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Beyond - Legends Agharta [A Mara Jade and apprentice, Jaina Solo adventure] REPOST from 2010

Discussion in 'Fan Fiction- Before, Saga, and Beyond' started by madman007, Jan 13, 2021.

  1. madman007

    madman007 Jedi Master star 4

    Registered:
    Aug 22, 2007
    I looked through my old fics and found that this one was written smack in the middle of the crossover to the new boards. So on this board, this story starts at Chapter 13 and the ones before it are incomplete. Solution: REPOST!
    I have changed the beginning, or rather did away with the original Prelude, which I repeated in a later chapter anyway. Kind of a Pulp Fiction technique that never really worked. Due to the length, I'll only post a few chapters at a time. So those who have read this epic before can enjoy it again. Those who haven't can now read it in its entirety.

    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
    Setting: On a mission of peace just before the chaos of the Vong War, Mara Jade Skywalker and her new Jedi apprentice, Jaina Solo are called to investigate pirates who say they are now peaceful. What they find instead is an ancient myth that threatens Jaina's sanity.

    Chapter One: The Mission
    On board the Jade Sabre

    This is what she needed. Calm concentration. Peace at no cost. There were no pesky brothers antagonizing her here. No spirits of Sith Lords interfering with the Force. She even managed to purge her excitement of flying her father's graduation present to her. An old Z-95 Headhunter that was heavily modified in the usual Solo style. It took her great will power to not bring it along with her on this trip.

    At the moment, it was only her and the Force.

    It had been some time since she had experienced the calm of the Force as a Jedi. She cherished the tranquility of meditation as she used the Force to levitate a few objects inside her quarters. Not since she had been a student on Yavin 4 did she so completely immerse herself in the Force and could feel the objects around her. Within the far distance of that feeling was the presence of her twin. He would always be common ground whenever she concentrated this hard in the Force. It was inevitable. People have said how different they were from each other, and scientists proclaimed that fraternal twins did not always share the same traits. She wasn't so sure. Was their bond even more focused than other fraternal twins because of the Force? If heredity did play a part in their bond, then what about her Uncle Luke and Aunt Mara's bond in the Force? They were not blood related, yet their bond is as strong as she and her twins' bond. Her love for her brother was one thing. To have a life partner with whom you could communicate mentally from anywhere in the galaxy would be ideal for her.

    Jaina Solo groaned slightly while still concentrating in the Force. Her love life was another matter that she pushed to the back burner of her mind. Whenever she mentioned Zekk or even the new candidate, Jagged Fel, people close to her would tell her that she was too young to think of such things now. Yet, with all that had happened to her in her short fifteen years of her life, Jaina felt much more mature than most girls her age. When she really thought about it, she had been through more adventures and emotional tragedies than most normal people experience in their whole lifetimes. It was strange to think about, but Jaina's young maturity made her feel older. It was as if the spirit of Exar Kun, the Shadow Academy, and the recent battle on the way to Mon Calamari had somehow drew her away from a proper childhood.

    Just like Mara Jade.

    Jaina was excited when she heard that she was to be apprentice to the Mara Jade Skywalker, despite the fact that she was her aunt. After she graduated to Jedi Apprentice, she and Mara stayed on Yavin for a few weeks so Jaina could get a feel for Mara's brand of training. Immediately, she could tell the difference between Luke and Mara as instructors. Whereas Luke would explain the reasoning and the purpose of each exercise before giving it, Mara Jade would keep silent. Her lessons seemed to blend in with everyday chores. Jaina would not realize a job was a hidden lesson until after Mara pointed out the Jedi skill involved. Not only that, but Mara's fighting style with a lightsaber was much more aggressive than Luke's. Though Jaina respected defense, she also felt there was a need for offense. She would learn from both teachers equally. Though, she wished that Mara had been a full time instructor at the Jedi Academy from the beginning.

    Jaina seemed more at ease with her aunt. Not that she loved her uncle any less. She also loved her brothers and parents equally. There just was a time when she had to be away from them. This was that time. And Mara Jade Skywalker was the perfect person to spend that time with.

    Jaina had been in her mediation state for some time now. Before that she had just awakened from a long sleep while the Jade Sabre was in transit. Though Mara was vague as to their destination, Jaina didn't care as long as they were away from chaos.

    Her thoughts were suddenly interrupted by sounds of blaster fire. Amidst the firing were small explosions at random. Jaina opened her eyes at once, losing her concentration in the Force. The datapad, the cup of water, and her boots that were once floating in midair all came crashing down to the floor. She found her lightsaber in the Force and cursed herself for leaving it on her cot. She called it into her hand and ignited the purple-white blade. She sprung up into a defensive position and eased her way towards the door with blade held out.

    The sounds of battle increased in volume as she neared. Had they been attacked? She didn't feel the engines lurching. Maybe they had been boarded somehow. She decided she needed answers, so Jaina slid open the door and stepped out into the hallway.

    The sounds of battle were now almost deafening as blaster fire and explosions filled her ears. Yet, there were no signs of any physical damage. At least, there was no damage in the hallway. It could be a different story in the main section of the ship. She walked along the corridor with caution. She approached the open space that led into the Jade Sabre's main lounge area. She turned the corner swiftly with her sword ahead of her.

    Sitting in one of the luxury chairs in the lounge was Mara Jade. She was calm. Too calm among the sounds surrounding them.

    "It's about time!" Mara yelled over the noise. "If this had been a real battle, I might be dead by now!" She raised her right arm to reveal a small remote in her hand. She depressed a button and all at once the sounds of battle ceased.

    Jaina's ears relished at the sounds of silence once again. She snapped, "What was all that noise?"

    Mara shrugged and replied, "An audio recording of an Imperial ambush on Ord Mantell years ago." Mara sighed. "Looks like I'm going to have to work on your concentration in the Force during the extreme noise of battle. Your reaction time was a little sluggish."

    "No kidding. I was in a meditation trance."

    "Apparently, it was a very deep one." Upon noting Jaina's blade still on, Mara said, "You can put that away now."

    "I might use it on a sneaky aunt of mine," Jaina quipped as she shut it off.

    Mara gave back a wry smile and said, "Then don't leave it on your cot anymore. Keep it with you at all times. A few seconds can mean the difference between life and death."

    "Having fun with your student?"

    "Fun time is over."

    "Yeah, I get that. But I really thought something happened to you."

    "Did you find me suffering within the Force?"

    "No."

    "Did you bother to feel my presence at all?"

    The sudden thought made her wince. She closed her eyes on the realization.

    "Come on, Jaina. What did you learn?"

    She sighed and admitted, "By only hearing the battle sounds I assumed the worst."

    "And we all know what happens when you assume."

    "Don't remind me."

    "I won't. I will remind you that what you hear is not always the same as what is happening."

    "Uncle Luke always focused on what we see."

    "Which is only one of the five senses. All of the senses rely on your mind to interpret them. That's why sometimes, your senses can lie. It's your brain interpreting them incorrectly. When you use your mind first in the Force, you can filter out what is real and what isn't."

    Jaina nodded. "Maybe I need to meditate on that some more."

    "You don't have to meditate so often with me."

    "But Uncle Luke says that it helps keep our focus sharp."

    "Your instincts are what keeps your focus sharp. And your instincts work better when you are alert, not when you're sleeping on it."

    "But Uncle Luke–"

    "Is not teaching you now, is he? You're with me now. A different school of thought. More action, less thinking."

    Jaina smiled in admiration and mocked an honorary nod. "Yes, Master Jade."

