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Beyond - Legends The Great Leap Forward (FotJ concurrent: Laera & OCs + Luke/Ben ? drama/action) Updated 2/23!

Discussion in 'Fan Fiction- Before, Saga, and Beyond' started by Goodwood, Dec 25, 2011.

  1. Goodwood

    Goodwood Jedi Master star 5

    May 11, 2011
    Thumper, I the author have anticipated that very question... ;)


    Chapter Eight

    "I've put her into an accelerated healing trance," the elder Skywalker said, answering my unspoken question as my ears twitched tellingly. "Fortunately the hit wasn't that bad, she should be back up to speed within the hour."

    "I should have shot that wench when I had the chance," I replied in a growl, my violet eyes narrowed to slits and my ears drooping as I gazed at the rack upon which Laera had been set. "Now she's going to get away with it."

    "Don't blame yourself," Luke said bracingly as he placed a hand on my armored shoulder, but I shrugged it off. "We're inbound to Tal'adin City; we'll catch Pelenora before she can get to the Eldarch."

    The hatch hissed open and the two Sa'ari, T'Royc and T'Ooro, stood within its frame. "Is she going to be okay?" T'Royc asked, deep concern evident in her tone.

    "By the time we arrive, she will," Luke replied. "You have made the necessary arrangements?"

    "Yes," T'Ooro murmured grimly. "As far as the authorities know, the spacecraft's owners returned, boarded, and were subsequently subdued and the vessel is now scheduled to be impounded and examined. We have been cleared for landing at the central military aerospace complex; they do not seem to be aware of Officer T'Yelc's situation, and I did not see any reason to tell them."

    "That'll work," I agreed, tearing my eyes away from the reposing form of Laera and regarding the blue women. "As soon as we put down, we have to get to the monastery fast and warn Bellinega. Protecting her is our first priority, T'Yelc cannot make her move while the Eldarch still lives."

    "If you don't mind my saying so, you seem to have a good grasp of our politics," T'Royc put in as we left the tiny room and made our way to the ship's equally tiny cockpit, which vaguely resembled that of a starfighter. "You would make a good ambassador for our people if we were to join the wider galaxy."

    "I'm a Bothan," I replied simply. "Though I trained as a warrior, politics is the life blood of my species."

    The thought, expressed almost casually as though it should have been obvious, got me to thinking. These Sa'ari, these...lighters...had offered their services so freely upon witnessing the seeming betrayal of one of their own. Part of me—the part of my species that I knew had been bred for millennia—had immediately become suspicious of them and their assistance. T'Yelc was still so much an unknown quantity in my eyes; Laera had been the one to do all the research on the Order and its membership, not me, and I still had trouble wrapping my head around the convoluted nature of the bond between Eldarch and Youngarch. As if that wasn't enough, the only one who truly did understand was resting quietly on a cot.

    As we walked, I thumped a fist against my armored chest in frustration.

    The Skywalkers, of course, had cottoned on rather swiftly, as Jedi are wont to do. Some kind of Force thing, no doubt, but they had claimed to sense no duplicity within the pair; in fact, they seemed to think that both T'Royc and T'Ooro were quite strong and capable, worthy of our full trust. Outvoted, there had been little for me to do but nod a grudging acceptance and wait for something more concrete to present itself. Besides, this was their ship, and they had the final say.

    "It's the perfect plan," Luke said, drawing me out of my reverie. He took a seat at what I assumed was the navigator's station while his son resumed control of the helm. "If we accept that T'Yelc had already fallen by the time of Silas and Laera's arrival on-planet, she could have seen this as an opportunity to be exploited. It would have been simple for her to seek out allies in the Hiltonian military, manipulating them the same way she manipulated the Tal'adin Constabulary."

    "As the Youngarch, it would have been all too easy for her," T'Ooro confirmed. She and T'Royc were standing at the periphery of the control area; tall as they were, they had already had to take precautions lest they whack their heads on the upper hatchways. "We had no idea; those who hold that position typically stay within the Order's monasteries. Ordinary lighters like ourselves have the option to serve either openly or within whichever service organization we see fit."

    “Bellinega must have had a very good reason for having her work with law enforcement,” Ben said pensively. “In any case, I'm still confused about the whole sensor technology thing.”

    “It's like I said when we first arrived,” Luke replied. “It's the same technique used by the Jensaarai, but magnified a hundredfold. What Laera and Silas have told us makes this clear; it's a natural byproduct of the Sa'ari species' endemic Force-sensitivity.”

    “Who are these Jensaarai?” I asked, casting a glance out the forward viewport as the ship skimmed the treetops at high speed.

    “It's a Sith word for 'hidden followers of truth,'” Luke explained. “I first encountered them about thirty years ago while helping out a friend. They were an offshoot of Force-users who held to a mixture of Sith and Jedi ideology and, distrustful of outsiders, had devised ways of hiding themselves as a means of protection for both themselves and those with whom they lived.”

    I chose not to point out the similarity between the names of the rogue organization Luke mentioned and the species native to this planet. “Laera had called it a 'shroud' before,” I said instead. “But I've never heard of the Force being able to affect inorganic technology like that. Pushing buttons from across the room is one thing, but this...”

    “It can be done,” Luke advised, shaking his head ruefully. “My old Master once did it to my X-wing—that's a type of starfighter—scrambling my sensors and forcing me to land at a place of his choosing.”

    “Coming up on the Tal'adin City limits,” Ben muttered from his station. “Reducing speed; we should arrive at the base within a quarter hour.”

    “We are still unable to establish contact with the Eldarch,” T'Ooro said, a small hint of uncertainty in her voice. “T'Yelc could be flooding the Blue with diffused energy to befuddle direct probes, but it would take considerable effort to extend such mental fogging beyond her immediate location.”

    “Which means one of two things, both of them bad,” Ben said, scowling at the forward viewport. “Either T'Yelc is much more powerful than we thought, or else she's very close to her target.”

    “It has to be the former,” T'Royc said with the air of one clutching at straws. “We're arriving by starship, while T'Yelc fled on foot. Unless...”

    “...unless she was able to find her communicator and summon a helicopter,” I finished for her. “Any luck on the scanners?”

    “No,” Luke replied. “They're still flooded with static. While we're this close to a major population center, I can't even use the optical scopes.”

    “There's still something we could try,” I said, looking about the cockpit for a communications terminal. “If I can access your ship's comm system, I may be able to reactivate HK-47 and get a fix on his location. If he's anywhere nearby, he might be able to head T'Yelc off or buy us some time.”

    “Do it,” Luke said, pointing out a console to his left. “There might not be much time.”

    I glided over to what turned out to be the co-pilot's seat and, after a quick but thorough scan, slipped on an earpiece and began flipping switches in order to find a working carrier frequency. A soft beep indicated success. “End lockdown, authorization Bothawui Agamar.”

    There was a pause on the other end of the line before the droid's voice whispered in my ear.

    “Statement: HK-47 is online and ready to serve, Master. Observation: It has been approximately one hundred eighty-eight Standard days since my last activation, adjusted for planetary—”

    “Never mind that,” I snapped. “Give me a systems status and location check.”

    “Analysis: I am currently fully-functional, if a bit scratched-up from various failed attempts by a number of meatbags to access my inner workings,” the droid replied ruefully. “Observation: I seem to be sequestered in a small room along with various cleaning and maintenance supplies. If the labeling on the bottles is to be of any indication, I seem to have been placed in a custodian's closet within the Tal'adin monastery of the Order of the Blue Light.”

    My eyes flashed as I shot a meaningful look at the Skywalkers, then turned back to the comm unit. “HK-47, listen very carefully,” I whispered. “You must protect Eldarch Bellinega at all costs. Remove her from the monastery if you have to; in fact, it would be better that way. Do you understand?”

    “Affirmation: I understand, Master: protect the blue meatbag who leads the Order by any means necessary. Musing: Oh, I do hope someone tries to kill her, Master. It has been too long since I have been able to exercise my assassination protocols.”

    “Whatever it takes,” I ground out. “Be advised, we suspect that a Force-user is after her, so don't go looking for trouble.”

    “Correction: Master, that advice is quite unnecessary. Judging by your tone, trouble will most certainly be looking for me! Addendum: This is a quite satisfactory arrangement, if I may say so.”

    Without bothering to reply, I deactivated the transmission. “Well, at least one thing's gone right so far,” I said in a growl. “The assassin droid we came with was somehow smuggled back to the monastery. I've ordered him to protect Bellinega, extracting her from the place if he deems it necessary.”

    “Is that wise?” T'Royc asked hesitantly.

    “If his skills are half as good as his boasting, then T'Yelc will be hard-pressed to get to Bellinega before we intercept her,” I replied, a note of disgust creeping into my tone as I wrinkled my nose. “I don't know much about his capabilities, but by his own admission he and others like him were designed by Darth Revan himself.”

    Ben let out an appreciative whistle. “You didn't tell me that before.”

    “I didn't think it was relevant at the time.”

    “It wasn't,” said a strained female voice. “But now...Silas made the right call.”

    “Laera!” I nearly yelped, leaping from my seat as though it had been electrified. “You—you shouldn't be up yet!”

    “I'll manage, love,” she whispered as she approached me from the hatchway against which she had been leaning. “I'll be okay once we land, until then you'll have to do my thinking for me.”

    “You're always so full of surprises,” I replied in a low tone, patting Laera's shoulder and guiding her toward my seat, sharing it with her since no others were available in the cramped cockpit.

    The next several minutes passed in silence, the Jedi and Sa'ari concentrating on things well beyond my ken. With nothing else to do, I continued to monitor the comm in case HK-47 had anything new to report. Laera, true to her word, was staring blankly through the forward viewport, which now showed low residential buildings interspersed with roads and other paths that indicated we were flying over the suburban areas of Tal'adin City. The dawn's horizon was spiked with the towers and spires of the inner commercial and administrative districts, the early sun glinting off their polished glass sides as the translucent solar collectors drew in the day's first ergs of energy.

    The vessel banked lazily to port as we turned toward the aerospace complex, which was nestled on an artificial island in a lake just inside the city limits. Connected by a causeway, it was effectively isolated from the rest of the capital, its access easily restricted to a select few. “Setting her down,” Ben advised. “Looks like we've got a welcoming committee.”

    “We'll handle them,” T'Royc said. “Once we land, wait here; I'll signal you when we've secured transportation.”

    The younger Jedi brought the craft down at the indicated landing area, where a couple of official-looking groundcars and a heavy-duty military-grade ground-truck stood waiting for us. His landing was as smooth as silk; though impressive, to my mind such a display could have tipped off the waiting Sa'ari soldiers in any number of ways. After exchanging brief nods with the Skywalkers, T'Royc and T'Ooro left the bridge and headed for the exit. Their departure didn't do much to reassure me, and an uneasy feeling began to creep into my gut. “I've got a bad fee—”

    “Don't say it,” Laera whispered hoarsely. “You'll only jinx us.”

    I immediately shut my trap, my cheeks burning with embarrassment as I fidgeted slightly. I had no idea how in space the lighters would manage to get our greeters out of the way, much less how they'd get us past the various base guards and to the monastery. Being the only Force-blind sentient on this planet was really starting to gnaw on my nerves, and for the first time in my life I found myself jealous of Laera Reyolé, of the Skywalkers, and indeed of everyone else in the galaxy. Fortunately, I was saved from having to suffer through yet more ruminations by the gentle beeping of the comm piece in my ear.

    “Report,” I hissed, just low enough for Laera to hear as I twiddled a dial and removed the device.

    “Statement: Master, I have found the Eldarch and informed her of my orders,” HK-47's voice hissed through the speaker. “Observation: I do not believe that she was happy to be roused by the likes of me, but she seems to have understood her predicament as you explained it.”

    “Is she with you now?” Laera asked, starting to sound like her normal self for the first time since the attack.

    “Affirmation: She is, and we are currently heading toward the supply dock. Exclamation: Master, she is now striking my chassis and demanding to speak with you!”

