View Full Version : [FIN] Lessons in Pazaak

11-08-2007, 02:43 PM
Dust and grit swirled around her; it crunched beneath her boots and between her teeth. She spat and flipped her Bothan visor down, squinting under the glare of the too-close sun. She couldn't remember what planet she was on -- she could barely remember her own name.

She hunched her shoulders under the long coat and decided it didn't matter -- her name, the planet's name -- this was her last attempt.

Swimming in the reflection of the yellow sun's heat, a tiny settlement shivered in her vision. Nestled between sand dunes, only the peaks of strangely slanted roofs could be seen. The exile hooked her lightsabres to her belt, pulled up her hood and set off towards the only signs of habitation she could detect on this sand-pit of a planet.

She lost track of time, each step feeling exactly like the last -- hot, painful, futile. She turned her face down, away from the scouring wind and sand and watched her feet leave prints that blew away before the next step had even begun. She staggered, and thirst tore at her throat, but she left her life-support kit in her pack. Her need would be greater later.

How long had she been trudging through this scalding, clutching sand? Her body was limp with exhaustion when she finally raised her eyes to discover a wall looming before her. No matter how she leaned back, she couldn't seem to see the top of it in the dust clouds that hovered overhead.

Closer inspection revealed a small portal, just above her head. She reached up and rapped sharply on it with dry, cracked knuckles. After a moment, it slid open and, although she could see nothing through the tiny space, a rough voice addressed her from the other side of the wall.

'Wat's yer bizniz?'

'I have an appointment to keep.'

'Wat's d'password?'

Password? There had been no mention of a password. The exile fought to keep her temper in check -- and failed.

'I have no need of a password,' she snapped.

'You have no need of a password,' repeated the voice obediently, and a small door appeared in the wall and opened.

He had said that she would know where to go -- that it would be unavoidable.

The narrow streets of the tiny settlement were completely abandoned, but she could feel eyes on her from every window -- barely more than slits sliced into the permacrete walls. She kept her face lowered, deep inside her hood.

She listened.


She tamped down her rage -- but the pain and futility of her search rose up inside, choking her. Countless worlds, countless seedy space ports, barren seas -- to her amazement, she felt a panicked sob rise up from her chest. She ground her teeth around it and swallowed it.

There is no emotion, there is only peace.

When her hands stopped trembling, she began to walk. A flash, like the sun reflecting from one of the distant rooftops, caught her eye. With nothing left to follow, she turned and started off in the direction of the setting sun.

Time slipped away from her again, leached by exhaustion, thirst and pain. When she slipped out of her haze, she realized with a start that she was no longer alone. Her heart leaped and, turning to the footsteps that shuffled behind her, she kept the eagerness out of her face.

She needn't have bothered.

While she could make out only shadows in the covered doorways that lined the streets, two figures were clear in the twilight. Two young, ragged louts had her neatly penned at the end of a closed alley, their darkened teeth wet in shifty smiles.

' 'Ey, marster Jedi, can ye 'elp out some thirsty laddies?'

She licked her cracked lips as her eyes narrowed and assessed the situation. The young men were definitely in a bad way, their skin blackened and split, their eyes yellow with jaundice. But they, both of them, moved with the cunning purpose of a starving hssiss.

'I can give you water,' she replied, her voice low and harsh.

'Oh, marster Jedi, we thinks ye can give us more'n dat,' the larger of the two leered. 'Th'likes o' ye don't come by dis way very offen. We canna be lettin' ye go away unwelcome-like.'

'My friend here,' he gestured to the smaller of the pair, who tilted his head to the side, his neck cracking and popping with the movement as he grinned, ' 'E don't like Jedi much. 'E'd much rather let ye bleed out onna street, here. Me? Oi'd like ta shows ya some fun, first.'

The young men approached, low to the ground, in slow fighters' crouches. The exile stared at their emaciated forms and was unwilling to heap more suffering on them. She reached for the Force and willed them to be still.

They kept moving.

Aghast, she watched the galaxy's life energy disappear into the two fiends. The smaller one smiled even wider, unnatural lips loose with joy.

'Y'see? Dat wat Oi loves about ye Jedis,' slobbered the larger one. 'Y'feeds us.'

