Disclaimer: All things Star Wars belong to Lucasfilm.
A note on the Sanctuary stories : I don't normally write "original" character stories -- I'm more interested in the established characters -- but I used the orphanage called Sanctuary for I'm Your What? and it took on a life of its own.
This takes place a few months before A New Hope.
Dritali Neral remembered little of the uprising that had sent her flying, with her father, from the wooded groves of Zompesha to the cold spires of Coruscant. She had only been five. There were only scattered images.
She saw, in her mind's eye, N'fabu Ujzimb, the leader of the commoners, breaking down the door to her father's grand house. He was yelling something, but Dritali didn't know what it was. One arm was raised. His blaster was in the other hand. She could see him in perfect clarity, right down to the ragged bottom of his shirt, where he'd torn off a piece to bandage his forehead. The rag was dirty, and now stained red.
She remembered looking out at Lake Zhinahumi. Bodies were floating in it, and there was something red in the water that wasn't the reflection of the sunset. It wasn't the flower petals falling off the trees, either. The boat that Daddy and Mama took her out in sometimes, mostly for holidays, was tipped to one side, and the water-that-wasn't-just-water was going right in the portholes. She didn't know if that was before or after Ujzimb entered the home.
Most puzzling, she remembered the feel of her nanny's arms around her. V'nupuch Zhahezvui - Nupi - was wrapping Dritali in her own cloak, and leading her out of the house. And someone had stopped her.
But not the commoners. The commoners didn't have uniforms. It was Daddy's men who took her away and gave her back to Daddy, and Daddy took her away from Zompesha, and she didn't know what happened to Nupi, or why she'd been stealing away into the night. Daddy said later that Nupi had been trying to kidnap her, and that the commoners had already killed Mama.
Dritali didn't believe him.
She didn't remember Mama being there at all, not in any of the pictures in her head. The last thing she remembered about Mama was in the dining room the night before, yelling at her to get away, to go to the lake, but most of it hadn't been clear, because she was ducking away from Daddy's fists. Mama was already gone when the uprising started. That much she knew for certain. Mama had been there one day, and she'd gone out into the city of Lichumpam. Dritali had gone with her, and they'd had a lot of fun together. That's when Dritali had met Ujzimb, and that's how she'd known him when she saw him, so she knew she wasn't making it up. Then it was the next day, and Mama was gone and all the commoners were mad.
And then there was the transport to Coruscant, where Daddy had told her what was happening, or what he thought she ought to think was happening. He was holding her wrist so hard it hurt when he did that, and Dritali knew to keep her mouth shut. Daddy had broken her wrist like that the year before when she'd interrupted him. Daddy didn't like it when people interrupted him, especially if they weren't agreeing with him.
After they got to Coruscant, the days just started rolling over each other. Dritali went to school - she'd begged for boarding school, but Daddy had put his foot (and his fist) down on that idea - and she started collecting glass trinkets. Real glass, not transparisteel. Real glass with bubbles you could sometimes see, if the glass blower missed a tiny imperfection. It was pretty, and she put shelves of it in the window of her bedroom to catch the light. Daddy almost never came there, so there wasn't as much chance of it getting broken (though she was very, very careful not to let him know how much she liked it).
Ujzimb had declared loyalty to the Empire, so the Empire didn't send anyone to help Daddy get his place back. They let him keep his title, but it rankled him that people snickered behind their hands when he was introduced as "Lord Ynob Neral" at official functions. He made them call Dritali "My Lady," which made the snickering worse. She dreaded official functions. He was always so mad afterward.
But it was at an official function, not long after her ninth birthday, that her life turned around. It was there, on a cool, pleasant Coruscant night, that she first heard of Lord Vader.
This party was on a big sail barge that belonged to one governor or another, and the cruise was taking them around the government district at night with the lights on. It was pretty enough. She wandered off, as she usually did when Daddy sat down and started drinking with some of the nobles, and made her way into the open air.
The night was beautiful. Coruscant always had a bit of an artificial glow about it, but tonight, it was wonderful. It reached up into the dark of space above, with feathery little fingers that split the shadows and, and caressed the white jewels of the stars, just as Dritali sometimes caressed her glass baubles. She stretched out her arms and spread her fingers, closing her eyes to pretend that she and the light were touching the stars together. Sometimes, when she did that, a kind of deep calm would come into her, and she could feel something, just at the edge of her senses, an energy, warming her and whispering just beneath her hearing.
