Song: "The Longest Road," by Morgan Page, from the album Elevate.

Chapter Twenty-Five: The Longest Road

If you are so frequently in love,
If you prefer it all to me, then my love,
You'll go down the longest road to nowhere.
You'll pull it apart and you're just left there.

Moments ago...

Drake didn't need his brother's frantic hand signals to alert him to the fact that Zara was in danger. He was only dimly aware of the fact that he was shouting at her to run, to jump away, to do pretty much anything besides stand there and watch as the Maelibus slunk out of its hidey-hole and approached the blue-skinned woman that he loved. The flash-bombs they were lobbing seemed to have no effect on the creature as it held Zara's gaze, and the sonic vibrations from the emitters didn't appear to faze the Force-damned thing either.

Beside him, Corliss made to lunge forward but Drake was suddenly, inexplicably furious with the dark-haired Zeltron. "You're to stay here," he snarled at her, forcing all of his ire through his words. "She doesn't need your help. Now, or ever." He glanced at Levy, who was aiming another flash-bomb. "Keep trying...I'm going down there."

Before either of them could reply, Drake surged forward in the direction that Zara and Jo had gone. He thought that he heard Tully shout something, but the earplugs that the Ranger had given him were secure, so much so that he could hardly hear his own breath as he ran.

Jo was still poking around the cavern wall – still searching for the Great Holocron, he figured – but really, he didn't care about that at all. Not now. What he did care about was kneeling before the massive, scaly monster with tears streaming out of her eyes as if she was being tortured. His shins already ached from their impact against the ground, but he didn't care about that either as he approached Zara. However, he realized that he had only a few flash-bombs, his blaster, and his bare fists, none of which would likely do any lasting damage to the creature.

So he yelled at Johari, whose arm had all but disappeared into the rock-wall as she felt around for the kriffing Jedi artifact; to her back, she'd strapped the saber-pike from the Shadow Guard. At his call she tossed it towards him. Its weight was a comfort in his hand. Drake whirled, ducked below the lash of claws and jammed the pike's head as hard as he could within the Maelibus' chest, grinning to himself at the feral shriek that erupted from the thing.

That, at least, seemed to break the spell.

But there was no time for anything but grabbing her shoulder and hauling the Padawan to her feet, urging her to run. Levy and Tully tossed in a few more flash-bombs for good measure, and part of Drake's mind thought that Crest would've been pleased with their aim and enthusiasm. They raced until they passed under the arch of bones, which was when Zara collapsed.

Fortunately, he'd been prepared, and caught her before she hit the dirt. She met his eyes and he could see fear and exhaustion within her dark ones, so he hugged her as close as he could, telling himself that it was only to make sure she didn't fall again. A soft murmur escaped her but he couldn't hear anything – even the shriek of the crinking monster sounded distant – so without another word he slipped under her shoulder, nodding at the Echani woman who did the same, and they began to half-run, half-carry the Padawan back towards the others.

It was purely a whim that he whispered to her, and later on he didn't even remember what it was that he said, only that he felt a stab of relief when she gave a soft laugh in reply.

When they reached Tully and the Zeltron, Drake popped out his earplugs only to hear the Dance's engines start, which made him realize that his brother had beaten them back to the ship. Not nearly soon enough they had all managed to climb back aboard and were airborne, with Jo at the nav, giving Levy directions. Zara was walking and sitting upright, but she still appeared disoriented and fuzzy, as if speaking was difficult, so he just focused on keeping her awake – just in case.

Corliss took the seat beside them in the cockpit and placed a hand on Zara's forehead; it took everything Drake had not to slap her away, but he was too focused on Zara to do so. "She's okay," the Zeltron said in a quiet voice, her hand lifting from Zara's skin. "I don't know what the Maelibus did to her, but nothing permanent was harmed."

While Drake was too preoccupied to say much, Tully was not. "Thanks for the diagnosis, osi'ka," he growled. "Now step away from her."

