Anything you recognize belongs to either JK, George or Disney. Anything else probably belongs to them too.
I looked from Schrieffer to Shmi's droid. "Artoo," I snapped, "I want HK back at the Gryphon in two minutes."
The droid whistled an affirmative tone and sprouted a small antenna, which spun around in a small arc. Schrieffer began panicking and started scrabbling around on the desk for something.
Sinube rose to his feet as I began mentally formulating a plan. "As you are not a Jedi student I shall save my usual counsel. They are your crew, Captain. Is there anything I may do to assist?
I nodded; pleased that he recognized that patronizing advice would be unappreciated and discounted. "You can follow me when I use my ma- my abilities, can't you?"
Sinube nodded. "With precision, yes."
I kept my face blank when I replied, "Good. Find me. Bring a mop."
I apparated back to the Gryphon before he could respond.
The bridge was awash with useless decibels as I popped into existence; both Mouse and R2-C9 were shrieking and warbling at high volume "What happened? I demanded.
Mouse leapt almost half a metre into the air at my unexpected appearance, an undeniably impressive physical feat given her diminutive stature. My green droid's dome spun and a holoprojection appeared between us.
It was Vox, and even through the light blue medium, I could see he was sickly, perhaps dying. He was kneeling, pressing one hand to his stomach while using the other to control the communicator. "Listen, I… need… - boss? You're back?" He sucked in a few shallow, bubbly breaths. "Shmi, Kalu, taken. Help," he finished weakly, before slumping to the floor. The holo flickered out.
"Bugger! Where is he?" I demanded.
Mouse had no way of telling me; she was panicking and crying, making me acutely aware of how much I relied on HK to communicate with the universe. C9 whistled and warbled, as though I could understand whatever version of droidese he beeped.
"Enough!" I snapped. "That's it, I'm getting you a vocal processor, and I don't care if that violates some idiotic galactic feng shui or something. Show me where Vox is!"
The droid swivelled its projector slightly and displayed a three-dimensional holographic map, showing a blinking dot not too far away from the Gryphon's hanger bay. But it was down a number of levels. A bright line flashed into existence in the display, showing a path from the tiny Gryphon to Vox's position.
I forced down my rising stress. Anger and panic were not going to help. "C9, precisely what direction, and what distance, is Vox from where I'm standing."
A number and arrow floated in front of me. "Right, both of you get to the medical bay and be ready to receive patients," I said while I moved around to sight down the translucent arrow. Without waiting for an answer, I apparated the distance specified.
The bloody droid was too much like Hermione for my own good, let alone Vox's good. The distance was so specific I landed on top of the poor bugger. I wobbled for a bit before falling off in a heap. I pulled myself up into a crouching position.
Fortunately, he was unconscious, so my use of him as a landing platform did not cause him any more distress. Even face down and bent over, I could see that his stomach was hideously wounded. The trail of gore indicated that he'd managed to crawl ten feet or so to the communications console even in his injured state. But he wasn't alone.
Shmi's naked protocol droid lay bent and twisted against the wall on one side of the room. A woman whose brains were exposed to open air lay near another young man. There was nothing I could do for her that didn't involve last rites. The other fellow was still alive however. His eyes were wide, his face was pale and glistening, and he gasped like a fish out of water, but he was alive.
Ultimately it was probably a futile effort, given the side of his chest sported a blackened crater not dissimilar to the one decorating Vox's stomach. It spoke of impressive determination and willpower, however. He blinked at me with uncomprehending eyes, clearly deep in shock.
I turned back to my employee. Vox needed a bacta bath immediately. A portkey would put him in the medbay without issue, but maneuvering his bulk into a tank might present some difficulties for a team of first responders made up of a four foot tall droid and a tiny Sullustan.
But I was a wizard, and magic was sodding awesome. I placed a feather-light charm on his bulk and scanned the room for something I could quickly use as a portkey. I spotted a couple of small cushions on one of the chairs in the office.
Two taps of my wand and Vox vanished. As a bonus, his head would be protected from the drop to the medbay floor.
I glanced down at the other wounded man, whose laboured gasps were noticeably slowing. I did not want to send someone unknown onto the Gryphon if I wasn't going to be around to make sure they behaved; doubly so since I did not know if he was involved in the abduction of my crew. But he was clearly going to die if I did nothing.
I shook my head. He wasn't my problem.
I turned and looked at the bent and twisted remains of C-3PO, wondering if he would have any useful intelligence worth me spending the time to repair him now or just chase down my crew.
For some reason, I saw Anakin's face in my mind, as though he was looking directly at me with a profoundly disappointed expression.
I shook my head to clear it, but the cherubic face didn't change. I glanced back at the dying man and ground my teeth together, but sighed. There was another cushion on the chair. And I knew how to stun.
Anakin's face disappeared from my mind once I'd sent the other chap after Vox. I moved back over to Threepio and cast a repairing charm.
The droid bucked and shuddered, his parts squealing a metallic shriek, then whirred to life. "Oh my, Captain Harry! Thank the Maker!" he said, waving his arms around in alarm, making him look astoundingly similar to a turtle on its back trying to turn over. "Mistresses Shmi and Kalu'minari have been kidnapped!"
"How?" I demanded, not wasting time with longer questions.
"A bounty hunter took them! Curse my metal body, I could not help them!"
A sudden suspicion overtook me and I aimed my wand at his head. "Wait, if you were broken, how do you know what happened?"
"My mobility circuits were damaged when Crewman Vox knocked me over, but my sensors remained active."
I wondered for a moment if I was too paranoid, then snorted at the thought and dismissed it. The fact I was alive despite the facts of my life proved otherwise. "Where did they go?"
The droid managed to sit up and pointed to a window. "He took them through that window and loaded them into a Senate Security vehicle."
I rushed over and looked out through the transparisteel. Even from this vantage point I could see hundreds, if not thousands, of vehicles.
I placed my wand on my palm. "Point me Shmi Skywalker." The wand moved slightly so that it pointed directly away from the building. An evil smile grew on my lips. A couple of minute's head start wasn't anywhere near enough to escape from me.
"Captain, we should report this-," the droid stopped when I snapped my head around and it caught sight of my expression. I've been told it's quite intimidating. "Oh my," he finished.
"No," I disagreed. "We should not. Make your way back to the Gryphon."
Time was I would have vanished the window, leapt aboard my Firebolt and shot away, ignoring any objections and entreaties to wait, focused only on retribution.
