Saga Untouchable: Clone/Jedi Romance, Adventure/Drama, Obi & OCs, [COMPLETE] 2/25/14

Discussion in 'Fan Fiction- Before, Saga, and Beyond' started by laloga, Dec 21, 2012.

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  1. Nyota's Heart Fanfic Edited Winner / Combos & Paragraphs Host

    Game Host Game Winner
    Member Since:
    Aug 31, 2004
    star 6
    :shock: :shock: in earlybird-obi-wan's fics, people lose the Force but it's usually after a catastrophic life-threatening illness, and the Healers are able to "awaken" and rejuvenate the midichlorians, which were damaged or hindered. This doesn't look to follow something physical, it's probably psychological, which wouldn't surprise me, given all this turmoil Kalinda's in. I'm glad she has some clarity about not wanting or being able to go back. [face_thinking] Gives some hope for Stone then. :D Obi-Wan's declaration was terrific, just late. :( I [face_laugh] [face_laugh] at your nudge to lurkers at the end. ^:)^
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  2. Valairy Scot Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Sep 16, 2005
    star 5
    I think Kali hit it on the head why she and Obi-Wan won't work and why as Jedi they can't work - she wants him to be something other than who he is. Conditional love. Still love, with all the joy and heartache, but just - lacking.

    And of course it must be a trap - but one or two, here or there.
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  3. laloga Jedi Grand Master

    Member Since:
    Jul 28, 2011
    star 2
    @Jade_eyes, you're on the right track with Kali's loss of the Force! ;) Thank you so much for reading & commenting!
    @Valairy Scot, sigh. Yes, Kalinda wants something from Obi that he's not able to give. It doesn't mean he's not a wonderful man, but maybe he's not the man she's meant to be with. Thank you for reading & commenting! :)

    *****

    Chapter Ten: Anything and Nothing




    Command protocol told Stonewall that he should report to the Jedi immediately upon the squad's return from the city. However, Crest was remarkably assertive for someone normally so jovial so Stone found that he was all but forced to try and catch a few hours' rest while the Jedi were at the session of Parliament. At first he lay awake for several long minutes until he caught a glance from Traxis, who had risen from his bunk to step to the 'fresher.


    You should sleep.”


    Stonewall nodded, but said nothing. Finally he glanced at the scarred clone. “Easier said than done.”


    At this, Traxis frowned and his gaze dropped for a split-second. “I didn't mean to....cause any trouble,” he said after a pause. “Between you and her...I just....” He ran a hand over his face in frustration. “Look, a while ago I had a buddy who was like you...he fell for one of the Human technicians on our ship – pretty girl – and she...well, let's just say it didn't work out, though he was given reasons to think otherwise.”


    What happened?”


    Traxis sighed. “You can guess, can't you? We're trained to do pretty much anything and everything, but none of it did him any good in the end. They were just too different and he was never the same after it all...in fact, he was so distracted, he let himself get blown up by one of those kriffing droidekas.” There was a long pause before the scarred clone spoke again. “You're always telling us to 'keep our minds on the mission;' I just thought that maybe you needed to hear it, too.”


    The room was silent for a few moments before Stonewall found his voice. “Thanks, Trax.”


    You really should get some rest, Captain.” After he returned from the 'fresher his brother slipped back into his own bunk and immediately fell into a deep sleep with a soldier's practiced ease, though it took Stone a bit longer to follow his lead.


    Of course his dreams were of Kali.


    He was standing alone in the garden, listening for her quick tread and hoping that somehow he'd been mistaken when she hadn't replied to his admission. The ground trembled as though crumbling beneath an approaching tank and then he heard her voice reverberating in his head, laughing and telling him how silly he was for thinking that she could – or would – ever love him. The garden around him grew hot, hotter than he could stand but he found that his legs were unable to carry him to safety; smoke from an unseen source choked his lungs.


    And then he thought he heard the voice of Drake, a brother long dead, speaking in a mocking tone. You're like a wall, vod, made of stone. Nothing can touch you.


    Kali's voice replied. But that's not true, is it? When he looked for her all he could see was a statue wreathed in flame, a figure he only partly recognized as the dark-eyed woman who'd broken him.


    Upon his awakening, he didn't recall much beyond that which was a small mercy.


    In a silent acknowledgment of his distress, his brothers gave him space when they all awoke several hours later. At one point they heard footsteps in the next room and he stiffened; Weave, who'd been studying a 'pad, approached him. “Do you want me to report our findings?”


    It was a kind offer, but Stonewall refused to shrug off his duties in light of his own personal discomfort, so he shook his head and thanked his brother before he slipped into the Jedi's quarters. For a moment he stood in the living area and listened to the hum of conversation that he could hear coming from her room though he couldn't make out any of the words that were being said. He went to the door and took a few deep breaths to calm himself.


    It was then that he heard her, quite clearly. “...I wanted you to be, but it still hurts, okay?”


    The pain in her voice made his heart skip a beat and for a moment he forgot how much she'd hurt him, forgot that she didn't love him as he loved her; all Stone knew was that the woman he loved was in pain and he had to put a stop to it. Without another thought he entered the room and braced himself as he said Kenobi's name. He didn't mean for it to come out as it did and out of habit he corrected himself as soon as he realized what he'd said, but neither of the Jedi seemed to notice. The whisper of air at General Kenobi's passing was the only sound in Stone's ears for a moment until he looked back at Kalinda, when he found he could not hold her gaze even as he spoke to her.


    Are you injured, General Halcyon?” He refused to make the same mistake again, to think of her as anything but his CO. The order of his world was thrown off kilter, but he was resolved to set it right. Now I know all that I have to know, and nothing more needs to be said. He kept his eyes away from her and told her whatever it was that he was supposed to tell her before leaving the room as quickly as he could. When he stepped back into the quarters he and his brothers were sharing he found that his hands were trembling as he activated the panel by the door to shut it behind him.


    What's the word?”


    Stone looked up to see Crest watching him from the edge of his bunk, the others gathered around him; he wondered what they'd been discussing. “They're not ready to meet,” he replied. “But we'll be notified.”


    Nodding, Crest held up a deck of cards. “In the meantime, are you up for a few hands?”


    We should spar, or try to get some kind of practice in.It isn't good to just sit around all day and wait for someone else to act. However, he suddenly felt exhausted so he nodded and moved to sit with his brothers. “Sounds good.”


    *


    Despite all appearances, it was not what the captain had said to him that pushed Obi-Wan to leave the room. Rather, it was the outpouring of emotion that emanated from Stonewall – directed at Kali – that made it almost dizzying to remain in the same space. He loves her...perhaps more than I ever could.


    Of this he was certain.


    Eventually his steps took him back to the garden and he took a few minutes to collect himself and set his thoughts in order while he was surrounded by the presence of burgeoning life in the form of budding plants. He found a spot beneath a thick biraj tree and sat, closing his eyes and his mind against all distractions. As Obi-Wan sank into the familiar rhythm of meditation, a feeling of calm came over him and he found that he was able to place aside the personal feelings he had for Kali so he could turn his mind to the revelation that she couldn't use the Force.


    I don't know what would cause something like that to happen. He gave a sigh and leaned his head back against the tree, feeling the gentle hum of life that it emanated. Perhaps she's ill? I should contact the Temple. Perhaps... At that moment, his comlink chirped, the image of one of the clones – Weave – appearing at his wrist.


    General Kenobi. Whenever you're ready, we'd like to discuss our findings with you, sir.”


    Very good,” Obi-Wan replied, getting to his feet. “I'll see you in a moment.” He paused to take another deep breath and felt the Force ripple around him, the one constant in his life. I cannot imagine what it would be like to have it vanish.Whatever has happened to her, hopefully we can resolve it soon.


    *


    The sitting area in the Jedi's quarters was large enough to accommodate all seven adults, but Crest felt that the space was far too small to contain both Stonewall and General Halcyon; though they stood several meters apart from one another they seemed to be miles away. Standing at attention among his brothers, the captain's gaze was fixed on the wall beyond the Jedi, while she was so still she may have been a statue. Crest cast a glance at Weave, who nodded and contacted General Kenobi; the other Jedi agreed to return to the room so that they could discuss the next step.


    As the transmission ended and silence again reigned, Crest found that he couldn't stand it any longer. “So...what's the deal with this festival everyone keeps going on about?”


    The general blinked once before she replied. “There aren't many historically-based holidays on Aruna,” she said after a moment. “And the passage of the seasons is marked by celebrations at each equinox and solstice. Apparently, it's not an event to be missed if you can help it.”


    What happens?” Crest asked.


    Weave gave him a look. “I thought you read through the intel?”


    Must have skipped that part,” he replied as his brother shook his head. However, the general's reply was halted as the other Jedi entered the room. Wow, Crest thought as his spine straightened automatically under the bearded Jedi's gaze. You'd need one of Trax's knives to cut the air in here. There's more going on than the captain's told us, I guess. And I thought that having more Jedi around meant that our mission would be easier. He watched as Kenobi took a seat and indicated that they should do the same, though General Halcyon remained standing.


    What information have you collected?”


    After a nod from Stonewall, Weave spoke. “We did as you requested, General Kenobi. We journeyed into the city and tried to....get a feel for the place.” He explained how the people had refused to speak with them and Crest watched as the Jedi's hand went to his beard, though he made no comment. “However, we did manage to make contact with some locals,” Weave added, glancing at Crest.


    At this, General Halcyon looked at him. “How?”


    Despite, or perhaps because of the tension in the air, Crest smiled. “We ran into some very obliging folks who gave us some first-hand insight into the workings of this place,” he replied. “And learned that we clones are not fit for proper society; of course, I could have told you that, at least about Traxis. Sir,” he added, glancing at the other Jedi.


    We're considered 'untouchables,'” Weave said. “A fact we learned when we encountered a few of the Aruna who are part of that caste.”


    The dark-haired Jedi frowned and looked at Kenobi. “I hoped that wouldn't be the case, but I suppose I shouldn't be surprised, given Sita's reaction.” He nodded but made no reply.


    Stonewall spoke next. “We made an arrangement with several of the locals: an elder named Kesin and his daughter, Danu. They've agreed to use their network of contacts to provide us with the information that you need.”


    In return for...?” General Kenobi's hand went to his beard.


    Danu would like her caste to have a voice in the Parliament,” Weave replied. “She knows it's a long shot, but is convinced that you and General Halcyon will be able to urge the queen to consider such a thing. We're to meet with her again tomorrow night.”


    And you agreed to this?” General Halcyon's voice was quiet as she looked at Stonewall, who met her gaze at last.


    I made no promises, General.”


    Kenobi looked thoughtful. “It is unlikely that she will agree to such a thing,” he replied. “But the possibility should not be ruled out.” He glanced at his fellow Jedi before looking back at the clones. “In any case, we have a new challenge ahead of us. The queen wishes to make a pilgrimage of sorts to a temple outside of the city; though Kalinda and I both feel it would be unwise to divide our forces, Sita is rather insistent on the matter.”


    I'm going to accompany her,” the dark-haired Jedi replied. “And I'd like to take two of you as well.” At this her eyes fell on the captain and Crest saw his shoulders tense.


    Can I volunteer, General?” he heard himself ask.


    General Halcyon nodded and gave him a small smile before looking at the others. However, before she could speak, Traxis stepped forward. “Me as well, General. The city's a bit crowded for my taste.” There was a moment when she looked again at Stonewall, though she said nothing.


    Kenobi took a deep breath. “Very good. I'll keep an eye on things here while you and your men escort the queen. Hopefully this Danu will be able to provide some real evidence.” He paused and looked back at the clones. “Good work, by the way. I see that you all live up to your reputations.”


    *


    Though the minute she'd set eyes on Stone during the briefing she'd known that he would never look at her the same way, a small part of Kalinda's mind still hoped that she was wrong. Perhaps if he comes with me we can talk...we can work it out somehow. She'd tried to use the Force again to touch his consciousness, but it was a worthless effort, as she could barely sense any of the others even though they were standing in the same room.


    You probably don't want to wear a dress,” she said as she watched Sita hold up a bright purple silk gown. “Do you have anything that might be more comfortable?” She had found her way to the sitting room of the younger woman to inform her of their plans and was presently curled up on one of the silk pillows that lined the floor, watching as the queen and one of her servants were selecting traveling clothes for the following day. It made for a pleasant distraction, if nothing else.


    Sita gave her a wry look. “I am not you, Kali. Dresses are comfortable.” She smiled at the expression that crossed Kali's face. “You looked so beautiful at my wedding, you know. It's a pity that the Jedi code prohibits you from wearing anything nicer than those drab robes.” The servant held up another gown but the queen shook her head and said something in Arunai, nodding moments later when the servant reappeared with a more practical pair of pants and matching shirt.


    Pretty clothes don't do much good when you're crawling through the jungle in search of some wayward Separatist goon,” Kali replied, indicating the pile of colorful silk that had been discarded on a nearby bench. “I'll take my boots and tunic any day. That looks comfortable,” she said with a nod to the pants. “Perhaps not with such a nice shirt, though?”


    The younger woman nodded, though she paused and looked down at her bangled wrists. Finally she glanced up and spoke in Arunai to the servant girl, who bowed and slipped out of the room a moment later. “Kalinda,” Sita said, coming over to the Jedi. “Something is wrong.” Her pale blue eyes met Kali's dark ones. “You helped me so much when you were here last, I wish I could return the favor.”


    Kali took a breath. “You don't have to, Sita. I was doing my job. You owe me nothing.”


    No,” Sita replied. “That's not the proper way of things, Jedi or not.” She frowned. “Since dinner last night...that's when I noticed. Is it Master Obi-Wan? Did you quarrel?”


    At this Kali laughed, though it was a bitter sound. “Sort of, though it's more complicated than you might think.” At the younger woman's expression she sighed again. “Sita, I know that when we were here last you....formed an impression of us, but that wasn't....it didn't....”


    I remember,” Sita replied, holding up her hand. “Though I think that you still care for each other, no matter what you say. But now...” Her head tilted as she regarded the Jedi. “There is something else.” Kali said nothing but her thoughts turned to Stonewall. The queen took a seat beside her. “No,” she breathed. “I know that look. It's someone else, isn't it?”


    After a long moment, Kalinda nodded.


    Another Jedi?”


    Kali paused before she looked back at the queen. “No, Sita. Someone you've met, actually.”


    The white-haired woman gave a sharp inhalation and covered her mouth with her hand. “You don't mean....one of the clones?”


    They're men. Even though they share the same face, they are all individuals.”


    The queen frowned and shook her head. “But....you are so different from them, are you not?”


    As different as a farmer's daughter from a king?” The words came out harsher than she'd meant but she made no apologies.


    It's a surprise to me, that's all,” Sita said after a moment's silence. “I never would have expected such a thing.”


    Kali sighed and hugged her knees to her chest. “You're not the only one.”


    They talked a while longer before Kali decided to try and speak to Stone again. Maybe I can fix this somehow, she thought as she bid goodbye to the queen and headed back to the clones' quarters. Maybe there is still hope.


    They weren't there, but it wasn't difficult to track them down, as she could clearly hear Crest's voice from an open section of the garden where they had started a sparring session. “Come on, shiny. You can do better than that!”


    Kali smiled to herself at the indignation in Milo's reply. “Shiny? Really? After all we've been through?”


    Cut out the chatter and focus,” she heard Traxis say. “Newbie.”


    As Kali entered the garden, she paused by the statue to watch them for a few moments. Traxis and Milo were circling one another while the others stood to one side, offering suggestions, pointers, and – in Crest's case – jeers. “Hey Trax, don't look now, but your fly's open.”


    Shut it, baldy.” At this, all of them – Stone included – chuckled as Milo leaped forward to tackle the scarred clone.


    Suddenly, Stone looked over at her and she watched his face change. Though she knew that she couldn't reach him through the Force any longer, she tried to impart her desire in her gaze. Please, Stone, I just want to talk to you. Please. There was a moment where she wondered if he would turn away, but he nodded almost imperceptibly and murmured something to Crest before tilting his head towards the inner section of the garden. She followed him until they came to a spot far enough that she couldn't see the others but close enough to still hear them, as if he was reluctant to stray too far.


    They stood before one another until she found her voice. “Is there anything I can say to make you come with me?” She watched as he inhaled, as his hands opened and closed at his sides and knew that he was organizing his thoughts. Never in her life was it so difficult to be patient as she waited for him to reply.


    At last he shook his head, though the movement seemed more in response to his own thoughts rather than to her question. “You don't want me like I want you. I only wish I'd realized it sooner.”


    Stone-”


    General,” he said, lifting his hand. “I would fight for you until my last breath, if I knew that you....” he grimaced. “If I knew that you loved me, too. But I see that it can't be that way, though it's not your fault....we're just too different.” His eyes met hers. “I know that now. It was foolish of me to think otherwise.”


    For one insane moment Kali was glad that she couldn't sense him through the Force; she was certain that the feeling would have brought her to her knees if the look in his eyes was any indication. “No, Stone...that's not true. We're not so different and even if we were, we could find a way. I know we could.” She reached for his hands and was relieved when he allowed her to take them. “Please.”


    I want to.” His voice was quiet. “You have no idea how much. It was enough for a while, but I want....more from you than you can give me, I guess. I know that I don't have a right to. I know what I am and I know what you are.” Here he lifted his hands from hers and took a step back. “Kali...we were living in a dream.”


    She almost couldn't breathe as she looked at him. “You don't mean that, Stone. You know how I feel about you.”


    Then why won't you say it?” Though soft, the words were a slap across her face; her mouth opened but again, nothing came out and he nodded. “You see? A dream. That's all it was.” In the distance they could hear the others laughing and shouting. “We're too different,” he said again, shaking his head. “As different as a bird from a fish....where can we find a common ground?”


    As she listened to him, Kali was aware of a part of her mind that was screaming at her: say something, say something, say something. But she was silent, the fear that was hammering within her chest was so loud that she was unsure if her voice would carry over the sound.


    At last he looked at her again and took a deep breath. “For what it's worth, I would have given anything to know that it was real.” With that final arrow in her chest, he slipped away through the dappled shadows of the garden.


    *


    At daybreak, Kalinda, Crest and Traxis accompanied Queen Sita and her guards as they made their way into the mountains.