'Now, m'friend, here. 'E's still bitter-like, abouts our families bein' sucked up an' burnt awa' by da Jedis from the skies. But Oi sez we can has our fill before we burns ya.'

The two shuffling forms circled in the growing shadows. Where she should feel rage, hatred and hunger from them, there was only emptiness. The exile stilled her breath and calmed her heartbeat. Her eyes scanned the surrounding area, weighing tactics and calculating advantage. She would lay even odds that her lightsabres would be as useless as Force powers against these two -- and she was spent and weary.

Wisdom had its uses.

The exile dropped a flash grenade and, with a quick twitch of her hand, activated the stealth generator at her waist. As her two opponents clutched their eyes and howled, she folded her body through a tiny gap in the alley and slid down a narrow passageway.

Blind, lost and confused, she moved as silently as she could. She could hear the enraged shrieks of her pursuers echoing from the settlement's high rooftops. She gasped as she heard more voices take up the call, then groaned as she encountered another wall.


Muttering a string of curses that she hadn't used since she was 'General' to a rag-tag group of Republic soldiers, the exile searched the walls for any niche, any crack, that might act as a foothold to climb, but the sandy permacrete was unyielding. Her fingers scrabbled across the wall's surface as her breath came in dry sobs.

There! A miracle! One slab of the wall felt -- different. The dimensions seemed big enough for it to be a door -- an escape. If she could just get back to her ship, she could wash this place from her memory. She pressed on the wall to no effect. She poked and pulled until her fingertips were slick with blood. She felt an indented groove, perhaps a lock of some sort, but couldn't seem to focus on its mechanism.

I was never any good at this stuff. I never had to be. He was always there.

She slammed her palm against the stubborn door.

What have you left me to?

To her dismay, the grunting howls of her pursuers were getting closer. They'd discovered her escape route! She sobbed again, and pounded on the door. 'Open, dammit!!' she whispered. 'Please, open!!'

'Just say the word ...'

The filthy little planet tilted beneath the exile's feet at the sound of that voice, so cocky and sure. She spun. Even in the gloom she knew that lean form, that arrogant pose.


She wasn't sure if she saw his grin in the darkness, or if she just knew the familiar sight of it so well that it manifested in her mind's eye.

'Let me take care of this,' he said and turned to the tiny door. In less than a heartbeat it was open. He grabbed her hand and pulled her with him. Then he shut the door behind them.

11-08-2007, 02:44 PM
The darkness inside was blessedly cool. She stood, knees weak, gasping in the chilled air. His arm was still around her, supporting her. She should move. She knew he could feel her trembling, but it was all right. With him, it was all right, because he knew. He had always known. It was she who had been blind.

Straightening, the exile steadied herself. His hands dropped away and she felt bereft. The sickly green glow of a gleam emitter sputtered into life, and she saw his grey eyes watching her.

“Damn. You look like bantha fodder.”

Somewhere, deep in her belly, a knot eased.

“Flattery will get you nowhere, Atton,” she replied, her voice calm and modulated.

“You hurtin’?”

The question startled her, but she took a quick inventory. “Less than I would expect, actually.” She raised her eyes to him and nodded. “It feels better in here.”

His eyes never left her, but she couldn’t read him. Of course.

“You have been hiding from me,” she chided.

“Yeah, well, you started it.”

She smiled. Oh, Light, it felt good to smile.

“Yes. I guess I did.”

She studied his face in the sputtering green light. It had been so long. I missed you.

He was smiling, too. His hand reached for hers and he began to walk, the path leading steeply downwards, deep into the planet.

“Atton. What is this place? Why here?”

“C’mon gorgeous, you don’t think I chose this hole, do you? Not a glass of Juma or Twi’lek dancer to be had!”

“Of course,” she sighed.

“It makes sense, though, if you want to think about it.”

No, I don’t. Not really. But she allowed him to continue.

“Those walking Force vacuum nightmares on the surface, they’re perfect for deflecting the attention of anyone who might be looking for a Jedi who doesn’t want to be found.”

The horror of those empty souls came back to her. “Those people, Atton, what are they? What do you know about them?”

He paused in their descent to slant a strange look at her.