As Drake was about to ask how much longer they had to go to reach wherever the kriff Jo was taking them, he heard Levy's exhale of relief; moments later the ship started its descent, settling down within a few minutes. "Think you can walk?" he asked, glancing at Zara, who met his eyes but said nothing.

Finally she nodded, and her eyes closed in a long blink. "Yeah, but my head feels...strange. It hurts."

Johari was beside them as well, and she gave a calm smile as she helped Zara to her feet. "A side-effect of trying to resist the Maelibi song. It will pass, soon. For now, though, we need to collect ourselves. I hope the old Ranger base is still intact."

The group descended the ramp once more, only to be met with the sight of a structure that was carved directly into the mountains that were looming above it, such that at first glance it was difficult to see where the mountain ended and the base began. Only when Drake tilted his head to a certain angle did he become aware of the glint of light off of something reflective, which he assumed was a viewport of some kind. Upon closer inspection he could make out a small, flat section in the rock that he guessed was where the doorway was located, but the entire base appeared to be riddled with cracks and divots, as if time had taken its toll. There was a flat platform – replete with fractures that the Echani swore were harmless – on which Levy had set the ship down, with a slender walkway that led to the structure itself.

Inside it was cool and quiet, though the ragged appearance of the base did not end once the group had slipped through the door. There were several rooms that broke off from the main one, which appeared to be an outpost, with monitoring devices – none of which seemed to be functional – set along the wall. There was also a massive comm station, which even Drake could tell at a glance was powerful, long-range and quite state-of-the-art, considering the derelict nature of the rest of the place. A row of padded seats rested to one side of the room, along with a kitchenette area, complete with conservator and sink.

There was a fine layer of dust over everything, but Drake didn't pay it any mind as he steered Zara into the nearest chair, and set her down before glancing at Jo. "She still seems dazed," he said, thinking back to the emergency first-aid training that Weave had made all of his brothers undergo. "Do you think she has a concussion?"

Jo knelt before the Padawan and studied her a moment before shaking her head. "The body attempts to resist the call of the Maelibi, but usually it doesn't manage. She's tired, and she'll have a terrific headache when she comes out of it properly, but for now I suggest letting her rest."

Corliss was at Jo's heels, peering over at Zara anxiously; Drake shot her a warning look but turned his attention back to the Nautolan girl as he slid beside her on the small couch. "Hear that, Zar? Just try and rest. I'll scrounge up a hypo to help with your head once you wake up."

She murmured something, and before he could move her head dropped to his shoulder. She was warm, and smelled a bit like the sea, and he felt himself relax, so he reached his arm around her and rubbed at her shoulder, hugging her close and breathing in her scent as Jo moved to stand with Levy at the comm-station. Tully had taken a seat at the other end of the chairs, stretching out his legs and giving a sigh of satisfaction.

The Zeltron shifted in place and looked at Drake, her expression neutral. He met her gaze and let his own emotions rise to the surface, willing her to understand that he meant business. 'Lissy' could try whatever she wanted, but in the end he knew that she would have to get through him to get to the one he loved. Satisfaction coursed within him when he watched as her eyes narrowed for a fraction of an instant.

Zara sighed and her head drooped a little more against him; one of her lekku slid down his arm, its softness a tangible reminder of all that they had shared, and he was able to relax a little bit more. In this moment, it was more than enough for him to just be here, at her side.

A few minutes passed in relative quiet. Corliss had taken a seat across the room from Drake and Zara, and for a while there was only the soft beep of the console as Levy and Johari worked. Finally Tully lifted his head in the direction of the Echani woman. "This may be a dumb question, but I'm a little slow: we got that Holocron-thing, right?"

Johari gave a light laugh. "We did."

"Great. So...what happens now?" The former ARC said the words carefully, and he seemed to only be speaking to Johari.

But it was Zara who answered, her words fuzzy as she sat up and blinked a few times, shooting Drake a smile as she did so. "We have to make sure that it gets to the right hands."