    *****
    A/N: From here on out, the angsty stuff takes kind of a backseat to the "adventure" portion of the saga, though there is still a good bit of story left. I promise that questions will be answered, though you may have to be patient. Thanks for sticking with me! :)
  4. Nyota's Heart Fanfic Edited Winner / Combos & Paragraphs Host

    Game Host Game Winner
    Member Since:
    Aug 31, 2004
    star 6
    laloga: After a while [face_nail_biting] :( :( ... that door will be sealed shut and barricaded and the chance to speak will be gone. And the ones involved think: You had the chance to speak your heart but didn't. Stone has drawn a conclusion from her continued silences. [face_thinking] When/if she decides to speak, he will be doubly hard to persuade. No bloke wants to feel they're "runner-up"... :p
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  5. Valairy Scot Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Sep 16, 2005
    star 5
    Obi-Wan can't give Kali what she wants and Kali can't give Stone what he wants. No ones happy although everyone cares about everyone.
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  6. laloga Jedi Grand Master

    Member Since:
    Jul 28, 2011
    star 2
    @Jade_eyes True words, indeed. But is the door closed? ;) Thank you for reading and commenting! :)

    @Valairy Scot Sadly, we're well-entrenched in the angst right now. Things will get better, eventually. Thank you for reading and leaving a comment! :)

    ******

    Chapter Eleven: Hard Lessons


    Though he had enjoyed the bustle of Rudral, Crest found that he liked the broad stretch of sky above his head almost as much. The air was fresher here, a fact that he noted when he took his helmet off on a whim as the queen's open-topped transport moved across the terrain of the countryside. One of her guards shot him a glance that was filled with disdain, but Crest merely grinned at the Arunai. “Nice day, huh?” The man's eyes turned away and Crest mentally shook his head and instead looked at the young queen, seated in front of him beside the Jedi.


    She was wearing clothing that – he supposed – were meant to be of the sturdier variety, though she still looked a little too nice to be traveling though country that was growing wilder and wilder with each passing minute. Her head was bent towards the Jedi and she seemed....attentive. Concerned. Crest remembered that the general had been here for the queen's wedding and that they had been friends, of a sort. She seems like a good person. A little scared. Unsure, maybe. But nice enough. He grinned to himself. Not bad to look at – for what it's worth, which isn't much, I guess. I'm nothing to someone like that, after all. That thought was enough to make him turn his eyes away from the Arunai woman.


    The group had been mostly silent all morning, save for the quiet murmur of conversation between General Halcyon and the queen, though Crest could see that the Jedi was not in a particularly chatty mood. I'm not sure how I feel about the whole thing. She did a number on the captain, but I don't think she meant to hurt him....they're just from such different worlds. You'd have thought a Jedi – of all people – would understand that.


    He glanced at Traxis, standing beside him and watching the road as one of the queen's guards guided the vessel over the rocky path. Only bad part about going bucket-less is that I can't talk to him without the others knowing...or can I? After a moment, Crest cleared his throat and leaned over to Trax. “How's it going?”


    As expected, the use of the Mandalorian language brought his brother's attention to him. “Fan-kriffing-tastic,” he replied in kind.


    No need to be so snarky,” Crest said. “I was only asking.” He nodded to the road before them. “What do you think this temple looks like?”


    Why do you care?”


    Just trying to make the time pass,” Crest replied, still in Mando'a. “Don't mind me.” At this point, he noticed the general's head incline in his direction, though she didn't turn around, and he wondered if Stonewall had taught her any Mando'a. Possibly.But it shouldn't matter; it's not like we're talking about her. After a moment, Traxis removed his own helmet, frowned and glanced at him. Crest sighed. “What is it?”


    I feel....” The scarred clone stared at his bucket as his eyebrows knitted. “Weird.” At Crest's look he shook his head. “About the captain. I think....I may have made a mistake.”


    Crest's eyes widened in shock. “And you're admitting it? Wow...I guess I owe the shiny some creds.” Traxis frowned again and shook his head, causing Crest to wince. “Sorry....reflex. What do you mean?”


    There was silence for several minutes before his brother spoke. “I just...it's strange, you know? Him and the General....” His eyes narrowed and he looked at the Jedi. “He's changed. He's not like the rest of us anymore. But now, after seeing both of them....I think I made a mistake, saying what I did.” He glanced back at Crest. “Don't tell anyone I said that, or I'll shave your eyebrows in your sleep. With my vibro.”


    Believe it or not, I can keep my mouth shut,” Crest replied. “But you might want to say all that to him once we get back.”


    Traxis snorted. “I think it's a bit late for apologies, don't you?”


    Maybe.” Crest looked at the general again. “But you never know.”


    *


    I feel so empty, Kalinda thought as she sat beside Sita and watched the city melt into rugged countryside as the time passed. Like I have nothing left inside of me. The Force was well and truly gone; she wasn't able to do so much as lift a blade of grass. It was painful to think that she might never have it again, the feeling made even worse because she couldn't say why it had left her to begin with.


    In an attempt to distract herself from that thought, she turned her mind to other matters, specifically her argument with Obi-Wan. I shouldn't have been so angry with him....it's this place bringing up old memories, stirring up old wounds. She had managed to leave without speaking to him again, though he and the other clones had come to see the group off in the early hours of the morning. He'd looked as though he wanted to say something to her, but she refused to give him the opportunity.


    As the transport moved over the ground the mountains grew taller, looming above their heads and giving Kali a sense of foreboding. She hugged her arms to her sides despite the warmth of the sun on her back.


    Beside her, she felt Sita shift in the padded seat and cast her a curious glance. “Kali?” She set a hand on the Jedi's arm and looked at her. “Is there anything I can do for you?”


    No, Sita,” Kali heard herself say. “But thank you.” She paused and straightened. “However, there is something that I need to discuss with you, though I'm not sure how you'll take it.” The younger woman nodded and Kali took a deep breath. “My men went to the city the other night and made a few contacts within a group of people who feel that they can get information about Neerja and whatever she may be attempting.”


    That is good news.” She tilted her head and regarded Kalinda again. “But you do not seem pleased. Why would I not like this?”


    The people are of the lowest caste,” Kali replied. “Untouchables. And there is something that they want in return from you.” She met the queen's gaze. “They wish to be represented in Parliament.”


    As I'm sure fish desire wings,” Sita said with a laugh. “But some things are simply not possible.”


    Kali felt her hands clench at her sides. “I know that I may be an outsider, but I also like to think that we are friends. Do you feel this way, too?” She watched as the younger woman nodded, her expression doubtful. “Then, can I offer you some advice?”


    Sita straightened and gave her a wary look. “You may, though I make no promises as to whether I will take it.”


    Despite herself, Kali felt a smile creep to her face. “You married Badal out of love, right?” Sita nodded. “And in doing so, you knew that one day you might be faced with the burden that you have now, correct?” Again, the queen nodded, though she looked slightly pensive.


    But I didn't know that this would happen, Kalinda.”


    You did,” Kali said, shaking her head. “You are not a stupid woman, Sita. You knew very well what might happen to you should your husband die, yet you still chose to wed him and bind your lives together. I know he didn't force anything.....you made the decision. Now you have to live with the consequences.” She watched as the queen frowned and shook her head, her gaze falling to her clasped hands.


    I'm trying.”


    Trying isn't enough,” Kali replied. “I know that you could be a fine ruler if you chose to be, but you have to stand up for yourself. You may only be a farmer's daughter-” she said as Sita opened her mouth to argue. “-but that is in the past. If anything, the fact that your station changed so abruptly and drastically should give you further conviction that you have the right to rule, that your gods accept you as the leader of this system....”


    But Neerja...”


    Kali held up her hand. “Is ultimately under your authority. Sita, you have to let go of your fears. You have to accept the responsibility that has been placed upon you by your own actions.” She met the younger woman's gaze. “If not for your own sake, then for the sake of Aruna, for the sake of peace.”


    But I'm not....”


    You are, Sita,” Kalinda said, shaking her head. “You are more than able.” She sighed and closed her eyes for a moment. The sunlight streaming through the clouds offered a bit of warmth that contrasted with the chill of the air around them. “If you don't, Neerja will have her way and all that Badal worked for will be for nothing.”


    Why did I call the Jedi here at all, if you refuse to help me?” The queen's voice was bitter.


    Kali sighed again and rubbed at her eyes with the heels of her palms. “I'm trying to help you help yourself.”


    Neither woman spoke for a moment until Sita took a deep breath and looked back at the Jedi. “I'm sorry, Kali. There is a lot on my mind of late.” She touched the Jedi's arm and gave her a small smile. “And now you are cross with me, too.”


    No, Sita. Only with myself.” She glanced at the sun. “How much longer?”


    A few hours, perhaps.”


    Kali nodded but made no reply, as she heard the quiet murmur of a familiar language behind her: Crest and Traxis, speaking in Mando'a. Stone taught me a little of it, but only a few phrases I'm pretty sure they're not saying to one another.


    Stonewall....


    Her eyes closed.


    The mountains grew closer, until the road was surrounded on both sides by steep, rocky hills and the air was silent.


    About an hour later, they had stopped for a quick break to stretch their legs. Sita's guards, three men of middle-years who had served under Badal approached the two women. “Majesty,” the closest one said. “We've heard that there have been sightings of malcontents in this area. We'd like to take a look around, if it pleases you.” He paused and his eyes fell on Kali. “But I have reservations about leaving you without any protection.”


    You should be well aware that a Jedi is protection enough,” Sita replied, raising her chin.


    The guard nodded and bowed, though Kali thought that she caught a glimpse of some hidden malice in his eyes. It was useless to try and use the Force, but she thought that she felt another flicker of apprehension anyway. “As you wish, your highness.”


    Sita raised her brow. “Return quickly. I don't want to delay any longer than we have to.” After giving another low bow, the three men slipped off, leaving the young queen with the Jedi and the clones.


    They had been gone perhaps five minutes when Kali heard a faint rumbling sound in the distance. Alarm flooded her as she looked up to see a line of dust and tumbling rock that was heading for the group from the steep hill beside the road. In the next moment, Traxis began shouting into his comm as he and Crest lifted their blasters, though Kali knew that no amount of weapons fire would stop the avalanche and never in her life had she missed the presence of the Force quite so much.


    *


    For the umpteenth time during the course of the morning, Obi-Wan told himself the same thing that Qui-Gon had said to him so often, though he found the words a small comfort at the moment. Worry is a useless emotion, Obi-Wan. As is fear. Neither are helpful when it comes to trying to find a solution to a seemingly difficult situation, but both are quite effective at preventing you from doing so. In the long years since his old Master's death, Obi-Wan had often thought back to those words and marveled at the simplicity of their wisdom.


    But they felt hollow and distant to him now. He found that he was unable to suppress his concern for Kalinda and the queen; he could not shake the feeling of unease that went beyond Kali's revelation. She is a capable woman – even without the Force – and she has help as well. No, something else is troubling me.... perhaps there is more going on here than Neerja's simple desire for power. We know that the priestess has an agenda, but how will she go about enacting it?


    Presently he was taking a walk through the city, something else that Qui-Gon had often done in order to get a feel for the Living Force and possibly gain a greater understanding of the task at hand. He could see that more and more people were entering Rudral, as evidenced by the sudden swell in the number of Arunai around him. The festival is soon, he remembered. I suppose that accounts for the increase in population.


    Soon he found that he was in the marketplace. As he strolled through the stalls, his comlink chirped. “Yes, Captain?”

    General Kenobi,” Stonewall's voice sounded alarmed. “We've received an emergency transmission from Traxis. It cut off before he could give any details, but from what we could make out there was a rock-slide of some kind.”


    Obi-Wan glanced around the crowded marketplace; the press of people was growing thicker and thicker as the day progressed and he thought that it would be nearly impossible to make his way through the crowd using normal methods. Our ship isn't within reach at the moment; one of the Arunai vehicles will have to do. “Go to one of the guards and tell him that you need a speeder,” he said. “Then meet me on the way out of the city....you'll have to take the service route that goes around Rudral as I don't think you'll be able to pilot a craft through the main streets right now.”


    Yes, sir.”


    The transmission ended and Obi-Wan cast a glance around him. Though a Force push would be effective, I doubt it would make me any friends. A grim smile crossed his face as he began to slip around the Arunai as best he could.


    I only hope we're in time.


    *


    But we're supposed to meet with Danu tonight,” Milo said as he followed Stonewall and Weave through the palace in search of one of the guards. “If we're not back in time....”


    Don't worry about it now, Milo,” Weave said, glancing at the captain who said nothing as they made their way to the main throne room.


    Stonewall felt his jaw clench in frustration. The entire time we're here there are servants and guards lurking everywhere. Now, when we need one, not a kriffing sign of any of them. The throne room was empty, as was the queen's study, as was every room they checked. Finally, they caught a glimpse of someone turning a corner; a few sprints and Stone managed to catch up with the servant, who looked at him and his brothers with unconcealed disdain. “There's been a problem with the queen. We need a transport to take the other Jedi and reach her as soon as possible.”


    The servant, whom he recognized as the one who'd led them to their quarters upon their initial arrival, blanched. “The queen?”


    Trying to bite back his impatience, Stonewall tried again. “Yes, the queen is in danger. We need your fastest-”


    You are not allowed to drive one of those,” the man said, narrowing his eyes. “I'll call her majesty's other guards to fetch her.”


    There's no time for that,” Stone replied, his voice sounding feral and strange in his ears. Unbidden, an image of Kali came to his mind and he felt his heartbeat quicken with fear. “Never mind,” he added, turning away. “We're resourceful. We'll figure it out. Come on,” he said to the others as they made their way to the nearest hangar.


    *


    Traxis sprang for the helm and powered the vehicle up while Crest turned and raced for the young queen. “Sita, get to the ship,” Kali called over the din as the rocks and dust began to churn towards them. She grabbed the young woman's arm and pushed her towards the transport, but it was obvious that the Arunai woman was not fast enough. However, Crest was. He lifted the queen up as if she weighed no more than a leaf and made his way to the ship, Kali at his heels. Even without the Force, at least I can still run.


    The ground beneath them shivered and groaned, dust kicked up in the air and the world seemed to turn upside-down as the tumbling rocks began to grow closer, some of them going airborne as they hit their larger, more steadfast companions at the base of the mountain. Traxis gunned the engine and shouted. “Come on!”


    Crest and Sita reached the transport first, Kalinda a moment behind them and they leaped aboard as Traxis urged the vessel to accelerate. Overhead, the sun was blotted out from the sky as a large fragment of rock was carried up by its own momentum; Kali felt smaller chunks of rock and stone pepper her shoulders and even as she tried to shield the queen with her own body she was aware of Crest doing the same thing. The wind tore at her hair as the transport leaped forward and the clattering sound of rock against rock filled their ears.


    At last they were free of the debris, though the road behind them was covered in rubble. When Traxis halted the ship so that everyone could take a breath Sita looked at each of the clones and smiled. “That was....very brave. Thank you.” Her gaze fixed on Crest, who actually flushed and dropped his eyes.


    Just doing our jobs, your majesty.”


    Sita glanced back at Kali and gave her a tight smile. “I see that your concerns were not entirely unfounded.”


    Understatement of the year. “Are you hurt?” Kalinda asked, releasing a breath of tension as the younger woman shook her head. “Crest, Trax? You guys are okay as well?” Both clones nodded and she looked at Traxis. “Did you reach anyone?”


    I think so,” he replied. “It's difficult to say...comm's not working now. Imagine that.”


    Kalinda and Sita exchanged glances, the younger woman gesturing to the road ahead of them. “We're safe for now,” she replied. “We need to continue on.”


    Sita, I think that we should go back,” Kali said. “Something's obviously wrong...those guards left right before the avalanche....it's beyond suspicious. We should return to Rudral, at least to get reinforcements.”


    No, Kalinda,” Sita replied, straightening her shoulders. “You were right; I need to start acting like a leader. This was my decision and as much as you feel it was in error, I know otherwise.”


    Of all the times for her to listen to me. Kali sighed and rubbed at her forehead, her hand coming away covered in reddish dirt. “I understand that you feel strongly about this, I really do, but-”


    Sita looked at her and lifted her chin. “You may do as you wish, Kali, but I am continuing on with or without you.” She nodded to Traxis. “You may take us out.”


    The scarred clone glanced at Kalinda, who frowned as she considered. Finally she sighed and shook her head. “Apparently, we're still going to the temple. Let's make it quick, shall we?” As the ship started up again she looked at Sita. “If I can contact the others, will you at least allow me to tell them that you're okay? If Trax's transmission went through, the others are on their way to rescue us right now.”


    At some point Sita's hair had come loose from its braid and was now whipping over her head with the wind. “Very well,” she said after a moment. “But one way or another...I'm going to that temple.” Her voice was firm and Kali couldn't help but smile.


    Her comm was also damaged, though not badly enough to prevent her from sending a transmission. “Obi-Wan? Are you there?” For several moments, all she could hear was static until his voice sounded.


    Kali....you....and Sita...?”


    Gritting her teeth she all but shouted into the receiver. “We're fine, but you should watch out for her guards. The queen is unharmed and we're proceeding as normal. Stay in the city until further notice.”


    Obi-Wan's voice was muddled but she could still hear his annoyance. “Kalinda, are you sure?”


    She glanced at Sita, whose eyes were fixed on the road ahead. “I'm sure. Obi-Wan?”


    Static.


    Blast this kriffing excuse for technology....all the fancy starships in the galaxy and we can't get a decent communication system. “Obi-Wan?” There was only static before the signal died. Kali frowned at her comm as she considered tossing it over the side of the transport. “Hopefully he heard me,” she said to the queen, who nodded but made no reply. Beside her, Crest gave a quiet chuckle and Kalinda turned to him. “Do I want to ask?”


    He paused, then shook his head. “Probably better if you don't.”


    The mountains drew closer.

    *****


    Wait...it was a trap? I know that no one saw that coming! It wouldn't be Star Wars otherwise, I guess. :D

    What will happen once they reach the temple? What are Stone and the boys of Shadow Squad going to do? Will Kali ever figure out what's going on with the Force? (Hint: it's been alluded to in earlier chapters...as well as in my story What Remains. Shameless plug, I know.) ;)

    Thanks to everyone who's been reading! :)
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  7. serendipityaey Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Jan 24, 2004
    star 4
    Very suspenseful! And great character moments, too
  8. Nyota's Heart Fanfic Edited Winner / Combos & Paragraphs Host

    Game Host Game Winner
    Member Since:
    Aug 31, 2004
    star 6
    Laloga! Gasp! I don't think I got the tag but I filtered for Saga and found this update. =D= Wonderful conversation between Kali and Sita. Kali is very inspiring and motivating. :) Whew! I'm glad they got out of that relatively unscathed, so far, :p but I sure wish Kali would "get" the Force back [face_worried]
    laloga likes this.
  9. Valairy Scot Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Sep 16, 2005
    star 5
    So, Sita's growing a backbone with help from Kali. I'm glad she listened to Kali, because sometimes one needs a kick in the pants to drop out of some attitude and pick up another.
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  10. laloga Jedi Grand Master

    Member Since:
    Jul 28, 2011
    star 2
    I'm back! Darth Real life has been a beast, lately, but I'm going to try and get back on a regular posting schedule. Many thanks to Jade_eyes for your wonderful encouragement! :D

    Valairy Scot, yes, Sita is slowly starting to "get it." Thank you so much for the comment!