It didn't come tonight, but there was a pure joy in the air, and Dritali gave herself to it, and laughed aloud. The sound surprised her - she hadn't laughed in a long time, and it didn't sound like she thought it would - and she opened her eyes. The light had changed; they were coming into the financial district, with its cold red security lights.
"... sooner or later."
" I was hoping for later."
"We all are, my friend. We all are."
The voices were carried on the wind, whipped around a corner of the barge, but they weren't very far away. Dritali ran behind one of the life pods and hid. She supposed it wasn't very nice, but she liked to hear how grown-ups talked to each other when they didn't know there was a child around.
The two men came around. One was dressed in the green uniform of an Imperial officer. Dritali couldn't tell rank yet, though she was trying to learn. The other was a stormtrooper. He had his helmet off, and was carrying it against the body armor.
"The new station is huge," the stormtrooper said. "And he's not even really in charge of it. It's supposed to be Tarkin. So maybe I won't have to deal with him. He can't be everywhere, right?"
"I wouldn't bet my life on that."
The officer shook his head. "You don't need to worry. I've served under Lord Vader before. He'll try to spook you, but he won't bother you unless you really screw up. And then, he'll just… look at you." He shuddered. "I know it doesn't sound like much, but when he does it, you feel like he's seeing all the way through you and not much liking it."
"That's not what they say. They say he'll kill you if you mess up. A lot of people say that happened out on Ampinua."
"That's nonsense. I was on Ampinua with him. He didn't kill any of ours."
"Mol Zokusa was one of ours. A bunch of people I know say that Vader hounded him out of the Fleet just so he could kill him."
"Vader hounded him out of the Fleet because he wasn't worthy of the uniform. And he killed him because he'd kidnapped a little girl. Rumor has it that he had some plans for her. I think it was the girl who's in the Senate now." The officer laughed. "The funny part is, she's a Rebel. We just don't have anything concrete yet. And Vader's the one who's determined to catch her in the act."
"If it's the girl I'm thinking of, another rumor says he's caught her in a few other acts, if you get my drift. And been part of them."
The officer grew serious, and grabbed the stormtrooper's arm. Dritali crawled forward to hear better. "Don't ever repeat that," the officer said. "Not ever. Not only is it not true - I was there, and you must believe me; she slept in a broom closet by herself, and he never touched her - but it's the sort of thing that will turn his temper. It's the one thing he won't put up with from anyone, treating a kid like that. Accusing him of doing so himself?" He sighed. "He hasn't killed anyone for an insult yet, but I did a two year stint with the man, and if anything would drive him over the edge, it would be that. He's a fanatic on treating people properly. I saw him dishonorably discharge three stormtroopers because they stole bread from a Rebel's pantry."
"That's one twisted value system."
"Yes. They say he used to be a knight. He still thinks he is, and he expects us to act it out, too. You'd better get used to it. No matter what his position technically is on the new station, he'll be everywhere, he'll hear about everything, and you will answer for any infractions."
The two men went on talking, and eventually moved on. Dritali barely noticed. She fell back into the shadow of the life pod, and drew her knees to her chest.
(it's the one thing he won't put up with from anyone, treating a kid like that…)
She turned the conversation over in her mind, a little bit here and a little bit there. The idea that anyone would just plain not put up with it… that this man, this Vader had actually saved Rebel girl from someone who was hurting her…
It was a revelation.
It wasn't wrong for Daddy to use his fists just because Dritali wished he wouldn't. It was wrong because it was wrong, and there was someone out there who might do something about it.
(they say he used to be a knight; he still thinks he is.)
Dritali smiled into the darkness. She knew about knights. Mama had told her stories, and the day she had gone into Lichumpam, the commoners had told her even more. Knights used to be everywhere, and whenever someone needed help, she could just say, "Hey, knight!" and, just like magic, there one would be, with a light-sword and determined look on his face.
A knight. Or at least someone who thought he was, and that was close enough for Dritali Neral. She resolved to learn everything she could about Lord Vader.
