Here is the beginning of my SJRS Challenge for August. You may be able to tell what fairy tale I'm borrowing by the end of this part. I'm sure you'll find a few twists when I'm done with it. More to come soon. ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ SJRS AUGUST CHALLENGE! For this challenge you must take the plot of a classic fairy tale (Grimm or otherwise) and insert Luke and Mara into it. You must include the words: -Popsicle -Catastrophe -Pittance The Beast Of Black Forest Part 1 Setting: A year after the Yuuzahn Vong War. Summary: Luke and Mara are summoned to the Drall System in a small village where a series of disappearances had occurred over the past several decades. The recent disappearance is a ten-year-old boy. "How many have gone into the forest to look into this?" was Luke Skywalker's first question to the village's administrator, Ameht Rekko. The Drallan man spoke in a local accent saying to Luke, "There have been too numerous to mention. We have hired bounty hunters, investigators, and anyone who was willing to go inside the forest. The rest have been people who went missing for no reason or teenagers daring each other on stupid bets." Mara Jade sat beside her husband and asked, "And none of these people have come back out of the forest?" Ameht breathed out. "That is correct." Luke reiterated, "You want us to go into the Black Forest and investigate what has been happening inside it for several decades and possibly rescue a small boy?" Ameht nodded. "Yes. His name is Augest Rekko. He is my nephew. Though he likes to be called Augie. He is very dear to me." "Why do you believe we can succeed when so many have failed before?" Ameht smiled nervously. "You both are Jedi. Never has a Jedi gone into the forest. I realize that you have been busy during the latest war. We have never thought to bother the Jedi on such a trivial matter. I figured since it is peacetime once again, a simple investigation into a forest would be easy for you." "Nothing is easy," said Luke. "Especially when you're dealing with the unknown." Mara asked, "Does anyone in your village know exactly what we're dealing with?" "There has only been speculation. Since the people who have gone in have never come back, there is no way to tell. The theory is that it is a large animal. Over the years it's been known as the beast." Mara looked confused. "Like a rancor?" "No. We could hear a rancor. The trouble is that we hear nothing. There is only silence. It sounds weird, but that is what makes this more frightening." "I understand," Luke assured. "Tell me, does it ever come out of the forest?" Ameht shook his head. "Not that we can tell. We try to live our lives in peace. For all we know, the Beast could be one of us luring people into the forest." "How long has your nephew been missing?" asked Luke. "A week here on Drall." Mara calculated. "That's about five standard Coruscanti days. Anything can happen in that time." Ameht's voice turned to panic and he pleaded, "Please, you have to try. I have to know. His family has to know. He only has his older sister and his father. Their mother died giving birth to him. We have grown tired of losing our loved ones simply because they go inside the Black Forest. Yet, we are too afraid to find out ourselves. We cannot face our demons as the Jedi have over the past several years." Luke cringed inside at the memory of those they had lost fighting the Vong. He stopped himself just before he remembered his own nephew who died in a battle that Luke ordered. Instead, Luke's memory went to another area. One of happiness. "There were some good things that came out of that war, as well, Admin Rekko." He glanced lovingly at his wife and she smiled with him. Ameht said, "Ah yes, your own son. Then you both realize how Augie's family feels. If there are heroes who can bring Augie back alive it is the Jedi." Mara replied, "Please don't get all of your hopes up. We haven't assessed the situation yet." "But you have to promise to bring him back." Luke frowned, not wanting to dash the man's hopes. "We cannot promise that." "What can you promise?" "Answers," Luke replied. "Regardless, I do appreciate your confidence in us." "You will do this?" "We will." Ameht let out a sigh of relief. "You don't know how much this means to us, Master Skywalker. Thank you both. And, as we discussed, I shall gather your credits in the morning. I'm afraid it is a small pittance compared to what you are used to." "Admin Rekko," Luke stated calmly, "I appreciate your desire to compensate us for our efforts. It is not needed. Please, keep your money." Ameht