"Lady Consul, your appointment has arrived. She is waiting in the hall."
"Thank you, Cupi, do send her in. That will be all."
"Yes, my Lady," the Selenian junior ensign replied, retreating just as quickly to do as she was told. Cupi was an excellent secretary: loyal, efficient, logical; and like the majority of Lucine's staff, recruited out of the local population.
Granted, she didn't need a secretary to inform her of the presence she sensed, but it was a matter of perception, just like her butler Tabriss' presence at her back. This was an important occasion. Everything was in place. A cart and tray arranged flawlessly with a pot of a brew generously selected from her visitor's own shop, her most intricately detailed — and thus intricately textured — set of dining ware, fresh garden finger snacks, and a tin of biscuits all awaited. The window had been let open, the light allowed to shine in, once she'd properly defended her skin. Everything had been cleaned and polished before dawn so that the scent of the disinfectants would long be faded, her normal visitors' chairs tested for comfort replaced by simpler fare that creaked despicably. And, while her appearance would be woefully underappreciated, she had spent her morning ensuring her absolute emotional control.
She was ready.
Footsteps drew closer to the door again, and the redhead's senses screamed. Not quite a warning of danger, but it may as well have been, for the near-social faux paus. With alacriticious speed, she bent at the waist, pried open her bottom drawer on the right with Force-touched strength — Cupi could contact the locksmith later — and rummaged in the various odds and ends until her fingers closed around what she was looking for.
Just in time, she placed the emerald-painted stone on her desktop, next to her light and datapads. The door chimed and swished open, and in stepped Atyiru. The Miraluka's face turned in her general direction, and immediately came that blindingly bright, adoring smile. Lucine made a smile back.
"Atyiru, darling. Welcome, my Lady Emeritus."
"Please, my sunshine sweet, no such titles. If anyone is to be addressed here, it is you." Just so, the Adept stepped forward and bowed deeply in the odd way she did, one knee touching the ground briefly and hands folded as if offering prayer before she stood again. "Thank you for agreeing to see me."
"Of course. Please, have a seat." She gestured, and Atyiru sat. When the wicker creaked, her pointed ears twitched in a way the Human had learned indicated some form of delight. It creaked again as the Miraluka adjusted surely much more than was needed just to make more squeaky noises.
"Thank you, Shadow Lady."
"Would you like some tea? I think you may recognize it. And I have some snacks too."
"It does smell quite lovely, thank you. Just the tea, though. I'm afraid my tummy is quite rambunctious these days about what does and doesn't upset it."
"I do hear that happens. But you're both well?"
Atyiru beamed. "Yes, thank you. And thank you, Tabriss."
"Madame," the Chiss butler offered, bowing. He poured Lucine a cup as well and retreated to his spot as her shadow. They all settled, sipping idly a moment.
"So, darling, what brings you to see me today?"
"We need to talk," Atyiru replied. Lucine's pleasant, professional smile remained perfect, but her fingers twitched, nearly knocking aside her teacup. She tightened her iron-clad grip on herself a bit more.
"Ah, is that so?"
"Indeed. But not about you and I, dear heart. Not today. You can relax."
"I assure you, I am perfectly calm, darling!"
"I can see that. It's good you're so well. I was concerned the war would lend more stress."
"Well I do have our vacation planned."
"For which I'm very excited! But first…"
"What is it, then? A business matter?"
"Yes, and it's important to me."
"What do you need?"
"Lucine, you're a better Consul than me."
Emerald eyes blinked rapidly, her expression faltering before she recovered; but that was alright. Atyiru wouldn't see. As long as she remained in control, all was well.
"That's quite kind of you to say, darling, but I do not quite understand what you are getting at."
"The Arconae need to speak to you. It was thought best I be the one to herald our summons; mostly likely to be accepted from me, as it were."
"You hardly need fear of me rejecting the counsel of my advisors when they believe something should be brought to my attention. Why wouldn't I accept?"
"An overabundance of caution." The Miraluka set down her cup, having drained it. "We are aware of our reputation, and respect your authority — some of the boys may add so far, but bother them — as Shadow Lord. And we would like to do this right."
