Masque of the Infidel (Every New Beginning...)

By Phaedra Whitlock and Mark Cogan

During the flyer ride Janin focussed her thoughts as Darana had 
taught her until she was cool and collected and emotionless. 
Pinning her hair tightly she emerged at the Palace's side hanger 
carrying the armor case. Two red guards awaited her in the otherwise 
empty bay. Even at this hour it should have been active with droids, 
there were always droids. 
She walked at her usual pace towards them and stopped. She could not 
tell who was inside, she knew most of them by now but there was no 
leakage. "Janin Firestorm, you are to be escorted to the throneroom, 
without delay. You will not need this."
The heavy case was taken from her hands and handed off to another 
guard in the shadows of the corridor. Not for the first time Janin 
was aware how cold the palace was. Psychological, but all the same. 
She shivered.
*          *          *
"Where are your Loyalties?"  The Emperor began, thinking to catch 
her before she could think up some kind of cover story.

Janin's jaw moved and closed, then she spoke. "To protect your person, 
to obey the orders I am given." She was prepared for this, 8 years 
now prepared by Darana for this question. There was resentment on 
Daranas behalf, but she knew he would expect it. 

"You hesitate, I believe there is more to it than you say. So I ask 
you again, where are your loyalties?" The rustle of fabric told her 
he had risen. He never used lightning from a sitting position.Focus. 
The floor was cold under her bended knee. 
Head bowed she muted her voice.  "My loyalties are complete. But she 
is my aunt and teacher. This does not supercede my loyalty to you 
and to the uniform I wear."

"A much better answer this time.  I have no with to foster any ill 
feelings over this situation. 
The rustling moved away to the side, out of sight. Janin's eyes 
remained locked in place as she chewed the inside of her mouth 
slightly, but remained silent after a brief nod. That damage was 
already done but muted. Nothing but acquiesence would serve here.

The rasping voice above her continued, thoughtful now. The worst 
was over, perhaps. "You have been a worthy Red Guard so far, and 
I would like to keep you on as such.  Darana has taught you well, 
and I would hate to have it go to waste."

A slight smile, pleasure from the compliment, and a touch of 
arrogance and pride. Darana had taught her very well but now was 
not the time to dwell on that. "Yes Highness."

"You will return to the household, and gather your things, only 
what you need.  You will return here, and be given quarters with 
other of my Red Guard.  Your life is here now.  Do you understand?"

"I understand." She bows her head, shoulders slump slightly. It 
had been a nice life, but in front of the Emperor she turned her 
thoughts ahead to the new one putting past behind her.

The Emperor held out a scroll "Show this to the Captain of the 
Guard at the household. He will escort you to your quarters, and 
make sure you can get to your gear.  Then report back immediately."

Deep head and body bow from the kneeling position. "Immediately, 
Highness." She rises, backs away into the shadows and exits to 
find her ship. What, she wondered, was she going to say to Michael. 
Certainly not good bye.

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