It had been a very eventful few days since they arrived on Onderon. They had gone to the Raxx Estate to meet up with Klied and the others following their various adventures. The plan had been to spend a few days relaxing, to recover from everything they had been through both together and apart, but things had not quite worked out that way. Aside from Klied's proposal that they start a mercenary company, the nature of Ali and Aska's relationship had been revealed to the group and everything had spiraled out of control from there. The others were shocked at the revelation that the clone was in possession of a slave and in Tegan's case, utterly outraged by it. Tensions had been high following Aska's altercation with the teenager in the wine cellar and Ali herself had taken to isolating herself from the group, only speaking with Aska or Meela when called upon.
Before the Tooka was out of the bag, Aska had spoken about getting Ali some 'appropriate' armour and more practice with a pistol so that the Togruta was more effective on their travels. Prior to leaving the manor, Klied had approached Ali in the atrium and invited her to meet him the next morning in the armoury, presumably for some target practice, and now the slave was in the city of Iziz with her mistress being measured for a custom made suit of armour. Klied had told them he would pay the bill for it and since he was a wealthy man there were a lot of options available to them. Unlike many of the experiences Ali had shared since meeting Aska, being fitted for a custom outfit was not new to the Togruta. During her time as Hota Zugg's slave, she had been measured for clothes, but these had always been rather revealing dancer's outfits that were not suitable for mercenary work.
"I'll take a shoulder measurement from you first before working my way down" said the kindly middle-aged Bivall woman who was attending Ali on her visit to her store. The slave, whose posture tended to be impeccable due to her form when dancing, stood at her full height and waited for the lady to take the measurement. Ali was stood in front of a mirror in a space in the middle of the store. Around them were racks of pre-made blast vests and other armour accessories created using all kinds of different materials. It was clear from the variety and quality of the sets produced here that this particular armourer was top of the range. It was a good thing that Klied had offered to pay.
Aska moved along the edges of the storefront, admiring the countless materials and platings that adorned the walls as Ali stood before the mirror having her measurements taken. The clone had too been distant since the reality of her relationship with the Togrutan had come to light. It was never her intention to keep the chains on Ali’s neck nor did she truly see her companion as a slave but there was no denying that it was still the truth. One that needed to be dealt with lest it end up becoming a much larger issue in the future.
“I’ll take a shoulder measurement of you first before working my way down,”
Casting a glance over her shoulder as the armourer began to line Ali’s shoulders with a long measuring tape, Aska soon turned her attention back to the wall of materials. Running her hands along a piece of draped reddish leather, she would normally admire it’s textures and strength but her mind dwelled on what needed to be done.
”Do you ever miss your old life, kid?” Aska’s question came forth almost absently, as though she was unaware she was even putting her thoughts to words. They had merit, however. Since Ali and Aska had met, the Togrutan had been pulled into a life that she was never accustomed to. Violence, near-death experiences and unpredictability was a far cry from the conditions she had once known. And Aska felt guilty about it...
The Togruta's mistress was hovering around, looking at the various pieces and sets of armour that this particular armourer had for sale. Ali stood perfectly still as the Bivall woman measured her shoulders and recording the information on a datapad before moving on to taking a bust measurement. To get the most accurate measurements, Ali had worn well-fitting undergarments and been asked to remove the rest of her clothing so that her regular clothing would not get in the way. The armourer took her tape, wrapping it under the Togruta's arms and around across the fullest part of her chest. "Arms down dear, let's see..." said the woman, taking a look at the number and making a note of that too.
Ali looked over to her left when Aska began speaking. The clone wondered whether she missed her "old life". The slave assumed that this was in reference to the time before she met Aska, since that had proven to be the biggest change in direction her life had taken. Considering that she was still in servitude to the strawberry blonde woman, Ali thought she had best be diplomatic. "W-Well... they're just different" she said, "back at Master Zugg's palace, I was... good at what I did. I knew I could make the drinks and I love dancing." The Bivall woman, now satisfied with the chest measurement, started to measure under her bust, around her ribs in a similar way. "I didn't much like the people I had to meet though... and the... private dancing..." she said with a slight furrow of her brow, "Some of the people I met were okay, but most of them scared me."
