Dragon's LibraryThe Jester
by Robert DeFrank

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

Spoilers - Edge of Victory I and II, Star by Star

Warning: The end contains a major theory for upcoming NJO books. I may be wrong, but I don't think I am.

***

Shortly before Star by Star

The Noghri did not struggle against the blorash jelly restraints when he saw Nen Yim enter the chamber. By now the prisoner knew he could not win free through simple strength. He the still, deadly patience of a born predator he followed the shaper with onyx-black eyes, watching for the slightest lapse of precaution on the part of his keepers. Given a chance, even a fifth of a chance, he would slip his bonds and kill his tormentor with nothing but his hands and teeth.

He might as well have been a baby ngdin for all Nen Yim's reaction. She was aware of the Noghris' capabilities, but she also knew the strength of the jelly restraints. There was no way the alien could possibly get loose, so what was there to be afraid of? Nen Yim extended an extracting needle from one finger of her master hand and slid it into the Noghri's arm, careful to keep the hand well away from the prisoner's mouth. She nodded to herself as the eight-fingered hand drew in blood, then turned and walked out the door, leaving the Noghri to try his glares on the four living walls.

Suung Aruh was waiting for her outside, along with the Maa'ju Haar who guarded the door. The newly-made adept genuflected with his headdress when he saw Nen Yim. "Master, Col Rammok's team has attained successful results with their experiments," he could barely keep the grin from his face, "he requests your attention."

"As do five other research groups." Nen Yim turned her maa'its to her master's hand, an excretory orifice in the palm opened and two small capsules spilled out into her normal hand. She gave them to Suung Aruh. "I need this sample analyzed. We may need to apply the Protocol of Mezhan to the gene pattern." She named one of the shaping methods she herself had devised.

Suung Aruh's eyes flashed with excitement. "Are we close, Master, if I may ask?" Nen Yim considered reprimanding the adept, such a display of emotion was not worthy of a shaper, but decided against it. Some cautious optimism was not unwarranted at this point.

"I believe so." She answered, leading their way down the coral hallway of her damutek. They saw several Maa'ju Haar along the way, stationed at various doorways, ready to slay any infidel prisoner who might get loose within the damutek. Normally, a shaper compound had no garrison, but Master Nen Yim recognized the need for the guards: there were three Jeedai imprisoned here, and even unarmed, bound hand and foot and surrounded by ysalmari-laden walking trees, Nen Yim was taking no chances with them. She remembered well the damage Anakin Solo had wrought when let loose in a damutek.

The Maa'ju Haar didn't offer either greeting or salute as the two shapers passed, their blind faces were as impassive as carved stone and they stood with predatory alertness that made the Noghri look undisciplined and awkward by comparison. That was all to be expected: the Maa'ju Haar, the Eyeless Watchers, were lord Shimrra's personal guard.

They had made Nen Yim uneasy during her first days in the supreme overlord's service. Now she supposed she was used to them, though she would never be able to ignore their presence. The Eyeless Watchers were taller than most warriors, armored in jet-black vonduun armor, but though they had the scars and augmentations of warriors the Maa'ju Haar boasted no tattoos detailing their families and lineages. They had no red whorls to indicate battles fought, no symbols that denoted great deeds, the Haar had only a single mark: the symbol of lord Shimrra's House, branded on their foreheads.

They differed from the normal rank-and-file warriors in one other way, in the source of their name. None of the Maa'ju Haar had no eyes, so they could never look upon the supreme overlord. Instead, they had been implanted with sensory organs that could hear a particular methcham forceps working amid the roar of a processing maw luur, that could detect sniff out a trail five cycles cold and 'see' body heat and nonvisible light.

They were more alike than sacred twins. The Eyeless weren't creche born, they sprang full-grown from cloning vats, their genetic template honed by master shapers and their minds sculpted by Qah cells. They owed allegiance to no domain or caste and had no lives apart from Shimrra's will. The shapers were constantly adding to the genetic pattern of each generation with the DNA of the greatest warriors of the time. Doubtless Tsavong Lah had donated a blood sample for their shaping, it was accounted a great honor for a warrior's genes to be included in the makeup of the supreme overlord's bodyguards.

Nen Yim supposed that might be part of why they made her uneasy: she occasionally wondered if the new brood had some of Vua Rapuung in them.

