”It's possible. These are warrior monks that historically hate the Jedi and are very inclined to the Dark Side. I think that they would not mind hiring Apex to help take their home back.” if the reports are right, they are really pissed with the local government for not helping them get the hermitage back. Caerllion believed that they would be desperate to accept their help.
“Your idea is good too. See? You already did our plan b!” he smiled at her trying to alleviate a bit of tension. Making so many plans and finding ways to make them work was tiresome. The worst was that they still needed to deal with a banquet full of vipers. His uncle and his minions would be watching them all the time during it.
Caerllion noticed that Arla wasn’t uncomfortable with the idea of wearing a dress, but with the fact of needing to go to the banquet. “Yeah, this would be ideal.” he gave her a weak smile. “Sorry for those protocols. My grandaunt is nice, but even when I asked her to throw this dinner, she didn't want to go against the tradition.”
“You can stay only enough to eat a bit. I can help you make a cover up to leave early.” unfortunately, Caerllion would need to stay behind with his father doing politics. Many nobles will be there, giving them the chance to increase the number of their allies. “Do you want me to pick you outside of your ship? Or do you want to go there alone? I can send the location of the dinner hall for you.”
Ultimately, there was no getting around it. Although she avoided it and pawned as much as possible of this kind of stuff off on her sister, there was no avoiding the fact that sometimes she had to go do the "business" side of her business.
We might as well go together, she shrugged. Then when you make up a reason for me to leave you can come too, she said with a snicker before letting out a small groan. Oh, stop whining, Arla, she thought to herself, though she did wonder if she'd make it through dinner without throttling someone.
Later that evening when he arrived to pick her up, he would find that she did, in fact, clean up nicely when she wanted to. Sporting one of her signature brilliant blue dresses she climbed into the speeder without any weapons on her tonight.
She recalled him mentioning that this was hosted by his grandaunt and from the sound of things she wasn't insufferable. At least that was the impression she got when Caer spoke of her. Of course, who else was going to be there was still in question.
What should I expect out of tonight? she asked as they made their way to the location in question.
Caerllion chuckled with Arla’s reaction. “You look adorable when annoyed.” it was the first time that he saw her with this childish expression, he even dared to say that the half-Sephi had pouted a bit after groaning. He couldn’t judge her, these banquets are boring most of the time. Nobles constantly talking about their strategies to rise in the court or dropping veiled offenses against each other. It was a great nest of hypocrisy that the Annfyn had learned to move around since he was young.
However, it doesn't mean that he liked it.
“Good idea. I don’t want to stay in that nest of vipers alone.” even more with his uncle constantly watching his movements, expecting the smallest slip from him. “We could leave early to make contact with the Followers of Palawa. It’s better if we do it before arriving in Bunduki.”
Sometime later, Caerllion went to pick up his friend in front of her ship. He was dressed in a typical Annfyn outfit for such events. However, his appearance paled in front of Arla. She was dressed in a magnificent blue dress that matched perfectly with her skin tone. His only reaction was to remain speechless with his mouth hanging open.
“You look amazing.” he said, before faking a cough and guiding her to the speeder. Space station 09 was a large one, with them needing to use a vehicle to reach the place where the banquet was going to happen. Always the gentleman, the Annfyn opened the door for her to enter, before joining her side.
“You are going to see a bunch of politicians using veiled threats and faked pleasantries to win favor of each other and the Queen. Don’t accept anything that my uncle and his supporters offer to you. It isn’t beyond them giving you something that would humiliate you.” and by consequence, Caerllion would probably attack them. The realization that he would be violent with anyone that offended Arla hit him hard. Even with her being able to defend herself, he wasn’t going to stand motionless.
They soon arrived at the place. It was a large building with glass walls and windows, with a stairway leading to it. At the door, there was a pair of guards. Caerllion opened the door and turned to look at Arla. “Are you prepared to face these vipers, my lady?” he smiled at her, while offering a hand.
