By: K.V. Moffet, Janice Mergenhagen, Debbie Casselbury

    "We're being followed."
    "Yeah, like that's a surprise." Rikonis Vader-Rividh glared sourly at the 
viewscreen, watching ISD Eclipse recede into the distance as Chimera In 
Argent fled toward a safe hyperspace jump point. "Lose 'em."
    "Probably not a good idea, sir." Lt. Rizen Haska, Rikon's self-appointed 
bodyguard and pilot, punched a control and the stars stretched into the 
distortion of hyperspace. "Likely just making sure we head directly for 
Varelttas, with no, ah, unauthorized side trips."
    "I suppose," Rikon grumbled. Azarra's despair was eating at his mind, 
like claws scraping on the back of his neck. She wanted privacy, but after a 
while he couldn't stand it any longer and returned to Chimera's lounge.
    Azarra sat slumped on the couch, sobbing hysterically.
    "It's not your fault," Rikon offered uncertainly. "Trin's not dead."
    "What have I--" Azarra choked on the words, took a gasping breath, 
smeared her hands through the tears running down her cheeks. "One stupid 
mistake and the man I love--" another sob shook her voice, "--my love is in 
the hands of the man I despise!"
    "It's not your fault!" Rikon repeated. She wasn't listening. Rikon flung 
himself down on the other end of the couch, catching his hip on the holotable 
in the process. "Ow, dammit, what the hell--"  He dug into his pocket and 
extracted Trin's ring. Its big green stone glowed mockingly at his touch, not 
at all repentant for jabbing him. "Give it back to her," Trin's parting words 
echoed in his head. "When she's ready."
    Azarra had resumed weeping, softly now, but still not seeing anything 
outside her own misery.  "Stupid rock," Rikon muttered at the ring. "Now look 
what you've done." Not like it cared. He twisted the ring around a finger, 
watching the light glinting through the stone's facets like captive stars. 
Like the blue fire Palpatine would surely inflict on his captive son, just 
because he could.
    After a while he realised the weeping had stopped. Azarra was watching 
the green flash reflecting on the holotable between them, faintly 
illuminating the ghosts of player figures imprisoned in its surface. "Stupid 
decision," she whispered.
    Rikon laid the ring on the table. Azarra stared at it, barely breathing. 
"He needs you to keep this," Rikon said. "So he knows you're safe."
    "Yes." Azarra reached for the ring, covered it with her palm, then 
scooped it up and cradled it in her hands. "Yes. I will. I must."
    She rose and made her way to one of Chimera's cabins, determination in 
her step.
    "This wasn't the sort of training I had in mind!" Azarra complained for 
the hundredth time, as she gazed down yet another apparently-endless row of 
grapevines. That was the Rividh estate: grapevines, sheds, grapevines, pine 
trees, grapevines, rocks, grapevines, grapevines, and more grapevines. The 
grapevines went on forever, she was sure of it. And the basket of grapes at 
her feet was only half full. Rikon wouldn't let her so much as get a drink of 
water until it was ready to be hauled back to the winery, and then there'd be 
another to fill, and another, until every bunch of grapes on her assigned row 
had been picked. After three days of picking grapes, Azarra had nearly 
decided to swear off wine forever.
    It wasn't the work -- it wasn't particularly hard, nor all that 
unpleasant, and the northern sun was mild. But it was boring. Dull, dull, 
dull. No wonder Drashak Province was populated entirely by peasants. Everyone 
with a hint of civilization had long since died of boredom. Desperate for 
something to think about that didn't involve grapes, Azarra began humming a 
common folk tune -- softly at first, then with more confidence as a worker in 
the next row began singing the words. Soon all the workers were singing, and 
Azarra's voice joined theirs. Her hands went on picking grapes without her.
    Azarra had reached the end of her row before she realised Rikon was 
standing there. "About time," he said, grinning ear to ear.
    "I wasn't that slow," Azarra objected.
    "Come on," Rikon said. "You're done here."
    "About time," Azarra retorted as she followed him back to the dormitory 
building -- one couldn't exactly call the big U-shaped structure a house. 
"Are you ever going to explain why you put me to work like a common farm 
    "You didn't know how to separate your mind and your body."
    "I don't understand. What do you mean by that?"
    "Everything your hands did, your mind followed. And every time you 
stopped to think about something, your hands stopped moving." Rikon ushered 
her indoors, mock-gallant. "Welcome back to civilization, milady, such as we 
have of it."
    "Don't you ever spend a whole day inside your own head?" Azarra griped, 
but she couldn't truly be angry with him for overhearing her thoughts. Odd 
how easily she'd become used to that.
    "Of course not. How boring."
    "I'm going to stuff grapes in your ears if you don't tell me what this 
was all about!"
    "In a fight," Rikon obliged, "it would get you killed. You have to be 
able to think and move independently. Otherwise every time your opponent 
makes a smart remark, you'll come to a halt while you think up a response. Or 
he'll do something you don't expect, and you'll stop thinking until you get 
done parrying him, and then his next move will catch you by surprise. Either 
way, you're dead."
    "I see," Azarra said, sobered by this explanation. And true enough, once 
she'd started singing, she had picked an amazing lot of grapes without really 
noticing the work. "What's your excuse?"
     "I can't think or move worth a damn regardless," Rikon replied 
cheerfully. "And I sure as hell can't sing! New lesson tomorrow. Meet me in 
the library about noon, it should be ready by then."
    "Another mystery lesson?" Rikon grinned wickedly, and Azarra laughed. 
"All right. Just so long as it doesn't involve grapes!"

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