Dragon's LibraryAnd the Flame Spread...
by Robert DeFrank

I'm not getting paid for this, and I don't own Star Wars.

Spoilers: Edge of Victory: Conquest

***

Unworthy.

That epitaph had hounded Uunu her entire life, ever since she was a toddler and her first scar had festered. It followed her like a shadow, encompassing all she was and would ever be in a single word.

She was a shamed one.

Yet today, as she looked on the jungle moon of Yavin IV and looked on the smoking craters where once a damutek had proudly reared up against the skyline, the burden she carried seemed different somehow. It was the words she had exchanged with that young human, a slave who called himself Bail Lars, or so she had thought. She knew now he had only posed as a slave. Bail Lars, or whatever his real name, was a jeedai.

Uunu had seen him from a distance as he fought his way through the ranks of warriors with a blade of light and a shamed one at his side, and before the mouth of a transport ship she had seen impossible things. Vua Rapuung, the former commander who had refused to live as a shamed one, who had fought instead of accepting his fate, had been redeemed.

More, he had died saluting an infidel, the jeedai who had ended his shame.

For the past weeks, Uunu had taken some secret, spiteful pleasure at seeing the great and glorious warrior brought low and made no better than her and her gods-forsaken brethren. Now she felt a wave fresh shame sweep over her. She should not have taken pleasure in what she now knew was another's unjust disgrace. Perhaps that is why the jeedai did not redeem me as well. She thought sadly. In the course of his mission, Bail had ample opportunity to observe and test Uunu. Apparently he hadn't found her deserving.

And no wonder, her head sank further, I did try to betray him. She remembered helping the warriors set a trap for Bail Lars, should he reveal himself when she confronted him. Uunu's effort to curry favor with Yun Shuno now seemed to her contemptible.

In the time following the aerial bombardment but before the infidel ships had landed to retrieve them, the formerly broken captives and slaves had celebrated. Many who had walked hunched over now stood tall and praised the jeedai who's friends would soon liberate them. Uunu had heard such talk before among the slaves, about the great power and virtues of the jeedai and how they would eventually defeat the Yuuzhan Vong, but she had always dismissed such gossip as nonsense. The priests and had decreed what would and would not be, and nothing outside their divinations could occur.

Except their doctrines had been proven wrong.

Uunu had found herself drawing close to the gathered slaves and eavesdropping on their conversations. Carefully, of course: one or two slaves had grown bold on seeing their liberation imminent and had decided to take what revenge they could on the surviving Yuuzhan Vong before their fellows' ships landed to evacuate them. Of course, they knew better than to assail the surviving warriors, so they turned their anger on the shamed ones. Seven of the casteless had died at the hands of former slaves after the bombardment.

Lurking on the fringes of slave crowds, Uunu had heard more snatches of jeedai tales. She learned of their might and deeds, and heard confirmation of what Bail had said: these strange infidels valued all life, even a shamed one.

Now, as she waited with the other survivors for a Yuuzhan Vong rescue force, she mulled over these new ideas. From the corner of her eyes, she spied one of the few true caste who still lived. She turned her head and looked at the young female, a shaper of adept level. She had discarded her headdress and other rainments to fit in with the shamed ones when the infidels came, but her tattoos and enhanced hand proclaimed her station. Uunu couldn't recall her name, but she had seen her often in the company of the late Master Mezhan Kwaad.

Leaning against a broken tree, the shaper wore the dazed expression of one whose world had fallen apart. Uunu thought she could relate: her own life seemed upside down and inside out.

***

The warriors had gone mad.

That was what she first thought when the living ships had landed and Tsavong Lah's personal guard began systematically slaughtering shamed ones.

Then she understood: the warmaster and the priests wanted knowledge of the jeedai's deeds to die on this world, so no one would ever know of Vua Rapuung's redemption. So Uunu realized as she hid herself in the jungle surrounding the ruined shaper base. Warriors were even now lining up shamed ones to be butchered, the ones who ran where either dragged back or killed by a thrown razorbug.

Uunu couldn't let herself become one of the slain. Death itself held no fear for her, yet she did not want to die: not now that the jeedai offered hope for redemption, but more, as she ran from tree to tree she suddenly knew, with every cell of her being, that the warmaster was wrong to suppress this supposed heresy. As the shamed ones died she vowed she would find a way to tell others the truth of the jeedai.

But how? No shamed one suspected of heresy would be permitted to leave this world alive?

"Yun Yuuzhan," she prayed softly as she ran, "in your great wisdom you have seen fit to curse my body, and I accept this, but as I am one of your faithful I beg you to help me." She gasped. "Show me a way, please-"

"Well, what have we here?" A smug voice from behind. Uunu spun to face the speaker and a fist seemed to clench on her heart. As vile as ever, Vasi leaned against a nearby tree.