    “Then give her the kriffing comlink, you obsolete bucket of bolts!” Laera barked, causing the Skywalkers to stare back at her.

    There was a soft shuffling noise over the comm, then Bellinega's deeply-concerned voice whispered a question. “Who is after me?”

    “Pelenora T'Yelc,” Laera replied flatly. “She has succumbed to the blackness.”

    “That's impossible!” the Eldarch countered vehemently. “I would trust her with my life!”

    “I know it's not easy for you to accept,” Laera said bracingly yet firmly. “But right now you've got to trust that hulking metal monstrosity standing next to you because until we can link up, he's the only thing standing between you and the destruction of the Sa'ari people.”

    There was a short pause, interrupted only by the barely-audible clanking of the assassin droid's footsteps. “I can feel the truth in your words, but something is still not right,” Bellinega said, and there was a certain note to her voice that I didn't like. Laera seemed to recognize it as well, and we exchanged a meaningful glance. “There is some sort of interference in the Blue...”

    “It's the blackness,” Laera said, her tone brokering no argument. “The Youngarch is using your connection, your bond, against you, and is flooding the Blue with interference. Iper T'Royc and Fua T'Ooro were present when T'Yelc made her true self known, and tried to contact you themselves. They were unable to do so, and we're now...wait one.”

    Laera looked back toward the viewport as though she'd been drawn there by an invisible hook, then glanced toward the Skywalkers. “We're clear. Bellinega, stay with HK-47 and keep sharp, we're on our way!”

    — — —​

    Despite the reek of the cramped alien...what was it they had called it? a starship...that still clung to my nose, I found myself smiling as I listened to the departure of the so-called Starborne Ones. Once the noise from their craft's strange engines had faded to silence, I pulled the backup sat-phone from my boot and activated it, speaking in a low, satisfied whisper. “Stage complete. Extraction requested.”

    They'd made quite a ruckus pursuing me through the undergrowth of the Great Western Forest, but their search had been in haste and less than thorough. Not that they could have ever found me even if I'd been standing right next to the boarding ramp; still, the niceties of the game had to be observed. I took the time to ponder the next step in the plan as I awaited the helicopter that would take me back to the small Hiltonian chapter house where I had set up shop, but at the same time a wistful thought occurred to me. It was of the alien who had called herself Reyolé that I mused, the woman who had once been so fascinating to me upon our first meeting—she had in fact been so intriguing that at that time I had very nearly forgotten my purpose in life.

    What had been that purpose, anyway? It hadn't been about control, not really, not at first. Many years ago, as I had gone about my service as a lighter, I had looked with starry-eyed wonderment upon the marvels of myself and my species, our homes and our homeworld. Even after knowing ourselves and our planet for so long, T'lessia and the surrounding, observable universe still managed to present us with surprises, something we didn't know. My people are natural explorers and problem-solvers, but sometimes we hit a boundary in our development, something that puts a chain around our ability to grow as a people. When Bellinega had appointed me to be her protégé, she had confided in me that the Sa'ari had hit such a barrier, that we were becoming stagnant. That was when I had found my purpose: to not just push that envelope, but to shatter it. The Sa'ari are not comfortable in stagnation, and while a single house might be passed from generation to generation for many centuries, the maidens must wander, the matrons must tend, and the matriarchs must lead. We are creatures of habit, even if we don't like to stay still.

    But the Sa'ari are also creatures of dichotomy. Though we're quite peaceful and friendly on the outside, that facade quickly evaporates when we feel as though we're being intruded upon. As a lighter I'd worked my share of mental and physical assault cases where the suspect had pleaded involuntary reactions to perceived outside influence, but nine times out of ten this had merely been an excuse, a fabrication. Shroud-crime—the unwelcome and oftentimes brutal penetration of another individual's mental barriers without their consent—was fairly rare in this age, but no less savage for that. When done sloppily, it usually kills the victim. Only a precisely-trained and skillful lighter can hope to pull off such a feat without inflicting some sort of damage, let alone without the victim's awareness. I had been so trained, and trained well. This, combined with my natural aptitude for mental perception and obfuscation, had and would continue to reap results. Soon we would have the power to venture into the galaxy and assert ourselves on new worlds—just as the Starborne One had suggested in her rather pompous speech to the Lawyteret so many cycles ago.

    Ah, Laera, what you think you know... I thought to myself as the fwip fwip fwip fwip of the Leeward-class helicopter's twin rotors overtook the sounds of the night. The machine was running silent, its lights extinguished and its speed reduced in order to evade detection, yet in the light of the stars and moons, I could see it quite plainly even without tapping into the sweetly dark scent of the Blue. Now over the clearing proper, the craft settled to within an uet of the grass that swirled in the downwash of the rotor blades that kept it aloft. Bowing low to avoid injury, I sprinted across the treeline and toward the side door that was opening expectantly, then climbed aboard.

    “All clear, proceed to the rendezvous,” I ordered after assuming a seat in the rear of the small passenger enclosure and donning a headset. “Keep it quiet, we're not in a hurry and detection at this point could ruin everything.”

    “You're absolutely sure that they're going for it?” asked a helmeted Sa'ari, who sat behind and between the two pilots, facing aft.

    “Fear not my friend, everything is under control,” I said, massaging my scalp as the craft lifted off. “All we need do is get to the monastery and initiate the broadcast.”

    The Sa'ari removed her helmet, and the luminous brown eyes of my own protégé smiled back at me. Ari T'Nok was only one hundred and ninety-three—almost a hundred years my junior—but for quite some time she had shown a keen aptitude for dissembling and intrigue, not to mention a great deal of power in the succulent nectar of the darkly-shaded Blue. I liked her, and I knew that one day she would surpass me, assume the role of Eldarch of the entire Sa'ari people, and lead us to glory as we venture forth from T'lessia and expand across the stars.

    But not for a great long while.

    There was much work to be done before my dynasty could begin. The war I had started had been regrettable but necessary, and there were many more things to do in order to ensure that my people were fully-recovered from it. I also had to find a way to acquire the other aliens' ship; Reyolé's own had been far too damaged in battle and by its crash-landing to yield much more than technology whose otherwise terrestrial applications could conceivably make it easier to colonize the moons and possibly T'loruk, the fourth planet in our solar system. Science had never been my strong suit, but I'd always made it a point to keep current with the latest ideas and technical trends. Unlike most of the Order, I had never been content with relying entirely upon the Blue, not even its more seductive aspects. And to beholden oneself to only one way of being, of knowing and learning and living, is to become stagnant—just as uninspired and insipid as that old plek'kak Bellinega.

    The helicopter entered a rain squall on the journey to Hiltone, which continued as we stopped for fuel at a small military outpost just beyond the frontier. The precipitation beat a steady tattoo against the metal skin of the craft's fuselage, causing me to begin fluttering my eyes as I fought against a sudden wave of drowsiness. While the pilot, copilot and crew chief attended to the machine's more mundane needs, I reposed in my seat. Ari took her leave as well in order to check up on our contacts in Tal'adin, leaving me momentarily alone with nothing but my thoughts to keep me warm in the early dawn chill.

    They'd called themselves Skywalkers, a poetic name when one considered how they'd gotten here. I found myself admiring how these Jedi, calmly subordinated themselves to the original Starborne One, the one I'd made contact with so many months ago. Even the furry alien man was clearly beholden to her, though it was quite clear that this was a bond of an entirely different flavor, one that did not necessarily put one entity before the other. He had been the only one among them who did not resonate within the Blue's spectrum of energy—and yet, he was possessed of a power of a unique sort. “Man,” I muttered dully, trying once more to wrap my tongue and mind around the word and the notion it represented. “Man...and woman?”

    The Sa'ari were by no means ignorant of sexual reproduction, of course. All two hundred and seventy-nine species of wild and domesticated plek'kak procreated in this manner, with the smaller, sharp-horned example planting their seed into its larger, woolier counterpart. But such...means...had once been thought of as disgustingly base, almost alien, until the advance of science began to offer a rational explanation for why we were different. Though knowing the off-worlder language helped put the pieces together, the idea of sentient beings engaging in such animistic behavior still sent a chill up my spine.

    That was a concept that would keep, however.

    A smile spread across my lips as I nodded a silent acknowledgment of how incredibly useful the arrival of Reyolé and her lover had been to my plans. A plan that would have taken a century or more to come to fruition was now mere days away from being implemented. Even better, the most crucial aspect was being carried out by beings who would always be suspected, so that they would be unable to grasp at the whole truth, much less attempt to bring it to light on T'lessia. And yet, even as I lay fitfully in my seat and reveled in the impending success of my schemes, something niggled at my ridges like the wisps of an arachnid's web.

    I had let Reyolé into my mind, so that she would see what I had wanted her to see; despite the risk, it had been too great an opportunity to pass up, and it had worked better than I could have imagined. T'Royc and T'Ooro would be the perfect conduit, wrapped around my finger as they had been. The shock and anger they had expressed upon hearing the revelation of my true role had been delicious, but it had been even more so to cast Reyolé to the floor before dashing from that den of disease they had called a starship. And yet...something of her had seeped back into my own consciousness. Blurry pictures, as though seen from within her own head, flitted before my mind's eye, and I saw...things. My hands held a familiar yet unfamiliar ranged weapon, and I saw myself shooting other beings with it; then, my hands held a familiar yet unfamiliar melee weapon, whose blade of energy sliced through sentient beings as though they were made of plek'kak butter...

    “Her sword!” I shouted, just as the side door opened and Ari clamored back inside.

    “I beg your pardon, Youngarch?” Ari asked, momentarily nonplussed.

    “You weren't there...” I said, my earlier confidence vanishing in a cloud of dust. “Reyolé...the Starborne One...has an energy sword of some kind. So did the two who came in the starship. And they know how to use them.”

    “ blade?” Ari asked. “But wouldn't that require an incredible amount of electrical power to maintain?”

    “You would think so,” I said, managing to grasp onto some semblance of dignity. “We know that they possess technology that is well beyond ours, it stands to reason that they can pack so much energy into a sword hilt.”

    “But that's not what troubles you, is it?” Ari asked, her eyes raking mine.

    “No,” I admitted. “What troubles me is the ease with which they handle such ethereal blades. They can, apparently, use them to deflect and even redirect the blasts of directed energy weapons. Which means...”

    “...that they can probably intercept and incinerate bullets,” Ari finished for me, and I nodded my approval of her assessment.

    “Precisely. And what is more, they command such power that they could easily project a kinetic barrier that would keep them safe from such forms of attack.” I glanced around the helicopter's interior for a moment, thinking. “Which means that we probably don't want to try and kill them...not yet.”

    “Agreed,” Ari replied. “And if we must eliminate them, then we do it through overwhelming force. At least a half-squadron of Monitor gunships if we catch them on foot, but if they're in their ship, we send every Ellipse interceptor under our control after them in a precisely-timed ambush.”

    I smiled at that pronouncement of death, issued as casually as if ordering lunch at a sidewalk venue. Gunships were smaller versions of the machine we presently occupied, with room only for a pilot and fire-control computer. They bristled with armament, from projectile cannons to unguided rockets to seeker missiles; some even included gas grenade dispensers for nonlethal crowd suppression. Our interceptors also carried seeker missiles in addition to rapid-fire cannons; while they might not be as fast as the aliens' starship, they were designed to fight within the atmosphere and do it well. We're a peaceful people, which means that when we make war, we make it big, loud, and so devastatingly effective that we don't soon feel the urge to do it again. Ironically, that thought gave me the most comfort yet.

    Even so, something about that brief connection with Reyolé still felt odd...
  2. earlybird-obi-wan

    earlybird-obi-wan Jedi Grand Master star 6

    Aug 21, 2006
    nice update and love HK
  3. TrakNar

    TrakNar Jedi Grand Master star 5

    Apr 4, 2011
    Hoo boy... trouble is afoot. Pelanora's curiosity about the lightsaber technology had me wondering... If an enterprising Sa'ari were to get a hold of such technology and reverse-engineer it... there could be consequences, to say the least.

