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Saga - OT A Diamond in the Rough (AU Ezra/Mara): OTP Fairy Tale Challenge, Ch. 4 11/21/17

Discussion in 'Fan Fiction- Before, Saga, and Beyond' started by Raissa Baiard, Oct 4, 2017.

  1. Raissa Baiard

    Raissa Baiard Force Ghost star 4

    Registered:
    Nov 22, 1999
    They both are used to being seen as what they are (a street kid, the Prefect’s daughter) than who they are. So for someone, even someone so different from what they’re used to, to look past the surface is a new experience for them. They both have accepting and open hearts, despite the way they’ve been judged...and of course, it doesn’t hurt that they find each other cute. ;)

    Darn Imperials always show up at the worst times for Mara and Ezra! They didn’t even get to kis in this universe. Doran (and Raissa) are certainly sympathetic to Mara’s plight with the Academy, even if they’re in a difficult situation because of Raissa’s job. And Doran has a soft spot for his little girl; she’s a lot like him in many ways!
    Oh, yes, there’s more to come and they will meet again—it Is a fairytale after all!
    Mara’s totally listening to her heart, her right brain, The Force and all here. Despite that pesky mom-like voice in the back of her mind asking her what she thinks she’s doing, he was going to rob you she follows Ezra. They’re both flirting of course, but they’re not going to admit it, maybe not even to themselves

    Thank you! I was going a bit from the diagram of Fort Ezra in Ezra’s Rebel Journal. Everything he has is secondhand, scavenged or stolen, but he’s still trying to put together a real home, not just some scavenger’s lair (and of course, Ghost’s presence helps transform it, too). The food—again, I’m going by Ezra’s Rebel Journal, which mentions him digging through the dumpsters of fancy restaurants for food (good as long as you get there before the rats) and plotting to steal Imperial rations like the ones Mara gives him (“they look delicious”). He can’t be eating particularly well. Mara’s gift—and her offer of credits—are meant less as an act of mercy, than a desire on her part to acknowledge his kindness for sharing his home and not to add to the burden. (And note that she’s thinking beyond a day here ;)) I think Ezra sees the spirit in which it’s given from her offer to “share” her supplies. not pity...or maybe he’s too smitten at the moment.

    It all comes back to the hair...

    He very much is. Follow the white Loth-cat... he may be the only one who really knows what’s going on!

    Yeah, what with the helmet eyes not aligning with the placement of actual Human eyes...

    See above about following the white Loth-cat.

    Nobody can school pompous Imperials like Doran! (Except his lovely wife:D) Yes, some of the scenes in this story are nods to Star Crossed— some are similar by virtue of the plot, some are little more direct parallels. You notice this time around, Mara gets Dad for her Very Disappointed Parent...and he’s not nearly as stern as Mom.

    Oh yeah, Ghost’s got it figured out! His nose knows...or maybe his Force Sense. He’s done quite a good job of finding Jedi so far!

    I hadn’t thought about parallels to Rey, but I can see it now. Even before he became a street-rat, Ezra was no one special in the Galactic sense, just another kid living in a typical working-class household on the Outer Rim. But like Rey, he’s far more than he realizes, more than most people see. Mara has a soft spot for him—and Doran has a soft spot for her ;) (Good thing for Ezra!) The Jedi Council would not have approved, and Doran gives exactly zero kriffs for what the opinion of their blue Force ghosties would be. :D

    [face_blush] [face_blush] [face_blush] Well, thank you! I hope you continue to enjoy the story!

    Oh yes... that hair, those eyes, that grin! Mara is as much a smitten Loth-kitten as Ezra :D They’re probably even a little more awkward here, being slightly younger than in Star Crossed , but they’re still crushing on each other in a big way, with the Force and a certain kitteh nudging them along. And the Aladdin quote was too perfect not to use; Fort Ezra may not be as impoverished a dwelling as Aladdin’s hovel but it’s probably just because Ezra has access to better junk. They’re both living on a combination of other other people’s cast offs and their own ambition.

    TEH AWKWARDNESS1!!1! I confess, I was a very awkward teen (heck, I’m an awkward adult :p), so I guess I finally found a good use for it! Mara’s not the type of girl to pretend she’s something she’s not, and for all his hard-boiled street-rat exterior, I think Ezra’s a very genuine person, too. They’re both looking for someone to accept them as they are. And, yeah, Ezra’s thinking of something, I’m sure... now, what exactly he’s thinking of...?

    Ghost is a clever kitty, attracted to all things—and people!—Force-related! Being a cat, he’s probably a little amused by these silly Humans and the fact that he has to nudge them in the right direction. ;)

    Doran is a true Space!Dad. Anyone who messes with his kid is going to get a good shebs-kicking... or at least a good snarking and Jedi mind-tricks (though Doran would happily and handily have kicked shebs, if necessary.) Ezra’s smart enough to notice those details, and Doran is smart enough to know he has, and yep, he’s ready to suggest to Ezra that he and Mara were never there before she intercedes. I kind of hate the whole “you looked at my daughter, now I have to kill you” Protective Dad trope. It’s really not Doran; he pushed the boundaries in his youth, and he sees a lot of himself in his daughter. But overall, he knows Mara well (in my head canon, he’s done a lot of the child rearing in the Blayne family) and he trusts her. He might be firm, because after all, she’s basically run away from home, but he’s not draconian.

    Thank you! It’s sad, because even though Ezra knows Mara has seen that he’s more that just another Loth-rat, he doesn’t accept it himself. He won’t let himself reach out to her or follow her; he’s not a nice young man from a nice neighborhood so he’ll never be worthy of her. If he had, Ezra might have found her parents more accepting than he would have thought (even Raissa, since he hasn’t been hauled in to her office in binders in this universe!) But Of course, that would end the story a bit quickly....and there’s still a Dark Man with a Dark Purpose lurking out there somewhere....
     
    Last edited: Jan 8, 2018
    Findswoman likes this.
  2. Raissa Baiard

    Raissa Baiard Force Ghost star 4

    Registered:
    Nov 22, 1999
    Thanks to those gems of beta-readers, @Findswoman and @Ewok Poet. [:D]

    Chapter 6

    “Hey! Watch where you’re going!” The matronly woman, whose load of packages dangled temptingly in a string bag over her shoulder, scowled as Ezra’s shoulder accidentally bumped hers.

    “Sorry,” Ezra apologized with a wan smile. He really was sorry, mostly because that was the third mark he’d botched that day. He sighed morosely as he dropped back into the crowd. As much as he hated to admit it, he was getting careless and preoccupied. And he knew why.

    Ace. He couldn’t stop thinking of her.

    Every night, he dreamed of a girl with sleek flame-red hair and brilliant green eyes. Her last sad smile—I wish things could have been different—haunted Ezra. Two weeks, her father had said, until she started at the Imperial Academy—less than that now. Then what was going to happen to her? Ezra spent his evenings distractedly petting Ghost while tossing around various plans for sneaking into the Academy and breaking her out. The cat offered no suggestions.

    He’d wasted a couple days hanging out in Lothal Square pretending to be an errand boy with a delivery for the Prefect. Ezra had been kicked out of several administrative buildings by irate secretaries and hostile security droids before he’d found her office in a squat plastoid and pourstone building that was much smaller and dingier than the gleaming complex that housed the military. Against his better judgement, he’d trailed Prefect Blayne from there to one of the upscale apartment buildings on the edge of the city. It wasn’t the wealthiest area of Capital City, but he didn’t like to stay in too long because he stuck out like a…well, like a Loth-rat on the wrong side of town. He’d gotten a lot of sneers and sidelong looks from residents out walking their canids—and from the canids themselves, Ezra thought—but it had all been worth it when he caught a glimpse of a girl with flame-red hair sitting on the patio, staring pensively out at the prairie.

    His heart thumped when he saw her. He was tempted, so tempted, to go to her, to vault over the patio’s railing and…

    And then Ezra made himself turn away and told himself not to be an idiot. He’d known her for, what, a couple of hours? Why was he wasting his time making these crazy plans when he needed to be working the Bazaar? Ace was so far out of his league, he was better off forgetting about her.

    Credits, Ezra reminded himself sternly as he made his way back to the rundown marketplace where he belonged. He needed credits if he didn’t want to dig dinner out of the Bistro Lothal’s dumpster again. Ghost didn’t seem to care what he brought home, but Ezra was getting tired of gamy groat chops and wilted greens. He still had the IMMPs Ace had given him, but somehow he couldn’t bring himself to eat them, since they were the only thing he had from her. So, credits…. Find a mark, and this time, don’t screw it up.