"Well, I will schedule a meeting posthaste."
"I'm afraid this is urgent. We need to speak now."
"Right now?" The redhead sighed delicately. She disliked having to plan on her feet, even if she was plenty capable of it. "Very well. Shall we convene in the Throne Room?"
"It's a matter rather we would prefer handled elsewhere." The Miraluka smiled and reached out a hand, deftly plucking up the rock on the desk as if she'd known it were there all along. She held it up, spun it in her hands. The emerald paint seemed to gleam like it was the real jewel in the glow of her light-limned hands, despite that it was flaking after several years since she had tasked the Human to paint it as part of her apprenticeship.
"And I know just the place."
It was past noon by the time Zujenia Bleu slipped through a discreet side-door entrance to a set of apartments and back outside into the Selenian heat.
The hybrid glanced around. Her amber eyes flitted briefly over the little symbol carved innocuously into the baseboard of the outer door frame that only a few would understand, then around the little causeway and up along the two buildings she stood between. People strung laundry out their windows, some open, some not. Some waved. She waved back, and proceeded back into the street proper, the sash tied in her hair already gathering extra sweat.
Once she emerged from the shade between the apartments, it was even worse. She quickly got hot under her clothes and shed her outer vest-jacket, tying it about her waist. Her blouse stuck to her furred and spotted shoulders. She brushed a white curl out of her face and squinted in the sunlight as she padded past the apartment buildings' main entrances and into the market square, enjoying the bustle of Estle's smaller, colorful spaces under the open air.
It had been a good day. She'd managed to finish up negotiating the last details of a watch and guard rotation for this location and agreed with the neighbors of the few chosen apartments on keeping things tidy while the empty rooms awaited precious occupants. They were all good people. She trusted them to help.
Her hand brushed over her abdomen, over her lightsaber scars, and the Lotus flower woven into it, over it.
The safe-house network had a long way to go, but this was another step.
As she turned a corner, Zujenia's senses prickled. There was no danger, but a familiar and — to her — foreboding presence had suddenly appeared in her awareness, a concealment of some kind having been dropped. She spun slowly on her heel and looked around, chewing on the inside of her cheek, trying not to let her heartrate pick up.
The bright sun made it a little hard to see, but she was looking for flashes of a knife, for a bend in the light, a warp amidst all the other townsfolk and stalls and shops. Her eyes caught movement, deliberate, and then watched as the cloak dropped too.
Marick Tyris stepped forward, stopped just a few paces away from her, his hands up and empty. He wore dark, formal robes. She didn't see weapons but knew they were there.
"Zujenia," he greeted, without preamble.
"...Marick," the half-Ryn allowed, just short of a grunt. Her back was stiff. "What are you doing here?" Her blood ran cold. "Is— i-is something wrong with Atty? Or the b—"
"No," the Hapan interjected firmly. "She is fine. They are. I am here for you."
The hybrid felt a confusing mix of immense relief and surging caution at once. "...Why for?"
"We need to talk," he said, lilting tones a little less flat than she was accustomed to, as if he was trying to be, what, soothing? As if he could ever soothe. "You have been summoned by the Arconae."
Zujenia had immediately tensed at his approach, and her spine went further rigid then. The light fur on her body lifted, and her short, sandy tail whipped back and forth in agitation as she tried to keep it from curling around her thigh. Dread curdled in her gut, hurdling up through her chest to clog her throat a moment.
"W-what for? What else could they possibly want from me?" she asked after a breath to keep her voice steady. Her amber eyes darted around, looking for those shadowy figures to appear like demons in the daylight, for the threat. They could not be trusted, aside from Atty, and even then…
Her gaze found plenty of exits down many streets, no immediately visible cloaked men blocking them amidst the shoppers, not that that meant they weren't there. She could practically feel the hum of a lightsaber prickling over the back of her neck, waiting to drop. Her hands balled into fists, ready to reach for her staff-saber slung over her back.
Marick actually flinched. Just a tiny thing, around the tightening of his eyes, but she saw it. Then, he nodded.
"I deserve that. We all do, from you, but me more than any of them. No harm will come to you, Zujenia. Nor to your family. We simply wish to talk."
