Despite the brief comm calls with El-Nay the other
day, Sierra Rodney had opted to remain on Delaya a
little longer. She found the mystery surrounding her son
to be focused here; in the northern hemisphere of Delaya.
Maybe she thought she'd learn more about him if they
stayed longer. Maybe she was avoiding diving back into
the chaotic life waiting for her on Esseles. She had
left Bruce in the surprisingly capable hands of Zara
Rodney, who acted like a baby whisperer now that she had
twins. When she had departed from the chalet, Zara was
on the floor with the children attempting to teach them
all how to crawl.
Sierra stood at the banks of the lake on the black,
coal-like rocks. She looked over the crystal blue water.
The way the steam erupted over it gave the lake a
magical feeling. She had not visited the home beneath
the lake since Bruce's blessing. Originally, she thought
she might spend more time there. Instead, she spent her
time huddled up in her brother's chalet with the rest of
her family. She extended her hand like she was trying to
make contact with the monster of the lake. As she did,
it could be seen breaking the surface from the opposite
side of the lake. The monster seemed less violent now
that Bruce was here. She had heard Zara make the same
observation earlier in the day. One thing was clear,
Bruce was destined for greater things.
Claudius Rodney was glad to be on Delaya, and even
more glad to be away from the squabbling officers that
comprised his sector command. He watched from the window
of the chalet as Sierra moved towards the lake and,
taking a final sip of his hot chocolate, excused himself
and moved down the stairs and eventually out of the
chalet to join her. "When I saw that thing grab Bruce I
thought it was all over," he confessed to his wife, as
he moved to place a hand on her shoulder. "I would never
have forgiven myself. I wouldn't have been able to go on
living," he confessed to her, as he looked out onto the
steamy water of the lake. "I still don't know what to
make of all that happened," he confessed to her, as he
kept an eye on the sea monster. Thankfully it was
keeping its distance.
Sierra jumped. She hadn't heard him approach her.
Instead, she had been lost in her thoughts. Her eyes
remained on the monster. "I did too," she confessed in
an especially raw moment. She would never forget those
seconds directly after Bruce was taken. Those were the
moments she swore it was all over; her son was dead. She
slowly turned towards Claudius. His confession had grown
darker. She frowned, wrapping her arms around him to
provide him the support they both needed right now.
"It's a lot to process. The insanity surrounding Bruce's
birth was a lot to take in. I didn't realize that there
would be so much more." She told him. "It all feels
surreal, to be honest. He's so small and helpless right
now. It's hard to imagine that one day he'll be capable
of the same things as Lord Vader...and maybe even more."
Claudius has served under Jedi Generals such as
Obi-Wan Kenobi and Mace Windu during Clone Wars. He
never understood their powers, nor did he think to ask.
When they attempted to assassinate the Supreme
Chancellor he had largely put the Jedi Order from his
mind. Now, as he was dealing with it in his own home he
wished he had asked. Lord Vader had nearly executed him,
and if he contracted him about what was happening with
Bruce he might take action now and not even wait five
years. Inquisitor Thrope was his enemy and he would not
reveal to her what was going on either. They were alone,
with only holograms from Germanicus and Raeni to guide
them whose appearance they could not predict or control.
They were on their own. "In time he will grow to use his
powers to bring peace and justice to the galaxy in the
way we never can," he confessed to her, as he wrapped
his arms around her as well. "I trust our son to grow
into an honorable man who will use his powers to
stabilize the Empire rather than inflict petty acts of
vengeance," he assured her, as he lowered his head to
place a kiss upon her.
Maybe if they were on better terms with Lord Vader,
it would have been possible to find answers. He hardly
seemed like the kind of person you could invite over for
tea, crumpets, and questions about the Force. So far,
every experience she had with the Force was negative.
She'd watched Claudius nearly choked to death by Lord
Vader. Inquisitor Thrope had demonstrated her skills for
Sierra first-hand. She wished the ghost of Germanicus or
Raeni would appear so she could question them and fill
in the blanks in her mind. Instead, all she had was a
little box that told her everything was going to be
okay. There was no space between her and her husband.
She decompressed against his chest. He rekindled the
fire of hope inside of her that had gone out when the
monster stole their son. She leaned upward to kiss him.
"With you as his father, how could he turn into anything
else?" She asked, nuzzling her nose against his. "Am I
the only one feeling a little reluctant to return to
life on Esseles?" She questioned him with a small smile
on her face. "I'm sure all hell has broken out at home,
*and* on the dreadnaught."