But that was predictable, and predictability was a great weakness of Gryffindors. Now, I tended to spend a little time to think, to plan, to gather the tools I needed.
And then focus on much more effective retribution.
It was a lot more efficient to blow something up if you had all the necessary munitions on hand. HK might object to being described as munitions, but I suspect any hurt circuits of his could be soothed by a liberal application of my enemy's innards.
I apparated back to the medical bay, just to make sure Vox was sorted.
My charm to make him lighter had certainly made it easier for Mouse to maneuver him, but the little Sullustan was in tears because she could not push the now-far-more-buoyant Houk into the bacta tank, even with the assistance of an unfamiliar droid with a face like an old fashioned microphone. I mentally kicked myself for not thinking that through, and removed the spell. He plunged into the translucent liquid with a splash so quickly that Mouse had to wave her arms in an expansive circle to prevent herself from joining him.
The new droid introduced itself as a B-series medical droid as it injected something into the arm of the unknown chap I'd sent back. I removed the other feather-light charm as well and instructed the droid to keep the newcomer sedated even after he was healed.
In the time it took me to sort out the problems I'd caused, HK arrived back. It took about half a second for C9 to brief HK after he stomped up the Gryphon's ramp, and he was ready to go hunting instantly. My psychotic droid listened to the series of beeps then turned to me.
"Analysis: A successfully executed abduction from a building with this level of security will have plans in place to deal with pursuit. Utilizing magic in our hunt will be far more likely to ensure our success. Such success in the face of extensive precautions will also delightfully confuse and demoralize. I suggest using the material you called an 'Invisibility Cloak'. Using your flying broom will also negate countermeasures in place to detect traditional engine emissions."
"Way ahead of you," I said, having extracted both from their usual storage in my pockets. I slipped my leg over and hovered in place as I settled the cloak over my head, covering the broom. "Can you see me? Or detect in any way?"
C9 squealed a bit at its first exposure to magical-assisted invisibility. HK's head swivelled from side to side. "Assessment: Negative visual readings in any wavelength. Positive aural readings, though far below the detection capability of most meatbags. With suitable sound negation, atmospheric disturbances and gravimetric scans are likely the only methods of detecting your presence. However, there are two major weaknesses to your current plan."
I pulled the cloak off. "Do tell."
"Secondary Weakness: Anyone looking up under the cloak will be able to see you."
I tapped my head, disillusioning my body. "I know. This almost fixes the problem," I told him. It was a known weakness of invisibility cloaks; not being able to fly over things and remain undetected. Combining disillusionment with the cloak made me look almost exactly like an atmospheric heat shimmer when flying over someone.
Of course, on Coruscant, you could fly under your prey and still be high in the sky.
"Primary Weakness: Spatial limitations prevent me from fitting under your cloak."
I grinned, but he couldn't see it. "I know." With a wave of my wand, I cast a shrinking charm, reducing him to the size of a toy soldier. I could barely hear his high-pitched objections, so I ignored them. I just summoned him and stuffed him deep into a pocket.
C9 gave a long, low tone of astonishment.
"I'll be back soon," I told the droid, before shooting through the Gryphon's corridors and out through the open ramp.
The flight from the hanger out into the skies of Coruscant was but a brief blur. Once in the sky, I dropped my wand into my palm and cast another point me spell. It pointed off to my left. I holstered the wand and took off, flying low, beneath the main thoroughfare.
After a minute or so of top-speed flight, I repeated the charm. Shmi was now off to my right. I sighed, adjusted my heading, and shot forward at top speed.
It took more than half an hour of furiously frustrating stop-start, zigzag flight before I finally managed to locate the vehicle my girls were kept in. I began judging the best way to capture it when it pulled up along-side another speeder. Kalu and Shmi were pulled from the flying van and shoved into the other one at blaster-point.
I did not take the chance to rescue them, however. They were wearing bulky collars of clear purpose, which pushed my rage well into the red zone. I knew how people in this time controlled slaves. Cowards.
I tagged the girls with a tracking charm in case I lost them or the girls were separated. The new speeder took off in a different direction while a droid got into the original vehicle.
Seconds later, the droid engaged the vehicle and flew almost straight down into the bowels of the city. Even at this distance, I could see a series of small explosions like balls of lightning ripple across the frame, and it burst into flame as it fell.
I grinned at the hunter's vain attempt to cover his tracks.
The vehicle swap dance repeated a few more times, and I grudgingly admitted to some appreciation of the fellow's caution. He reminded me quite a bit of old Moody, if the paranoid nutter had two red eyes rather than that single blue one.
I fished around in my pocket and pulled out Mad-Eye's blue eye. I'd tried to replicate the charms on the thing a few times in the past, but never managed to capture the elegant success of the original. Whoever created it was a genius, and Moody had taken the secret to his grave. Normally, that would not have been a problem for the Master of Death, but the grizzled auror had been so paranoid that someone would find a way to counteract it that he'd actually obliviated the knowledge of its creation from his own memory.
I waited until the vehicle was travelling relatively steadily before pulling alongside. I held up the eye to my glasses. I twisted it a bit, magnifying the image and studying the size and shape of the collar bombs. It took me a few times to get it right, given I had to keep some attention on flying, and it took a bit of observation from different angles. Soon I was confident that I could replicate the shape of them easily enough, even while on a broomstick.
I transfigured a couple of sickles into copies of the collars. During the next few vehicle swaps, I refined them with close examination of the originals. Finally, hunter drew along-side a landing platform deep in the bowels of Coruscant. He exited and guided the girls into the building under threat of his blasters. Shmi stopped, looking up at the building in fear.
She clearly knew that entering it lowered her odds of survival.
The hunter jabbed a weapon into her back and threatened to blow Kalu'minari's head off if she didn't move.
I had already marked him for death, but I decided then and there that he deserved an extra special sending off.
I discretely hovered behind them as they walked through the enormous warehouse filled with armed people and droids, and used a pair of switching spell to swap the explosive collars for my rather more benign versions.
Shmi seemed to notice the change; she stiffened in terror for an instant. But after a few seconds, she almost slumped with relief. Kalu was clearly terrified, and did not notice the change around her neck.
They entered a corridor, which made it a bit more difficult to keep from bumping into anyone. It did however make it much easier to work out where they were going. I managed to sneak past without drawing attention and sped down the corridor, past several mounted turrets.