    *****
    Chapter Twelve: Dweller on the Threshold

    Hewn from the flame colored rock that dominated this part of the countryside, the temple was unlike anything that Crest had ever seen. The structure was tall, with four broad columns in front of the entryway and there were no doors, just an open chasm that led into the darkness within the temple. The surrounding landscape was rippled and strewn with massive boulders of the same, saffron color. Save for the rushing wind it was silent.

    The group stood on a nearby hill at the foot of the mountain, on a series of stairs that had been carved from the rock face to form a winding pathway that lead to the temple's entrance. Crest and Traxis had replaced their helmets, so it was a small matter to scan the surrounding area to search for any hidden surprises. "It's official now," Traxis said in Mando'a. "I hate this place."
    "Hate's a strong word, Trax," Crest replied. "I kinda like it here. Looks clear, anyway."

    "Yeah, well, at least there's that," the other clone said with a snort. He switched to Basic and turned to the Jedi and the queen who were standing before the gaping doorway. "General Halcyon, we're not picking up any immediate danger."

    The two women exchanged glances before the general nodded. "Thanks, guys. Well," she said to the queen. "I suppose we should enter. Is there a caretaker of some kind here?"

    Sita shook her head. "Not that I'm aware of; it was abandoned many years ago." She took a deep breath and made to step forward, though Crest moved in front of her.

    "We'll scope it out first, m'am." He smiled to himself as the queen nodded and allowed him to step inside, Traxis on his heels. The interior of the temple was cool, quiet and pitch-black to boot, so the clones flipped on their headlamps to illuminate the area. The chamber they'd stepped into was vast, so much so that Crest's light didn't reach the ceiling when he tilted his head upward. "Wow."

    Traxis glanced around the sides, his light revealing carvings that looked old and weathered, the images obscured and obliterated by time. "Huh. Not so fancy in here, eh?"

    Behind them, the Jedi and the queen stood together, speaking in low tones for several moments before the general called to the clones. "There's an altar in the back of this chamber where we need to go," she said, blinking as Crest and Trax adjusted their lights to hit below eye-level. "It's not far."

    Nodding, Crest glanced in the direction she'd indicated. "How long will this take, do you think?"

    "I'm not sure," the queen replied. "The gods run on their own schedule."

    Crest had no response to that, so the group began to make their way to the rear of the structure. Just as they passed the middle of the room he heard the Jedi's footsteps halt; turning, he saw that she stood as if frozen in place, her eyes on the way ahead of them. If he didn't know any better he would have sworn that she looked terrified.

    That can't be right; she's a Jedi. What could she possibly be afraid of, especially when she has the Force?

    Just as Sita was turning to call to her, a strange voice resonated within the wide chamber and made everyone start in surprise.

    "Welcome to my home."
    Milo's voice was hesitant. "What's the plan, Captain?"

    "I'm a little curious about that myself," Weave added, shooting Stonewall a skeptical look.

    Never in his life had he even considered taking a ship of any kind without permission, but at this point, Stonewall found that he was seriously considering the option as they approached the palace hangar. Unbidden, an image of Kali being consumed in flames and buried by rock had lodged itself in his mind and refused to leave; he had no clue where it had come from but it was enough to make him forget what had passed between them in his desire to see her to safety. Even if she doesn't feel as I do, I can't just forget how I feel about her – or even everything that we've been through together – no matter how much easier it would make my life.

    Stone frowned, but before he could reply his comlink chirped again. "What happened?"

    The Jedi gave a sigh. "The plan's changed again, Captain. We're to remain here for the time being. Kalinda and the queen are going to continue on to the temple."

    "Are you serious?" The words left his mouth before he could stop them, causing Weave and Milo to look at him in shock. "Sir..." He paused and tried to collect his thoughts. "I'm sorry, General, I meant no disrespect, but if the queen is in any danger, shouldn't we make every attempt to offer assistance?"

    "The matter is not up for debate, Captain," Kenobi replied. "I'll keep you updated when General Halcyon contacts me again. In the meantime-"

    "But sir-"

    "In the meantime," the Jedi continued as if he hadn't spoken. "You will attempt to contact your friends; I'll meet with you once you have done so. Is that understood?"

    Stonewall took a deep breath. "Sir, if I may speak with you in person?" He ignored the looks from Weave and Milo as he waited for the Jedi to reply.

    After several long moments he heard Kenobi answer. "Very well. I'm on my way back to the palace now. I'll find you."

    The transmission ended and Stone glanced at his brothers. "I know what you're thinking," he said. "But I'm not crazy or defective. I just...I need to ask him something."

    The others exchanged glances before Weave shrugged. "Whatever you say, Captain. Mind if we don't stick around? We can try to track down Danu and Kesin while you and the general are...speaking." A genuine look of relief came over the clone's face when Stone nodded; within moments the group had parted ways.

    Stonewall met the Jedi at the foot of the stairs, where he'd taken to pacing while he waited for the other man. He watched as Kenobi stepped out of the crowd and felt anger rising within him – irrational and useless as it was – and his hands clenched at his sides as the Jedi approached. From his gaze, Stonewall could tell that the Jedi was aware of his emotions, though he found that he didn't much care at the moment.

    But still. It was not in him to be hostile or even openly disrespectful, no matter how he felt. He took a deep breath. "General Kenobi, I have a question for you and I'd like your honest answer." Without waiting for the Jedi to acknowledge him, he continued. "What is the nature of your relationship with Gen...with Kalinda?"

    He took a very small amount of pleasure in the startled expression on the Jedi's face, though it smoothed quickly as the general's look turned thoughtful. "I'm not certain if there's a word for what we are, actually. Kalinda and I have known each other since we were children and there was a time when she and I were lovers, but it's over now." His voice was quiet.

    "Is it?" Beneath his armor, Stonewall's heart was hammering in his chest.

    The Jedi blinked at him and nodded. "I had hoped it might be otherwise, but..." He paused and regarded the clone captain. "She has made it clear to me that it is not to be any longer." Stone felt something small and hard within him release, but he found that he couldn't speak so he merely nodded. Kenobi sighed. "I can't read her any longer, Stonewall. She closed herself off to me after Basrah; at this point, you likely know her better than I."

    "I only know one thing," Stone replied when he found his voice. "And I wish I didn't." He looked at the Jedi again. "There's something you're not telling me."

    "There are many things I choose not to share with you, Captain."

    Stone frowned. "Sir. I meant in regards to her."

    "Ah." Again, the Jedi was silent, though he seemed troubled. "Well," he said at last. "I'm not certain what to think about it myself. Kalinda told me that she could no longer access the Force."

    The words hung in the air between them for several moments before Stonewall replied. "She...she can't use the Force?" He stared as the Jedi nodded, feeling anger welling within him once more. "And you sent her – out there – without it?"

    "You should know that she is more than capable of taking care of herself and those around her," the general replied, his tone cool. "She has made that fact abundantly clear on many occasions."

    "I know she's strong," Stonewall replied, shaking his head. "It's just..." There was a pause while he made a decision before looking back at the Jedi, whose eyes widened as Stone took down the wall in his mind. "I love her," he said at last. "Despite the fact that she doesn't feel the same way, despite the fact that she very likely thinks of me as just another clone, despite the fact that – logistically – there is no possible future for us, I love her."

    The Jedi said nothing for a moment as he regarded the clone; Stonewall felt the other man's brush against his mind and stifled the urge to quell his thoughts about Kali. Finally, Kenobi nodded and – unexpectedly – gave a smile, albeit a sad one. "I see." He ran a hand through his hair. "Then you're a wiser man than I, Stonewall."

    At this, the clone captain gave a bitter laugh. "Not really, General. There's still the small matter of the fact that she doesn't love me."

    As the other man opened his mouth to reply, Weave's voice sounded over Stone's comm. "Captain: we've made contact with Danu and the others. We have a problem."
    Very possibly out of self-preservation, Kalinda's feet refused to move; though she still couldn't access the Force there was something about the temple that elicited a furious, pounding fear in her chest and her palms were sweating and cold. Beyond her, Sita was trembling but there was no fear in her eyes, only determination as she glanced back. However, before anyone could speak, a strange voice from an unseen source filled the chamber and confirmed Kali's unnamed apprehension.

    "Welcome to my home."

    Immediately, Crest and Traxis sprang into defensive poses before the queen, weapons raised. Leaving her saber at her side, Kali drew her own blaster pistol and looked around the room. "Who's there?"
    There was silence for several long moments before the voice spoke again, closer, less ethereal and accompanied by a soft shuffling of feet across the temple floor. "Calm down, little ones. I mean you no harm."

    "General...?" Crest sounded alarmed as a pale figure began to emerge from the shadows, but Kali held up her hand.

    "Who are you?" she asked, trying to keep her voice steady. "We thought that this temple was abandoned."

    The figure sharpened in the light of the clones' headlamps; it appeared to be a Arunai woman, gnarled and bent with age, a strip of faded red cloth tied around her head to cover her eyes. Her robes had once been white, but were now tattered and stained with age and disrepair and they fluttered when she put a weathered hand to her chest. "It was abandoned and I am all that remains." She stood before Traxis and tilted her head up to him in what would have been a comical sight had Kali not been so wary. "You are afraid, child, but you needn't be." Her voice had a conversational lilt; when her gaze moved to Crest, he stiffened. "You are not afraid enough."

    Sita stepped forward and knelt; after a moment, Kalinda and the clones did as well. "Maha," Sita said, using the Arunai term that Kali thought meant mother. "I have come here seeking answers. My people are in a time of great turmoil and I must know how to be strong enough to lead them."

    The blind woman nodded and seemed to look the young queen up and down, her tone chiding as she spoke. "Yes, yes...I know all this. And you should know that what you seek what you already possess. But you..." she moved to stand before Kali even as Sita's mouth hung open in shock. "You are in need of answers, are you not?" Kali felt the others' gazes turn to her and her face grew warm as she nodded. "Well, you should come with me. Your friends can wait here for your return. They will be safe," she added as Kali opened her mouth to object.

    "Maha," Sita said, raising her chin. "I did not make this journey for nothing: these men and this woman have risked their lives to get here; I have dissenters in my Parliament who would see my rule disbanded and a massive war is threatening my doorstep. I came here for an affirmation from the gods that I am fit to rule and I shall not leave without it." The words rang in the air around them, echoing in the vast chamber.

    The old woman chuckled and gave a dismissive wave of her hand. "I don't care to repeat myself, child. Go back to your people and tell them that you have the blessing of the goddess." She looked back at Kali. "It has been a long time since a Jedi has seen fit to enter my home."

    "I'm not sure I'm a Jedi any longer.: the Force has left me." Kalinda felt the bubble of fear in her chest expand even as she spoke the words.

    "Then I suppose you should not dawdle," the woman replied, her tone wry. She turned to leave, pausing once to beckon Kali before she began to fade into the darkness.

    Though they rose to their feet, no one spoke for a moment before Sita looked at her. "You can't use the Force? Kalinda...why didn't you say anything?"

    "I'm wondering that myself, boss," Crest added. "You realize that the Captain will kill me if we let you go off with that old biddy, right?"

    Traxis cleared his throat. "Going to agree with Crest on this one, General." He cast a wistful look at the temple's entrance. "We can leave, you know. Just walk away."

    "No," Kali replied. "Something's here...maybe it's an answer. If there's any chance, any chance at all that this might help me, I have to try." She looked at Sita. "What do you think? You know this place better than I do."

    The young queen shook her head. "The ways of our gods are not familiar to you, but it seems to me that you should go." She gave another tight smile. "At least this trip will not have been in vain."

    Nodding, Kali looked at Traxis and Crest. "Stay with the transport and protect Sita; I'll return as soon as I can. If you run into any trouble at all, you are to return to the city."

    "General..." Crest hesitated. "I wasn't kidding about the captain. He'd want us to make sure that you were safe."

    Her chest tightened at the words but she shook her head. "I'll see to it that you keep your skins, okay? Just...keep Sita safe. Please." She watched as the clones nodded and wished again that she could sense their emotions; turning to Sita, she gave the younger woman an encouraging smile. "You couldn't be in better hands."

    "I am starting to see that," the queen replied. "I will think on what you said. Until we meet again." She gave a low bow and nodded to the clones; the trio made their way to the temple's entrance, while Kali turned to face the gaping maw that stood before her.

    After taking a deep breath, she stepped forward.

    *****
    Things are taking a turn for the mysterious, aren't they?

    FYI, the title for this chapter comes from the Van Morrison song of the same name.

    You like? Review! You hate? Review! Any and all feedback is encouraged and appreciated! Thank you to those of you who have already done so! [face_love]
    Last edited by laloga, May 22, 2013
  11. Nyota's Heart Fanfic Edited Winner / Combos & Paragraphs Host

    Game Host Game Winner
    Member Since:
    Aug 31, 2004
    star 6
    Awesome details and shift in focus from Sita, whose crisis was paramount to Kali's plight, which definitely needs looking into. =D= Stone's feelings for her will definitely more than clarify when she's not back with the others.

    I love the visuals you create and paint with your words. It's something I'm trying to keep in mind when writing scenes for a longer OT story I'm writing. @};-
    Last edited by Jade_eyes, May 22, 2013
    laloga likes this.
  12. laloga Jedi Grand Master

    Member Since:
    Jul 28, 2011
    star 2
    Jade_eyes Thanks so much! I worked hard to create a rich background for this story, and I'm glad all that worldbuilding has paid off. I'm glad you're enjoying Sita's growth as well. :) As always, thank you for the awesome comments and support! You rock. :D

    *****
    Chapter Thirteen: Fever Pitch


    Rudral was so thick with people that Obi-Wan found that it was impossible to make his way through the crowd with any kind of haste; silently cursing the approaching festival, he glanced beside him at Stonewall and noted the bubble of space that the Arunai allotted the clone. The two men exchanged looks and the captain nodded, stepping in front of Obi-Wan. Before him, the crowd shrank away as if on instinct which allowed them room enough to move forward with ease.

    Though cryptic, Weave's message had been urgent, so the men broke into a jog and hurried through the city streets, making their way towards the rendezvous point. “It's the same place we last met with them,” Stonewall said. “An abandoned temple near the market.” He indicated the decrepit building as it came into view. “Looks a bit more crowded this time, though.”

    Weave and Milo were waiting for them at the door, along with an elder man and a younger woman that Stonewall named as their contacts, Kesin and Danu. “What have you found?” Obi-Wan asked as they entered the room; part of his mind noted the looks of incredulity on the Arunai around them at the sight of a Jedi, but he ignored it for now.

    Weave glanced at the young woman and frowned. “It's not good,” he said as he held up a small holo-transmitter. “It seems that Neerja 's influence has reached farther than we realized.” He activated the device and the image of some of Sita's guards and servants appeared, kneeling at the feet of the high priestess as she spoke to them. The language was in Arunai, but Obi-Wan could get the gist of what was happening.

    As he watched the vid, Stonewall frowned. “How did you get this?” He looked at the younger woman, Danu, who gave a wry smile.

    I'm certain that this security footage was supposed to be destroyed,” she replied. “We also found correspondence linking the high priestess to some of the other 'disasters' that have been occurring. Someone was a bit careless with their garbage.”

    Kesin, the elder man beside her chuckled. “Like I said...you never know what you'll find if you only take a look.”

    Danu glanced at another of the Arunai who stepped forward to take the holo-transmitter from her. “My husband, Marut, has a way to spread this footage to the planet's holonet,” she said with a smile at the man. “He's quite resourceful.” A moment later, the Arunai man had slipped out of the temple.

    Stonewall nodded, though his face was serious as he looked back at Obi-Wan. “General: the queen's guards...”

    We need to leave immediately,” Obi-Wan said, his hand to his beard. He frowned and glanced towards the door. “But this city is a madhouse....I'm not sure we'll reach our ship in time and it seems as though acquiring a speeder from the palace will take even longer.”

    Kesin smiled. “There are not many places in this town where a Republic ship would be stored,” he said. “I believe that we can help you, Master Jedi.”

    He turned and spoke in hushed tones to his daughter, who grinned and cleared her throat before she called to the others inside the room. Within several minutes, a group of ragged but determined-looking Arunai had gathered around the young woman, their faces expectant as they watched her. Once they had assembled she raised her brow at Obi-Wan and the clones. “Everyone get ready; we're going on a walk.”

    *

    The darkness was absolute until Kalinda ignited her saber, taking comfort in the familiar thrum of its hilt in her hand. She couldn't see the woman ahead of her, but she could hear the shuffling steps so she tried to follow the sound and ignore the persistent thudding of her own heart. The chamber they'd been in seemed to shrink down around her until Kali was certain that she would have been able to brush the ceiling with her fingertips had she reached up; her boots echoed in the small space and she found that it was growing harder and harder to ignore the feeling of dread in her belly.

    I have to get a grip...even though I don't have the Force, I'm still me. She paused to take a deep breath and push the fear aside, feeling it recede enough for her to press on.

    The corridor went on for what felt like ages, though she reckoned that she'd been traveling for less than an hour when she heard the footsteps halt; after that there was the grating sound of metal against rock and her eyes squinted as a shaft of light pierced the darkness around her, illuminating the way ahead. Kali deactivated her saber and clipped it to her belt before hurrying to join the woman, who had opened some kind of door at the end of the passage. With another deep breath, Kali slipped through the entryway and stood within a room that was not nearly so large as the first chamber, though it was bright with what appeared to be hundreds of candles on every surface, their pale wax pooling in nubby mountains on the floor.

    To one side of the room was a statue of a goddess, similar to but not nearly as intricate as any that Kali had seen in the city. Beside it, the blindfolded woman's head followed the Jedi, her posture giving the impression that she missed nothing. Kalinda approached her and studied the statue for a moment; it reminded her of the one outside of the palace gardens – a woman holding several swords with a fierce, grinning visage. Something about the face of the statue was familiar and Kali found her hand reaching forward to touch it.