Her guard did not drop. "Why? Why would they want to talk to me?"
"To join them. To join...us."
The hybrid's eyes bulged, and her skin prickled more. Her tail was rigid by now. When she snapped back, her tone had steel in it. "Us? You? Join you? After everything you did? The people you murdered? You betrayed us, you killed."
"After everything I've done."
"You shouldn't even be here."
He just stood there. Zujenia clenched her teeth, fear and dread morphing more into determined anger, sharp and stubborn.
"You're not going to leave unless I go with you, though."
"Are you going to...what...knock me out now and squirrel me away? In the middle of the street?"
A head shake. He simply extended his hand to her.
"I watched you very closely as you handled Shadow Gate and the Journeymen. The Arconae...we need your heart. Your wisdom. Now, more than ever."
She stared at his hand like it was some kind of viper, then looked up again, searching his eyes. They revealed nothing, yet seemingly hid nothing. When she reached out with the Force, she was surprised to not hit the cold wall she expected from him. He left his mind, himself, open and exposed. Hand extended.
"I should not be here, you are correct. But I’m not afraid. I can't fix the past, but I can help make the future better. For their sake, at least. For...hers. Hopefully, that can be enough."
There was no doubting it then, staring into his soul like that. He was telling the truth.
Wasn't that something?
And what was worse...those words struck right in her heart, along the lines of all her scars and the proud ink that decorated them, spreading through her veins, underneath birthmarks and imperfections that she had learned made a whole and not something wrong because it was different.
Make the future better. Make Arcona better, in the one area, the one way, she had always been so scared and dreadful of, the one thing that she had known would always be a threat because it would never change.
But it was changing now? Or it could, if she helped it?
Zujenia's grip on her weapon fell, and her chin lifted.
"Take me to them, then."
She didn't take Marick's hand, but she did step forward, next to him. He nodded to her, then turned away, very clearly leaving his back exposed to her.
The half-Ryn followed.
Strategos Thanatos Entar Arconae looked between the vent above him and the bottle in his hand.
He'd brought whiskey, for the Force's sake, wasn't that good enough? But noooo. The moment he'd walked into the office of their newest Director of the Dajorra Intelligence Agency and uttered the phrase, "We wish to speak to you," the little rat creature had flashed him — with some blinding light trick — and scrambled off into the ceiling ducts, leaving behind tufts of fur on the metal and, moments later, an extremely strong odor of piss. He really should have let Koul do this, the man was a professional...but that would have meant giving the Kiffar the whiskey, and dammit, he wanted it.
He looked back to the vent entryway where his assigned target had disappeared.
"Mmm, no," the man said, and then pivoted on his heel and walked right back out. He was going to enjoy a drink.
The woods were deep. The falling late-afternoon sun had dipped behind the tall, sheltering ridge of the peaks that hid the forest, making it seem like eventide in the boughs, the light muted and gauzy with green. The heat was less oppressive here, the warm ocean winds broken against the cliffs, the shade cast by the countless trees cooling. Damp still hung on leaves, sparkling under the sun, sparkling like the rivers and waterfalls they passed, and it seemed the world was diamond-dotted, the sky above a bright, unblemished azure stretching to the horizons. Birdsong and critter-chatter were the only thing besides their footsteps that disturbed the wide silence of the timeless weald.
"Ugh," grunted Lucine, as her slippered feet squished in mud. There had not been time to change. Her shoes were worth two thousand credits. Atyiru was wearing white, for the Force's sake. Why had she had to pick the Feluriglade as her meeting place?
"We're almost there," the Miraluka assured, reading Lucine's thoughts. "...and oh! The others. They've joined us."
Even as she spoke, another pair of figures quietly slipped through the tall grasses, one a ghost, the other as light-footed as a little jeroba. Atyiru's smile was radiant while her two apprentices took sight of each other.
"Atty!" Zujenia gasped, both glad to see her and still worried. And then, to her sister apprentice, "Lucine, you too?"
"Me too, as it were," the Human replied, nodding to the half-Ryn. "And Marick. A pleasure as always."