I hovered outside of a security door while my girls and their captors caught up. I spent the time changing the shape of the explosive collars into basic facsimiles of the hunter's blasters. I could not do a full transfiguration on them; that would change the explosive within. It was more or less a change of shape, similar to first-year efforts at transfiguration where students produced furry chinaware from animals.
I couldn't swap them with the blasters while he was wielding them, so I clenched my jaw and stuck the explosives to the end of my broom.
Behind the third security door was a large room with an odd, elliptical hole in the inordinately high ceiling. A substantial fraction of the floor space was filled with an enormous Hutt on an elliptical, levitating dais. Three armoured humans had their weapons trained on the door as it opened, but they relaxed when they saw the hunter and my girls outside. Six of the pig-faced Gamorreans stood guard around the slug. A rusty looking droid stood near the door like a decrepit butler.
I wafted in and took position above the Hutt near the hole in the ceiling. I realized that the Hutt's floating dais could rise up and slot into it, leaving him alone protected from any blaster fire below if the inner sanctum was ever breached. Paranoid bastard, wasn't he?
I looked around the room, taking in the position of everyone and what weapons they had.
The doors slammed shut and sealed with an imposing sounding locking mechanism. I heard at least two blast doors shut on the other side. We were undoubtedly locked in.
The Hutt sneered something in Huttese, but all I caught was "Kalumi Nari."
I knew that name. That was what Gardulla called Kalu.
Huh, this was Gardulla? I wasn't sure how you could recognize individual giant slugs, but clearly this one survived its forced impoverishment. How nice of it to drop by for me to remedy that. It saved me having to chase it down.
I planned out my simple tactics as the Hutt and the hunter conversed via the droid. Firstly, I placed a cushioning charm on the wall behind my girls. The hunter had holstered his blasters, so I switched them with my explosive versions. Gardulla helpfully distracted the hunter from the sudden change in weight on his belt by bitch-slapping a Gamorrean into a wall.
I slipped the blasters into a pocket and was preparing to cast a number of other charms that would terrify and demoralize, but the hunter started rambling on at how safe this place was and how protected they all were. Try as I might, and even though I wasn't yet completely ready, I couldn't resist shattering their illusionary sense of safety.
I used a trick Kingsley taught me to make it hard to locate your voice; I placed my wand at my throat and cast a silent Sonorous. I let the amused anger I felt colour my tone as I whispered, "All that would only matter if I wasn't already in here with you."
The moment I finished speaking, I whipped my wand away from my throat and banished Shmi and Kalu into the softened part of the wall, and then transfigured a thick metal sheet from the floor to hide them.
The hunter moved faster though. The moment I had started speaking, he dropped into a defensive crouch so quickly that he was balanced and ready for anything before I'd finished speaking a few words. He had whipped out his blasters so fast his hands had blurred, but his attention was split between searching for the source of the threatening voice and trying to work out why his weapons were unexpectedly not weighted as they should be.
It hardly mattered though. Gardulla gave a shriek of fright at my voice and slammed a hand down on the floating dais' control panel. Whatever button the terrified slug pressed was clearly meant to kill my crew, as the blaster-shaped bombs in the hunter's hands detonated, sending him hurtling backwards into a wall amid a cloud of rapidly expanding hot gas, metal shards, and pink mist.
The three armoured humans had clearly been prepared for someone they could not see, and began strafing the room with blaster fire. They shot everywhere including under the floating dais their boss sat on. My chosen spot near the ceiling above Gardulla's bulk was quite safe from that. Three of the Gamorean guards fell to friendly fire and roared dying objections. I added to the confusion by dropping a glamour onto one of the armoured guys, causing him to shimmer and flow until he looked sort of like me; if you couldn't tell the difference between a cardboard cut-out and the real deal.
The remaining Gamorreans, who up until now had stood dumbly at the chaotic situation (showing all the mental capacity HK's insulting tone could describe), bellowed and attacked the disguised mercenary.
I took the opportunity to extract my psychotic droid from my pocket. I didn't give him the opportunity to object to his treatment, I just tossed him off to one side and reversed the shrinking charm as he fell. "Destroy them," I snapped in English.
The droid landed in a crouch with a metallic clank and leapt into the fray with the distinctive activation sound of a lightsaber and a joyous declaration of, "I kill to serve!" He set about slaughtering the armed occupants with praiseworthy efficiency. Given the dimensions of the room, it was perhaps not so surprising that he didn't have his cannon, or even his vibroknife in hand. The weapon was lit only at one end, but the modulated humming echoed in the small room, competing with the screams and shouts of the rest of the occupants.
With the intolerable situation becoming even more so by the second, Gardulla mashed another button and the dais shot up, collecting me on its way. I struggled a bit to keep the Hutt's bulk from knocking me out of control, and we both ended up in the panic room's panic cubbyhole.
The name of the place did not stop the Hutt from actually panicking at my unseen presence. The instant the slimy skin touched me, Gardulla realized that I had been brought along for the ride, and started thrashing around in fright. Having just enlarged HK, I had sizing charms at the forefront of my mind, so I quickly shrank the slug down to children's toy size.
Safe from being crushed under a tonne or so of slimy bulk, I leaned over and grabbed the squalling mini-slug by one spindly arm. It squirmed and wriggled like a recently landed fish, but the arm gave me something to grip onto to keep it from sliding away. I didn't bother trying to figure out the control panel; It was probably labelled in Huttese. I just apparated down a couple of metres to the next level, but remained on my broom.
From the earlier boasting of the bounty hunter, I had assumed that Death Watch mercenaries were highly skilled; but in the dozen heart beats I'd been upstairs, only one of the three had survived HK's initial onslaught. Oddly, the surviving mercenary was not shooting a blaster at my droid, he had managed to put some distance between himself and HK, and pulled a cylinder from his belt. It lit up as a lightsaber in its own right, though the blade was a scintillating black.
He was clearly a courageous soul; he launched himself at the droid and matched HK, blow for blow, red on black.
It surprised me, to tell the truth. I didn't think someone who wasn't a Jedi could fight with a lightsaber. Clearly I was mistaken. It was something to think about.
"Statement: You are almost a worthy adversary," HK taunted after perhaps a dozen strikes had been expertly countered, his vocal processor clearly expressing his amusement.
The human smashed his black lightsaber down on HK's crimson blade, locking the weapons together. "I shall," was all he got out before HK ignited the other end and filleted him with an elegant twist.