The Togruta turned her head back to face the mirror. Her green eyes watched the armourer going about her work as she continued to answer Aska's question. "Being with you and the others is a lot more... action packed and dangerous. I... don't really know if I'm all that suited to it, but I will do whatever I must for you" she said, looking back to the clone, "To begin with at least, it would have simply been my duty, but now it's more than that. You're my friend. This is... my family, and as well as Master Zugg might have treated me, I realise now that I would never leave you all to return to how things were before. You seem to actually care about me... and not what I can do for you or how much I may be worth..."
The Bivull woman finished taking the under bust measurement and moved to the Togruta's waist. She was smart enough to know from what they were discussing that Ali was a slave. In fact, since she was standing in her underwear, the Zygerrian brand on her back was in plain view. The armourer said nothing, however. She was not about to drive away customers, particularly if they were going to spend a large sum of credits on custom armour for their servants.
"Mr. Klied's house is even nicer than the palace, especially since I get my own bedroom. We used to all sleep in one room and didn't have beds like we had on the ship, or at the estate" explained Ali. She was going slightly off topic, but if they were going to make Klied's house their home, it was just another reason why staying with them was preferable.
Aska continued to walk around the storefront, inspecting the multitude of materials and suits of armor with an absent mind. While she heard and understood what Ali said in response to her question, her mind ran wild. It seemed like an eternity ago that Aska held Hota Zugg at gunpoint on Nar Shaddaa. It was the first time she had ever met Ali, her green eyes dominated by fear of the wild woman who stood before her. It was as clear then as it had been dozens of times since that the Togrutan slave girl was not raised for a life such as the one that Aska led. It was as clear then as it was now that Aska was the most detrimental thing in her life and yet she clung to the clone as a child would cling to their parents. Fearful of a life without, dependant on them for their survival… But she didn’t need to be, Aska knew it.
”Yea… It’s beautiful…” The clone’s absent response seemed as though she wasn’t truly listening to Ali, but every word she had said lingered in Aska’s mind. The horrid people she was forced to meet, forced to adorn as though she was nothing more than an exquisite necklace intended to be admired by others with absolute jealousy. The fact that Alisaah’s loyalty had gone beyond that of servitude but to the point that they acknowledged each other as friends, as family. The fact that she wasn’t the only one embraced as such but so too were the others. Meela, Klied, Poffo…
Then there was the newcomer. Tegan. The cause for Aska’s suffocating guilt and remorse for ever pushing Ali into this lifestyle, ever since that evening in the wine cellar of Klied’s estate. How he degraded Ali so completely, speaking of her as though she were lower than dirt. Ali was worth so much more than she gave herself credit for and yet the kid verbally beat her into a new low. Was Aska’s reaction appropriate? Probably not. Did she regret it? Definitely not. Still, there was no denying that something needed to be done to alleviate not only the oppression that bound Ali to her mistress but to rectify the wrong that was done all those months ago on Nar Shaddaa. The only question; was Ali finally ready?
”Sometimes… I think about that day, y’know?” Aska finally spoke up as she lifted a spool of thread to analyze it absently before turning her head to see the Togrutan. Even in her depressed state, the clone needed to force herself from looking Ali’s form over but she would cough and continue, looking back to the thread to keep her attention averted. ”The day I stole you from Zugg. I was there for a single purpose. I was never there to sweep you away, to force you into a life of a blaster for hire. I guess I kind of feel like… I traded you one set of chains for another,” Aska paused, not because she was fearful of what the Bivull woman would say or do overhearing the conversation she was present for, but because a warm sensation began to emanate from inside Aska’s jacket. From the very pocket that the ancient holocron resided.
”No… Not right now… Please, not right now,” Aska thought to herself, wincing at what she knew was coming. It seemed this was a conversation for three...