“I know as much about them as you do,” he said. “Maybe some kind of strange Sith Force experiment, maybe just collateral damage from the Jedi Civil War – or even echoes of Malachor V – it’s hard to say these days, what’s caused that kind of injury.”

Still, they descended. The lower they went, the cooler the air became. After a while, the walls became slick with moisture. She wanted to lean her face against the chilled stone and cool her thoughts as well…but they walked on.

His long fingers wrapped around hers were her only connection to real time and space. She could feel the calluses on his palm, where a blaster’s hilt would rest, and the strong muscles and tendons that could finesse a light-sabre better than anyone she’d ever known. She focused on that hand, the solid feel of it, remembering it – the way he flipped a pazaak card carelessly as they plotted their next move on Nar Shadda, the way his fingers manipulated the delicate workings of a lock … or a frag mine. The way he had touched my cheek, only once, before we left Korriban.

She knew she should be focusing on her task at hand, but dammit, she could barely remember what it was. She hadn’t seen him for so long, couldn’t she just enjoy this moment? Maybe we can walk like this forever.

But, too soon, the rounded a final bend in the twisting cavern and faced another door – locked of course.

“Why don’t I just let you deal with that one,” she said, fighting the upward pull on her lips.

He grinned, but didn’t reply. Instead he produced a key card. “Can’t be breaking in everywhere we go, can I?”

And she laughed.

Looking pleased with himself, Atton swung the large door inward. “Here it is, sweetheart. Sanctuary. For now, at least.”

She peered through the doorway, slightly confused. The small room was laid out like a cockpit – similar to the Ebon Hawk, actually. Holocron stars sped across the walls that had been carved almost to resemble the windows.

She raised one pale eyebrow at him. He raised his hands in mock defence.

“Hey now, don’t look at me. I’m not the interior designer. Strange, I admit, but it could be a hell of a lot worse.”

“Yes, I suppose it could.” She walked past the two worn pilot’s chairs, her fingers drifting lightly over the worn upholstery. “This feels … familiar, comfortable.”

“Then it’s doing its job.” Atton sat in the port-side chair – where he belonged – and leaned back, his feet up on the console.

“Don’t put your feet on the console,” she muttered, and laughed again as she realized that he’d echoed her familiar words, that he’d provoked those words.

She sat across from him, the seat feeling like it had been made for her. “So, what do we do now?”

He smiled again, and held up his pazaak deck.

“We wait.”

11-08-2007, 02:45 PM
She bit her lip as she pulled her pazaak deck from her pack in a cloud of dust. She shot a sheepish look at Atton and attempted without success to brush years' worth of dirt and neglect from the cards. Not one had escaped the ravages of time and travel – bent and dog-eared, the deck looked disreputable indeed. Her old friend looked pained as he noted the damage.

“You should treat your side deck with more care than that. Your side deck is what you bring to the table. It’s what separates you from every two-bit wannabe huckster this side of Nar Shadda.” He grimaced as he watched her endeavour to smooth out a +3/-3 card that looked like it had been used to prop a blast door open. “Without that deck, you’re stuck with what’s dealt to ya.”

“I know, I know,” she said, feeling foolish. “It…it’s just that I haven’t played in a very long time.”

“Yeah, I know.”

She glanced up and caught his gaze, only for a moment, and then his nimble fingers were dancing over the game deck, shuffling the cards in a blur of motion. When he looked up again, his cocky grin was back in place.

“All right, let’s see how rusty you are.”

She lost the first four games happily.

Four, six, three, six, stand. Five, nine, four, four, flip the +/- 4 for 18. Stand. Lose to 19.

Time disappeared in the whir of shuffling cards and Atton’s casual banter. She floated in the sound of his voice.

Seven, one, one, four, three, five for 21.

After she dropped the fifth game in three straight sets, he gathered up the cards and sighed. “You’re not even trying,” he reproached.

“Maybe you’re just too good for me.”

He threw back his head and laughed. And she felt pleased with herself.

“Not even a shell-shocked Hutt is gonna believe that one, sweetheart. Now, c’mon, concentrate. You’re not even looking at your side deck. Come on!"