The party wore on and on after that. She wandered into the main lounge of the barge, and saw Daddy drinking alone. That wasn't a good sign - it meant the other nobles had shunned him, and he'd be unhappy later - so she slipped out before he spotted her and decided to go home. There was no ship's library, so she couldn't start the studying she meant to do. There was a gymnasium, but she discovered quickly that a party dress was not meant for tumbling and walking on a balance beam. The idea that there were other children on board, in the care of their nurse-droids, didn't occur to her as something that might concern her in any way.
Eventually, she found her way back to the life pod where she'd hidden before, and sat in it to watch the stars go by. She didn't really notice when she fell asleep.
In her dream, she is someplace warm and dry, and the sun bakes comfortably into her shoulders. She is standing in a high place, and below her, the desert rolls away to just past forever.
At the bottom of the bluff, there are many children playing together, building towers of rocks and sand, and dancing in a circle. A man with dark hair and skin, even darker than Dritali's own, is in charge of all of them, and he is putting a white bandage on a Rodian child's knee. He kisses the child's head, which Dritali has never seen a man do, though she remembers Mama doing it when she hurt herself. None of them seem to know she is watching.
Just beyond the circle, a dirty little boy with blonde hair is squatting in the sand, drawing in the dust with a stick. He looks up at her. He isn't smiling, and he doesn't look happy like the others, though Dritali thinks they all like him (and has no idea why she thinks that). He stands, and holds a hand out to her and -
"Get up," Daddy hissed, pulling her out of the pod by the elbow. "I'm not carrying you home. You're too big for that, Dral."
She blinked herself awake as quickly as she could, willing herself to remember the desert, even here in the luxury hangars. She couldn't afford to be slow abut waking up, though. The Corellian brandy coming off Daddy's breath was enough to get her drunk if she stood there long enough. "Yes, Daddy," she said automatically. She stretched her feet down to the deck, and straightened her dress. "I'm sorry, Daddy. I just got tired."
"So you hid an escape pod? Where were you planning on going, Dral?"
She had always hated being called "Dral" - it was a boy's name! - but she never complained. It wasn't worth it. She suspected that he knew anyway. "Nowhere, Daddy. I was just sleeping."
"Yeah, well, you can sleep at home." He dragged her along the deck, just slowly enough that a passerby wouldn't notice anything out of place. Daddy was very careful about that, even drunk.
They walked home, and almost made it, but Daddy was pulling too fast by then, and Dritali snagged her foot on the edge of the walkway. She went spilling onto the metal, and scraped her knee until it bled.
"What's the matter with you?" Daddy demanded, yanking her back up. "Can't you even walk straight? Were you drinking at that party, Dral?"
"No, Daddy, I - "
He pulled her along, up the steps to their home, and pushed her inside. The door closed with finality, and Dritali knew that there wasn't much chance of just disappearing and going to sleep. The momentum of his shove carried her across the foyer and into the steps, and she fell on the lowest riser, driving carpet fibers into her scrape. She remembered the dark-haired man in her dream, the one who'd been bandaging someone's hurt knee, and burst into frustrated tears, even though she knew it would only make it worse.
He grabbed her by the back of her dress and turned her to face him. "What were you doing all that time? You tell me the truth, Dral!"
"I just looked around, Daddy, I was just looking around and watching people and I got tired!"
He shook her. "The truth, Dral!"
"My name is Dritali!"
He stopped shaking her, and held her out at arm's length. Behind him, a free-form statue toppled and part of it broke off.
He must have kicked it when he moved, Dritali thought distantly, wondering if she was going to die now. The statue must have been unstable, because it rolled, and knocked over a shelf of knick-knacks.
He dropped her. She was two feet above the risers, and couldn't gain her footing, so she twisted her ankle, but she wasn't dead. She scrambled up to the middle of the flight. Had she really stopped him by yelling?
Before she had any chance to think about that, his arm snaked out and grabbed her wrist. He pulled her hard against the railing. "You ever sass me like that again," he said, very calmly, "and it will be the last thing you do."
He let go of her and went to the statue, to pick it up. Dritali backed away from the railing, and somehow managed to climb the rest of the way to her room. She slipped inside, and locked the door. She was shaking. Not just a little, either. She felt like she was inside a massage bed, and she could see her hands jumping around like scared mice. She barely remembered to twist her arms and legs to make sure nothing was broken.