The Hapan only blinked and continued walking without breaking stride. Atyiru did too, and the two women could only follow, far as they'd come now. Soon enough they crossed over another gnoll and then down into a small basin, a little tranquil clearing at its sloped center. What surprised the visitors more was debatable: the three other figures there waiting for them, or the graves.
Two were stone statues of wolves, the cythrauls: Kira, Laurian. Four were plain grave markers bearing names: Sashar, Zandro, Orv, Atyiru. The Miraluka paused a moment in front of her own marker and touched her hair, turned a faint smile to those gathered.
"Three of these are a little questionable now, aren't they? Oh well. In the end, they'll still be right."
"Cheery," Terran Koul commented, his dun duster swirling as he stepped forward. "Vasano, Zujenia. Glad you could make it."
"And glad to meet you," said the tall, bald Human next to him, whose voice was quite familiar. "In person, that is. James," he introduced.
Even Lucine blinked at that. Marick just nodded, moving to join them. Atyiru turned to Strategos.
"Were you not able to persuade Kordath, Brother Thanatos?" the Miraluka asked.
"He escaped me, sadly. I did try, but the bastard went into the air ducts and this shirt is new."
"Of course he did," Atyiru, Lucine, and Zujenia all sighed nearly at the same time. The three women paused at their overlapping commentary, and Terran snorted.
"Then if everyone who's going to be here is here…" the Kiffar urged, only for a familiar accent to come calling from the trees.
"Oi, m'here, I'm here, ya bloody karkin' shadow creepin'..." Kordath snapped, emerging into the secluded clearing with his tail lashing and knucklers free of his coat pocket.
"Kord," Zuji exclaimed, reaching out to him, her concern resurging and mingling once more with suspicion to have both of them in one place. She thought of their daughter. "How did you find us?"
"Followed that one, I did, nae trust whatever he was sayin' about talkin'. Heard 'im mention ya, luv, and no way was I gonna let ya do this alone...whatever this is." The Ryn squeezed her hand, glared at the others.
"We left a note. With directions. And a map," Terran deadpanned. Strat pointed at the bounty hunter, nodding.
"I am also curious as to what is going on here," Lucine intoned smoothly before Kordath could sputter. "Here you have us, now what is the matter at hand?"
"Well, you are, my dears," Atyiru said, turning to face them, her bright figure the tip of a spearpoint formed by the other Arconae on either side of her. "As we've explained…we needed to talk to you, all of you."
Behind the five, shadows shifted. From between the behemoth forms of each tree appeared various figures, all draped in robes or armors, all different shades of black, all bearing in gold the symbols they all called home. Wuntila. Sashar. Timeros. Others they did not recognize. Every one of them, standing, watching, tipping their heads in nods of acknowledgement.
"Things have changed, and they are still changing," the Miraluka began. "You have all done so much for this Clan, our Clan. You have bled and suffered for it and believed in it even at its worst and fought to make it better than what it once was. You have all done so much...And now it needs you to do even more."
"What do you mean?" Lucine asked yet again, while Kordath and Zujenia listened, waiting.
"It is time for some of us to go away for awhile. Things we must do, for the Clan."
"How many of you? When? Why?" the Consul questioned.
The Miraluka gestured behind her, to those amidst the trees. "Some of us," she repeated. "Now. And because it is so."
"Even Timeros? I did not think it possible for him to leave the Clan."
"Oh, he'll never leave Arcona, even if he leaves here. Don't worry. He's just got years to be, things to assure."
"You mean places to be?"
"Hmm? Well, yes, of course, those too. Yes, some of us are going, but if you ever really need us, any of us, you know how to reach us. We will always answer. But that is not the point here, dear."
"So what is?" Zujenia demanded at last, lifting her chin. Her husband voiced his agreement.
"As I said, some will go. Some of us have been called back. Some of us will stay. And some of us...the three of you...must begin."
A pause. Then, fourteen voices rose in unison from the shadows, joining hers.
"We name each of you di Tenebrous Arconae."
Kordath swore. Zujenia balked. Lucine showed rare surprise, and then an even rarer, more genuine smile.
"You cannae think I'll believe this. Where's ta black bags? The bloody backstabbing?"
"Oh, believe it, Bleu. Bleus."