"If you're thinking about the Altisians," Corliss said suddenly from across the room. "I should tell you that Tremayne has his sights set upon them."

Silence thickened in the room at her words. Finally Zara gaped at her. "Tremayne knows about Master Altis?"

Something changed in Corliss' face, tightened. She nodded and looked down at her hands folded in her lap, before answering the affirmative in a quiet voice.

"More of your handiwork, I'll wager," Tully replied with a growl; at her words he'd leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees, and Drake could see that he was about to spring.

"He knows about Mundali, but hasn't found it, yet," Corliss replied. "However, I can assure you that he's doing everything in his power to change that."

Drake glanced at Zara, who had gone very still. His heart tightened at the stricken, terrified expression on her face. He suddenly felt very tired, and an urge to talk with Stonewall filled him, though he had no idea when – or if – he'd see his elder brother again. Not to mention his other brothers who were out there as well; Keo, Finn and Risky, doing who-knows-what.

As if punctuating his thoughts, Levy slapped the console he and Jo had been working on, and the Echani woman gave a nod. "Well, it appears that Levy has managed to get the comm working for the moment," she said, glancing at Zara. "Is there someone you'd like to contact? I know that the system on the Dance leaves much to be desired."

Exchanging glances, Zara and Drake rose up simultaneously – she moved as if she were better and waved away his offer of a hypo – and made their way to the comm, Tully and Corliss following a moment later. Levy was perched on a rickety stool that stood in front of the station, leaning over the mic and frowning in concentration as he adjusted the signal strength. For a few moments there was hissing and static, then – finally – a very familiar form bloomed to life in front of the group.


Zara apparently couldn't keep back her excitement at seeing the scarred clone. "Traxis!"

Instantly, the elder clone's face smoothed into a smile, though even through the flickering transmission Drake could read the worry in Trax's eyes. "Zar'ika. Who else is with you? We got word that you'd split up from Keo, Finn and Risky..."

"I'm with Drake, Levy and...some friends," she replied.

Before Trax could ask about any of that, Drake leaned forward. "You've heard from the others? Are they okay?"

There was a pause that made Drake's heart sink to his feet, then Traxis gave a clipped nod as he replied. "Last we heard they'd gotten caught up with a group of nomads...some kind of gypsies called 'Ryn,' but that was some time ago. They had some trouble, but they're okay for the time being. Keo managed to get a call in and tell me that much, plus a little of what happened on Zygerria." Here he frowned. "Big damn heroes, aren't you, adi'ke?"

"That's exactly what I thought," Tully muttered from behind Drake. "Who is that guy? I like him."

Trax's brows lifted at Tully's words, but he didn't reply, only gave another, deeper frown. "We're still working with Altis – loads of trouble, there – and everyone at home's pretty overwhelmed as well, so no one can come looking for you right now, adi'ke."

"Don't worry about us, Trax," Drake said. "We're fine, but I'd like to find Keo, Risk and Finn. Do you know anything more about their location?"

Another pause as Traxis glanced to one side, and Drake could hear the gentle lilt of Ares' accented voice in the background. Finally the scarred clone spoke again. "Not really. We-" His words began to be cut off as the transmission grew spotty and garbled, then faded altogether.

Drake shot a look at Levy, who was working furiously over the console; however, moments later he sighed and slammed his fist against the topmost panel, before making a gesture to the machine that Drake didn't need to translate for anyone.

"It's farkled?" he asked. Levy frowned and nodded, giving the thing a kick for good measure. Drake sighed and scrubbed his face with his hand, trying to think of what to do.

However, before he could speak, Corliss' voice sounded from across the room, at a console where she'd slipped off to sometime during their call to Traxis. "If you're interested, I may be able to uncover some more information about your friends."

All eyes turned to her, but it was Drake who spoke. "How?"

