"You won't resist. Take the power that she will not..."
Tossing and turning in her bunk, Alisaah could feel a cold rush of air as her sheet slid away from her leg which was now hanging off the side of her bed. The air often felt cool in space but tonight the Togruta felt an instant chill. Opening her eyes slightly, she looked across the room to see Meela, still asleep in the bunk opposite. The Twi'lek had been reunited with her long lost surrogate child only a day or so earlier when fortune led the two to find each other again on an unexpected trip to Zeltros. Teela, the T7 astromech stood idly in the corner. Though the droid did not sleep, it had clearly powered down as no lights or beeping came from it.
Quickly withdrawing her dangling leg to the comfort of her warm blanket, Ali wondered what time it was. Out in space she had learned, it looked the same outside the window no matter what time of day it was. Judging from how tired she felt however, she could not have been asleep very long. Something had woken her up though. At first, in her drowsy state, the slave thought perhaps that Aska had come into the room to wake her up. She heard a voice that sounded very similar to hers, but evidently, her mistress was nowhere to be seen.
Sitting up, keeping the blanket wrapped around her for warmth, Ali gazed around the room again. Aska definitely was not there. The voice had sounded like a whisper, which would mean whoever it was would have had to be right there. The Togruta reasoned that she must have just imagined it. Aside from Meela's light breathing, the only sound came from the ambient noise of the ship's engines as they continued to travel towards Coruscant.
Now more awake, Ali noticed that her mouth felt a little dry and decided to find some water before she went back to sleep. Taking a step onto the floor and standing up, she wrapped the blanket around her shoulders like a cloak before lightly stepping out of the room, her bare feet making little patters on the ground. When she reached the common area, she noticed Aska immediately. Her mistress was asleep, sitting up in one of the chairs with a bottle of alcohol in her hand. It definitely had to have been a dream then. Even with alcohol in her system, Ali doubted that Aska could sneak into her room, attempt to wake her up, come back to the common room and fall asleep again so quickly.
Ali went to get water from the kitchen area. Taking a few sips, she began to feel refreshed by the cool liquid. Once she was satisfied, the Togruta returned to the common area. Looking at her mistress and wondering how she was able to sleep like that when it was so cold, she decided to fetch a blanket for her and set about gently placing it over her so as not to wake her. Fortunately she managed to achieve this and subtly remove the bottle of alcohol from her grip without creating a disturbance. Leaning over to place the bottle gently on the table, Ali noticed something.
Remembering back to their recent expedition on Nal Hutta, the slave recognised the holocron she had helped Aska to reclaim after they had been captured by Zugg's henchmen. It was an eerie but intricately designed artifact. Evidently Aska must have been examining it after the others had all retired for the night. Alisaah knew nothing of this item, besides that it was important to her mistress. She did not know that this was in fact a Sith holocron. Initially, Ali had no intention of interacting with the pyramid shaped object, until once again she heard the voice.
"You have great potential, girl... It would be a shame to let it go to waste. Take the power that she will not..."
Alisaah's head snapped back to Aska, who was still laying asleep in the chair. What was that? It sounded like Aska, but how could it have been? She was passed out only a foot or two away.
"Embrace the pain of your past... Embrace a new mistress..."
The whispers continued. They sounded stronger here than they did back in her quarters. There was no doubt about it, that someone or something that sounded like Aska was talking to her. The Togruta turned her attention back to the holocron which simply sat there, unmoving, almost unremarkable upon the table. Unsure of herself, Ali gave Aska once last glance before curiosity got the better of her. She knew it was wrong to look at an owner's belongings without express permission, but it was out in the open and quite literally calling out to her, despite her not realising it was doing so.
The disembodied voice continued it's seduction. What did it mean? It kept mentioning power. It kept mentioning pain. It kept mentioning servitude. Careful not to make any sudden movements, Alisaah reached past the bottle of alcohol on the table and picked up the holocron. Holding it there in both her palms she looked into it.
"I knew you would find me eventually... This is your first step..."
Ali was quivering now. This time the voice sounded like whoever this Aska impersonator was, was right next to her - no - in her head. This was all the slave would remember before her mind was transported.
~ ~ ~
Opening her eyes as if she had just been asleep, the Togruta found herself in an empty space. A void populated by red light and black clouds. Looking all around, Ali saw nothing. No floor, no sky, only herself standing as if she were hovering in mid-air.
"M-Mistress...?" she spoke. Ali's mind was racing trying to make sense of where she was, what she was seeing. It was unlike anything she had ever experienced but it was unnerving. She wanted reassurance that Aska was still there but nobody responded. That was until the voice returned.