    Don't.” The old woman's voice startled Kali out of the movement. “Sit,” she said, nodding to the feet of the statue; automatically, Kalinda sank to her knees and studied the blind priestess.

    How did she know what I was doing? “I never did get your name....” She trailed off as the woman reached to her side and removed one of the candles from its place at one of the ledges on the wall, handing it to Kali, who looked down at the flickering flame.

    Relax your mind,” the woman said. “Breathe. The answers you seek will come to you in time.”

    It was not so different from the meditations she'd learned in her youth, though Kali found it difficult to concentrate with the presence of both the priestess and the statue above her. Still, once her eyes closed and she focused on her breathing, she began to slip into a meditative state, allowing her mind to drift.

    She was not certain how long she sat, but when her eyes opened again the entire world had changed.

    *

    What I wouldn't give for a nice aerial shot right now,” Weave murmured through the clones' comm channel as the group made their way through the crowded streets of Rudral. “I'll bet this is an interesting sight.”

    Stonewall nodded, though he was only partly listening to his brother; most of his attention was focused on the line of Arunai in front of him, their bodies close to one another as they moved through the mass of festival-goers who parted before the untouchables like a receding tide. Arunai of all ages and classes stared at the group as they passed, eyes wide and mouths agape as they watched the two dozen or so untouchables, three clones and Jedi Master make their way through the formerly-crowded marketplace. After the group had passed by the crowd closed the space behind them and began murmuring amongst themselves in astonishment.

    The clone captain caught Danu's eye and they shared a satisfied look. Guess being on the lowest rung has its advantages sometimes. A glance at General Kenobi showed that the Jedi seemed to be thinking much the same thing.

    Without the crowds, it was not long until they reached the hangar that held their ship and Stone found that he could breathe easier once he heard the whine of engines being prepped. After Weave and Milo went aboard he and the general turned to speak with Danu, who was standing at the front of the crowd. Behind them, he could make out the curious faces of the “normal” Arunai as they watched the exchange.

    The Jedi's robes rippled as he gave a low bow to Danu. “Our deepest thanks to you and your friends. I will make sure Queen Sita knows of your role in her rescue.” As if on a whim, he handed her his comlink, then pitched his voice to carry to the assembled audience. “You can rest assured that I will be in touch with you regarding the issue of your representation in Parliament.”

    Danu nodded. “Thank you, Master Jedi.” She looked over at Stonewall and smiled. “And we thank you as well, Captain, and your brothers for trusting us.”

    Thank you for all of your help. We couldn't have done any of this without you.” With a final nod to the Arunai woman, he slipped through the doors, the Jedi on his heels. As they felt the ship shudder into the air, Stone knelt between his brothers at the helm. “So, either of you know where this temple is located?”

    *

    After General Halcyon left, Crest and Traxis exchanged glances once before looking back at the queen, who was watching the departing figure of the Jedi with a mixture of concern and agitation, though she was not trying to show it. “We should probably leave this place, m'am,” Crest said in his most gentle tone. “That's what the general ordered, anyway.”

    Even through his helmet Sita’s pale blue eyes made his heart rate increase. “You are Crest, correct?”

    He nodded.

    She looked one last time after the Jedi. “Very well, Crest. Lead the way.”

    The trio began to make their way back through the temple; thankfully, it was a short trip. Moments later, he heard Traxis' voice through the private comm channel. “So, you want to try and call the captain, or do you want me to?”

    Crest glanced at the queen, who looked back at him with curiosity. “Go for it. Why don't you apologize to him while you're at it?” He grinned to himself as his brother muttered a few choice Mando'a phrases, though he lifted his wrist comm anyway as they stepped out into the open light. However, he paused at the sight that greeted them.

    Several speeders with the Arunai royal seal had gathered around their transport; a group of perhaps twenty guards stood between the clones and their vehicle. The general said something about those guards being suspicious and these fellows certainly look like they want to make some trouble. This isn't good. The nearest guard raised his blaster and fired towards Sita. Without thinking, Crest leaped in front of the young woman and winced as he felt the searing bolt connect with his armor, causing him to stumble to the ground. However, Trax was before him in less than a second, both blasters raised as he returned fire; Crest managed to get to his feet, wincing at the pain in his side.

    Get back inside,” he called to the young queen while he reached for one of his trusty grenades. “We'll handle this.” Her face paled, but she nodded and slipped back inside the temple as he turned back to the rogue guards and tossed the small device beyond them, grinning to himself as they began to chuckle and remark to one another, most likely about his stupidity and poor aim. Suddenly, the rock behind them shuddered in an explosion, raining chunks of debris on several of the Arunai who were all but buried beneath it. For all of their pride, they're not great warriors.

    The rest of the battle was short and free of further injury – for the clones anyway. The guards weren't so lucky. When all of them had been brought down, either killed or knocked unconscious, Traxis tried to contact the others once more.

    Kriffing comms still aren't working,” he growled. “Remind me why we even bother?”

    For the love of the job, brother,” Crest replied as he secured an Arunai guard who was lucky enough to have escaped the fray with little more than a few bruises.

    Nice work with the grenade, by the way. You okay?”

    Thanks,” Crest replied, looking down at his side. Aside from some carbon scouring and a bruise that was likely developing beneath his body-glove, there was no damage to his person. “I'm in one piece.” He glanced back at the temple. “Let's take care of the rest of these jokers before they cause any more trouble.”

    *

    When her eyes opened again, Kalinda was in a barren field of rolling hills; there were no trees or plants of any kind, no sign of life and the sky was thick and dark with heavy clouds. In the distance she could see smoke drifting above what appeared to be the ruins of a blackened and charred forest. It was silent save for her own heartbeat thudding in her ears. She was sitting cross-legged amidst the ashy remains of a tree, though it crumbled to dust as she got to her feet. Another look around confirmed that she was alone, so she stood for several minutes trying to get her bearings while also attempting to comprehend what had happened.

    This doesn't look like anywhere on Aruna...where in the blazes am I? There was a hill before her that rose a bit higher than the rest of the landscape, so she made her way towards it with the intention of getting a better look at the surrounding area.

    As Kali reached the zenith of the hill, she heard an otherworldly shrieking along with the familiar hum of a lightsaber. Who's fighting? Is there a battle going on? On instinct her hand shot to her sides but both her saber and blaster were absent, which only tightened the knot of fear that had grown in her stomach. For a moment she was stricken with terror but she managed to shake it off. If someone is in trouble, I have to help. A quick glance around indicated the direction that the sounds were coming from, so she began to hurry towards the fight.

    As she ran towards the sound of the lightsaber, the air grew increasingly hot and thick with smoke that was rising from a ring of fire that she could see in the distance. Kali took a breath and pushed herself to move faster, anxious to find out what was happening. Even at her quickened pace it took longer than she'd anticipated to reach the battleground and when she did, she was stunned at the sight that met her eyes.

    Another dream with him? Only a part of Kali's brain registered the impossible image of her old Master – her father, Jonas – as he raised a familiar yellow-bladed lightsaber against the backdrop of a dark and roiling sky, his face a mask of determination; the larger portion of her attention was taken up with what he was fighting and again she sorely missed the presence of both her lightsaber and the Force that had still abandoned her.

    He was battling a being that Kali had no name for, but she thought that the word “demon” would have sufficed. Though it appeared to be based on the female Human form there was nothing recognizable about the creature. Taller than the man it fought against, the demon's skin was the color of dried blood and matted locks of hair straggled to its waist. Like the statues back in Rudral it had multiple arms, each one holding a wicked-looking curved blade; the weapons appeared to be able to withstand the brush of Jonas' lightsaber when they clashed.

    The demon's face was wide, its mouth was agape in a feral grin that revealed jagged rows of fangs and its eyes were pitiless, filled with fury. It moved with a fluidity that seemed incongruous with such a savage image and Kalinda could see that Jonas was hard-pressed to fight the creature back, especially when it let loose a shriek that reverberated through the field and stunned him to the ground; he laid still for several moments before his head lifted and he began to struggle to his feet even as the demon danced around him, seeming to beckon him forward.

    Something snapped within Kali and she leaped forward to assist her father, all the while trying to wrap her mind around what was happening. Her feet sank into the ground as she ran; looking down, she saw that she was stepping through some kind of black mire that seemed to suck at her legs, holding her back. Kali's jaw tightened and she shook her head as she tried to keep moving. The fire at the perimeter crept closer still.

    This isn't real. The thought offered Kali little comfort as she watched the blond man who had died when she was sixteen, his yellow lightsaber bright against the darkening sky as he swept towards his foe. This can't be real. On a whim she called to him; when he turned to look at her, his blue eyes widened with shock.

    Kali?”

    The demon snarled and leaped forward, causing the Jedi to turn back to it and just barely duck out of the way as the sickle-shaped blades swept towards him. “Kali,” he called to her as the creature leveled its weapons at his neck. “You need to get away!”

    Dad!” she cried, struggling through the mud to reach him. Her knee was starting to ache but she ignored it in her desperation to reach her father. “I'll help you...just hang on!”

    Run, Kali,” he called as he raised his blade again. “Please-” He didn't finish the sentence as the demon whirled in one graceful arc and angled the blades at his heart.

    I can't lose him again. For several moments everything slowed as Kali tried to help him, tried to do something – anything – but she was kept back by the mire. She stumbled and fell to her knees and when she looked up again, Jonas was on the ground, his body still.

    This is a dream, she told herself again, trying once more to get to her feet. It's not real. Another familiar shout sounded to her right and she felt dread clutch at her heart as she turned to see Obi-Wan moving across the barren ground, his steps unhindered by the mud as the demon approached him. Its eyes glowed as if backlit by the flames that were still encroaching upon the battleground.

    Kali, leave now,” he cried. “You can get away....” He gave a grunt as the one of the demon's blades swept to his torso, but evaded the blow. “You must go,” he called again. “Please.”

    No!” she shouted, turning to reach her former lover. Blast this kriffing mud... “I can help you, just-” She shrieked when Obi-Wan gave a last cry as his body was thrown to the ground. “Ben!” The demon turned to her, a smile on its ragged face; its eyes were the color of the sun and just as blank. Fear and anger coursed through Kali and she again tried to struggle towards the creature. I must do something, anything. Even if it's just a nightmare...I have to end this.

    But the demon was not watching Kali any longer. Instead, its gaze had fixed on a point to Kalinda's left. To Stonewall.

    No.

    Kalinda wanted to shout but her voice choked in her throat. Around her the fire edged closer and the air grew thicker as the smoke rose.

    His helmet was gone and his face was raised to the creature; there was only a trace of fear in his almost-golden eyes as he lifted his blaster and began firing at his opponent.

    Stone,” Kali called, ignoring the stabbing pain in her knee as she all but crawled towards him. “Stonewall...don't be a hero! Get out of here!”

    Her captain looked back at her for a split second. “You have to save yourself, Kali. But I want you to know that I love you.”

    Then the blades bit through his armor and Kalinda watched in horror as he fell to his knees and lay still among the mire. “No....” she whispered as the demon turned to her with eyes wreathed in flame. “No!”

    She was surrounded by fire now and the earth seemed to shake as the demon stepped towards her, grinning and lifting blades that were edged with blood. Kali's jaw clenched and she somehow managed to find her feet; though she knew that she was going to be defeated she found that she was too angry and frightened to care any longer.



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  13. Valairy Scot Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Sep 16, 2005
    star 5
    Exciting chapter...bravo.
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  14. Nyota's Heart Fanfic Edited Winner / Combos & Paragraphs Host

    Game Host Game Winner
    Member Since:
    Aug 31, 2004
    star 6
    Gripping action =D= Wow, that last vision/dream sequence :shock: Glad that wasn't really happening.
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  15. laloga Jedi Grand Master

    Member Since:
    Jul 28, 2011
    star 2
    Hello!

    I apologize for the ridiculously long, unannounced hiatus. Darth Real Life got the better of me for a long time, but I'm slowly emerging. I'll try to update on a more regular schedule from now on. :)

    ***

    Chapter Fourteen: Over the Edge




    As it was wont to do at critical junctures in her life, time slowed to a crawl.


    The shadows from the demon's sickle-shaped blades fell across Kali's face and she whirled back around, ducking out of their way just in time; a moment later she was able to roll beneath the feet of the creature to come up on its other side. The ground was a little more solid here and Kali found that she was able to get her footing even though she was now coated in mud and mire.


    I don't have the Force, she thought as she looked up at her foe. But I have to do something. The demon was larger and stronger than her, but Kali realized that she was faster – even with her aching knee – so she lunged for the blade in the nearest of the creature's arms. It was heavy and awkward but it was a weapon. Kali planted her feet and raised the sword, forcing herself to meet the demon's eyes. At first fear clouded her thoughts; but as she stared at the creature, when she knew for certain that she was looking at her own end, she felt a flood of calm overtake her mind as the fear vanished.


    Heat from the nearby fire burned her skin and choked in her lungs but Kali tightened her grip on the weapon's hilt.


    Before it lunged, the demon smiled one last time.


    *


    Even with the ship, it took Stonewall and the others far too long to reach the temple in the mountains. “You sure we're not lost?”


    Weave's voice was deliberate, as if he was trying to hide his annoyance. “No, Captain, we're right on track. We should be there soon.” He and Milo exchanged glances as Stonewall knelt between them, his eyes on the viewscreen.


    How soon?” He looked down at the controls and frowned. “Can't this thing go any faster?”


    Captain,” the Jedi said from his place at the center of the ship. “I don't think that you're helping matters by hovering.” After giving Weave an apologetic nod Stonewall moved away from the helm towards the general, who indicated that they should both take a seat at the small table. He did so and they sat across from one another in silence for a few minutes as the ship moved across the terrain. Finally, General Kenobi cleared his throat and looked at Stone. “You should be proud of the team that you and Kalinda have assembled.”


    He's trying to take the edge off of the situation. Can't say that I blame him. Stonewall nodded.


    I don't mean just your ability to complete the missions that you've been given,” the Jedi continued. “Though that is, of course, commendable. No,” his hand went to his beard and his tone turned speculative. “I was also referring to the musical abilities that I witnessed on our journey here.”


    Though any thought of Kali was painful now, he couldn't help but chuckle. “She's determined to make musicians out of us. It didn't go so well at first but after a lot of practice, we sound....competent.”


    Ever since I've known her she has enjoyed spreading music. It was something that she and her old Master did together. After he passed, well....it was a difficult time for her and I'm glad that she has found someone to share it with. Music, I mean.” There was a pause while Kenobi seemed to consider something before speaking again; when he did, his voice was sudden and quiet. “Don't give up on her; if you do, you will regret it forever.”


    Stonewall nodded, though he felt another stab of sorrow and found himself unable to reply for several minutes. “I don't want to. But even if she...felt as I do, what could happen? We're too different, General. Not to mention the host of other...complications.” He shook his head; it was strange to discuss these things with the Jedi, but he felt that it was somehow necessary to clear the air. “I'm aware of the Jedi Order's restrictions on attachments, sir.”


    True, though there are more important things to occupy our minds at the moment than the personal relationships of a few Knights.” His face changed into an expression that Stone wasn't sure how to read. “And she deserves to be happy.”


    Before Stonewall could form a reply, Milo turned towards them from the helm. “General, I think that's the site of the avalanche.”


    Immediately, the clone captain and the Jedi were on their feet and at the viewscreen; as their ship passed above it, they could see a massive pile of rocks and debris that was blanketing the road. We should clear it out on the way back. As he verbalized the thought, the General said much the same thing and the two men cast amused glances at each other.


    Weave cleared his throat and nodded to the console. “We should be there soon. Very soon.”


    Their communicators still aren't working,” Milo added. “Shall I keep trying, Captain?”


    Stone glanced at the Jedi. “Don't give up just yet, Milo,” he said as he looked back at the viewscreen. “You never know.”


    *


    After the rogue guards had been secured Crest approached the queen, who was peering around the door of the temple. “It's okay, m'am,” he said as he stood before her. “They're not going to cause any more trouble.” On a whim he popped the seal of his helmet and gave her a friendly smile. “Are you alright?”


    She stepped out of the doorway, her pale hair glinting in the light. “I can't believe that they would turn on me,” she said as she stared at her former protectors. “They were Badal's men – he handpicked them himself....thank you,” she added in a quiet voice to Crest. “I wouldn't be standing here if it weren't for you and your brother.” Here she gave him a small smile and he felt heat creep into his cheeks.


    Er, well....” He was at a loss for words so he glanced back at Trax, who had taken to examining the transport. “How's it look?”


    Traxis blew out a puff of air in irritation. “Those di'kute sabotaged this thing and their speeders were damaged by the falling rocks from your grenade.” He frowned. “One of them was yammering into his comm as well. I put a stop to it.”


    Not good,” Crest replied. “They might have reinforcements coming.” He looked back at the queen. “Your majesty...is there a settlement nearby?”


    Sita,” she said. At his look of confusion she smiled at him again. “You may call me Sita. And no, there isn't one. This place is too isolated....” While she spoke, a noise rose in the distance and the clones tensed, raising their weapons and listening.


    Speaking of reinforcements,” Traxis said with a growl. “That's an engine. Sounds like we're going to have company.” His hands moved to his blasters as he stood over the conscious guards, who looked up at him with fear in their eyes.


    Unless it's the Captain and General Kenobi?” Crest's voice was hopeful.


    Sita shook her head. “Not this quickly.” She glanced back at the temple then back at Crest. “I suppose we should take shelter?” The clones followed her gaze before they exchanged looks.


    I don't think Trax wants to go back to that creepy place any more than I do, Crest thought as he scanned the mountainside for an alternative. “There's a little cave or alcove up there,” he said, pointing to a section of the flame-colored rock above them. “You can stay there while we lead them off, your majesty.” He watched as the Arunai woman frowned, her hands wringing her tunic.


    I would feel better if you....” She hesitated as she looked at Crest. “If you remained with me.”


    He had no idea what to make of that, so he nodded and looked at Traxis. “Well then,” he replied. “Let's go, shall we?”


    Though the section of mountain to the side of the temple was not steep it was still not an easy climb; after the first time that Sita slipped, Crest unspooled a length of cable attached to his belt and handed it to her. “Wrap this around your waist...just in case,” he said. “And sorry about the rhyme,” he added as she paused to tie the cord around herself.


