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He watched helplessly as she was stabbed right before his eyes.
Ronderu investigated the bug’s limb poking out from her midsection in mild wonder. So she had finally died. She gave a little sigh, giving up the soul that had so valiantly fought for her people. But however calm she may be at her own death, he was frantic at it. He couldn’t possibly make it over there in time to save her or even retrieve her body, and there were swarms of soulless bugs that would annihilate him if his focus diverted from his own preservation. Oh, what he wouldn’t give to at least be there by her side as she drew her last breath, to be there with her to the end like he should’ve done--
But then the nightmare abruptly changed. A towering red figure stood above him, and he was a creature of flesh and bone again--not himself. Overwhelming fear crashed upon him in waves, as if a fear from the grave had risen for the sole purpose of annihilating him. In a stairwell away from him and to the right, a figure in a maroon mask bolted down the stairs, but far too slow. The figure in front of him swung his blade, and he slipped backwards into gray mist with a scream for help. No, a scream for someone to go with him into the darkness to come, anything, just don’t leave me like this, with nothing and no one in the world--
Grievous bolted upright, so fast that he slammed his head against the roof above him with a loud clang. Snarling at his own discomfort, he sank back against his tough mattress, his hand absently rubbing the spot on his forehead that had connected with steel. As he tried to dig up the nightmare images of his dream, he heard a panicked, half-awake shuffling above him. A face loomed down at him from the top bunk, still drowsy and wondering what had so rudely woken him up.
“What the crap, Grievous?” he demanded, though the only response he got was a blank stare up at the ceiling from his bunkmate. “Gave me a heart attack!”
“Well, ain’t that poetic,” retorted Grievous, rolling over to glare at the wall. “Mandalore dying of a heart attack in fear for his best buddy the cyborg. It’s even in your name.”
“What happened? Did you kick something in your sleep or something?” pressed Mandalore.
“Just...nothing. Go to sleep, Ka’rta.”
“All right, but if you wake me up again, I’m getting my shotgun.”
With a rustle of sheets, Grievous could tell that he’d rolled over and disregarded their midnight conversation. Figuring that Ka’rta had the right idea, Grievous tried to sleep his eyes. But his eyes wouldn’t close, subconsciously terrified of such a horror rising from the depths of slumber to terrorize him again. He groaned in frustration, though in reality his fear was greater than his anger. He wouldn’t sleep tonight, would he?
He rolled to sit up, legs over the edge of his bed. His audio receptor whirring, it detected nothing but Ka’rta’s snoring. Satisfied with the results of his experiment, he got up and, as silently as he could, made his way out of the room into the hallway. He made it to the bridge without encountering any night terrors, not even Manslaughter. But even when he knew nobody was awake, the place was eerily empty and silent without Kailaa’s constant jabber. Even Manslaughter the semi-tame nexu lounging in the middle of the floor would’ve been better than no one.
But why was he lonely? Why did it suddenly feel so wrong to be isolated, when he had been ever since--
Even thinking of that sent a shudder of fear through him. The nightmare had been so vivid--as if he was actually reliving the memories instead of contorting them in a dream. Then there was that other story, one that he’d never read or seen. But whose memories were those, if not his?
“Can’t sleep, huh?”
Even at the familiar voice, he whirled instinctively to face a potential enemy. But all there was was a girl of about thirteen, her midnight black hair cut into a simple bob cut. Her eyes flashed constantly under her bangs, as if they couldn’t decide if they wanted to be gray, green, or blue. She had a distant smile on her face, though her default expression couldn’t hide the mingle of emotions behind the mask.
“No,” reported Grievous truthfully. “I had a weird nightmare. Scared me half to death.”
“You too?” Grievous had no idea how she could read his expression--the only organic part of him that was visible were his eyes. But perhaps it had something to do with her force sense. She chuckled a little at his ‘expression,’ wandering over to the pilot’s chair. “I’m kidding. I know you had a nightmare. And I know what it was about. And no, I didn’t pluck that from your mind just now. I can only do emotions on the fly.”
“Then how do you know?” pressed Grievous, taking the copilot seat. But some part of him didn’t want to know.
“I...well, are you sure you want me to tell you?” she confirmed, looking up at him. For the first time he could remember, he saw fear in her eyes. “I don’t know how you’ll feel about me afterwards.”
“I can handle it,” he assumed. “Go on.”
“Well, I was conscious in the middle of the night about half an hour ago because Manslaughter was scurrying around and her claws on the floor woke me up. So I decided to do some poking around--in a mental sense. I wanted to know more about you. What had possibly made you so bitter and violent? So I kinda invaded your head--and then I got the whole tearful tale. I suppose you got my sob story, too.”
She almost wished she hadn’t explained it to him. He’d turned to gaze out at the mottled blue-white-black of hyperspace, his golden eyes clouded. She didn’t want the power to reduce such a powerful being to this. The power to hurt her friends in a way she couldn’t hope to control.
“Yeah, I did,” he replied finally, his voice even hoarser than usual. But it was also quiet. “I guess I didn’t understand you, either. I thought I knew you--as much as anybody could.”
“Don’t fool yourself,” chided Kailaa, also staring off into the distance. “You do know me better than anyone--better than myself, even. I thought I knew me--but I’ve changed. So much I don’t know who I am anymore.”
Here her voice broke. Though he didn’t have the heart to look at her when she was so defeated, Grievous turned towards her before he could stop himself. His heart stopped. She was sobbing, quietly but uncontrollably, her hand clasped over her eyes and revealing nothing of her face but a trembling lip.
“I--I just don’t know what went wrong,” she gasped.
“You’ll be okay,” he blurted, though he had no idea where the instinct to comfort had come from. “I know it must be hard for you, being shot into the future and all that--but I’m still here. Ka’rta’s here. Even Manslaughter--you’ve got us.”
“But I don’t have Dad,” she whimpered, burying her face in her hands. It seemed like an eternity before she was composed enough to speak. And he just sat there, staring at her--merely there to be there for her. She finally looked up, meeting him in the eye, her own multicolored eyes puffy and still weeping.
“But you’re right. I have you. And we have something very special in common.”
“And what would that be?”
“We both have bitter memories...of a loved one in a mask.”
Neither spoke for a long time, replaying their own life stories.
“What’s it like?”
“Hmm?” replied Kailaa, looking up at Grievous incredulously.
“To see fear like that.”
She looked tense as she explained to him, as if the topic distressed her somehow. “I see the emotions. They’re like lights that shine from inside someone. Different kinds of negative feelings have different...colors, I guess. I only have time to focus on it when I’m idle. That’s why I’m always rooting for the next adventure. That’s why I hate being bored.”
“But why?” continued Grievous. “That’s a great talent, Kailaa. You should use it more often. You’re the kind of girl to use an advantage like this. Why wouldn’t you?”
Kailaa looked up at him, her eyes overflowing with a jumble of fearful emotions that would’ve painted a rainbow.
“Because when I see them...I glow.”