    He made his way past a row of vendors, assessing each shopper as he went—a Rodian who looked like he’d already visited a couple of cantinas, though it wasn’t even 17:00. Not worth the effort; he’d probably drunk all his credits. A harried-looking mother whose twins were throwing a fit. She was distracted, but too many people were watching her. A square-jawed man whose thick build and pugnacious expression made Ezra write him off, given the luck he’d been having.

    Then he spotted the cloaked man.

    Ezra couldn’t have said what it was about the dark figure that drew his eye. He certainly didn’t seem like a likely target, with his ragged cloak and twisted walking staff. Something about the man just seemed wrong to Ezra, and on second glance, his cloak looked worn, but it wasn’t really threadbare and tatty. The cane was made of a heavy, dark wood that looked suspiciously like the ebon wood some of the vendors carved pricey trinkets out of. As Ezra studied him, his stomach inexplicably churned with revulsion and fear. Not this one.

    Yeah, Ezra agreed. Definitely not that one. He started to back away—he’d try somewhere else in the bazaar—and cloaked man tilted his head as if he’d heard something. Ezra saw a glimpse of red skin beneath the man’s hood, the flash of yellow eyes and a twisted smile. The man reached into his cloak, pulled out a bulging pouch and offered the jogan fruit vendor a credit with trembling hands. He took the fruit and fumbled with his pouch. It fell to the ground with the clanking thud of credits—lots of them. The man bent down laboriously to pick it up and hobbled off.

    Credits. Ezra really needed the credits; this was no time to be squeamish and superstitious. Even though his instincts had never steered him wrong. Even though the man had left his jogan fruit sitting on the table when he walked off. Ezra sidled up behind the man in the cloak and leaned forward, pretending to be interested in a display of second-hand electronics. He slipped a hand towards the pocket where he’d seen the man stash that pouch…

    With the suddenness of a snake striking, the man twisted around. His gloved hand clamped shut on Ezra’s wrist. The man’s hood fell back as Ezra tried to yank his hand free, and he heard himself yowl like Ghost during a thunderstorm. The stranger’s lurid red skin was tattooed with a sinister pattern. His horns were wickedly sharp—did he file those things?—and his blackened, broken teeth were the least disturbing thing about the smile he gave Ezra. “Ezra Bridger. I’ve been looking for you.”

    “What?! Who…?!” Ezra struggled against the iron grip on his wrist. Let go let go let go! His heart hammered. He hadn’t felt this scared since the first time the bucket heads had chased him down for stealing jogan fruit when he was seven. Who was this guy? What did he want? “I didn’t….I’m not…!”

    “What’s going on here?” As if things weren’t bad enough, the flattened tones of a stormtrooper cut in. Ezra heard the snick of an E-11 being cocked. Oh shavit…

    The man turned, putting his hood back up with his free hand. His triumphant stance slumped back into the hunched posture of a weary old man, and his ghoulish grin smooth out into a bland smile. “Nothing to trouble yourself with, officer. I’m afraid I just startled the lad. I haven’t seen my hold-son in years. No doubt he didn’t recognize me.” The man chuckled, a sound that made the hair stand up on Ezra’s neck. “Why, he’s grown so much I hardly recognized him!”

    The trooper glanced between them, and though his helmet betrayed no expression, the way he tipped his rifle suggested disbelief. “Heh, yeah,” Ezra chuckled weakly. He didn’t know what the cloaked man’s game was, but if it got him out of hot water with the Empire, he’d play along…for now. “I sure didn’t, Uncle...uh, Jogan. I don’t think you were quite as red last time I saw you. And are those new tattoos? Seriously, though, they’re a little freaky. I don’t think Mom would have approved.” He thought he saw the man grind his already ruined teeth in response to the glib remarks. Ha. Good…

    The stormtrooper either didn’t notice or didn’t care. Without any evidence that this wasn’t just a family reunion gone horribly awry, he grunted and lowered his weapon. “Move along, then. Any more outbursts like that, and I’ll take you both in for disturbing the peace.”

    “Of course, officer. Come along, Ezra. We have much to catch up on.” The man’s voice was pleasant but phony, like a droid trying to purr like a Loth-cat, and his vise-like grip on Ezra’s wrist never let up as he headed off at a much brisker pace than his earlier hobble.

    Ezra jerked to stop, but the man kept going, yanking sharply at his arm. Ezra pulled back. “Okay, thanks for not turning me and everything, but if you don’t let go of me…”

    The man halted and glanced back at Ezra, his glinting eyes just visible beneath the shadow of his hood. He clicked his—probably forked— tongue and shook his head as if Ezra really was his wayward hold-son. “Tsk, tsk, tsk. Such ingratitude, Ezra Bridger. After I saved you from being arrested, the least you can do is give me a moment of your time.”

    “What for?” Ezra wrenched his wrist out the man’s grasp, and rubbed it. That was going to leave a mark.

    “I have a business proposal for you.” Something like a smile curved the serpent-fanged tattoo around his lips. “Come now, to prove my good intentions, I’ll even buy you dinner. You look like you could use a decent meal.”

    The desire to tell this creep where to get off for grabbing him harder than a nek dog gnawing a bone, dragging him around like a sack of topatoes, and then insulting him warred with the fact that he really could use a good meal. He could keep his pride, but it meant eating dumpster scraps again. Take his food, then tell him off, suggested Ezra’s practical side. It’s just another scam. “All right, fine. I’ll listen, but I’m not making any promises.”

    Fifteen minutes later, Ezra was sitting across from the dark-hooded man in a booth at a semi-respectable cantina called the Mistress of Staves. A heavy-set Iktotchi waiter who looked like he probably doubled as a bouncer set a plate of tomo-spiced ribenes and fried topatoes in front of him. The food smelled delicious, better than anything Ezra had had in—months? Years? Ever? He bit into a ribene and made himself chew slowly. “So who are you really? And how do you know me?” he asked. “I don’t have a hold-father.” And even if I did, Mom and Dad sure wouldn’t have stuck me with someone like you.

    The man, who hadn’t even ordered a drink for himself, steepled his gloved hands in front of him. “I suppose you’d say I’m a seeker of lost knowledge and a collector of rare artifacts.” That did not exactly answer the question, Ezra noted as he shoveled a large bite of topatoes into his mouth. If the man was a collector, he was the kind that didn’t really care how he got his prizes. Ezra made a noncommittal noise, and the man continued. “I’ve been searching for a certain object for a long time now, one that will provide me with the answers I need. I tracked it to this planet, but I need someone with very particular skills to retrieve it.”

    “Me?” Ezra paused, the bite of ribene halfway to his mouth. His instincts were kicking in again, telling him to tread carefully here. There was something this man wasn’t saying, something dangerous. There were all kinds of thieves and pickpockets on Lothal. He wasn’t even the best one—yet. Why him? Why not one of Vizago’s goons? What was this thing the man wanted, anyway? “Why do you need me?”

    The man leaned forward, and his eyes gleamed avariciously in the shadow of his hood. “Because you, Ezra, have a gift. You can use the Force.” Ezra choked, spraying partially chewed ribene and topato into the man’s face. He glared, and clenched a fist momentarily before wiping the crumbs away. “You laugh, but I can sense it within you. You were using it to make that cretin of a stormtrooper believe you without even realizing it—clumsily, like a child fumbling in the dark, but I felt it.”

    Ezra snorted. “Right. I have a gift!” This guy was crazier than a spice-eating monkey lizard! The snake face tattoos should’ve been a dead giveaway. At least Ezra had gotten some good food from the barvy nutjob. “Because I’d totally be living like this if I could use the Force!”

    “Don’t laugh,” the man hissed, lunging forward across the table. He seized Ezra’s wrist again. “Shall I tell you about your gift, Ezra Bridger? You have a talent for these stories you tell. Beings believe you even when they shouldn’t. It’s almost as if you could read their minds. You’re faster than you should be. You jump farther. And you get strange premonitions warning you… you can’t explain it. You can’t control it. But get me what I want and I can teach you how to use your gift.”

    The bottom dropped out of Ezra’s mind. How… how could this man know all that about him? He’d never told anyone about his hunches or the way he knew just what to say to make people believe him. That was the Force? The Force Force...like those Jedi holo-comics he used to swipe from the underground markets? “Wait… the Force…?” The Force. The Jedi. Ace was a Jedi… “If I could use the Force, then I could be a Jedi!”

    “I can make you more powerful than any Jedi. The Jedi limited themselves with their self-righteous notions of Light and Dark. I can teach you the path to true power.”