"Just like that?" Zuji muttered.
This time, Marick spoke, "There is no just. You all acted. You all earned. Now, continue." There was no room in his tone for question. Others in the clearing nodded. The ones in the trees had faded away when the pronouncement was over, their duty done.
A short silence followed, before the Consul inquired, "Well then, darlings...what comes next?"
"Now, now is the part where you get kidnapped so that Mejas can do his work. Point to Kord for calling it."
"I'm sorry, what?"
Atyiru smiled pleasantly, and that was the moment when the three new Arconae collectively realized that while they had been allowed to see some of the others departing, she had also mentioned others being summoned back.
It was also just in time for the black sackclothes that fell over their heads from behind, inked needles waiting for their skin.
"Hello there," Orv Dressrx said with a faint, dark chuckle that was somewhere between menace and amusement. His pale, withered face twisted with a lean grin. "Arcona Invicta..."
Today, it is our honor and pleasure to present Kordath, Lucine, and Zujenia.
Firstly, Kordath. Kord is active enough to run just about every other club member in history out of the rankings. The man is a competition machine, both in making them and doing them (literally over one thousand participated in competitions, and often winning something therein). He has served in every single available level of leadership in Arcona, some twice over, from BTL of Dark Forge and Nighthawk to Galeres Aedile and Quaestor, Proconsul to myself and then Consul in his own time, and Rollmaster for the second time, a spot he's managing not long following his Consular retirement — the longest the man has been out of active summit leadership in Arcona was five months. He's been at it since only three months after he joined, and never truly stopped leading anyway, since he's always held some DC assistant position. Seven consecutive years in serving Arcona directly, including every major event from the Dark Crusades up to the latest Great Jedi War. He's loyal, he's always there, and he's a good friend and good man.
Secondly, Lucine. Lucine is our current Consul and most poised, has held us together admirably through possibly a much more dangerous thing than conflict on all sides: prosperity. It is easy to relax when we're on top, when the summit positions are mostly filled, and things are stable. Stability taken too far is how we rot, but we have not rotted — she has led us to victory in the most recent War. Lucine has shown exemplary service in her leadership from her time as BTL up to Aedile, Quaestor, and then Consul. Her influence is a calm one but her wisdom for diplomacy and occasional stringency has served her well in being the guardian that has stood her ground against the loudest of voices. She is not only an ACC champion but a darling amidst her peers, and she has defended us when we needed defending. She has made Arcona better as a whole, and served selflessly to be our leader even when real life has thrown tragedy, hardship, sickness, and literal hurricanes at her, just like she's stood by her patients through all those things.
Lastly, but not at all least, Zujenia. Zuji has served in multiple mid-level leadership spots within the Clan in her time, notably Aedile and Battleteam Leader but most prominently as Rollmaster. She is the perfect example of the ideals any of us should wish to embody, deserving for her spirit and caretaking of our dear Arcona itself. Zuji is just that, a caretaker. She is one of our greatest, kindest mentors and members, and is the voice for every single Arconan, but most especially those misunderstood, challenged, or otherwise struggling; she is inclusive of all and has a particular ability to connect to and help those that no one else could, and its shown in her retention and inclusion of members of this Clan regardless of whether or not she was responsible for them. She has never needed a summit position to perform that work — she merely does it. She is without doubt the biggest reason Arcona has as many healthy members as it does today, and that those members have been here and willing and able to win us yet another War. She is treasured beyond worth or measure even if it goes almost undocumented, given how much she takes upon herself in holding our people together on her own time and in more private forums. We owe her deep respect for what she has done.
As you can probably surmise from these members' contributions, each has demonstrated the core values we believe embody the spirit and presence of a Clan paragon: long term dedication, composure and poise as a leader, and a compassionate force for inclusion and change in the community. Each has gone above and beyond the call of a typical leader or member in the Clan's long history. Their efforts represent the underlying truth to Arcona’s success.
For all these reasons, the Arconae have unanimously decided to welcome Kord, Lucine, and Zuji as the fifteenth, sixteenth, and seventeenth di Tenebrous Arconae. Congratulations, y'all.
On behalf of the Arconae
Abbey and James
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