"Pathetic..." the voice echoed around her from the endless space.
Turning to see if someone was behind her, Ali saw nothing once more, but the voice kept talking.
"You are weak but you have the potential to be so much more..." it whispered to her.
Ali felt completely lost. She started to worry about where she was and what was happening. If Aska wasn't here to look after her as she usually was, she did not know what she would do. The slave relied on her mistress. The Togruta began to despair, looking around for any sign that someone, anyone might be there. Who was this voice?
The question was soon answered. In the near distance a shadow appeared. It was not immediately obvious as it blended in with the black clouds that floated past, but the red light revealed the figure of a cloaked individual.
"Is somebody there?" called Ali nervously, knowing full well that somebody or something was there but afraid to acknowledge it. Her heart was beating very fast now.
The figure in the black cloak stepped towards her. There was nothing Ali could do but wait. There was nowhere she could run. Nobody she could go to for help. This void was endless. Within moments the shadow was upon her. It stopped two metres away. Lifting it's arms it pulled back the black cloak and revealed a familiar, but different face.
"Mistress you're here! But... what happened to you? Where are we?" she asked, a sudden rush of relief immediately turning to concern. The figure had revealed themselves to be Aska, but something was not right. This Aska had scars on her face and the look in her eyes brought no comfort, no sign of compassion. These eyes were full of anger and of hatred.
The version of Aska that had presented itself to the Togruta looked older than the mistress she knew. This woman was middle-aged. Judging by the scars on her face it was clear she had been through much. In response to the slave's questions, the cloaked Aska laughed unnervingly.
"Hm hm... you are lost..." was the cryptic response, "You can be found. If only you take the power that she will not..."
Ali looked at Aska confused. What was she talking about? Who was she talking about? These questions circled in her mind and it was clear that this older version of her mistress found her difficulty grasping the situation amusing. Her laugh and smirk persisted.
"I will show you the answers to your questions. I will show you the way to reach your potential..." came Aska's voice once more. In this void, despite being only feet away, her voice remained the same echoing whisper. The cloaked Aska before her held out her hand to the Togruta. Ali was unsure whether she should take it, but this older Aska was, as far as she could tell still her mistress. Despite her misgivings the shadowy figure had done nothing to harm her. As a slave she had to obey. Her red-skinned hand reached out and held the black glove of the Aska before her and as she did so, they began to fall.
The illusion of hovering in mid-air amongst the red light and black clouds ceased and the two women plummeted downward. As they did, the black clouds began to block out the remaining red light until there was only darkness. The sensation of falling did not last long but Ali felt blind. She no longer felt anything holding her hand. Then suddenly the black clouds dissipated. They evaporated like a mist to reveal that the Togruta was no longer in an endless void. She was in a deep, dank, jungle.
It was raining heavily. Large drops of rain splattered rapidly on the leaves and flora around where she stood. The cloaked Aska stood a few yards away next to a large puddle. Ali tentatively approached. Everything around her seemed so vivid, so real and she was unsure about what she might find. What she did find almost broke her.
"NO!" she screamed, dropping to her knees in the puddle surrounded by mud and plants. She reached down to lift something up. It was a body. Lifeless. But not just anyone's body. It was her mistress, Aska Ryun, exactly how she remembered her. Young, no scars on her face, dressed in her signature jacket. Her eyes stared out like orbs of glass, no life left. The shadowy figure of the middle-aged Aska stood over her as she cradled the body of her mistress, tears rolling down her cheeks but ultimately being washed away by the downpour.
"What is this?!" she snapped, glaring up at the cloaked Aska dressed in black, teeth bared, "Who are you and why have you done this to my mistress?!"
The same cold chuckle came from the figure.
"Good... This is your first step..." was the response, "Embrace your feelings..."
"ANSWER ME!" she yelled. This was perhaps the angriest Ali had ever been or had ever felt. Lifting the lifeless body of her mistress out of the puddle, she held her to her chest tightly. The cold laughter did not stop. The vision of the older Aska simply pointed to an object a few feet away, partially buried in the mud. The hilt of a lightsaber.
Looking down in to her mistress' lifeless eyes, Ali could not stop sobbing. In that moment she felt helpless and alone. The rain continued to hammer down around her but she could not feel it. Her emotions overwhelmed her. Grief consumed her. Running her hand through Aska's hair she pressed her forehead against the corpse's. Taking in a deep breath, she gently placed the body as respectfully as she could back down on the ground before rising to her feet.
