The Ashes and the Fire 1

The day to day office work was mostly sorted out. It seemed to me that the weeks that followed after the Grand Ball were mostly quiet and uneventful. All the excitement and buzz now gone and the intrigue and general plotting returned to its behind doors state of affairs. This meant that for people like me, life was fairly dull.
It was more than dull it was frustrating to be honest. In spite of his promise to teach me in the ways of the Force and to guide me further in the studies he had suggested, Lord Vader had all but ignored me. He was busy. I understood that especially since I was the one who set the appointment calendar and knew his schedule. It didn't change the fact that I was also being ignored. Three times we had made arrangements to spar and three times he had stood me up, not even bothering to leave a note or a message to say he had been called away on Imperial business and would not be back for a few days/ weeks/ what ever.
To get rid of the frustration I would go to my quiet spot in the old part of the Palace, pretty much certain that now Thrawn was also off somewhere in the galaxy doing his thing no one would bother me. Even Shiv was not around at the moment having been sent of the Emperor’s retreat on Naboo to do some redecorating, apparently the Emperor likes to spend a great deal of time there and it is Shiv’s job to get it ready for his arrival.

In the time before the sun sets but after the high bright light of the afternoon is my favourite for practice. Not that I find it hot here or anything but the brightness of the light is unappealing and I prefer to fight in the late afternoon evening especially in twilight.
I swiped a reinforced fighting stave from the combat practice room and stored it in the room I now used for dance and martial art practice. It was a large quiet space and I could work out for hours without being interrupted by others wanting to share the space or worse have it for themselves. Sometimes there was a class held in the main practice room and sometimes I would watch them. Many forms of martial arts were practiced here and many combat forms as well. While there were also several practice areas, it seemed that people liked the one in my part of the palace because it was very spacious and well lit. So far no one had minded me just observing their classes but then again I hadn’t done that all that often either.
I watched what was taught and tried, when I was on my own, to imitate the moves. This was not always so easy without a teacher or someone to spar with. In the end I mostly ran through the entire move forms Jyrki had taught me and tried to add on what I had seen, often landing on my ass in the process.

This evening had been no different. Bored and frustrated I made my way to my room and began to warm up and work out. I liked the simple grace of Jyrki's training but now that I had seen other forms of movement I felt this lacked power and was less about offense than they were about defense. Which, I suppose, would make sense given that Jyrki was a Jedi.

I have been trying to gather information of the Great Jedi Purge but the records are hard to get at and the information scattered and encrypted. My skills as a slicer are non existent and I had not yet gotten up the courage to ask Lord Vader to grant me even more access. I had settled for the main archives and reading about the history of the Empire. Much of that, I suspected, was created by the Emperor and his historians, after all history is written by the winners. There was no mention of the killing of children.

With a sigh I began my routine. It was difficult to concentrate on what I was doing because my annoyance and frustration kept getting in the way, making focus hard. Mostly I didn’t want to find my inner calm I wanted to beat things to pieces. It’s hard to do that when there is no sparring partner or droid and no hanging sparring bag around so I settled for a solid warm up and then straight into the fight routine. About half way through my routine I found my rhythm and began to get lost in the movements. Finally found my center of being so to speak. I don’t know why I can do this easier when I dance than when I practice the fighting forms. It always seems to take me twice as long when I am working through the kata forms.

In dance, a spin is a thing of grace in the fighting forms it is a deadly weapon. In dance I spot so that I don’t get dizzy, in the fight I focus on where my enemy is so that when I come out of the spin I know exactly where to hit him. I suppose it is the same principle. I often used to think how close the two forms were to each other. If I am in the right mood I can get them to flow from one to the other, but tonight was not like that. I was having a hard enough time concentrating as it was. Several times I had to execute the same move just to get it right. I was so deep in concentration that I never noticed the figure in the doorway watching me. I was in the middle of the third try of a spin when I caught the shape out of the corner of my eye. I wasn’t expecting anyone and it broke my concentration in the middle of the spin, setting me off balance and I landed flat on my ass on the floor, I was furious and was about to unleash my temper in all it's glory when I recognized the shape of the cloak and immediately got to one knee.

“Do get up, my dear.” He said coming towards me. “In this place I think we can dispense with court formalities.”

“Yes, your Excellency.” I murmured a little unsure of why he was here.

“I enjoy watching you, girl, you have an aggressive energy I find refreshing, Lord Vader was right to want to keep you to himself. You are as passionate in this form of movement as you are in dance. It is very stimulating.”

I made a face.

“You are unhappy? I sense much frustration in you.” He said looking at me. “Walk with me, there is something I wish you to see and I would enjoy the company of such a lovely young lady without the oppressions of court etiquette.”

I put my hands behind my back and walked beside him as he left the room with the balcony and walked down the hallways into a part of the palace I had not yet explored.

“Tell me, my dear, what is frustrating you.” He asked as we walked.

“I wish to learn more about the weirding ways Lord Vader calls the force, he said that he would teach me but he is kept very busy. I do understand this but it is frustrating all the same.” I said. I didn’t see the point in lying about it.

The Emperor nodded. “Yes, indeed, Lord Vader has many demands on his time and little left over for a student. I have been thinking about this since our last conversation. I have spoken with him about you.”