    "Stop it, Jaina. Mara will do. Why don't you freshen up and have a bite to eat before I go over our mission?"

    "You mean we're actually going somewhere? Where to?"

    "I'll tell you when you return."

    Mara watched as her new young apprentice nodded is slight frustration and returned to her quarters. Mara kicked the word around in her head a few times. Apprentice. How long ago had she been a student? With a teacher who was half mad and could wield Force lightening, no less. Now she was the teacher. She didn't feel any guilt in the way she gave her lessons to Jaina. The direct approach was how she was taught. Luke taught his students the basics. They knew what abilities they had under the protection of a Jedi Master. Now it was time to apply those abilities to reality.

    As she migrated to the small kitchen, Mara imagined that if she had accepted to teach at Luke's Jedi Academy on Yavin 4 all those years ago, she would probably have been the least popular among the students. The teacher who you loved to hate. Oh my stars, you've got Mara Jade for that class? Good luck! Perhaps that was part of the reason why she refused.

    A small part.

    Mara no longer regretted those years spent staying away from Skywalker. When they discovered each other and how, it was perfectly timed. It was too insane to figure out the why. First she wanted to kill Luke. Then she couldn't be near him. And now, she couldn't live without him. He would always be with her. Literally. Their Force bond allowed them to touch each other's minds wherever they were in the galaxy. That was special to her. Oh, if Palpatine could see me now.

    Mara proceeded to pull out something to eat for the both of them. She rummaged through the frozen ribenes that she kept in the icer for Luke's meals and found two ronto patties. She popped them both in the nanowave and in a few minutes, she placed them on their own plates and set them on the short counter. Jaina's timing was impeccable this time, as she appeared in a fresh beige tunic and her hair was brushed back.

    "All right. I gotta say, Aunt Mara, you have the best food on your ship."

    "That's because your father still keeps scraps in his icer on the Falcon. Luke told me he used to keep a tray of frozen rations in there just in case."

    "I remember. Though, I haven't seen it in there lately."

    Mara shrugged. "Luke hasn't been on the Falcon lately."

    "Been too busy, I suppose." Jaina showed the famous Solo half-grin. "I guess he's too busy to spend time on the Jade Sabre, too."

    Mara stared at her niece without expression and demanded, "Eat your food."

    Jaina laughed as she took her plate and flopped on the cushioned bench set against the far wall of the lounge. She curled her legs under her as she set the plate down on the cusion. Mara took her plate and sat in the same chair she sat in when Jaina came out during the faux battle.

    Jaina asked between bites, "So...where...are we...going?"

    Mara waited until she chewed a bite and answered, "We're going to a system where the Republic hasn't been back to since before the Clone Wars. Ever hear of Qiilura?

    Jaina stopped eating to think. "Sort of. Not much to tell. Wasn't the Old Republic banned from returning?"

    "That's right. They made an agreement with the natives not to interfere."

    "Natives. Gurlanins?"

    "Right."

    "They're shape-shifters, right?"

    "You're just a walking library today, aren't you?"

    Jaina shrugged after she wolfed down a chunk of meat. She mentioned after chewing, "I liked looking through the history datapads during the boring times at the Academy."

    Mara warned, "There won't be any of those times with me."

    "Promise?"

    "Oh, yes. Anyway, you're right. The Gurlanins are shape-shifters. Similar to Clawdites, but canine-based, not reptilian. From what I hear, they are pretty good ones. The very old ones can mimic anything from a rock to a human. And they don't fall back to their original forms during high emotions like Clawdites either."

    "They are more hostile, I've read."

    "They can be. Any species would be hostile if their home was almost taken over by another species."

    "And that's why they ban all humans off of their planet," Jaina said before popping the last bite of ronto into her mouth.

    "Not exactly. They only prohibited the Old Republic from setting foot back on Qiilura. Seems there was a violent disagreement between the Separatists and the Old Republic during the Clone Wars. The Gurlanins were caught up in the middle of it and they had the Old Republic outpost on Qiilura evacuated. There's not much detail about it anymore, thanks to the Empire. What I do know is that the Gurlanins do allow humans on their home system, along with several other species across the galaxy. The condition is that they have to affirm their loyalty to a certain faction set up in a compound on Qiilura."

    "Faction? Who are they?"

    "Ever heard of the Mahra pirates?"

    "I don't think so."

    "I'm not surprised you haven't. There isn't much we know about them. They made themselves known on raids and attacks of anything involving the Empire. I had my own run-ins with them when I was Emperor's Hand. They destroyed outposts and industries that the Empire took over."

    "Even though it wasn't the original owners' faults that the Empire took over their business?"

    Mara scoffed. "That didn't matter to the Mahra pirates. Once you were branded Empire property, you were fair game to be destroyed by the Mahra."

    "Why didn't the Rebellion recruit them?"

    "They weren't sympathetic to the Rebel cause. The Mahra didn't want a better galaxy. They just wanted the Empire eliminated. They wanted the violence all to themselves."

    "Obviously, they didn't destroy anything major, or else it would have been made public."

    "They did attempt an assault on Yaga Minor. They failed. Proof that history is always written by the winners. There were several Mahra pirates captured. They were tortured and eventually killed by the Emperor himself."

    "That couldn't have been pleasant. All right, so why are we involved?"

    Mara stated, "Apparently, the Mahra have turned over a new leaf. They claim they are no longer violent and want to discuss a peace agreement with the New Republic."

    "And we believe this, why?"

    Mara gave a small chuckle. "You and I come from the same school of skeptics, Jaina."

    "I inherited mine from my parents."

    "Unfortunately, I can't say the same."

    "Oh, stop it with your motherless shtick, Mara. You had to be a daughter to someone."

    "I'm sure I was. I'm just saying that my travels through the reality of the galaxy gave me my cynicism."

    Jaina sighed. "Uncle Luke was right. You are a hopeless case."

    "What? When did he say that? I'm not hopeless. Next time I see him, I'll show him hopeless. And why are you smiling at this?"

    "Anakin was right, too. The best way to get you mad is to mention something Uncle Luke said about you."

    "Keep it up and you'll find another way to make me mad. And here I thought I was unpredictable."

    "Don't worry. Given your surprise lesson earlier, you still are." Changing the subject quickly, Jaina questioned, "Are we signing a peace agreement without a member of the New Republic Council present?"

    "No. These are the primary talks that the Mahra have initiated. Trust me, the New Republic won't sign a thing until they have proof that the Mahra are truly peaceful. Which is why I was summoned for this mission because of my past involvement with the Mahra."

    "And the whole Council approved of you judging their word?"

    "Most ofm."

    Jaina sniffed. "Let me guess. Fey' , wasn't one of them."

    Mara nodded. "He thinks we're wasting time and money. Leia and the others on the Council believe it will be a grand gesture to the other pirate groups out there to join the New Republic. Fey'lya was outvoted. "

    "I guess that shows how mom will be influencing the new administration. Do you think the Mahra are really willing to work with us?"

    "In my experience, pirates don't change their stripes. Nor do people for that matter."

    "You did."

    "I evolved. I didn't change," Mara corrected.

    Jaina rolled her eyes at her aunt and reiterated, "So...we're going into the foreign territory of one hostile species to talk to another formerly hostile gang of pirates in hopes of peace."

    "Pretty much sums it."

    "Where do I sign up?"

    "We already did."

    A few standard hours later.

    "You can keep the pitch down a little, Jaina," Mara pointed out to her from the pilot's chair.

