This vignette follows BACKFIRE, and sets up incidents for MW. Darkness surrounded him. A particularly vexing nightmare had interrupted Palpatine's sleep. Certain that he would rest no more, he instead concentrated on his visions. But they would not resolve themselves. Still immersed in the Dark Side, he was about to get up when a blinding "voice" seared into his mind. It almost drove him from the bed. "As you have requested, My Emperor," Azarra's words reverberated, "I am informing you of my arrival at Coruscant. Expect me shortly." Finally the words faded, but Palpatine's eyes remained tightly shut. "It's going to be another one of those days..." he thought ruefully. Hours later, there was still a residual throbbing in the Emperor's wrinkled brow. As he closed his eyes, massaging his temples slowly, he was sure that he could still hear Azarra's voice echoing across the high-ceilinged chamber. It was hard for him to concentrate on anything else. But he was sure that he was prepared for her arrival at any moment. He glared balefully at the printout of the message Azarra had also sent, along with her Force contact. The wording was identical. He waited. After not too many delays, Azarra's transport berthed at the Palace. She'd had to charter a flight, since there wasn't time to claim The Negotiator. No matter, she thought, as she exited the bay, The Emperor can begin paying for this marriage now. And how he'll pay... There were many stares as she entered the Palace. Her exquisite gown notwithstanding, people were just not expecting to see the new Empress, let alone unescorted. They maintained a respectful distance. Azarra moved with a quick, resolute step. She seemed every inch ready to accept the mantle of Empress. Eventually, as she approached the official wing of the Palace, she came upon a trio of Red Guards. An expressionless mask turned toward her. "I am here to see The Emperor," she informed him. "Where can he be found?" "His Majesty, the Emperor, is busy," the first Red Guard intoned. "We will escort you to him when we have received authorization, Empress." "My instructions were to report to his Majesty IMMEDIATELY upon my arrival," she replied. "Of course, if you insist upon delaying our reunion, I'm certain he'll understand..." "We weren't notified..." the second Red Guard began, "...but if you insist, we will check immediately..." A third guard hurried off. "By all means, delay me as long as you like," Azarra interrupted. "I will not suffer the Emperor's wrath." "This way," the third Red Guard implored as he quickly returned. "His Majesty is in his private office suite, and although he did say he was not to be disturbed, I don't believe he meant for us to prevent him from seeing His Empress as soon as she arrived." "Just tell me where he is. I'll find my own way. If this is to be my home, I won't want to be escorted everywhere I go." "As I said, My Empress, His Majesty is in his private office suite, which is on the 16th level. The turbolift is ahead on your right. But our duty is to escort..." But Azarra had already turned away. "And I told you, I don't need or want an escort. I would rather not have to tell His Majesty how you detained me, and then argued with me when I was trying to see him." The three Red Guards faced each other momentarily. "Yes, My Empress," they replied in unison. As the door whooshed open, Palpatine looked up, frowning quite obviously. "I am here, your Majesty," Azarra began, "in spite of your Red Guards..." Her voice trailed off, then she continued, "You don't look well." "No thanks to you," he scowled contemptuously. "Didn't your so-called Force teacher show you the proper way to mind-message?" "Was there a problem?" "So clueless." Palpatine slouched over his desk, leaning heavily on his elbows as pale white fingers slowly massaged his temples. "You have a ....determined style of communicating, my dear." "I would have been happy to send just a regular transmission, but you insisted I use my newfound Force abilities. I've only had the opportunity to practice upon the local Varelttans, who are not a very receptive lot. And the livestock, as well. I must have overcompensated for the distance involved. I regret that it caused you discomfort..." A beep from the desk console interrupted Azarra's apology. Palpatine answered it, "Yes?" "Dr. Titus, your Majesty," the voice said. "You called for assistance?" "Never mind, doctor. I no longer require your ministrations." Palpatine closed the channel. "No one complained on Varelttas," Azarra continued. "Perhaps my Father can help me perfect my technique now that I am here." "That would be most advisable," Palpatine managed a wan smile. They regarded each other a moment. Before he could continue, Azarra smiled. "Now that I am here," she began, "there are some things we need to discuss right away. As I recall from my last visit, the Palace is shockingly bereft of social amenities. On my way here I took the liberty of arranging meetings with representatives of several companies who are quite anxious to be known as suppliers of the Imperial household. Do you have a Master Steward? I'll want to talk to him or her as soon as I've settled into my accommodations." The Emperor's tight smile froze, as flashes from his nightmare flickered across his mind. "Under any other circumstances, I would be delighted to indulge you, but as you can see, I am not...sufficiently motivated...at present. I'm sure we could both use some rest." He relaxed back in his chair. "Tomorrow, I have arranged a banquet in your honor, my Empress. You should be settled in by then, and we can arrange a meeting with the Palace Steward afterwards. Will that satisfy you?" Before she could answer, he went on, "And now, if you don't mind, my head feels like a heard of mating banthas are stampeding across the Judland wastes..." but he was interrupted by another incoming message. "Your Majesty," a panicked voice crackled from the speaker, "the Princ...Empress' things are arriving. They will never fit into her assigned quarters!" Palpatine glanced up at Azarra, who smiled warmly back. "Just give her another room." "A room? Your Majesty, a block of suites won't be big enough!" "I ONLY brought what would be absolutely necessary for the first few weeks," Azarra replied, sounding hurt. "The rest will be arriving soon." Palpatine regarded Azarra a moment, his features creasing into a frown. "Well then, My Empress, I will give you an entire level for you and your...accouterments. Would that please you?" "You mean, I wasn't given an entire level to begin with?" she sounded piqued, then, "As always, My Emperor, I shall make do." Palpatine mashed his gnarly thumb on the communicator. "Call for my Palace Aides. Take the Empress' things to the 15th level. She'll be residing there. She has authority to do whatever she wishes to the decor down there." "Why thank you, Majesty," Azarra perked up immediately. "I imagine there will be just a few minor changes I'll want to make. With your permission, of course, I'll go and get started moving in." Palpatine nodded absently, then looked up sharply as she turned to leave. "You WILL use taste and discretion, Azarra. I expect that of you." "Of course, Your Majesty. It's as if you read my mind." And then with a smile, she was gone to dispose of the rocks and debris she had stuffed into many of the suitcases and boxes.
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