The clone's response was absent minded but Ali made no comment. It was clear to her something was on Aska's mind. Perhaps it was about the incident in the wine cellar, where the true nature of their relationship came to light. In Ali's mind it was the most recent, most significant thing that had happened and since then she had pretty much kept to herself unless Aska asked for her, and even then those interactions had been brief. The topic had not been broached in depth since. The Togruta had a strong feeling in her gut that this was lingering on her mistress' conscience, though what she intended to talk about in relationship to it, Ali was unsure, but the subject of slavery was certainly hanging in the air.
The Bivull woman began to take a waist measurement from Ali when Aska started to project her thoughts. Ali stood still while the measuring tape was wrapped around her waist, her green eyes following her mistress as she wandered about the store. As the clone picked up and observed a spool of thread, the Togruta made eye contact with Aska, who promptly coughed and went back to looking at the thread. She was oblivious to Aska's wandering eye, but in that moment their eyes met, Ali could tell her mistress was not her usual self. She seemed sad.
Aska explained that all those months ago, she had never intended to take her as a slave or force her into the life that they had been leading ever since they left Nar Shaddaa. Ali knew this. That fateful afternoon when they met, Aska had offered her the first chance at freedom whilst they made their escape from the action house. Ali had declined, much for the same reasons that she had explained to everybody in the wine cellar a few days prior. The only difference between then and now, was that Ali had grown closer, more attached and more accustomed to her mistress and her friends. They had been through a lot together.
"I understand, mistress" began Ali as the armourer finished taking the waist measurement and moved on to her hips, "But you have been very good to me all the same and I am forever grateful, even if things... often get quite dangerous..."
Ali had spoken during a gap in the conversation when Aska stopped talking. She had paused, and the slave watched her as she had spoken. Her own words started to trail off at the end, when a familiar feeling started to creep in. A feeling of dread. Ali saw Aska wince slightly. Then the whispers started. The Togruta would have been forgiven for thinking that Aska herself was the one whispering, but Ali was looking right at her and her mouth wasn't moving. It was the holocron. But what was it doing here? Why was her mistress carrying it around? The pair of them shared a look and Ali stood there awkwardly, having a tape measure wrapped around her hips, in her underwear no less, whilst the voice of the ancient Sith Aska echoed in their ears.
”Why must you persist to be so emotional, child? Why must you continuously harbor thoughts of self-loathing and regret? How could I have been fool enough to believe you as my legitimate heir…”
The voice echoed in Aska’s mind, the clone bringing a hand to her forehead in a vain hope of silencing her ancestor. She had every intention on ridding herself of this damned holocron once they had finished here but it seemed that while Aska was quite done with it, it was not quite done with her.
”Could you kindly fuck off? Please?” Aska requested of the Sith apparition in her mind, neither Ali nor the Bivull woman would physically hear. Unknown to Aska however, the holocron had touched Ali’s mind previously and whether or not she could hear the conversation that was about to take place was dependent on how strong the bond had been forged.
”You’ve been nothing but a disappointment from the onset, girl. I thought that perhaps you may well be my path to restoring my family name to glory and power but I’ve been proven wrong,”
Aska’s eyes squeezed shut as she mentally tangled with the influence of the holocron, desperate to shut it out of her mind. She had enough to deal with as it was; having her genetic template whispering how useless she was into her ears wasn’t going to make it any easier…
”Now that one… As timid as she is… She has potential,”
Those last words lit a fire in Aska that she could not ignore. Stepping away from the wall she had been facing, the clone beelined for the door and out into the street, leaving both Ali and the Bivull woman alone in the shop. As the armourer continued taking her measurements, hardly even phased by Aska’s abrupt exit, she spoke up though never once stopping her work.
”That girl is trouble, you know,” she stated plainly to Ali, closely examining her measuring tape.
Out in the street, Aska rounded the side of the building and hid herself away from the public, her face reddening with anger.