Rather than respond right away, she turned back to the console and knitted her brows as she began to work over it; Drake shot Levy a glance, and realized that his younger brother was watching her movements with interest. After a moment the mute clone slipped off of his stool and moved to stand with her, the others following a few minutes later, though Drake was sure to keep his distance from the Zeltron. Some time later, at Drake's look, Levy lifted his hands and formed his next words in silence. Looks like she's trying to hack into the Imperial intel database.

Having caught the movements, Zara sucked in her breath. "Is it working?"

Corliss nodded, then – after glancing at Tully – cleared her throat and spoke aloud. "I believe so. The Inquisitors have very high clearance, much more so than most officials. It's necessary if we're to do our jobs properly..." She trailed off and frowned down at the screen, which was glowing crimson against her face. "Oh..."

"'Oh?'" Tully crossed his arms before his chest and somehow managed to glare at the Zeltron even without his eyes being visible. "That's helpful."

"Forgive me," Corliss replied, smoothing back her hair. Drake noticed that her her hand appeared to be trembling, but the movement was so swift that he nearly missed it. "I don't see anything about a group of clones being taken into custody, but..."

Drake cut her off. "Maybe they captured them, but didn't report it?"

At this, Corliss gave him the kind of smile one might give a child who was learning to speak, but was muddling the words beyond recognition; in response, his hands tightened at his sides. "Possible, but unlikely. The Empire keeps records of everything, even the smallest, most insignificant events. However..." She took a breath and looked at Zara, who leaned forward.

"What is it, Lissy?"

The Zeltron glanced down at the screen and skimmed her fingertips over the edge as if lost in thought. "It seems that a group of Force-sensitives have recently been transferred to Prakith, though to what end I'm not certain."

At the words, Zara's eyes widened and Drake watched her breath catch. "To be trained as Inquisitors?"

"Perhaps," Corliss replied, though she was frowning again and there was almost a pained element to her words that gave Drake a feeling of foreboding. "'s odd for them to bring in a large group like that. Generally only one or two at a time. But this..." She tapped the screen. "A Chagrian, two Zabraki...and..." She glanced at Johari and spoke in a quiet voice. "A Miralukan male."

The Echani woman seemed to stumble backward, her eyes wide; Tully reached for her and helped to steady her shoulders as her hand lifted to cover her mouth. The former ARC turned his face towards the Zeltron. "Atreus Rand?"

But Corliss was shaking her head. "I'm afraid there are no names or more detailed descriptions given."

Immediately, Tully and Jo began speaking in low tones, as if everyone else had fallen away from them. Drake glanced at Levy, who stepped away from the Zeltron to approach him, and the both turned to Zara; she flicked her eyes between the Echani, the blind clone, and Corliss – who was again bent over the console – before settling back onto himself and Levy. "I know," the Padawan said before he could speak. "I know what you want to do, Drake."

Somehow, his stomach had dropped to his knees again. "I know what you want to do, too."

As Levy gave a somewhat pained nod, she glanced at Corliss, and for a moment her blue skin was awash in crimson as she considered the Zeltron. "The Great Holocron was only the beginning," she whispered at last. "But if I can help those other Force-sensitives..." Her dark eyes closed, then she looked back at him, and he knew what she was going to do. Indeed, her next words confirmed what he had figured out. "It's too important for me to let go."

Drake shut his own eyes, and wished – not for the first time in his life – that there were two of him, though he was aware of the irony of the thought, being a clone and all. But when his eyes opened and his gaze fell on her, he realized that he couldn't leave her side, now.

No matter what.

Corliss knew that she only had a matter of moments before someone caught on, so she urged her fingers to dance over the console as quickly as possible while at the same time trying to make the movement unnoticeable. It wasn't easy to embed a message within the rows of intel that she knew Tremayne checked when he routinely searched for updates, but she managed. Barely.