Arla smiled warmly as he told her that she looked amazing. Thank you, she said.
I supposed you get dressed up all the time, she added. He looked much more comfortable in these kinds of clothes than she did, and she had no doubt he was far more used to this than she was.
She found her mind wandering to all the things that he said to her over the years. The indications he made that he had feelings for her and the way he almost became like a school boy around her. It had been so many years since they had seen each other and there was so much about her that he didn't really know, that she found herself wondering if it was really just an idealized version of her that he had come to know.
The closer he looked, he would see the many scars that her dress didn't hide. She had no shame in them and saw no reason to cover them up. She was a warrior, and the scars were as much a symbol of learning for her as they were a warning for others. Perhaps one that even that fool of a Prime Minister couldn't ignore.
Sounds lovely, she grumbled as he described what the evening was going to be. How terrible. Good advice, thank you, she said, deciding the mention of not taking anything from his uncle was good thing.
Not really, but here we go, she said, climbing out of the speeder and heading toward the banquet hall. She had no idea she was going to be insulted and antagonized all night, and she also knew that she was going to leave at the first possible opportunity. But here went nothing...
”Only when there are events like this one.” he smiled at her, while gesturing to the path that the speeder was following, as if the banquet hall was right in front of them. “Thankfully, they aren’t as common as you think.” because if he needed to stay around everyday with the rest of the Annfyn nobility, Caerllion would go mad.
He had noticed the scars in Arla's skin, but for him their presence only made her more beautiful. Together with the dress, it made her look like a warrior princess. This also showed that the half-Sephi had passed through a lot during all these years, but he barely knew about how these events transpired. For some reason, the Annfyn was overwhelmed by concern. She could have died without them seeing each other again. She could still die due to her job!
His panic lasted a fraction of a second, because he soon remembered that she was Arla. The woman trained as a Nightsister that made them flee from a Hutt's dungeon without much effort. He pitied the person that had her wrath over them.
In fact, he could die more easily than her.
“See the bright side. You are going to eat and drink at the expense of all these people.” he joked. Perhaps she wasn’t going to feel too interested in the food while everyone was looking at her. “Besides, they'll need to deal with me if they try something stupid. You are my friend and a guest of House of Cyfnos. They need to respect you.” Caerllion helped Arla get out of the speeder and walked with her through the stairway.
“You are not alone. I'm here with you.” he smiled, looking directly at her eyes. Then they crossed the doors, after the guards opened them. Inside they would see a large room, with an equally large table at the center. It was filled with food and drinks. All the nobles that had gathered in the Space station to see the Queen were reunited here. They had been talking with each other, but stopped when the newcomers arrived.
Caerllion would see his father talking with some of their allies and would guide Arla toward them. “Caer! How long without seeing you!” his face briefly contorted in anger when he heard the voice of his cousin. He immediately turned to look at his cousin Elyon. The blond Annfyn turned to look at the half-Sephi. “Oh, you must be Arla! Everyone here is talking about you! I'm curious, what is your species?”
Lucky indeed, Arla griped. Yes, he was going to have to listen to her pout and grumble all night long. There were few things in the galaxy that she hated more than "playing nice" because she had to. It was probably an ego thing, if she were honest, and she knew it wasn't a great trait, but alas... it was there.
That's true, she added when he mentioned that she would be eating their money. Actually, that was all the more motivation to eat more tonight. The more she could make these people lose out on, the better.
She just snickered as he mentioned them respecting her. Something told her there wouldn't be a lot of "respect" passed around by these people. Sure, it was possible, but if today's meeting was any indicator, she had lovely things to look forward to.
Yes, but if I punch someone, it reflects poorly on you, she said. The truth was that she was far less concerned with any of these people hurting her and more concerned with what she might do to them. She could break an entire face with the best of them.