”You keep your mind warping fingers off of Ali, damn it!” she seethed, actually vocalizing her words in her rage as she was unable to suppress them. All she was met with, however, was a sinister chuckle.
"Do not think that I have forgotten, Alisaah..." came the whispering voice of the Aska contained within the holocron, "quite the contrary, you have become... an obsession. You have potential. You have been chosen. You will be my heir..." At hearing these clear words, the Togruta went almost stiff as a board as the Bivull woman finished taking her hip measurement. Before going any lower the armourer would take a sleeve measurement, starting at the top of her shoulder and down to her wrist. She would not have heard the voice but it reverberated inside Ali's mind. Fear gripped her and she grit her teeth, trying to force the voice and the mental imagery of Aska laying dead in a muddy puddle from her mind once again.
"What are you doing here? Please, leave me alone" she pleaded with the evil voice in her head. Cruel laughter from the holocron followed. "Foolish girl, I offer you power beyond your wildest imagination, yet you reject it. Soon you will learn that you need me, can't get by without me and I will be right here waiting..." taunted the Sith Aska. Ali had no clue that the holocron was speak to her mistress too, nor that it was goading her too. It must have seemed very strange to the Bivull woman for them to have been having a conversation, only to both go dead silent all of a sudden.
The only reprieve was when Aska marched herself outside of the shop, taking the holocron further away from her. Ali breathed a soft sigh of relief, but was snapped back to reality when the armourer started to speak to her. "That girl is trouble, you know" she said as she examined the measuring tape for her sleeve measurement. The Togruta's green eyes looked towards the door. "I'm... used to it, by now" she said, worried about where her mistress might have gone. She hoped that she had not gone too far, because she had the credits from Klied that they needed to pay for all of this once the measurements had been taken.
”What the fuck is that supposed to mean?” Aska’s heart nearly stopped, fearful of the response that was to be. The holocron, while not a secret that she had kept from the slave girl, was something that she felt uneasy openly claiming to hold. While she knew little about Sith and their prophecies, her time spent with Fiach Dubh on this very world had gifted her one key aspect; the “dark side” was a corruptive and malicious energy. To the clone, it was hardly a far stretch from who she was on the best of days… but to one as innocent and pure hearted as Alisaah? Aska’s stomach wretched at the thought.
”Exactly what you fear it to mean, child. Your dear pet has a gift that so few in the galaxy can harness. She is destined for a life of power and influence, should she choose to accept it. To accept me,”
Aska was motionless, trying to convince herself that the holocron was merely attempting to deceive her… But the pieces began to fit together. Kayto and Meela had told the clone about what transpired on Bespin whilst the others travelled to Mataou. None of them understood what it was that had thrown the droid across the room, only that it had happened. At that moment, Alisaah was under a great deal of stress and was never one to allow herself an outlet. It all began to come together; Alisaah had whatever it was that one needed to become a Sith… Or, more likely given the girl’s demeanor, a Jedi.
”Hand me over to her… Relieve yourself of the burden that you will never rise to meet… And, in time, she will never again be someone’s doormat. Someone’s plaything,”
Stunned, Aska unknowingly reached into her jacket and pulled the pulsing prysm from within. It’s radiating energy ebbed as though it had developed the ability to breath in only a few short moments. Even she could feel the power that radiated from the device… but she couldn’t submit her only true friend to such a thing.
”Fuck you,” she growled, her mindset finally settling. Reaching to her left, Aska pulled open the nearby compactor chute of the neighboring restaurant and promptly tossed the device inside before slamming the door shut. She had every intention of disposing of the holocron respectfully, returning it to it’s resting place deep within the jungles. That was no longer an option. She couldn’t bring the artifact anywhere near Ali…
The clone would return to the shop, blood drained from her face and hands trembling. The Bivull woman only offered her a casual glance and a gentle smile before moving to finish her measurements of the Togrutan girl.