"Lissy?" Zara's voice sent a flare of apprehension through the Zeltron, but she was able to keep the feeling in its proper place, in the section of her emotions that she was allowing her friend to access. Of course she was anxious, for she would have to be blind, deaf and dumb not to realize what it was that Zara was thinking of doing.

It was perfect, actually.

Lifting her head, Corliss met her friend's eyes and waited as the Nautolan seemed to have to gather her thoughts; behind her, the younger clones shifted nervously. Finally Zara spoke again. "If...someone wanted to journey to Prakith and rescue those you think it's...I don't know...possible?"

Everyone in the room was looking at her; every bit of attention was focused on Corliss and she knew without a doubt that her every motion was being scrutinized, her every word examined. None of the clones trusted her; the Echani woman didn't seem to, either, but her interest was piqued by the mention of the Miralukan Jedi. Zara...

Zara wanted to trust her, she could feel it. The dark-haired young woman ran her hands along the console again and watched the images that formed in her mind: men and women of varying races in brown coats with worried expressions, most of which flickered away after a moment. No one had been in the station for a long time. She took a deep breath, and appeared lost in deliberation. Finally she nodded once. "It's possible," she said at last. "But it won't be easy. "

That was the truth, and she was able to meet the eyes of each person – save the blindfolded clone – in turn. After a moment she added, almost offhandedly: "What you hope to do, would go easier if there was someone working on the inside. Someone who knows how things are, there."

Both the blue-skinned girl and he clone lover shook their heads, though Corliss sensed it was for different reasons. Zara spoke first. "I can't let you do that alone, Lissy. Not now."

"Would Tremayne even take you back, after you turned on him?" the clone asked, crossing his arms before him.

It was a fair question, despite the fact that it was irrelevant, now. Corliss thought of Antinnis' face as he struck her; there had been anger, for she had gone against his wishes, but there had also been – she was certain of it – a note of pride. She recalled his past words about wanting to be near her again, and couldn't suppress a shiver of anticipation, which she hoped the others translated into one of anxiety. After a moment she nodded. "You've seen my abilities," she said to the clone. "You know what I'm capable of. He does as well. It won't be...pleasant, but I'm certain that Tremayne will take me back."

The clone – Drake, she reminded herself – nodded, then glanced at Zara. "Okay, then. When do you want to leave?"

At these words, Corliss felt her face darken. "That is not a good idea, Drake."

"Why?" The world shrank to the three of them: herself, Zara, and Drake, the latter of whom was glaring daggers at the Zeltron. "Is there some reason that you don't want me to go? You've seen what I'm capable of, Corliss." His light-brown eyes were upon her and filled with ire, his face was stone-cold and serious.

"Drake..." Zara put her hand on his arm and he softened at once, looking at her as though she were everything. Something struck Corliss, then, something that she'd once heard Tremayne say, some time ago.

Pick your battles. She watched her friend gaze at the clone and realized what it was that he was offering, though he wasn't aware of it, yet: leverage.

Should things reach that point, of course.

"It's okay, Zar," she said, ducking her head and modulating her voice and posture into submission, a manner in which she was – thankfully – well-versed. "Perhaps he's right. We're all resourceful...I'm certain that we can work something out; either sneak you in or have you wait nearby...I'll have to think about it."

"In that case," the blindfolded clone said, straightening his spine. "Jo and I are coming as well. Especially if Rand's there." The Echani woman nodded, though she still seemed a bit dumbstruck from Corliss' 'revelation' of a few minutes ago.

In some ways, it was too easy. But then, the Zeltron mused, Tremayne had been a very thorough teacher. The thought of him made her shiver again. However. "I'm afraid it will be difficult enough to manage Zara and Drake's presences," she said, meeting the Echani woman's eyes. "With the two of you as would be impossible."

"Sithspit," Tully replied, frowning at her. "That's..." He trailed off at the sound of Zara's footsteps as she approached Jo, and put her hands on the Ranger's shoulders.