As they arrived, Arla could practically feel the anger radiating off of Caerllion at the voice that greeted them, and although the guy who it belonged to was actually quite good looking, it took about an extra two seconds for Arla to feel the malicious intent in the man followed by the inappropriate comment.
For a moment, Arla just stared at him. Those same steely silver eyes that she had inherited from her father, flecked with the gold from her mother.
Haven't you heard? I'm the galaxy's Apex Predator, she said, adding on a grin that was somehow anything but warm and comforting.
Caerllion felt his blood boil when Elyon asked about Arla’s species. How did he dare to talk this way with her? Didn’t his parents teach him how to be polite? He wanted to punch his smug smile out of his cousin's face.
However, he shouldn’t be surprised with the blond Annfyn’s bluntness. While his uncle did veiled accusations and trick questions, his cousin seemed to be interested in making the Cyfnos heir furious. Nowadays, he was able to control himself, but fights between them were common when they were children.
This was their strategy to destabilize Caerllion and he should remain calm. Even if pained him to see Arla being offended.
Arla's answer made Caerllion smirk. He had the satisfaction of seeing the smug smile of his cousin faltering. Obviously that the half-Sephi wasn’t going to fall so easily to his provocation. “I see. Well, I wish you good luck in dealing with the pirates, Miss Predator. Bye, orphan cousin! See you around!” Elyon said, while turning and walking away from the two.
“This was my cousin, Elyon.” Caerllion said, when the two were alone. Arla deserved an explanation for this scene “He is the son of the Prime-minister and who the opposition is backing for the throne.” he shuddered about what would happen with Annwfyn if he became king. “He is a spoiled and despicable piece of shit, but you answered him perfectly. I never saw his smug smile falter.”
This exchange with Elyon attract the attention of the other nobles, which were now staring at them with more interest. Some were really curious to make the Ileuad's question, but they knew better than being blunt. Thinking that Arla would feel uncomfortable with all this undesired attention, Caerllion had an idea. “It'll take some time until the Queen arrives. Do you want to grab a plate with the most expensive appetizers and drinks, then wait for her arrival in the garden? No one will be there.”
There was something very satisfying in causing someone like that little twerp to look shaken and uncomfortable. Arla found herself enjoying it more than she would have expected, and it made her wonder if this was why people liked politics. She may not have been cut out for it, but making people squirm was something she was good at.
Surprisingly, Arla found herself not bothered by all the people looking her way. She didn't want to have to behave around them, but let them look. Let them wonder and puzzle in their heads. The thought brought a smirk to her lips.
Sure, she said, heading over to the appetizer table and promptly loading up on various types of sandwiches and veggies snacks before heading out to the garden area.
Well, I survived the first insufferable person of the night, she said. She was sure there was plenty more where that came from, but if she thought quick on her feet, she was sure she could find ways to make them all uncomfortable, couldn't she? If her primary goal for the evening was "make snooty people uncomfortable" then maybe it wouldn't be a terrible night.
Caerllion followed Arla toward the appetizer table. The half-Sephi would notice that most of the food was made of vegetables. Due to the necessity of killing animals through a method that didn’t make them suffer, meat wasn’t a common part of the Annfynes diet. It was expensive due to the process not being realized by machines or droids and only the rich could afford the constant presence of meat in their tables.
The Annfyn grabbed a plate of small sandwiches and guided Arla toward the gardens. “Yes, and it was the worst of them all.” he said, not being ashamed of offending his cousin. All nobles around them were very aware that the two didn’t get along. “There was a time that the two of us would always end in a brawl, because I didn’t have patience to deal with his bullshit.”
Once they crossed the door, the two would be inside the garden. It was full of several species of plants from Annwfyn and the atmospheric control made even fresh breezes blow in the place. In the middle of the garden was a fountain, with statues of marble with golden details.