    She gave a small laugh even as she cast him a sideways look. “Will you keep me from falling, Crest?”


    You can count on it.”


    Traxis cleared his throat. “If you don't mind, vod,” he said. “We need to keep moving.” He indicated behind them; the noise was still growing louder. “Company's on the way.”


    Crest sighed and nodded. “Right, right....” On some wild impulse, he winked at Sita, who hid her smile behind her hand. “We're going.”

    *

    On the edges of his consciousness, Obi-Wan felt a brush of fear. His first thought was of Kalinda but as he focused on the feeling he realized that it was the young queen. That's not good, he thought as he watched the ground race away beneath them. But at least it means she's still alive. He took a deep breath and exchanged glances with the clone captain, who was gripping the seat behind Milo as if hanging on for his life, though the ride had been relatively smooth. “The queen's in trouble,” he said. “You still can't contact the others?”


    Stonewall lifted his wrist comm and tried once more, though it proved to be a futile effort and he shook his head. “I know that they'll be able to keep her safe.” His voice was quiet and Obi-Wan was again struck by the emotion that he felt emanating from the clone.


    He's not blocking them from me anymore. He really does love her. Stars above...I didn't see that coming. With a nod, Obi-Wan took another breath and faced forward again. On a whim, he cast out his awareness, searching for Kalinda though he knew it was useless. I only hope she's still hiding from me. If she were dead....I wouldn't know. I would have no idea. The thought made his hands clench so he attempted to release the emotion and let it pass through him.


    When a Jedi felt fear – or any negative emotion, really – he was supposed to search within himself, find the source of the problem and acknowledge it as his mind's way of telling him that something was wrong. A Jedi was thankful for the warning and then was able to let the feeling go.


    At least, that's how it was supposed to work, though Obi-Wan thought that it perhaps wasn't a foolproof system when it came to a fear so vast it felt like the looming shadow of a mountain.


    After what seemed like hours they reached the site of the temple and what appeared to be a skirmish between the Republic soldiers and a contingent of Arunai that Obi-Wan recognized as part of the palace guard. In addition to the transport that the queen's retinue had taken there were several speeders embossed with the royal seal clustered around it, as well as a larger transport that held a handful of unidentified Arunai who also were firing on the clones. More of Neerja's people?


    Stonewall pointed to a section of rock that was overhanging the Arunai, beneath which they had taken cover. “Milo, give that bit of mountain a little persuasion. That should get their attention.”


    The blaster-fire from the ship split the air and caused the Arunai to turn; they raised their weapons to retaliate but were knocked out of the way by a spray of rock. There was a flat section of terrain behind them where Weave was able to land the freighter, moments later Obi-Wan and the clones were running across the rocky ground to secure the guards. “Their testimonies will be needed. Don't kill them if you don't have to,” he called to the clones as he ignited his saber.


    There were at least a dozen guards that had already been felled; the other group of Arunai who had managed to duck out of the way of the rock-slide kept the clones busy for a few minutes while Obi-Wan looked up in the direction they'd been firing before the ship had arrived. A familiar white helmet appeared from an alcove in the slope above them then ducked back, popping back up moments later with the bald clone; both of them began firing on the remaining dissidents from their vantage point. A push with the Force sent several of the enemies back and Obi-Wan watched as the last of them were stunned and then secured by the clones.


    He looked back up at the sloping rock. “Kalinda?” His voice was carried by the Force to reach her, but only the clones peered back at him. The bald one shook his head and pointed to the temple; moments later he watched as Sita appeared beside Crest and she and the clones began to make their way down the rock. Their going was slow but careful and he noted how Crest seemed particularly attentive to the young Aruani woman, ensuring that she reached the ground safely with a care that went beyond the normal parameters of duty.


    As soon as Sita's feet touched the earth she grabbed Obi-Wan's arm and pointed to the temple. “Kali's in there,” she said, still breathless from the climb. “She went with the priestess.”


    I thought you were supposed to do that?” Stonewall was beside him, though his eyes were fixed on the temple's entrance.


    The white-haired woman shook her head. “She wouldn't have me but she told Kali that she could help her get the Force back.” Her eyes fixed on Obi-Wan's and her tone sharpened. “I was unaware that Kali was so afflicted, Master Kenobi.”


    Around them he felt the others gathering, though he was only dimly aware of it as another malevolent presence reached his mind. “Someone else is here,” he said, nodding to the temple. “Someone hostile.” The clones raised their weapons and formed a circle around the queen. Obi-Wan's lightsaber was ignited again even as he focused on the new presence; the realization struck him like blaster-fire and he began urging Sita towards their ship. “Whoever it is...they mean to destroy the temple.”


    I'll go look for her,” Stonewall said, stepping towards the structure.


    As Obi-Wan was about to reply, a tremendous explosion filled the air; the ground shuddered and they were tossed to the ground like toys from the hand of a petulant child. When he rose he searched for Kali's presence in the Force; again he was met with nothing. Instead he looked at Sita, who was scrabbling to her feet – assisted by Crest – and then at Stonewall, who was the only one who'd remained standing. “That could only be the beginning. Captain,” he called. “We must go.”


    I can't leave her,” Stonewall replied. “I have to see if she's there....”


    Obi-Wan shouted orders to fetch as many guards as they could; he watched as Traxis and Milo began to move the limp forms of the Arunai men away from the temple. “Captain....you have a duty, as does she. What would she do if she were here?”


    Stonewall gestured helplessly to the temple. Another explosion shook the area and the front of the ancient edifice began to crumble.


    Urging Sita and the others to the ship, Obi-Wan grabbed the captain's arm. “I know how it feels to lose her, I do. But we have to go. Stonewall...we must-” They were both covered by a spray of saffron-colored rock as a third explosion ripped through the air and Obi-Wan could see flames within the temple flickering even as the rocks fell across the entrance. His eyes closed, briefly. I've lost her again. He turned and hastened towards the ship, the engines already whining as one of the clones had reached the helm. Behind him, he felt Stonewall falter, so he used the Force to urge him on while still gripping his arm, releasing it only when he was certain that the other man was on board.


    As their ship swept away from the area, Obi-Wan found that he had to close his mind to the clone captain, who leaned against the bulkhead and looked as though he would never be able to move again.
    Last edited by laloga, Jan 29, 2014
  16. Nyota's Heart Fanfic Edited Winner / Combos & Paragraphs Host

    Game Host Game Winner
    Member Since:
    Aug 31, 2004
    star 6
    Breathtaking edge-of-seatness =D= =D= Whew! [face_nail_biting] I know that was the most difficult thing Obi and Stone ever, ever will have to do! :( The uncertainty or rather the certainty would be devastating IMO. [face_thinking]

    Welcome back! [:D] [:D] !!!!
    Last edited by Nyota's Heart, Jan 29, 2014
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  17. laloga Jedi Grand Master

    Member Since:
    Jul 28, 2011
    star 2
    @Nyota's Heart: I know! Poor guys. :( Despite their differences, they both care for Kali, so leaving her behind is...hard. Thank you for the kind words! [face_love] It's good to be back! [:D]


    ***
    Chapter Fifteen: Fearless


    When Kali's sword bit into the back of the demon's knee the creature let out a keening, almost human wail. As she pulled the blade out and ducked out of the way of the flailing arms, she felt a grimace of determination cross her features; dropping to her knees once more she rolled out of the way and came up in front of her foe. Their eyes locked for a split-second as Kalinda gathered up what strength she could and leaped forward.


    The blade sank home and the demon gave a final shriek as it collapsed to the mud, its body twitching once and then going still even as Kali's chest was heaving from the effort. Sweat trickled down her back and arms and she looked up to see that the fire was growing closer. Time to leave. Kali turned to go, taking one final look at the creature but was stopped as the features of the demon seemed to change, to melt away into a familiar face.


    Her face.


    Kalinda stared at herself; her own dark eyes looked back at her though they were sightless and empty. The features were still twisted, contorted in a grimace of fear and pain even as her hands – just two hands now – were limply clutching the swords. No coherent thought formed in Kali's mind as she fell to her knees beside the demon – beside her own body – and smoothed the matted hair away from the face. Her hands were shaking. It's a dream or a vision, nothing more. Get a hold of yourself.


    Despite the fact that the air was now swollen with heat it was several moments before she was able to stand upright again. Her feet stepped backward and she all but fell over herself to get away from the demon. It's not real, she told herself again as she turned. I don't need to be afraid anymore. A deep breath steadied her a little bit, enough so that she was able to survey the field around her, looking for any sign of life. The fire continued to reach for her and there was also a new tremor in the ground as she made her way back to where she'd seen the others fall.


    But there was nothing.


    It was like they had never existed in the first place and though Kalinda searched and called out their names, she soon realized that she was alone again.


    The fire crept towards her, the heat rippling her vision. As she turned to flee, she heard her own name being called, as if someone was shouting in her ear. She felt as though she was slipping through the mud and mire, losing her footing and falling to her knees even as her name was called again and again.


    With a gasp, Kalinda awoke from one nightmare into another.


    *


    Why are we stopping?” Sita's voice was quiet as she looked up at General Kenobi.


    Crest thought that the Jedi looked wan and exhausted as he nodded to the viewscreen. “The avalanche, your majesty. We're going to try and clear the road, if we can.”


    Sita nodded and looked down at her folded hands; she was seated beside Crest at the ship's table, a glass of water in front of her that she had only sipped from once. He looked up at the Jedi and cleared his throat. “Sir? How are we going to do that?”


    Tractor beam,” Weave replied from the helm. “Won't be pretty, but it should work if my estimations are correct.” No one said anything for several moments as the Jedi moved to stand at the helm; he and Weave spoke quietly while they worked to move the rocks and debris out of the road. Beside him, Sita glanced at Stonewall, who was still leaning against the bulkhead, his helmet concealing his features. As if on impulse, she made a motion to get to her feet but Crest placed a hand on her arm, shaking his head when she looked back at him.


    He needs to be alone right now,” he said as she settled back in the seat. He nudged the glass of water towards her. “Here....you must be thirsty.”


    She studied the glass, watching the tremor of the water within from the ship's vibrations, though the container itself was still. Finally she looked back at Crest. “I would like to apologize,” she said in soft voice. “For how you and your brothers were treated...and for how I treated you.”


    Feeling heat creep to his cheeks again, Crest shrugged. “We're used to it, your ma – Sita.”


    No,” she replied, shaking her head. “No, that's not how it should be. You are men, more so than those who had sworn to protect me after the death of my husband and you did not deserve such treatment. Perhaps I can change things for the better when we return home.” Her tone had grown thoughtful and she smiled at Crest's expression of surprise. “Something that Kalinda talked to me about,” she explained. “Something that needs to happen before Aruna can move forward.”


    At this he gave her a nod of understanding. “I think I agree with you.”


    The young queen straightened in her chair, her features smoothing as she reached for the water and took a deep drink before passing the glass to him. “Drink up, Crest,” she said with a smile. “You must be thirsty.”


    *


    When they returned to the palace, Obi-Wan realized two things, the first being that he still had his work cut out for him as there was quite a mess to clean up in the capitol city. It had only taken a few hours for Marut to disseminate the vid footage of Neerja and the traitorous guards, thus revealing the treachery of the high priestess to the Arunai. This, combined with the swift confessions of the guards and other Arunai that Obi-Wan and the clones had brought back meant that the next few days were filled with chaos and confusion, exacerbated by the presence of so many people in the city for the approaching festival.


    The second thing that Obi-Wan realized was that he himself was exhausted with a kind of bone-deep weariness that he hadn't felt a long time; it was unsettling, especially when he couldn't draw himself out of it even with the Force. As if on its own accord part of his mind instinctively sought Kalinda, but he tamped the feeling down, refusing to be lost to grief again. Instead, he allowed the pain to wash through him before he took a deep breath; when he exhaled he released it even as he stood beside the queen in Parliament the morning after her return. If she taught me anything, it's that I need to move on to move forward. A hard lesson, indeed.


    Sita was resplendent, a goddess walking on the earth, though it was not the fine silk dress that draped across her body or the golden headdress that aureoled her face which made her appear so. “To all those who would say that change is unnecessary, that we should remain mired in the ways of the past, I would remind you that there are those among us who are even today being oppressed by an antiquated system that should have no place in our thinking any longer. Without their aid, I would not be standing before you.” As she looked at the members of Parliament, her eyes fell on Danu and several of the other untouchables and she nodded to them.


    As she continued, she gestured to the clones and their shoulders straightened. “Given recent events, I seek to end the segregation that has long plagued our world. These soldiers, these men-” she smiled here and Obi-Wan realized that she was looking at Crest. He chuckled to himself as he felt a flare of embarrassment from the bald clone, for all that he remained still. “-saved my life and uncovered evidence of Neerja's treachery. Were it not for their actions, things would be far worse than they are. They have been named 'untouchable' by us; I move that such a designation no longer exists and that all denizens of Aruna are given a voice in this august body.”


    Neerja was in the custody of the clones and had gotten more than a few disdainful looks from the audience members. “You will ruin us all,” the priestess spat even as Obi-Wan watched as Traxis' grip tightened on her arm. “Our world will collapse in on itself. The gods have spoken to me.”


    There has been talk of seceding from the Republic,” Sita replied as if the high priestess had not spoken. “But it should be apparent now that the Separatists have no real interest in the well-being of our world. Through the Republic's aid we have uncovered the treachery of those who would spread dissension and fear.” She spoke in a clear, ringing voice as she leveled her gaze at Neerja, who flinched. “Long has Aruna stood with the Republic and while I am around it shall continue to do so.”


    At these words the audience erupted into a frenzy of shouts, both in support and opposition to the queen's speech. Obi-Wan glanced up; her face was calm and her hands were still. It will not be an easy task, he thought as he listened to the members of Parliament argue. But I think that she is up to the challenge, at last.


    Around him the citizens of Aruna spoke and debated but he smiled despite it all.


    Change was in the air.


    *


    For every moment of his short life, Stonewall had never once been without a purpose or a plan; there were always decisions made in split seconds and an ever-present need to continue on, to keep going, to fulfill whatever would pass for a soldier's destiny. Though he realized that his life experience was not what most others in the galaxy would call “a great deal,” he always had known just enough to see him through to the next day, to allow him to carry on even in the face of certain hopelessness.


    All of that changed as his world collapsed beneath a pile of flame-colored rock and when a blast of hot air burned away his certainty and seared his hope to ashes.


    He was dimly aware of being pulled back on the ship and then being back at Rudral; if not for his brothers and Obi-Wan he wondered if he would have remained frozen in place, a statue on the mountainside. In the aftermath he'd felt empty, though gradually the sensation had shifted to a biting sense of sorrow. It was not a feeling that he'd been trained to deal with, this sharp ache of loss that cut so deep he thought his body should be scattered in pieces on the ground.


    When the Parliament session ended he followed his brothers as they took Neerja to the prison cell with the rest of the traitors; luckily the woman had not gotten to all of Sita's people and the Jedi was able to ascertain the loyalty of those who remained. Other than a few select members of the priests and priestess, her influence did not seem to have spread too far.


    Small comforts, to be taken where and when they could.


    Did you see?” Crest sounded excited as they left the prison and made their way back to the palace proper. “In the Parliament session....she looked right at me.”


    Traxis snorted. “Yeah, Crest. You're going to be the new king of this planet. I'm sure that's the first thing on her mind right now.”


    I'm not listening to you,” the bald clone replied. He inhaled deeply and looked around at the bustling city. “Have I mentioned how much I love this place?” More and more people were coming to Rudral for the spring festival, which was supposed to take place in a few days and it was growing difficult to move through the crowd, especially since many of the citizens had seemed to forget the clones' former status.


    The captain didn't make any indication that he'd heard the conversation of his brothers; his gaze was fixed and straight as he walked, though he saw nothing that was in his field of vision. Rather, in his mind's eye he was with Kali in the garden, the last time they'd spoken. His own words came back to him. As different as a bird from a fish. It was a dream. It wasn't real. It was difficult to breathe. It felt like something heavy was pressing on his chest and he wondered if his ribs were going to crack from the weight.


    But still, I would give anything to speak to her again.


    Hey, brother,” Crest said in Mando'a, a hand on his shoulder. “Let's not go back just yet....I think Danu and the others are having a pre-festival celebration at that old temple. Should be an all-nighter.”


    Stone shook his head. “No...no thanks, Crest. I'm not great company right now. I think I'll just go back to our quarters.”


    You sure?”


    Yeah,” Stone looked up and met his brothers' eyes. “Thanks, though.”


    Do you...Is there anything we can do?” Milo asked. Stonewall shook his head, though he gave Milo's shoulder a pat before the others moved off through the city.


    As he turned to go, he heard a throat clear behind him; Traxis had remained behind. “What's up?”


    The scarred clone paused and shifted, his eyes skimming the buildings around them for several moments before he spoke. “I was wrong.” This caught Stonewall off guard; he raised his brow and regarded his brother, though he said nothing as Traxis took a deep breath and continued. “About what I said to you when we first got here....about you and the General. I think I made a mistake and for what it's worth – which probably isn't much at this point – I'm sorry.”


    Vor'e,” Stone said after a moment. “Thanks, Trax.”


    Traxis nodded. “It's the very least I could say.”


    After several moments they parted ways at the steps of the palace and Stone began the climb. When he reached the top of the stairs he stood for several moments, swaying in the stiff afternoon breeze that held the promise of spring before he made his way to the garden; he came to the bench by the small pond and sat down. It was good to take the weight off of his legs for a moment and he allowed his mind to wander. All around him signs of the changing season were beginning to show: buds of almost-born flowers pushed their way through the stems; bright green tips of shrubs and bushes rose above the older, dull leaves; a soft, sweet wind lifted the edges of the ribboning branches of the willow tree.


    But none of it offered him any consolation alongside the realization that the woman he loved was gone.


    *


    Fire.


    It was all around her; the air was dense with smoke and heat, causing Kali to start coughing the moment she opened her watering eyes. Someone said her name again and she whirled around from her place at the feet of the goddess statue to see the old woman standing by the door. “Come, child,” she said, her voice quiet but urgent. “You must leave.” As the words left her mouth, Kali heard a tremendous booming sound in the distance and nearly fell to the ground as the temple shook from the impact.