”Sorry,” Aska began sheepishly, weakly. ”I must have… had some bad fish or something,”
Outside in the chute, unknown to the clone that had disposed of the device, those who would open it next would be met by a bright and ambient crimson glow. While Aska believed it had descended deep to the lower levels of the restaurant, it had in fact became wedged in the sharp corner from her slamming of the door… Waiting for it’s next claimant.
Aska was gone for a few minutes and every second that passed, the more tense Ali seemed to get. Aside from the fact that her mistress had the money to pay for the armour she was being fitted for, the Togruta had become quite attached to her and it worried her greatly whenever Aska went anywhere without her or unannounced. Masters from her past had always gone places without her and without her knowledge and it never really bothered her, but things were different with Aska. She genuinely liked the clone and they were more than just a master and servant. Aska was her friend. They had been through a lot together and Ali had seen first hand the dangers that presented themselves to both of them. Zugg had killed Aska's friend before her very eyes and even sent men after Ali and Kayto. That was one nagging concern in the back of her mind. But then there was the ever present fear of the vision the slave had seen in the Sith holocron.
Having taken the sleeve measurement, the Bivull woman crouched in order to take a measurement of Ali's thigh. Since this armour would be custom it required a lot more data to produce something tailored to the wearer. The Togruta felt the measuring tape kiss the bare skin on her inner thigh and her eyes widened, her muscles tightened. "You're very tense dear. Relax, I'm just taking a thigh measurement..." said the armourer nonchalantly. "Yes, I'm sorry..." Ali blushed, before clearing her throat. At that moment, Aska returned. She looked pale and a little shaky, announcing that she thought she had eaten something that disagreed with her. Ali's brow furrowed. She knew that the holocron had been there. It spoke to her. It must have been speaking to her mistress for her to leave the shop like that. But if it had been here, why wasn't it talking to them both now? Had Aska been able to get her ancient Sith ancestor to shut up? She must have done, otherwise they would have still been hearing her poisonous rhetoric filling their minds.
Ali caught Aska's gaze and smiled at her sweetly. She was convinced her mistress was lying, but chose to play along for the sake of keeping up appearances. "I'm sorry to hear that mistress, is there anything I might do for you to help you feel better?" she asked.
The words of the holocron continued to echo through Aska’s mind as she dismissed Ali’s offer. She grappled with the reality that the innocent and passive slave girl could possibly one day be an entirely different person. Fiach had warned her that darkness could corrupt and twist a person into an unrecognizable form and if the holocron was right, if it had already touched Alisaah’s mind…
Sitting herself down in one of the benches at the front of the store, Aska remained silent during the remainder of the duration of the taking of Ali’s measurements. While before she had only been afflicted by the guilt of her bondage, now she too had to wrestle with the fact that there may well have been some evil force whispering into her ear. That not only had Aska’s influence in her life been one of violence and chaos but that the potential seeds for something far more sinister had been planted in her mind.
As the Bivull woman wrapped up her measurements, bowing her head both to Aska and Ali as she promised delivery of the suit of armour in the coming days, Aska pushed herself to her feet and transferred the downpayment of credits for the exchange. Her eyes still somber, her emotions still in turmoil, the clone had come to a conclusion on what needed to be done. She would wait for Ali to dress herself before the pair walked back out into the dry and arid streets of Iziz. They would walk in silence for a few moments before Aska finally spoke up.
”Listen kid, I think… I think I need to split for a while. Stretch my wings, get back in touch with myself, y’know?” Aska somberly stared ahead as they continued to walk down the street, plenty of elbow room between them and the other citizens of the city. ”I’m sure Klied and Poffo will make sure you’re well looked after but there’s just something I need to do alone,”
"You're... going away again?" asked Ali, a tinge of worry in her voice. They had only really been reunited for a short time since Aska's excursion to Mataou. The hunting party had arrived on Bespin to pick up Ali, Meela and the droids before heading to Onderon, and even then they had only been here a few days, during which time the Togruta had accidentally revealed to the others that she was a slave in the clone's service and subsequently spent much of her time away from them feeling guilty and ashamed for who she was. Now she was going to be parted from her mistress again?