He'd never threatened her before. Usually, he pretended that he was surprised when he lost his temper.
She heard a strange, chittering sound, the sound of something twinkling in the moonlight. In her window, the glass collection on the shelves was trembling as she was, as if in sympathy with her. She didn't pause to reflect on the oddity (at any other time, she might have questioned it, but tonight, it seemed only natural). She knelt on her bed, and stretched her arms across the window, embracing her collection gently, feeling its cool, reassuring shapes against her cheeks. "Shh," she said. "Everything's okay. It's over. It's over."
After awhile, the glass stopped trembling, and so did Dritali.
When she woke up the next morning, Daddy had left, leaving her in the care of the house computer. His message had simply said that he would be away for a week or so. Dritali had picked up, by some kind of osmosis that came from living with a person, that he was planning to take Zompesha back. She guessed he'd found some sympathetic noble to help him at the party. She didn't question his absence too deeply.
With the morning light, last night's argument (she had always thought of scoldings from Daddy as "arguments") seemed to have faded somewhat, and she was left with her other memories of the evening. The threat at the end - that was still clear. That was new. That would need to be taken into account. But more important, she had a new puzzle.
Lord Vader. The man who thought he was a knight.
Dritali intended to find out who he was. Daddy would review anything she did on the house computer (she had learned this the hard way, when she'd applied to a boarding school without telling him), but she was allowed to go to the archives. She got her normal breakfast, brushed her hair, and told the computer that she needed to study, and wanted help from the librarian.
Simple as that.
It was another glorious day - Coruscant's weather was artificial, but some days, Dritali just knew that it would have been nice anyway - and she enjoyed the walk. The last of the shakes had left her in her sleep, and the aches in her shoulders could have been from exercising. The scrape on her knee… well, that had just been from tripping on the sidewalk. She was smiling when she approached the desk.
An alien was sitting there. He was pudgy and dull green in color, and he had four arms. His nose was like an insect's stinger, except it didn't look sharp. There was a mouth under it, too, so it probably wasn't how he ate. Dritali didn't know what sort of creature he was. She hardly knew any aliens. Daddy and all the nobles said that they shouldn't mix, and that aliens were bad. They were crafty, but not very bright. But this one seemed friendly enough. He came down from behind the desk, and asked, in slightly accented standard, "How may I help you, little one?"
"I wanted to read about some people in the news. You know, just to know who they are."
"School is out, isn't it?"
"I just want to know. For me."
The alien smiled. "Ah. A curious one. I like that."
"Yes, of course, really. My job is finding answers. Without people who ask questions, I would have to work somewhere else, neh?"
She laughed. "Then is it all right if I ask first, sir, what order of being you are?"
"I can see you're a child of the Empire," the alien said bitterly, then started leading Dritali inside. "It is not your fault. My order of being is Resivian. We come from a world in the Mid-Rim. I do not drink anyone's blood, and as far as I know, I do not give itchy bites."
Dritali looked at her feet, abashed. "I'm sorry."
"No, no. I meant it. It isn't your fault. I merely address questions that others have asked. I should not have assumed you meant to ask them. My name is Mizovaz."
"And I am Dritali Neral. I'm pleased to meet you, Mizovaz."
He looked a little nonplused, but didn't say anything. Dritali really was pleased to meet him - to meet anyone, really - but she didn't think they'd started out on the right foot. He led her to the newsroom, and set her up at a terminal. "Now, Dritali Neral, who would you hear of?"
Some instinct told her not to go straight to the heart of it. "A couple of people," she said. "I heard a story last night, about someone named Mol Zokusa, and about a girl Senator that everyone thinks is a Rebel. And about someone named Lord Vader, I think."
Mizovaz hissed through his stinger nose, and it turned into something like a hum at the end. "I don't know about any Rebels - I know nothing of such things - but if you heard a story involving Vader and a girl, it was probably Leia Organa, from Alderaan. A few years ago, during her campaign, there was… mzzm… much interest. This Zokusa, I don't know."
Dritali feigned disinterest, giving a practiced shrug. She was good at pretending not to care about things. "The people talking said something about some world where they all were. Something with 'Al-' or 'An' or… " She pretended to finally hit it. "Ampinua. That's it. On Ampinua. I wanted to find out about that story, and find out about them. You know, see if it's true."