    "But the atmosphere here on Qiilura looks like the same makeup as Yavin 4. Won't a higher pitch affect the hull on entry?"

    Mara smiled proudly at her niece. Not many other teenage females would know the difference. "You'd be right if you were flying your X-Wing or the Falcon. But Luke installed the Jade Sabre with a high grade shield generator. It can take the abuse of a lower angle entry."

    As Jaina leveled the pitch down, she claimed, "I think dad would argue with you about the shields on the Falcon."

    "Modified as they might be, they'll never be military grade. Now, ease up on the throttle about 10 degrees. That's it. Don't want to come in too fast."

    "I know. What kind of welcome are we expecting?"

    "I'm actually not sure. The only comm we got was for the coordinates of where to land. We are essentially the first representatives of the Republic, Old or New, to set foot here since before Palpatine took control."

    "Don't we feel honored. Speaking of where to land, where are the coordinates?"

    "They're up on the screen to your right."

    "Oh, I see them. Will I be looking for some type of beacon?"

    "Not sure. Just follow the coordinates."

    "Coordinates only and no beacon. Oh, this is starting out well. Looks like we're several klicks away."

    "Perfect. Just enough time for a short nap." Mara sat back in her chair.

    Jaina glanced to her left at her aunt and said with concern, "You don't do much napping when you're flying."

    "Only when you're at the controls." Mara could feel her niece fill with elation from her words. The truth was that Jaina was an excellent pilot. It was so fitting that Han had given his daughter an old Z-95 Headhunter for a graduation present. That was also Mara's first ship when she started flying star fighters at Jaina's age. Given that similarity and all of the adventures that Jaina had experienced at such a young age, Mara thought there may be a strange parallel between she and her niece. Neither had lived through normal childhoods. She wondered if that was a flaw with both Jania's and her own personalities. Was a proper childhood required to become a well adjusted adult? And just what makes a childhood proper, anyway? Was there a wrong way to raise a child? Luke Skywalker was raised all right on Tatooine, yet he still had issues to work out as an adult.

    The old Mara would say that childhood was not practical. Then again, the old Mara would say that children and family were impractical as well. Mara slightly cringed at the subject of children. Her mind always seemed to find it's way back to the subject lately. The discussion of having offspring had been brought up more than once during their first years of marriage. It was during those discussions when she was glad that she married one of the most patient men in the galaxy. How could she raise a child with all of their duties? Training an apprentice as a Jedi was one thing. Raising a child the right way was another shockball game altogether.

    A sudden beeping launched Mara out of her nap. "What is it? What's going on?"

    Jaina looked back at her aunt guiltily. "We're almost approaching the coordinates. I forgot to turn off the proximity alert. Sorry I woke you."

    Mara smiled at her. "It's all right, Jaina." Mara sat up closer to see outside of the viewport. The sky was full of ash-colored clouds above a horizon of large treetops. The overcast sky gave the clouds a look of fog. Down below she could see the greenery of fields and trees speckled with occasional marshes. She tried to look ahead beyond the clouds but visibility was dense. "Do you detect any spaceports anywhere?"

    "Nothing but fields of green. Looks like the coordinates will put us in the middle of a forest. There's a wide clearing of a field there."

    Mara glanced at a nearby screen that showed Qiilura's topography map. "That can't be the pirate compound."

    "Doesn't look like it. But if you notice, there's a huge lake north east of the field."

    "That's a good ways away."

    "It's where I'd put a pirate compound. Nearby a body of water."

    "Makes sense. But why land us so far away?"

    "Maybe it's the only place to land a starship. The Gurlanins may be on the primitive side."

    "That's good thinking, Jaina, but the Mahra pirates used to fly all kinds of fighters and star cruisers. Anything they could get their hands on like most bands of pirates. They would have to land them all somewhere."

    "Unless they're truly peaceful now and stopped flying them."

    Mara shook her head in wonderment. "You really do have a child's logic, Jaina."

    "Laugh it up. There's something to be said about a child's perspective on things. Besides, these days I don't feel too much like a child." She paused while glancing at the screen. "We're at the coordinates now. Shall we press on?"

    "Might as well. I still have a bad feeling about this."

    "Now, you're talking like a Skywalker."

    "You all right to land?"

    Jaina scoffed. "Of course."

    "You say that now, but one scratch on my wedding present..."

    "Hey, I've been threatened by Han Solo himself to not scratch his prized Falcon."

    She gave her niece a sardonic look. "A threat from Han Solo has nothing on a threat from Mara Jade, my dear."

    Mara allowed Jaina to land the Jade Sabre inside of the clearing. Jaina did let go of the landing clutch a little too late for Mara's liking, thus making the ship bump upon impact with the ground. As Jaina finished up the landing cycle, Mara looked out of the viewport again.

    And still there was nothing. Or more to the point, no one. The clearing was a flattened field of scorched grass, which told Mara that this area was used to land ships. Usually on visiting a new system in the name of the New Republic, there would be some kind of welcoming party. Or at least one representative of the planet. There was no living soul in sight except for vegetation and animals.

    "Remarking how well we've been received?" Jaina asked.

    "I don't like this. I can sense several beings out there. There's plenty of curiosity about us."

    "But no expectation. I feel it, too. Or rather, I don't. Well, should we wait here for someone to retrieve us, or go out there in the strange forest and draw attention to ourselves?"

    "I know what my husband would say. And I usually do the opposite."

    As she climbed out of the co-pilot's chair, Jaina cheered, "That's what makes you two so perfect together."

    Mara sighed. "There are no perfect couples, Jaina. Luke and I have our disagreements and problems as well as our romantic sides. The quicker you learn that, the better your relationships will be."

    "Ugh, let's not go there. All right, so you're not perfect. Would you settle for compatible?"

    "Actually, I would. Come on, let's go see what's out there. I'll be with you in a moment."

    After Jaina left the cockpit to lower the exit ramp, Mara started to configure in her security ignition sequence as she always did when she left any of her ships for long periods of time. When she was done, Mara fetched her duffel bag for travel and then joined Jaina at the bottom of the ramp. She set her bag down next to Jaina's.

    The young Jedi was looking up at the ash-gray sky and then to the empty field that was lined with a wall of gigantic trees. Jaina expressed, "Kind of a dreary day. There's a coolness in the air. A lot of moisture in the mix. Qiilura is similar to Yavin 4 except there's more bodies of water."

    "You actually studied the environ report on Qiilura?"

    "Yeah. So?"

    "That means you were bored."

    "Ah, you know me too well, Aunt Mara. What else is there to do here? We can't venture out because we don't know where we'd be going. There's no one here to guide us. Not even predators."

    "Those will greet us when it gets darker."

    "Thanks for being your optimistic self," Jaina sneered.

    They stopped speaking to pay attention to the sounds of Qiilura's natural habitat. There were calls of birds and insects. Nothing near them.

    After a few moments, Jaina commented, "They wanted a peace agreement. There's nothing out here but peace."

    Mara had to chuckle and remark with no hint of sarcasm, "Thanks for being your optimistic self, Jaina." As if on cue, Mara detected a new sound. It was not part of nature. This sound was mechanical. "Do you hear that?"

    Jaina listened carefully. "It's certainly not a predator."

    "Not a living one, anyway. It's getting closer."

    Jaina reached in her pack to fetch a pair of macrobinoculars. She brought it up to her eyes and started panning the field. At some point she stopped and called out, "There. From the northeast." She pointed in that direction. "About fifty meters."