I looked around, wand at the ready. The three Death Watch mercenaries were down, and two quick cutting curses ended the lives of the remaining living, yet wounded Gamorreans. The hunter who'd lost everything from the elbows down was breathing, but appeared unconscious. His eyes were pools of bloody pulp amid a sea of torn facial skin; the twin explosions had wreaked magnificent destruction on him. For some reason, my mind noted that his hat had survived the explosion intact, but had been blown from his head.
The rusty protocol droid was still standing, though it had lost an arm to a stray blaster shot. It looked around at the bodies, then at HK.
"Initiating security protocol omega," it said almost sadly. There was a sharp electrical static burst, and the droid toppled. Tiny coils of smoke began wafting from its eye sockets and chest cavity.
I grimaced as it fell. If the thing had a bomb inside it rather than just a self-destruct mechanism, we all would have had a very bad day. It was disconcerting to think that I wasn't quite paranoid enough.
I shook my head and petrified the bounty hunter in case he woke and had a surprise for me.
"Report: All hostile meatbags enjoyably eliminated, Master."
"Well done that droid," I said expansively, the adrenaline rush making me jovial. I landed and hopped off my broom.
The sound of my voice prompted a relieved exclamation of "Harry!" that came from behind the transfigured metal wall. Shmi glanced out from around the edge, looking for me.
"Over here," I said sheepishly, shrugging off my cloak and removing the disillusionment. She hastily crawled out from behind the wall and darted over to throw her arms around my neck. Kalu followed seconds later, clutching at me from the side around my chest.
With a wand in one hand and a slimy, psychopathic slug in the other, I must have looked ridiculous trying to comfort two women without using my hands. "It's all right," I offered inexpertly, "You're safe now."
Shmi burst into tears and clutched me even tighter.
"Er, need air," I wheezed.
She pulled back, profuse apologies running together in a stream of words. Kalu looked up at me from her limpet embrace of my chest, then took Shmi's vacated place and mashed her lips against my own.
It occurred to me that perhaps my disillusionment with being a hero stemmed from my exposure to the trade as a child. As an adult it seemed to have certain perks that were unavailable to the average twelve-year-old.
The disgusting, wriggling worm in my hand distracted me from fully enjoying the moment however. I pulled back, much to Kalu's sudden anxiety. "We should get you safe, first of all," I explained, giving her a warm smile.
She visibly relaxed at my words before she noticed the Hutt in my hand. She gave a squawk of fright and blurted something in a language I didn't recognise, but from the tone was clearly a curse.
The Hutt roared something at her that would probably have been intimidating had it come from something that didn't sound like a kitten overdosing on helium.
Despite how utterly non-murderous the Hutt sounded, Kalu shrank back, her terrified expression one I'd seen before. She was still emotionally imprisoned by her fear of this creature.
I made a decision in that moment that would probably have psychologists the galaxy over slapping their hands to their faces. "You know, I think I'll give this to you," I said.
She looked at me with wide, shimmering eyes. "What?" she gasped, putting her hands behind her back.
"You don't need to be afraid of Gardulla anymore," I explained. I held out the slug. "Here."
She drew back. "I don't…"
"Watch," I said. I held the slug up at eye level then dropped it on my swinging boot.
It made a satisfying splat on my foot before sailing across the room and hit the wall. I ignored the squeaks of pain and protest and summoned it back immediately. "Your turn," I said, holding it out once more.
She stared at me, eyes wide and afraid. "But I," she started and stopped.
I dropped the Hutt. It deformed slightly as it hit the ground. After a second, it vomited a bit and then tried to sludge away.
"Go on," I urged. "Give it a kick."
"Captain," Shmi said softly, "I don't think this is a good idea."
I didn't take my eyes off Kalu. "It takes strength to conquer your fears," I explained. "Telling someone not to be afraid of their nightmares doesn't work if there really is something to be scared of. Personally destroying your nightmares is the best way to overcome that fear." I took Kalu's hand and gave it an encouraging squeeze. "You can do it. I can encourage you, but you don't need me to face your fear."
The Hutt tweeted something that was probably a threat, but it was not enough to keep the Twi'ilek from tentatively drawing back a foot and giving it a quick punt, just strong enough to roll it over.
"That's the spirit," I said cheerfully.
She gave me a weak smile, but drew back for another go without any prompting. This time Gardulla rolled a few metres. I summoned the Hutt back.
"Again," I instructed.
She tried once more, this time getting the slimeball airborne.
I didn't get a chance to summon it back. Something snapped in her, and she stomped over. She began to really lay into it, screaming, "I am not your slave! Not anymore!"
The floodgates opened. After a few wild kicks, of which only a couple landed, Kalu started stomping. It was more accurate, and she screeched louder and louder, slamming her foot down harder and harder. Gardulla burst apart under the onslaught like a rotten watermelon, but Kalu kept on going, ignoring the pungent slime on her clothes. She screamed and screamed, her voice quickly growing hoarse.
I was honestly surprised at the sheer vehemence of the release, but I quickly moved over behind her and waited for her berserker rage to subside.
It did, just as quickly as it had appeared. She flung herself against my chest and burst into tears, clutching tightly to my clothes. She heaved and shuddered, with honking great un-feminine sobs and the waterworks to match.
HK clanked up, metal feet resounding loudly on the durasteel floor. He looked down at the diminutive woman as though for the first time. "Observation: That was an unexpectedly capable and utterly delightful display of unadulterated violence, Master. I did not believe your consort had it in her."
In the midst of her sobs, Kalu gave a sort of burble of laughter, and buried her face in my chest even harder.
I hugged her right back. I felt a bit sheepish as I remembered something. "Er, Shmi, did you want a go? I know Gardulla claimed to own you at one point." I waved one hand in the general direction of Hutt gore. "Feel free, but I'm afraid Kalu has already had most of the fun."
There was a pause before she answered. "No thank you, I believe I will pass," she replied in a weak, almost nauseous voice. "Um, can we do something about these collars?" she begged, running a finger between the metal and her neck.
"I already did," I explained, removing the transfiguration and letting them both return to silver pieces. "I caught up with you after not long after you vanished. But I couldn't rescue you until I sorted out your collars. I got the chance to swap them when we got to this building."
Her eyes widened with recognition. "You did that?"
I gave her a nod and a bright smile. "I also turned the real collars into blasters and swapped them with Stumpy's weapons over there."
"Who is Stumpy?" Shmi asked, sounding baffled. She looked over at the hunter and saw that he was missing a substantial fraction of his forearms. "Oh," she said in a suddenly dreamy voice, "I think… I'll just," she trailed off and slumped to the floor.