"I'll speak to Col Rammok as soon as I'm able," she continued as they reached the laboratory. "I want to begin applying this protocol immediately. If it is successful, we may receive approval to grow our first specimen." She was interested in seeing how her shaped Noghri would fare against the original in a field test. Not to mention against Jeedai, though she couldn't afford to risk any of her three subjects. Captive Jeedai were scarce: the voxyn might be able to track them, but they were more interested in killing Jeedai than in taking them alive.

She stifled a sigh of irritation as she presented her wrist to the sensor, thinking of how her villips would be pulsing with messages from the research teams, all demanding more resources and her particular attention. As the chief shaper in this damutek of heretics, it fell to her to manage all the projects within. Nen Yim had no taste for administration, she was no intendant, she preferred the ground-level research and development.

"I thought you'd never get here." A voice greeted them as the door irised open. Onimi stood at a table, fingering some specimen bulbs. The jester didn't even bother to look up as he spoke. "Dear, dear shaper, why do you leave me to cool my heels for so long?"

"What is the meaning of this?" Suung Aruh slid past Nen Yim and strode into the room to confront Onimi. "This is Master Shaper Nen Yim's laboratory, forbidden to all but shapers, how did you gain admittance?" He demanded.

(Because he is one of lord Shimrra's operatives,) was Nen Yim's answering thought, (no door is closed to him.) Being around the deformed jester always made her uncomfortable. That feeling was not allieved when she recognized the bulbs he was toying with.

The jester lifted his head and regarded her with those misaligned eyes of his. Onimi's twisted mouth made something close to a smile as he rolled one bulb along the back of his hand. "If I didn't know better, I'd think you weren't eager to see me." He feigned a wounded tone.

"Did you hear me?" The adept snapped. He was now less than an arm's length away from the jester. "You will explain yourself or I-"

"Send this noise-maker away." Onimi said to Nen Yim, ignoring Suung Aruh altogether. "When I have need of a footstool you can summon him again." It was a private joke that the adept missed: he didn't know Onimi had posed as Kae Kwaad on the dying worldship Baanu Miir. The remark still left him red-faced and sputtering.

"Suung Aruh, go to Col Rammok and tell him I will join him soon." Nen Yim said.

He glanced at her. "Master-?"

"You are dismissed." She said calmly. The adept was within Onimi's reach, and the jester wasn't disabled in the least, despite his deformities. Indeed, quite the opposite, and if Suung Aruh continued to annoy the Onimi the jester would make him dead before he hit the floor. Nen Yim could ill afford to lose such a skilled aid.

Suung Aruh cast a final glare at Onimi, genuflected to Nen Yim and left.

"Alone at last, my pretty Nen Tsup." Onimi crooned when the door clamped shut.

"I'll thank you not to call me that." Nen Yim replied coldly, every inch the master shaper, though her head was pounding in fear: he had stopped rolling the bulb along his hand and was now spinning it on one finger! "Put that down." She spoke as if the container held nothing of great value. "You could have used the villip if you needed to speak to me."

"But dear Nen Tsup, we see so little of each other these days." Onimi was rolling the bulb down the length of his entire forearm now, from the tips of his fingers to his elbow, then back to fingertips. He walked around the table as he played with the bulb, holding the other three in his free hand. "I so look forward to surprising you."

"If you have a message from lord Shimrra, I'll hear it now." Nen Yim crossed her arms to keep her hands from shaking and fought the urge to bolt. If one of those bulbs should break...

"Can't I pay a simple social call?" He misjudged and the bulb rolled over his fingertips and arced through the air. Nen Yim's maa'its bulged and she felt her stomach give birth to a scream that shot up her throat. Onimi caught the bulb without even looking at it, then tossed it into the air, followed by another, then another. Before Nen Yim's horrified maa'its he began juggling them!

"Put those DOWN!" She tried to grab one of the bulbs from the air, but Onimi danced backward and jumped onto a table, then he began to dance and caper as he juggled, his movements sure and agile despite his twisted back and shoulders. He laughed. Laughed at her.

"STOP IT!" Nen Yim was so angry she forgot to be terrified. For a second the jester's image dissolved into a confusing blur of cells interacting with each other in the air before her. She refocused her maa'its: they had just been implanted and occasionally slipped into other modes of sight when she was stressed. She was tempted to stomp her feet like a petulant child. And Onimi stopped dancing and caught the bulbs.

"No need to shout, Nen Tsup." He hopped down to the floor and set the bulbs on the table.