    Mara faced that direction and soon she could hear and see branches being knocked down by something man-made. She started hearing the sounds of a repulsor engine revving. She crinkled her brow as she searched her memory. "Those engines sound familiar."

    Jaina was still looking through the macros when she noted, "Looks like some sort of transport. An old one at that. It has treads instead of repulsor lifts."

    The vehicle was indeed coming towards them at a slow pace. It was dark gray in color with paint peeling in places and rust covered in others. The transport moved along by giant treads on each side with one major tread in front. The cockpit looked only big enough for two—a pilot and a gunner. Perched atop the cockpit was double-gauge laser canon that looked to be dormant. The rear hatch was an opened section that looked to be covered by a canopy. It looked like it could hold about six troops.

    When the transport was a few meters away, Mara exclaimed, "That's an old Imperial PX-7 troop transport."

    "Where do you think they got their hands on one of those?"

    "Probably from one of their raids back in the days of the Empire. You'll probably find several old pieces of equipment like that here. Qiilura isn't exactly an industrial system."

    "That could be why the Gurlanins wanted the New Republic out. They didn't want their home to be another Coruscant."

    "You may have something there, Jaina."

    The transport stopped, but did a 360 to head back in its original direction. They could see now that the canopy was a simple tarp that was weather worn in several places. The door to the passenger side of the cockpit folded open. Out came a figure of a human male who was fairly tall and wore a dusty gray tunic with a flapping tail in the back that made it look like a cape from the waist down. His black boots were worn high over his loosely worn black pants. The man climbed out of the transport and headed towards the new visitors.

    As he got closer, his features were more defined. His jaw was square with at least a five o'clock shadow covering most of it. Hidden underneath the stubble were a series of small scars and cuts. His dark eyes were set in deep but not too far apart. He was what some women would consider ruggedly handsome.

    The proof was evident in Jaina's first reaction to the sight of the man. "Hello!" she exclaimed softly with a sly grin.

    "Hose it down there, girly. You've got enough problems in your love life as it is."

    Jaina smiled wryly. "A girl can look, can't she?"

    "If you must. But he's at least three times your age."

    "You married an older man."

    "By a few months, not decades." Mara shook her head and sighed. "Yes, you are Leia Organa's daughter. Always going after the scruffy types."

    "Shh, here he comes."

    The man walked up to them and gave his own wry smile and spoke in a low, rough voice. "You must be the famous Mara Jade."

    "More like infamous. How am I famous by your standards?"

    "Oh, I've heard of you."

    "Where from?"

    He shrugged. "Here and there."

    "Too bad I don't know you as well as you do me."

    "Name's Trogan Eclane."

    "Trogan Eclane," Mara repeated. "Have we met before, Eclane?"

    "Trogan, please. And no, we haven't. I'd certainly remember that meeting." He looked at them and then beyond them and asked, "Is this it? Just you two?"

    "You were expecting more?" Mara asked.

    "Nah, just thought there'd be some Jedi coming along."

    Jaina emphasized, "We are Jedi."

    "What, you two? I was expecting men with long brown robes and hoods."

    "We're more fashionable now," answered Mara.

    "And less sexist," added Jaina quickly. Mara gave her a quick nudge in the arm.

    Trogan took note of Jaina. "And you. You're just a kid. Aren't you a little young to be a Jedi?"

    Jaina shot back, "Aren't you a little old to be a space ape?

    "Jaina," warned Mara with a smile. She addressed Trogan. "I'm sorry if we don't meet your assumptions. I can assure you that this 'kid' can take on the most capable warrior."

    "Yeah, whatever."

    Mara asked straightforward, "Why do we need a transport?"

    "The Mahra compound is about twenty klicks south east of here."

    Jaina cut in, "By the lake, right?"

    "I see you don't miss much." He shifted his view to their packs. "That all you have?"

    "All we need," Mara replied.

    "Need help with them?"

    As she lifted her own pack and put it in the back of the transport, Jaina sneered, "We've got it, earworm."

    Trogan grinned as Mara put her pack inside the transport. They were about to climb in the back when Trogan stopped them. "Wait. We've dispensed with the pleasantries, as they say. Now, I have to go over the ground rules."

    "What kind of ground rules?" Mara snapped.

    Trogan stated, "For one, no guests are to roam freely on Gurlanin territory without a guide."

    Jaina asked incredulously, "And you are our guide?"

    "No." Trogan turned toward the front of the transport and called out, "Ruht!"

    They could hear the front door opening and closing and then the sound of footsteps coming closer. Trogan explained further, "By Qiilura law, a guide outside of the Mahra compound must be Gurlanin."

    Appearing around the corner was a short, stout figure of what looked to be another human male. His skin was dark with an abundance of hair along his arms. His mane of dark black hair was uncombed and straggled just past his low shoulders. The shape of his face was such that his nose protruded outward, almost like that of a canine. His limp was noticeable, but it didn't seem to be from an injury. He walked awkwardly as if the act of walking was unnatural for him. He appeared before them with his posture arched forward. He didn't say a word.

    Trogan announced, "This is Ruht. He is the official liaison between Qiilura and the Mahra compound."

    "Leeson," Ruht repeated in a low guttural voice that closely resembled a growl.

    Mara noted, "The Gurlanins must really not trust any outsiders."

    Trogan nodded. "They do only after they proclaim to be a Mahra follower." He motioned to Ruht and said, "Go ahead and drive back. I'll be back here to watch them. I'm sure they'll have several questions."

    As Ruht turned to go back to the drivers seat, he uttered, "Ruht go back to drive. Ride too rough in back." He disappeared around the corner of the transport.

    Standing in awe was Jaina as she asked, "That was a Gurlanin?"

    Trogan laughed. "First time seeing one? I had the same reaction on my first time. And Ruht is young compared to some other 'lanins around here. He's only three hundred standard, or so."

    "Three hundred is young?" Jaina repeated as she climbed into the back of the transport.

    As Mara did the same, she quipped to Jaina, "Don't feel so old now, do you?"

    Trogan looked up at the sky and checked his chrono. "We'd better get going before it gets dark."

    As Trogan climbed in, Mara asked, "If Ruht there is the Mahra liaison, what is your official position, Trogan?"

    "Me?" Trogan replied, "I'm the Mahra Security Officer."

    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
    tbc

     
    Last edited: Feb 1, 2021
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  2. madman007

    madman007 Jedi Master star 4

    Registered:
    Aug 22, 2007
    Chapter Two: A Delay

    On Qiilura, en route to the Mahra compound

    The old Imperial transport crawled on its treads back into the wooded area at it's fastest speed. Mara knew she was getting along in age and her agility wasn't the same as it had been when she was the Emperor's Hand. She still figured she could run faster than this ancient PX-7 transport. It did have its advantages. Whereas a repulsor lift would have a hard time running over fallen tree limbs and thick grasses, the PX-7 would simply climb over them with its huge treads. With the terrain made up this way, it made the trip very bumpy.

    Mara and Jaina sat on the port side bench. They each had one hand on one of the support beams that held up the tarp. With each bump, Mara and Jaina would struggle to hold on. Trogan Eclane merely sat on the opposite bench with his arms folded against his chest. His body moved with the bumps as they happened. It was used to it.

    For what seemed like the longest several minutes, they were all silent. Jaina started fiddling with the end of her lightsaber hilt. At a point when there were no bumps to shake them, Jaina finally broke the silence and said to Trogan, "You're really talkative."