    I find her confusion about "men" to be amusing. Granted, it's only to be expected from a species of all females, but it's still amusing.
  4. Thumper09

    Thumper09 Jedi Grand Master star 4

    Dec 9, 2001
    Interesting info about the sensors. That could make things hard for the group if they need to rely on their ship sensors later on.

    Judging by your tone, trouble will most certainly be looking for me! Addendum: This is a quite satisfactory arrangement, if I may say so.

    LOL! I love HK-47's dialogue. So eager to shoot something. :p I wonder if the Eldarch was the one who got him back into the monastery. [face_thinking]

    Like Silas, I'm curious how T'Royc and T'Ooro can get the group past everyone.

    I like that T'Yelc is adjusting her plans now that she remembered the lightsabers-- she's been very adaptable to changing situations so far and unfortunately for the good guys she'll be much more of a challenge to fight because of it. No stagnating for her! I wonder if she remembers HK-47 though. He could be a pretty big wrench in her plans if she doesn't.

    Looks like more twists and turns coming up! Great work! :D
  5. Goodwood

    Goodwood Jedi Master star 5

    May 11, 2011
    Chapter Nine

    “Under normal circumstances, I'd say there's no way that this would work,” Ben quipped quietly as he covered himself with one of the blankets in the back of the military ground-truck that the two lighters accompanying them had appropriated. Large enough to accommodate an entire platoon of human troopers, the frame over the rear compartment was covered in a canvas-like material dyed in dull, dark green that gave it the texture of vulcanized rubber. The floor itself was somewhat dirty from use, as were the blankets; they had been appropriated from a storage bin situated at the wall that separated the cargo bed from the drivers' section. The scent of bio-lubricants and dust lingered about the space, causing everyone to wrinkle their noses a bit, Silas in particular.

    “And these circumstances are anything but ordinary,” Luke agreed as he did the same. “Are you shut down tight?”

    “Don't worry about me, Dad,” Ben replied with mock indignation. “If Vergere's little trick could work on you, then it'll work on them just fine.”

    Luke smiled to himself at that. Up until now they'd been able to clamp down on their presence in the Force well enough using normal means, but infiltrating such a large population center as Tal'adin City called for a new and more effective approach. It had been a while since the Jedi Master had exercised the Fosh's technique, which she had affectionately dubbed “The Art of the Small,” but the knowledge had returned swiftly and Ben had already proven to be just as adept at it. Laera, on the other hand, had had to resort to the old tricks in order to hide both herself and Silas. But Luke had faith that her earlier dealings with the Sa'ari had taught her enough to manage.

    “Shh!” she hissed, twitching her own blanket as the truck's engine engaged.

    As the vehicle began to work its way through the aerospace complex toward the exit, the four fugitives did what they could to keep still despite the occasional bumps and shimmies. The ride wasn't at all like that of a landspeeder, something that neither Luke nor Ben particularly cared for. It was, they conceded, a necessary inconvenience brought on by the need to move reasonably quickly but also with discretion. T'Royc had managed to convince the Sa'ari soldiers that the so-called Starborne Ones had escaped confinement and abandoned ship about halfway through the journey from the forest, so they had returned to their barracks and left the truck for their use in returning to the monastery. It was a bold maneuver, but there was still the chance that someone would stop the truck and search it despite the lighters' assurances that they were above recrimination due to their status within Sa'ari society.

    The ride continued uninterrupted for several long minutes, the noise and vibrations reminding the passengers of the fact that it had been a full day and a half since they had last slept. Eventually, the truck came to a halt, and voices could be heard coming from the front compartment and what must be a guard station at the base's main gate. Unfortunately, they were speaking in the Sa'ari language.

    “What are they saying?” Ben whispered from underneath his blanket.

    “Shh!” Laera hissed back.

    The conversation ended on a decidedly ungentle note from the truck's cab, and the vehicle continued onward shortly thereafter. “Apparently someone forgot to inform the gate guards of our arrival,” Laera whispered five minutes later. “T'Royc had to do some fast talking to get us through; lighters don't usually use these kinds of vehicles.”

    “Will anyone think it strange to see a military ground vehicle going to the monastery?” Luke asked.

    “Possibly, but doubtful,” Silas replied. “Like any other large establishment on T'lessia, our destination has a secluded loading dock for offloading supplies. Deliveries can happen at all hours of the day.”

    “Sometimes the military would bring in a truckload of trainees,” Laera added in an undertone. “The Order used to coordinate with the special forces branches of the various republics' militaries for training, but in the wake of the recent war that arrangement has likely been changed or even terminated.”

    “So basically, we're dependent on no one noticing,” Ben whispered ruefully.

    “Pretty much,” Silas replied. “And even if someone did see the truck, it is unlikely they'd find it noteworthy.”

    “Relax kid, the hard part's over,” Laera whispered, covering herself back up.

    Half an hour later, the truck began to emit a series of loud beeps, rousing everyone from the torpor they'd fallen into. “What is that noise?” Luke hissed, concerned.

    “We must have arrived at the monastery,” Silas replied, his voice rising to normal as he shook himself fully awake. “That beeping just means the truck is backing up, it's a safety measure to ensure no one gets caught unawares and run over.”

    As the Bothan rose from the floor of the truck's aft compartment, the vehicle stopped and the sound of doors opening and closing in the cab could be heard. “We're clear,” the muffled voice of T'Ooro said from just outside the rear egress.

    Throwing off their coverings, Luke, Ben, Laera and Silas exited the truck swiftly but silently. They trotted out of the compartment and right onto the dock itself, the two Jedi brushing copious amounts of dust from their clothing as they picked their way forward. The rear entrance to the monastery was dark save for a single floodlight that bathed the area in a soft orange glow, and the large loading door, made of what looked like corrugated durasteel, was closed. However, a small secondary entrance was open, and the six arrivals could just barely glimpse the shadowy forms of the assassin droid and Eldarch Bellinega. The elder Sa'ari wasted no time in assessing the situation, and crossed the distance between them in three long strides.

    “Laera, Silas, it is good to see you again,” she said, her sense broadcasting relief as she grasped each of their hands in turn. “I do not recognize you bring with you.”

    “Please forgive me for this unexpected turn of events, Eldarch,” Laera replied, sketching a bow before indicating her companions. “This is Luke Skywalker and his son, Ben. They are off-worlders like myself, but they are also Jedi Knights trained in the Force.”

    Bellinega turned back to face the pair of lighters and spoke, her tone almost pleading. “Is it true what Laera says, Iper?”

    “I'm afraid so, Eldarch,” T'Royc replied somberly. “T'Yelc attacked her before fleeing, and in doing so revealed her true self. She has indeed succumbed to the blackness.”

    “But how could this have happened?” Bellinega asked, still unsure whether or not she believed what had transpired. “She has served us faithfully for so long...”

    “Forgive me Eldarch, but I may have an idea why,” Luke said tentatively, stepping forward. “I have been told that your concept of 'the Blue' is fundamentally similar to our notion of the Force. Given that, it stands to reason that your idea of 'the blackness' is similar to our concept of the dark side.”

    “Yes, that is correct,” Bellinega replied. “Laera explained this to me many months ago when we exchanged ideas and information about T'lessia and the outside universe.”

    Luke nodded sagely. “Then you should know that one does not 'fall' overnight, or after one single act. It is possible that Pelenora T'Yelc has been planning this moment for some time, maybe even years. Given your species' long lifespans, I would not be surprised to learn that she had begun her plotting long before I was even born, and I am in my mid-sixties.”

    “That's about six hundred years in terms of Sa'ari maturity,” Laera added at the Eldarch's confused look. “My species typically lives for only a tenth of your lifespan.”

    Bellinega paced the loading dock in silent contemplation of Luke and Laera's words, her sense in the Force buzzing with agitation despite her efforts at maintaining a facade of tranquility. “But why would she come after me?”

    “Because you are the Eldarch and she is the Youngarch,” Silas explained. “It is an ancient truth that the fastest way to ascend in any hierarchy is to eliminate the person above you. All she has to do is convince the T'lessian people that your death was from natural causes; once that is accomplished, she will be free to spread her influence throughout your world.”

    “And with no one to contest her claim, there is little doubt that her truth will become accepted,” Laera put in. “But if you still don't believe me, then peer into my mind and see the truth for yourself..."

    — — —​

    At Laera's invitation, I was finally able to summon the will to cease my nervous strides and focus on the current situation. Rubbing my temples in an old ritual known to boost concentration, I closed my eyes and followed the currents of the Blue into the willing mind of the Starborne One. I had done this before—many times, in fact—but it had been so many months since she and her companion had been forced to flee the monastery that it was a struggle to remember how. The mental pathways of her species were very different than those of the average Sa'ari; adapting and overcoming these differences had been one of the most challenging tasks of my life.

    After an eternity that must have seemed like only a moment to the others, I was able to rebuild the bridge between our minds. Images from her time in the Great Western Forest spread before me like a panorama. Through her eyes I witnessed snippets and vignettes of their trek into the wilderness, their construction of a home within the bole of a great tuskwood, their first encounter with these new visitors, and what they discussed in their meetings. As I watched, new questions bounded into my thoughts, threatening to distract me from what needed to be done; it was obvious now that there was much more to Laera than she had ever told me. Such was the urgency of her warning, however, that I was forced to put such thoughts aside.

    Eventually I came upon the encounter with Pelenora, Iper and Fua in the shadow of the starship that had first arrived only two days before. The scene that played out before me left me feeling incredulous, as though this was surely some sort of clever trick or charade. But even as the blurred image of my protégé bolted from the meeting space, it became clear that even if Laera had wanted to alter the image, any revisions would have been obvious and false even to my mind.

    This realization hit me as though a great stone had been hurled into my abdomen, and I nearly doubled over as the anguish of betrayal washed over me. Iper and Fua, sensing my agony, dashed to my side to lend their support. “Thank you,” I said huskily as, with their aid, I managed to pull myself back together. “ most unsettling.”

    At that point, the walking assassin machine spoke up, his rasping hiss of a voice grating on my already frayed nerves. “Observation: Master, perhaps we should endeavor to place some distance between ourselves and the monastery. There is a ninety-seven percent probability that whoever seeks to harm the Eldarch will concentrate their initial efforts on this location.”

    “Agreed,” said Laera's furry companion as he looked back at the military vehicle in which the group had arrived. “We are limited on options, however. Unless, of course, the Eldarch knows of another secret hideaway.”

    “I taught T'Yelc everything she knows,” I said after a moment of silence, disgust in my voice. “And though I had not yet taught her everything I know, she does possess enough knowledge that there is nowhere on T'lessia that I could go where she would not eventually find me. I trusted her with everything, including my life...”

    “Don't blame yourself,” Laera offered. “The Force knows there's enough of that to go around. Until we can figure a way out of this mess, it might be best if we got the Skywalkers' ship back and headed for space.”

    “No! I will not be driven off my own planet!” I said, defiance suddenly blazing within my soul. A feeling of anger such as I had not known in centuries was coursing through me like a poison, my skin puckering with barely-suppressed outrage. “T'Yelc will answer for her betrayal!”

    “Yes, she will,” said the one called Luke as he extended a calming hand toward me. “But be mindful of your own feelings, Eldarch. Revenge will taint you as surely as the lust for power has tainted your student...”

    “...and the blackness fed upon it as the fuz'ta beetle consumes the harvest,” I said, quoting an ancient parable. “Leaving an oily stink in its wake upon which no plant would grow.”

    Silence descended upon the loading dock as the sun continued to rise, persisting for quite some time. Only the extinguishing of the safety light brought us out of our mutual contemplations, and it was again the infernal automaton that shattered the quiet. “Query: Master, are you familiar with the aphorism of 'hiding in plain sight'?”