    After a moment Kali was able to struggle to her feet and make her way to the blind priestess. “How?” She coughed again and looked around the room, which was inflamed and livid. The floor was sticky with melted wax from the candles and Kali felt the hair on her arms starting to singe from the heat. It was almost impossible to breathe. It was so hot Kali thought her eyes were going to burn out of their sockets even as she looked at the doorway. “The door....it's blocked.” Indeed, the only way out was covered in flames that reached above her head.


    The priestess shook her head and pointed to the doorway. “You have to go” she said. “This place is no longer safe for you.”


    Another booming sound; the room shuddered and Kali felt bits of rock land on her shoulders. She coughed and shook her head. “But you...what about you? You'll die here....you'll be burned alive,” she called over the roar of fire and the rumble of the temple itself. “Come with me.”


    In response, the priestess laughed. “I will not be harmed, child. My place is here,” she said. “It's time for you to move on. You must not be afraid any longer.”


    Kali stepped towards the door and looked back. “I won't make it.”


    You certainly won't survive here,” the priestess replied in an amused voice. “But it's your life.”


    The flames were high and furious; on impulse, Kalinda reached within herself and felt for the Force, thinking that maybe, by some miracle if it had returned she could create her shield. But there was still only emptiness within her, an echoing chasm in her heart where the well of energy should have been and she realized that she had nothing left to lose. Another explosion; more rocks clattered to the floor and she took the deepest breath she could before she closed her eyes and leaped through the fire.
  18. Nyota's Heart Fanfic Edited Winner / Combos & Paragraphs Host

    Game Host Game Winner
    Member Since:
    Aug 31, 2004
    star 6
    =D= =D= =D= Intense and poignant. Sita made a wise decision. I am happy the criminals have been apprehended.
    :eek: and [face_nail_biting] Of all times for the Force to return to Kalinda, being in the midst of a raging fire would so have been it!
    Last edited by Nyota's Heart, Jan 31, 2014
    laloga likes this.
  19. laloga Jedi Grand Master

    Member Since:
    Jul 28, 2011
    star 2
    @Nyota's Heart: Thank you! It's all starting to come to a close, isn't it? ;) Ha ha...I'm sure Kali wishes she had the Force right now! :p Thanks so much for the comment!

    Chapter Sixteen: Many the Miles


    While her eyes watered, Kali's skin burned.


    Stumbling blind, she collapsed to the stone floor just beyond the room where she'd come from and took a moment to try and catch her breath, thankful to gulp air that did not sear her lungs. Though the temple was still quaking the booming sounds had stopped and she realized that she had made it through the strange fire unscathed.


    More or less.


    Besides being pink and raw-feeling, her skin seemed intact and after several minutes she found that she could see well enough to try and find her way out. Taking another deep breath she stood up and tried to get her bearings. Aside from the glow of the room about ten meters behind her the temple was completely dark. Her hands ran along the smooth sides of the narrow passage in which she'd found herself and for a moment she was gripped with the knowledge that she was still lost in the darkness, until her mind cleared and her hand went to her side.


    The yellow glow of her lightsaber illuminated the area and emitted a comfortable hum; the heft of the hilt in her hand provided Kali with a focus, a calm that allowed her to swallow the fear and make her way down the corridor. I'm still here, I'm not dead yet....though I suppose I should be. After so much chaos and confusion it was strange to be doing such a mundane task as walking down a dark corridor. The only things breaking up the silence were the hum of her saber, the muted sound of her footfalls and the occasional clatter of bits of stone that her boots kicked as she moved.


    Evidence of destruction were everywhere, indicated by fallen chunks of rock and collapsed pillars that she had to make her way around. For its size, the layout of the temple was not particularly complex and Kali found that she was able to determine the best way out by the faint scent of fresh air that wafted towards her every few minutes. Gradually, the passage sloped up, reminding her of the lab on Japarran where she and Stonewall had been trapped underground for a short while. I almost died there, too, she thought with a wry grin. How many chances at life does one woman get? No matter what else, I'm lucky in a lot of ways.


    A while later she came to a seeming dead-end, though after a few moments of investigation she found that it was merely a chunk of the ceiling that had fallen in her path; there was a space between it and the side of the corridor that she managed to push herself through before she was able to continue on.


    That memory of Japarran brought back another thought, another face to her mind and she said his name aloud in the darkness as if the act would make his solid form appear before her. I must get back to Rudral. It was less a realization and more of an urge, as if she had been holding her breath and her lungs were starting to burn with yearning. I must get back to him, to try and set things right. The knowledge filled her with further resolve and her hand gripped the saber like a lifeline.


    Kalinda walked on.


    Some time later she saw a light that was not from her saber: a slender beam that cut through the darkness, as bright as the fingernail of a crescent moon against the night sky, and she was inexorably drawn to it. As it stood barely a meter from the ground, she had to kneel in order to peer through the narrow opening to see the rocky landscape of Aruna laid before her. I don't recognize this area, she thought as she stood up and deactivated the saber, clipping it to her belt. Perhaps it's the rear entrance to the temple. Placing her palms along the smooth wall she pressed her weight against it, hoping to shift it without her having to resort to cutting her way out.


    The wall didn't budge.


    Kalinda took a deep breath and reached for her lightsaber but her hand stilled as she felt a stirring within her: some small and fragile thing was rising from the bottom of her mind and struggling to breach the surface. Another breath. Kali held up her hand and called on the Force, focusing her attention not on the wall but on the swathe of light as she willed it to expand. She exhaled and pushed away the remaining bits of fear that clung to her mind; an inhale brought in hope, resolve and strength. I'm still a Jedi. A satisfied smile came over her even as she felt sweat pooling at the small of her back with the strain. And I'm still me.


    The light grew. The crack turned into a gape large enough to allow her hand through as pieces of stone and rock crumbled away.


    Through the Force, Kalinda pressed on and on until she had created a space large enough for her body to squeeze through, though the effort exhausted her. As she pulled her leg through the gap in the wall, she looked behind her at the rock face that concealed the temple. It looks like just another bit of the mountain. How strange...I feel like I've been to another world and back. By her reckoning, the entire process had taken nearly two hours and she could see that night was starting to fall across the mountains.


    For a moment she simply observed; the sky was awash in violet and fuchsia with the horizon glowing from the last rays of the sun, and above her head the stars were beginning to appear. After a few minutes she began to make her way down the mountainside, towards the winding road that she could make out in the dimming light.


    By the time she reached the road that wound its way around to the front of the ancient structure, night had fallen in earnest and there was no moon to light her way, though the stars provided enough visibility. She stood before the entrance to the temple and surveyed the damage: piles of rock and stone had fallen across the opening. I suppose Sita and the others must have left once the temple collapsed. This thought, combined with the realization that her comlink was still broken, made her wince even as she looked up at the sky. Stonewall....I'll be back as soon as I can.


    A breeze lifted the edges of her hair, carrying the scent of distant vegetation to her nostrils and she closed her eyes for a moment, reaching out for the Force. It was within her – though it was faint – and she likened the feeling to a dam erected across a river. It's there, she thought as she opened her eyes and began to walk towards the direction of Rudral. It has come back, if it never left. The words of the priestess came back to her: It's time for you to move on; you must not be afraid any longer.


    Another gust of wind swept across her as she considered this notion. I don't feel frightened anymore, especially after that whole ordeal; now I can almost access the Force like I used to. Was it just me all along?


    She looked at the road ahead of her and pictured Stonewall's face in her mind's eye. No matter what....soon I'll be home.


    *


    She didn't start to get truly tired until the earliest hours of the morning, when the landscape had begun to change from mountains and rock to sloping hills tinted with patches of green. There was evidence that many people had traveled this way, but Kali saw no one else. Finally, as the sun appeared over the horizon she realized that she needed to sit down, as her knee was aching and she felt slightly dizzy with hunger. The Force helped a little bit, but her access to it was still relegated to a trickle so she found the nearest tree and leaned against the solid trunk, rubbing at her knee and closing her eyes. I just need to rest for a moment.


    Good morning.”


    The unfamiliar voice startled her from sleep and Kali opened her eyes to see a middle-aged Arunai man peering at her as he stood beside a decrepit speeder that was resting on the side of the road. A woman of similar years watched her from the driver's seat and in the back of the speeder sat four children of varying heights. The Arunai man held out his hands in a gesture of peace. “Are you in need of any assistance?”


    Kalinda regarded him; his smile was easy and his eyes were kind. The woman that she assumed was his wife also looked at her with the same gentle expression while the children's eyes were wide. “I don't suppose you're heading to Rudral for the festival, are you?”


    The man and woman exchanged amused glances. “We're running a bit late,” the woman replied. “Asha was ill, but she's almost better now.” She nodded to the tallest of the children, who scowled behind her hand as she gave a throaty cough.


    So it's my fault?”


    Her mother and father laughed, the sound mingling with the distant call of morning-birds. “Would you like a ride?” the man asked. “We don't have a lot of room, but you're welcome to join us.” The sky had lightened to a pale champagne color, streaks of gold and saffron tinting the edges.


    I would love one,” Kali replied. “But I'm afraid I have nothing to offer you in return.”


    How are you with children?” the woman said, lifting her brow. “If you can keep them occupied, that will be payment enough.”


    Kalinda chuckled as she got to her feet; she felt stiff but rested. “I think I can manage that. I'm Kali, by the way.” She approached the speeder; the man held out his hand to assist her aboard. “Thank you....?”


    He smiled again. “I'm Bodhi; my wife is Girisa. And that lovely girl with the frown is Asha, our eldest.” At this, the girl rolled her eyes; she looked to be about eleven or twelve. “The boy is Raj and the two younger girls are Bina and Ranee.” At their names, the children gave her short bows, though they continued to stare at her with unblinking eyes. Kali greeted them and settled into the padded seat of the speeder; within a few moments Girisa started the engine and they were on their way once more.


    The boy – Raj – immediately plopped down beside Kali, still gaping up at her. His mother glanced behind her and chuckled. “Raj, it's rude to stare at our guest. Kali, are you hungry?”


    She was reluctant to take anything more from the family, as it did not look like they had an abundance of supplies but in that moment her stomach let out a rumble, causing the three younger children to giggle. “I suppose some food would not be unwelcome. But-”


    Bodhi shook his head and began rummaging within the pack at his feet, pulling out a slice of bread, some dried fruit and a thick cut of cheese, which he passed back to her. “You are our guest,” he said. “Please, eat.”


    Thank you.” It was simple food, but Kali found that she was so hungry at this point, it was the most wonderful thing she'd ever tasted and she all but inhaled the meal. Beside her, Raj gave a wide smile from beneath his lashes. “I'll bet you're a handful, aren't you?” she said to him, grinning as he shook his head. Kali looked at the two younger girls, who seemed to be about five or six. “Those are lovely dresses...are you excited for the festival?” They nodded; shortly thereafter the children launched into an animated discussion of the upcoming event, which they had never been to before but had heard stories of. “It sounds like fun,” Kali replied. “I'm looking forward to it as well.”


    Pale blue sky, streaked with golden clouds filled the space above their heads and Kali felt her hair lifted by the wind from the speeder's passage. Her knee was still a bit sore, but it wasn't that noticeable anymore and she rubbed at it absently as she listened to the children speak.


    You're not Arunai,” Asha said at a break in the chatter. “What are you?”


    Asha...” Her father's voice held a warning but Kali shook her head.


    It's okay.” She smiled at the girl, who did not return the expression. “You're right. I'm not from here. I'm from the Core.”


    Are you a goddess?” The boy's voice was filled with curiosity.


    Kali glanced at Raj in surprise before she let out a laugh. “No, I'm afraid not. Just a Human. Nothing special.”


    Ahsa still did not look pleased. “But you came from the mountains,” she said, gesturing at the landscape that was disappearing behind them. “No one but the gods live there.” She lifted her hand and coughed again.


    Asha, mind your manners,” Girisa said, though Kali knew that they were also curious about her. “It doesn't matter where Kali is from. She's here now.”


    Unsure how to explain what had happened, Kali cleared her throat. “I was looking for...answers,” she said after a moment, glancing at Bodhi. “There was a temple there....a very old one. I'm not even sure of the goddess it was built for.” She described the temple and watched as the couple exchanged glances.


    Chamunda?” Girisa's voice was perplexed. “She's one of the oldest gods. I didn't think there were any of her temples left.” She cast a glance back at Kali but said nothing else.


    One of the little girls – Ranee, she thought – tugged at her sleeve. “You're messy.”


    I can only imagine what I look like at this point, Kali thought as she glanced down at what was left of her clothes; her tunic was scorched almost beyond recognition, her boots were ripped and covered in dust, and her hands and arms were dark with grime. I don't even want to think about my face. Girisa glanced at her husband; something passed between them and Kali felt a pang of longing at their unspoken connection.


    After a moment Bodhi turned back to her and nodded to one of the packs at Asha's feet. “My wife has a few spare dresses that you're welcome to. And we have some rags...you can clean yourself up when we stop.”


    I don't want to put you out any more than I have,” Kali said, shaking her head. “But thank you, anyway.” She looked down at Raj and smiled at him again. “Would you like to hear a story?” Immediately the younger children broke into an emphatic approval, so she began to speak, noting how the adults' attention remained on her as well. At first she told them stories she remembered from her youth, fables and tales that were popular among the Jedi, but after a little while her thoughts turned back to Stonewall and she found herself growing quiet.


    Asha gave a throaty cough and looked at her. “You stopped.” The entire time that Kali had spoken, the eldest child had made a point to act as though she was not listening, though her eyes kept sliding in Kali's direction. “Why?”


    I was just thinking of someone,” Kali replied after a moment. At the girl's look of confusion, Kali gave a small smile. “Someone I miss very much.”


    Your beloved?”


    Asha, what have we told you about prying?” Her mother's voice was stern but the girl ignored it, instead leveling her gaze at Kali, who actually felt her cheeks grow warm.


    The child's voice was annoyed. “Maha, she brought it up.”


    After a moment, Kali chuckled. “I did, didn't I?” She watched the road recede behind them; the speeder was not terribly fast but riding in it was much better than walking. In the distance she could still see the flame-colored mountains. She looked back at the girl and nodded. “Yes, Asha. You're right.”


    The girl nodded as well, seemingly satisfied with the answer and it was then that Kali felt something release inside of her; all at once the Force bubbled up from within the darkest places of her mind and she was filled with it, utterly and completely. Laughter escaped from her throat as she reached forward and hugged the girl, who looked nonplussed. “Thank you, Asha,” she whispered. “Thank you.”


    For what?”


    All this time, I thought I understood the connection, I thought I understood that the Force and love are one and the same....but only now am I beginning to really see what it means for me. Kali laughed again and turned her face to the sun, the Force thrumming in her veins. “For everything.”


    *


    They stopped at midday to eat and allow the children to stretch their legs; Kali accepted Girisa and Bodhi's offer of a change of clothes and was glad that she had done so, as it was good to shed her old tunic, though she had to keep the tattered boots unless she wanted to be barefoot. While Asha and the others played amidst the grove of trees the adults talked of inconsequential things for a time until they sat in an easy silence, watching the children chase one another. At one point, Asha paused to cough again, her body bent almost double with the action.


    How long has she been ill?” Kali asked, her eyebrows knitted.


    Girisa and Bodhi exchanged glances. “Too long,” the girl's father said after a moment. “It's actually the real reason we're going to Rudral...there is a physician there who we think can help her.”He looked at his wife and put an arm about her shoulders. “She'll be fine, Giri.”


    Asha had resumed her exuberant activities, heedless of the conversation between the adults. Girisa gave a deep sigh. “I know. I just worry.” She glanced at Kali. “It's a mother's lot in life.”


    Having no response to that, Kalinda merely nodded. “They're all lovely,” she said after a moment as Asha picked up Ranee and tickled the younger girl. “You should be very proud.”


    Girisa smiled at her husband. “We are. Do you have any of your own?”


    Kali shook her head.


    There's still time,” Bodhi said. “You're young yet.”


    Thank you, but...my life doesn't really have room for children.” At their looks she paused and glanced at her feet, where she'd wrapped her saber and pistol among what was left of her robes. “I'm a Jedi,” she said at last, looking back up at them. “We aren't supposed to have children.”


    Bodhi nodded. “That explains a lot. You have an....” he waved his hand. “Air about you. A presence. You know...I met a Jedi once, a long time ago.” He smiled at the memory. “It was an honor that has stayed with me.”


    But...” Girisa looked troubled for a moment, though she checked herself.


    Kali finished the thought. “What's a Jedi doing wandering through the wilderness?” She smiled as the other woman nodded. “I meant what I said, about looking for answers,” she replied, tilting her face to the sky.


    And did you find them?” Bodhi's voice was quiet.


    I was afraid. So much so that I shut myself off from love and from the Force as well. They are the same for me, after all. She nodded. “I think so, though I'm starting to wonder if I was just asking the wrong questions in the first place.” Beyond them, Raj gave a shriek as his sisters chased him through the grass, the four children eventually tumbling to the ground in a squirming, giggling heap and Kali laughed at the sight. “Everything's not right, yet,” she added as she glanced back at the couple. “But it will be.”


    At this, Bodhi looked at Girisa and gave her a wink. “I told you that this trip would be eventful, didn't I?”


    *




    It wasn't until that evening that they reached Rudral and Kali found that she was sorry to part ways with the family, though she knew that it was necessary. It's nice to see those who have a 'normal' life. It reminds me that there's still good out there, despite all the suffering that the wars have caused. It reminds me what we're fighting for. She had not told them where in the city she was headed, so they dropped her off in the main marketplace; in the distance she could see the palace rising above the rest of the buildings.


    After she hugged the younger children goodbye she bowed to Bodhi and Girisa. “I'm so grateful for your kindness. I think I have a way to pay you back.” She ignored their looks of surprise and turned to Asha. “Can you give me your hands, please?” The girl gave her a dubious look but offered her palms; Kalinda took the child's hands in her own and closed her eyes.


    She could feel the vestiges of sickness as a muddied current in the life-force of the young girl, so she reached within her own energy and smiled as she touched the Force. It was a simple matter to push the remaining illness from Asha's body and push it from her, letting it dissipate as if into thin air. This is what a Jedi's life used to be like: helping the ones who cannot help themselves, bringing peace to those who have none...not mired in battlefields and star cruisers. The realization was sudden and unexpected; she didn't know quite what to make of the thought so she opened her eyes and looked at Asha. “How do you feel?”


    When the girl took a breath the sound was clear. “It feels better! Maha...what happened?”