Blood was pounding in Nen Yim's ears. Every encounter she had with Onimi was like this, though not usually so hazardous: the jester never missed a chance to attack her dignity. Unfortunately these encounters where more often than she would have liked, as he often bore instructions from the supreme overlord.

She would like to report this behavior, but who to? Onimi answered to Shimrra alone. What was she to do: request an audience, go before that godlike being and say "Your jester is bothering me."? Impossible.

And who could say he would even take her side? Onimi had almost daily access to the supreme overlord, while Nen Yim had spoken to him directly a total of two times. Their communications consisted of her sending him reports of the research projects every cycle or two by villip, so the overlord could decide which had priority and what sort of weaponry or defenses were needed for the war.

"I'll shout if it pleases me to shout." She ground her teeth. "We're not on Baanu Miir anymore, I don't have to jump when you snap your fingers."

Onimi tilted his misshaped head to one side and leaned against a wall. "Why such a cold shoulder? You seemed interested in establishing a... closer... relationship on the worldship. As I thought: you're a tease."

Nen Yim's face heated. That was true, but she'd had to use any means available to her to restore the dying rikyam, including attempting to seduce Kae Kwaad. Besides, she'd intended for him to die as soon as she had the knowledge she needed, and certainly she would never have tried such a tactic if she had known he was... what he was.

"Well if you insist, so be it: all business." Onimi stepped away from the wall and some of his apparent cheer vanished. "I bring a message from lord Shimrra, and a gift." He was still smiling, but there was something sickly and false about it, as if he were suffering from a bad wound but refusing to let the pain show. But that didn't make since: he was obviously unhurt.

"Go on." She prompted.

"Lord Shimrra wishes you to know he is aware of a certain plan you're hatching." In a single, fluid motion he reached out and gathered up all four specimen bulbs from where he had lain them. "He is not pleased."

"What plan is that?" Nen Yim asked with apparent nonchalance. No, he could tell her to stop: she had the right!

"That you have rediscovered Mezhan Kwaad's formula for putting the marks of a shamed one on a true-caste Yuuzhan Vong." He tossed the container and caught it with one hand. "That you intend these bulbs to find their way to the Baanu Raas. That you've prepared Qah cells to implant in a shamed one to be transferred there in a labor group, instructing him to release the contents in the presence of Master Yal Phaath and his new apprentice, the Adept Tsun." He showed his teeth. "That plan."

"What does it matter?" Nen Yim snapped. "Yal Phaath is a backwards fool, and Tsun has all the skill of a blind grutchin!" Bitterness colored her tone with that last phrase. She'd heard Tsun had been raised to adept-level: his reward for deceiving and betraying her on Yavin IV. "They're no great loss." And they were two of the hated five.

Five beings had been responsible for Mezhan Kwaad's downfall and death. Anakin Solo, Tahiri, Vua Rapuung, Yal Phaath and Tsun. Five, and herself, by her own foolish naivety, but she would make up for it. She would. So she told herself every night, when Mezhan Kwaad's accusing eyes tormented her dreams.

Vua Rapuung was beyond her reach, as were the two Jeedai, at least temporarily, but not so with Yal Phaath and Tsun, that bastard get of Yun Harla. What better revenge than to destroy them using one of her master's own weapons?

"It matters, Nen Tsup, because Yal Phaath serves in his own way, and lord Shimrra wants nothing to interfere with the voxyn project."

"Nothing will interfere with it." Nen Yim pressed. "Someone else will just head the project. Most of the development is already finished, there labs there do nothing but reproduction. Any shaper could oversee that."

Onimi shook his head. "The supreme overlord has been very generous with you, Nen Tsup. Perhaps too generous." Nen Yim had to agree, she had her own damutek, almost unlimited resources, lord Shimrra had even complied with her request and transferred Suung Aruh and the other shapers of the Baanu Miir to this special project, as well as many of that dying worldship's residence for the labor and maintenance teams.

"He is becoming concerned that you may have too high an opinion of your own worth." Onimi continued, the sarcastic edge had left his voice, which was now strangely gentle. "The same was true of Mezhan Kwaad, in the end. She forgot that while she was a favored servant of the gods, she was still only a servant.