Caerllion would walk toward it, wanting to sit on a bench that faced the fountain. The Annfyn noticed a bush with silver flowers next to it. A smile immediately appeared on his lips. “Moon flowers, the favorite of my mom.” the Prince plucked one, playing it with his fingers. His eyes shone with amazement, he didn’t see one of these since his mother died. He probably looked like a child that found a sweet.
“For you.” he offered to Arla. If she accepted, he would put the flower in her hair.
Arla laughed lightly as she imagined Caer brawling with his cousin at every opportunity. She supposed they had probably out grown that at this point, although they also seemed to have just changed tactics for how they fought.
I can imagine why, she added. She would have happily pummeled him into the ground, but unfortunately, she could assume assaulting members of the royal family was not preferable.
As they made their way outside, Arla watched him become captivated by one of the flowers, and as he mentioned the flower in conjunction with his mother, Arla understood.
Thank you, she said with a smile, not stopping him from placing the flower in her hair. It complemented the dark color of her black hair well.
I hope we can get revenge for your mother. I know what that's like. It won't fill the hole, but it will make you feel... vindicated, she said. She rarely spoke to anyone outside of the family about her mother, and few in the wider galaxy knew who she was. Arla didn't share it, but she did know the pain of that loss.
With her consent, Caerllion placed the flower at Arla's hair. He admired it for a moment, seeing how it looked like a lonely star in a dark night sky. It made the half-Sephi look even more beautiful. He was looking directly at Arla's eyes. It was black looking at blue, transmitting all the sincerity of his feelings to her. “You are beautiful.” he whispered, his cheeks red like that of a silly teenager.
“My mom used to say that they bring good luck. With us going to deal with the pirates tomorrow, I believe that a bit of luck will be good.” he said playfully, before sitting on the bench.
In a matter of fact, he was sure that they would be capable of ending the pirates without much trouble. The two were very skilled in the Force and Arla was a warrior, it wasn’t going to be a rabble of criminals that would bring them down. The only problem that he could see was the fact that they didn’t know what his uncle had planned. Maybe the luck effect of the moon flowers could help, with them stumbling on the Prime-minister secret plans.
He doubted that something like that would happen, not believing in this fairy tale about the moon flowers since his mother's death. Caerllion had learned that what he wanted would only happen if he acted with great strength and cleverness.
The Annfyn stared in silence at Arla. He was surprised, not because she hoped that he would be able to vindicate his mother, but because the half-Sephi had said that she understood what he was feeling. It was the first time that she mentioned something that could be related to her family.
Feeling comfortable next to her, surrounded by plants and the sound of the fountain, Caerllion remained in silence for some moments. “I think that my mother would have liked you. Everyone says that she was a free spirit and not much attached to tradition like everyone else.” this was the main reason why she fell in love with his father, both of them disregarded much of Annwfyn tradition. It was sad that he took a long time to do the same.
“How is your mother? Does she like flowers too?” Caerllion asked calmly. He knows that she never talked about her family and would never pressure her to do so.
Arla smiled slightly at the complement. It was nice to be seen and appreciated, although it would have been disingenuous to say that she had never been appreciated before. There were plenty of people in her life who cared for her even if things had never worked out for her to find a life partner.
She took a seat beside him as he talked about the flowers bringing good luck, and she her mind yet again turned to the pirates they were going to be hunting down. But that was a tomorrow problem, wasn't it? How often did she just take time to stop and enjoy the moment.
She thought about what he said about his mother, and she wondered if the two would have gotten along. In truth, she knew little about the woman, but she enjoyed those who fought for and thought for themselves. It was something that separated the wolves from the sheep in the galaxy.
I wish I could have met her, she said honestly. The thought brought back to mind her own mother and the feeling of loss she still felt whenever she thought of Dathomir and the anger that still burned in her chest against the Empire all these years later.
As he asked about her mother, Arla just blinked for a moment. She assumed she had made things clear already, but evidently that wasn't the case.