Gods, why, out of all the Yuuzhan Vong on this planet when the infidels attacked, did you spare him? she thought with despair as the warrior sauntered toward her.

"Uunu, the oh-so-arrogant shamed one." Vasi smirked. "Are you trying to run from your fate?" He seized her by the arm and forced her to walk with him back toward the ships. "Don't you know, the warmaster has ordered the deaths of every shamed one who saw or spoke with the jeedai infiltrator, and you, poor, disgraced Uunu, worked with him for days."

"But you assigned him to me!" Uunu protested as she struggled to free herself. "I even warned you of him, and helped you try and trap him!" She spoke quickly, desperately, this spiteful oaf wouldn't tell this to the warriors of course. He would see her die in disgrace, to punish her. "You vicious, vile-" she caught the rest of the insults before she could utter them. It suddenly occurred to her that Yun Yuuzhan might have spared Vasi in answer to her prayers. She needed a warrior to vouch for her if she was to have a place on the departing ships, and Vasi was the one person she might convince to give her that voucher. But what she would have to do in return...

Sacrifices, she thought, the gods are always demanding sacrifices. She swallowed the harsh words and insults, and instead of striking the warrior with her free hand, she trailed her fingers along his bare chest.

"Vasi, please," she made her voice as meek and submissive as she could, it felt like burning spears were stabbing her in the stomach, but she did, "I do not want to die in disgrace. Shamed I may be, but I am still Yuuzhan Vong, I still wish to serve the gods in whatever small way I can." She spoke truthfully: she would serve the gods by telling her people the truth despite those who would suppress it and cry heresy. "If you would help me, then I would be..." she swallowed and forced herself to relax against him, "grateful."

To her relief, Vasi slowed, then stopped. His grip on her arm became a caress that moved slowly up to her shoulder. She looked up at him, saw the lust and triumph in his eyes, and made herself smile, to look broken and eager to please him.

Gods, she begged, keep me from screaming.

***

The next few hours were painful, degrading and best forgotten, but at least Vasi kept his word and helped her get off Yavin IV. Uunu was sent to one of the Yuuzhan Vong's reclaimed planets with a number of other shamed ones, to help with the labors.

Then the truly difficult part of her mission began.

***

"-and before all, Vua Rapuung defended the jeedai who had redeemed him. He fell and died, fighting the other warriors while the two jeedai made their escape." Uunu concluded.

"Impossible!" One of the young shamed ones gathered around her hissed. "Jeedai are infidels, their powers are a blasphemy against the gods!"

"But how could the jeedai have redeemed Vua Rapuung unless it was by the gods' will?" Another shamed one protested. "If the jeedai could restore one shamed one, then why not me? Why not any of us?"

"Be silent!" A female whispered and gripped the speaker's arm. She looked around the communal sleeping area fearfully. "What if the overseers heard such talk? We are as the gods have ordained it. All there is for us is to accept our fate."

"Vua Rapuung did not accept his fate." Uunu spoke, quietly but firmly. "He refused to believe the gods had abandoned him. He fought what had been done to him and the gods vindicated him. Perhaps the priests do not know all they would have us believe. Perhaps they simply desire more slaves and are purposely misleading us."

The shamed ones listened uncertainly. But they listened.

***

And so, like a spreading forest fire, Uunu told and retold her story. Over the weeks she stowed away on transport ships bound for other Yuuzhan Vong planets. She hid among other shamed ones sent to other work teams. It was easy: no one would notice one more shamed one in a crowd, nor did the overseers bother keeping records of where individual shamed ones were. She called herself by different names, toiled at many jobs, but wherever she went she told the story of the jeedai, and urged other shamed ones to tell the tale as well.

Uunu did have a plan aside from telling other shamed ones about Bail Lars: she was slowly working her way toward New Republic space. If she could somehow get beyond her people's reach, she intended to seek out a jeedai and swear service to him or her. She would learn from the jeedai the truths the priests tried to conceal, then she would return with the secret to redeeming the shamed ones, and all her brethren would become true caste.

She knew she had to reach the infidel worlds quickly. She had been clever and lucky so far, but sooner or later she would be found out. Warriors were already beginning to watch for suspicious activity among the shamed ones. Time was running out.

Uunu had less time than she realized.

***

She was on the planet Tynna, tantalizingly close to the Core and the major New Republic worlds, when she saw the warriors.

They were on either side of the broad pathway down which the crowds of shamed ones and sleek, glossy Tynnan slaves walked every morning to tend the massive dovin basals maturing in the planet's waters. The warriors were looking carefully at every shamed one who passed by. Noting them. Uunu considered ducking her head to hide her features, but discarded the idea. Suspicious behavior would only draw attention. She gave the appearance of calm as she walked toward the growing ponds. Nothing of interest here, just another shamed one going dutifully to work.