    “Yeah, but I could be a Jedi?” If he was a Jedi… He wouldn’t be just another Loth-rat. He’d be somebody. Somebody who could stand up to the Empire. Somebody who could help Ace. A brief, but terribly attractive image of himself storming the Imperial Academy with a lightsaber in hand, much to Ace’s admiration, presented itself to Ezra. If he was a Jedi, then maybe he’d be worthy of her. “I mean, that’s what they do, right…use the Force?”

    The man leaned back, dropping Ezra’s arm with a snort of disgust. “I suppose if you insisted on taking a narrow view of your capabilities…”

    “I’ll do it.” Ezra held out his hand to the dark man, despite the alarms ringing in the back of his brain. For Ace, he reminded himself. So I can help her. So I can be something more than just a thief. “You teach me how to become a Jedi, and I’ll do whatever you want.”
     
  3. WarmNyota_SweetAyesha

    WarmNyota_SweetAyesha Chosen One star 7

    Registered:
    Aug 31, 2004
    I loved how Ezra was so discombobulated by Ace still ;) and how he got a glimpse of her on the patio and wanted to "jump over the railing" and talk to her, etc. ;) Then that dark creepo showed up and of course Ezra instinctively shied away, but a promise of nummy food, all the small details that Ezra never told anyone and to top it all off, Ezra's true wish to impress and help Mara out -- led him to falling into a very icky trap! [face_nail_biting]

    =D=
     
  4. Findswoman

    Findswoman Jedi Grand Master star 5

    Registered:
    Feb 27, 2014
    Oh, oh, oh, Ezra! :eek: Definitely "not this one"! There is a reason all your internal warning bells are going off right now—a very good reason! Such wonderful, masterdul dramatic irony at work in this chapter—we readers just want to reach into the page (or, fine, the screen, I guess :p ) and physically pull him from the clutches of this manipulative creep! Reality itself seems to be warning Ezra to steer clear: the man even sounds wrong. (“Like a droid trying to purr like a Loth-cat”—I just love how that description catpures the “uncanny valley” nature of the whole situattion, of Maul’s very being.)

    But no such luck. Maul knows exactly how to worm his way into Ezra’s trust, first rescuing him from the stormtroopers with his cockamamie holdfather yarn (“Uncle Jogan” put me in mind of the “Cmdr. Meiloorun” shtick in “Fighter Flight”), then buying him the first square meal he’s had in way too long (at an establishment with a very familiar name!), then promising him no more and no less than the power of the Force. He brings Ezra to the point where he (Ezra) doubts his own better judgment so much he’s actively fighting it—one can almost hear the gears clanking and rubbing and sparking inside him. It’s a very logical process, in its way: safety. Then food. Then the chance to be something more than he is. Then the chance to help and impress Ace. And that’s the crowning rationalization: it’s all ultimately to help her, to free her. Oh yes, Maul’s a despicable creep for sure—though the way you write him, and Ezra’s reactions to him, is absolutely superb.

    It really struck me that Ezra's thought process here is almost exactly like Anakin’s in Episode 3, and the exact same rationalizations are at work here as there: I’m doing this for her. She is worth ignoring my better judgment, or similar. Anakin too was led astray by a creepy manipulator who turned his better judgment against him. And not only that, in both Anakin’s and Ezra’s cases it all happens just at a moment when the hero is head-over-heels in love. [face_love] Tread carefully, Ezra! :eek:
     
    Last edited: Jan 17, 2018
  5. Ewok Poet

    Ewok Poet Force Ghost star 5

    Registered:
    Jul 31, 2014
    Ezra might be down at the beginning of the chapter, for not being able to forget Mara, but he should not be seeking advice from cats and thinking of crazy escape plans - it's all for the best. The Force works in mysterious ways and your and Mara's meeting wasn't a coincidence, boi. Personally, I feel like he might be a tad bit concerned about the words getting around and that Mara's little adventure with him possibly getting her in trouble, despite what Doran did. You never know who's watching!

    Of course, he's doing what he knows best - finding a scammy, albeit adorable way to find out where the mysterious Prefect and her family leave. Then he sees Mara, again. And finds a way to rationalise his fondness of her, despite everything having been love at the first sight. I wonder if Mara would've denied it if she had been in Ezra's shoes.

    Those folks at the Bazaar are really some colourful characters, aren't they? I enjoyed the juicehead Rodian in particular. :D

    And then...MAUL. Ezra's hunch is right, yet - sadly - he chooses to follow the mysterious man with a strange, dark aura to him because of credits. But it's too late! Sure that every single of those sinister things should have been a sign. Maybe if he had seen the forked tongue earlier...but just maybe...

    This sounds like one of those kidnapping stories. This AU of an AU keeps on getting creepier and creepier, every single minute. And yeah, the Sith use mind tricks, too. Brrr!

    Maul seems to be probing the boy's mind or something. He knows why and how Ezra fell for his trap and now that he has him at his feet, he can make him do anything. :(

    Sure, nobody scams a scammer! Still, Ezra is hungry and he goes with the creepy man, for another kidnapey thing - a free meal for a street rat. And it's a good meal. With a full tummy, he will believe whatever he's told, underestimate himself not knowing that his Force powers literally ARE what kept him alive all along. And the Palpatine-like speech that Maul gives to him at the very end just doesn't look good.

    Ezra, be wise!
     
  6. Raissa Baiard

    Raissa Baiard Force Ghost star 4

    Registered:
    Nov 22, 1999
    Yes, Ezra’s still got Mara very much on his mind, and the feeling that he’s not good enough for her (when of course Mara never hinted that was the case!) led him to fall for Maul’s sly promises.
    Maul is all kinds of creepy. I mean, he was pretty scary to begin with, and then you figure out that he’s now half machine :eek: He’s an evil, vengeful, bitter being and even Ezra’s rudimentary Force sense is able to pick up that wrongness. He ought to have listened, but the lure of the Dark Side is strong, and Maul plays him expertly.

    Uncle Jogan was definitely meant to invoke Commander Meiloorun—Hey, all for fruit!—and as far as that cantina goes, the Force doesn’t do coincidences. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem the proprietor was there at the moment, or he might have recognized the young man who helped his daughter. Instead, Ezra’s alone with creepy Uncle Jogan and his creepy manipulative promises. I really think that Maul has been the creepiest villain on Rebels. The others have at least been honest about what they wanted: submit to the Empire! Won’t do that, okay, but then we’re going to kill you. Maul, on the other hand sweet talks Ezra, promises him power, calls him his apprentice and even his brother, while all the while using Ezra ruthlessly for his own ends and doing horrible things to Ezra’s friends, first when they stand in his way, and later to make Ezra comply. He’s a master manipulator, all right. But here, as he did at first in “Twilight of the Apprentice” he knows just what to say to get Ezra to listen.

    Hmm...I hadn’t really thought of it while I was writing, but you’re right. Love (or at least a teenage crush) leads them to trust people they shouldn’t for the possibility of helping their beloved. And, come to think of it, they probably share a bit of the same insecurity about being worthy of their beloved’s affection. That kind of thinking overrides their instincts and makes them do things they shouldn’t, even though they know better (Though I promise no younglings will be harmed in the making of this fic.)
    Indeed, there’s at least one creepy creep who would probably love to get his hands on another Jedi... As far as asking cats for advice, hey, Ezra could do worse! We’ve already established Ghost’s pretty much the only one who knows what’s really going on...

    I think if Mara had seen him, she wouldn’t have hesitated to vault over that railing despite being so grounded, young lady.

    You know, the crowd scenes in Star Wars, like the cantina or Jabba’s palace, are always some of my favorites. I love the characters you just get fleeting glances of. I like to try to evoke kind of the same feel.

    Yep, Maul’s a master of manipulation. He knows from Vizago that Ezra is own his own and needs credits; once he’s got him hooked with the promise of an easy take, he reels him in by “saving” him from the trooper, offering him dinner... He knows all the right buttons to push so that even though Ezra knows better, he’s drawn into Maul’s snare.

    Oh yeah, Ezra, what are you thinking? When every one of your instincts is telling you to run, it’s not worth a plate of ribenes and topatoes if it means putting yourself in Maul’s debt. Because Maul knows that’s what it does. Every little fake gesture of “kindness” makes it easier for Ezra not to listen to that little voice. See, he’s not that bad...he didn’t turn me in...bought some good food... And then the promise of power and knowledge and importance to someone who’s never had them? Be wise, indeed!
     
    Ewok Poet and Findswoman like this.
  7. Raissa Baiard

    Raissa Baiard Force Ghost star 4

    Registered:
    Nov 22, 1999
    Thank you to @Findswoman and @Ewok Poet for beta reading@};-

    Chapter 7

    “Come on, come on!” Ezra revved the engine of his jump speeder, which was was less a vehicle than a collection of salvaged parts held together with spacers’ tape and baling wire. It whined and sputtered a little, but refused to turn over.