I looked up at him and listened.

“I sense that you have formed a bond with him that will be difficult to break. Yet, I wonder if he is the right person to teach you in the ways that would be most beneficial to you. Like my apprentice, you are ruled by your passions, but where his stem from anger and hatred, yours arise from desire and a hunger, a yearning for more, you thirst for much. You have skills and talents far suited to a different kind of instruction. You require a more subtle hand as well as strength. Under the correct guidance you could reach your true potential, I fear that under Lord Vader's guidance alone this might not be possible. He has a tendency to be ….”

“Abrupt?” I finished for him.

He laughed softly. “Yes, yes indeed, that would be an apt description of his ways. I could arrange for someone to guide you in a more suitable direction if that would be your wish.”

“I would like that very much.” I said honestly. “But wouldn’t that make Lord Vader angry?”

The Emperor gave me a shrewd look and shook his head. “That is not something for you to worry about. Lord Vader knows I have only his best interest at heart, this includes those under his protection.” He paused. “Of course, there are also other avenues of work here at the palace open to you should you wish to explore them. I am always on the look out for keen young people such as yourself.” He said

“That is very kind of you, but I like the job I do now.” And it was true.

The Emperor nodded. “I thought as much still from time to time I might have need of your skills and should I call upon you. I know I can count on your help?”

“Of course, Your Eminence.” I said.

“You will be a unique feature among those that work for me.” He said and I caught the scent of a lie, there were others like me, force sensitive and useful.

I glanced up at him and he smiled at me. It wasn’t an altogether pleasant experience. “That's not the truth.” I said. “Why would you lie to me about that? I don’t mind if I am not the only one.”

“Ah yes, I was not certain if Lord Vader had read your little talent in this area correctly, forgive the test, my dear, I had to be sure. “

“Did I pass?” I asked a bit annoyed.

“In more ways than one.” He said with a smile I didn’t like at all. He was playing the benevolent old man with me but underneath it all was something I could not put my finger on and it was very scary.

“What sort of things would I be doing for you?”

“I have need of messengers willing to travel and deliver and pick up dispatches which I deem too important to be sent via normal transmissions. You have skills in piloting, you are able to dissemble truth from lie and you have force talent in certain areas which make you the ideal candidate for such a job. With some training to hone your skills you could be a very valuable member of the Empire and of even greater use to Lord Vader in the capacity of personal Assistant as well as to me.” He said.

“I would be honoured.” I said. It did sound interesting.

“I had hoped so. It would be such a shame to see your talent wasted on just a mindless office job.”

We had walked for a long time through the old hallways until we came to a doorway which he unlocked with a slight movement of his hand.

“I know of your love for the older part of this place and thought you might enjoy this. It was once the main site for the library but has been long abandoned. Lord Vader mentioned you had an insatiable thirst for knowledge. Many of the archives here have not been touched in a long time. I am giving you complete access, a place for you to study in peace. I feel the training which you will undergo will only serve to make you thirstier for the academic studies to supplement them.”

I looked around in awe. He was right about no one being in this room for a long time it smelled of disuse and dust. I let my fingertips brush the shelves closest me and felt the room call to me. There was more here than just old archives, there was power here waiting to be found. “Why are you giving this to me?” I asked suddenly.

He looked around and then back into my eyes. “If I had found you at an earlier age you would have come to me for training and perhaps even outshined my best pupil. You would have joined the ranks of my best courtesans and Concubines.” he shook his head and smiled. “But now I do not think such a position would suit you and as we have observed you have bonded with another, making it difficult for me to train you personally. While I am certain we could break that tie binding you with my apprentice, it might damage you in the process. You more useful alive to both of us and I enjoy seeing pretty things such as you in my presence. It would be a shame to waste. You are refreshingly different from most of the fools I must suffer daily. It will be interesting to hear what you learn from these old archives. And,” he said in a quiet voice, “I am not as evil as everyone makes me out to be. I enjoy being a patron of the arts and guide to those who need some guidance.”

There was a hint of untruth about what he was saying yet I could not figure it out and so I kept silent.

He lifted my chin with his fingertips. They were icy cold and he nodded slowly to himself. “I can see what draws him to you, why he likes you so much.” He said softly. “Doesn’t know he’s playing with fire, though.” He caressed the side of my face and then patted my shoulder. I was not sure who The Emperor was referring to and wasn’t about to ask. I was glad when he turned toward the door indicating it was time to leave.

“I am granting you access to this place and the area here. I enjoy the peace here in the old part of the palace and suspect you do as well, that is something we have in common.” He said as he closed the door. He handed me a key. “Keep it safe.” He said and we turned to head back the way we came.

“Tomorrow when you come for your practice I will arrange for an instructor to be here to meet you. The art form I am thinking of will be difficult and hard but I believe it will suit you best of all.”

“I am most grateful, your Excellency.” I said.

“Of course, and this will keep you out of trouble until Lord Vader returns then you both will accompany us to the Retreat on Naboo, I am sure you will enjoy it there and Lord Vader and I have much business to attend to.”

“I have never been to Naboo.” I said.

He nodded. “I know.” He patted my arm. “Goodnight, my dear. You might want to rest, tomorrow will be strenuous.” And with that he left down a corridor I had never noticed before.

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