::: APPROXIMATELY 653 PARSECS GALACTIC-WEST OF BELKADAN :::
Lady Mei'li Bluedark was a Sith Lord, but one seldom realized it when caught by her charm as Colonel Darius Picard often was. She had skin of pristine porcelain with the scars of war all but invisible, except for a well hidden sliver that rested at the baseline of her raven hair. Her simple black gown, which lacked any elegance in its design, accentuated her pale face and tiny waist. Yet even as she wore such a common dress, there was an air of grace in her movement and carriage; something she had learned and inherited from her mother. Her father, however, gave her his angular, emerald eyes, a sensitivity to the Force, and stubbornness that rivaled the falumpaset. Though nearing her fortieth nameday, Lady Bluedark had a youthful appearance that often made her Sith peers mistake her for a person with a fragile spirit. But for those that knew her well, knew she had the pride and strength of the ancient Ogasawara warriors flowing through her blood.
Even as she leaned, exhausting herself, over the small medical tube in a deep trance, pride was evident in the way she held herself. She was the wife of a powerful Sith who had been a Darth since the Treaty of Coruscant. While only a Lord herself, and admittedly less accomplished than her older husband, she had his name, reputation, and bore his twin children who had been blessed with their father’s dominant Sith Pureblood traits. While others may fear this to show weakness in their own genetics, Lady Bluedark knew this was a gift for her son and daughter, Wei’Misini and Sartori’li. The Force was in their favor that they would one day go on to become Sith themselves, and it was no secret that Sith Purebloods were favored over Sith of human genetics. One day, her children would rise to a higher rank in Imperial Society than she could ever reach; and it was likely, that even now, pureist already viewed her six year old children at a higher standard than her simply because of their red markings.
In an ideal world, Korriban would be in their future--and that may very well be the case for Wei'Misini. But there was a harsher reality the Bluedarks faced: Sartori'li was ill. While this problem was not broadcasted across the galaxy, it had become known, by some within the Imperial Military, that the family had become targets of rogue Jedi assassins. A year had nearly passed since Sartori was given her illness, and despite the trials of numerous doctors, bio-scientists, Force healers, and rituals, no cure was forthcoming. Desperation nearly drove Mei'li to seek Jedi healers, but she dare not expose herself and her family to the vile Order that allowed this to happen. The Black Death, as they had come to call it, wasn't merely an illness or disease, but rather a biological virus that had been developed by Mei's twin sister, Xia'li, a rogue Jedi Knight, to target those of the Ogasawara bloodline. While her sister was long deceased, there remained an unbreakable connection through death that Mei'li, and now Sartori, could not shake.
The young child lay still in her medical tube, which had been properly sealed and pressurized for travel. Her crimson skin had turned a sickly, pale grey, her breathing was rapid, and her yellow dress had been stained by sweat. Her mother hovered over the encasing, keeping the young girl in an unnatural deep sleep.
Colonel Picard stood quietly in the doorway of the child's room and watched Lady Bluedark with his chin raised. He was the ideal picture of an Imperial Officer with a strong, stern facial structure, square jaw, and unquestioned confidence. He was classically handsome in his pressed Imperial uniform, with his dark brown hair, as it always was, cut to the appropriate length and slicked back, giving him a clean, crisp look. Yet even as he remained focused on his duty to protect the mother and her child, he felt heartache watching them. Having been born into a cold Imperial military family, he had never seen his own mother display such pure and honest love for a child as he saw with Mei’li.
There was nothing false about her, which, for a Sith Lord, was something he had not expected. It was hard to believe that a woman with such a pure heart could be married to his Commander. Darth Kaatulf Bluedark, “The Oathbreaker”, was a war-hardened Sith, stubborn yet decisive in his command, and had significant years of battlefield experience by the time he formed the 20,078th, better known as Oathbreaker's Irregulars, shortly after the Treaty of Coruscant. Back then, Picard had only been an Ensign with a few years of service under him, but he boldly submitted himself to the Darth's every command. He learned quickly what it meant to serve under a Darth. It was a prestigious move for his career, but it became much more. Like the others in the Irregulars, Picard too became fervently loyal to the Sith--a loyalty that now extended to Lady Bluedark and their children. Picard’s assignment was to protect Darth Oathbreaker’s family and not intrude on their everyday life. So he kept his grey eyes forward, and remained alert to every sight and sound on the starship. He had never been compromised by any assignment, and yet as he heard Lady Bluedark let out a soft sigh, his eyes shifted to her.
Slowly, Mei'li withdrew from Sartori’li, and folded her hands into her lap. She caught her breath and both she and the Colonel watched the young girl for signs of discomfort. Travel through space had proved time and time again to be problematic for the child. The H-Type Nubian yacht was ideal in comfort and sound, but the hyperjumps and pressurization, and even the vibration of the starship had harmed her in ways no one completely understood. She suffered seizures, mysterious rashes and extreme sensitivity to touch, sight and sound.
And that was only the surface of her problems when she traveled.
Sartori shifted only slightly but stayed in her heavy slumber.
“She'll be okay now,” Mei'li whispered in a soft voice that only had a hint of an Imperial accent that she had developed over the years of living in the Empire. She remained seated, too exhausted to move; or was it the sweet scent of millaflowers keeping her drowsy? She wasn’t sure at this point, but looked at Picard. “How long has it been?” It felt like hours had passed; there was no concept of time when she placed her daughter into a trance-like sleep.