Claudius smiled as his wife paid him the ultimate
compliment, that he would be a good father, but when the
subject turned to 'home' on Esseles he could not help
but frown. "Delaya will always be my home, but wherever
you are is where I am meant to be," he told her, as he
leaned in and placed another kiss upon her neck. "It
would be easy to resign and retire to civilian life
here, but the Emperor has entrusted me with this problem
and I do not wish to give up," he told her, honestly, as
he pulled his head back up so he could look her in the
eye. "If I can defeat the Rebels in the Ringali Shell
and retire victoriously I could maintain the Emperor's
favor, and perhaps continue to play a role in Bruce's
life after he begins his training," he said, with naive
optimism, as he looked towards her with a hopeful look.
"Will you help me?" he pleaded with her, literally
hanging on her next words.
'Home' truly was an ever changing place. Sierra felt
relieved that their lives had become so tightly coiled
together. It wouldn't be the same on the Retributor
without him. Nothing would be the same without him. She
could see the lure in throwing in the towel now. Instead
of fighting Rebels day in and day out, they could live
their days building up their family. Retirement would
come...but now wasn't the time. She couldn't turn her
back on the war. It needed to end first. His optimism
was infectious. It spread into Sierra and took over her
like disease. He showed her a path where they could
continue to have a relationship with their son during
his trainings, and that was something that was *very*
important to her. The answer to his question was
obvious. Despite what she dealt with from higher up
officers, she would not leave her husband's side and
hide from them. "Absolutely, Claudius. I have been here
for wins. I've been here for the losses. I'll be there
when we send the Rebels scampering from the Ringali
Shell. I *will* fight this with you." She smiled.
"You'll retire a hero. We can live here. We can live in
Esseles. I don't care, as long as you're there."
Sierra's mood was improving rapidly thanks to all these
false senses of hope. "*We* can do it."
Before Claudius met Sierra he did not think victory
was possible. It was not that Kerrie was a poor
adjutant, but she simply did not inspire him or motivate
him. She propped him up as best she could, but never
convinced him to be bold, or take risks. She simply
tried to tread water, but it was Sierra who had
convinced him to attack the Rebels on Brentaal. She had
delivered him a victory. A *real* victory. And with the
retreat of the Rebel fleet at Chandrila everything was
momentum was beginning to shift in their direction. He
put all of the credit squarely on her. "Thank you, my
love. I believe that," he said to her, as he leaned in
and placed yet another kiss upon her. "I love you ... so
much," he told her, as he became nearly overcome with
Her hands cupped his face softly while they kissed.
Her mind, gradually, became leveled again. Her family
was safe. Her husband was ... *amazing*. She had what
she needed. "I love you *so* much." She told him
passionately. It seemed that Arden Zevrin's intent to
use Sierra to destroy Claudius had backfired in every
single way. Instead, they had empowered each other to
rise. She continued to cuddled him at the lake.
"Awwww..." Duchess Zara Rodney had snuck up on her
sister and brother having a moment. "You guys are so
cute!" She couldn't help being obnoxious after
successfully pulling together Pilaq and Alessandra. "Oh
yeah! I came out there for a reason. You guys gotta come
back inside. There's a holonet news report that you
*have* to see." Zara wasn't even going to begin to
explain the short clip she had watched. Instead of
standing out there in the snow explaining that their
Squibs had a close encounter with a rancor, she'd let
them see! Zara headed back into the chalet. It
environment may have been thawing, but it was still very
cold. She made her way back to the living room where the
twins, and Bruce, were set up on a blanket. "Aw, Sia.
You're getting it!" She cheered for her daughter, who
was on all fours rocking back and forth as children do
before they learn to crawl.
"Oh no. Has it been another attack?" Claudius asked
anxiously, but instead decided just to see for himself.
"Come, Sierra," he said, as he led her by the arm into
the chalet. He feared what he was about to see, but
instead of a Rebel terror attack the words 'Squib
Menace' were plastered onto the bottom of the broadcast.
"What?" he asked, as he moved forward, attempting to
silence everyone, as he moved closer. As he listened to
the reporter recap what had happened with the battle in
the rancor enclosure, and the contamination of the
choreamnos his heart began to stop. Apparently the zoo
had to be closed and the damage was rising into the
hundreds of thousands of credits. A xenophobic
commentator wearing COMPNOR regalia was suggesting that
the zoo, and other public locations, be designated
'human only'. He was mortified. "El-Nay..." he muttered,
as his eyes looked over towards Sierra.