    He groaned and kicked at the chassis with his heels. He was supposed to meet the cloaked man—who’d still never given him his name— at sundown. Ezra wasn’t sure exactly what constituted “sundown”—who talked like that anyway? Even Ezra had a chronometer; it was stolen, of course, but that was different matter—but the sun was already low in the sky. He didn’t have time to go through the usual routine of coaxing, prodding and threatening the rickety old speeder to life.

    “Mrow!” Ghost leapt onto Ezra’s shoulder and peered around into his face, grinning.

    “Ghost!” Ezra sighed as he disengaged the Loth-cat and set him on the ground. “I don’t have time to play right now. I’ve got an important job tonight.” Maybe the most important job he’d ever had. If “Uncle Jogan” could really teach him how to use the Force, if he could become a Jedi, then everything would be different. He wouldn’t have to live like a rat in a hole anymore. And Ace...he could picture her smile, the way her eyes would light up when he told her…

    Ghost butted his head against Ezra’s leg, interrupting his reverie. The cat flicked his tail twice, and jumped onto the seat behind Ezra. He sat down, licked a forepaw, and swiped it behind one ear. “Mrrup,” he announced, cocking his head to the side.

    “Gah!” Stubborn cat! “Come on! I said I don’t have time!” Ezra reached towards him, but Ghost’s black paw shot forward, the tips of his claws out just far enough to catch on the cuff Ezra’s coveralls. The Loth-cat’s ears were back and his grin was gone. I’m coming with you, the flat look he gave Ezra seemed to say.

    Ezra drew his hand back in surprise. He’d never seen Ghost act this way before. The cat was usually a cheerful, if occasionally annoying, little fuzzball. He’d growled at the stormtroopers and attacked Aresko—who could blame him?—but he’d never tried to bite or scratch Ezra, not even when their games of “catch-the-rag-on-a-string” got a bit rough. “Fine. Whatever,” Ezra told him. “But neither of us are going anywhere unless I can get this stupid bike going.” He revved the handlebars again, and kicked it hard at the same time…the jump speeder spluttered to life.

    “Mrow!” Ghost jumped back to his perch on Ezra’s shoulder, and Ezra thought his grin looked particularly smug.

    “All right, but don’t say I didn’t warn you. This guy we’re going to meet—I don’t quite trust him. He looks like he could eat stray Loth-cats as a snack.” Maybe even stray Loth-rats… “Let’s go.”
    —-

    Ezra had chosen to meet “Uncle Jogan” at the Jolly Lothali, a cantina to the west of town where he sometimes did business with Vizago. Technically, Ezra wasn’t allowed inside since he was underage, but the owner tended to overlook him as long as he didn’t try to order anything—not like he had the credits to waste. The cantina was nothing great, just a sad little shack huddled on the edge of the grassland, full of sad, angry, drunk beings, but it had the benefit of being nowhere near Fort Ezra. Having the bucket heads drop by had been bad enough, but he didn’t want the creepy Zabrak knowing where he lived. After all, Ezra couldn’t scramble his brains the way Master Blayne had with Aresko and his goons.

    The cloaked man was leaning on his twisted walking staff, waiting, half-hidden in the shadow of one of the nearby stone hillocks. A gunmetal gray speeder—a sleek new Joben-85, not the kind of speeder a poor old vagabond would have—was parked alongside it. More proof, if any was necessary, that the ersatz Uncle Jogan was not what he pretended be. “I was beginning to worry that you’d changed your mind,” he told Ezra, in a phony, too-pleasant voice that barely hid a sneer. His eyes glittered red and yellow beneath his hood, reflecting the last sullen rays of the setting sun.

    Ezra brought his jump speeder to a clanking, shuddering stop, and dismounted, with Ghost still perched on his shoulders. Dear Uncle Jogan’s snide tone set his teeth on edge, even his eerie eyes made the hair on the back of Ezra’s neck stand up. “I said I’d be here. My word’s good.” He might not have much, he might be a thief and live in a rat infested tower, but he still had that much.

    Uncle Jogan chuckled, a humorless sound with more than a hint of “isn’t that precious” to it. His eyes narrowed and he waved a petulant hand towards Ezra. “What is that….thing?”

    It took Ezra a moment to realize he was indicating Ghost. “Huh? Oh, just my cat. He’s...kind of my good luck charm.” That sounded marginally more intelligent than “we argued about him coming and I lost”. And it was true, in a way. He never would have met Ace if it hadn’t been for Ghost, and that was the best luck he’d had since, well...since he could remember, anyway. “He won’t be any trouble.”

    The cloaked man glared at Ghost, and the cat began to growl softly. Ezra felt him tense, his claws pricking through Ezra’s coveralls. “Hmm.” At last Uncle Jogan turned away dismissively. “It had better not. Let’s get going, Ezra. The sooner you fulfill this task for me, the sooner I can begin teaching you to fulfill your true potential.”

    “Hang on; I’ve got a few questions first.” Ezra grabbed the man’s wrist before he he could climb on his speeder—it was only fair after the way he’d manhandled Ezra in the bazaar—and instantly wished he had not. The glittering malice in the cloaked man’s eyes made him want to hide in a hole like a scared Loth-rat. Ezra dropped his wrist, but drew himself up straight. Not gonna let this creep think he scares me, even if he kind of does. He owes me some answers. “Where exactly are we going? What’s this thing you need me to get for you? And what am I supposed to call you?”

    “Call me?” The man looked of his shoulder at Ezra as he swung one leg over the gray speeder, his lips curling into a mocking smile. “ ‘Master’ will suffice.”

    Ezra snorted and rolled his eyes. “Yeah, right. Guess we’ll be sticking with Uncle Jogan, then.”

    “Fine.” The cloaked man made a noise of exasperation as he strapped his staff onto the speeder. “If you insist, you may call me ‘Maul’. As for the rest, it will all become clear soon.” He revved the handlebars, and the sleek gray speeder shot off into the growing twilight.

    “Hey!” Ezra clambered back onto his own speeder and kicked it into gear. For once, the rickety contraption started on the first try and bucked forward with a jolt. “Hold on!” he warned Ghost, and cranked the accelerator as far as it would go. “This is gonna be a rough ride!”

    Fortunately, the moons were full; their silver light bathed the prairie, outlining Maul’s dark shape so that Ezra could follow as he sped into the night. Because he certainly wasn’t taking any care to make sure that Ezra could keep up. He was impressed that pieces hadn’t started falling off the jump speeder, as hard as he was pushing it. Maybe there was something to his story about Ghost being his lucky charm. Lucky that the cat hadn’t fallen off either, but somehow he managed to stay balanced on Ezra’s shoulders without digging his claws too far into them. Ezra could have sworn from the way Ghost was leaning forward that the crazy cat was actually enjoying the wild pace; if the he’d been able to speak, he’d probably have been urging Ezra to go faster.

    It was still a relief when Maul finally came to a stop—in the middle of nowhere. Ezra frowned as he climbed off his speeder. Ghost leapt down from his shoulders and began to sniff the air, his ears pricked and tail twitching curiously. Ezra looked around, too. “What are we doing here?” There was nothing there. Not a farm. Not a shack. Not even a jogan tree. Nothing but kilometers of empty grassland and here and there the ubiquitous stone outcroppings. It was gonna be hard for Ezra to steal whatever this thing was that Maul wanted when there was absolutely nothing there. Had Maul brought him out all this way on a wild bantha chase, or…? He took a step back towards his speeder, one hand creeping surreptitiously towards his energy slingshot.

    Maul gave another oh-so-superior chuckle. “I know what you’re thinking, my apprentice. You see only grass here, utter emptiness. But if you looked with the eyes of the Force, you would see it—a Jedi temple concealed beneath that hill.” He pointed to the largest of the stone formations. “Your first task is to summon it.”

    “Jedi temple? Summon it?” Oh, man, this guy’s stories just got better all the time! “How am I supposed to do that?”

    “Use your gift, Ezra. Reach out and feel the power that flows around you.” Maul’s voice was low, almost a purr, but more like the rumble of a well-fed nexu than a friendly Loth-cat. “Once you grasp the currents of the Force, bend them to your will. Compel the temple to appear and it will answer you.”

    “Yeah… that’s very… not helpful at all.” Ezra regarded the hill that Maul had indicated. It didn’t seem any different from any of others. A little bigger. Maybe slightly more pointed. But he sure didn’t sense any currents of power coming from it. Still, Maul knew what he was talking about, right? He could use the Force; he’d known things about Ezra he couldn’t have known any other way. What choice did Ezra have but to trust him? “Reach out? Okay…” He extended one hand.