My mother is dead, she said. There was no point in dancing around the fact. That's who I was talking about, she said, her back teeth clenching slightly as she said the words before shaking her head a bit as if to clear the thoughts.
She loved animals and wildlife, she said, thinking to all the exotic pets and creatures she had kept over the years.
Caerllion stayed in silence when Arla revealed that her mother had also died and immediately thought that he had committed a faux pas. He had understood that she lost someone when the half-Sephi said that she understood how he was feeling, but he didn’t think that she had also lost her mother. They had that in common, unfortunately he learned it due to a stupid question.
The Annfyn immediately regretted having asked it, with his ear lowering due to the discomfort. Caerllion could say that he was sorry about it, but Arla probably already heard enough of that. When his mother died, everyone said that to him and some were even lying about it. It reached a point that he hated people pitying his situation, even if it was sincere. Due to that, he decided to remain in silence while placing a hand over that of the half-Sephi and holding it.
Sometimes the silence and small acts of kindness were better than thousands of words.
After a brief time, Caerllion released her hand. “I think that our mothers would have gotten along, since the two liked nature.” he smiled at her, before turning to look at the plates of food that they brought. He grabbed two sandwiches and offered one to her. “To our mothers and for everything that they did for us! We would never be what we are today without them!” he offered a toast with food, something that his mother used to do with him when there was no drink around.
They would be able to stay in the garden for a bit longer, but this time alone would soon come to an end when Caerllion’s EZPhone sounded with a message. It was his father alerting that the Queen had arrived.
Arla found the moment of silence a relief, seeing the way that his ears flattened out a bit was a telltale giveaway that he genuinely felt sorrow over what had been said.
Arla gave a solemn nod as he mentioned their mothers getting along. As much as she missed and grieved for her mother, the memories of their time together and imagining her spending time with Caer's mother was a joyful thought, and his offered sandwich and toast brought a smile to her lips.
Absolutely, she said, tapping her sandwich against his thoughtfully. Do you ever wonder how life would have turned out differently if even one or two things was different? she asked. It wasn't often that Arla became philosophical, but it seemed to be a more and more common occurrence in recent days. How could life have been different and would she want it to be?
It took some seconds for Caerllion to answer Arla’s question. He never had thought about how his life would have been if the circumstances were different. The Annfyn was always so busy plotting his ascension to the throne and the expansion of Sith influence that he didn’t have time to think about hypothetical things.
“I never thought about it, to be honest.” now that he was faced with this question, Caerllion started to think about parts of his life that he would want to change. He quickly came to the conclusion that there was only one thing that he wanted to change. Arla would consider it pretty obvious.
“I think that if my mother was still alive, things would be very different.” he said, staring at the fountain. The water was coming out from a statue holding a decorated vase. It was the first Queen of Annwfyn and an ancestor of him. “If it happened, I probably would never have joined the group.” he wasn’t going to mention the Sith too loud, the nobles could be hearing their conversation.
“Then we would have never met.” he turned to look at Arla, a smile on his lips. “This would be bad, because I like knowing you.” many things happened in his life since he had joined the Sith and he would never open hand of them. "I don't want to change anything. Changing bad things of our lives could end removing good things that happened because of them."
The message of his father interrupted the moment, Caerllion took a deep breath. “The Queen arrived. We need to go.” he rose from the bench, offering a hand to Arla. “I’ll make an excuse after we end the main course.”
Fair enough, she replied. She knew it was impractical to think about "what ifs" and in truth, she tended to avoid addressing them too, and she could respect him for not wasting his time.
Can't change them anyway, she said, though even as she said it, she wondered. There were old rumors about the World Between Worlds and its ability to twist the very essence of space and time and even its ability to save or bring people back from the dead. It sounded like fantasy, though.
Right, let's get it over with, she said with a sigh. She was thankful that Apex was growing at breakneck speed, and as it did, more people would have to court her rather than the other way around.