"The supreme overlord does not want a repeat of Mezhan Kwaad's mistakes. Her personal grudge against Vua Rapuung was damaging to her own work and to the war in general. She took him out of the battlefield, where he was useful, and put him into the slave pens, where he did us all great harm. You don't know how badly this affected the warriors' morale: seeing the gods seemingly turn their backs on such a great commander. Even worse, it contributed to the Jeedai heresy our shamed ones are so fond of. Lord Shimrra commands you to set aside all such personal animosities." He turned and tossed the bulbs into a wall-mounted disposal.

"No!" Nen Yim started forward, but it was too late. Onimi pressed the touch-pad on the wall and the creature's mouth clamped shut. The temperature within the disposal would now increase until the bulbs and their contents had vanished. The shaper glared at him, but for once Onimi didn't mock her with a ready jibe. "You've delivered your message," she said, "you may go now."

"Not yet, Nen Tsup." Onimi crossed the room to a supply closet. "You forget, I bear a message (and) a gift." He reached for the pad, then hesitated and looked back at her. He had that expression again, as though something caused him pain. He touched the pad and the door opened.

Mezhan Kwaad stood inside.

Nen Yim's knees were watery, her vision swam as the Maa'its shifted through half a dozen sight modes. She opened her mouth to say "Master," but no sound emerged.

"Come out, Mezhan." Onimi said. "Come out. Come out here." He repeated the phrase as though to a half-trained pet. Mezhan Kwaad shuffled out into the lab. Her face was dead, expressionless, her eyes blank. A line of discolored skin circled her neck where her head had been reattached. Her master hand was gone, in its place was a simple claw-clamp: she wouldn't know how to use a more sophisticated creature.

Nen Yim understood immediately, and her mind recoiled from the knowledge. Her legs went numb, she was falling. Then Onimi was at her side, help her down to a chair. Nen Yim's maa'its regained their focus. She saw him and pulled away, seating herself.

Onimi turned away, wincing as though he'd been struck.

"How?" She swallowed. "Why?"

"Lord Shimrra ordered her body preserved and sent to him the moment reinforcements arrived on Yavin IV." The jester said. "He authorized the Protocol of Yu'muur."

Mezhan Kwaad had stopped moving a few steps into the room. Eyes that had once shone with intelligence now stared vacantly at nothing. The Protocol of Yu'muur was accounted one step away from blasphemy: taking back a life that had been given to the gods. Only a supreme overlord could command its use, and only in the most extreme of circumstances, when it was crucial to the Yuuzhan Vong that a recently-killed individual have a second chance at life. But if the corpse was damaged, if decay had touched the brain, then what was brought back was little more than a living machine.

"Lord Shimrra decreed her life was not worthy of the gods, that she had profaned her mission with her arrogance. She is to be your new lab assistant, she's fit to fetch and carry things for you, but not much else." Onimi said. "This is her punishment, and your warning."

"My warning?" Nen Yim repeated dully, unable to tear her maa'its from her former master.

"Mezhan Kwaad was once lord Shimrra's favored shaper, now you stand in her place." He grimaced. "Continue to follow your own agenda and you could very easily have her current position." He made to leave, then paused beside her.

"Do what lord Shimrra says." He spoke gently. "Prove yourself and he may allow you to kill her one day." He departed then, leaving Nen Yim with those dead eyes that would stare at her whether she woke or slept.

***

The hall was vast, the vaunted ceiling lost in shadow, occasionally lit by the color-shifting wings of the rainbow Quaana as they perched among the high columns and sang, accompanied by the instrumentation of their wings, the drum-beats of their limbs pounding against their own bodies and the whistle of air through the pipework of their beaked mouths.

The single occupant of the hall, a figure seated atop a pulsing dias, shrouded in shadow, leaned back his head and closed his shimmering maa'its. The acoustics in the chamber were perfect for music, and the Quaana were just concluding a particularly glorious song: the epic tale of Yo'gand. The song was reaching its climax: Yo'gand was making his Final Sacrifice to end the Cremlevian Wars and unite all castes and domains forever.

Shimrra let the music wash over him. Triumphant but mournful, with a bittersweet tang that haunted the soul. It was so beautiful he found himself reaching out with his modified hand to try and catch the music before if vanished.

He sighed as the Quaana wound down their song. They were fine singers, and they were also his last line of defense: in a case of dire need, he need only utter a single word and the Quaana would fly down from their perches and make everyone in the throne room save Shimrra himself very, very dead.