    “Not physically, you dolt!” Maul slapped him sharply on the shoulder. Ghost, crouching at Ezra’s feet, hissed and swiped a paw at Maul, then sprang aside to dodge the Zabrak’s kick. “With your mind,” Maul continued contemptuously. “Your spirit. With…dare I say it… your soul.”

    Ezra rubbed his stinging shoulder “Okay, thanks, once again very unhelpful. If you can’t tell me anything else, I’m gonna try it my own way, okay?” Reach out with his spirit...whatever that meant. He remembered Ace and the way something seemed to stir around her like a whirlwind when she’d confronted Aresko. Could that have been currents of the Force Maul was talking about? Ezra took a deep breath and closed his eyes. Was there something out there? The faintest breeze rippling past him? A sound like music just on the edge of hearing? He thought maybe he could sense something and reached out for it. Summon the the temple, Maul had said. Summon it… Um, all right… Jedi Temple… uh, hi. This is Ezra Bridger, and, well, I need you to open or appear or whatever it is you do, because I have to get this thing for Maul. If I do, he’ll teach me to be a Jedi and then...then I can help Ace. She’s a Jedi, too, and she’s amazing. Smart and beautiful and incredible… and I need to be worthy of her. So if you could help me out, that’d be great. And he’d totally lost it… first he’d started talking to cats and now he was talking to a temple that wasn’t even there…

    There was faint rumble like faraway thunder; the ground began to tremble. Ezra’s eyes popped open and his jaw dropped. The hill in front of him was vibrating, turning in a slow spiral with the noise of grinding stone. He’d done it; he’d used the Force. Maul was right. He did have a gift. He could do this! He could be a Jedi!

    Suddenly, the hill shuddered to a stop.

    “Focus!” Maul shouted, thumping Ezra on the shoulder again. “You have to concentrate! Make it open; I will not be denied this time!”

    Ezra nodded, dumbstruck. Please open please open please open…. Maybe not the most intelligent or articulate request, but heartfelt and somehow it worked. The temple stretched upward from a hill into a towering edifice. It ground to a stop, and Ezra spotted the shape of a door in the side of the hill. “I did it…” he said, his voice hushed with amazement. “I really did it…”

    “Congratulations, apprentice,” Maul answered. “You’ve passed your first test. And once you bring me the holocron, nothing will stop us.”
     
  8. WarmNyota_SweetAyesha

    WarmNyota_SweetAyesha Chosen One star 7

    Registered:
    Aug 31, 2004
    Fascinating first task and Ezra did brilliantly. Too bad it was for that slime-dog "Jogan" :eek: :rolleyes: Happy Ghost insisted on coming along. Surprised he didn't put out feline signals "this dude is bad news. Start moving, Ezra and keep going!" Although Ezra wouldn't probably pay attention to the strong [face_bleh] messages. :p
     
  9. Ewok Poet

    Ewok Poet Force Ghost star 5

    Registered:
    Jul 31, 2014
    So many unsettling, creepy things in and around this chapter. Me likey! [face_skull]

    Of course, one can't help but be worried about where Ezra is heading right now, with "Uncle Jogan" as his possible "mentor". I can almost get the impression that he thinks the road from rags to riches is what he would have with Ace, while Jogan's road is a shortcut.

    And it feels like Ghost's behaviour raises a red flag. The kitteh knows that something bad is about to happen and he's trying to stop Ezra from making a bad decision. He is very persistent, but apparently, it's not helping, at least not yet. Seems like Ezra will have to learn the lesson on his own, without anybody's help.

    unless Ace saves the day, of course.

    Goosebumps. Shivers. He makes me sick, sick, sick. [face_sick]:_|

    Kiddo, listen to your intuition. LISTEN.

    And then the pivotal moment comes. And it's causing me even more goosebumps. I have not watched enough episodes of Rebels to see if anything similar to the summoning of this temple happens, but the way you described it, painting with words the best way you know, with flawless accuracy, it made me picture the whole scene in my head. A horror cartoon, unfolding just like that, right before our eyes.

    On the edge of my seat, deffo!

    ^:)^^:)^^:)^
     
  10. Cowgirl Jedi 1701

    Cowgirl Jedi 1701 Jedi Master star 4

    Registered:
    Dec 21, 2016
    Scooby-Doo says, "Ruh-Roh!"
     
  11. Findswoman

    Findswoman Jedi Grand Master star 5

    Registered:
    Feb 27, 2014
    Yep, I have a feeling that "good luck charm" is exactly what Ghostie-kitty will turn out to be in this questionable venture with "Uncle Jogan." He manifestly knows what he's doing in insisting on coming along with Ezra in that very feline way of his, and his strategic deployment of claws shows he means business. Nothing this animal does or "says" is insignificant or superfluous. Nor do I think it's mere coincidence that it's just at that moment that the speeder finally decides to start. [face_thinking]

    I can only echo what's been said already concerning the sleaziness and skeeziness of "Uncle Jogan." [face_sick] Ezra sees it too, thank the Force; good on him for pressing Maul just that little bit further about his name. That kind of caution is definitely one good thing his life on the streets has taught him.

    One thing that struck me about this chapter is how much it brought to mind the episode "Path of the Jedi." For one thing, this is probably that very same hidden temple on Lothal. What's happening here is kind of a dark, twisted version of what happened in that episode, and Maul is using the very same rhetoric with Ezra that Kanan used: focus, reach out with your mind/soul/spirit, and similar nebulous Forcespeak. Besides being true to the overall darker cast of this AU-of-an-AU, it also has the effect of reminding us that Kanan wasn't always the most patient or gentle teacher to Ezra either. (I don't remember if it was this episode or a different one during which my mother burst out with, "Bad pedagogy, Kanan!" :p ) But Kanan, even with his occasional moments of impatience with Ezra, ultimately cared for Ezra and had his well-being in mind; his main goal really and truly was for Ezra to become a Jedi and for Ezra to learn the ways of the Force. For Maul, in contrast, the development of Ezra's Force talent is merely a means toward his own ends; heck, he close to admits as much when he first talks to Ezra about it.

    I just love Ezra's "Um, all right, Jedi Temple, uh, hi" mental speech. :D It's very cute, very him, very in keeping with his character and with the skepticism he must be feeling at this point—talking to a building is one level of having lost it, but talking to a building that isn't even there definitely takes it to an all-new level! :p But it's interesting and notable that he doesn't beat around the bush: he outright admits that he wants to do all this in order to be worthy of Ace. And I have to think that that admission—that acknowledgment of his true feelings and motives—plays a part in his success in passing this first trial. (I didn't miss the sound of the Force as he's concentrating... he's starting to hear that familiar hummmmmmm. ;) )

    Naturally I'm pretty sure this isn't the end of Ezra's trials, and I have a feeling the ones to come are going to be even more difficult, testing him to his utmost even beyond the way he was tested in "Path of the Jedi." Stay strong, Ezra, and watch your step! [face_good_luck]
     
  12. Raissa Baiard

    Raissa Baiard Force Ghost star 4

    Registered:
    Nov 22, 1999
    Yes, he did quite well in his first real attempt to use the Force. Now if only he had someone to help him develop his gift who didn't just see him as a pawn in a bigger game. At least he’s got Ghost to keep an eye on him as heads into this risky venture.
    Thanks! Since you’re a mistress of creating creepy and unsettling atmosphere, I take that as quite a compliment! I don’t know that Ezra thinks of “Jogan’s” offer as a shortcut, so much as he sees it as the only path to becoming a Jedi and thus being worthy of someone like Ace. He doesn’t see any other way out of his present circumstances, and it’s not like anyone else is going to come along to teach him. So even though he has all kinds of misgivings, Ezra will go along with him.

    He should really being paying more attention to Ghost; as you pointed out earlier, he’s something of a Chekhov’s kitty. He can’t stop Ezra from going, but he’ll go with the stubborn kid and maybe keep him from getting into even more trouble than he’s already in.
    New hashtag #trustthewhitelothcat. :D

    [face_blush] Thank you, and yes something very similar happens in the Season One episode, “Path of the Jedi”. There are a few differences, mostly the result of me not watching the relevant episode again until after I started writing the story, but, hey, it’s an AU, right? :p The hill that houses the temp,e is somewhat larger than I described in the episode, but it does have to be summoned by a Jedi to appear, and it does spiral up from the ground the way I described. I recently watched the episode so I could get a feel for the temple’s interior, and if you like creepy, just wait for the next chapter :Devil:
    Ghost is one savvy kitty; he’s part good luck charm and part guardian angel—goodness knows Ezra needs both right now!—all wrapped up in one cute, fuzzy package. He’s got a plan and if he has to be a little firm in implementing it , so be it (though he only shows his claws just enough to let Ezra know he means business, not enough to hurt him.) And I think you’te Right about the coincidental timing of the speeder starting—after all the Force doesn’t do coincidences.