A shamed one ahead of her wasn't so level headed. He was one she had spoken with about the jeedai, and when he saw the warriors he panicked and ran.

"Run!" He turned and shouted at her, right at her, as he fled. "They've come for us!"

With that, all the heretics in the crowd, more than two dozen, broke ranks and fled in all directions. Cursing the fool, Uunu ran as well: after this, every shamed one in the crowd would be thoroughly investigated, and if it was learned she'd been at Yavin IV...

Why now? She thought furiously. Now, when I'm so close? It wasn't over yet. She could hide, wait until the searchers grew tired and then stow away on another ship-

Someone stepped into her path and struck a backhand blow across her face. She spun and fell, sprawling, to the ground.

Uunu scrambled, using her heels and elbows to propel herself backwards as a shadow fell over her. She looked up and saw that it was cast by a lean Yuuzhan Vong male who watched her with unblinking eyes. His black hair was tied back from a spare, almost cadaverous face covered with elaborate scars. He had the look and posture of an executor, and those cold eyes told her that as far as he was concerned she might as well be a pile of compost-feed he'd stepped in.

"And you would be the famous Uunu." Sarcasm dripped from his voice.

Behind her, Uunu heard the footfalls of the warriors, their shouts and snarled threats, and she knew what to do. Reaching under her tunic, she grasped the coufee strapped to her side and pulled it free. She had taken the weapon from the fields some weeks ago, the living blade still immature, dull and not ready to be set in a hilt, and sharpened the edge as best she could. The coufee wasn't razor-sharp, as the warriors and assassins preferred their weapons to be, but it would do.

Uunu brought the weapon out and stabbed, not at the Yuuzhan Vong closing in on her but at her own throat, intending to end her own life before they could take her.

She wasn't fast enough. The executor's arm snaked out, fast as a striking amphistaff, and her caught her wrist before she could drive the coufee home. He hauled her up to her feet and twisted her arm until she dropped the blade. Now that she was closer, Uunu saw that he only had one true eye, the other had been replaced by a venomous plaeryin bol. His mouth twisted in distaste at having to touch her and he shoved the shamed one toward the approaching warriors.

"You nearly let her slip through your fingers." He hissed at the armored Yuuzhan Vong.

"We know our duties, Nom Anor." Uunu heard one of the warriors say as she stumbled.

The lead warrior, a female with the mark of Domain Choka on her forehead, caught Uunu and forced her arms behind her back, then took a glob of blorash jelly and sealed it around both her wrists.

"What is the meaning of this?" The raised voice caught Uunu's attention and she looked past Nom Anor to see none other than the planetary prefect himself striding through the throng of frightened slaves. He surveyed them all as he closed the distance between himself and the executor. "I did not give permission for you warriors to enter the fields, nor was I notified of any operation to be conducted on my world!"

Nom Anor ignored the administrator. "Watch her closely," he ordered, "she is not to be given the chance to end her own life."

"Are you listening to me?" The prefect bellowed. "Do you realize you may have set the day's schedule back hours with your ridiculous antics? I have a quota to meet, and if my record drops because of this I will see you-"

"I'll tell you what I see, Prefect." Nom Anor spun and locked his gaze with that of the red-faced Yuuzhan Vong. "What I see is a prefect who has allowed heresy to flourish under his very nose, and depending on my report you will soon be administrator of nothing more than a decaying worldship in the Outer Rim!"

The prefect's words died, but mouth hung open for a few seconds more with no sounds emerging. Then he snapped his jaw shut as his red face slowly turned pale. "Perhaps," he licked his lips, "we could discuss this matter." He spoke in a more civil tone. "I have many responsibilities, Executor, and I would be very grateful if you could make our superiors see this."

Nom Anor gestured for the warriors to take Uunu away, but remained with the prefect a few minutes longer. After some hushed conversation the matter was settled: Nom Anor would minimize the blame attached to the local governor, but the prefect would owe him a favor in return. That settled, the executor left to rejoin the warriors and his prisoner.

***

After an eternity, Uunu was dragged through the vaulted chambers of a grand hall and cast to the floor. She blinked, saw her bruised face in the sheet of mirror-shiny coral that made up the floor, and tried to stand up. She would not meet death groveling on her belly!

Rising to her knees, she saw the great warrior himself: Tsavong Lah.

The warmaster regarded her with flat, all-black eyes and discarded her a second later. An elderly, black-robed priestess stood beside him. Her gaze never left Uunu, and fire burned behind her eyes.

Kneeling was as far as she got, as the warrior behind her knocked her back down with a sharp kick to her back. She would have tried to rise again, but the warrior set his foot firmly between her shoulder blades and pinned her in place.