smiled proudly. "I was told the Master Jedi was gracious and modest. And, please, call me Ameht. I assume you will want to start your investigation in the morning. It is getting late now." "Yes, that would be better, of course," Luke said. "We will need to fetch some equipment from our ship.” "Take all the time you need. We have accommodations arranged for you both. My assistant will show you to your quarters. Thank you, again.” After Luke and Mara were shown their room, they set out in a speeder taxi back to the spaceport in order to fetch their equipment out of the Jade Shadow. They selected only what they needed, preparing for a few nights of camping if required. Mara locked her ship back up and they went back to their room to rest. Luke went to a nearby restaurant where they sold his favorite Karkan ribenes with tomo spice. He sat at the small table and started eating while Mara sat on the bed with her datapad. She had not said a word since they left Ameht. He noted as she looked at the datapad, "Did you see that drawing that Ben made us? Winter sent it this morning." "Oh yes," she said in monotone. "It depicts us being very far away from Ben." After a pause and a ribene, Luke licked his fingers and then questioned, "What's wrong, Mara?" "Wrong? What could be wrong?" "Stop it, Mara. This is me. You've been distant ever since we agreed to investigate what's going on here." "You better knock off that 'we' from that sentence." "And?" "Just wondering what we're doing here is all." Luke shrugged. "We're helping those in need. It's what the Jedi do." She turned to look at him. "It's what the Jedi used to do before the Vong war. The Jedi Council is in shambles. You know it. Yet, here we are helping villagers with some unknown creature taking their people. Like the war never happened." "The war did happen, Mara. I don't have to tell you that. The only way to get back to normal is to do things we used to do. This could turn into a catastrophe, Mara." "I'm sure it could. Why couldn't they scan the area from the atmosphere? Or hire a raiding party?" "I'm sure they can't afford either. The Drallan government isn't that generous to these small independent villages." "Why us, then?" "Well, at the risk of sounding egotistical, they wanted the best." He managed to make Mara smirk on that as she said, "Maybe. Eh, it's probably some new creature that's taking the people for food." "I'm not so sure. I felt something when I focused in on the forest earlier today." "Like what?" "Something dark." "Well, it is called the Black Forest." "It's not that simple, Mara. There's a presence of some kind there." "Sith?" "No. I'm sure of that. Just not much else." Mara shut off her datapad and turned down the bed. "Well, I'm tired. Guess we'll find out in the morning." "I guess we will." ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ The next morning, Luke and Mara set out on foot with their pack to the Black Forest. They passed by several homes of villagers, of whom some were already up and wishing them luck. They knew what the Jedi were about to do. They came to a small ridge that went down a low grade on a grassy meadow. Drall’s sun shone brightly and gave off pleasant warmth. Before them at the bottom of the ridge was the edge of the Black Forest. The trees and land beyond that point were drastically darker than the bright green of the meadow. The darkness of the forest seemed to be endless beyond the horizon. “Wow,” Mara muttered, “that is a big forest. There could be anything in there.” “That’s what we’re here to find out.” “Funny, I thought we were done with searching the unknowns in the galaxy.” “If you believe that then you should go back to smuggling.” “Oh, there are plenty of unknowns in that business, too.” “You should have no problem with adapting, then. If you can’t, you can go back to the luxury of our suite.” “Harsh,” she said in mock offense. “I like the new you, Skywalker.” “Shades of the old you, Jade.” “I still have some of the old Hand in me.” “As a former Hand I knew used to say, shut up and get going.” They both walked down the low grade and stopped just before the edge of the forest. The villagers built a sign that acted as a warning. Abandon all hope for all who enter the Black Forest. Mara said at full sarcasm, “I’m convinced. Let’s go back.” “Funny. You first.” She uttered as she stepped forward, “Me and my big mouth.” Luke followed her into the Black Forest. The trees were blackened with a dark bark and thick leaves covered the sky from above like a rooftop. The ground consisted of a blanket of dead leaves and twigs. Each step they took