    Trogan gave a small shrug. "I thought you two would have more questions. Didn't think you'd be afraid to ask them."

    "We're not afraid," Jaina snapped.

    Mara placed a hand on Jaina's shoulder and followed by saying to Trogan, "What my apprentice meant to say was that fear has nothing to do with our silence. When you're guests of a new territory, it's best to let the host speak first."

    Trogan scoffed and flashed a crooked smirk. "Whatever."

    Seeing how he needed a push, Mara started to let him open up. "How long have you been the Head of Security for the Mahra pirates?"

    "Ah, seems like forever. I guess I joined up with them when I was barely eighteen."

    "Pretty young," Mara commented.

    Trogan nodded in a way that Mara couldn't tell if it was in agreement with her or if he was reacting to the latest bump. Regardless, he muttered, "Young and stupid."

    Jaina expressed, "Those two don't always go together."

    "Maybe not for Jedi like you," he shot back with sarcasm.

    Jaina looked down at the floor. "I'm not a Jedi, yet. But I will be soon."

    Trogan reflected, "Wish I had your confidence when I was your age. Before I came here, I was lost."

    "But the Mahra pirates saved you," sneered Mara with the same amount of sarcasm as he displayed before.

    He seemed to ignore her patronizing and warned. "I'd be careful about calling them pirates."

    "That's what they were back then," said Mara.

    "No, that's the label the Empire gave them back then. Whatever the Empire said then was magically true for the galaxy."

    Mara noted, "I sense you have the same distaste for the Empire as the Mahra pirates."

    "More than you know. The difference now is that the Mahra have let go of their hate of the Empire. I haven't."

    "How altruistic of them," Mara said with skepticism.

    Trogan ignored her again to state, "For all of their violent acts in the past, the Mahra have been relatively peaceful for more than a thousand years."

    Mara furrowed her brow when she questioned, "A thousand? I figured the Mahra were primarily formed during the Empire."

    "And that's how little the galaxy knows about them. Which is how the Mahra wants it anyway. The handfuls of followers only find out through the word of mouth. Or from a selective network on the HoloNet. That's how I found out about them years ago. Once they arrive, they have to proclaim themselves a part of the Mahra."

    Jaina interjected with, "Which is how the gurlanins allow them here."

    Mara followed to remark, "I always thought that the ones who came here simply signed up to fight the Empire. Or whatever else pirates go after these days."

    Trogan asked Mara, "Did you ever ask yourself about who the ones who signed up were?"

    Mara shrugged. "I figured they consisted of mercenaries, ex-bounty hunters, and fugitives."

    Trogan laughed. "I figured you of all people could see through the Empire's propaganda. That's exactly what Palpatine wanted you to think. The Mahra compound consists of repressed citizens and their families. They're the kind of people and aliens who wanted to escape the galaxy's politics over who has control over them. They formed their own government out of their own religion. They weren't forced into a society ruled by one man or by a group of squabbling politicians. When they were called on to fight the Empire, they volunteered to fight. The ones who died in the process were considered patriots."

    Jaina growled, "I think the dead members of the Rebellion deserve that title."

    Trogan countered, "The Rebellion went against the Empire so they could have the Old Republic back. The Mahra did it because it was the right thing to do. In the end, the New Republic won its old traditions back."

    Jaina spat, "You put down the New Republic, yet you want to join them in an act of peace?"

    Trogan shot back, "It's not me who wants to join them. It's the Mahra. You'll get to talk to their leaders on the details. They'll want you to stay for a while and take tours of their compound. They want you to see how they live in peace."

    "They? Not we?" Jaina noted, pretending not to see Mara's proud smile with her detection of his choice of pronoun.

    Trogan grunted. "The Mahra have their own religion. I respect that. It's just not mine. And they respect that. They gave me a place in the galaxy when I lost my place. For that, I'm grateful to them. As far as their beliefs go…well, I just don't get into it. I just protect them when I can and make supply runs when needed." He started to stretch himself across the length of the bench and put his hands behind his head. "And that is what I do here. It may not be great pay, but at least I'm in control of me." He closed his eyes as an indication that he was done speaking.

    After a few minutes of silence, Jaina peeled back a portion of tarp to see outside. She mentioned, "It got dark here quick."

    Trogan mumbled from the bench, "Qiilura's got an oblong elliptical orbit, so the nights are shorter. It'll be light again in a few hours."

    Jaina motioned outside. "Anything out there looking to make a meal out of us?"

    "You mean besides other gurlanins?"

    "Gurlanins attack people?"

    "The wild ones do. Usually, the very young ones. They can't shape-shift worth a damn so they have to defend themselves in other ways. I've seen a wild 'lanin take on two vonskrs and tore them both apart."

    Mara uttered, "Vonskrs. Those things again."

    "Don't worry," Trogan assured, "Ruht up there can sense his wild relatives way before we can."

    Jaina asked, "He can sense them? Like in the Force?"

    "Don't know about that. I just know they have some weird telepathy with each other."

    Mara teased Jaina, "Maybe you can talk to them like your brother talks to other animals."

    Jaina bemoaned, "Oh, your sense of humor is so much more defined on this planet."

    Trogan injected, "Hey, if you gals are done with your questions, which I'm sure you are, how's about you let me take my one nap of the day?"

    Jaina pestered, "How much further is the compound?"

    "Well, let's see…we've traveled a whole two kilos so far. That means we have eighteen more to go. And that better be the last question or I'll have Ruht take the long scenic route to the compound." He lowered his head down.

    Jaina turned to Mara and muttered, "He's a real people person."

    Mara offered, "Must be all of the Mahra followers. Can't wait to meet the leaders."

    Jaina looked like she was considering something before she asked her mentor, "Mara, can you sense anything out there?"

    "Nothing except the things surviving the night."

    "Anything else?"

    "No. Why? Do you sense anything else?"

    "I'm not sure."

    "Well, it better not be another Sith lord. I've had my fill of them for two lifetimes."

    "No. It's nothing like that. Believe me, I already know the difference."

    Mara sighed. "Sometimes I wish you didn't."

    "Me too. This…other feeling I'm sensing. It's faint, but it's there in the distance. It feels like a sense of…helplessness."

    "Maybe it's from someone in the compound."

    "Maybe. I'm tired of thinking about it. I think I'm going to take Trogan's cue and nap while I can."

    "Knock yourself out. I'll keep a watch on your helpless mystery."

    As Jaina sat back sitting up on the bench, Mara kept alert on her surroundings. She felt deep within the Force to find any semblance of what Jaina had felt. She could not. Luke had told her once that different people feel different things in the Force. It didn't mean that it wasn't there. Her thoughts of her husband brought forth his soothing touch in the Force. She sat there still awake but also in a state of calmness echoing her husband's across the galaxy. The sound of the engines drowned out any natural calls of the wild from outside. Minutes faded into hours. They traveled through the unknown forest. Mara began to feel the minds of several beings in the distance that had to be from the compound. She still could not single out one that felt helpless. Mara took a peek outside under the tarp. It was still pitch black. When she replaced the tarp back, she planned to feel within the Force more closely. And then...

    The sound of the engines and their forward motion suddenly stopped.

    Even before Mara could react, Trogan sat straight up from his slumber and grunted the question, "What the hell happened?"

    Mara answered, "Looks like we've stopped. Don't think we've arrived yet."

    "We haven't. Something must have happened to the PX."

    Mara wondered, "Broken tread?"

    "Or worse."

    Just then, Jaina sat up groggy and yawned, "Are we there yet?"