    Everyone began staring at the machine in astonishment, and I had to admit to myself that there was something to what it had said. But it wasn't finished yet.

    “Statement: I am primarily an assassination droid, but I was also designed to serve as a protocol unit. Explanation: This serves a number of useful, if demeaning, purposes. You see, most meatbags tend to dismiss a humble protocol droid as furniture, not worth noticing. That is, of course, until the 'furniture' pulls out a high-powered blaster carbine and points it at its owner's head. Admission: This technique has allowed me to terminate seventeen meatbags thus far, without anyone being any the wiser.”

    Iper and Fua were looking at the machine with utter revulsion, appalled at the way it spoke so casually about inflicting death and destruction. “Excuse me, but did that thing just refer to us as 'meatbags'?” Fua asked.

    “You get used to it,” Laera replied, her arms folded over her armored chest and her face contorted in a snarl. “I'm assuming you're going somewhere with this, HK-47?”

    “Statement: Indeed, Master. Observation: My experiences and my programming agree: both Jedi and Sith are notoriously short-sighted when one is able to hinder their ability to detect potential threats using the Force. If the psychology of the average Sa'ari is anything like that of your Force-wielding brethren, then all you need to do to survive is impede their ability to locate and isolate you through this medium. Once you have done that, simply paint yourself blue, wear a hood, and proceed about the city at your discretion. They will be none the wiser.”

    There was another moment of silence, then the youngest off-worlder began to snort as though an insect had flown up his nasal cavity. This soon erupted into gales of laughter, which carried on for quite some time before he was able to regain control. “Forgive me, but I fail to see the humor in this machine's words,” I said, bristling with annoyance.

    “It's so simple,” he replied, smiling broadly. “All we have to do is shroud ourselves, like your people do, and they won't even think to try and pierce our veils. If we do it right, T'Yelc's minions could sweep Tal'adin City for the next ten years and they would never find us.”

    “Affirmation: Insofar as my intention, the young meatbag is correct, Master.”

    “Are you suggesting that we pose as Sa'ari?” Laera asked, a smile spreading upon her visage as well—a smile that was, despite the circumstances, infectious, and I found myself having to fight to maintain some semblance of dignity. “Not that I have a problem with that,” she continued. “We can't just stay indoors forever, and that still leaves the matter of the Skywalkers' ship.”

    “Now wait just a minute,” the young Skywalker said, pointing an indignant finger at the Starborne One. “I am not putting on a fake set of—”

    “You won't have to,” the elder newcomer replied, holding a placating hand in the air. “If I understand the technique properly, then we would need to disguise our faces only, and that will be enough for us to make our way through the city.”

    “I don't suppose any of you have considered my role in this little scheme?” the furred man replied, broadcasting a feeling of being distinctly put out. “Not only am I unable to shroud myself, but my anatomy is rather different from that of both your species.”

    The Skywalkers exchanged glances with each other and Laera in turn. I glanced at Silas, sensing his increasing irritation. “Even if it is possible for some of us to venture into the streets, it might not be advisable for me to do so,” I suggested. “In any event, I must confess that I would rather prefer to have a living bodyguard in addition to this...machine.”

    “Whatever we do, we better get a move on,” Laera said, reaching out to hold her companion's hand. “Is there some other form of transport that we could commandeer without notice?”

    “Yes, my personal vehicle,” I replied. “I have not used it in nearly half a century, so it is unlikely to be recognized immediately. That should do until we can secure a hiding place...”

    — — —​

    Everything seemed to be going apace once we had all piled into Eldarch Bellinega's groundcar. Her attempts to assuage my continuing irritation by asking for me to guard her were only partially successful. While it solved one potential problem, it created another. Namely, what in space I, as the only non-Force user on this planet, was going to do while stuck in one place yet again.

    The vehicle itself was obviously of significant age, but it seemed to run well and was large enough to hold all of us in something approaching comfort, including HK-47; this was largely due to the fact that the average Sa'ari was significantly taller than either humans or Bothans. The passenger compartment's windows were tinted, and both lighters sat in the front row of seats with their hoods up. Iper T'Royc, who was driving, took a furtive course through the city center and into the suburbs. As the sun approached its zenith, the car made a turn into a forested residential area and began to slowly snake its way through a neighborhood of medium-sized houses.

    “Where are you taking us?” I asked her as she pulled the car onto yet another side street.

    “My great aunt's house,” she answered. “She died a few years back, but the property has been vacant for some time and its contents unclaimed; her daughter inherited it but she had already emigrated to another republic. T'Yelc might eventually think to look here, but since the house is listed as unoccupied...”

    “...then we can hide ourselves without attracting attention,” Luke finished for her. “At least for a while.”

    “Yes. That will give me time to contact the owner and arrange a sale under a false name.”

    I arched a confused eyebrow at the lighter. “If the owner is your great aunt's daughter, wouldn't that mean she's your mother's sister?”

    “No,” Iper replied simply. “I am only two hundred and thirteen T'lessian years old. My great aunt was one thousand and seven when she died. Our generations are forty years long, that is the age at which we are able to conceive and bear children. Because of this, family trees can become quite tall and mothers can live to see their offspring produce many additional branches.”

    “How does your species avoid overpopulation?” Luke inquired. “If you can live for a millennium or more, and yet reproduce so quickly, how has your world not become overwhelmed?”

    As the Jedi Master finished his question, however, the car pulled into the driveway of a violet-colored residence, the central dome attached to a smaller one whose wide door opened at Fua T'Ooro's beckoning gesture. The vehicle barely fit; indeed, Iper was forced to park it in at an angle so that the door could be closed again. Once it was secured, the garage was plunged into semidarkness, with only a small side window allowing daylight in.

    “Thankfully, most of this neighborhood's residents are away at their jobs or attending school,” Fua said as we piled out. “Only three saw us, and I was able to successfully wipe their memories for the appropriate number of seconds.”

    “Excellent work, Fua,” Bellinega said, touching her shoulder. “Iper, how soon can you contact your relation?”

    “I can have her on the vid-link within a few minutes,” she said, crossing to the doorway into the house itself. “However, I think it best that we postpone any outside contact for the moment. The Starborne Ones need rest, and we must also assess the situation and come up with contingency plans, false identities, and a means to support ourselves that will not draw attention.”

    “G-g-good thinking...” I said, trying and failing to suppress an enormous yawn. The plates of my armor clinked as I stretched my arms and legs, trying to work out the kinks that had developed from riding in the military truck and then Bellinega's groundcar. “Pardon me.”

    Laera did the same thing, her motions a bit more graceful than my own. “Thank you, Iper,” she said. “You have risked much on our behalf, and we are grateful.”

    The lighter gave a slight bow. “It is not so much a risk as you yourselves have taken,” she replied, her tone slightly abashed. “In revealing T'Yelc's duplicity, you have earned our trust along with the respect that you already possess.”

    “Iper is correct,” Bellinega put in. “We owe you much, Starborne One.”

    “You don't owe me,” Laera replied. “If anything, I owe you and the Sa'ari people. The war was all my fault, a result of my own misjudgment and arrogance. I'm no diplomat, and I should have realized that sooner.”

    “Laera, you are tired, hurt, and badly in need of rest,” I said, moving to join her and offering a comforting hand. “Continuing to blame yourself will not help your condition or stop T'Yelc.”

    “Your companion is correct,” Iper added. “Rest now; we will have food prepared by the time you awaken. Come, and I will show you to a suitable room.”

    As Fua and Bellinega put their heads together to exchange quiet words, I and the three humans followed the elder lighter through the door into the main residence while the assassin droid remained behind to keep vigil over the Eldarch. The décor inside was subtle yet tasteful, reflecting the fact that a woman of great age had lived here. Though the exposed darkly-stained wooden furniture was a bit dusty, its general appearance was in good order, and it went well with the polished wooden floor and walls and white stucco ceilings. The main room's seating was protected by dust-covers, with a large and ornate entertainment center hugging the curvature of the wall. Its doors were closed; if this house was like most, then behind them had been placed a large viewscreen and sound system for audiovisual programs. Between the main room and a well-appointed kitchen and dining room stood a wooden spiral staircase, which led to two upper floors and a sealed hatchway in the flat ceiling. Though the house had obviously been uninhabited for some time, the air within wasn't stale; a faint scent of aged hardwood competed with a subtle flowery aroma.

    “What's beyond that hatch?” Ben asked Iper as we began to ascend the stairs.

    “Our homes are domed for a reason,” she replied. “The upper space above is devoted to a dwelling's power source, which is a combination of solar paneling and micro-wind generators along the outside and the appropriate wiring and insulation within. This allows our homes to be largely self-sufficient, connected only by the need for waste disposal.”

    “But what's on the inside?” I asked, my curiosity piqued even as fatigue began to gnaw at the edges of my mind.

    “We use the room within as storage,” Iper said as she guided us off the stairs and onto the third floor. “However, many homes have windows in the dome for stargazing, particularly those owned by persons who have family in the Order. Observing the night skies is something of a ritual for my people, it allows us to connect as families while acknowledging that we are not alone in the universe. Luke and Ben, you will have this room.”

    The lighter nodded and indicated a door to the staircase's left. After a grateful acknowledgment, the two Skywalkers opened it and entered, closing it with a gentle snap.

    “This other room belonged to my great-aunt and her bondmate,” Iper said, nodding again. “If you require anything, please let either myself or Fua know.”

    “Thank you,” Laera replied, returning the nod.

    As the lighter descended the stairs once again, I opened the door and entered. The room inside was dusty like the rest of the house, its floor carpeted in a pattern that resembled the grain of the wood used in the interior on the first floor. A semicircle in shape, it was quite airy; large openings had been carved into the wall that bathed the room in light. Immediately across from the door was a large bed, protected by a dust-cover, with pillows placed in a large hamper beside it. Each side of the room was furnished identically, with a chest of drawers and clothes cabinet curving along the wall and nestled between the artfully-mullioned windows. The effect was quite grand, and it seemed to be quite fitting for a family matriarch.

    “It's beautiful,” I remarked as I began removing the protective cover from the bed.

    “This whole house is beautiful,” Laera replied, a doleful look on her face. “I wonder how many houses like this were destroyed in the war.”

    I had begun to distribute pillows when she said this. Driven perhaps by nerves, exhaustion, or simple annoyance, I took the one held in my hand and slapped her over the head with it.

    “What in Chaos is the matter with you?” I barked, throwing the pillow onto the bed and grabbing Laera's elbows. “You were all grit and gundarks when we were heading back into the city to extract Bellinega, but now you're moping like a raw recruit pining for hearth and home!”

    “I don't know,” she replied hesitantly. “It feels as though we forgot something in our rush to get to the monastery. Something very important.”

    “What could possibly be so crucial as to make you do such a one-eighty?” I shot back. “I've never seen you like this, not even when we thought that Revan had been killed—”

    “That's it!” Laera gasped, breaking away from me and heading toward the door. “Revan's holocron, we left it aboard Luke's ship! We need to get that thing back so I can see what was on it!”

    Exhausted and nearing my breaking point, I nevertheless managed to cross the distance quicker than her and blocked the way out. “No,” I said, my voice diamond-hard. “You—we—need to rest! We're tired and not thinking clearly, and that means we're vulnerable to rash decisions and stupid mistakes!”

    I reached out and took her face in my hands, continuing in a far gentler tone. “We'll ask the Jedi about this holocron after we've put in a solid eight hours, I promise.”

    The sudden burst of energy within Laera seemed to flicker and die, and she collapsed into my arms. I guided her toward the bed, both of us shedding armor plates as we shuffled closer, until we were clad only in our faded and worn body gloves. We zipped one another out, then oozed underneath the covers and closed our eyes. Sleep came almost instantly.
  6. earlybird-obi-wan

    earlybird-obi-wan Jedi Grand Master star 6

    Aug 21, 2006
    nice update with the different POV's and action to get inside the monastery
  7. TrakNar

    TrakNar Jedi Grand Master star 5

    Apr 4, 2011
    Ah, the classic "smuggle out (or rather, in) with the laundry" schtick... People need to do that more often.