I winced. "Yeah, it's well past time to get you two back to the Gryphon," I said, looking at the poor woman. Kalu sighed deeply and relaxed at my words, which made it easier for a Morpheus hex to put her to sleep too. I carefully laid her on the floor next to Shmi.
I thought for a bit then I spoke to HK in English on the off chance anyone was listening, "Do you have a protocol for interrogation?"
"Affirmative: I have seven-hundred and twelve distinct methods of extracting information from meatbags. And a further sixteen for droids."
I absently pondered the technicalities for droid to droid interrogation in the absence of pain receptors, but quickly decided I wasn't all that interested right now. "What about… making an example of someone?" I said with a snarl, glaring at the literally disarmed bounty hunter.
"Anticipation: Master, give me ten minutes and I shall endeavour to make every bounty hunter in the galaxy terrified of attracting your attention."
I looked around the room and gave a single nod of finality. "We'll go with that then; I don't actually have any questions for the sodding bastard. As a matter of fact, I order you to indulge yourself. I'll take the girls back to the Gryphon, and then come back to observe. Oh, leave that droid alone; I'll pick it up too. It might have something I can use in its memory."
The mood on the Gryphon quickly morphed from sombre to celebratory as I returned with Shmi and Kalu. The fact they were physically unharmed added to my reputation among my crew. I put Shmi to bed and set Artoo to watch over her until she woke. I left a mug of hot chocolate next to her bed, the ceramic charmed to keep the liquid warm.
Kalu needed to be cleaned before she was put to bed. Normally I'd improvise an agreeable, interactive game out of a beautiful woman and a bath of warm soapy water, but Hutt-goo probably had libido-dampening properties. Rest was the best thing for Kalu at this moment. Dobby was on hand to stand guard over her, and I left another mug of hot chocolate on her side table.
I apparated back to HK, discovering that in the short time I'd been away, he had managed to bring the hunter back to consciousness. My petrification spell was still in effect though, so my droid did not have to deal with him flopping about. HK had one metallic finger deep in a gory eye socket, rotating it slowly. His other entire hand was buried whole in the hunter's abdomen, clearly doing something horrific to the internal organs. The noise the dying alien made through a rigid throat was barely audible, but soul-chilling.
I turned my back and left him to it. Focusing on anything but the noise, I picked up the black lightsaber. To my inexpert eye the hilt looked old. Not so much from the style, but the wear and tear. This weapon had been held by many people over decades, perhaps centuries. Each hand had minutely eroded and smoothed out the metal and ceramics beneath them. I located the activation switch, and the blade sprang to life. I weaved it back and forth for a few seconds. The size and weight of the weapon suited me far better than the much heavier dual-bladed version. Good thing too, I suspected that HK would rather self-destruct that give up his new toy. I was definitely going to keep this one, which just as definitely meant hiding it from Sinube and whatever friends he brought.
With my new tool of glorious destruction in my left hand, I used my wand to levitate one of the Death Watch corpses. Two deft flicks neatly cleft the torso into large chunks. "Oh, I like this," I proclaimed, somewhat unnecessarily. My words covered up the sounds of tearing sinew from the other side of the room.
Given what I knew of the Jedi, it was surprising that they weren't here already. I deactivated the black blade and dropped the weapon into a pocket. With a wave of my wand I reversed the shrinking charm on Gardulla's remains. Instantly, the room was filled with the remnants of a ruptured slug and a truly noxious odour. I blinked in surprise at the sheer force of the smell. I weaved a bubble-head charm across my face before my nose-hairs dissolved.
I didn't bother desecrating the Gamorrean bodies to make it look as though they had been tortured before death, figuring it was unnecessary. The geographically distributed Hutt remains made it clear that Gardulla hadn't gone easily or painlessly, and the Death Watch mercenaries were resting in (a satisfyingly large number of) pieces. As a gruesome finale, HK was making sure that it would take a medical examiner with a particularly strong stomach to do an autopsy on the hunter.
I levitated the decrepit protocol droid and turned it around a few times in the air. It was now just a lump of cold metal and plastic parts. It had deliberately self-destructed, which probably meant that it had information useful to me. I shrunk and pocketed the droid as well.
"Observation: The security door is heating rapidly at three distinct, yet mobile points, Master. Given the thermal profile, the most likely cause is a lightsaber cutting through the outer blast door at those three points."
I looked down at his handiwork. "I take it he's dead," I said after swallowing down my bile. HK had arranged the hunter's body into the sort of truly nauseating lump of cooling protein and gristle that would provide murder mystery authors with inspiration and nightmares.
"Affirmative: The Duros meatbag was more resilient than expected, but not enough to live long after being forced to eat his own reproductive organs. I have used that threat many times; it was satisfying to finally put it into practice. I would like to express my gratitude for your magical assistance in keeping the meatbag rigid while I flayed the individual nerves along his spinal column. Having him physically react to my ministrations would have made the precision of the procedure far less surgical."
I nodded, once more swallowing hard against the remnants of my last meal that threatened to rise in my throat. I took a breath and used an Occlumency exercise to avoid sparing the evil arse any further thought. "Right, it's time for us to go. Grab his hat for a souvenir and come here."
Once back aboard the Gryphon, I checked on all my crew. Kalu and Shmi were still both snoozing, while Vox was healing well in one of my state-of-the-art bacta tanks, as was the other human. The medical droid reported that both patients were sedated and responding well to treatment.
With my crew as safe and comfortable as I could make them, I started towards my cabin to make some calls when C-3PO intercepted me. Apparently the docking bays were all in lock-down due to some security breach, and would remain so for an undetermined time while an investigation was carried out. The investigators wanted to talk to me urgently, and had contacted the Gryphon to locate me while I'd been out hunting.
As I hadn't visibly returned, there hadn't been much in the way of follow up, but I imagine that would change soon. Still, taking with investigators was not a current priority of mine.
I went to my cabin to holocall Schrieffer. She answered in just seconds. Her face showed remarkable fatigue.
"Harry? Is everyone safe?"
I nodded. "They are indeed. I'm back on my ship with my wayward crew as of a few minutes ago. They are all safe and resting."
"Thank the Force," she said, her shoulders slumping in relief and her face dropping years of worry." But why did you attack Master Sinube?"
Huh? I hadn't attacked him. Was there yet another shitstorm brewing today? "What are you talking about? He was fine when I left."
