Ask The Witch-Queen Cometh

Vex

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Castle Gaol.

Even now, Vex could hardly believe it was hers. Or it would be, when it was finished. A few weeks had passed since she and Varyn had taken this planet for the Empire. Almost at once, she had ordered the old warden's fortress to be transformed into her own. With Belsavis under its foot, the Sith Empire would have prisons for its enemies aplenty. And Vex would be their warden. But there was another matter still to handle.

The Empress needed to be informed about Palpatine's vault underneath the surface of the planet; and she needed to be told about the holocron Vex had discovered in the crypts. In the weeks since Varyn had left, Vex had studied the artifact, learning what secrets she could from it. Darth Phobos, its gatekeeper, had much to say about the ways in which one could break the mind of their enemies. Some of it was incomprehensible. She was hoping the Empress might shed light on those parts; but she dare not presume.

Unfortunately, the device said nothing about how to heal a broken mind. The Gatekeeper's spell, which she had to guess was derived from the holocron, still lived with her. Even now, she could see shadows moving. Sometimes, they had her little sister's face. Sometimes, they had no face at all. Her nightmares had grown worse too. And while she worried about the implications of these symptoms, she decided, for now, to stay silent about them. A few bad dreams were not yet cause for alarm. She had bigger fish to fry.

When word arrived that the Empress was approaching, Vex made her way out to the newly constructed landing pad, flanked by some of the droids she had managed to ensnare on her last visit. She bent to one knee and inclined her head as the Empress' ship touched down. But it was not until the woman was before her that she spoke. "My Empress," she said reverently. "Belsavis is yours." @Phoenix
 
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Renfry

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Renfry's arrival to Belsavis had been heralded by the arrival of her Resurgent-class Star Destroyer, the Arbiter floating ominously above the planet's surface. She'd decided what was the point of being Empress if you couldn't fly around in your own personal, massive warship.

The shuttle that landed on the platform was a more meager vehicle. Still one of the ships for more senior members of the Empire, it was filled with several of the Empress's personal Nightsister royal guards.

The Empress wore her normal, simple red and black robes with her lightsaber swinging from her belt. Most people knew her as the terrifying woman from the holonet, but the truth was that more often than not she preferred comfort to gaudy intimidation. Of course, you could be more simple looking when you had a star destroyer in orbit.

Thank you, Vex, she said. The truth was that the Empress had some of her own designs for coming here and also had some hesitations about being here. It took a particularly interesting case for her to come at the request of a Champion, but if reports about what Vex had found were true, then it was certainly interesting.

Not to mention, she liked to become acquainted with those she saw as having potential. An eye for talent was always valuable in the Empire.
 

Vex

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Vex lifted her head but didn't rise. In truth, her knee was cramping, but she wasn't about to insult the most powerful woman in the galaxy by rising before she was bid. The Empress was a splendor to behold. Vex had seen her on the HoloNet, and afar at Imperial addresses... but to actually meet her. The power radiating off of her was astonishing.

"In full transparency," she continued. "I could not have taken this planet without the Acolyte Varyn Atrix. I am told he is up for a promotion. I am not his Master, but I would sign my name behind his ascension to Champion." She almost put the word happily in there, but then thought better of it. Varyn was a good Sith. Time would tell if he was also a good friend.

"I have much to discuss with you, my Empress," Vex said. "There is a place beneath this planet that I became aware of after taking the main prison complex from its warden. It is hidden within some old Rakata ruins." The shape of it materialized in her mind and made her involuntarily shiver. "I believe it belonged to the Old Emperor, Darth Sidious. I went to great lengths to confirm this information, my Lady." She didn't bore the Empress with the details of her and Varyn's fights through the catacombs and the mines. Nor the fight with the Guardian. The Empress would ask if she wanted that information. "It is genuine. One of the legendary vaults of Emperor Palpatine, the first of its kind found in decades." @Phoenix
 

Renfry

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Renfry looked around the planet, literally forgetting that people waited for her to tell them to get up sometimes. No matter how long she did this, sometimes it still felt odd.

Oh, get up, she said, waving her hand up. It wasn't the formality that most expected, but she was the Empress, she could be informal if she wanted to be.

High praise and unusual to bring forward an acolyte voluntarily, she said. It was interesting to hear someone giving credit without prompting. Not that she'd ever heard of this acolyte before, but that wasn't really saying much.

I'm sure he'll appreciate the good word at his evaluation proceedings. I'm assuming he didn't get to stay to meet me, then? she asked with a momentarily quirked eyebrow. Not that she cared either way, simply an interesting and possibly contradictory situation.