    And I'll be honest, no matter how many times I read "domed buildings," I still picture a Victorian manor. I really don't know why.
  8. Thumper09

    Thumper09 Jedi Grand Master star 4

    Dec 9, 2001
    I really liked the detail that looking into an alien's mind (in this case, the Eldarch looking into Laera's) could be difficult because of the different mind structure and pathways. :)

    Silas is stuck as the outsider again, poor guy.

    That sounds like a really neat house, and the descriptions were great. Hopefully the group will be able to recuperate a bit before they have to deal with anything set in motion by T'Yelc. Silas was right, they needed rest more than they needed to immediately go back for the holocron. I wonder what a Sa'ari would make of that holocron.

    Great post!
  9. Goodwood

    Goodwood Jedi Master star 5

    May 11, 2011
    Chapter Ten

    Night had fallen by the time I knocked gently on the door to the primary bedroom. The two slumbering Starborne Ones within began to rise to full wakefulness as I waited for them to make themselves presentable. Extending my feelings outward, I gently and respectfully brushed the minds of Laera and Silas, identifying myself as Fua T'Ooro and making sure that they were well-rested and able to function, which they seemed to be.

    For the last eight hours, Iper and I had discussed these latest developments with Eldarch Bellinega. While I had great respect for both of them, it felt as though I had been thrust into a situation well over my head. Iper was thirty years my senior; though we had been partners for over a decade, part of me felt that there was still yet more to learn about her and the Blue in general. I had only once before had occasion to meet the Eldarch, and that had been during my lighting ceremony. Though I have served as a lighter for many years and know my way around, part of me had felt inadequate to the task at hand. Bellinega seemed to know this, however, and she had been most kind to me as we pondered our next move, for which I was grateful.

    And these new arrivals, they had seemed to be quite amicable despite having only met them a single day prior. Their vessel—a starship, they had called it—had been a truly amazing thing to behold. Though all the buttons, consoles and displays had been utterly indecipherable, they had drawn my eyes about like buhje flies engaged in their twilight dance. When Iper and I had offered our help in the wake of T'Yelc's treachery, they had accepted our aid without question, demonstrating remarkable open-mindedness; not once had either of them questioned our roles as lighters or constables, or whether or not we were with the Youngarch in her plans. They, like Laera and Silas, had seemed to take notice of the prophecy and the effect that it had had on my people.

    Their physiology, though, was proving to be most difficult to reconcile; the word I had been taught translated into their tongue as "gender." The fact that they, like the furred one who did not glow, were so different biologically was something that had both myself and Iper massaging our scalps in wonderment. These feelings, however, had been forced inward; thankfully, they were at least sufficiently like us that coexistence was not only possible, but probably inevitable. But that was for the matrons and matriarchs to debate, not maidens like Iper and myself.

    Drawing from the momentary reverie I'd fallen into, I turned toward the other door in time to see the Skywalkers emerging from the other room, having been awakened several minutes previously. “Have you rested comfortably?” I asked hopefully.

    “Yes, very well, thank you,” Luke replied. “This house is very well-appointed. Is this common for Sa'ari dwellings?”

    I smiled and nodded, grateful in a sense for the seeming banality of the question. “Yes. We do not like to waste resources rebuilding homes that are perfectly viable, so we instead pass them on to our granddaughters or great granddaughters. This house is probably a good deal older than Iper's great aunt was when she died.”

    I gestured toward the stairs. “Iper and the Eldarch are waiting for you in the dining room. We have prepared a meal suitable for consumption by your species.”

    “Thanks,” Ben replied as his stomach gave a huge growl. “I haven't had anything to eat since those plek'kak ribs almost...a whole day ago!”

    “Aren't you coming?” Luke asked, seeing that I had remained behind as they had begun to descend the staircase.

    “I will be there shortly,” I replied. “I must also see to Laera and Silas.”

    Parent and offspring shrugged, then descended the two flights to the main floor. After several minutes more, the two Starborne Ones emerged, nodding gratefully to me as I led them downstairs and into the dining room, which contained an elaborately-carved table capable of seating ten in a set of matching low-backed chairs. Iper and I had dusted the entire main floor and switched on the lights, though we had drawn the curtains tightly over the windows. The table itself had been set for seven, with Bellinega sitting at the head and Iper in the first chair to her right, and the Skywalkers at the second and third seats to her left. I noticed, with slight bemusement that I determinedly kept hidden, that the chairs in which they had sat were slightly too big for them. Roasted lokta bird and lightly-steamed vegetables had been piled onto plates patterned with designs that resembled tuskwood trees, while red brewine had been poured into cut-crystal goblets. The rust-red assassin droid had taken up station in the kitchen, partially-obscured by the food preserver.

    “We would be honored if you could join us,” Bellinega said, standing as I led Laera and Silas into the room. The younger of the two Skywalkers seemed to be amused about something, but I could only guess at the source. His father also appeared to have noticed this, and he seemed to be sharing in the unintentional humor of it.

    “Thank you,” Laera said as she and her companion took the two seats next to Iper as I sat in the empty chair between the Eldarch and the Skywalkers. “I apologize for the state of our attire,” she continued apologetically, gesturing to her worn black body-garment. “We left our forest home in something of a hurry.”

    “We understand,” Bellinega replied. “More suitable clothing should be easily acquired from within the house.”

    “I hope your accommodations were acceptable,” Iper said tentatively. “The guest room is fairly small, I know, but it seemed more appropriate since it had two smaller beds instead of a single large one.”

    "The master bedroom was very well-appointed," Silas, the furred one, replied with an appreciative nod. "The bed was particularly welcome after having lived in the forest for so long."

    “They are very nice, thank you,” Luke added. “Your great aunt had excellent taste in furniture.”

    “Thank you,” Iper replied, her cheeks flushing with a slightly deeper shade of blue as we exchanged glances. “I did not know her that well, but she was a highly-skilled artisan. Most of what you see in this house was constructed by her own hands and mind.”

    I pondered the mental image of an elder Sa'ari sitting at a long table with ten sets of tools before her, nine of them moving of their own accord across bits of wood according to how she manipulated the set in her hands. I smiled at the thought, as did Ben Skywalker, an expression that Iper seemed to recognize and appreciate.

    All conversation ceased as each of us tucked into our meals, the clinking of forks and knives on plates and the gentle rhythms of appreciative chewing and drinking the only sounds in the room. Occasionally the assassin machine called HK-47 would emerge from his kitchen vigil to run a visual sweep of the perimeter, checking for light leaks and monitoring the comm waves for any signs of activity. The android looked, if it were possible, even more out-of-place with a Sa'ari communicator attached to his head, but he seemed to be putting up with it for the time being.

    “Explanation: It was the Eldarch's idea, Master,” he had said in reply to Laera's quizzical look upon first seeing it. “Commentary: Though she is a meatbag, it was an interesting display of droid-like logic and efficiency.”

    Bellinega seemed not to notice the slight cheek in his words, or else she hadn't cared. Laera, however, had shot the machine a rather filthy look, and he had retreated back to the kitchen.
    Once everyone had finished, Iper bade the group to move to the sitting area in the main room. With its protective coverings now removed, the furniture within turned out to be a pair each of two- and three-seat divans, well-cushioned and skinned with plek'kak leather colored in a deep blue that went well with the dark wood. Bellinega took one of the three-seaters, while Iper and I took the other, leaving the Skywalkers, Silas and Laera to pair off on the smaller couches.

    “Now that we are all rested, fed and watered, we can begin to plan,” the Eldarch began solemnly. “Iper and Fua feel that, for the time being, the best course of action is to lay low. Since I am still unable to trace T'Yelc through our bond as Eldarch and Youngarch, I must agree with their recommendations. Tomorrow, Iper will contact her relation and begin the process of acquiring this house, so that we may use it as headquarters. Since the dwelling can be run off of its own internal power sources, our use of it can remain unnoticed until then, so long as we do not attract attention.”

    “I had wondered if that was why the curtains had been drawn,” Luke said. “During the Rebellion, we were sometimes forced to take similar measures in order to hide safehouses that had been established on Imperial-controlled worlds.”

    “You have had to do this before?” I inquired, casting a curious eye toward him.

    “It was many years ago,” Luke replied. “But yes, I once participated in the organized rebellion against a pan-galactic government that had been established on principles of tyranny and oppression. Though I was never formally part of our Intelligence division, I do have experience in covert operations from that time and later on.”

    “Do you have any specific recommendations to add, based on your experiences?” Iper asked.

    “Not at this time. My understanding of your culture is still limited.”

    “I do have a question for you,” Laera put in, her eyes fixed on the elder Skywalker as she leaned toward him. “It's about that object you mentioned when we first met...”

    Luke cast a meaningful look at Ben, who reached into his robes and handed him a small, jade-green obelisk that seemed to resonate with the Blue in a manner that I immediately found highly intriguing. “Yes," he said. "I had Ben bring it along. Once I knew we would be heading back into the city, I had him keep it safe in case the Sa'ari authorities managed to penetrate our ship's security system. The technology they can have, but what is in here...”

    “...could be incredibly dangerous were it to fall into T'Yelc's hands,” Laera finished with a scowl. “Luke, I cannot thank you enough. Whatever we decide on, the first thing I need to do is to access my old friend's message.”

    “Agreed,” the Jedi Master replied.

    “What is this thing?” Iper inquired with a slight hint of anxiety, a feeling that I shared. “Is it dangerous to us?”

    “Not at all,” Luke replied, the ghost of a smile crossing his visage. “This is a holocron, a device used by the Jedi to contain information and patterns of thought so that others can learn from it. Only a Force-user, or someone attuned to what you call 'the Blue' can access it—meaning anyone native to this world. When all is said and done and this crisis is seen through, I along with others like me might be able to teach your people how to construct similar objects.”

    The elder man reached into the Blue—what he called "the Force"—and touched the small device so that it floated toward Laera. She plucked it gingerly from the air and held it as though it meant the world to her. “Eldarch, I think that I should attend to this right away,” she said deferentially. “Silas is more than qualified to speak on my behalf while I am occupied.”

    “Of course,” she replied, a hint of awe evident in her voice, a sentiment that was echoed within Iper's mind as well as my own.

    Attempting to hide her blushing, Laera stood and backed out of the room, making her way back toward the spiral staircase. I resisted the urge to look after her, or to probe the Blue in her wake.

    — — —​

    Aboard the Stalwart Defender, four thousand years earlier

    “All ships and personnel are accounted for, Revan. We're ready to return to Coruscant.”

    I barely heard the words as Bastila spoke them; they were unnecessary, but we both knew that. As I looked out the viewport with her standing behind me, I pondered the events of the last several days. The mission had nearly been a disaster, but now we had confirmed that Korriban was no longer under the control of the Sith. At least, not for the time being, for I knew with ironclad certainty that, someday, another generation of dark side adepts would seek out and find this desiccated tombworld.
    That wasn't what bothered me, however.

    Malak had been dead for two years now, and the memories of my past had continued to return. Now that the picture was complete, or as near to completeness as any being could hope to attain, it was now achingly clear that I could no longer stay in the Republic. Malak's Sith Empire—my Sith empire—was to have been but a vanguard of the darkness that was to come. The Jedi Council that had given me this chance to atone, to help save the Republic that represented the last, best hope for peaceful civilization in the galaxy, could handle the rebuilding of the Order while the politicians saw to reigniting the galactic economy and revitalizing the worlds that the Mandalorians and I had helped to destroy.

    What bothered me now, at this moment, was how Bastila would take it. She could never come with me. While I loved her with all my being, such love could be made to serve the darkness that I now had to venture into the unknown to reveal and destroy. She had to remain behind, to lend her abilities and experience to those Jedi who would replace the ones who had fallen, and to tell our story to them so that they would not make my mistakes. You cannot fight darkness with darkness; it can only be brought forth and eliminated by the light of the Force.