"I looked at my desk for a moment and when I turned back you were gone and Master Sinube was unconscious on the floor," she explained.
I frowned, but relaxed a bit. That reaction was something familiar, but I had assumed Sinube would be immune. "Really? He didn't react when I repaired your sculpture. I thought he would be fine with me apparating."
"With you what?"
I shook my head. "Never mind. Is he all right?"
"I don't know," she shrugged helplessly, "I summoned the Senate Emergency Services and they tried to wake him. They couldn't so some Jedi came to collect him. We're in lock-down now, after reports of your crew being taken. There are security droids all over the Senate. I just…" She trailed off, her voice growing thick.
"Shh," I said soothingly. "It's all right."
She shook her head and looked as though she stamped her foot, but I couldn't tell exactly as the holo was only from the waist up. "It's not all right! I told the Chancellor's staff that you and your ship were targets of interest to some very ruthless people and they assured me that you'd be safe! Chancellor Palpatine himself requested that you be given a docking bay in the highest security civilian section!"
"That was nice of him," I said mildly. "I should send him a thank you note."
"Oh stop it! Have you any idea what this all means? Someone was abducted from within the Senate building – that is newsworthy on a galactic scale! There are going to be all sorts of security reviews and checks. Senate Committees! Audits of security procedures! You and your crew are going to be interviewed over and over again until the culprits are caught and punished!"
"Well, that's lucky," I smirked at her.
That statement derailed her train of thought. "What?"
I examined my fingernails. "I suspect that the Jedi have the culprits in hand already."
"Gardulla seemed to be in charge," I replied. "Though I'm not sure yet if anyone else was pulling the Hutt's strings. A Duros bounty hunter, some Gamorreans and a band of mercenaries called 'Death Watch'." I shook my head. "I've never really got along with people who call themselves something starting with 'Death'. They are always a humourless bunch. Anyway, I believe there were also some other mercenary bands and lots of Trade Federation droids, but I didn't bother dealing with them."
"G-Gardulla the Hutt is here? On Coruscant?"
"Well," I said, drawing out the word. "Gardulla the Hutt's remains are here on Coruscant."
After finishing the call, I sat back and pondered the ramifications of my actions. The old phrase 'when you're stuck in a hole, stop digging' was apt.
It had been a while since I'd needed to worry for the safety of those close to me. My Hogwarts' friends could take care of themselves; indeed, they had done so for years without my assistance. Ron and Neville both had reputations for being able to take heavy curses with nothing more than a grunt before returning the favour ten-fold, and once Hermione had access to the Ministry's forbidden Library she developed a ward schema that gave Bill Weasley nightmares.
Between HK and me, I was sure I could handle just about anything thrown at me by the galaxy that didn't involve nuclear-level explosions. I could escape from the law and the lawless with equal ease. But I'd managed to accumulate some friends and followers who were woefully ignorant of the sort of chaos my presence generated. I needed to either prepare them for the new realities of their new lives, or suggest they move on.
To my astonishment, the thought of asking them to leave was surprisingly discomforting. While I enjoyed the path of a lone wolf, having friends was a remarkable panacea for life's ills.
Back in my time, I had allies in power that enabled me to get away with being a Maurauder-class pain in the establishment's arse. My personal power and infamy helped, of course, but having Kinglsey on direct floo smoothed out more than one problem my attitude caused.
Here, I didn't have the same. And while having criminals after me was something I could handle with HK-level finality, having every law-enforcement body after me was not something I desired. I did not want to go down the Dark Lord route to keep my friends safe. It never ended well.
As abrasive as they were collectively, a couple of the Jedi I'd met weren't complete arses. Kenobi was polite and thoughtful, which if you thought about it was astounding given his youth. He was clearly going to be a diplomat when he got older. And Sinube could only be called friendly and open.
Perhaps I should be receptive to a better relationship with Sinube? Kenobi was more than likely not going to want to have anything to do with me while Jinn was in charge of Anakin's training.
How to contact them, if I chose to? The Jedi Temple probably had someone managing their communications. I could likely get a message to Sinube. And he could probably pass on the news about Shmi's abduction and rescue. Anakin would probably like to know she was safe; hearing about dangerous adventures was much easier knowing the subject was snoozing in bed at the time of the telling.
The communications console pinged. C-3PO's voice said, "Captain, Jedi Master Qui-Gon Jinn is requesting to speak with you."
"Speak of the devil," I said, surprised. "Put him through."
The imposing Jedi's leonine features shimmered in front of me. "Captain," he greeted with a nod.
I nodded back. "Hi. Sorry, I don't know how to greet a Jedi."
He raised an eyebrow. "Master Jedi, is the Galactic standard, but you don't strike me as someone who stands on formality."
"That's true. Feel free to call me Harry; I don't care if others stand on ceremony either. I doubt this is a social call."
"It is not," he declared, though his voice was soft. "Anakin has had a vision, though he believed it to be a nightmare. His mother was in danger from her former owner. He saw her taken through the Coruscant skies and before Gardulla."
I could barely keep my surprise from registering. "A vision?"
He nodded. "Indeed. The future is always in motion, so it may not come to pass. But I would ask that the next time you are on Coruscant, you do what you can to keep her safe. Anakin is quite distracted, and has pleaded with me to go to her. We are on a mission, and thus unable to do so. Please take extra precautions if practicable."
Apparently, Anakin was a prodigy at divination too. Was there anything the sodding kid was bad at? "When did he have this 'vision'," I asked.
Jinn check something off to his left. "He woke us a little over two hours ago."
Ah, so not so much a vision of the future than a sense of what was occurring at the time. That would be sodding useful to have as a skill. "Shmi is currently asleep in her cabin. But a couple of hours ago both she and Kalu'minari were abducted by the Hutt." Jinn's eyes widened, but before he could speak, I continued, "I retrieved them both safely. Let Anakin know that his vision was true, but she is back with me safe and sound, and is resting comfortably in her cabin."
"I… see," the Jedi said. "Have you reviewed your security to prevent such events in the future?"
"There is not much more I could do short of locking her up. She wasn't with me or on the Gryphon at the time. She was in the Senate building, in the civilian docking bay with the highest security. I'm told that it's going to make Galactic news."
"You're on Coruscant now?" he blurted.
"For the moment, yes."
He was clearly taken aback. "I believed you would be on Corellia for some time, given the upgrades planned for your ship."
"A large bounty has been put on my head. Several teams tried to collect, so I faked my death and left. I was asked to come to Coruscant by a friend who needed help."