"I promise you, Johari," Zara said. "If he's there...I will see that he gets back to you." As if on a whim she embraced the slender, silver-eyed woman, who didn't quite seem to know what to make of the gesture, though after a moment she relaxed and nodded.

When they parted, Drake cleared his throat. "Levy...I need you to find the others, vod."

The mute clone's hands fluttered into movements that Corliss hadn't yet figured out, but she could read his emotions as clearly as if they'd been her own; for one who couldn't speak, he knew how to make his feelings plain enough. Fear. Acceptance. Determination. Levy seemed to hesitate, then glanced at the Echani as if he was uncertain, and his hands moved again.

"Of course we'll help you, Levy," the Ranger said in her quiet voice, though Corliss could detect her remorse and worry. "But I imagine that we need to spend some more time in preparation, if we're going to manage all of this."

With these words, there was a burst of speech from the others, and the planning began in earnest, which Corliss threw herself into with gusto. After all, she was going home.

Three days later, they were off.

Although Antinnis Tremayne had few physical reminders of his stunning failure on Eol Sha, the blow to his pride had been – by far – the most severe. Whatever cuts and scrapes had been inflicted on his person had been aggrandized by the unplanned immersion in the sulfur pool, and the uncomfortable sensation of burning within his wounds had not faded for several hours until he and the Shadow Guard – and whatever troopers had not succumbed to death – were well into their journey back to Prakith.

The Theta-class landed smoothly, the ramp lowered and Tremayne began to descend, noting with an internal grimace that Umari had assembled most of the higher-ranking Inquisitorius to see the limping return of their leader. For her part, the Pantoran woman stood calmly to one side, hands folded before her in a courtly, neutral fashion, her face turned towards the sound of Tremayne's booted feet against the ramp.

Beyond the Inquisitorius was a cluster of Shadow Guards, fully robed and hooded, their visors creating half a dozen glowing, red slashes against the dark backdrop of the hangar; dressed as they were, it was almost impossible to see them through the shadows that permeated this section of Citadel Inquisitorius. Apparently, Umari had called them, too. Tremayne heard the halting, uneven gait of Priam Tor as the Shadow Guard made his way down the ramp behind him, and knew at once that the young man's career was probably over. He'd seen the wound that the Echani had inflicted. Even with the best care, such an injury would most likely never heal over, completely.

"At last, our commander has returned," Umari said, her voice reverberating through the gleaming, obsidian-sheathed space. "How we have missed you, Antinnis." A ripple of amusement flickered from the other Inquisitors that were gathered, but no one else said a word.

Even so, Tremayne could feel their eyes upon him. He schooled himself to calm, nodded at them as a collective group and continued on without acknowledging any of them. Umari fell in step with him as they headed for the entrance to the Citadel, proper. "I do hope nothing was permanently damaged," the Pantoran added as they walked.

"Your concern is noted," was all Tremayne could say without the words conveying more of his emotions than he was willing. It had been a difficult decision to return to the Citadel empty-handed, but he could see no other recourse. Corliss' locator had been deactivated, and he had no other way to track her at the moment.

"At least you fared better than Shadow Tor," Umari said. At this, Tremayne spared a glance behind him and noted that the Guard was indeed limping towards his compatriots, his movements difficult and clearly filled with pain. Not one of the black-robed figures moved to help him, and the sound of his boots scraping against the smooth floor echoed in the chamber.

It mattered not. Tremayne shrugged the image out of his mind and instead focused on making it to his quarters without losing his temper. Of course, Umari seemed determined to sabotage his attempts at control.

"I take it by the absence of your disciple that the rumors are true? She has defected?"

The mention of Corliss made Tremayne's hands tighten into fists beneath the folds of his zeyd-cloth robe. Even now, he could feel her skin beneath his as he struck her, though the sensation was swiftly followed by a memory of the look in her eyes in the moments prior; she had seemed – so he'd thought – as if she were still his. As if she loved him, still.

