Vengeance of the Stone Hand

Princess Denna Alsakan, of House Brannen, lifted her head to the heavy footfalls crossing the metal floor to meet her.

Looking up meant her neck shivered with lighting strikes of pain that disappeared into her shoulders as she attempted to see through the gloom with blurry eyes. The deep searing muscles in her neck and shoulders ground into the dull ache of her arms, pulled over her head, where she dangled from the darkness above by her wrists, which were so tightly bound that her hands felt like distant blisters of throbbing agony. Her bare feet could barely touch the floor, and her breath was shallow, even as her heart began to quicken, as the panic that swirled around her captors began to set in once more.

"Please, let me down," her voice sounded like a gasp, the quietness of it making her even more afraid.

"It has been only a handful of hours, Princess."

She could not see him, he never stepped close enough, never into the ring of glowing red that provided the only light in this chamber.

"I am in great pain, I cannot withstand this torture," she tried to speak kindly, to sound righteous, but her voice held only fear, and pleading.

After a moment of silence he spoke again, "Now that you know this… feeling… Could you imagine sleeping like this? I was once held bound by my wrists for three days. Kept barely more than starved by a wet sponge and food injected into my body through metal tubes. The faces of my attendants were always hidden from me, behind the suits that protected them from my… biology."

"I don't know who did this to you," Denna could only speak those words now because every conversation had been like this through the night, all interactions becoming stories of her captors previous life, some kind of experimental torture, some kind of prison, "But it was not me, I am not a monster…"

A quick sharp breath frightened her so suddenly that she could not even whimper.

"Be careful your words, Princess," her captor's voice was a hiss, laden with rage, "Monster is not an insult here. Not to us."

For the first time since her being hanged here, Denna's keeper stepped close enough that the crimson light could conjure a black and red shape before her. He stood twice as tall as her own full height, and wore a patchwork of rotting clothes under a junkyard of salvaged armor, the crests of the Jedi, the Tionese, the Republic, the Mandolorian… all nearly clawed away, hanging tightly in place wherever they could be mended into his facade.

And above the graveyard of armor was a face set with red eyes that seemed to magnify the light and glimmer it back into the shadows. Around his fiery glare were dull black shards of crystal that pierced leathery flesh and grew like jagged feathers from the bone beneath. Spearing outward from his chin, his nose, the crown of his head like a halo of thorns. He was once a man, but now he looked like a shattered glass skull wearing the shape of a human face.

His eyes were intent, but he was not angry. His face was still, but he was not emotionless. In a moment of clarity Denna could see that somewhere beneath all the deviltry of his appearance, and all the venom in his voice, there was a profound pain, a sadness set deeper than the bottom of an ocean.

"We are all monsters here, Princess," he whispered, "And we had little hope for vengeance against our makers. Because your father," his jaw locked as he said it, "has taken all justice from us."

"Please…" Denna tried to twist in her chains, but the pain locked her in place, and she began to cry, "My father wouldn't… please… He will listen to you, he will come to save me, please…"

"Oh, I have no doubt your kind patriarch will pay ransoms and cut throats to have you back, dear child," he was unmoved by her shivering form, "And that's why such leverage must be used wisely."

For a moment he stared at her there, the tears sliding down her neck and into her matted hair. "You don't even remember me, do you? No. How could you? At the trials it was never a face of our own kind that was broadcast to the Republic. No. It was only the same image. Over and again. First of your father, delivering such a moving speech about the intentions and the noble causes of Czerka. Of our makers." He stepped closer, so close she could smell his breath, "And then the footage of you, holding his hand, telling the stars that we are not bad monsters. That we are good monsters." The skull of his face smiled, a bent, vindictive smile.

Princess Denna Alsakan, of House Brannen, for a moment choked on her own sobs, as the face of the creature her father had shown her so many years ago suddenly became the recognizable face of her captor. She remembered his words, spoken over and again, Remember, little Denna, if anyone asks, your father is defending the good in these monsters. What good they could have done…

The Good Monsters, she thought, that's what she had called them in her own mind, until she spoke those words out loud. Unwittingly in front of a slew of broadcast droids watching her father's council on the matter of war crimes. She was only a child of seven years…

Moving around her now, like a predator circling for the strike, he watched as she gasped for breath, "There are those among my people that would have you ripped apart. Or cut into pieces. This was our fate, randomly at times. But those of us who have survived have come to an understanding about this Galaxy."

From behind them both the dull red glow suddenly released a soft hissing sound, and a hum began to fill the vast chamber. Denna thought her cold bare toes could almost feel the metal below her begin to warm. The air grew thick as a hatch hissed open, and the dank moisture made her skin warm even as her blood seemed to freeze.

"What are you doing? What is going to happen?" her adrenaline force her mind to awareness.

"In all these wars and battle fronts, in all these missions. Amidst the death, and the demands, and the lies of the Republic, one thing remains immutably true, dear Princess." Her captor's voice struggled for volume as he shouted over the now growing sound of machinery thrumming and steam venting. Controls she could almost see, somewhere behind her, illuminated and responded in soft beeping sounds. "If you want to survive, if you want to become greater than your enemies and your overlords, you must have one thing…"

With a sudden jerk, the chains suspending Denna began to grind, rising and moving slowly backward. She shrieked, and what little energy was left in her kicked at the air. She twisted her wrists, wringing her hands as all of her body exploded with pain.

"Leverage!" he roared as she was moved into position over the embers of the pit, now gaping wide and ready to receive her, "You must have something sacred! Something so sacred that it makes your death beyond justice, or power, or consequence. You must have something your enemy loves, Princess. And you must keep it longer than you expect to ever live."

The chamber was prepared, the sweltering humidity of the carbon freeze primed to consume her.

"No!" Denna could only scream, her voice a hoarse, shrill sound muted by the din.

"Come now, Princess!" he laughed, "I've done you so many favors! I defended your life before the ones that deserved to slay you! I have hung your body upright so long, and starved you so perfectly, that you will certainly sleep soundly in hibernation!"

Her chains jerked once, dropping quickly, just for a spasm of seconds. Denna shrieked again, and then closed her eyes.

"Do not fear that your father will seek to find you," he roared, "But make no mistake - before he ever finds you, he will find us. And when he does… well… We shall see who is truly the Good Monsters… and who will, in the end, become the one's… forgotten."

The chains went limp, and Denna fell into the chamber's hot core like a wet cloth. Her body in a heap on the warm metal floor, her binders clicked, and the chain zipped back out of the carbon freeze chamber.

She had just enough time to stand on her own two feet, in an attempt to greet her fate as a Princess of Brannen House should. But her spirits were broken. And instead, she covered her face as she began to weep, her last thoughts before sudden sleep stretching into a question, "Who then can find me? Who then can save me?"

"Who will come to rescue me?"

And then shocking white-hot cold, and darkness.

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