Picard straightened. “Thirty minutes, my lady,” he said promptly, as if answering his commanding officer. His thirty years of Imperial service was evident in his thick Kaasian accent. Yet as he looked directly at her, he softened ever so slightly.
Mei'li sighed, defeated, and looked back at Sartori. “Is that improvement?”
Her hope was gone. Yesterday she was alive and believed there was hope yet in this war-torn galaxy. Sartori had her good days, but she all too often had her bad days. If only this job were as simple as guarding and watching over the pair. It was heartbreaking, and Picard felt there was nothing more he could do without going beyond the limits of his job.
He took a step towards her.
“Try not to lose faith,” he comforted her the best he could at a professional distance. “Just the other day you were telling me of this Darth Immanitas and Darth Malazin and how she may be able to help.”
“I know,” her brow creased with concern. There had been so many disappointments. “But you see how hard all of this is on Sartori. What if this medical facility isn't…. perfect enough? What if the medical staff or their droids aren't careful enough with her? What if--”
Picard took another step and came to kneel at her side. “My lady,” he interrupted her and placed a hand over hers. Both of their eyes shifted to his forbidden touch, yet neither was quick to recoil. There was only a breath of silence before he cleared his throat and dared to look up at her. “There are…” he spoke slowly as her gaze met his, “many ‘what ifs’ in life. But you will never know unless you take this chance.”
Mei'li lingered on him a moment before pulling her hand from his. She looked back at Sartori and heard the Colonel clear his throat once more.
“What if…” Picard continued. “...what if this works? What if they have a way to cure her? What if this is the first step to giving her a normal life? These are the ‘what ifs’ you should focus on, my lady, not these... negative fears,” he look to the child as well and saw that her breathing had slowed...as if she felt Mei's fear subside.
“The Taris system seems so far away,” Mei'li said.
“Yes, but I feel better having Sartori--and you for that matter--closer to the heart of the Empire,” he explained. “Your husband would agree if he were here, wouldn’t he?” he looked to her and forced a smile. “IC-711 is far from any of the main hyperlanes and trade routes--and not to mention our strong Imperial fleets. From my vantage point, it is too vulnerable right now.”
“You kept me safe there, and my sister never knew of it when she was alive,” Mei countered. “Her people know--”
“--Her connection to you goes beyond the knowledge she had when she was alive, my lady. You know--”
Sartori stirred in her sleep, and let out a soft cry as she winced, but did not wake.
“Shh…” Mei ordered and looked back to Sartori. “She does not like when we speak of her…” Mei said softly, closing her eyes as she hovered over the glass container, resting her head against her arm as she willed the girl back into calmness. It was all she could do, though she wished she could do more.
Picard's jaw tightened as he watched her. “You should retire to your quarters, my lady,” he suggested as much as it was an order, knowing all too well Mei's tendency to forfeit her own health for the sake of her daughter. “I assure you, I'll wake you should miss Sartori need you.”
Mei listened but did not look to him. “You really think I can rest?”
“No,” he answered, honest and stood up. “But she senses your presence. Come, my lady,” he placed a hand on her shoulder and she looked up at him, giving a slight nod. “You can only stay awake for so long before your body starts telling you what it needs. It’s best to listen to it early, hm? She'll be all right,” he assured further as he aided her to her feet.
“I'm terrified to lose her, Colonel,” she said, shaking her head as he led her out of the room and to her chambers. “I haven't been away from her side, and now…” she sighed. “If something happens to her and I'm not there--”
“--Don’t,” Picard said, and stopped her in front of her chamber door. He watched her carefully as her gaze shifted back towards Sartori's room, then shifted into her view, attracting her attention again. “What do you feel in your heart? If meeting this Darth Malazin is a mistake and you feel it deep inside, then yes, we should turn around and return to IC-711 and tell Darth Immanitas straight out that you wish not to return to Imperial space and instead wish to live with heartache and fear in isolation on a barely functional Imperial Colony.”
She didn't answer; especially when he put it that way. Her heart and mind were clouded with doubt. There had been many failures. Everyone she had gone to before could not help her daughter. Sith alchemist, medical doctors, herbal healers.... even her own brother, Ke’rii, could only figure out how to manage her symptoms (though he was not a doctor). The difference between them and Darth Malazin was yet to be learned.
“I thought when I killed her she would be gone forever,” Mei responded, but more to herself than to Picard. She sighed. The Black Death was more than just an illness. The random way it seemed to spread and plague its victim had to be controlled by her deceased twin, who appeared now only as a black mist that only few could see.
“Everything dies, my lady,” Picard's words were meant to provide comfort, but as he said them, he realized what little help they actually did when Mei looked up at him. He cleared his throat. “By that, I mean that--”
“It's all right, Colonel, I know what you mean,” she said, her voice soft and understanding as always. “How long until we reach the Taris system?”
“At our present speed and course, we should be arriving within twelve standard hours.”
Mei’li gave in and nodded before opening her chamber door. “I will rest then,” she said, looking back as she hovered in the door frame. “Get me if Sartori wakes, please.”
Picard inclined his head. “Of course, my lady.”