    Yes, as you point out, even in his most gruff and impatient moments, Kanan always had a genuine affection for Ezra, and indeed, a lot of his gruffness stemmed from his own insecurities about being a good teacher and failing Ezra. Maul, on the other hand, even when told Ezra they could be like brothers, was willing to sacrifice him to get what he wanted. So in a way, Maul really is the dark, twisted version of Kanan. I think it’s got to be difficult to tell someone how to use the Force, because how do you even explain those kinds of metaphysical processes and feelings? For another, I picture it as a bit of “your mileage may vary”, in that different beings experience the Force in different ways.

    Thanks, I had fun writing that bit, imagining Ezra trying to figure out how exactly to summon the temple. Because he’s so unprepared to do anything like this, I thought he’d just start talking to it. And yes, I think that openness and sincerity counts for something. Yes, he’s got a bit of an ulterior motive in wanting to impress Mara, but he wants to help her as well and to become more than the pickpocket that he is now. He stands in contrast to Maul, who only doles out as much of the truth as is advantageous for him.

    He’s definitely got more trials coming up as he heads into the temple itself.
     
  13. Raissa Baiard

    Raissa Baiard Force Ghost star 4

    Registered:
    Nov 22, 1999
    Thank you to @Findswoman for beta reading@};-

    Chapter 8

    Ezra peered into the narrow passageway that led into the temple. He was still having a hard time wrapping his head around all this—he’d summoned a Jedi temple hidden in the the hills. He’d used the Force and he was going to be a Jedi. All he had to do was get… “You still haven’t told me what this thing is I’m supposed to get. A holo-comm?”

    “A Holocron.” Maul sneered at the blank look Ezra gave him. “A device the created by the Jedi which uses the Force to record information, images, even memories.” He reached into the folds of his cloak and drew out an object like nothing Ezra had ever seen before. It was a pyramid made of some crystalline material in a lattice of dark metal, and it glowed a lurid red, pulsing faintly. Something about it made Ezra’s lip curl back the way Ghost’s did when he smelled something he didn’t like… but something else drew his eyes so that he could hardly look away from it. He wanted to touch it, to hold it. His hand crept towards the strange pyramid of its own volition.

    “Ah-ah-ah,” Maul chided, whisking the tantalizing knickknack back into his cloak. “You are not ready for that, apprentice. The holocron you are looking for will be similar, though most likely cubical. It may glow faintly when you pick it up, but I would caution you—do not try to open it on your own. Wait until you bring it to me.”

    “And how am I supposed to find it?”

    “Ah, that is your concern.” Maul smiled another patronizing smile as he ushered Ezra into the corridor with a none-too-gentle push. “Use your gift, Ezra. Remember, find the currents of the Force and make them obey you.”

    “Yeah, okay…” Ezra took a few steps down the passage—the dim, creepy passage into a supernaturally hidden temple that no living being had set foot in in who knew how long—and realized that Maul wasn’t following. “Aren’t you coming?” he called back.

    “No, I believe the temple would object to my presence.” Ezra gave a nervous chuckle, but from his expression, Maul was deadly serious. All right, so the temple objected to Maul; Ezra couldn't really blame it. He guessed it wasn’t much stranger than having to ask the temple to appear in the first place. Was all this Jedi stuff going to be so weird? “This is your trial,” Maul continued. “Remember, when you find the holocron, do not open it; bring it directly back to me.”

    “Sure. Got it…” Ezra rummaged in his backpack and found an old glow rod he’d salvaged from the garbage bin at the spaceport; some mechanic had thrown it out even though it still worked—mostly. Its flickering light didn’t do much to illuminate the passage, but it him feel a tiny bit more confident about walking into the dark...into the unknown...all by himself.

    Something bumped his leg and Ezra bit back a yelp. Panicking, he reached for his slingshot...until he heard a cheery “mrrrow”. Ghost grinned up him, his blue eyes reflecting the glow rod’s fitful light. Ezra laughed, feeling like a prize moof-milker for the way his heart was hammering. Just the cat! Well, at least he wasn’t quite so alone now.

    “Gonna help me find this thing, huh, Ghost?” Ezra leaned down to rub his ears. “You’re my lucky charm, right?” The cat smiled and frisked at Ezra’s feet as he continued down the passageway until it opened up into a large circular chamber ringed with columns.

    Ezra paused next to one of the massive stone pillars to get his bearings before continuing, and noticed a dark shape hanched at its base. He shone his glow rod toward it….

    “Aaah!” Sitting cross-legged against the pillar was a woman in brown robes—or, more accurately, her desiccated corpse. Ezra scrambled away towards the opposite pillar, only to find a Twi’lek in a similar state of decomposition, his lekku shriveled and curled, seated there. “There are dead people in here!”

    “So?” Maul’s lack of interest was plain; Ezra could just picture his sneer.

    “So? So there are dead people here! Dead Jedi!” Even in the dim light, he could see other robed figures seated around the room.

    A chuckle ricocheted down the corridor like a sharp stone bouncing off the walls. “Don’t worry. The dead can not harm you—at least not these dead. They’re just the Jedi whose apprentices never returned from their trials.”

    “Wait… what?! No one mentioned anything about never returning!” Ezra had kind of an aversion to dying alone in creepy temples; he never would have taken this job if he’d known there was a chance of winding up a dried-out corpse with a bunch of shriveled Jedi. What was he doing here anyway? He didn’t like Maul. He didn’t trust him. Why had he even taken this job? Was there any good reason he shouldn’t just turn around and go now?

    “I have confidence that you will not disappoint me, Ezra. Hurry now, I know you’re eager to begin your training.”

    Training…. Yeah, the Zabrak was an egotistical creep, but it wasn’t like Ezra had a choice. You did what you had to to get what you needed, whether it was credits, food or information. That was life. If Maul could teach him to be a Jedi so that he could help Ace, then it would all be worth it. She was worth it. “Right.” He took a deep breath and started across the cavernous chamber. I can do this. I have to do this.

    “Mrrrrrup!” Ghost trotted after him, scurrying to catch up.

    Despite the ominous atmosphere, the Jedi corpses, and the possibility of never coming back, Ezra couldn’t help smiling a little. “At least I’ve still got you, huh?”

    On the the other side of the pillared chamber was a doorway that led to another darkened passage. Unlike the entry corridor with its regular stone columns, this one was a natural tunnel, twisting and uneven; the gloom seemed thicker here. Ezra picked his way down the tunnel.His glow rod flickered a little, but its light held.

    The tunnel led to a small circular room with three doors. Each of them looked the same—a stone frame and lintel with nothing but darkness visible on the other side. “Great,” Ezra sighed. “How am I supposed to figure out which way to go now—do ‘Loth-rat, Loth-Cat, Loth-wolf, run?’” He looked down at Ghost, who was sniffing the air interestedly. “I don’t suppose you have any ideas?”

    “Mrow!” Ghost answered and shot forward, dashed through the door in the center and flew down the passage, his tail streaming after him, like a shooting star in the darkness.

    “Hey! Wait up!” Ezra ran after him, pursuing Ghost down the twists and turns of the corridor, following him past other tunnels that branched off to the side and through intersecting paths, but the cat was too fast. Ezra lost sight of him in the maze of corridors. “This...is.. what I get...for taking directions...from a cat,” he panted, leaning against the rough stone wall. He shone his glow rod around, trying to figure out where he was and where the cat could have disappeared to.

    The rod flickered once. Twice. And died.

    “No!” Ezra shook the rod, smacked it, trying to bring it back to life, but it remained stubbornly dark. He pressed himself against the wall, fingers scrabbling on the the stone to feel his way back the way he came… Like I know what that is. I’m gonna die here, alone in the dark. He’d be just another dried-up husk of a failed Jedi, and he’d bet Maul wouldn’t stick around long waiting for him, either.

    Suddenly, a brilliant light flared, almost blinding him. Ezra put up one hand to shield his eyes against it and saw a tall, gaunt figure striding towards him “Well, well, well...what have we got here? Looks like it’s public nuisance number one.” The silhouetted figure’s voice was familiar.