But despite this, she had defected. All of his time, all of the energy he'd spent turning her into a living weapon for the Empire – for himself – to wield...wasted. Without his permission, his jaw clenched against the faintest traces of a bitter feeling he couldn't quite name.

Tremayne's next thought was of the Nautolan Padawan. Her power had been unmistakable, and he felt a flare of anger that he had lost that opportunity, too. It was – for an instant – too much to bear, so he glanced at the Pantoran woman who was walking beside him. "Such a matter is of little concern to you, Umari. Keep your tongue behind your teeth, if you know what's good for you."

Despite his cool tone the words were virulent. The Pantoran woman laughed, low and throaty, and Tremayne knew that he'd lost the battle of the moment by revealing his emotions in such a fashion. However, he went on; with a wave of his hand he dismissed the others, and when they'd gone, as he and Eshe Umari moved through the glossy corridors towards the nearest turbolift, he spoke again. "What of the new additions to our ranks?"

Umari's voice was smooth, thoughtful. "The process has begun. Time will tell if they're strong enough to survive it." They approached the 'lift, stepped inside. There was near-silence for a minute while the space around them hummed, then Umari cleared her throat. "Lord Vader has requested an update immediately upon your return."

The news was at once entirely expected and wholly unwelcome. Tremayne resisted the urge to wince, as she added: "When last I spoke to him, he sounded...displeased."

Of course it was another spur on behalf of the Pantoran. Of course, it was another attempt to prick Tremayne's ire and cause him to lose control. Of course, he knew that it would be in his own best interest to ignore his subordinate's words, as Umari only wanted her own position within the Inquisitorius to rise.

But Vader's words echoed within Tremayne's mind, anyway. Provided you succeed, your efforts will be rewarded. If you fail...

There had been few certainties in his life, even before the veil had been lifted from his eyes and he'd been shown his true self in the mirror that was the Dark Side, but there was one constant: failure was never an option.

A soft hiss sounded as the 'lift paused and the doors opened. Tremayne exhaled before he stepped out. "You have done your duties well, Umari," he said to the Pantoran woman, whose head inclined in acknowledgment. "The Empire thanks you."

"I wish for nothing more," she replied as the doors closed between them.

Tremayne's office was just as he'd left it, and it was something of a relief to slide into his chair and go through the motions that had been neglected during his journey. Vader would be expecting his call any moment, but he took the opportunity to collect himself, flipping on his console to check his messages and run his eyes over the latest bits of intel, half-hoping that there would be news of Altis' location, or perhaps the coordinates of the mysterious planet, Mundali, that seemed to be connected with the renegade Jedi Master.

Nothing that beneficial, unfortunately. However, his eyes fell on an updated report from the Outer Rim; within the text were an incongruous series of words that caused his brows to knit. After a moment's study, he felt a thrill of satisfaction and – if he was honest – relief.

It was Corliss trying to reach him, he was certain, for the text of the message read: I'm coming back to you, Antinnis, and I'm bringing a friend.

So she was still his, after all.

At once, the veil of failure lifted. As he made to enter the code that would send a transmission to Vader, Antinnis Tremayne smiled.

To Be Continued...

Okay, confession time: I don't actually have the sequel, Dark Mirror, ready to go yet. :( The rough draft is only about halfway done, and I'm hoping to continue it very soon, to have it ready for publishing sometime in 2013. This is what happens when the muse calls me to other things and I have no choice but to answer.

That being said, I have every intention of finishing this trilogy, even if it takes longer than I'd like, so if you've enjoyed this story, you should subscribe to me so you can keep up with the series. On that note, a little encouragement is never misplaced, and I'd love to hear your thoughts/comments/opinions on the story so far and on what you'd like/hope to see in the future. Many things are planned out, but some are still up in the air. ;)

Everlasting gratitude to my beta, SerendipityAEY, whose encouragement and support helped make this fic possible, as well as to you, to the ones who are reading these very words. Thank you. :)

Again, thank you all for reading and reviewing!