Puzzled at his change of tone, she complied. Her hand was actually pretty helpful – three +/- cards of various denominations, a -2 and a 2/4 switch – an interesting arsenal. She gave him a quick, hard smile. “All right flyboy, you asked for it.”

He laid down a 7 in front of her, and a 4 in front of himself. She nodded once, and he added a 6 to her pile and an 8 to his – 13 and 12. She nodded again – 8 and 7.

“I think I’ll stand here,” he grinned.

“Dammit!” She tossed down her precious -2 side cards to tie the set and glared at him.

He raised his hands in front of himself. “Hey now, sometimes luck is just luck!” She felt his low chuckle deep in her chest where it vibrated pleasantly, so she scowled and gestured for him to deal again.

He did.

Two, six, three, four, eight for 23, 2/4 switch card for 11, eight for 19. Stand.

This time, she won handily. He managed to steal one set before she took the hand. There was approval in his smile. “Much better. Now I know you’re paying attention.”

She allowed herself a small half-smile and shifted in her seat, trying to alleviate a persistent cramp that had been building up in her back. A flare of pain crackled from her hip to her shoulder and she gasped.

He looked up, his grey eyes taking in everything.

“You’ve changed your hair.”


“Your hair. It’s longer and not pinned back so severely. Do you want another card?”

She shook her head, trying to follow him. She glanced down at the 5 sitting before her. “Yes, of course, another.”

He dealt her another 5, and added a 3 to the 10 in front of himself. She nodded sharply, one hand massaging the ache in her back. He dealt a 4 to her and a 7 to himself. She sighed and nodded, grimacing as he dealt a 7 to her hand.

She focused on her side deck and placed a -6 card down and nodded to Atton again. This time, he dealt a 5 for the tie. She huffed with impatience and pinched the bridge of her nose as he shuffled again.

“Why did you hide from me?” she asked suddenly. A looming headache was becoming a dull roar behind her eyes.

His eyes seemed sad as he regarded her. “You’ve been hiding from me since day one,” he accused.

“I know…I know…but you know why, now. Don’t you?”

Eight and eight for 16. Plus four could give me the 20. Draw for three. Stand at 19.

His slow smile could have broken her heart. “I do.”

Suddenly, she was loath to give up any more of her side deck cards and her cautious play allowed him to win the next two sets. “Are you just going to give this to me?” he asked, concern in his eyes.

“I’m not giving it to you,” she protested. “I just…I just can’t …”

He stared at her with blatant disbelief, so she squared her shoulders and took a deep breath. “Fine. Just deal.”

She managed to win two sets in a row, but exhausted her side deck to do so. With no resources left, she gave up the winning set to Atton.

“There, you see?” She was startled at the petulant note that wound its way through her words. She resisted the urge to clamp her hands around her mouth and over the sound.

The exile reshuffled her side deck and dealt five more cards to herself – +/-2, +4, -3, +/-1 and +3. Her headache had drifted up over her skull and seemed to be setting up house in the right side of her face. She glowered at the cards. She glowered at him.

“I needed you.”

“No. You didn’t.”

“Didn’t you want me to find you?”

“No. I didn’t want you to need me.”

Six and nine is 15. Plus four, stand at 19. Nine and two, plus six, flip the +/- 3 for 20.

They tied three more sets before Atton stole a win. “That’s it. You made me work for that one!”

She bit down on her own simmering frustration as she took inventory of her depleted side deck – only two cards left. Atton had one in his.

A 9 floated down in front of her, a 4 in front of him. The barest twitch of her finger and a 7 joined her card and an 8 his. She laid down her +4 card for 20 and waited. Atton drew another 4 and then 10.

He said nothing, but watched her intently as he dealt again. Her skull felt like it was cracking open.

Eager to end this round, she drew aggressively – and gave Atton another set.

He dealt again, this time dropping a 10 in front of the exile and a 6 for himself. When he added a 9 to her hand she leaned back in her seat and watched him. He pulled a 5, then a 4 and another 2 – 17 and 19 were laid out on the table. Atton’s eyes didn’t leave hers as he drew the 3.


She stood.

And fell to her knees.

She saw his face as she fell, his eyes full of pain.