    “Revan, are you alright?” she persisted, reaching up to place a comforting hand on my shoulder. “You feel...preoccupied.”

    After a few moments of silence I inhaled deeply, letting the breath escape in a long sigh. Finally I turned to face her, my eyes meeting hers as I wondered how much of my ruminations she had sensed through our bond. As I did so, it became clear that I had run out of time; if I didn't tell her now, then how could I ever do what must be done?

    “No,” I finally replied, my voice low so that only she could hear. “Bastila, I have come to a realization. When we reach Coruscant, we must then part ways forever.”

    Shock was evident on her face and in her sense, and she did not trouble herself to hide it. My heart ached along with hers. Back when I had rallied the Jedi under the banner of the Revanchists, and even during my time as a Sith Lord, I had cultivated an enigmatic air, the better to keep others guessing as to my true intentions. Between Bastila and myself, however, we had always been very open about our feelings both toward each other and the rest of the universe. “It's your memories, isn't it?” she asked, the rhetorical question edged in durasteel. “From your time as the Dark Lord and before?”

    “Yes,” I admitted, taking her hands in mine. “My one great error, the mistake of a million lifetimes, and its echoes will reverberate throughout existence for generations to come.”

    “What do you mean?” she asked desperately, clinging to some hope that perhaps I had misinterpreted this latest revelation. “I know you did horrible things back then, but you have more than made up for that!”

    “Have I?” I asked gently. “Has the pitiful amount of goodness that I have done made up for the fact that I chose, upon the surface of Malachor V, to fight darkness with darkness? Such a thing cannot be done, it only begets more death and destruction. What has happened in the last ten years will shape the galaxy's future for thousands more. You know that as well as I do.”

    “Whatever you have to do, I am with you,” she said, and I could sense that she would not give in easily. “Wherever you must go, I will go with you.”

    “No, I must do this alone,” I said, knowing as I spoke that this would never be enough for her. “Something is out there, Bastila, something worse than the Mandalorians, worse even than anything that I or Malak ever loosed upon the Republic. It was this darkness that I had hoped to head off when I first utilized the Star Forge. I had wanted to conquer the Republic in order to save it, not rule it, but the Force doesn't work that way and I became corrupted by the power of the dark side. Now that I am redeemed, it is clear that this menace must be challenged by nothing less than a fully-committed Jedi Knight, dedicated to serving the light fully and without hesitation. If I take you with me, if I take anyone or anything that I care for, then my campaign will be doomed before it has even begun.”

    “Revan, you're being paranoid!” Bastila protested vehemently, her voice a low hiss. “What could possibly make you believe that there's another dark empire out there?”

    I looked around the bridge of Vice Admiral Kedlis Hetton's flagship, making sure that no one was within earshot. “Canderous once told me something as we traveled aboard the Ebon Hawk to Kashyyyk, in response to my asking him why the Mandalorians had begun their second Crusade. He said that 'the Sith came to us with an offer: to fight a worthy enemy in a battle that would be remembered forever.'”

    Behind Bastila's gray eyes, I could see her mind putting the pieces together. “Then that means...”

    “...that there must be another Sith empire out there—perhaps the 'true' Sith empire, the one that we thought vanquished at the end of the Great Hyperspace War. If this is true, then I must find it and do whatever it takes to weaken them, to give the Republic and the Jedi Order time to rebuild and reassert themselves. Canderous seems to have some insight into what went on between this hidden empire and the Mandalorian clans, and he may be able to provide some assistance in this matter.”

    “You're not going to take him with you?” Bastila asked, horrified.

    “No, no one goes with me,” I reassured her. “I need everyone to stay where they can do the most good. This means that I need you to stay with the Order, to teach them what we've learned, and to keep our legacy safe. I've almost finished working on a holocron that will help to ensure that the galaxy never forgets us and what we've learned. When it is complete, it will tell you everything you need to know.”

    “What more must you do?” she asked, her curiosity piqued.

    Unsure how to ask this, I momentarily cast my attention toward the viewports. The ship had made the jump to lightspeed, the stars around Korriban having been replaced by the mottled purple of hyperspace. “Have you ever known or heard of a Marine officer by the name of Laera Reyolé?”

    Much to my astonishment, this question caused Bastila's sense to flare with recognition as her eyes widened. “As a matter of fact, I knew her very well,” she said in an awestruck voice. “So did Carth, in fact. She trained as a Jedi between the wars, and it was she who led the platoon that boarded your flagship when...when we sought to capture you. Ibratu'na served on that mission too, along with some of his Marines, when they were still in the Army. Before that, both Carth and I served alongside her during the liberation of Iridonia and the counteroffensive that followed.”

    Silence fell as I pondered Bastila's words. It seemed logical enough that I hadn't been told everything about that eventful day. It was to be expected that Laera herself wouldn't have wanted the fact of her death and rebirth at my behest to become public knowledge, but I had no idea that she, along with my company commander and some of his troops, had also participated. Unfortunately, this didn't make explaining things any easier. “You say that you 'knew' her. What happened?”

    Bastila looked momentarily sad, as though she didn't really want to believe what she was about to say. “She...she is gone. After the mission Laera and her companion, a Lieutenant Silas Dan'kre, disappeared as they attempted to make a hyperspace jump Rimward of Ord Mantell. We weren't sure what happened, so a week later Georg Oakes and I returned in a scout ship to look for clues. We found a small amount of debris consistent with a Herald-class shuttle, but not enough to indicate that her escape vessel had been destroyed outright. The Force around the vicinity was clear and oddly peaceful, hardly indicative of death or suffering, which led us to believe that the ship must have succeeded in making lightspeed. Where Laera is, only Laera knows; the official Republic inquiry ended there and we didn't have time to pursue further.”

    Turning away, I closed my eyes and probed the Force for any sign of the Marine. I was hardly surprised to find nothing immediately discernible, so I instead let myself sink into the currents of the future. Though incredibly unlikely, it was possible that this was a case of a damaged hyperdrive affecting the ship's relativistic shielding—were this true, then my efforts would not have been in vain. Surrendering myself utterly to the Unifying Force, I followed it wherever it would take me until, finally, I hit a bright spot. It wasn't much, but it was all I needed. “She's alive,” I said simply.

    “I believe you, my love,” Bastila said reassuringly. “And I also believe that your interest in her is not romantic.”

    I couldn't help but smile and laugh at her remark. At last, she had learned the value of humor in diffusing a potentially unpleasant situation.

    "Please, tell me more about her..." I asked simply.

    — — —​

    With the nearly-finished holocron before me, I knelt on the floor of my quarters. With the Force, I activated its recording function and began to speak to the future, one which I knew I would never live to see.

    “Greetings, Laera Reyolé, I am Revan. If you are listening to this, then you are probably wondering why I did what I did to you after your sacrifice at Onderon. You are also probably wondering how someone so great could have gone so horribly wrong, and how he could possibly justify what he has done. I can understand if you are angry with me; I only ask that you hear me out. The truth is that I am not great. The Force is great but I am only a man, made to appear great through its influence and its aid. Such is the case with all of us, whether we seek to serve the light or to control the dark.

    “The same is true of you; you are a woman whose gifts have the potential to shape the destinies of uncountable millions. The only reason I can offer you now for what I did was that I wanted you to be able to learn how to use those gifts, and to learn what true service means, both for yourself and for others. I have enormous confidence in you, and know that by the time this reaches you, you will have figured out for yourself what I mean. I have spoken with Bastila Shan regarding your time during the war that I started, and she holds you in high esteem for what you have done for the Republic.

    “I regret starting that war. I did it for the wrong reasons, at the wrong time, using the wrong tools, and I hope that you can forgive me. Both for that war, and what I had done to you.” I paused for a moment, marshaling my thoughts once again.

    “After your death during the liberation of Iziz, Malak advocated for your resurrection using Dr. Shak's technology, developed by the Republic in secret prior to Exar Kun's war. After Malak and I embraced the dark side, I told him that you were to be a spy for us, hinting that I might have implanted some sort of monitoring equipment in you that would let me see into your mind. Rest assured that this is not the case; your tech is as sound as that which might have been given to anyone else. Despite this, you're probably wondering how you received the corrupted vision prior to your successful liberation of Iridonia—insofar as that is concerned, all I know is that for a brief moment, the Force connected us both and we each saw the same thing. Not fully understanding it then, I had sent a flotilla of cruisers to reinforce the planet, though of course the real reason was kept from the crews. Knowing what happened there as a result, it is something I am glad of, and hope that you can be as well.

    “As I record this message, I am on my way to Coruscant after having led a joint effort between the Republic and the Jedi Order to Korriban, in order to ensure that no Sith remain there. You are probably wondering why I fell to the dark side now, which is a fair question. I fell because I made the choice to try and fight darkness with darkness, which you probably know is a very foolish thing to attempt. In the months that followed, I discovered that there was a greater Sith empire out there, possibly the remnants of the empire that was defeated during the Great Hyperspace War, perhaps even that founded by the original Dark Jedi that were exiled after the Hundred Year Darkness. I chose to try and conquer the galaxy in order to prepare it for the coming assault by these hidden Sith, which was why I targeted the worlds I did. I sought to keep the infrastructure intact as much as possible so that when the next war came, we would be prepared and ready to fight.

    “When Malak betrayed me and took power for himself, he changed tactics for two reasons: firstly, because of his own combative nature; secondly, because I had not told him the full extent of the overall plan or, if I had, he either disregarded it or, in his zeal, forgot entirely. All I can do about that now is take solace in the fact that I was able to stop him from destroying everything. This brings me to my final message to you, an invocation that you hear what I have said and take it to heart. Carry on your noble work. Do what you do best: lead so that others will follow, show your strength in the light and allow it to shine as a beacon to others. I know not where or when you exist, only that you are alive, and that is enough.

    “Once the fleet returns to Coruscant, I will depart the Republic, venture beyond known space, and seek out the hidden Sith whose empire I, in my own darkness, touched the edges of. I will do everything within my power to destroy this looming threat, fully expecting to die before that task is accomplished. Even if I only manage to delay their efforts, it will have been worth it, for I will leave behind a Republic on the verge of falling apart at the seams. Though I could serve as a rallying figurehead at this crucial juncture, I could not in good conscience ignore this threat when I may be the only one equipped to fight it at this time. As a Marine, I know that you will understand.

    “Farewell, Laera Reyolé. The Force will be with you, always.”

    Reaching out again with my mind, I shut off the recorder, then appended my recollection of the earlier conversation with Bastila to the message, along with my private thoughts on it, before sealing it so that only Laera could access it if—no, when—the holocron at last fell into her hands.

    — — —​

    Tal'adin City suburbs, present day.

    As the ghostly vision of Revan receded into the obelisk he had crafted, I remained kneeling before the holocron. A fiery sensation in my lungs reminded me that breathing was not only healthy, but also helpful in absorbing new information. Deeply I took in the oxygen-rich air of T'lessia, exhaling it gratefully as I mulled over what this long-dead man—what this great Jedi Knight—had said to me.

    And, at long last, I finally forgave him, wholly and unconditionally.

    For the briefest of moments I extended my awareness to the main room, sensing in that short span that things were proceeding well despite my absence. Glancing at the T'lessian clock above the bed, I realized with a start that taking in Revan's message, along with his thoughts, had sucked up well over two hours. I pondered what he had meant by his exhortation to “lead so that others will follow,” and it occurred to me that, at the time of my death, he had probably known me better than I had known myself. This seemed to meld with his assessment of my character, for he had been right in guessing that I would know what he meant by his statements.

    It was at that point that I realized too that my self-recriminations over the recent Sa'ari war had been foolish and self-indulgent. His mistake had been orders of magnitude greater, yet he had also been able to carry on doing what he felt was right even after learning and remembering who he had been and what he had done before we had captured him. In order to help ensure that T'lessia returned to normal and, if necessary, to help its people to integrate into the wider galaxy, I had to do the same. If finding and confronting Pelenora T'Yelc was what it took, then so be it.