Indeed? she said as Vex went on to explain all the details of the vault. Sidious was well known to have collected a great many artifacts.

I've run across his storage facilities before, she said, thinking back to the Remnant facility that she and Emryc had raided to find the Kravos holocron many, many years ago. A place ripped straight out of time and an oddity to this day.

Lead the way, she said, motioning forward toward... wherever they were going.
 

Vex

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Vex could almost chuckle at the way the Empress casually mentioned that, oh, by the way, she had also found Palpatine's storage facilities. Of course, she should not have been surprised. Everything she had ever heard about the Empress suggested that she was a master of the arcane. Of those things hidden in the shadows. And it was not as if she would have ever made this information public. Why would a queen tell her subjects everything she discovered?

Still, Vex obeyed, rising and taking the lead. "I'm afraid not," she replied to the Empress' question about Varyn. Her mind conjured the way the boy had looked about the Emperor's vault. His distrust for the place rippled off of him in the Force, and Vex could hardly blame him. Palpatine wasn't exactly known for his hospitable welcomes. "In truth, I think the place spooked the boy. Or—" How best did you tell the Empress you had fought an alien that shouldn't still be alive? "Or it was the guardian that got to him. I must confess, I don't know how to explain it myself. He was... Rakata. Everything I've ever read about them suggests their kind should be extinct. Somehow, Sidious had one guarding the place."

She led them to the mine she and Varyn had discovered. In the weeks since their venture, the Sith Champion had put some of the droids to work constructing a new lift straight down to the temple where the vault resided. It was still a rickty thing, but it would get them down. As they rode, though, Vex shifted uncomfortably in the silence. She had stored the holocron and the Rakata's body down in the vault. There would be time to talk about those down there. In the meantime...

"Forgive my impertinence, my Queen," Vex began. "I have spent these last few weeks getting the prisons under control. The riots I had to begin to take the planet have been quelled, and I've been reviewing the guards that were already here, terminating those I believed to be a danger to our stay here. But... I would put it before you for consideration that we should soon replace them with Sith guards." Vex didn't trust those organics are far as she could throw them. But Sith men and women she could train. "I would take the responsibility of training them myself, of course."

Right about then, the lift came to a halt, and once more Vex stood in the chamber she had nearly lost her mind in. Shadows flitted in and out of her vision, and she shook her head to clear them. "Here we are." @Phoenix
 

Renfry

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Renfry smirked slightly when Vex said that the place had spooked the Acolyte. She couldn't blame him. Most acolytes weren't prepared for the type of things that Palpatine had been involved in. He would learn with time or he'd die. That was the nature of the Sith.

The mention of the Rakata gave her pause, however. She wasn't the most well versed in the Rakata and their history, but she knew they had been very powerful and shouldn't have been alive.

You're certain? she asked, voice becoming a bit more stern. She'd seen some of Sidious's cloning vats and arcane technologies on Exegol, but she'd not seen anything to suggest he could clone Rakatans, let alone that he had.

They mounted the lift and she waved for everyone but the two of them to be left behind.

Remove your helmet, please, she said. It was phrased as a request, but the Champion would know it wasn't one. The Empress, however, had at least done her the courtesy of leaving it so the two of them were alone.

Which face will be ruling the prison? she asked. She was familiar with some of the work that the woman in front of her had done as both Vex and Nahri. The secret was a well kept one, but not from the Empress. She wondered if she would be able to manage both with such new responsibility.

Sitll, she smirked slightly, appreciating the way in which she subtly lobbied for more forces to be placed under her control in the interest of "prison security." She wasn't fooling Renfry, of course, but she didn't think it was intended to.

I don't disagree, though I also have my own revisions for you to implement on this world, she said. It was the woman's confirmation that Renfry intended for her to retain the position of Warden of Belsavis barring any unexpected problems arising.

Here we are, she repeated, eyes scanning over the room. Where's the Rakatan? she asked.
 

Vex

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Vex removed her helmet immediately. This was the Empress. One did not disobey her commands lightly. And besides, the queen likely had many imbedded agents across the galaxy. She would be well-used to them having secret identities. "I am certain, my Queen. I refused to call you here and waste your time until I had the utmost certainty." And she had. But there was nothing she could find to refute its authenticity. "I have found no evidence that there are more of them, but, with Sidious, one can never be certain."