It reminded her of something – some time – but it was ripped from her head by the agony that knifed down her back, through her hip and into her legs. She clutched at her head as her vision swam and shifted.

Atton was there beside her, his arms holding her up and his fingers in her hair. He whispered in her ear, but she couldn’t make any sense of his words.

“It’s not fair to lose is it?? You play well, you play smart, and still you can lose.”

His lips brushed her temples as she trembled on the cold, stone floor.

“But you can’t be angry at the cards, you know. We’re all dealt from the same deck. If you start being angry at the cards – or the other players – you’ll lose for sure.”

Her fingers clung to the front of his familiar jacket, scrabbling blindly for him. “Atton? Atton! Please, I can’t…I can’t…!”

“You have to, sweetheart. I’m sorry. I’m so sorry, but you have to.”

His arms felt solid around her. She tried to calm her thoughts, calm her voice. But the chains of panic kept winding their way around her mind, around her words.

“Let me stay with you here, Atton. Please.” She hated the note of pleading that twisted through her. But she couldn’t stop. “I thought I’d be all right without you. I thought I could go on. But every damned time I turn around, you’re not there. You’re driving me crazy!”

His fingertips stroked her face, trailed over her eyes and down her cheeks, following the trail of tears that flowed from her sightless eyes.

“I’m always here, Cora. Every time you look for me, I’m right here.” His voice vibrated through his chest and into her spine. “You’ll always be right here with me, playing pazaak, where they can’t reach you.”

“Atton. I can’t see you anymore. Why can’t I see you?”

She swore she could feel his breath ruffle through her hair, her long hair, silver curls matted to her face with blood and sweat.

“Remember to look at your side deck. The cards you bring to the table and the choices you make, that’s where you’re different. That’s where you can make a difference.”

“No. Please, no … Atton! Don’t leave me now…nooonononono!!”

Revan heard the scream and it pleased her.

11-08-2007, 02:47 PM
White light screamed electric murder through the exile’s brain. She arched and twisted away from it, but could not escape the cruel tendrils that tunnelled under her skin and ruptured her veins. She could no longer separate her own body and mind from the pain.

She had no name.

She was only blood and bone and laceration.

Thought and memory and mutilation.

Suffering was eternity, beyond the confines of time.

She heard a low, pitiable whimper and understood that the sound came from her own throat, even as a fresh barrage of screams came tearing through it.

She had been screaming forever.

Through the miasma of her fear, a new touch penetrated. A hand, fingertips cool and dry, softly stroked her forehead. She turned her face toward the caress, blue eyes long since gone, searching. “Atton?”

No sound escaped her lips, through the blood and bile, dust and grit. But she was heard.

“Ah, Cora. You are a marvel. After so much injury, still you hope.” The voice, like the hand, was soft and cool – low feminine tones, so familiar. “I had high expectations of you when you arrived, old friend. You never disappoint me.”

Four, six, three, six, stand. Five, nine, four, four, flip the +/- 4 for 18. Stand. Lose to 19.

Dry lips pressed a kiss to her cheek, smearing blood and tears. “I knew you would return to me, my general. You always followed me.”

Revan’s voice. Revan’s call. Revan’s confidence and clarity of purpose. Yes, she had followed. She had dreamed of the salvation of the galaxy. She had followed her to the darkest of places. Again.

Seven, one, one, four, three, five for 21.

“I’m so glad you’re here, Cora. All this power, can you feel it? The Star Forge pales in comparison … ah, but, you never felt the Forge, did you? You left us. You ran.”

Soft fingers stroked her hair, healing her, chasing away the white-hot pain. Those lips whispered into her ear. “But I forgive you, Cora. I do. It’s not your fault. They used you as a tool, as they used me. As Kreia used us both.”

The hands disappeared. But the voice remained like a healing balm – soothing, coaxing. Revan’s voice. And they had all followed.

“Ah, Cora – ‘the exile’ – they have left you to your fate, haven’t they? Let you wander the galaxy until you meet your doom. But I found you first. I have saved you.”

Her mouth – cracked and brittle – worked through the pain to deny, to beg. She didn’t know. She didn’t care.

Two, six, three, four, eight for 23, 2/4 switch card for 11, eight for 19. Stand.