    Behind her she heard Girisa whisper something in Arunai and when Kali opened her eyes again the entire family was gaping at her; Bodhi embraced her then, his eyes bright. “Thank you,” he whispered in her ear. “Just...thank you.” Girisa hugged her as well, though she said nothing more.


    As they parted ways, Raj turned to regard her one last time. “Are you sure you're not a goddess?”


    Absolutely positive,” Kali replied. “But I appreciate the thought.” Already the Force was urging her on, tugging at the edges of her mind like an insistent child.She watched the family's speeder disappear in the crowd for a few minutes before turning for the direction of the palace.



    It would have taken her longer to reach it through the seething mass of people but Kali had the Force – as much as she did before she came to Aruna – and she was able to slip through the city streets with little difficulty until she reached the steps that lead up to the palace door. Here she paused and cast her mind out for Stone, though she was still unable to feel him. However, rather than let the thought trouble her, she began to race up the steps, taking two, three at a time until she was flat-out running across the upper courtyard to the tremendous doors. When she reached them, Kali didn't pause, instead she flung out her hands and watched them swing open before her as she stumbled into the throne room.
    Last edited by laloga, Feb 4, 2014
  20. Nyota's Heart Fanfic Edited Winner / Combos & Paragraphs Host

    Game Host Game Winner
    Member Since:
    Aug 31, 2004
    star 6
    Spectacular and serendipitous meeting with Bodhi and Girisa and their younglings. :) Good for everyone. :D Kalinda's had a lot clarified I think.
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  21. EGKenobi Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Apr 27, 2005
    star 3
    Brilliant fic!! Read it in one sitting, please let me know when you update this :)
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  22. laloga Jedi Grand Master

    Member Since:
    Jul 28, 2011
    star 2
    @Nyota's Heart: Thank you for the comment! Bodhi and Girisa were fun to write, and clarity was definitely needed! :p

    @EGKenobi: Yay! I'm glad you enjoyed! :) I will let you know when I post, since I'm pretty sure the "tagging" function didn't work. :oops:


    *****

    Chapter Seventeen: Common Ground


    Later, Obi-Wan would examine the moment in his head again and again as he tried to make sense of it, but at the time all he could do was look up in shock when the doors to the palace burst open and Kalinda strode into the room. Sita – with whom he had been in deep discussion – stopped speaking mid-sentence as Kali approached her fellow Jedi, heedless of the queen's new guards who rushed forward, though the regent raised her hand and ordered them to be still.


    Obi-Wan met her at the center of the room. “Where is he?” Her voice was breathless and she was clothed in a simple Arunai dress that he did not recognize; her eyes held a touch of wildness.


    You....you're....” Words failed him. Her presence was still masked and he wondered if his brain was playing tricks on him. “Kali?”


    Only when she rolled her eyes in exasperation did he realize that she was no hallucination. “Where is Stonewall?” she asked, the words deliberate, though at his look of frustration she took a deep breath. “Obi-Wan, I promise to explain everything to you but first I have to find him. Please.” Her gaze met his and he was struck by something there that he had never seen before.


    He is in the garden, I believe.” Sita's voice rang out from behind the Jedi. She, too, was looking at Kali with incredulity, though Obi-Wan detected a note of satisfaction from her as well.


    Kalinda nodded and thanked them; as she turned to leave, Obi-Wan caught her wrist. “Are you...?”


    No,” she replied. “But I will be.” With that she slipped out of his grasp and hurried out of the throne room towards the gardens, leaving Obi-Wan in a peculiar state of shock, elation and utter bewilderment.


    *


    Someone had lit the torches in the garden, which was how Stonewall knew that night was starting to fall, though he was unsure exactly how long he'd been seated in this place. The flames bathed him in their glow; for a while he studied the reflection of the fire in the rippling water of the pond. The air was filled with the scent of growing things, faint flower and loamy dirt smells that would have been pleasant in another circumstance. In the distance he could hear the sounds of early celebrations in the city and his mind turned to his brothers. I hope they're enjoying themselves.


    When he heard his own name being spoken from some place behind him, he thought that he had fallen asleep at the bench and was dreaming, so he refused to turn and acknowledge the illusion. It would make sense, I suppose, for my mind to keep playing tricks on me.


    Stone.”


    It was her voice.


    Impossible. I'm dreaming. Or going mad. He frowned and rubbed at his eyes as Kali's image appeared in the reflection on the pond, her face illumined by the firelight and obscured by the rippling water.


    And then she was before him, kneeling at his feet and looking up at his face while she laid her hands on his knee, his arm, his cheek. She said his name again and again. Her touch was warm and solid, but it was the gentle kiss against his mouth that made him realize the truth of the moment, of the impossibility. Perhaps he said her name or he might have only thought it...later he couldn't recall anything but the feel of her skin beneath his and the sound of her voice ringing in his ears as she spoke.


    I love you.”


    The words hung in the air for a moment before she continued on, breathless as speech tumbled from her like an avalanche. “Stonewall, I love you. I'm sorry I ever made you doubt it. I was afraid of letting myself love because I've never had it work....but I know now that I don't want to hold back any longer. Love and the Force....they're one and the same for me, somehow – I don't really understand it, not like I thought I did – and when I was too frightened to love you, I closed myself off from the Force.”


    Here she paused and took a breath before she leaned closer to him, both of her hands now on his cheeks; he noticed that her face was streaked with wet. “But I realize all of that now, Stone and I'm not afraid any more. I love you, Stonewall....CC-3077. I love you and I'm sorry it took me so long to realize it.”


    Even what he could make sense of was a lot to take in; the rest he decided he would try to understand later as there was one thing that he pulled from the rush of words that stuck with him, something that kept him silent for several moments while he absorbed it.


    Stone...?” Her voice was tentative.


    He met her dark eyes, noting how the firelight reflected in their depths. “That's a hell of a long way to go to say 'I love you.'”


    Even as he said the words he laughed; she did as well before he slid off the bench and wrapped his arms around her, holding her as close as he could. “I love you, Kali. I think I have from the first moment we met.”


    I'm sorry,” she whispered to his shoulder. “Stone...I'm so sorry about what I put you through.”


    It doesn't matter anymore,” he said, stroking her wet cheeks with his thumbs. “All things considered, I'd rather be by your side than anywhere else.” Leaning forward, he kissed her and was struck by the resulting sensation; a wild thrumming in his veins, as if his blood was turning to starlight. They parted and he gaped at her. “What is that?”


    What is what?”


    It feels like my blood is on fire...but in a good way.” He frowned with the inefficacy of words until he felt the querying brush of Kali's mind against his; the feeling intensified. “Yes,” he said with a nod. “That's it. What is it?”


    She was smiling at him, though her head was shaking in wonder. “It's the Force,” she said in a soft voice. “I feel like I can't keep it in any longer.....I told you: for me they're one and the same. Now it's strong, stronger than it ever was before.”


    Stonewall shook his head; though the sensation was distracting it was not unpleasant. It's definitely going to take some getting used to. “And it's rubbed off on me? I didn't know it worked that way.”


    Another complication, I guess.” She raised a brow at him. “Think you can handle it?”


    He pulled her closer. “Bring it on.”


    They remained seated on the ground of the garden for some time before she began to stand, tugging at his hand as she did so. “Come on,” she said as he rose to follow her out of the garden.


    Where...?”


    I need to show you,” she replied as they made their way towards the palace steps. “Just how much.”


    *


    You were born to be together, and together you shall be forevermore.”


    The priest raised his hands to the flame that sat before the altar and lifted them, as if tracing the lines of the fire to the sky. Kalinda knelt before him, her right hand gripped in Stonewall's left. “You shall be together even when the wings of death scatter your days. You shall be together even in your silent memory.”


    At the words Stone cast her an incredulous look and she again heard his voice in her thoughts as if he had spoken them in her ear. Is this....are we getting married? The thought held no other emotion besides happiness, the strength of it making her laugh out loud. The priest didn't seem to take offense.


    It's not a marriage, Stone. It's an affirmation. I needed to show you how much I love you. The Force was still a wild thing beating through the cage of her body as if it couldn't stand to be contained. It's not against any code to love another, you know.


    I didn't say I minded. He was grinning.


    The red-robed priest's voice was lifted on the ripple of heat from the flame above their heads to the open sky. “Sing and dance together and be joyous, but let each of you be alone, even as the strings of a lute are alone, though they quiver with the same music. Give your hearts, but not into each other's keeping, for only the end of life can contain them.” At the words, their eyes closed again.


    Stone's hand tightened around hers and she felt the current of energy pulsing between them. I can still feel it. That's the Force? His thoughts were tinted with astonishment.


    Yes, it is. A long inhale brought her a measure of calm, though her heart was still racing. She exhaled and released more of the energy to Stone, who shifted in his place. Is it too much? I can't tell anymore. She felt as if she was made of pure light, as though any moment she would dissipate into the air.


    But the gentle pressure of his hand kept her tethered to the moment even as she heard him give a quiet chuckle. It's better than I ever imagined and more than I ever hoped it could be.


    Heedless of the silent conversation taking place before him, or perhaps simply used to the fervent behavior of the countless lovers who had knelt at his feet, the priest continued speaking. “Love has no other desire but to fulfill itself, to wake at dawn with a winged heart and give thanks to another day of loving.” The words took on a sonorous tone, reverberating in the space between them.


    Stonewall, I want you to know that if you're a fish, then I'll learn to swim. Kalinda peeked at him through her lids. If I'm a bird, then I'll teach you how to fly. But whatever will happen, we'll experience it together. Beneath her skin she felt the warm, calloused press of his hand shift when he nodded.


    The energy hummed between them as the priest continued to speak. “Love one another, but make not a bondage of love. Let it rather be a moving sea between the shores of your souls.”


    We found a way, then?


    She knew that they were both grinning now. We did.


    Suddenly the priest cleared his throat, causing Kalinda and Stonewall to open their eyes. He looked down at the unlikely pair and smiled as he gestured that they should rise. As they stood he handed them each a selection of powdered incense which they threw on the fire, the heady scent filling the air as the smoke made its way to the sky. I think I understand now, she thought as she watched it rise. Love gives us strength. Love binds us, but we do not have to be bound by it. And it has the potential to change everything.


    The Force sang in her veins.


    For several moments Kali and Stone simply looked at one another, dazed and smiling, until the priest chuckled. “Well...what are you waiting for?”


    *


    Stonewall had only been intoxicated a few times in his life. The first time was when he was back on Kamino: Drake – one of his brothers – had somehow managed to come across a bottle of Corellian brandy. As he recalled, it had resulted in little more than an intense headache and a lot of time hunched in the 'fresher. The second time was after the Battle of Teyr; again, the others had gotten a hold of some kind of spirits and he'd decided to give the whole experience another go. He'd regretted it. Since then, he'd learned to moderate his alcohol intake to a point where he could imbibe without expelling everything he'd eaten that day, though overall he had little inclination to ever drink again.

    But those experiences paled in comparison to the potent mixture of ardor and elation that flooded him even as he felt his blood brimming with the Force. Part of his brain realized that he and Kali were still inside one of the Arunai temples, certainly not the place where he would have preferred to engage in the private act that they were on their way to conducting. However, the bulk of his attention was consumed with Kali; his senses swam in her skin as they leaned against one of the alcoves in the temple.

    The logical part of his mind urged him to stop and find somewhere else where they could continue, but the rest of him was not listening as he pulled her as close as he could, wishing for a moment that they could be fused together; echoing his thoughts, she moved her fingers beneath the simple Arunai tunic that he wore as if she was about to strip it off of him. They were lost in each other and he was overwhelmed with desire and love.

    Love. The word was never real before Kalinda swept into my life. Beneath her hands his skin was burning.

    Suddenly, a throat cleared.

    They paused in their affections and turned to face the priest who had performed the affirmation rite only minutes ago. He gave a disarming smile that made Stonewall's face flame. “Please do not doubt that I am exceedingly happy for you both,” he said in the lilting accent of the Arunai. “But I must ask that you continue this-” his hand waved to indicate their embrace. “-somewhere else.”

    Kalinda's cheeks flushed as she and Stone exchanged glances before he moved away from her. She gave a slight bow to the priest. “Forgive us,” she said, after a moment. “We got a little carried away.” Stonewall was able to murmur some appropriate apology as well before they hurried out of the temple and into the crowded street. When they were outside again, Kali broke into a chuckle. “That was enough embarrassment to last me a few weeks.”

    I know what you mean.” Despite their very public surroundings he reached for her again, though the press of people did not give way and the pair caught a few bemused looks from locals and tourists alike as they embraced. When they parted, Stonewall took a deep breath, as much to try and clear his head as to collect his thoughts. “What happens now?” He could still feel the energy spiraling between them and it was an effort to keep his voice calm when his heart was still racing. Kali arched her brow and he grinned. “Ah. Then I guess we should head for the palace?”

    Surprisingly, she shook her head, though her gaze on him was at once wry and tender. “The palace is far away and filled with people who will want to ask me all kinds of questions, when what I really want to do is focus my energy on you. But I feel like celebrating anyway. Any ideas?”

    A quick glance around the area told him what he needed to know. “Actually, I know just the place.” He took her hand and lead her through the streets, though it was difficult to make their way through the crowd that seemed to grow thicker with each passing moment. Was it only days ago that I could walk through the city without any trouble? As they went he explained what had happened with the untouchables and their passage through the city streets to rescue the queen. “You'd think that we would stand out more; we're not exactly locals.”

    She gestured to their Arunai clothing. “We don't exactly look like ourselves. Besides, I've seen a few off-worlders in this crowd. It's not that uncommon right now.”

    After several more minutes he sighed and glanced down at her, sensing that his own impatience was mirrored in the dark-haired woman, though she met his gaze with a smile. “It's taking longer than I hoped,” he said.

    I think I can fix that.” Her hand gripped his and he felt the flow of Force energy once more; it seemed this time as though she was able to direct it to the people who milled before them. Gradually they began to step aside, though none of them seemed to realize that she was influencing their movements. He cast her an inquiring look and she smiled again. “Think you can help me?”

    Stone could still feel the energy racing through his veins but had no clue what to do with it. As he expressed this to her, she shook her head. “Concentrate, Stonewall. Just brush them aside – gently. It's okay, they won't notice.” Another chuckle escaped her. “It's something that the Jedi do upon occasion, though it's considered a little gauche.”

    He concentrated. It was harder than he expected and he wondered if that was due to the fact that he was still fairly drunk with desire. But he could feel the Force in his veins and for a moment he was able to see through the haze in his mind and touch the very essence of the energy; it was like dipping his hand into a vast, clear lake whose bottom stretched infinitely below his reach. He made a noise of wonder and felt Kali start to urge him along.

    Stonewall...you did it.”

    When he opened his eyes again they were slipping through the crowd with all the ease of a fish through the water, and the Arunai seemed to step aside of their own accord despite the fact that he could feel the Force at work. The effort had the added effect of clearing his head a bit, so he took the lead as they made their way towards the marketplace. They walked for a while longer before she asked him where they were going. It was Stonewall's turn to grin at her. “I happen to know where there's a party going on.”

    *

    It was not where she had expected the evening would end, but Kali found that she was too elated to care about much beyond the warm press of Stone's hand against the small of her back as he guided her through the decrepit temple's halls, following the sounds of laughter that were emanating from the center of the building. Extending her awareness brought her attention to his brothers as well as several dozen or so Arunai – none of whom she recognized – and when Stone entered the atrium shouts of surprise and welcome rang out from the gathered partygoers. There were four in particular that stood out and she grinned at the members of Shadow Squad, who looked completely flummoxed as they stared up at the Jedi and the clone captain.

    Crest recovered first and gave a shout in Mando'a that she couldn't translate as he rose from his place beside the bonfire and bounded towards them. His embrace was enthusiastic enough to lift her feet off the ground before he set her back down, grinning at her and Stone. Milo and Weave seemed unsure as to the proper greeting until she gave a theatrical sigh and hugged them one by one.

    I'm glad you're okay, General Halcyon,” Milo said as his hands patted her back with an awkwardness that made her smile. “We were worried.”

    She nodded. “I know, Milo. And thank you.”

    Weave was stiff when she embraced him, but he relaxed after a moment. “Thanks for everything, Weave.” When she pulled back she nodded at Stone, who was accepting a drink from the bald clone and speaking with several of the Arunai. Weave made no reply, though his eyes lifted to hers and he smiled.

    After they parted she began searching for the final member of the squad; a moment later Kalinda met his gaze. Traxis was leaning against a column near the fire, somehow alone despite the fact that he was surrounded by others. His shoulders were tight as he looked from her to Stonewall. Upon seeing his brother's mood his posture relaxed and he lifted his own cup to her, nodding once.

    Kali made her way across the room to the scarred clone, who tracked her movements with his eyes. “You're not getting off that easy, Trax.” Before he could respond she embraced him, smiling as his entire body tensed. “Thank you for taking care of him,” she said in his ear. “Stone's lucky to have a brother like you looking out for his back.”

    How did you....?” He gaped at her as she pulled back, though comprehension dawned on his face after a moment and she felt a flare of guilt from him. “He told you.”

    Kali shook her head. “He didn't need to tell me anything, Trax. I know that you were all there for him when I wasn't and I just wanted to thank you.” She gave him one last smile before turning back to find Stone.

    He had taken a seat by the fire with a mug in his hand, though he set it down at her approach. She slid beside him and they sat together for a few minutes in comfortable silence. The bonfire cast dancing embers towards the sky and bathed their bodies in a lambent glow. In the background, someone began to play music and Kali found her attention sliding to the sound even as she was attuned to Stonewall's warmth beside her, as well as his presence in the Force. Soon she closed her eyes and she reached through the currents of energy that were still eddying between them.

    Did I tell you how sorry I am for what I put you through? Speaking with his brothers reminded her of the stricken expression on his face that last day in the garden and the memory filled her with remorse.

    Stone's arm wrapped around her shoulders as he pressed her to his side. You lost the Force, Kali. You were confused and scared; I understand why you acted as you did. Besides, my life is too short to hold a grudge. When he finally spoke his voice was quiet. “We got here. That's all that matters to me.”

    It was almost too much. Kalinda rested her head against his shoulder while all around them were the sounds of celebration: music and raucous laughter that blended with shouts, jeers and the clinking of mugs. I love you. She leaned up and met his eyes again, feeling a thrill pass through her at their color, at their warmth. “Stonewall, I love you.”

    A gentle kiss against her forehead. “I know.”

    *****

    A/N: This is one of my favorite chapters. Ever. Like, of anything I've written. I hope you enjoyed it! There's a few more chapters to come, but we're winding down.