"I… see," he repeated. "From your demeanour, I take it these sort of events are not unknown to you?"
I gave a small smile and shook my head. "No, they occur with depressing regularity. How is Anakin?"
He paused for a moment before answering. "He is settling in well. He has displayed something of a mischievous nature."
"That's my boy," I murmured, wondering what else he'd done beyond swapping out the soundtrack for a galactic-level ceremony.
"I shall inform him that you asked after him," the Jedi said. "He will be pleased his mother is safe," he finished with a small frown."
"Is there something wrong with him being pleased his mother is safe?"
Qui-Gon gave a small sigh. "Jedi have powers beyond the majority of the galaxy. Attachments can be used against us. A threat to his mother could be used to influence Anakin to react poorly." He shook his head. "Jedi are expected to act to the betterment of all. Without attachments we are able to perceive the best course without prejudice."
I didn't agree with that. I remember how I felt during my enforced loneliness after Sirius died. Without attachments, who was there to pull you back into line? But disparaging his beliefs would not benefit me here. "Do you know a Jedi called Sinube?"
The sudden change of topic surprised him. "Tera? Yes. He is retired now. How do you know of him?"
I shrugged. "We were having a conversation in the Nabooan suite in the Senate building when I got word that Shmi and Kalu had been taken. I left abruptly, and I'm told that he was poorly affected by that. I would like to see if he has recovered, or if not, if there is anything I can do to assist his recovery."
I'll give Jinn this, he didn't let his reaction to the news colour his answer. "If he was incapacitated in the Senate Building, he was likely taken to the Temple. I shall contact them directly and ask him to contact you."
I nodded in thanks, but I recognized the tactic. Rather than give me information, he was putting the option, the method and the timing to contact me at the discretion of the Jedi. "I appreciate it. If that's all, I'll let you go. Please ruffle Anakin's hair for me, and give my regards to Kenobi. Good luck in your mission."
He paused for a moment before replying. "May the Force be with you."
"Er, okay," I offered, not sure how to respond.
Jinn actually smiled. "The galactic standard response is, 'and also with you'," he explained.
The holo winked out.
Well that was an interesting conversation. Jinn had not changed in the way he had spoken to me. It seemed the Jedi were a collection of individuals who were permitted to conduct their missions in their own way, rather than follow an approved set of procedures. Each Jedi who interacted with me had done so in markedly different ways, yet consistently – Jinn had spoken to me with cool courtesy every time we had interacted. Halcyon had been suspicious and distant each time.
That was good from my perspective. If I could locate some Jedi who were more receptive to the Harry Potter Trademarked brand of mayhem, then perhaps I could cultivate the sort of mutually beneficial relationships I'd enjoyed on Earth.
To grease the diplomatic wheels however, I needed something of value. For organizations charged with law enforcement and security, information was always the most valuable currency.
It was time to see what I could pull off Gardulla's droid.
I found an empty workbench in the Gryphons maintenance bay and laid out the ruined protocol droid. A quick flick of my wand returned it to its original size. Everything looked intact, so I called C-3PO and asked him to summon my mechanics.
A few moments later, the door opened and my two mechanics entered in a hurry, one still wiping his mouth with his sleeve. It seemed I'd interrupted a meal. Without preamble, I said, "Quick question, can you disassemble this droid, and put aside all its memory bits."
Both nodded, but were clearly amused at my level of ignorance of technical terms. "Disassembling is easy," one of them – Jan, I think his name was – told me, turning the head of the droid to face him and looking closely at the eyes. "But from the looks of it all the memory components are fried. It's a standard way to destroy any sensitive information the droid might have seen."
"Blue smoke, poof!" Jan's friend added, with an expressive hand gesture.
Jan sighed. "Sorry, Kalum is a bit enthusiastic."
I nodded and smiled. "Enthusiastic I can deal with. Do it, but be careful as you work, the droid might still have some surprises. Once you're done, collect every bit of memory, all the pieces no matter how fried, and give them to R2-C9."
Jan nodded. "Sure. I don't think you'll get much off it though. Pass the hydrospanner, Kalum."
"How long were you slaves?" I asked them as they set about their work, wondering why their attitudes were so different to Kalu'minari's.
Jan shrugged. "Gardulla's? Only a few weeks. My parents died when I was fourteen, and I was sold to a Mos Eisley spaceport mechanic to cover their debts. I was good enough at scavenging and repairing that Brill treated me pretty well. He even told me save up so I could buy my freedom; I was only a few years away too. But he lost a lot on the Boonta Eve Classic, and Gardulla confiscated me until Brill could come up with the money."
I idly wondered if I could use the Stone to summon Gardulla's spirit and prank it somehow.
"Kalum was Gardulla's slave a lot longer." The man in question looked up at the mention of his name and waved, but quickly got back to work. Jan continued in a lower tone of voice. "I don't know how long; he's good with tools, but I think he got beat up enough as a kid that now he's a bit simple."
Yeah, a post-death pranking was sounding pretty good about now.
Kalum slid the face plate off the droid and tossed it into a corner before fishing around in the head. He looked up at me with a grin. "Blue smoke!" he said proudly, holding up a mangled and burned component.
"Just put it aside, Kalum," Jan said patiently. "That's the primary audio-visual memory," he explained to me. "I'll get started on the main core."
It was interesting to watch them work. I couldn't follow what they were doing, but there was a certain satisfaction from watching something as complex as a droid reduced to individual parts. Part way through the procedure however, I got a notification from the medbay that Vox was ready for decanting.
I made my way there by mundane means. I arrived just in time to see Vox haul himself out of the tank. Bacta slid off his skin far more easily that human skin. He saw me and winced. "Sorry boss," was the first thing he mumbled.
"Don't worry," I said magnanimously. "One of the droids can mop the bacta up."
He blinked at me. "No, I mean…"
"If you're sorry about Shmi and Kalu being kidnapped, stop," I said without a hint of recrimination. "I hired you to move cargo, not be a bodyguard. Threepio told me that you didn't want the pair going off alone, and that you took on a bounty hunter to keep them safe."
"Yeah," he agreed as he dripped on the floor.
I passed him a towel. "Right, well, thank you. Without your warning, it would have been much more difficult to get the girls back. I'll be hiring some proper security, so you won't have to take a blaster to the gut again."
"Thanks boss," he said, leaning back to stretch his newly healed gut.