    As I grasped the holocron and made to stand back up, a feeling of intense shock lashed me like a leather whip across my back. Thousands—no, millions—of voices were crying out in alarm and dismay throughout the Force, but this time I was equipped to handle the mental backlash. Sealing my mind, I quickly descended the staircase, carrying the holocron with me as I made my way back to the main room.

    “What has happened?” I asked upon arriving, noticing only then that the entertainment center had been opened and the viewscreen was active. On it, a Sa'ari with dark blue skin accented with sea-green markings was presenting a special report in the Sa'ari language. “Oh no...”

    “What is she saying?” Ben asked Iper; she, Fua and Bellinega were all gazing transfixed at the news presenter.

    “She's saying that the Eldarch has been kidnapped,” I said, my voice hollow. “The official report from the Tal'adin City Constabulary is accusing 'the Starborne Ones' of staging it in order to hold the government ransom.” The presenter's image was replaced by a shadowy silhouette that vaguely resembled my own profile, and the audio switched to what was supposedly a pre-recorded statement in the native tongue, in my own distorted voice.

    “If you do not surrender my ship within twenty-six hours,” I translated, “I will kill the Eldarch and then seize my ship anyway. I will then return from the stars with a fleet of war vessels, and if you do not surrender yourselves to my rule, I will bomb your world into dust."
  10. TrakNar

    TrakNar Jedi Grand Master star 5

    Apr 4, 2011
    Oh dear...

    Trouble's a-brewin'...

    Laera had better come up with a plan and quick!
  11. earlybird-obi-wan

    earlybird-obi-wan Jedi Grand Master star 6

    Aug 21, 2006
    Trouble yes and great insightful update with the message from Revan
  12. Thumper09

    Thumper09 Jedi Grand Master star 4

    Dec 9, 2001
    Sorry for the delay in replying. [face_blush]

    That was an interesting message from Revan, and a fascinating parallel between his and Laera's situations with starting wars, either on purpose or inadvertently. I'm glad she was able to gain strength from the message and use it to help her press forward in fixing things.

    ...Though fixing things just got a bit more complicated for her. Looking forward to seeing how the group handles this twist.

    Great job! :D
  13. Goodwood

    Goodwood Jedi Master star 5

    May 11, 2011
    Oh crap, forgot to finish posting this! Better wait until that forum bug is fixed, though.
  14. Goodwood

    Goodwood Jedi Master star 5

    May 11, 2011
    (my sincere apologies for letting this go for so bloody long without an update)

    Chapter Eleven

    The horror didn't end there. As the news presenter's image returned to the viewscreen, blabbering on about an upcoming official government response and remarks being issued by representatives for the Order of the Blue Light, the two lighters' sat-phones began to bray for attention. Fua and Iper jumped as though electrodes had been shoved into their posteriors, and I had no doubt as to why. They exchanged a horrified look, then glanced beseechingly at Bellinega, who nodded in reply. “You should answer,” she said. “Use any excuse.”

    They left the room at top speed, bolting up the staircase to different floors so as to have some sort of privacy. The Force within the house boiled with uncertainty as the lighters, exchanging thought at lightspeed, cooked up their own version of events. I had no doubt that they were being contacted by the Constabulary in order to assess the seriousness of this threat, since they were supposedly the ones who had brought the ship into impound in the first place. I knew that, thankfully, lighters' communicators were not equipped with trackers, lest the devices trigger alarms while they worked undercover.

    Silence reigned on the first floor, save for the continuing news updates. Even amidst the utter audacity of this latest twist, it occurred to me that the timing for the announcement of T'Yelc's version of events couldn't have been more fortuitous. Perhaps it was due to her having to work so hard in assembling the pieces, or possibly due to some bureaucratic SNAKU; in any case, I wasn't about to let this opportunity go unused. Over the space of moments, the kernel of a plan resolved itself within my mind's eye. It was dangerous, and possibly even playing into the Youngarch's own scheme, but the attempt might just force a confrontation that would bring about a resolution to this whole mess.

    As if that weren't enough, part of me really really wanted the chance to pay her back for having smashed me headfirst into that bulkhead.

    Eventually Iper and Fua returned, nodding rigidly to the Eldarch as they resumed their seats. For several moments no one said a thing, until Silas finally switched the viewscreen off. “Well, that's our last two and a half hours of discussion out the airlock,” he deadpanned. “What did you tell...?”

    His question, intended for the two lighters, died unfinished as he caught a glimpse of the grin that was spreading on my lips. “Oh no,” he moaned, holding his head in his hand. “Why do I get the feeling you're about to say something I'm not going to like?”

    “I'm pretty sure that you will like it, actually,” I replied. “We're in Tal'adin City, not ten kilometers from the Foruma Lawyteret itself, are we not? What better proof do we need to refute this ridiculous claim than to let Bellinega present herself to the assembly and tell the truth?”

    Iper's eyes went wide and her mouth formed a perfect, comical O as she recognized the intent of my plan. “In the meantime we tail her discretely, ready to intercept any potential threats, including T'Yelc herself!”

    “Exactly!" I exclaimed, slamming my left fist into my open right hand. “HK-47, get in here!”

    “Acknowledgment: You screamed for me, Master?” he said after having clanked over to the main room from the kitchen.

    I touched the holocron with the Force once again, and the jade-tinted image of Revan sprouted from its top. “Do you recognize this person?” I asked.

    “Exclamation: Why Master, that is my creator! How did you come to possess his image? Backpedal: Wait, never mind, forget I asked. Observation: That is a Jedi holocron, unless my photoreceptors are malfunctioning...again.”

    “It is indeed,” I replied, smiling wickedly at the assassin droid. “Tell me everything you know about why you were constructed.”

    “Advisement: Master, under normal circumstances I would not be able to tell you even if I wanted to. Explanation: However, seeing that this image is coming from a Jedi holocron and not a Sith one, I am forced to acknowledge that my creator is now of your kind and thus, my programming restrictions are now deactivated.” He seemed to consider this for a moment. “Recollection: As I recall, Master, Revan originally constructed me to serve as a replacement for another HK-47 unit that went missing while on an assassination mission in Mandalorian space. Speculation: I suspect that my component systems and programming might have been slightly better than my predecessor as a result, however that would be meatbag logic at work, and I am just a humble droid.”

    “A bit of a droid chauvinist, isn't he?” Ben asked with the hint of a chuckle.

    “If I remember the historical records correctly,” Luke began, stroking his chin, “that original HK-47 unit eventually wound up in Revan's possession once again. He might even have been owned by Vima Sunrider later on, though the records are unclear as to who may have accompanied her.”

    “Objection: What do you mean by your use of the past tense, meatbag? You will tell me what became of my creator now, or I shall commence—”

    “Shut up!” I barked.

    The droid immediately fell silent, giving me time to formulate my next inquiry. “If Revan built you while he was still a Sith Lord, then you must know about how to defeat Force-users, correct?”

    “Answer: Yes, Master, I have been extensively programmed in multiple ways and techniques designed to enable me to successfully assassinate both Jedi Knights and Sith Lords and emerge intact.”

    “Do you think you could apply those techniques to Sa'ari lighters?” I asked, Fua and Iper emitting barely audible gasps of shock at my words.

    “Affirmation: Indeed I could, Master. Speculation: Since lighters do not possess nor wield lightsabers, I can be eighty-three point three three, repeating of course, percent sure that such an act will be considerably easier to accomplish.”

    “Even with your blaster set on stun?”

    “Confusion: Err...given that condition, my estimates go down by about three quarters, Master. Though I cannot possibly imagine why you would not prefer wanton slaughter instead. I would be ever so glad to—”

    “Absolutely not,” I said. “We do this with a minimum of bloodshed.”

    “Do what?” Silas asked, his fur rippling madly as he threw up his hands. “Laera, do you even realize what you're saying? Every lighter and police officer in the city—”

    “—will be looking for her and for us,” I finished for him. “Don't you see, though? It's the perfect plan to force T'Yelc to show herself!”

    “I agree with Laera's assessment,” Bellinega said, her tone oddly serene. “I will walk to the Foruma Lawyteret under your covert protection and inform the people of what has really transpired. But we should wait until daybreak tomorrow, so that we can be assured that I am seen by as many Sa'ari as possible.”

    Fua and Iper looked at the Eldarch as though she had suddenly morphed into a gargantuan dragonfly. The Skywalkers shared a look, the meaning of which I could only begin to guess at. Silas looked imploringly from one face to another before breaking the silence. “Please excuse me, but could I see you alone for a moment Laera?”

    Unable to get rid of the gleeful grin on my face, I nodded and we both rose from our divan.

    — — —​

    “What the kriff did Revan's ghost say to you?” Silas demanded, his aura broadcasting consternation and irritation along with the indignation in his voice. We had trotted back to the room given to us so as to not be overheard, but I wasn't worried about that. “Please come clean with me, Laera, because if you keep swinging moods on me like this, I don't know how much longer I'll be able to take it.”

    I understood Silas's concern, and even felt sorry for him. “You're right, of course,” I replied, smoothing his fur with one hand as I set the holocron on the bed before us with the other. “Here, watch.”

    Activating the device with a wisp of Force energy, I called up the appropriate files. I observed my love's aura as he took in the conversation between Bastila and Revan, accompanied by the latter's voiced thoughts, and then the message itself. When it was finished, the holocron shut down and I took hold of it once again. “What do you think?"

    “No monitoring device...” Silas whispered. “Not that it would have done that much good, the tech was eventually rejected. I don't know, Laera, this is all way beyond me, particularly that bit about the vision prior to the battle at Iridonia. But I can at least understand why this had such an effect on you. I still don't like your plan, but it's not as though I have anything better to offer and we can't just sit here waiting.”

    “Silas, I know this last year has been especially hard on you,” I replied, taking his hands in mine. “If there was something I could do to make it better for you, I would do it without hesitation. Just name what you need and it'll be done.”

    “All I want, all I've ever wanted since Ord Mantell, was for you to be happy,” he said. “Ideally, that happiness would be something we could share. But how can we be partners in a relationship when you are constantly risking your life on Jedi hunches that I can trust but not fully understand? I would like nothing more than to be on the front lines with you whenever possible, but you move so quickly that the boundaries ebb and flow at a significant fraction of lightspeed. How could I live with myself if I knew that I was the anchor that weighed you down at a critical moment?”

    The heartache within the Bothan was so palpable that even a blind kath hound could sense it. It took me several moments of introspection to put together something to say in response. “I would say that we could only take this one step at a time, but that would only postpone the inevitable. While that might work in this case, it's a habit I'd rather not fall into. I love you Silas Dan'kre, now and forever. And I promise you that no matter what happens, you will never be left behind again.”

    In the wake of this pronouncement, a breath of wind whose origin defied explanation blew over us, teasing my hair and puckering my flesh as Silas's fur waved about. Surprisingly, this caused him to shiver slightly, and I drew him into a soothing embrace.

    By the time we had rejoined the gathering on the main floor, midnight had come and gone. For the next several hours the lighters, the Skywalkers, Silas and myself took it in turns to plan out the route that Bellinega would take in the morning, the rest of us taking catnaps while one pair worked at a time. While this was going on the Eldarch herself slept, resting up for who or whatever might try and stop her trek. As dawn was approaching, she reemerged from her own room to be briefed on how the trip would work and what we would do to monitor and possibly intervene.

    At last, as the sun's first rays peeked over the horizon, all eight of us were ready to depart the house of Iper's great aunt. Bellinega was well-dressed for her role, having been given the most ornate ceremonial garment in the house, which she wore over her own robes. A voluminous slate-gray cloak easily as old as she was, it shimmered with braids of silvery thread that crossed at angles resembling an arachnid's web. Further braiding, embroidered in gold, circled the cuffs of the sleeves and followed the edges of the collar and hem, making for an impressively regal display.