"If you're looking for truth, you need to look beyond what the Empire says."
"Maybe I will. But I'll look there first."
Mizovaz shrugged elaborately, and showed her how to limit her search fields (she knew in theory, but wasn't familiar with this particular model's programming). As soon as the list of biographies and articles came up, he disappeared back to the desk.
Dritali glanced briefly at the other two. Zokusa was a faceless nobody, who looked just like Daddy's friends. The girl, the Senator, had long dark hair and dark eyes, like Dritali's, but she was much paler and of course she was practically a grown-up now. She looked nice enough, but she wasn't what Dritali was after.
She opened the subheader on Lord Vader.
It was the strangest biography she'd ever seen. Most Imperial biographies were over-stuffed with inflated stories of heroism, and lists of achievements going back to primary school. Lord Vader's didn't even give his rank, though he was clearly with the military. There was a "Darth" in front of his name, but Dritali wasn't sure if that was part of his name, or if it was just another way of saying "Lord." It was confusing. After that, there was a list of ships that he'd been on, and a brief note calling him a personal aide and bodyguard to the Emperor. But nothing else. Nothing at all from when he'd been a child, and nothing about education and achievements. The field for "planet of origin" wasn't even filled in!
But that wasn't the really weird part. The weird part was that he didn't have a face. There was a holo, like all the others, but it was of a mask. He wore a mask, and a helmet, and a big black cape, so that Dritali could hardly even see what shape of person he was, except that he was big.
She had marginally better luck by calling up news, but Mizovaz was right - anything that the Empire approved didn't say much. They couldn't quite say he didn't exist - he sure did a lot of stuff! - but he might as well be a famous Star Destroyer, for all anyone said about who he was, or if he was a knight. One of the stories even starting giving mechanical specifications about him, and that was where Dritali stopped reading the "real" stuff.
She switched to the rumor papers. They were even more confusing. Some of them talked about him like he was the worst person ever. Others said he was a hero, and worked magic (that was where Dritali finally got the story of Ampinua - some woman he'd rescued said that he had come and freed a lot of slaves, then saved a human girl who'd come to help; the article didn't mention anything about her being a Rebel). Then there were the ones that didn't seem to care much what he did, just sort of, well, who he was doing it with. Dritali had no interest in those. Some of them had ideas of what he looked like under the mask. Most of them made the mask look better.
She gave up after two hours, and thanked Mizovaz. She slipped onto the public transport (how Daddy hated the public transports!), and slept as it carried her home, the conflicting images whirling around each other in her head.
She is back on Zompesha, and she notices without any surprise that she is Lord Vader. She is carrying a lightsword and leading an attack on Daddy's house. The commoners are all around her and she feels strong and angry.
The door falls, and Daddy is standing there, and then she sees her own small self somewhere and then there is a flash of light and --
The transport stopped harshly, and shook Dritali awake. Her mind was fuzzy and sleepy as she made her way home.
Vader left the conference room of the Star Destroyer, trying to avoid a display of his temper. It wasn't a moral decision - it was simply that showing his power too often would inure them to it, make them less afraid. He had a feeling that he would need all his power soon. The new station was going to be operational within the month, and the command structure was, to put it mildly, a less than ideal mechanism for handling it.
Furthermore, he'd been sensing a low-key disturbance in the Force for several hours. It was nothing strong, no great impact on his life but it felt somehow aimed at him. The image that came to him was of a child aiming a plastic toy blaster at a mountain. Someone was looking for him.
Was it his son? Could it be the boy?
Reflection made it seem unlikely. The boy - if he existed at all (Vader was sure he existed, but did not like to make assumptions) - would have been raised to think him dead. Further, he would know. He would know if his son was seeking him.
This disturbance, this seeker, was someone unconnected to him. He sensed that he was sought for help, for assistance - which was rare enough now that it alone would account for catching his notice. Whoever it was, was strong enough to make a ripple in the Force that he could feel...
He didn't have time. He had a bureaucracy to handle, and he knew - knew - that this time, Leia Organa would slip. She would make a mistake. He would follow her until it happened. And they would talk. About many things.