“Shhh…come, little exile. I know how to make the pain stop. You have always trusted me, Cora. Were we not the best of friends?”

Her mind filled with images of the dark-haired girl who had danced in the grass fields of Dantooine – the lithe figure who had embraced passion and embraced them all. Laughing brown eyes, mischievous freckles – Revan had called on them to save innocent lives. She reached for the memory, reached for the girl. Mika?

The image rotted away.

Mika? I wanted to save you. I wanted to …

“Let me take your pain away. Please, Cora. I’m so alone here. The power here, it can make you whole again.”

Revan’s voice could not be denied.

Eight and eight for 16. Plus four could give me the 20. Draw for three. Stand at 19.

She reached, and reached again, the grasping fingers of her soul scrabbling for purchase in the girl she had loved. Mika! Where are you?

“I am here, little exile. I’m waiting for you to come to me.”

Six and nine is 15. Plus four, stand at 19. Nine and two, plus six, flip the +/- 3 for 20.

“You must hurry, Cora. Your friends – they can feel you. They’re coming for you. We don’t want to kill them, do we? We want to save them. We want them to come with us.”

Yes, Mika. Save them. Save me! She reached again, down through the darkness, the foul, the putrid. She reached for the taint and embraced it … Save yourself!

… and was thrown back, through the worlds, through the stink, back into pain.

“Damn you for a fool, Cora Saris!” That voice, it shook. “You cannot even fathom what you’re up against, what you’re giving up!”

Her muscles stretched and snapped against the solid force of the dark power that surrounded them. Her limbs twitched and jerked. Her bones shattered. She screamed again … and forever…

It’s not fair to lose is it?? You play well, you play smart, and still you can lose.

“We were both fools, Cora, but I learned. This power, this malice, it turns the universe! You are too weak to see it. A pity. Your friends will see it, however. When they see what I’ve done to you, they will feel this current of fury, of hatred and know how to use it. They will not turn away. It has already begun.”

Tiny tendrils, too fragile to survive in this lightless place – Mical, Bao-Dur, Mira, the only ones left – straining for her. They would die. They would fall. Her missing eyes could not weep.

But you can’t be angry at the cards, you know. We’re all dealt from the same deck. If you start being angry at the cards – or the other players – you’ll lose for sure.

She had come here for love. She would die here for love.

I have a message for you, Mika.

There was something. A glimmer in the shadow. Shade in the unrelenting white.

Carth Onasi is waiting for you

A shudder, too small to feel, shook the galaxy.

Something small and pure flared and struggled.

Remember to look at your side deck. The cards you bring to the table and the choices you make, that’s where you’re different. That’s where you can make a difference.

She reached out through the Force, blind in the murk. She touched them all, as she always had. She said farewell and left them, ties snapping through the cosmos like whiplash.

The flash of silver, a star plummeting, she dove through the bond that had linked her with Revan for decades. She brought her pain, she brought her love. She wrapped herself around that tiny spark and gave her everything to it.

So defiant. So small in this darkness. She heard Mika weeping and knew they would drown together in this place. Their fear would feed this place.

Revan’s laughter blistered her skin.

Her hand was actually pretty helpful – three +/- cards of various denominations, a -2 and a 2/4 switch – an interesting arsenal. “All right, flyboy. You asked for it.”

She tore herself in two.

Still holding on to the glimmer that was Mika Revan, the exile ripped through the universe, shredding the fabric of reality. The Force – all of it – trembled before the wound that was Cora Saris.

And she drank it in.

The hole in her being, the nothing that had lurked within her since Malachor V turned itself inside out – and took her with it. Even the darkness of that place was no match. From a very long way away, she heard Revan’s outraged howls as all the anger, all the despair and hatred – all the power – leeched into the exile’s self … and was met with the strength of five billion screams.

She said farewell to the light and she inhaled it all.

She swore she could feel his breath ruffle through her hair ...

That’s it, sweetheart. Pure pazaak.


11-08-2007, 02:50 PM
Thanks to everyone who read and commented. Your input has been really helpful to me!
If you've read this and enjoyed it, please comment here (http://www.lucasforums.com/showthread.php?t=183442) .
I would love some help when it comes to making this piece - and my writing in general - better and clearer...