    "No," Mara replied. "There might be something wrong with the transport."

    "Wonderful."

    Before Mara could speak to Trogan again, he had already climbed out of the transport. Mara began to follow him and prodded Jaina to come along as well.

    Trogan walked up to the driver side to hear the frustrated growls of a gurlanin. "Calm down, Ruht! I hear ya! What happened?"

    The gurlanin answered in a rumble of a reply. "Power go down. Turn off engine."

    "The power, huh? Damn. I knew it. I thought that distributor valve would last longer."

    Mara said from behind him, "Distributor valve isn't hard to replace. Don't you carry spares?"

    Trogan laughed. "Oh, sure. Let's go to the corner junk shop and pick one up. We don't exactly have those here on Qiilura. We have our own junk yard in the compound. Whatever we need that isn't there we improvise with what we do. I had to retrofit a valve from an older transport."

    "Older than this one?" Jaina exclaimed.

    He ignored her remark and said, "We'll have to bypass it somehow. Ruht, grab me that glow rod. Can't see a thing out here."

    Ruht reached for the cylindrical-shaped lamp and handed it to Trogan. He flipped the switch and nothing happened. "Very funny, Ruht. I told you to keep this on the charger. Give me the smaller one with a full charge."

    The gurlanin looked dumbfounded and expressed as he nodded at the lamp, "Fully charged, yes."

    Trogan turned it over where the power indicator was and saw what it showed. "It has a full charge." He flipped the switch on and off. No light came on. "What is going on? Do either of you have a glow rod?"

    Mara stated, "It's in my pack. I'll get it."

    "Wait, Mara," cried Jaina. "I've got a better idea." She detached her lightsaber from her belt and held out the hilt. "Watch out for the blade," she warned Trogan. She switched it on.

    Nothing happened. The hilt stayed silent. No purple-white blade emitting from it.

    Trogan laughed. "Looks like your laser sword needs a charge too."

    Mara explained as she reached for her own saber, "It doesn't need a charge. Lightsabers have an internal power source." She held out the hilt and used the Force to switch it on. Just like Jaina's, Mara's did not come on either. "What is going on?"

    "It seems we have a power drain in the area," cried Trogan.

    Mara exclaimed, "That can't be right. A power drain that affects the internal power of a lightsaber?"

    Trogan scoffed, "Look, I'm sure your power sticks are the ultimate weapons, but they're not working now." He reached into his vest pocket to grab his comlink. "I have to call this in. Maybe the compound has power." He depressed the comlink and spoke into it. "Amura 1 to Base. Do you copy?" There was no response. There was not even static. He tried again. "Base, this is Amura 1. Can you read me?" Again, only silence. "Dammit, what's going on he–"

    His words were cut off by a loud crackling of static that went on for a few seconds. It ended as abruptly as it began. They were plunged into an awkward silence. Trogan looked at the comlink as if it were a foreign object. "What in Tarkin's Ghost was that?"

    Jaina then muttered, "Magnetic disturbance."

    "What?" Trogan asked.

    Jaina explained, "We've passed through a dead zone. Magnetic isotopes are interfering with the gravitational pull. It can cause a power failure in places."

    Trogan looked at Mara and pleaded, "Can you get her to speak Basic, please?"

    Mara uttered, "No, she's right. It could be a dead zone. I didn't think this system's gravity was heavy enough to combine with the small amount of magna rock."

    Trogan erupted, "That's nonsense. I've been on this planet for decades and never experienced a dead zone before."

    Mara considered, "Could be extenuating circumstances to cause one. You did say the elliptical orbit was oblong."

    Jaina said, "We're too far away from either pole of the planet for that to be the cause." Jaina thought a moment and asked Trogan, "What about volcanoes? Any nearby here?"

    Trogan let out a frustrating sigh and said, "No, this is…wait…there is a fault line that goes through here."

    Jaina replied, "That might do it."

    Trogan objected. "But I've been around here countless times and never had the power go out."

    Mara stated, "There must be something different that's creating the dead zone."

    Jaina asked, "What?"

    Suddenly, the roar of a reply sounded in the form of Ruht shouting, "You! It is you two! You use the Force. You come to destroy Mahra! You use Force to take away power." The gurlanin started to edge towards the new guests.

    Trogan stepped in and calmly stated, "Now, Ruht, buddy…we don't know that."

    Ruht growled, "Yes! Power not work. Never happen before they come. They use their magic."

    Mara came forward right up in front of Ruht and said using the same calm tone as Trogan, "I assure you, Ruht, that we are not the cause of this."

    "No, Jedi bad!"

    Mara strained in saying, "Jedi are not bad."

    "Yes! You use power to destroy. Like the dark man of the Empire."

    "The dark man?" Mara curiously asked.

    Jaina answered in a casual sigh, "My grandfather."

    "Oh," Mara expressed. "You've heard of him, huh? Well, there went my point."

    Jaina approached Ruht this time but kept her distance. She said with caution, "We are not like the dark man. We are good. We come in peace." She stopped and asked herself, "Did I just say that?"

    "You did," Mara replied.

    "Great, now I sound like a mythic tale."

    Despite their efforts, Ruht still growled, "I not believe you. The dark man very angry and use power. You use Force to come after Mahra. Agharta knows."

    Trogan tried to use logic with the creature. "Ruht, think about it. If they wanted to destroy the Mahra, why would they shut the power down in the middle of the forest several kilos away from the compound?"

    Ruht apparently wasn't listening to logic. He finally said, "No! They mean to destroy Mahra. Agharta say so. Must be stopped." He lunged at Jaina with the intention of knocking her down. Despite yells to stop from Trogan, Ruht kept his attack on.

    Seeing the husky creature coming at her, Jaina fumbled to find a defense without her lightsaber. To her left side was a large rock that sat between her and Ruht. As he came forward, she focused on the rock in the Force and lifted it in the air to position it in front of him just at the right time. The rock met with his abdomen as he charged and his momentum knocked him down to the ground. It didn't seem to injure him any, except maybe his pride.

    The rock was still in the air until Jaina set it down in its original place. She then looked over Ruht still on the ground and said, "You see, we don't need power to use the Force."

    Ruht sputtered to say, "You…you attacked Ruht!"

    "No, I only lifted the rock and you ran into it." She held out her hand for him to take so he could get up. "Not all users of the Force are out to destroy."

    Ruht looked at her hand with a careful eye. He hesitantly reached for it and she helped him up with a pull.

    As soon as Ruht stood up, all the power came back on in an instant. The engine of the transport kicked on. The glow lamp suddenly shone bright. And Mara's blue-white blade extended with a snap-hiss. The only problem was that Trogan had been standing in the blade's path. As soon as he heard it, he yelped and jumped out of its way. He was a little too late because a piece of his pants leg was singed.

    "What the kriff?" he cried.

    Mara shut off the blade but shrugged to offer, "She did warn you about the blade."

    Trogan gave her a warning look and addressed Ruht. "You all right?"

    The gurlanin nodded in defeat and muttered, "Ruht learn lesson. No mess with Jedi."

    Trogan smiled and ordered him, "All right, go ahead and drive. We still have a ways to go." As Ruht returned to the driver's seat, Trogan turned to Mara and Jaina to say, "You two knew this would happen, didn't you?"

    "Excuse me?" Mara snapped.

    "I've heard stories of Jedi telling the future and reading minds."

    "Barely on both counts," Mara reacted.

    He scoffed. "Sure. I've never seen anything like a dead zone here and you come up with the explanation just like that." He snapped his fingers.