He turned his thoughts back to the problems at hand. Since the destruction of the Sernpidal worldship it was necessary to separate out the Yuuzhan Vong most essential to the war effort for transport from the dying worldships. It was a bothersome distraction from more important matters, such as the invasion of Coruscant. Shimrra briefly considered putting the Peace Brigade to work transporting the worldship inhabitants to some reclaimed planets. The infidel allies easily had enough ships for the task, even if they were abominable machines.

Shimrra weighed the value of having the worldship-bound Yuuzhan Vong on their new worlds, working toward victory, against the blow to morale that would come from making use of machines instead of living transport and discarded the idea. Their contribution just wasn't worth the cost, so let them face death like true Yuuzhan Vong; those worldships that could reach an occupied planet would have a new home. Those that could not... would not. The gods would decide who was worthy.

He leaned his head back and felt the throne's cognition hood flow around his temples. Joined to his worldship's rikyam, he opened the qahsa and called up records of the current progress in producing ships, dovin basals and other war material, along with projected results. Prefect Drathul would be coming before him later this cycle, with some proposals for administering these planets more efficiently.

Knowing Drathul, he would also include chances for him to increase his own power and wealth in the process. The high priest Jakan also wished to speak to him regarding the Jeedai heresey and what actions, decrees and sacrifices might induce the shamed ones to abandon this blasphemy. Jakan swore he would do anything to turn them back to the gods.

"Then make them true caste, you fool." This was another blunder he could lay at Mezhan Kwaad's door. A pity she was unaware of how low she had fallen and how terrible was her punishment. (I must have my own Jeedai now, for no other reason than to counter this heresey.)

Abruptly, he disengaged from the qahsa and called up his Eyes and Ears in the special projects damutek. He wanted Onimi present during these audiences: he was most useful during such audiences, his tumbling and capering often distracted those who came before Shimrra's throne, so that they slipped and said more than they meant to. The jester was both clever and perceptive as well.

He had a gift for satire and could mimic scheming prefects and pompous priests with a wit so sharp it could draw blood. Often Onimi would interrupt a supplicant with a single, biting remark that laid all his schemes and hidden agenda's bare. He so loved showing up beings supposedly his betters.

A wall of mist rose up before Shimrra, then a window opened in the heart of the mist, looking into another place. When he last looked in on the malformed jester he was waiting in Nen Yim's lab for the shaper herself to appear. Shimrra was disappointed to see that the meeting was almost over. Nen Yim had been presented her 'gift' and Onimi was leaving the laboratory. He spoke a command and a second window opened beside the first, so he might view the images and sounds recorded in the lab.

Shimrra steepled his fingers as he watched. When he saw Onimi cast a last, longing look back at Nen Yim before the door clamped shut, he smiled.

***

In his chambers aboard the living vessel taking him back to Shimrra's worldship palace, Onimi honed a coufee until the edge was sharp enough to split skin with a touch. He tested it with his finger and watched the blood run down his hand.

He drew a crimson mark on his forehead before the cut closed, the symbol of a domain that had disowned him. His brother would probably have it scrubbed away when they found Onimi's corpse, and the crew who saw it would doubtless be sacrificed to keep them silent. Onimi hoped so. He hated them, as he hated all who were born whole and well-formed in the gods' eyes.

He looked to the coufee. It was clean: the living blade had already drank the blood that had touched it. "You don't reject me, at least." Onimi gave a sardonic smile. "You may even appreciate me, in your own way. Well, take your nourishment."

His thoughts turned to Nen Yim, as they often did. His sweet Nen Tsup, she had no idea how close he was to breaking those specimen bulbs. Nen Yim a shamed one: who would want her then? Not Suung Aruh, that pet of hers who followed her around like a loyal bruz toy and cast her loving looks when she wasn't looking. No one would. No one but Onimi. She would even be blind when her maa'its rotted and fell out, so she might even grow to care for him if she didn't have to look at his face.

Onimi had wanted to break those bulbs and release the toxins inside. He'd decided to, intended to, been about to, only to look at her and find that he just couldn't. That was the cruelest joke of all, and as a jester he appreciated it fully.

Onimi balanced the knife on the palm of his hand. It was traditional to pray to the gods before offering sacrifice. He smiled. "You've cursed me since the day I was born, and every time I thought things couldn't be worse you produced a fresh torment. I could've done this years ago, but I decided to live just to spite you all. Now you've finally found the one torture I can't endure." He tossed the coufee, watched it spin, then caught it. "My thoughts are drops of blood, pooling at my feet. My every thought a sacrifice. No more. Let someone else feed you with their pain, you've had enough of me."

