal doors were then shut, and he stared at his newest acquisition for long moments before shifting his gaze to the weapon beside it. A durasteel handle, wrapped with black rubber, that still bore sweat from the man who had once wielded it. His eyes shifted from the lightsaber to the hooked blade, and then back again. Yes. He knew his enemy. And vengeance would be his.