"Belek tiu, Warmaster." She heard Nom Anor say as he snapped fists to shoulders in a salute. "I present to you the shamed one responsible for spreading the jeedai heresy beyond Yavin IV."

"After much waste of time and lives." A subaltern had accompanied Nom Anor into the warmaster's presence and made a similar salute. "The executor took weeks to track down the source of the heresy, and tortured more than a hundred shamed ones to their deaths before even getting a name."

"The shamed ones refused to surrender any information regarding the chief heretic, even under the influence of the haar vhinic. In the end, I had to survey the pattern by which the heresy had spread through our conquered worlds to determine her location." Nom Anor shifted his gaze to meet the warrior's. "I deduced she would try to escape into the New Republic."

"But when you found the correct planet you nearly let her escape." The subaltern sneered. "You positioned the warriors where they couldn't help but be noticed and cause a panic."

"Naturally, the shamed ones who tried to flee would be the heretics." Nom Anor dismissed the subaltern's observation with a shake of his head. "Tracking her from world to world and finding which shamed one did not belong would have gone much faster if accurate records of the shamed ones were kept, along with their current postings."

"The Yuuzhan Vong have more important matters to see to than cataloging shamed ones." The warrior replied disdainfully.

"I'm certain." A thin smile crept across Nom Anor's face. "I can think of a few such matters. I believe it was a warrior, one Vasi, who assisted her in departing Yavin IV in the first place, in exchange for certain... favors." He put a world of contempt in that slightly disgusted tone. "Yes, as I recall it was Vasi who gave me her name under interrogation," Nom Anor taunted, "he bawled like an infant before he died."

"Don't hold that deviant up to a warrior's standard!" The subaltern's face had gone red with fury. He looked ready to spring at the executor. Nom Anor held his ground and aimed his plaeryin bol to fire at the other Yuuzhan Vong's eyes. His hand strayed to the coufee at his side.

"Silence!" Tsavong Lah's roar froze both warrior and intendant. They turned back to the warmaster and offered apology.

Tsavong Lah glanced at Nom Anor and gave a minute inclination of his head. "My estimation of you has increased slightly, Executor, despite your performance on Duro. Find me Jacen Solo and that estimation will further increase." He shifted his stance and Uunu's attention was drawn to the warmaster's feet. Or rather, to his original foot and his new, clawed one: taken from the body of a vua'sa to replace the one lost to the jeedai.

"You should pray to the gods you never see him again!" She coughed blood as she spoke. The other Yuuzhan Vong all turned their attention to her, except for the old priestess, whose stern eyes had never left Uunu for a second. "The Solo will do more than disgrace you and take a foot. The day you again encounter that jeedai will be the day you die!"

The entire room seemed to shudder at Tsavong Lah's roar of fury. The warmaster surged forward, moving with more speed than anything so large should be capable of, thanks to his enhanced muscles and nervous system. The warrior pressing his foot on Uunu's back sprang away and the shamed one felt stabs of agony as the warmaster's hooked talons dug into her back. With no effort, he lifted her until her feet hung almost half a meter above the floor and her face was on a level with his. Tsavong Lah drew back his other arm, she saw his massive hand curl into a claw to literally rip her head off.

The warmaster controlled himself, with visible effort, and flung her back to the floor instead. "I'll not honor you with death at my hands, heretic." He hissed, then spun to the priestess. "She is yours. Do as you will with her, but bring me her head when you finish. I want it as an example to the other heretics who believe the jeedai are the path to redemption." He held his bloodied hand away from his body so not to be corrupted by her. A slave bearing a large bowl of crystal-clear water hurried forward and reverently began to wash each soiled talon.

The priestess nodded and made a sharp gesture with one hand. Two burly young acolytes came forward and took charge of her.

"And Vaecta," he said to the old priestess, "I want her screaming when you send her to the gods' final judgement." The priestess nodded sharply.

"You can kill me, but not the truth!" Uunu shouted as the dragged her away. "The story of the jeedai will spread like a raging fire, and like a fire it will burn you and all your lies to nothing!"

Tsavong Lah ignored her. His attention had turned to Nom Anor. "Now, Executor," she heard him say as he motioned the intendant to step forward, "tell me of this new plan of yours."

"The Yag'Dhul campaign." Nom Anor supplied. "An excellent opportunity to expand our territory and gain a tactical advantage..." his voice trailed away as she passed through the door.

Uunu fell silent. She felt no fear, only a sense of peace: she had done all she could, and now all that was left was to embrace death like a true Yuuzhan Vong. May the gods watch over you Bail Lars, she thought, wherever you are, whoever you are. You have redeemed me. In her heart, no matter what her flesh proclaimed, Uunu knew she was a true Yuuzhan Vong.

She was worthy.

Rate this story!

(with 10 being best)
© 1998-2002 Dragon's Library maintained by Ulrike Großmann