He was eager to look on those gods that had seen fit to do this to him. Yun Yuuzhan, Yun Shuno, Yun Harla, Yun Txiin and Yun Q'aah especially. Perhaps he would hack a few more pieces off them, create some supernovas and give birth to a couple of solar system full of creatures. "Now, comes the reckoning." He placed the tip of the blade over his stomach.

A shadow formed in the cabin, coming from nowhere and filling up the room like a searchlight in reverse, sucking in light instead of projecting it. Two shimmering eyes gleamed in its heart.

"The gift was received well?" Came Shimrra's whispered voice.

"That was cruel, what you did." Onimi turned his head toward the patch of night.

"And cruel to make you deliver the news." Shimrra responded. "No matter how liberally to used my name as the chief shaper in this, Nen Yim will always remember you as the bearer of her punishment. If ever there was a chance she would look with favor on you, it is gone forever."

Onimi didn't ask how Shimrra had guessed his feelings: the supreme overlord wasn't a fool. "The gods alone know how much I hate you." He could say things like that when they were alone, he had the right: if Shimrra's flesh was sacred then so was Onimi's, they shared the same being.

"I think I can imagine that hate." Shimrra said. "Your face is dirty, Onimi. Clean that mark from your forehead and prepare yourself. I wish your presence during an audience."

"My apologies, but I have a prior appointment." He gestured with the coufee.

"I did not give you permission."

"I did not ask for it."

"Onimi," Shimrra shook his head, his maa'its shimmered from red to purple to green, "you know the gods hate a coward."

"They hate me already." Onimi snapped. "And how am I a coward?"

"You are running from pain rather than embracing it."

"Pain?" He threw back his head and laughed. "What do you know of pain? What do any of you? The warriors put a few scars on themselves, hack off a limb or two and are showered with glory. Ha!" Onimi rammed his fist into the wall. "Let me tell you what a real sacrifice is. It is having a thousand scars that no one will ever see and wonder over," he tapped his chest, "it is being low, despised and mocked. Real pain is being so close to-" his throat hitched "-what you want most in the world and knowing you can never have it." He lay the edge of the blade against his throat. "How do you suffer? You speak of sacrifices, well brother, what sacrifices do you make?"

He tightened his grip on the hilt, but something held him back. There was one question he wanted answered before he died. And now was his last chance.

"Do you want me to behave? To come back and play the fool for you some more? Then tell me why. Why did you let me live and why do you keep me alive? Tell me or I'll seek my answers among the gods."

Onimi glared at Shimrra, the author of all his woes. Onimi would have been given back to the gods at birth and spared a miserable life had the law not decreed only one hand could slay him. So, as it was ordained, he was separated from the other-that-was-he, trained in the arts of war, of politics and administration, of religion and the mysteries of shaping, his teachers never hiding their disgust of him. Then at his fifteenth naming-day he was reunited with his twin.

Onimi cast away his coufee without offering battle and knelt before Shimrra. His last sight would be his own face and form, free of deformity and perfect in the eyes of gods and Yuuzhan Vong.

Shimrra had watched Onimi with unreadable eyes, raised his own coufee, then opened his hand to let the blade clatter to the floor. He then made his first decree as supreme overlord and had rewritten history. All the official records would say his twin, his normal twin, had perished in combat, as was ordained. It was easy enough to manage: both of them had been raised in seclusion. As for Onimi himself, Shimrra found a place for him.

For a long moment Shimrra was silent, and it seemed Onimi would die without his answer. Then the shadow spoke.

"I wanted to kill you that day we were brought together for the second time. I looked down at you and saw myself, twisted and malformed, and rage tore at me. Yet in the midst of it I heard a voice, commanding me to stay my hand. It was the first time Yun Yuuzhan spoke to me, Onimi, and he said you must not die, that there was a service you had yet to perform for them."

He folded his hands and spoke in a calm, soft voice. "Since then not a cycle has passed that I have not looked upon you at least once, and seen the wretched thing I might have been, that is as much a part of me as my own flesh, and every time I look at you I feel swarm of grutchin tearing me apart. Perhaps Yun Yuuzhan means to keep me humble." Shimrra tilted his head. "So you see, Onimi. You are my sacrifice." The shadow began to fade. "Clean my mark from your face and ready yourself. I'll expect you in my throne room in one quarter of a cycle."

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