What made matters worse was Ali's fear of what might happen to Aska if she was not there to try and help her. The holocron that had just spoken to her had been taunting her, filling her mind with a recurring nightmare that predicted the clone's demise. The Togruta had struggled enough with these feelings on Bespin, she could not bare the thought of going through it again. Not so soon after the last time. "If it is your desire for me to remain behind once more, it is not my place to question it..." said the Togruta. There was audible and sincere sadness in her voice this time and if Aska caught a glimpse of the girl's face, she would see she looked visibly afraid, but this was the response of a slave. Accepting something she had no power to change. "I will stay with Mr. Klied and Mr. Poffo as you asked" she said solemnly, frightened that if Aska left, she might not get to see her again.
Aska’s eyes never moved to meet Ali’s as they walked but they did not need to for her to recognize that this was coming as a shock to the Togrutan girl. Her voice projected the fear of what this separation meant, that it was coming as a surprise to her. That what Aska was saying was hard for her to comprehend. She expected as much.
”You and I, we’re two very different people, kid,” Aska continued, still staring straight ahead into the street as they walked whilst tugging the hood of her jacket further over her head to entirely shield the sides of her face from the slave girl. She struggled to find the words that would allow Alisaah to understand what she was trying to do. That distancing themselves was going to be both hard for each of them yet necessary, at least in her own view, if the innocent woman was to retain that aspect of herself. That Aska’s influence was one that was corrupting and sinister.
With each step down the Iziz streets, the distance between them and the holocron growing, Aska could feel the influence of the device diminishing as it remained in its place in the garbage chute. For what felt like an eternity she believed it was her responsibility to carry the burden of the artifact and to grasp what the voice was trying to tell her. That maybe it was some sort of destiny to carry it into the galaxy and to find the children of her creator, to hand it off to those who could understand its purpose. Now, with it no longer on her person and no longer her burden, it felt as though a weight had been lifted. It felt like for the first time in years, she could finally breathe once more. But there was still the fact that despite Aska finally shedding the influential tendrils of the Sith construct, that it likely had sunk it’s teeth into Alisaah as well. Aska may be free of its influence, but was she?
”You… Do you remember, back on Nal Hutta… That red pyramid thing I carried? The one you found when that sleemo had us tied up and was ready to execute us?” Aska knew that she was all over the place with her words but she was trying to explain something that she didn’t really understand. She was trying to make sense of something that simply didn’t make sense. ”Have you ever… touched it? Have you ever heard like… voices or whatever coming from it?”
The Togruta glumly walked with her mistress through the streets of Iziz, not really knowing what direction they were headed, but not much caring either way. Her mind was too distracted by the news that Aska would be leaving her again. The slave could tell something wasn't quite right with the clone as certain aspects of her mannerisms were unusual, for starters, she kept trying to conceal her face with her hood and avoided eye contact. Whether she was doing this to hide herself from those around her on the street, or simply because she did not want to even look at Ali, the Togruta did not know but it was only serving to feed the slave's anxiety. What good was she if her mistress didn't want her around? What good was she if her mistress did not even want to see the sight of her? The tell tale signs of nerves began to show as Ali started the familiar wringing of her hands.
Aska began talking on a slightly different subject. One that the slave knew to be the Sith holocron that had just been speaking with them. Butterflies began to flutter in her stomach. She wanted to know if Ali had ever touched it, heard voices from it. Did her mistress already know the answer? Was this why she wanted to leave the Togruta behind? Because the slave had done something worthy of punishment? Ali being Ali, could only do one thing, which was to tell the truth. Lying to a master would only make things worse. It was bad enough that she had never said anything to Aska already. "Yes... mistress, I touched the pyramid" she admitted, "Back on our ship, it woke me up, it spoke to me. You were asleep and it was laying on the table and I touched it..." The Togruta started to visibly shake and her voice started getting hoarse. "I'm sorry mistress, I know it was wrong of me but I couldn't help myself, it was luring me in... Please forgive me..."