    — — —​

    “Youngarch, we have a problem!” Ari T'Nok nearly shouted as she barged her way into my sanctum. Quickly I roused myself and flung a lighter's cloak over my nightdress, my eyes flicking to the window and noting that the sun had completed its emergence from behind the horizon.

    “What is it?” I asked briskly, knowing that my protégé would not have disturbed me at this early hour without good reason.

    “Bellinega has been spotted in Tal'adin City,” Ari replied breathlessly. “And...she's walking, apparently alone!”

    That bit of news made me crick my neck, so fast had I turned to face the one who had delivered it. Rubbing my spine to relieve the momentary pain, I glared at her. “Are you absolutely certain that she is alone?”

    “I have not been able to confirm this for myself,” she replied, her confidence returning. “But my source in the Constabulary insists that she has not detected anyone that might be following her.”

    “When did this happen?” I demanded. “Did she say what condition Bellinega was in, or what kind of response she was getting from those who had seen her?”

    “Y-yes, Y-Youngarch,” Ari stammered. “She reported that the Eldarch emerged from a residential neighborhood almost an hour ago, and that she seemed to be in excellent health, her poise that of a woman three centuries younger. And she was talking freely to anyone who approached her.”

    Inwardly, I cursed a red streak. This was exactly the kind of thing that could derail my plans completely, and while I had thought that it could be a possibility, in my hubris I had dismissed it out of hand. Despite Ari's assertions to the contrary, I knew that Bellinega was far from alone, that in fact the Skywalkers, the Starborne Ones, those fools T'Royc and T'Ooro, and even that infernal machine that I had planted back at the monastery, were all keeping a close eye on her. It all came together in that instant, what an utter fool I'd been to leave any of them alive. Well, that was a mistake that would soon be remedied.

    “Do you have a track on where she is going?” I asked in a low voice, knowing even as I spoke what the answer would be. There was only one place she could go.

    “She...she seems to be heading in the direction of the Foruma Lawyteret, Youngarch.”

    “Alert the airfield,” I ordered at a growl. “I want the entire squadron in Tal'adin Constabulary dress, ready to lift off in fifteen minutes. Can you handle that, Ari?”

    “Yes, Youngarch, I will see to it at once!” she replied, snapping off a salute before scampering from my presence like a lokta bird fearing the slaughter.

    She would get there before I could reach her, this much was certain. While I could throw every Tal'adin resource I possessed at her and her hidden guard force in an attempt to delay her, I dismissed the idea as foolhardy. The last thing I needed at this point was for the whole city to break out in mass confusion and riots; it would be all too easy for the Eldarch to slip through such commotions unnoticed. And even if she was successfully stopped, her death at that point would be seen as a heroic sacrifice; too many people had already seen for themselves that she was no hostage, as I had intended for them to believe.

    Faced with the realization that my masterstroke had been turned into my own possible undoing, I resolved instead to journey to the Foruma itself, to challenge her to single combat for right of succession. It was an ancient ritual, not used since long before the prophecy, but right now it was my only option. The challenge itself had originally been intended to serve as a final effort to check the possible descent into the blackness of the Eldarch and the Order of the Blue Light, and it could only be given by the Youngarch. How ironic that it would now be used for the opposite purpose.

    It was a risk, but one that had to be taken. If she managed to reach the Foruma and convince the Lawyteret of the truth before I could arrive and counter her claim, then all of T'lessia would come down upon me and my own followers. Our chances for glory in the wider galaxy would be dashed, my people forced to accept other beings' values, and that was something that I could not permit to happen while still capable of drawing breath.

    After dressing myself for battle as I formed my rebuttal to Bellinega's inevitable testimony, I strode from my sanctum to the small span of tarmac where twelve helicopters, eight of them gunships, sat. Their rotors already spinning as their engines warmed up, I watched as the ground crews finished applying Tal'adin Constabulary placards to the forward and aft fuselage of each machine. Donning my helmet, I raced toward my own vehicle, which was already occupied by Ari and four other armed and armored officers in addition to its flight crew.

    “All units, go!” I ordered into my helmet radio's tactical frequency. Taking the only available seat and sliding the door shut behind me, I strapped in. “Head for the Foruma Lawyteret, best possible speed!”

    “What is the plan?” Ari asked, covering her helmet input so that no one else would hear over the noise of the machine's engines running flat-out.

    “The Challenge of Blackness,” I replied curtly, making the same gesture. “It's my only chance now to kill Bellinega and control the results.”

    Ari's eyes went wide with shock and disbelief; like me, she knew what this entailed. “You are certain?”

    “Nothing is certain, not now,” I reminded her. “Especially when trying to factor in Laera Reyolé.”

    “You think that she is behind this, then?” Ari asked.

    “I know it, Bellinega could never have been so bold otherwise," I growled back. Even as we were climbing to altitude, rationalizations and excuses were cascading through my psyche at top speed—if only we'd been able to submit the 'evidence' sooner; perhaps if we'd gotten someone into the monastery to monitor her movements; if only I hadn't tried to be cute by planting their machine at that blasted place!—until I had to literally grab my mind and force it back into rational thought. There was no time and no point to such recriminations. "I was a fool to dismiss this contingency!”

    “And what if Bellinega kills you?” Ari demanded. “What will become of the Sa'ari people then?”

    “I do not know,” I confessed achingly, my gut squirming as I made the admission. A sudden burst of impotent rage came over me, and I punched the door with my gloved fist, leaving a sizable dent in the aluminum skin. “Spazjya!

    The ancient curse, shouted for all to hear, caused everyone to glare at me reprovingly save for the pilot, who determinedly kept her eyes on the instrument display. The word's meaning was so vile that it defied translation; even modern Sa'arese lacked an appropriate metaphor. Such was its impact that not even the Youngarch of the Order of the Blue Light could get away from the stigma associated with its utterance. I dismissed their baleful looks however, instead casting my gaze through the forward windscreen and toward the horizon.

    — — —​

    “HK-47, status report,” came Laera's voice over the linked network of Sa'ari mobile phones. Slaved to one another so that they did not need to use external sources to relay the signals they carried, the devices served as an effective substitute for standard comlinks using a scrambled frequency. Iper and Fua had done an outstanding job coming up with the idea and putting the network together; with Silas's help they had been able to finish it in time for its use in this latest enterprise.

    “Statement: The meatbag designated Bellinega has now completed sixty percent of her journey, Master. Addendum: She is continuing to exchange words of praise and thanks, however, which is slowing down her progress.”

    The Eldarch did not hear this, of course, as it would have looked suspicious for her to be in communication with anyone other than those with whom she spoke directly. The assassin droid was keeping track of her by following from whatever flat rooftops he could find amongst the domes of houses and small businesses. His blaster carbine, set to stun, still had enough accuracy to cover her in the event of someone attempting to halt her progress.

    Luke and Ben, meanwhile, were keeping a respectful distance in front of the Eldarch as she walked the prearranged route. Cloaked in items culled from their hideout and with copious amounts of blue makeup applied to their faces, in addition to improvised height extensions grafted to their boots, they could pass for Sa'ari at first glance, gently discouraging further inquiries by judicious use of the Force. Silas and Laera, on the other hand, were following her closely through the sewers, clad in full armor (sans their helmets) and ready to burst through the nearest drainage hatch should the worst-case scenario occur with someone making an attempt on Bellinega's life. Iper and Fua, dressed in civilian garb, had taken up mobile flanking positions. Their job was to provide lateral protection as well as to keep their senses attuned to any looming threats, so that they could be headed off before getting too close.

    The cordon was operating like a well-oiled machine, despite the growing crowd of well-wishers. Occasionally a knot would form around the Eldarch, and she would be forced to come up with an excuse to continue onward. However, nothing about these gatherings posed any threat whatsoever, and this had Laera worried.

    “Lighter group, report,” she said into the comm-net.

    “Nothing to the left,” Fua's voice came back.

    “Nothing to the right,” Iper replied.

    “Jedi Team, anything new?”

    “This paint itches,” Ben mock-groaned, attempting to lighten the mood.

    “Stow that,” Laera replied indignantly. “Report the situation on the street, not the situation on your acne-ridden face.”

    “Sorry,” Ben said with a slight grumble.

    “Nothing to report,” Luke added, his tone indicating that the conversation was over. “We're about to make the turn onto Jaleto Street.”

    “Statement: There is a multilevel groundcar park on the northwest corner, Master. I am making my way over to it now.”

    The team of Jedi and lighters continued their vigil as Laera and Silas followed along underneath the streets, turning at the appropriate drainage conduit so as to keep close enough to Bellinega's march. From Jaleto Street, it was a short distance of fifteen hundred meters to Foruma Lawyteret Boulevard, which led directly to the vast assembly hall. Groundcar traffic, normally somewhat limited at this time of day, was completely absent; instead the streets were becoming increasingly packed with walking Sa'ari. The vast majority of them were ordinary folks, hoping to catch some glimpse of their beloved spiritual leader after having heard of her kidnapping on the news the previous night. Others included police officers, some doubtlessly hoping to get close enough to question the Eldarch as to how she had escaped, while others sought to keep the crowd from becoming a mob. Even the occasional lighter was evident in the Force, but they were playing things cool, possibly as the result of gentle mental connections between themselves and Bellinega.

    Though resolved to see this through, everyone in the secret guard detail knew that this situation had the potential to become either a blessing or a complete fiasco, depending on whether or not T'Yelc decided to press the issue while the Eldarch was still en route to the Foruma building. It was also becoming increasingly difficult to hear transmissions over the comm-net above the din of the throng, forcing Laera, Iper, Fua and the Skywalkers to risk betraying their own Force-senses in order to understand what was being communicated. Tensions among the team were rising, and it began to seem as though it was only their shared purpose that kept them working together.

    “Statement: Master, I am now atop the main building of the Foruma complex,” the assassin droid reported as Bellinega came within sight of her destination. “Observation: From this vantage point, I am capable of wreaking much havoc, though I know that this goes against your orders...sadly.”

    “Do you have eyes on the Eldarch?” Laera inquired irritably.

    “Affirmation: I do, Master. Conjecture: Given her present course and speed, and accounting for possible increases in the number of bystanders, I anticipate that she will be safe inside within ten Standard minutes.”

    “Thank the stars he's on our side,” Silas whispered into Laera's ear. “I have no idea how he's managed to maintain overwatch without notice.”

    “Finally starting to warm up to him, are you?” she whispered back.

    “I get the feeling you aren't,” he replied with a grimace.

    “No. No I'm not.”

    “Warning: Master, I am detecting approaching aerial vehicles, at least ten of them. Observation: They appear to be Tal'adin Constabulary helicopters; four of them passenger vehicles, escorted by several gunships. However, given the congenial nature of the crowd below, I do not believe that this is an officially-sanctioned response.”

    “Sithspit, that'll be T'Yelc's people,” Ben spat. “They're going to slaughter the whole crowd to get to the Eldarch!”

    “Not even she would do that,” Iper cut in reassuringly. “She would know that to do so now would only cause mass confusion and panic, and she would not be able to control the resulting chaos or mold the people into accepting any kind of explanation for such an atrocity.

    “HK-47, how far off are they?” Laera asked.

    “Answer: Approximately seventy-one point three kilometers and closing, Master. The meatbag we are guarding will be well inside by the time they arrive.”

    “Stay up on the rooftops,” Laera ordered. “If they try to harm anyone, do what you can to neutralize them. Lethal force is authorized.”

    “Exclamation: Oh goody, Master, I can hardly wait for the fun to begin!”

    Luke, Ben, Fua and Iper felt the heat of Laera's exasperation in the Force as the mass of people, with the Eldarch at its heart, made their way down the street on the last leg of the journey. As the leading elements began to ascend the wide steps leading up to the Foruma complex, the members of the cordon began to break from their transitory positions in order to make their own surreptitious ways inside.