"I am not the one responsible for this, girl" said the alternate Aska, who remained standing over the body of her lookalike, "She did not fulfill her purpose - her destiny. She refused to attain the power she was created to harness... The power that I possess..."
"What power?!" demanded Alisaah. She was growing tired of the cloaked Aska's cryptic comments. The Togruta was distraught, confused and totally lost, "You keep talking about a power - I don't understand!"
"That's right. You don't understand, but you soon will..." the shadow Aska replied ominously. She raised her black glove towards Ali, as if she were expecting to grab something. Before the slave knew what was happening, she felt her throat closing in, struggling to breathe. As the other Aska raised her hand, Ali began to dangle helplessly away from the floor, hovering above the mud and undergrowth. With her other hand, the shadowy figure pointed towards the lightsaber hilt once more, but this time the weapon came free from the mud and flew directly into the woman's grasp.
Flailing and choking in the air, Ali genuinely believed she was about to die. She became panicked, but the feeling relented when the other Aska released her from her spell. The slave fell to the floor with a splash in the muddy puddle and as she slowly clambered to her hands and knees, she found herself confronted by the black cloaked legs of the Aska doppelganger. She held out the hand holding the lightsaber to Alisaah, offering it to her.
"You won't resist. Take the power that she will not..."
They were the same words that had woken Ali back on the ship. Taking deep, heavy breaths now, the slave stared at Aska's lightsaber. Like the holocron she had seen this weapon before. In fact she was more familiar with it than she was the holocron. Ali had seen this blade in use the day Aska came for her in the auction house on Nar Shaddaa. This lightsaber, this woman, the holocron, it was all interconnected.
"Embrace the pain of your past... Embrace a new mistress... one that can teach you more than you could ever have imagined. One that can even help you stop the people you care for from dying..." came the ominous whisper from the cloaked figure once more who then looked down at the dead body of Aska, still laying motionless, looking towards the sky, "She refused to take up this offer. She refuses to harness my power. She is a disappointment to me..."
There was a tense moment where the slave simply stared up at the cloaked Aska from her position in the dirt, her eyes filled with fear just as much as they were anger. The hand holding the lightsaber out did not move or even flinch. It was expecting the slave to take the blade. Ali did not know if this other version of Aska was her master or not, but the feeling she got was that this was a completely different person. They might look like Aska, but they lacked every redeeming quality of her mistress. In that moment, as the rain continued to pour heavily around them, all Alisaah wanted to do was to hurt this person.
The Togruta thrust her hand forward and snatched the hilt of the lightsaber, rising to her feet and activated it. The area was filled with a familiar glowing red light amongst the darkness. Raising her arms upwards she went to strike the cloaked figure but before the blade made contact with the shadow, Ali felt herself fall and become immediately encased in the same black clouds as the ones that had shepherded her to this place.
~ ~ ~
When Ali came to, she found herself standing exactly where she had been before. Her breathing was short, skin had gone pale and she was sweating. The Togruta dropped to her knees, huddled in the blanket which was still draped around her shoulders. The holocron was still in her hands. She looked at it for a split second and then realising what she was holding, she uncharacteristically slung it across the room. The pyramid shaped relic slid across the floor and stopped with a clunk when it hit the wall on the opposite side. Looking around, Ali saw Aska, still sleeping beneath the blanket she had placed over her what must have only been a minute or two earlier, but to Alisaah, it felt as though she had been through a terrible ordeal.
On seeing that her mistress was safe, at least for the time being, her panic became overwhelmed by a sense of relief and she began to cry. She pulled the blanket over herself and tried to suppress her sobs so that Aska was not awakened. When she finally managed to calm herself down enough, the slave rose to her feet and fled back to her quarters, her bare feet once again pattering on the metal flooring. Whether Aska had woken or noticed anything that had happened, she did not know and secretly hoped she did not find out that Ali had interfered with her holocron, but now the slave was haunted by the vision of her mistress laying dead in that puddle. The image filled her with both fear and anger and as she lay back in her bed, clutching her pillow, Alisaah swore that she had to do whatever it would take to stop that vision from becoming reality. She could no longer stand to be a dead weight, failing to be of much use to her mistress. Ali had to come to terms with the fact that she did not live the life of a slave dancer in a Hutt's palace anymore, she was a servant expected to help Aska on her journeys and she needed to improve herself. She owed it to Aska for everything she had done for Ali since they met. But one question remained, what was this power the other Aska had spoken of? The one that she had felt so vividly try to destroy her in the vision? Perhaps if she somehow could harness that power she could protect Aska, Meela, Kayto and Teela.