She led the Empress straight to back of the vault where a cryo-chamber rested. She had stuck the body in there, anticipating that the queen would want to examine it herself, and to be sure the elements didn't degrade it in the meantime. While the Empress observed, Vex continued. "Vex will rule this world," she replied, clasping her hands behind her back dutifully. "As Nahri, I am nearly in control of my family's company again. The men who stole the company from my family were using some of their new access to smuggle Wildfire into the Empire. I eliminated them and destroyed any traces of the drug." She grimaced at the thought of the fools. "Anyways, it would be best if that face weren't associated with private prison ownership." And, for good measure, now was as good a time as any to reaffirm her loyalty. "As to your revisions, I will do whatever you ask, my Queen. I intend Belsavis to be the center of my power base within the Empire, but it is a powerbase that is entirely loyal to you. Your orders shall be carried out to the letter."

She adjusted her gaze ever so slightly to the mount where the holocron currently sat. She had no doubt the Empress would want to look at that soon. She was actually curious which the Empress would dissect first—the Rakata, or the device that had so many magical secrets inside of it. Some of which, Vex had scarcely accessed. There simply hadn't been enough time to wrangle it out of the gatekeeper just yet.

"There is one more thing you should be aware of," she announced and inclined her head towards the device. "I discovered it in here as well. The holocron of Darth Phobos. Fascinating thing. It claims to have some magick related to your tribe, my Lady." She inclined her head respectfully. "It is, of course, yours as well."

Vex confessed, she would have liked more time with the device. She had learned a bit about how to conjure phantasms and stain rooms with illusionary presences. But she had not mastered the salve or paste, or whatever concoction that accursed Darth Phobos had created, just yet. She was still new to magic, and since this 'Lord Veles' Altair spoke about was missing-in-action, she doubted she would find a teacher any time soon. So, it was probably best the Empress took it with her. The device would have far more uses in her hands. @Phoenix
 

Renfry

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Renfry looked at the woman, noting she was quite beautiful and wondering how many times that face had worked to her advantage in her other life. It was the other life that she still had some questions and concerns about. She knew Sith assets had been used in acquiring her business, but she also knew that Wildfire had been destroyed as well. She allowed members of the Empire some level of freedom in using their assets to acquire personal gains, but always in reason.

I'm glad to hear that, she said as Vex reaffirmed her loyalties to the Empire. The changes will give you more responsibility, she said. It was a two-edged sword to be sure, and one that would either help or hurt the woman in the long run.

She looked to the body of the cryo-alien, wondering what it was and where it had come from. There was research to be done here, and she wondered if it was to Vex's taste as well. She was almost ready to just dive in right now, but there was still other business to be done.

She was surprised to learn there was something else, and she looked down at the holocron a moment later. It wasn't the name of the Sith Lord that caught her attention, but the mention of Nightsister techniques within that caused a momentary spike of anger in her. She had read in her studies that even dating back to the first Sith, some had known and studied Nightsister techniques, but she never liked the idea of random Sith passing it on to others.

She reached out and took the offered holocron, holding it in her hands for a long moment.

I appreciate this gift, Vex, she said. How much did you use it? she asked. She knew the answer must have been at least a little bit because she knew what was in it, but there wasn't an indication of anger in her tone. The fact that she was giving it up was a rather unusual sign of loyalty... theoretically.
 

Vex

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Here came the complicated part.

Not that Vex was afraid of admitting she had looked within the device, but because in the weeks that had gone by, she had only mastered some of the more basic illusionary spells. The main ritual was coming along, but she had more botches than successes. Magic was always such a delicate matter — more delicate than any ordinary Force technique, that was for sure. "As much as I could," she replied honestly. "The magic is delicate and deals with the mind." She glanced up, as if she could see through thousands of meters of bedrock to where her prisons laid. "Not that I'm lost for test subjects. But the gatekeeper is particularly... prickly. Without a proper teacher, it will take some time to get the right balance down."

In other words, the gatekeeper was a total bitch, more like. It wasn't hard to imagine why Darth Phobos' apprentice had eventually killed her.

"And," Now she chose her tone more carefully. The Empress was notoriously protective of the culture of her homeworld. And the last thing Vex wanted to do was ruin what was otherwise an amicable meeting thus far by being insensitive. "The only part of the holocron I have not touched yet regards your people, my Lady. The gatekeeper let me through, but—" She was suddenly remembering her ventures on Rakata Prime with Altair. The magic gone wrong there. The darkness of it. "—I have learned not to mess with magics I do not understand, from cultures I do not belong to."