Sierra's heart skipped a beat. She immediately
thought about the strange explanation Melickielickie had
tried to give her over the comm. It made no sense at the
time. Unknown to her, it was about to make a lot more
sense. She looked at Claudius with concern as they
rushed into the chalet. The first thing she noticed was
the two words in bold lettering: Squib Menace. "Oh no."
She watched the broadcast from the zoo. There was
footage of Ewwiekewwieikkie, Melickielickie, and El-Nay
inside of the rancor enclosure. Someone had filmed
Callista rubbing her face into a choreamnos. All the
while, the reporter was spouting terrible xenophobic
comments. There was talk of segregation on Esseles, not
to mention how much damage had been inflicted on the
zoo. "El-Nay..." She never should have taken the Squibs
to the zoo by herself. "We need to get back to Esseles
as quickly as possible." She bent down to pick up Bruce
from the ground. "We'll worry about a punishment for
El-Nay later. Zara, will you get Drusilla for me?"
The silver haired teenager was sooooo glad this had
happened on El-Nay's watch and not on hers. She wondered
if they'd be attending a funeral for the Mandalorian
sooner than later. She had hated her at first, but the
orange armored idiot was really wearing off on her. She
cringed as her name was tossed into the mix. "M-Me..?
Okay..." Zara had a secret. She was *afraid* of Drusilla
Rodney. She had endured a shopping trip with her and
Ewwiekewwieikkie some time ago. That had been
interesting to say the least. Reluctantly, she rose from
the floor and moved up stairs towards the room they had
put Drusilla in. Marcus and Zara were happy because
Claudius' family made for *much* quieter guests than
Petrus and Luna had. She didn't even mind it when
Drusilla blasted them all out with cool jizz tunes.
Anxiously, Zara knocked on her door. "Drusilla..? You're
going home now." Zara's job was complete. She turned
around to run away.
"Thank goodness," Drusilla Rodney declared, as she
hated being isolated from civilization for this long.
There was nowhere to shop, and nowhere to eat but home.
She was already packed, and in fact had never truly
unpacked. She did not have to be told twice, and when
she descended the stairs with bag in hand she caught a
glimpse of the HoloNet coverage. "Oh my Germanicus," she
said slowly as she watched the chaos unfold on the
screen. "You see!" she said to Sierra, making this all
about her. "I am the best to be in charge. Not that tin
can," she muttered, before letting out a 'hmph' and
moving out towards the shuttle.
Claudius could not believe what had happened, Sierra
would have to work her magic on him to prevent him from
thoroughly chastising El-Nay for her misconduct. "I
agree he said," just as he was hit by a dreaded 'I told
you so' from his daughter Drusilla. "Oh boy. This is
going to be a *long* flight," he warned Sierra, before
moving towards Marcus and Zara. "Thank you for your
hospitality," he said, as he reached out to hug each of
them. "Please let us know if the droid does anything
else, or if you find anything of note within that
submerged structure. They had decided not to tell Marcus
and Zara about the message from Duchess Raeni or the
holocron. They did not understand it themselves enough
to explain it, nor did he want them to feel concerned or
Zara squeezed her brother. "Nana, help them with
their things please." She said over his shoulder. "Good
luck. I'll do some messing around with Nana and see if I
can get something working. If you guys need anything,
call us." She gave Sierra a quick hug as well. She fell
back beside Marcus. She wanted to them him the twins
progress on crawling. "Bye!"
The 'I told you so' felt worse than watching El-Nay
fight a rancor. "I agree as well..." Nothing like this
happened on Drusilla's watch. Everyone remained within
the estate when Dru watched them. Bruce also preferred
her over both Kerrie and El-Nay. "Thank you for
including us in blessing the children." She said to
Marcus and Zara. With goodbyes soon complete, she made
her quick departure towards the shuttle. She made sure
to grab her datapad from the cabin as to continue to
watch the situation unfold while Lieutenant Anson
piloted them home. "Lieutenant, please take us to
Esseles. . . as quickly as possible." She sat down and
began situating Bruce and the safety harness. When
everyone was prepared for lift off, the shuttle left
Delaya behind. In the mysterious lake, Sir Tentacles
seemed to wave a tentacle goodbye. Germanicus and Raeni
Rodney's heir had finally arrived.
The creature beneath the lake had indeed sensed the
existence of Bruce Rodney, a presence it had not sensed
in seven centuries since the presence of Germanicus
Rodney. The Emperor himself had sensed it, as had his
apprentice Darth Vader, but so had someone else ...
beyond the known galaxy ... more elusive. Deep in the
unknown regions an ancient evil lingered, and had
stirred, and had too sensed the distance present of the
improbable infant now traversing the Galactic Core.