    “Aresko!” How had the Imperial sleemo gotten here? Had he fought Maul? Had Maul let him into the temple? Had Maul sold him out, the rotten cheat? Wouldn’t be the first time someone Ezra thought he could trust had given him the shaft, and it probably wouldn’t be the last… unless he couldn’t get out of here. Ezra took a careful, sidling step to the left. The click of an E-11 suggested that would be a bad idea. A stormtrooper stepped out of the shadows to his left, another to his right and a third from behind Aresko. He was surrounded.

    “I’ve been waiting for this day for a long time,”Aresko chuckled as he stepped forward until he was close enough for Ezra to smell the combination of booze and over-spiced ribenes on his breath. He turned away in disgust, but the Commandant wrenched his chin upwards, forcing Ezra to look up as he smirked down at him. “You always thought you were so clever didn’t you? Always one jump ahead of me. But look at you now, boy, trapped like the Loth-rat you are. Looks like you’re not quite as clever as you thought.” Aresko’s grip tightened as he gave Ezra’s face a shake. He stepped back, motioning to the stormtrooper on the right, who pulled out a pair of binder cuffs. “And now you get to spend the rest of your life in prison. I imagine you’ll die there, too...”

    “No!” Ezra had always been afraid something like this would happen someday—that he wouldn’t be fast enough, that someone wouldn’t believe his stories, that he’d be outnumbered—and the Imps would haul him off to some hellhole of a prison, the way they had his parents. But today wasn’t going to be that day, not if he could help it. Ezra pulled back the line of his energy slingshot and snapped off shots in rapid succession, firing wildly. One crashed into a stormtrooper’s helmet. He shouted and staggered, dropping his rifle as shock-burst crackled. Another caught a second trooper dead center in the breastplate; two shots went wild, splattering against the walls, but the last hit Aresko in the shoulder. He bleated like a sick eopie and clutched at his injury, dancing in fury and pain.

    In the commotion, Ezra writhed free of the tangle of troopers, shoved Aresko aside, and ran, charging blindly down the maze of tunnels. Suddenly a flash or white caught his eye. “Ghost!”

    The Loth-cat darted past Ezra into a side tunnel and paused, flicking his tail: Come on! Ezra sprinted after him…and tumbled down a steep slope, hitting what felt like a couple hundred rocks on the way down. He landed with a thud, the breath knocked out of him, and lay dazed on the stone floor.

    Slowly, Ezra realized he was in another small chamber, one with no other entrances or exits besides the precipitous slope he’d just come down—a dead end. And, he realized, he wasn’t alone.

    There was a low stone bench on the other side of the chamber, and two people sat there, a bearded man and a woman wearing a Lothali wimpled hat. It had been almost ten years since Ezra had seen them, but he knew them in a single glance. “Mom?! Dad?! How…?” How could they be here? Here, of all places… Now… No, how didn’t matter, only that they were here! Ezra ran to them like he was still seven, arms open wide.

    Neither of them moved. His father’s mouth was set into a flat line, his arms crossed over his chest. His mother looked like she might cry. Ezra skidded to a stop. “Uh, Mom? Dad? It’s me, Ezra…”

    “We know, son.” His father’s voice sounded just the way Ezra remembered it, except that even during the worst times it had always seemed to have a trace of laughter to it. There was none there now. “We’ve been watching you.”

    “You have?” Ezra blinked; his arms fell to his sides. How? The question came back… How could they have been watching him? How had they gotten out of prison? And if they’d been watching, why only watching? Why hadn’t they come for him? “But…”

    His father’s frown deepened. “We gave up our freedom for you, Ezra, and this is what you’ve become? A thief? A scam artist? Did you think we’d be proud to see you like this?”

    “What?” This was definitely not the way Ezra had pictured their reunion. He’d imagined hugs and tears, and Mom and Dad promising they’d always be together from now on. Not disappointment and disgust on Dad’s face and sorrow in Mom’s eyes. “But…I have to eat somehow. Did you want me to starve?” Nine years worth of frustration and anger bubbled up, and all the things he’d yelled into the darkness at night as a kid and all the things he’d held inside as he got older came pouring out. “You left me. I’ve been taking care of myself since I was seven. Those friends you thought would take care of me? Yeah, guess what? They didn’t. I’m not proud of everything I’ve done, but I did what I had to do to stay alive.”

    “There’s more to life than staying alive.” His mother shook her head sadly. “We spoke out against the Empire knowing what could happen to us, but we did it because we wanted a better future, not just for ourselves and you, but for all of Lothal and the Galaxy.” She turned away as if she couldn’t bear to look at Ezra any longer.

    “I’ve been fighting the Empire, too!”

    “By greasing stormtroopers’ commlinks?” His father’s snort left no doubt how pathetic he thought Ezra’s efforts had been. “By stealing their helmets and rations?”

    “I was a kid! What was I supposed to do?!” Ezra’s hands bunched up at his sides. How could his parents be like this? They didn’t know what it had been like for him, how bad it had gotten sometimes, but he’d hung in there. He’d done his best to be like them; he tried to do the right thing, the way they’d taught him! “But I’m going to do something! I’m going to become a Jedi, and then I can do something against the Empire! Then I can help my friend. She’s a Jedi, and it’s just like you told me, we have to do our best to help people in trouble with the Empire.”

    His parents exchanged glances and stood in unison, stepping towards a door Ezra could have sworn hadn’t been there before. They disappeared into the tunnel without a backwards glance. “Wait! Where are you going? Don’t leave me…. Again.” Ezra sank to knees with a sob. “No. No… Not again.” This couldn’t be happening; this couldn’t be real! How could they just walk away like he was nothing to them? Like he’d never been anything to them? Another sob wracked him. Now, he was alone again. Everyone he’d ever cared about left him in the end. He’d always be alone.

    “Mrow.” Ghost butted his head against Ezra’s knee. He scooped up the cat—maybe the only living thing who really cared about him; how sad was that?—and held him. His tears streamed down into Ghost’s fur, and Ezra was probably holding onto him a little too tightly, but the cat didn’t complain. He wriggled around in Ezra’s arms and licked the tears off his cheek, purring softly.

    Ezra didn’t know how long he sat in the darkness just holding the cat before a light appeared in the tunnel his parents had disappeared down. Soft footsteps echoed down it, but Ezra stayed crouched where he was, half-afraid to see who was coming. He didn’t look up until a pair of neat, booted feet stopped directly in front of him. A girl with sleek, flame-red hair and brilliant green eyes was frowning down at him.

    “Ace!” He scrambled upwards, putting Ghost down and hastily scrubbing the tears off his face. “What are you doing here?” How were all these people showing up in a Jedi temple in the middle of nowhere, a distant part of his mind wondered, even as his heart thudded because Ace was here!

    She arched an eyebrow at him and put her hands on her hips. “A better question is, what are you doing here?”

    “It’s a long story,” Ezra sighed. He wasn’t sure any of it made any sense; it seemed to be making progressively less sense all the time. But now that she was here, things were finally looking up. “I met this weird guy in the marketplace, and if I get this thing—this holocron—for him, he’s going to teach me to be a Jedi.” He smiled and held out his hands to her. “And once I’m a Jedi, I’ll be able to help you; I can keep you from having to go to the Imperial Academy.

    Ace regarded him coolly, a princess looking down on scruffy street rat. The corner of her mouth quirked up into a derisive smile; she laughed. “You?!”

    The word hit Ezra like a blow. “What?” No, wait, this isn’t right… this can’t be right! Ace was supposed to be happy to see him again. She was supposed to smile at him; her eyes were supposed light up… She wasn’t supposed to look at him like he was something she’d found on the bottom of her boot after walking through the bazaar. She wasn’t supposed to laugh at him in a way that cut his already broken heart. Hadn’t Ace wanted things to be different, too? “Yeah… yeah, I’m gonna…”

    “What makes you think you can be a Jedi?”

    It was another whipcrack to his heart. Ezra staggered back a step. “I… Maul said I have a gift! I used the Force; I made this temple appear. I can…”

    “Jedi are selfless.” Ace’s beautiful green eyes were as cold and hard as the temple’s stone walls now. “You… you’re just a thief who’s out for whatever he can get. You’re even going to steal the holocron from this temple, just for your own gain.” She sneered, looking down her pretty nose at him. “Face it, you’re no Jedi, just a Loth-rat. You were born to be a Loth-rat, you’ll die a Loth-rat and no one will notice except your fleas.”

    “No!” This can’t be right. If that was what Ace really thought of him, why hadn’t she just let her dad scramble his brains so he’d forget her? It would have hurt less. Ezra could have just gone back to his lonely life without knowing what he was missing. He wouldn’t be in this mess, because he wouldn’t have had any reason to take Maul’s job. He wouldn’t have found any reason to try to be better. He wouldn’t be stuck desperately longing for something he could never have. This can’t be real….