Vex felt a sudden need to explain herself. She realized this demonstration of loyalty was unbecouth for a Sith. Most would have hidden the holocron and stolen its knowledge. But Vex was a different type of opportunist. There was value in having the Empress' trust, though she didn't think the woman would show her any favoritism. There was also value in repaying a debt she felt was owed. "When those men took my family when I was girl," she said softly. "I thought my life had been taken from me. My family, my company, my culture, everything." She steeled her voice. Though she wanted to show emotion, she couldn't. Not before the leader of her people. "The Sith, the Empire, gave me the tools to take it back. The least I could do is return something that was once taken from your people."

It came out awkwardly, and perhaps a bit too sentimentally. But she wasn't good at this yet. The most important person she had ever met in the Empire 'till now was her own Master and he— Well, she didn't like to think about him anymore. @Phoenix
 

Renfry

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Renfry smirked slightly as she spoke of what she had learned. So quite extensive use, it sounded like. She couldn't really be that mad about it, but there was one thing that needed clarifying.

Perhaps not such a selfless gift, then, she said amusedly. The mention that she had not touched any of the Nightsister magick was somewhat surprising. She wasn't sure she believed it, but she sensed no lie in the woman's statement.

A wise decision, she said, taking the holocron and placing it aside for now. She listened as the woman began to explain why she had done what she did and displayed the loyalty she did.

The Empress listened somewhat impassively, not expecting such... forthcoming information, and never quite sure if she could believe it. Were it true, it would explain some things, but Renfry didn't really know her well enough for that yet.

I look forward to following your career in the Empire, she said, and it was honest. The Empress had developed something of an eye for talent over the years, after all.

She didn't linger on the story too long partially because she wasn't really sure how to respond, and turned back to the frozen alien.

Have you studied it at all yet? she asked.
 

Vex

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The Empress was terrifyingly calm. In that way, she was different than Vex's Master had been. Vex had always known what he was thinking. When he was pleased. When he was angry. When he was utterly disappointed. But the Empress was imperceivable. The darkness swirling around her was a calm storm, ready to be weaponized, the Champion was sure. But it also made determining how she was doing in this meeting unreadable.

There was a beauty in that kind of strength. One that went beyond the lavish trappings the Empress wore. Vex wondered if she would ever be as regal and frightening all at once one day.

Her crimson gaze flicked to the body of the Rakata. "A little," she confessed. "Our archives have few records of their biology. I didn't want to mutilate the only specimen we might ever get." She tapped a gloved finger on her chin. "When I fought it, it said it had spent eons down here imprisoned. I thought maybe cryogenically, but," She gestured to a large contraption on the far wall of the vault. It looked like a conventional ray shield prison, despite its somewhat antiquated materials. But she knew it was far, far more advanced. "I think it meant that. Rakatan in origin, I believe. Very strong in the dark side."

It would be like Palpatine to turn a species' own technology against them. She briefly wondered if she could ever find a way to make use of that sort of technology. Repurpose it for the prison beneath her very castle. Oh, how it amused her to imagine the Jedi she could lock up with such a device. Perhaps one of the specimen she was no doubt due to encounter on her soon-to-be mission to Ansion.

"Its power was astonishing," Vex continued, returning to her senses and the present moment. "The way it wielded the dark side... I've never seen anything like it." She almost mentioned the nightmares she had been having, but resisted the compulsion. She had already shared too much about herself and it wasn't like the Empress was her physician. @Phoenix
 

Renfry

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Renfry looked and listened. Many people felt the need to speak all the time and even in her younger years, the Empress had been full of... boisterous enthusiasm. Now, she found listening to others often more educational particularly when discussing topics about which she was not an expert.

Which led her to her next point. You've studied the Rakatan, haven't you? she asked. Tell me about them, she said. It was a simple request, and for a moment she was transported back to the afternoon spent with Emryc in the library as he detailed all the history of the Sith to her for the first time. To be sure, she'd always have a voracious appetite for knowledge, and that hadn't changed.

Before Vex could begin - or decline to begin - she held up a hand.

Actually, I'm getting ahead of myself, she said, knowing her eagerness for her hobby such as studying this creature was technically not as important as the other topic she needed to finish discussing: the fate of this planet.

As you've brought Belsavis into the fold, I am placing it under your charge. Away from any of the other prisoners - maybe underground or maybe just in the wastes, I leave it to you - I want you to build a prison for our highest priority prisoners. Namely, I want a place to put Jedi if we capture them, she said. Whether she had wanted to or not, Vex had dug herself into something of a responsibility hole.

I will leave the construction and defense to you as the Warden, but I'd advise you to construct it carefully, she said.

If you don't have questions or concerns about that, then please continue with the Rakata, she said, as she looked at the rather... unusual restraint device.
 