"If you want, you can ask HK about what he did to the hunter when we caught up to him."
He blinked his close-set eyes. "You caught him? That was Cad Bane!"
I gave him a blank look. "Who?"
"Cad Bane! Everyone knows- You really never heard of him?"
I shook my head. "Nope. But I've only been around in the galaxy for a few months."
"Huh. Well, he's one of the best hunters out there. Expensive, but he is worth it."
"Was worth it. Only not in this case. If you've got a strong stomach, ask HK to tell you what he did to him."
A vicious grin spread across a face undeniably suited to expressing vicious grins. "I reckon I'll do that."
"Good. For now though, you've earned extra duties."
He clumped up at that. "Duties?"
I nodded and held up a datapad. HK's files on the weaknesses of different species – both physical and psychological – had come in handy for deciding what I should give Vox as a reward. "These are your additional duties as of today. You are to personally visit and review the best brothels on each planet and station we land on. There are authorizations on this pad to cover all associated expenses. I expect nothing but the best Vox, so you had bloody well better take your time. Be thorough. I want the answer to be precise, so I expect that you will need to visit each establishment several times. I await your final decision on what the best brothel in the galaxy is in, say, ten years. No, better make it twenty. I don't want you to rush this."
Apparently, I really am the best boss ever. I'm beginning to believe it.
I took HK and C9 to the magically secure room I'd made out of one of the smaller holds. C9 mournfully tooted an assessment of the slagged remains of Gardulla's protocol droid's memory circuits I'd arrayed on a workbench.
"Translation: The self-destruct mechanism built into the circuits was effective enough that no data can be extracted from them."
I nodded. "Any droid with access to sensitive information is going to have a built-in safety mechanism like that, aren't they?"
"Affirmative: A high proportion will, Master. However, some superior models use encryption rather than explosives to protect sensitive data."
"Models such as yourself?" I murmured.
"Affirmative: Of course Master. I believe my creator used the Force to develop my encryption protocols, making unauthorized access to my memory circuits all but impossible."
Magical encryption. The thought was intriguing enough that I make a mental note to revisit it at a less-hectic time. Of course, that probably meant after my retirement. "Was the explosive part of the original circuit itself?"
"Negative: Most modern components contain some sort of self-wiping protocols, but the destructive components in this case were after-market additions."
I nodded once. That was useful; it would have been inconvenient – potentially explosively so – to have to disarm the repaired bombs as well. I waved my wand over the charred detritus. A few repairing charms did the trick.
C9 warbled and rocked with amazed vocality, the beeping a higher pitch than I'd heard before.
"Observation: Should you wish to ingratiate yourself into the good graces of the various law enforcement meatbags," HK said, his tone elegantly conveying his objection to the notion, "offering to recover data from destroyed memory circuits would be a most persuasive method."
I stared at him for a moment. "That's an idea, but it lacks vision," I said.
"Query: What havoc are you considering, Master? And may I assist?" he asked, almost pleading.
I grinned as I looked down at the pristine memory. "Criminal enterprises use droids to track their wealth, yes? Trying to keep track of trillions of credits would be too difficult otherwise."
"Affirmative: Yes Master."
"And these droids are retired and replaced, correct? How much wealth could we steal from the criminals if we could get access to all that lovely financial data?"
HK turned to face the enormous slab of credits in the corner of the magically expanded room. He turned back to me. "Statement: We're going to need a bigger boat."
Gardulla's protocol droid was a figurative, and a literal, treasure trove of information. The droid had been part of the Hutt's entourage for years, and had visual recordings of every meeting the slimy gangster had with various nefarious groups.
On confirming that the memory data were intact, C9 had squealed with excitement like Dobby on finding a wire out of place on the Gryphon. I sent HK and the green droid off to analyse the data while I went to check up on Shmi and Kalu.
Shmi was awake, sitting up in bed and sipping from the hot chocolate mug. We had a brief chat, during the course of which I informed her that I would be upgrading security, including hiring proper guards and supplying her with something that would enable her to escape capture at a word. She'd seen me do enough odd things that she reacted to the news with relief rather than disbelief.
She asked after Kalu, and groaned when I told her that I was going to see the Twi'ilek next. She rolled her eyes, instructed me to go and check up on her immediately and shooed me out of the room.
Kalu was still asleep, so I asked Dobby to grab a hot meal for her from the galley, and then sat down next to the bed. I waved my wand and gently enervated her.
Her glorious lavender eyes flickered open, and for a second she stared at the ceiling unmoving. She suddenly jerked upright with a gasp of breath.
I reached out and gently rubbed her shoulder, whispering soothing words, reiterating that she was safe.
Kalu gave a deep sigh and looked at me. I could see in her eyes the instant as she switched from anxious uncertainty to raging arousal.
With her lips suddenly mashed against my own and her arms around my neck, I struggled to rise. Her legs wrapped themselves around my waist as she hungrily devoured my tongue. I waved my hand around for a bit until I blindly located the door panel. It slid closed with a hiss. If Dobby rolled up with a tray balanced on his dome, he could wait.
"Wow," I panted, lying on my back wearing nothing but a thin sheen of perspiration and a beautiful Twi'ilek lying on top me, where she'd collapsed from exhaustion.
Kalu shifted slightly so she was looking into my eyes. "My lord?"
I realized I'd spoken in English. "Sorry, it's a word from my world, it means," I paused, "Wow."
She giggled as I repeated the word in English. "Is it a good word?"
"A very good word."
"I am glad," she said, laying her cheek back down on my shoulder.
I ran a finger down the back of her scalp between her lekku, causing her to shiver with delight. "I'm sorry you were caught up in my problems."
I didn't need Legilimency to note her sudden anxiety. "Will it happen again?"
I chuckled a little. "Almost certainly, but not for a while." I chuckled for a bit. "What you did to Gardulla will probably give them pause."
She was silent for a long while. "My dreams were…," she paused and said a word in a language I didn't recognize.
"Is that good?"
She gave little nods. "It was easier to sleep."
"What are you going to do now?" she asked.
I thought about how to answer. "First, I'm going to track down the person in the Black Sun who took out the bounty on me. Hopefully I can find a missing girl and return her to her father. Then, I'm going to release every slave and steal every credit from them I can."
I could feel a smile spread across her face from the way her cheek moved against my chest. "If there is any way I can assist you, my Lord, let me know."
AN: Thank you again to all my reviewers. I had a lot of fun writing this chapter, but also reading your suggestions and expectations.