    Mara barked, "Jaina gave a theory as to why it happened. I'm still not sure it was correct, but it's the only one that makes sense now. I've just never heard of a dead zone affecting internal power sources like our lightsabers."

    Trogan moaned, "Oh, here it comes. The famous Jedi ego." He tried to alter his voice to mock Mara's. "Nothing can ever touch our super laser swords."

    Mara stepped up to him and got in his face. She nearly gritted her teeth when she warned him, "Don't even dare tell me about ego. Before I was a Jedi, I defined the term. Remember Ruht's lesson? That goes double with me. If you know my name, then you know who I used to work for. Believe me, you don't want to see me angry. As far as the dead zone is concerned, I only meant it was too strange for it to be a dead zone."

    Trogan took her veiled threat in stride. "Fine. Can we get back on the PX without any further delays?"

    Instead of answering, Mara walked back to the rear of the transport in silence. Jaina stood still to ask Trogan, "How did Ruht know about my grandfather?"

    Trogan looked confused. "Who's your grandfather?"

    Jaina raised one brow. "Boy, you really weren't paying attention, were you?"

    "What? Of course, I was. Ruht was talking about Lord Vader."

    Jaina gave the famous Solo crooked smile and said plainly, "Yes. He was."

    It took Trogan several seconds to piece it together and he erupted with, "Aw, don't even tell me you're related to that monster-machine?"

    Jaina stayed calm when she replied, "His name was Anakin Skywalker, if you don't mind."

    Trogan looked surprised. "Oh my stars. That was his name? I'm surprised there was a human heart under all that machinery."

    Jaina surmised, "You told Ruht about Vader. You told him the horror stories."

    He admitted, "Some of them. He also saw them on the HoloNet. We're not totally primitive here. C'mon, let's go."

    He turned to go and Jaina followed him. She raised up her head and looked into the distant forest. Then she stopped in her tracks. "Whoa!"

    Trogan looked behind him at her and asked, "What now?"

    Jaina looked like she was struggling to find something in the forest. "I…I don't know. I thought I saw…"

    "Saw what?" asked the impatient Trogan.

    "Hmm…guess it was nothing."

    Trogan shook his head as he helped her in the back. "Now I know why we never invited Jedi here. You people are just too weird to deal with." He climbed inside the transport himself and gave Ruht the signal to head out and they were moving again.

    Time seemed to pass quicker as the first signs of light started to show. Mara broke the silence after a distance and asked Trogan, "Ruht mentioned a name back there. Agharta. Who is that?"

    Trogan stated, "That's a name that you'll be hearing a lot of when you're in the compound."

    "Is he one of their leaders?" asked Mara.

    "She is the leader, to be exact."

    "Will we meet her?" Jaina asked.

    "No. Nobody can meet Agharta. Nobody besides the High Holy man can even speak to Agharta. Anyone else who tries pays the price."

    Jaina questioned, "Why is that?"

    Trogan replied, "Because Agharta is the Mahra's goddess."

    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
    tbc

     
    Last edited: Jan 14, 2021
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  3. madman007

    madman007 Jedi Master star 4

    Registered:
    Aug 22, 2007
    Chapter Three: The Mahra Compound
    The transport suddenly stopped again a little over a standard hour later and Jaina's head jerked up. She was about to say "not again" when Trogan beat her to it.

    "Don't worry. This stop is on purpose," he assured her. "Wait here." He exited the transport.

    It was completely daylight now. It seemed brighter than when they landed. Jaina pulled back a part of the tarp and a bright white sun peeked through. The gray clouds that dominated the sky when they landed on Quilura were now gone. Jaina looked over at her Jedi mentor next to her and saw her fully awake already. Mara had a tray of ration bars that she was eating out of.

    Mara asked her, "Breakfast?"

    Jaina glanced at the tray and winced. She uttered with sarcasm, "Mmm...dehydrated nerf sticks."

    Mara nodded and exclaimed, "Food of the gods. Or at least with a certain Jedi Master."

    After Jaina grabbed a dried meat stick, she mentioned, "I was hoping you could improve my uncle's diet once you two got married."

    "A Jedi cannot work miracles."

    After a few bites she chewed off, Jaina spoke hesitantly. "I know you haven't mentioned my actions last night. I got the impression that you didn't approve."

    Mara countered with, "Nonsense. You subtly displayed a combination of your mother's diplomacy and your father's tenacity."

    "Best of both worlds." She took another chew and said, "It's just hard to tell how you felt about it last night."

    Mara admitted, "I was in a huff over Trogan's assumptions."

    "Mara, you are always in a huff about something."

    "It's been brought to my attention." Mara nodded at the exit and asked, "Where did he go?"

    "Don't know. He just left."

    Mara closed the ration tray and put it back in her pack. "Let's go."

    Both exited the transport and saw a small metal hut a few meters away. To it's right side was a locked gate that led to an obscured area.

    "This can't be the compound," said Jaina.

    "It's not," cried the voice of Trogan from behind them. "Get your things. We walk from here."

    "Something else wrong with the transport?" sneered Mara.

    "No. The compound is around that yerchwood tree there a few meters away. This is my utility shed."

    Jaina uttered, "You're not just their Security Officer but their maintenance man too?"

    "Yep. Ruht is my assistant. He's a pretty good mechanic, too."

    Jaina questioned, "Ruht's not coming with us?"

    "No. Fact is, he can't." Trogan disappeared before they could ask what he meant.

    Jaina remarked, "That was ominous."

    "Trogan doesn't strike me as a man who gives information easily. He's very selective on facts about the Mahra." Mara looked back at her and said, "Come on, get your pack." They each grabbed their packs and headed toward Trogan, who was listing chores for Ruht.

    "I want a full diagnostic on the PX. Tell the computer to focus on that tibana fuel line. After that, I want you to organize those condensers I brought in last week. Don't worry if most of them don't work. We only need one for the south generator. I'll come back when I can to help. Got it, Ruht?"

    The gurlanin nodded and mumbled, "Ruht understand." He went inside the hut.

    Trogan turned to the women. "Got your packs, girls? Good. Let's go." He started walking ahead at a steady pace. Mara and Jaina followed him. When they walked around the gate to the hut, Mara saw what was behind it. Stretching out beyond where the eye could see was a vast wasteland of junk. Several ships and parts in various stages of decay were strewn across the area with no sense of pattern. By watching the uncontrolled chaos of the junkyard, Mara lagged behind Trogan. She called out to him to say, "You have a mini Raxus Prime back there."

    Without looking back to her or stopping, Trogan yelled the reply, "Pretty much anything you want or need is in there somewhere."

    Jaina quipped, "Guess the trick is trying to find it."

    They continued to follow Trogan into the wooded area and closed the gap between them and him. Mara could feel a sense of regret coming from somewhere. Mara looked over at Jaina and confirmed that she felt it too. They glanced back behind them and saw Ruht standing by the transport simply watching them walking away. His yearn to join them was strong.

    It triggered Mara to ask Trogan, "Why is it that can't Ruht join us?"

    He recited back, "Gurlanins are forbidden inside the Mahra compound."

    Jaina asked, "Isn't that rather biased?"

    Trogan answered plainly, "It's a Mahra rule, not mine. Been enforced for a thousand years. It's tradition."

    "He seemed to be familiar with Mahra beliefs," Jaina noted.

    Trogan replied, "Oh, he knows them backwards and forwards. He just can't worship with them."

    Mara shook her head. "If that's the case, how could he even know about their beliefs if he can't interact with them?"