Vex

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Vex thought she heard a flutter of... excitement, in the Empress' voice? She liked to study things. It made sense. They were alike when it came to that. Vex had always been somewhat of a history buff. She had to be. To successfully run a company, you had to know the historical trends in the market—the fluctuation of customer interest. At least, that was how she disguised much of her early interest in the Sith.

Vex herself lit up at the Empresses' command. A prison. A prison for Jedi. She could build that. She had consulted the transcripts of the construction of Fortress Vader when building Castle Gaol. There were certainly some interesting options she could consider from those records. And there were other archives to consult too. Prisons on various worlds to study. But she was getting ahead of herself. She bowed deeply before rising again. "You honor me with this assignment, my Empress," she said. "I shall not fail you."

She then returned her gaze to the Rakata frozen body. It was clear the Empress wanted to know more. So, she did not delay. "The common consensus among historians is that the Rakata used to rule the galaxy. The Infinite Empire, they called it. It ruled in places like Tatooine before the planet was a desert, built the first prisons here, and even built some odd structures on Dantooine, if I recall correctly." She cleared he throat and clasped her hands behind her back, the way she liked to when she was explaining something to an eager listener. "Their claim to fame was that they could use the dark side to fuel their technology. And with it create things we could scarcely imagine."

Now was as good as any time to mention her other project. "As it happens," she continued. "I am wrapping up a project on Rakata Prime as we speak. It is known as Lehon in our star maps." There was still a lot of goop she had to clean up from her and Altair's mission to the planet. The then-Acolyte had left quite a mess of the Sithspawn he had killed. "When that project wraps up, it will be safe to garrison again. And the planet will fall under the Imperial flag. I imagine we can learn much more about them there. Including some of the ways to use this technology Palpatine left behind." @Phoenix
 

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Renfry listened intently, though her gaze wasn't on the Champion. It was on the imprisonment device. She fidgeted with it, looking over the pieces and how they connected. Even now she felt as if the Force was flowing through it in a way she had never quite felt before.

Oh, I can imagine, she said humorously when Vex mentioned the Force flowing through technology. Her early research into abominations had led her to create the Orb of Transformation, and though she had never used it, she had investigated and practiced technomancy so that she could create technological abominations if and when the time came. Although she largely put her research aside eventually due to its profoundly corrupting nature, the topic was not one that she was unfamiliar with.

My, my we have been busy, haven't we? she said, casting a glance back over her shoulder with a smirk. She was impressed, though. The woman had shown initiative where most did not, and in these days that was something to be seriously commended.

Give me a moment, she said, pulling out her comlink and speaking into it in Dathomiri for about thirty seconds or so before hanging up.

Tell me, where do you see yourself in a five years, Vex? she asked. It was one of those "interview" questions, but not simply for the question itself. Renfry wanted to know what the woman wanted. For the Empire to succeed, it needed to provide opportunity to its more capable members.
 

Vex

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Vex was admittedly a little stunned by the question. She vaguely remembered it as a question frequently asked at job interviews, but to hear it come from the Empress of the Sith Empire was unexpected. She didn't need to think. The answer was on her lips before she had fully wrapped her head around the implications of the question. And for once she wasn't shy about the ambitiousness of it. Good Sith were ambitious. Those who were not rotted away and died.

"A Lord," she said, "Or a Lady." She couldn't help the way the title made the corner of her mouth tug up. Lady Vex, or whatever her name would be then. It had a ring to it, though. She had to admit. "Yes, a Lady of your Council. The Empire needs loyal leaders with the ruthless ambition to see its flag fly across every lifebearing planet in the galaxy." She inclined her head. "It is my hope to prove to you I am such a leader, my Queen."

She meant it.

A couple of ruthless, murderous men had tried to put an end to any ambition she ever had. She would repay them by ensuring there was no limits to that ambition, no lengths she would not go to see them accomplished, no ladder she would not climb. She had a feeling the Empress understood that kind of ambition. At least, she hoped so. @Phoenix
 

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Renfry wasn't surprised by the answer. Most Sith aspired to Lordship, though few ever made it there. Many she had seen over the years simply fell apart upon attaining it. Most were killed or removed from their positions. She had removed many of them personally and killed others as well.

And what is it that you want to build for yourself? she asked. People of the Council were expected to build and run things. Or at the least, to take over something that existed and run it well.

I've seen too many Lords reach their rank and then do nothing with it. Sit on the power they've gained, never pushing onward or expanding. Fading into obscurity or worse, she said. It was as much a moment she spent reflecting on what she had seen as as warning to the up and coming Champion.

Don't be like that. If you're going to see it through, see it through, she said.
 
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