He leaned on a rail, looking out over the star field. He could still feel a wound where Leia had torn herself away from him on a fiery night on La'azum. It would continue to fester unless he did something about it. He was angry at himself as well as Leia… it had been careless, allowing her to become important to him. And yet…
How vital she had been! How present in the Force!
But in her departure, she had stolen not only her own presence, but Rejuo's. For that, she would pay. The anger burned in him, and it was the only thing that could begin to sear the edges of the open wound.
He cleared his mind, and sought his seeker again. The weak tremble that was reaching to him had faded even more.
He lost the thread of it.
Daddy showed up without any warning three days after he'd left. Dritali was very glad that she'd kept everything neat and clean. She'd even finished fixing the statue that had fallen during their argument (well, sort of fixing; she had it stuck back together), and he seemed to have forgotten it. She managed to get out of a long conversation with him, and slipped up to her room.
Her glass collection looked a little dull, so she started cleaning it. She didn't think to stop when Daddy came to the door.
"We've been invited up to Governor Hurar's," he said. "Be ready by mid-afternoon."
He left, and she continued to dust the figurines. When they were finished, she chose a dress, and met Daddy downstairs. He was quiet tonight. That could be either a good sign or a bad sign. She'd find out later.
Hurar was governor of some Outer Rim worlds, but, like a lot of governors, he lived on Coruscant. He had a big house near the Fleet hangars, and several high-ranking Fleet officers were present (along with the usual crowd of nobles and governors, of course). Dritali was duly introduced as "her Ladyship, Dritali Neral of Zompesha," then forgotten about for the evening. For the first hour, everything was as it was during every Imperial party Dritali had attended. Nobles and governors washing one another's hands, military men gathering like strange, stiff birds and speaking in their clipped and official-sounding way, serving droids flitting about with drinks and food. If there was a normal pattern to her life, she supposed this was it.
But just as dusk was starting to come down, Dritali felt something that was light a bolt of lightning hitting five feet away. Her teeth came together sharply enough to bit a little hole in her tongue, and her head buzzed. She was dizzy.
A second later, the party fell silent.
In the silence, she heard him before she saw him - the slow, even, mechanical breathing. She turned.
Lord Vader was standing at the edge of the parlor, his thumbs hooked into his belt. He didn't look like he was here for the party. "I must speak to Captain Varitan immediately," he said.
Dritali didn't really care what he was saying. She tried to inch her way through the crowd to get a better view. Not that he was hard to see, but she just wanted to see closer. She'd never seen anyone like him before.
The dizziness was starting to go away as she got used to it, but it apparently hadn't gone away quite enough. As she passed a small table, she had to lean, and she lost her balance. The table wasn't very sturdy, and it crashed when her weight came down on it.
She didn't guess that people usually looked away from Lord Vader, but it was so quiet and the crash was so loud that for an instant, everyone looked at her instead.
And somewhere, someone laughed.
Lord Vader was impassive. But beyond him, Dritali could see Daddy. Daddy had heard the laughter, and saw what caused it. His jaw was working in tight little circles.
"Captain Varitan," Vader repeated.
"Yes, my Lord," Hurel said, and hurried off.
Vader said nothing else as he waited. Dritali could see his light-sword. No one continued to celebrate in his presence. She was terrified… and yet something… she felt…
Then she lost it, because she saw Daddy again. He had worked his way partway around the silent circle. He would be taking her home soon.
She looked desperately at Lord Vader, wanting to say something, anything. But the silence in the room held her in thrall. She didn't dare. In her mind, only the phrase Help me please help me... kept playing, but she couldn't imagine herself explaining why she needed help. What had she ever planned to say to this man, if she found him? "I heard you were a knight once; please save me"?
His head turned, and he looked straight at her. Her breath failed her, and she sat down hard.
Then Hural came back, producing the officer he was seeking, apparently out of thin air, and Vader was gone, and the party began again.
But not for Dritali.
Daddy grabbed her shoulder as soon as things were moving enough for him not to be noticed. "We're going," he said.
She didn't argue. Arguing would make it worse. And how much trouble could it really be, just making a noise? She followed him.
He began speaking before they went inside. That was different. His voice was under control, too, and that was also different. "How clever did you think you were, Dral, going to the archives?"
She stopped walking and turned on her heel to run.