    The verses in this chapter were taken from Kahlil Gibran's, The Prophet. I know I said that before, but that was quite a while ago.

    I don't know if it's okay for me to say this, but I got nominated for not one but TWO fanfic awards! [face_dancing] [face_party] :D My other story, "The Fighting Kind" got a nom for "Best Epic," and I got one for "Best Author." Thank you, thank you, thank you to whoever nominated me! [face_love]
    Last edited by laloga, Feb 11, 2014
  23. Nyota's Heart Fanfic Edited Winner / Combos & Paragraphs Host

    Game Host Game Winner
    Member Since:
    Aug 31, 2004
    star 6
    SQUEE! And another: SQUEEE! Boy but am I gooified. [face_dancing] The affirmation ceremony was nummy, but so was everything else. Loved! It! Very worth the angst before ;) [:D]
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  24. laloga Jedi Grand Master

    Member Since:
    Jul 28, 2011
    star 2
    @Nyota's Heart: Yay! I'm glad all the angst was worth it. :p I try, I try. Thank you so much for the comments! :)


    *****

    Chapter Eighteen: That's the Way


    Everything had changed; Obi-Wan realized it early the next morning when Kalinda sought him out, reaching for him through the Force as she had done when they were younger. The sensation startled him so much that he nearly dropped the cup of tea he'd been preparing. Meet me in the garden? Her tone was tentative but bright with happiness and he smiled despite the fact that he figured he was not the reason for the feeling.


    Certainly.


    The pulse of her life shone like a beacon and he found that he was drawn to it as he made his way to the palace gardens, noting the variegated blooms that seemed to have sprung up overnight; the area was overwhelmed with flowers of every shape and size, the air was thick with their scent.


    Kali was studying the statue at the garden's entrance, though at his approach she turned and grinned as she hurried to meet him. She was dressed in the same clothes as she had worn the day before and her eyes still held something he did not recognize. As he opened his mouth to voice the countless questions that she had sparked, she shook her head and took his hand, leading him to the interior of the garden and only pausing to take a seat beneath a sturdy tree.


    It was here that she explained what had happened after she'd entered the temple.


    A remarkable vision,” he said once she had finished speaking.


    If by 'remarkable' you mean terrifying, then yes, it was.” For a moment they shared a laugh until she quieted and studied her hands which lay folded in her lap. “But it was necessary.”


    His head tilted as he looked at her. “Why?”


    Kali took a deep breath. “Because I had to understand that I've been caught in a cycle of my own making, one of loss and regret. Until now, I...” she faltered here and continued to look at her hands, frowning in thought. “I blamed you. Even though it was ultimately my own choices that lead me to those feelings, I blamed you for the pain I felt. I shouldn't have...I see that now.” At last she met his gaze. “Obi-Wan, everything else aside, you've always been a true friend and I want to apologize.”


    Kali, you don't have to-”


    She shook her head. “I do. After Basrah I was hurt, but I dealt with it by closing you out of my mind – out of my life – though it was wrong. And when we came here, all of these old memories resurfaced and I became so wrapped up in my own feelings that I lost sight of what mattered.”


    Obi-Wan was silent, turning her words over in his mind. At last he looked at her; the sun was filtering down through the leaves, dappling her face with chiaroscuro. She is my oldest and dearest friend and she seems happier than I've seen her in a long time. The thought filled him with warmth so he nodded and gave her a smile. “Then I'm glad you went to that temple, though I was...concerned.”


    She chuckled. “Me too.” After a moment she met his eyes again. “But there's more.”


    Of that I have no doubt. Nothing is ever simple with you.” At her look he gave a wry grin. “I mean that in a good way, of course.”


    Right,” she said, casting her eyes to the sky and leaning back on her hands. There was a pause while she collected her thoughts before she looked back at him. “Do you remember what I said to you, a long time ago?” At his look of mild frustration she clarified. “About love and the Force being one and the same?”


    I do...though I must confess, I never really understood it. I still don't.”


    She nodded. “I'm only just starting to. You see...” A hand lifted and grasped his as she leaned forward; Obi-Wan's eyes widened at the sensation that thrummed between them.


    The Force....” he breathed, his gaze on their joined fingers. “It's strong...stronger than I've ever felt from you before.”


    Again she nodded, though her hand remained entwined in his. “I don't know if it will last, but the lesson has been learned; it only took me losing the Force altogether to figure out the connection.”


    Obi-Wan knitted his brows. “So, if you're not in love with someone....?”


    Then I can't use the Force?” She shook her head. “No, that's not quite it. I think it has more to do with allowing myself to love, to experience the feeling to the fullest, though I'm not sure why it affects me this way and no one else – that I know of.”


    I've certainly never heard of such a thing.”


    But Kali's eyes were distant, fixed on some place he could not see as she replied. “Like I said...I'm still not certain I understand it entirely. If anything, more questions have been raised. But I do know that I was afraid, Obi-Wan. After our first mission here I realized – really understood – that you couldn't be what I wanted you to be...but I couldn't change how I felt about you and it terrified me.” Here she frowned and looked at him again. “Hindsight can be a real pain in the shebs sometimes.”


    Despite himself, Obi-Wan smiled at her use of the Mandalorian word. After a moment he took a deep breath and raised his eyes to hers. “I did love you, Kali. I wish I had said it....before.”


    I know.” She placed her other hand on his knee while keeping their hands joined and allowing him to feel the Force energy that flowed from her, brushing away the vestiges of weariness and fatigue that clung to the edges of his thoughts. “But it wasn't enough for me just to know, Obi-Wan. I wanted – I want – more than that. I want something that you just can't give me and I needed to apologize for being angry with you, because it wasn't your fault.” There was silence for a few moments.


    When she spoke again, her words were deliberate. “You should know that I love Stonewall – more than I ever imagined was possible – but a part of me will always care for you, Obi-Wan. If this mission has taught me anything, it's that it doesn't have to be all or nothing between us. There is a middle ground.” Here she raised a brow at him. “Who's the Negotiator, now?”


    In that moment he was reminded of the young girl he'd fallen in love with many years ago, though it passed as he realized that she – like him – had grown and matured beyond the feeling. A part of me will always see her like that. Perhaps it's a good thing to have such a strong link to my past, to our past. Some bonds were never meant to be broken; they simply change as time progresses. “It was...hard,” he admitted, looking at their hands. “To lose our connection. I'd forgotten how much it meant to me to know that you were there.” At these words her eyes met his and he could still feel the Force trickling through their skin. It was reassuring. It filled him with strength.


    They sat in silence for a few minutes before he cleared his throat. “How is Stonewall?”


    That's the other thing I needed to talk to you about,” she said. Their hands lifted and she placed hers on her folded knees. “But I think it's more of a 'Master Kenobi' talk than a 'Ben' talk. You remember the reason we left in such a hurry the last time we were here, right?”


    He grimaced at the memory as she continued. “The ceremony,” she said, her voice soft. “Stonewall and I.” She met his startled gaze with calm assurance. “It's done.”


    Obi-Wan took a deep breath but did not speak for several minutes. “Why?”


    Don't make me say all that again, Kenobi.”


    No,” he said, shaking his head. “Why did you tell me?”


    Her face tilted as she answered him. “Because how I feel about him is a part of me and I'm not going to hide from it. I'm still a Jedi, Obi-Wan, but I can't deny everything that I've experienced.”


    A quiet breeze lifted the edges of his hair and he sighed. “And what does the Captain have to say about all of this?” She took another breath and he leaned forward. “There's more, isn't there?”


    You felt the Force from me, didn't you?” He nodded and she lifted her shoulders in a shrug. “So did Stone.”


    This made Obi-Wan pause. “He...felt the Force? You're sure?”


    Yes.” She gave him an almost guilty smile. “Never simple with me, remember?” He cast her a look and she elaborated. “We haven't had time to properly test it so it may just be temporary...but Stonewall was able to use the Force, Obi-Wan. As surely as you or I ever have.” She met his eyes. “I don't know why or to what extent yet, so don't ask, but I am – that is, we are – going to figure it out.”


    And you expect me to tell all of this to Master Yoda and the others when I return to the Temple?”


    Here she paused and he could see that she was choosing her words with care. “I expect you to do what you feel is best,” she said at last. “I meant what I said about not hiding anything, but I would appreciate it if you left the matter up to my discretion. I'd like to know more about Stone's interaction with the Force before I go to the Council.” She sat up and gave him a wry look that he knew well. “How much of a stir do you think it will cause?”


    Obi-Wan ran a hand through his beard before he replied. “Honestly? I have no idea. There's no precedence for such a thing as you've described, though I agree that you should have a better idea of what exactly is going on before you approach them.” On a whim he grinned at her. “It's a good thing you have a friend on the Council, isn't it?”


    Her answering smile was wide. “It most certainly is.”


    They talked for a while longer before they rose to leave. “So, what happens now? Please tell me we're staying for the festival...” She gave him a look. “You still owe me, you know.”


    Chuckling, Obi-Wan shook his head. “Plo Koon's fleet is nearby...I was planning on rendezvousing with him this morning and returning to Coruscant. However – given recent developments – I think that you and your men should remain here for the time being, to ensure that things proceed smoothly. After all, everything has changed, hasn't it?” He smiled at the look of joy that flashed in her eyes. “You're welcome.”


    She paused when they reached the entrance to the garden. “One last thing....can I give you some friendly advice?” Without waiting for his agreement she pressed on. “You shouldn't hold yourself back any more, Obi-Wan....trust me, it's not worth it. You deserve every bit of joy you can scrape together. Don't forget that, okay? And for the love of all that's holy, take some leave. You deserve a break.”


    At this he raised his brow, though he made no reply.


    When the reached Sita's study he paused and looked at her. “What is it?” she asked.


    He'd better make you happy,” Obi-Wan replied with a sigh.


    Kalinda smiled again. “It's not really up to him, is it?” With that, she leaned forward and kissed his cheek once before stepping over the threshold.


    After she left, Obi-Wan returned to his room and contacted Master Plo to let him know that it would only be himself that the fleet would be collecting. As the Kel Dor Jedi was about to sign off, Obi-Wan cleared his throat. “Could you route a transmission for me, please?”


    Certainly. To where?”


    Obi-Wan paused and felt a small smile cross his face. “To Mandalore. I have something to discuss with the Duchess.” The Jedi answered in the affirmative and Obi-Wan smoothed his features as he waited for the transmission to go through. Finally the image of Satine appeared before him, her expression was startled, though she hid it well with the edge of humor in her voice.


    To what do I owe the pleasure, Master Kenobi?”


    I wanted to thank you for your advice, Duchess. I'm not sure if the news from Aruna has disseminated throughout the rest of the Republic, but in any case, it was in part due to your information that we were able to solve the regent's problems.” At her look of utter bewilderment he leaned forward. “I'm sorry. Our communications haven't been the most reliable lately...would it be possible for us to meet in person so that I can better explain things?” It was a tenuous excuse, but that was what he intended; he made an effort to keep his tone neutral, just to see her reaction if nothing else.


    For a fraction of a second her eyes widened, though her features were schooled in a visage of calm. “I suppose that can be arranged. There's actually a bit of business that I need to take care of on Coruscant. When would you like to meet?”


    As soon as possible, if it works for you.”


    The mask of composure fell away as she laughed. “Very well. Three days?”


    I look forward to it.” On impulse he gave her a broad smile. I realize that nothing may come of this, but I would like to at least look into the....possibility. It will be nice to spend some time in her company, if nothing else.


    As Satine was about to sign off she looked at him, her head tilting in thought. “You seem different.”


    What do you mean?” Obi-Wan couldn't keep the puzzlement from his voice.


    Refreshed,” she said. A small frown crossed her face. “The last time we spoke you looked drained and tired. But now....” She raised her brow. “I can see that Aruna has done you a bit of good, though it could simply be the hologram playing tricks on me.”


    Obi-Wan's answering laughter was bright. “I suppose you'll just have to wait and see for yourself, won't you?”


    *


    Sita looked up as Kalinda entered her room after the Jedi parted ways. “At last. I was wondering when you would have time for me, my friend.” The queen's tone was solemn, but her face was alight with a smile as she met Kali in an embrace. Moments later they were seated on several of the wide pillows that were scattered about and Kalinda recounted her experience in Chamunda's temple. In her mind's eye, she could still see the demon creature lunging for her and a shiver passed over her skin even as she spoke.


    When she finished the tale, the younger woman sat in silence for a time, absorbing the words. Finally she nodded, her expression thoughtful. “You had a true vision, then. I thought that only the priests and priestesses experienced such things.”


    Perhaps the gods are not a fickle as the others would have you believe,” Kali replied, thinking of the blind priestess.


    The young queen regarded her for a moment. “Besides Obi-Wan and Captain Stonewall, you saw your father? I thought that the Jedi were not allowed to have children.”


    Kali frowned and toyed with the edges of her dress before she answered. “It's only allowed in a few rare circumstances and my birth was....unexpected. It's a long story for another time,” she added at Sita's look of confusion. “But I think that seeing Jonas was necessary to make me realize that I needed to let go of my fear of loss.”


    What do you mean?”


    My father was killed when I was very young and I never really was able to move past the grief I felt,” she explained. “And the next man that I loved – in a different way, of course – didn't feel as I did, so, in another fashion I lost him, too. With Stonewall...” She trailed off and gave a sigh. “Until he came around, it felt like love had only brought me pain and sorrow, so it was difficult to allow myself to trust the feeling.”


    It had grown difficult to speak, so she took a deep breath and studied her hands. There was a jingling of gold bangles as the younger woman touched Kali's shoulder, offering her a measure of comfort. Finally Kali sighed and looked back up. “The meaning was clear enough once I thought about it, though I wish it had not been so....harrowing.”


    Such is the nature of such things, Kali. From what you've told me it seems like you were trapped in a prison of your own making. We both were, I suppose. I never thought I would have the strength to stand against Neerja, but thanks to you, Obi-Wan and your men I managed. Another debt I owe you.” The queen gave her a tenuous smile.


    You owe me nothing, Sita.” Kali replied and both women were silent for several minutes. A scarf had fallen to the floor nearby and Kalinda picked it up, turning the fabric over in her hands as she admired the intricate design and the softness of silk against her skin. “This is very pretty,” she said, laying the scarf against her arm, studying the colors in the morning light that was streaming through the window. It was woven with shots of purple and blue and embroidered with intricate silver vines and flowers.


    Take it.” The Arunai woman's eyes lifted. “As a souvenir of your time here.”


    Kali shook her head and laid the scarf atop a nearby pillow. “Trust me, Sita; I'll have plenty to remember this mission by.” The thought of Stonewall made heat bloom through her cheeks, as if she was still seated with him before the flickering bonfire of the previous night and she felt a wide grin spread across her face.


    You love him, don't you?” Kali nodded; Sita smiled and sat back on her heels, giving a satisfied sigh. “Good. You deserve to be happy. Everyone does, even if it is fleeting.” Her tone grew wistful and she cast a look out the window for a moment before glancing back at the Jedi. “I humbly ask that you take the scarf, Kalinda. Not for yourself,” she added as Kali opened her mouth to object. “But for your beloved. Has it never occurred to you that he might want to see you in something other than those dull robes you usually wear?”


    Her brow lifted and Kali had to laugh at the implication in the younger woman's tone. She sighed and picked up the scarf, draping it around her neck. “As you wish, your highness.” It is pretty, I suppose. Stone will probably like it. A few more minutes passed in companionable silence before Kalinda glanced at her. “I heard about your rescue.”


    Sita nodded and sat up, her voice taking on a more formal lilt. “Your soldiers were heroic, to say the least. I owe them my life.” She paused and Kali could sense that her thoughts had drifted to one of the clones in particular. “I was wrong to judge them as I did. They are good men.”


    Kali smiled to herself. “In my opinion, there are none better.”


    *


    It was not until late afternoon when Kali and Stone were able to find some time to be together in her quarters; for a while they lay next to each other on the bed and watched the silken curtains lift with the breeze as the sun's descent gilded the entire room. Kalinda was nestled in the crook of his arm, listening to his heartbeat when he chuckled and kissed her forehead.

    What is it?” She pressed her lips to his chest before she glanced up at him.

    I was just thinking about the vision you told me about,” he replied. At her look his eyebrows lifted. “You don't give me enough credit; if I had really been facing a demon – or whatever it was – I'd at least have pulled out a grenade or two. Flash-bang it to the ground, you know?” As he spoke he ran his fingertips along her arms, watching as the hairs on her skin lifted under his touch.

    She sighed. “It was a dream, Stone, a representation of my fear. It came from the depths of my subconscious...of courseyou'd be able to fight a demon in real life. Not that I hope to ever run into one...”

    But you had the right idea with the sword,” he went on as if she had not spoken. “Very smart, using its own weapon against it. That's thinking like a proper warrior.” The pride in his voice made her smile.

    Next time I have a traumatic, life-altering vision, I'll be sure to keep that in mind.” She was too relaxed to inject much sarcasm in her tone, especially when his honey-brown eyes met hers just before he bent his head to kiss her.

    Neither one spoke for several minutes before he cleared his throat. “I suppose we'll have to leave this room at some point.”

    Maybe in a little bit. We're busy right now.” She leaned forward to reach for the silk scarf that Sita had given her, draping it around her neck before she sat up and gave him an inquiring look.

    Stone's voice was wry as he watched her movements. “Are we? It seems to me like we're just laying here.”

    Hmm. Give us about thirty seconds.” Kali smiled and flicked the length of silk in his direction.

    Stonewall laughed and reached for the ends of the scarf, gently pulling her closer to him. “Make it fifteen.”

    In the kiss that followed there was only a ringing truth that had begun as an ember and grown to a blaze; it was not a promise nor a pledge, but for the first time in her memory it was so much more than enough.


    *****


    A/N: After this, there is an epilogue and an interlude. Thanks for sticking around, and I hope you've enjoyed this.



    So....who's up for a festival? ;)
  25. Nyota's Heart Fanfic Edited Winner / Combos & Paragraphs Host

    Game Host Game Winner
    Member Since:
    Aug 31, 2004
    star 6
    Woohoo! Obi is taking Kali's advice and running with it I see [face_laugh] (with Satine) ;) Loved the talk between Obi-Wan and Kalinda. You can feel their genuine caring and candor. I am happy that they didn't lose their friendship and warmth. @};-
    laloga and serendipityaey like this.
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