    Real… Something niggled the back of Ezra’s mind. This girl looked like Ace and sounded like her, but she didn’t act like her. He looked down at Ghost, who sat at his feet, studiously grooming a hind leg and completely ignoring Ace. And that wasn’t right, either. The whole time she’d been with them, the cat had found Ace almost as fascinating as Ezra had. She’d seemed pretty fond of Ghost, too, petting him and rubbing his ears, but they were both acting like the other wasn’t there. If Jedi could scramble your mind and make you believe things that weren’t true, could a Jedi temple mess with your head, too? Could it make you see things that weren’t there? Ezra stood a little straighter. “No. Whoever you are, whatever you are, you’re not Ace. She would never talk to me like that. She believed I was more than a Loth-rat. She saw where I live, but she never looked down on me. She shared her supplies with me. She stood up to Aresko for me.”

    The girl crossed her arms over her chest and tossed her head. “You think you know me? You look at at me and all you see is a pretty face.”

    “That’s not true! Okay, yeah… I do think she’s pretty,” Ezra admitted, “But that’s not the only reason I want to help her. When I helped Ace in the market, yeah, part of it was because she’s a pretty girl, but… it was the right thing to do. It was what my parents would have done.” He shook his head; it was hard to put this all into words without sounding stupid, like some lame, starry-eyed idealist. “Ace is a good person—she trusted me, she believed in me even though she didn’t have any reason to. When I helped her, I felt like I was a good person, too. She’s the kind of person I wish I could be all the time. Maybe once I become a Jedi, I can be.”

    He waited for another stinging retort, but the not-quite-Ace’s hard expression melted into a smile. Her eyes lit up, and suddenly the light flared around her in a shower of dancing sparks so bright that Ezra had to close his eyes. When it faded enough for him to open them again, Ace was gone.

    He and Ghost were standing in a small, round chamber, just big enough for the two of them. It was empty and featureless except an arched alcove, not even half a meter tall, that had been carved into the wall. In it sat a small object—a cube made of some pale blue crystalline substance in a matrix of gold metal. Each square face of the cube was inscribed with a circle, which was inscribed with a diamond, which in turn contained another circle.

    “Mrow!” Ghost leapt onto the shelf and batted the cube off. It clattered down, landing at Ezra’s feet.

    Slowly, not knowing if this was real or another of the temple’s tricks, Ezra bent down and picked it up. The cube was solid and pleasantly warm in his hand; when he touched it, it began to glow with a soothing sky blue light. Ezra held it up, wonderingly.

    The holocron.
     
  14. WarmNyota_SweetAyesha

    WarmNyota_SweetAyesha Chosen One star 7

    Registered:
    Aug 31, 2004
    Love this chapter =D=
    When Aresko showed up I thought, how'd he wind up there? Then when Ezra saw his folks and they acted strange, I thought hmmm. Then when Ace appeared and didn't act like she would even with Ghost, I came to the same conclusion Ezra did, that these were all concoctions playing upon any anxieties or insecurities he held.
    But his assertions against the attacks and accusations are making him stronger not weaker.
    Eagerly awaiting the experience with the Holocron.
    And happy as all get out Ghost is there for moral support and keeping Ezra on track even literally with the glowrod not working. :)
    @};-
     
  15. Sith-I-5

    Sith-I-5 Force Ghost star 6

    Registered:
    Aug 14, 2002
    Interesting beginnings, and I like how you prefaced the introduction of Ezra.

    Interesting character of Vizago. Ezra seems to be a nominal enemy; certainly not an ally, yet he balks for a moment at handing the boy over to this....

    I found the first bit, quite a good read.
     
    Findswoman and Raissa Baiard like this.
  16. Ewok Poet

    Ewok Poet Force Ghost star 5

    Registered:
    Jul 31, 2014
    @Sith-I-5 Vizago is an established character in Rebels, from the very beginning. I had no idea about this until I have binge-watched more than half of the show. My guess is that @Raissa Baiard writes him so, so in-character that it's hard to believe that he's not one of her creations! :)

    So, this is where this AU gives a nod to the Season Two finale - with a twist. It's a Jedi holocron and not a Sith one!

    Maul wants that bloody thing and he will do every single thing under the sun of Lothal to get it. But in this world, there is no Kanan and there is no Ahsoka, so Ezra will have to resort on something else, either "Ace" or a divine intervention, a vision of sorts, in order to snap out of this and go back to Light. This creepy!uncle is the kind of a chess master that puts Thrawn to shame!

    This should've been a warning sign. Should've.

    And then...the corpses. The tasks. That did happen in the actual Jedi temple, when Ezra had the visions of battling the Inquisitor. You're mixing and matching the original Rebel'verse plots like there's no tomorrow and it's still plausible. Whoa!

    Not to mention that he's completely on his own here - he doesn't even have a lightsaber! I can only imagine how awful it must be for him. :(

    Don't worry, my boy, it's not real this time! I get it how a much-less-experienced Ezra is not able to grasp that immediately, though!

    And it's like...like this series of visions wants Ezra to stop believing in himself AND Ghost. This version of the Loth-cat is leading him from one disappointment to another and it's painful. Some of the things spoken by the antagonists and "antagonists" here are correct, some are not, they're like the confabulations from the depth of his young, confused mind.

    But it's only when Mara/Ace points out the selflessness as the core virtue of the Jedi, that he realises that all of this has been an illusion and snaps out of it. Is it a coincidence that the holocron appears before him after this has happened? Of course not!

    AGRH, A CLIFFIEEEEEEEEEE!11!!!
     
  17. Findswoman

    Findswoman Jedi Grand Master star 5

    Registered:
    Feb 27, 2014
    Caught up at last. Very intense stuff here! Wonderful job describing Ezra’s journey into the mysteries of this temple-with-a-mind-of-its-own; once again, this is very much a mirror image of what happens in “Path of the Jedi,” all because of the nature and motivations of the one who’s initiated the quest (Kanan there, Maul here). Ezra is being tempted to the very core of his being with these three apparitions, first his archenemy and then the people he cares for most in the galaxy. Maul of course makes a big point of Not Going In There Himself (though I totally see where an upstanding Jedi temple would object to someone like him :p ), but I’m almost certain he knows that Ezra is likely to face this kind of experience while in there—and I’m guessing he figures Ezra will fail (maybe even wants him to).

    You really do an amazing job creating a progression through these three visions, with Ezra becoming gradually more aware of what’s actually going on. First there’s that creep Aresko, playing of Ezra’s fears of finally being caught, of no longer being “one jump ahead” (and yes, I caught that reference to the Disney Aladdin ;) ). And he’s perfectly in character: this is most definitely the equus-faced Imperial toady we’ve come to love to hate. :p Then there are Ezra’s parents, playing on Ezra’s feelings of abandonment, and there’s where things get to be really painful... I know we’ve laughed about the “Kanera as disappointed parents” thing before, but this is a case where the parental disappointment gives every impression of being completely sincere, and it wounds Ezra to the very heart. To see them turn and walk away from him like that, to leave him a second time—just ouch! All the more so because this time they mean to leave him. :( :_|

    And then the not-really-Ace comes along! This is the part that could easily have been the most devastating for Ezra, but it turns out to be his moment of truth—he turns it into his moment of truth. You can almost hear the brainwheels churning in his head as he parses what she says and tries to make sense of it—to the point where he comes to the realization that this cannot be the real Ace. And even apart from that realization, the way Ezra reacts seems very significant too: he responds to the pseudo-Ace’s disdainful rhetoric in a reasoned, even-tempered way, very differently from the sudden bursts of emotion with which he responds to the visions of Aresko and his parents. Perhaps this is just my hopeless romantic side speaking, but it’s his love for the real Ace that’s making this realization possible. And here's what I really love: Ezra's love for Ace is not inflaming him with passion and clouding his judgment, it's clarifying his vision and restoring balance. Yes, all those things that the old Jedi order claims love and attachment can't do. So yes, very, very cool way of turning that tired old dictum on its head here! =D=

    And may I just add: from the wonderful way Ghost has guided our hero through the labyrinthine corridors and stayed beside him through all these dangers and temptations, I’m pretty certain that the answer to “Loth-rat, Loth-cat, Loth-wolf, run” is “Loth-cat.” Ghost is lucky charm, guardian angel, Jiminy Cricket, and Sam Gamgee all rolled into one here, and it's nothing short of awesome. And of course Ghost is the one who finds the holocron, batting at it as if it were a toy. :D I look forward to seeing what will happen now that Ezra's got that in hand.

    Would love to see more of this wonderful tale whenever you're able! :ezra: @};-