She took his hand and rose, heading inside to whatever awaited them within. The Queen at least gave the appearance of being cordial, and hopefully the woman would keep everyone else in line for the rest of the night.
Once Caerllion and Arla returned to the dinning hall, the nobles were already taking their position around the table. The Queen was already here, positioned at the head of the long table, dressed in a long silver dress. The Prince gestured for his friend to follow him. Since she was a guest of House of Cyfnos, the half-Sephi was going to sit between him and his father. He moved the chair for her, before taking his position.
The positioning of the nobles in the table showed the condition of Annwfyn’s parliament. On the side where Caerllion was seated were the supporters of his family and his claim to the throne. On the opposing side were his uncle and cousin, with those that supported them. In the middle was the Queen, trying to maintain the balance.
Following tradition, the nobles remained standing until the Queen sat, which happened after she made a speech welcoming Arla among them. Some nobles in the opposing side of the table stared at her with disgust. Caerllion bailed his fists, wanting to immediately crush their windpipes with the Force.
With everyone seated, the food started to arrive. It was good, but the company at the table made him barely take pleasure in eating it. Elyon was staring at him with a smug smile, which couldn’t mean anything good. At this moment, a waiter approached Arla. “Do you want some wine, ma’am?”
It immediately attracted Caerllion's attention. In a rush, he reach Arla's mind, trying to warn her. "Ask him what type of wine it is."
Arla made her way inside, sliding in front of the chair that Caer pulled out for her, but her attention wasn't on what she saw but what she felt. While reading social situations wasn't her specialty, she was beginning to realize more and more that the Force could compensate for what she lacked in other skills just as it did on her hunts. What most bounty hunters used technology for, she used the Force for. Why not the same in the political circles?
The tension and malice that hung in the air between the two sides of the table was immediately notable, and it almost felt like the table worked as a no-man's-land between battle sides. She also didn't miss the acidic emotion directed toward her, and she nearly called it out outright, but held her tongue.
Someone came over with an offer of wine, and she was about to say yes when she heard Caer's voice in her mind. Even as he said it, though, he would have an almost unnerving sensation. He would get the sense of walking on a void of nothingness that he nearly fell into and he would feel the stone maze that was Arla's mind. It was different from when they had last met, and was the results of her knowledge of Force of Will, and although she felt no negative repercussions, it would feel like walking the edge of oblivion for just a moment.
What kind of wine is it? she asked, almost just outright rejecting it but deciding to defer to Caer's greater experience in the toxic politics of this planet. She hated it here.
Immediately as he tried to establish a telepathic connection with Arla, Caerllion felt his own mind being overwhelmed by a feeling that he couldn't describe beyond saying that it was terrible. It was as if he was staring in an abyss where could fall at any second. If it wasn’t his desire to warn his friend, the Annfyn would have stopped his mental contact immediately.
When Arla asked what type of wine was being offered to her, Caerllion immediately noticed the waiter glance briefly at his cousin, who remained watching the scene with a strange interest. There was indeed something strange happening between them. It was confirmed when the servant finally answered.
“It's an Annfyn wine.” while he didn’t confirm the age, Caerllion immediately considered that Arla needed to refuse it. The oldest of these things could nausea and vomit to people that weren’t used to it. Since he feared contacting her telepathically again, he put a hand on the table where she could see and made a negative signal with his index finger. He hoped that she would understand it.
Her mental defense had impressed him and he wondered if Arla would be able to teach him later.
Once again, Arla didn't know what game was being played here, but Caer signaled for her not to take it, and she trusted him.
No, thank you, she said, though the politeness in her voice was - at least to Caer - notably strained. She was growing tired of these people and their games, and she could sense the malice flowing off of the twit cousin.
Her eyes swept over and settled on him as she took a deep breath. She found herself just imagining choking him right then and there. The way his head might fall down into his soup and he wiggled and squirmed for breath, but she thought better of it.