He caught her and pulled her back, dragging her into the house and closing the door. "You still had to log in. I saw what you were looking at. Were you thinking of going over my head? Is that it?"
"No, Daddy, I just heard a story!"
"Never lie to me!" He pulled off his belt, and swung it at her.
She ran for the stairs, certain she wouldn't make it until she was halfway up. The belt caught the back of her ankles, and she tripped, coming down hard on her left arm. It caught in the railing and twisted. She heard something snap and the pain was huge, but she didn't have time to deal with it. She couldn't pass out. She had to get into her room, and lock the door. In her mind, she screamed, as loudly as she could, _Someone help me!_ In reality, she just pulled herself to her feet.
She scrambled to the top of the stairs, and made it most of the way down the hall before Daddy lumbered up. But he was still quick. The belt lashed again, and struck her hurt arm. She screamed and tried to jump for her room. He followed. He got inside before she could close the door, let alone lock it.
"You don't ever go over my head, Dral!" he thundered. "Not ever! And if you think you're scared of me, you just better think twice about where you were headed."
"Daddy, I - "
"You were planning to point a loaded weapon at me, Dral. Better than a blaster, too. And I saw the way you moved up at the party. You were going to talk to him. Think you could get me out of the way, go back to Zompesha? Is that where your head was? You think they'd take you back just because of your mother? Think again. They'd cut you to pieces and throw you in the lake - "
Even through her pain, Dritali was utterly puzzled by that accusation. Go back to Zompesha? As what?
But it was where Daddy's mind was. His old place. Everyone was taking it from him; why not Dritali?
Her thoughts were cut short by another swing of the belt. It struck her across the belly, hard, and she tripped backward. Her bad arm hit the bed, and she rolled, pushing herself up, but the bed wasn't stable, and she tipped again, this time into the shelves by her window. The glass went sliding down. She couldn't stop it. Little fragments exploded as they hit the floor.
"No!" Her little treasures broke one by one. Only the vase was left, the pretty flower vase with an etching of a big flower on it. It was thin glass and…
And it was falling after the others. It seemed to be going in slow motion.
Then it stopped, hanging in mid-air.
Daddy grabbed it. Dritali never saw it coming. His fist swung in, and the vase shattered against the bridge of her nose. She felt the skin come open. A sharp piece cut across her cheekbone, right under one eye. "Daddy!" she screamed, and then there was another sound, a buzzing, humming sound.
She turned her head in time to see a flash of red light going right through Daddy. He fell in front of her, cut mostly in half.
She didn't have time to absorb it before a large, black-clad arm was around her waist, and draping her over one shoulder like a sack.
Lord Vader. He'd come. And he'd…
She looked back and saw Daddy there, and she screamed again, and Lord Vader moved her so that she couldn't see any more. He was carrying her like a very big baby now. "My Daddy," she said.
"We will see to him," Vader told her. "You need to leave this place. Have you other family?"
"What… I… " She bit her lip. She didn't want to cry for Daddy, not after everything, but she was scared and she didn't know what was going to happen next. "I'm all by myself," she said. "Where are you taking me?"
"To my home first. Then I will send you somewhere more appropriate."
His voice held no sympathy. And somehow, that was better. Dritali started to gain her mental footing.
In later years, she would remember little of the trip to Vader's home - a private transport, a large cavernous room, a small box. In the box was a bracelet. It was a lady's bracelet that was supposed to go from the wrist to halfway up the arm, only when Lord Vader put it on her, it covered to way above her elbow. He braced the brake, then used the bracelet to cover the splint and strengthen it.
Then they were at the spaceport. Everything had moved so quickly! The sun had just finished setting. In less than four hours, Dritali's life had been turned inside out.
Vader gave her a bag full of credits. "These will get you to the city of Mos Espa, on the world of Tatooine," he said. "Once there, seek Sanctuary. It is a known place. Show this bracelet to Kit Jarai. Tell him you were sent to him for safekeeping. I will see to your progress presently, though, for various reasons, I cannot accompany you. Do not go elsewhere."
Dritali nodded. She didn't have time to think about where she was being told to go. She couldn't very well think of someplace else.
She climbed into the transport. She had nothing except Lord Vader's credits, the bracelet, and the clothes on her back.
But she was seeking Sanctuary.
And maybe, someday, she would really find it.