surrendered the sound of cracking foliage underneath. They walked for five standard minutes and could see and feel the difference. The warmth they felt from the system’s sun was now nonexistent. The coldness of the air combined with the lack of light contributed to the overall feeling of dread. “This place reminds me of Dagobah,” said Luke. “With much less water. Speaking of that, what does the scanner say about wildlife?” Mara glanced at a datapad and read it. “Your basic life forms indigenous to a forest.” She stopped to listen. “Though you wouldn’t know it by sound. It is too quiet in here.” “I agree. Let’s see what we can find further in.” The terrain stayed the same as they went deeper into the forest. There was one constant variable. No water. No streams or ponds of any kind. After about an hour in, Mara noticed something new on the ground. “Luke, take a look at this.” She bent closer to the ground as Luke did the same beside her. She poked at something with her finger that revealed several white seeds. “I thought these seeds were part of a plant here, but I haven’t seen a plant yet where they would come from.” “They look like hoyy seeds. For cooking and salads.” “Or just to eat,” Mara added. “Not something you’d find in a forest like this.” “How would these get out here?” Mara glanced back to where they had been. “Judging from where I first saw them a few meters back I’d say they’re forming a line.” “Like a trail?” “Exactly. As if someone was leading us somewhere.” “Then I guess we follow the trail.” And that they did. Mara’s theory that the seeds followed a trail was correct. They started seeing more seeds scattered on the ground going in a specific direction. It wasn’t long before they came to the first open space clearing they encountered in the forest. It was almost a mirror image of the meadow without the bright colors. The area was vacant of trees. They could see sky above them but here in the forest the clouds obscured any light from the sun. The main feature of the area was a flat rock with no grass that overlooked a large gorge. Even from his position several meters away, Luke could see that the depth of the gorge was very deep. The flat rock acted as a cliff. Mara looked down at the trail of seeds that ended just before the area of flat rock. “I don’t understand. Why does the trail end here? Unless…” She stopped in the middle of a horrible thought. “Oh, my stars, Luke. Could the people who went missing not see the edge of the cliff and…” She couldn’t finish the thought. “They just kept walking…and they couldn’t see.” Her voice started breaking. Luke eased her mind. “No, Mara. That’s not what happened.” “Then what?” Luke took a long pause to answer. “I sense something here. That presence I felt before. It’s stronger here.” “Luke, there’s nothing here.” “Exactly.” Luke started circling the area of flat rock as if surveying it. “Maybe we’re meant to think nothing is here.” Luke ignored his wife’s look of confusion and closed his eyes. He opened his mind to the Force and focused on the area before him. He spent several minutes in a deep meditation. And then, he saw it. He opened up his eyes and he smiled. “If I wasn’t a Jedi I wouldn’t believe it. Someone without the Force wouldn’t see it until it was too late.” “See what?” “Hold my hand.” She did so without question and she absorbed his thoughts through their Force bond. Slowly forming before her eyes was a small cottage. A one-story dwelling stood where there had been flat rock before. It was made of wood and stone with windows that were blacked out. All indications were that it was abandoned. Luke felt differently. Mara gasped. “Why couldn’t we see this before?” “It was hidden by the Force.” “You mean someone used the Force to hide it. Like Corran can do?” “Similar. I can’t be sure, but this feels like the source of darkness I felt in the Force.” “That eliminates a large animal. This proves that whatever it is we’re looking for is intelligent.” Mara tilted her head. “Now that you mention it, I can feel something dark here, too.” “See if there’s an entrance.” Both of them searched the dwelling for any doors and Mara finally did. “Over here, Luke.” He came up behind her to see a front door inviting all who approach. Too inviting. Luke felt something else. Mara said, “Guess we have to knock.” She started walking towards the door. Luke was just behind her when she touched the controls to open the door. A vision flashed in the Force to Luke. It was too late. “Mara, no!” The trap door beneath their feet slid away and they both dropped down into a hole under the ground. Part II coming soon!