    "You know, I've never figured that out. I just chalk it up to the sixth sense that 'lanins seem to have."

    "And you never questioned the Mahra about it," Mara stated.

    "Hey, how they choose to conduct their own religion is their business."

    "Spoken like a true Security Officer," Mara muttered.

    "Whatever."

    They reached the tree that Trogan mentioned. It was one of the largest trees either of them had ever seen. The trees on Kashyyyk were majestically tall. The yerchwood trees on Quilura were short but stocky. The base of the trunk was at least the width as the length of an X-Wing fighter. The branches were at least a half meter thick. As they came around the enormous tree, they saw the entrance to the Mahra compound.

    Mara and Jaina stopped to behold the sight before them. Just ahead a few meters was an enormous two-door gate. Mara figured an Imperial AT-ST unit would fit through comfortably. The structure was made of a darkened wood, most likely from one of the yerchwood trees. Long limbs of a tree were fastened together somehow to make up each door. Mara could not imagine the work involved in tying those gigantic limbs together and lifting them up on end. From the distance they were at, there seemed to be no metal parts. No flexitape could hold those limbs together.

    Trogan walked ahead but glanced back at the women gaping at the sight. He chuckled. "It never fails. People always stop to look at the gate first."

    "With good reason," said Jaina. "It's rather impressive."

    Trogan beckoned. "Wait till you get closer."

    Mara and Jaina complied without taking their eyes off the gate. As they neared closer, they could see what he meant. Along the sides of the limbs were several woodcut designs carved into the wood. Some looked like basic Aurabesh wording while others depicted scenes of various types. Some of the designs were meticulous in detail. At the top of the gate there was a separate design centered at the apex that looked simply like smaller limbs aligned in a semi-circle. Some of the limbs protruded outward to give a three-dimensional effect. Jaina kept her eyes on the gate as Mara noticed Trogan reach into his own pack.

    Out of it he revealed a strange looking object. It was the color of polished bone and was compact. One end was wide and shaped like a horn. A handmade mouthpiece was at the other end.

    "What is that?" asked Mara casually.

    "A skafa horn. It's sort of our doorbell to tell them we're here."

    Mara asked, "Why can't you use a comlink?"

    Trogan shrugged. "It's a Mahra tradition."

    "Terrific. Traditionalists are usually skeptic about the future and optimistic about the past," Mara bemused.

    Without acknowledging her remark, Trogan put the mouthpiece end to his lips and blew through it. A loud low-pitched sound bellowed out of it that he sustained for several seconds. After he finished, the sound of wood creaking was heard and the doors of the gate began to open outward. Once there was enough space in between the doors, Trogan motioned for them to enter first. "After you, ladies."

    Mara and Jaina began to walk through. On the other side of the gate doors were about twenty male beings of various species who pushed open the gates. All eyes were on them. When Mara walked through, something caught her eye from above. The semi-circular design above the gate looked to be simple limbs lined up with no sense of reason. That was the view from afar. Now that she was directly below the structure, she could clearly see there was a particular design on purpose. It was the type of design that was an optical illusion. The father away one looked at it, the more it looked like nothing. Look at it from a certain angle, in this case upward, there was more substance. The limbs were set at a angle pointing to one spot in perspective. That spot held an additional design that could not be seen from far away. It was a crude representation of a female face.

    Jaina uttered to Trogan as she nodded up at the design, "Let me guess. Agharta?"

    He scoffed. "With instincts like that, you should do well here."

    They came through to the other side and into the compound itself. And they were treated to another spectacle.

    A large group of about a hundred beings stood on the edge of a courtyard. All were staring at their new guests. Mara scanned the crowd to notice mostly humans with a fair mix of Rodians, Twi-Leks, Neimoidians, and even the fierce Weequays. There were not just males. There were whole families with their children of various ages standing by their respective parents.

    It made Mara on edge to have such a large crowd stare back Jaina and herself. She could feel the excitement in her apprentice at being in the center of attention. She was used to it. Mara Jade, on the other hand, never felt comfortable in the limelight.

    Seeing the group there before them made Mara consider something. She whispered back to Trogan, "There's no way that they all could have gathered that quickly after your call. It's almost like they were waiting for us."

    Trogan replied, "They've been anticipating this moment for a while now."

    Jaina noted, "They must really want a peace agreement."

    Trogan added, "It's not just for that. You two are the first Jedi to ever set foot in the Mahra compound."

    "What an honor," cried Mara, the skeptic.

    "Let's go meet our fans," Jaina suggested.

    When they moved towards the crowd, the people and aliens all scattered to form a path for their new guests. As the two Jedi waded through the crowd, the sense of wonder and adoration was almost overwhelming. Every being in turn greeted them either with a quick nod and a smile or a spoken "Welcome" in Basic or Huttese. Several of the children were in awe. They could hear one of them exclaim, "Mommy, I see their laser swords!" Another cried out proudly, "They're both female Jedi."

    Mara couldn't help sharing their elation at seeing their first Jedi. She couldn't describe the feeling she had. They had never met them, yet they were treated like royalty. It spoke volumes about how trusting these people were. That also meant that she and Jaina would have to keep their trust.

    Their clothing consisted of simple drab colored tunics speckled with dust and dirt. Another thing Mara noticed was not one of them were armed. Only Trogan had a blaster at his side. There was not one piece of evidence that they were pirates. She cursed her former boss at starting that galaxy-wide rumor. These people may have been involved with violent raids once. They would have had to live under the pirate title ever since. Mara could see how they would want to shed that assumed image with a peace agreement.

    Though they were wading aimlessly through the crowd, it seemed that they were being directed to a specific area. The courtyard had a structure in its center that consisted of two columns supporting an arch. Within the facade of the arch was a design carved into the white stone that was similar to the one atop the gate. Standing under the base of the arch were two dark-skinned human men. Both wore bright white tunics with elaborate designs sewn into them. Necklaces of gold and colored jewels hung loosely around their necks. The taller of the two men wore a small head cap that also bore the same design as the arch and gate. The logo of Agharta, Mara thought.

    The taller man had an angular face with a wide nose and thick muscular build. The second man was shorter and thinner with a softer rounded face. The tall man came forward to the edge of the altar. He looked in turn at Mara and Jaina and boomed in a deep rough voice, "Representatives of the New Republic, I welcome you to the Mahra compound. I am Krun Li, Spirit Leader of the Mahra."

    His accent was one that Mara could not place. In some ways, it was a mix of both Neimoidian and Chiss. Yet his Basic was clear and concise. Mara followed his greeting with her own. "Thank you, Krun Li. I am Jedi Knight, Mara Jade Skywalker, and this is my apprentice, Jaina Solo." Jaina gave a small nod.

    Krun Li looked confused when he mentioned, "I was under the impression that the Jedi worked only in conjunction with the New Republic and not as direct negotiators."

    Mara could only answer, "That was then. This is now."

    Krun Li nodded. "I see. Then the New Republic Council knows of our violent past and sends two Jedi in case we feel the peace agreement is not going our way."

    Mara began, "Pretty mu–"

    "Sir!" Jaina interrupted, "I mean, Spirit Leader Krun Li. I am the daughter of Leia Organa Solo, who is on the New Republic Council. I assure you that we are not here because of potential violence. We are here to discuss your terms for a peace agreement that will allow you to join the New Republic."

    Krun Li eyed Jaina with an approving grin. "As I understood, the Jedi were only protectors of the Republic."

    Jaina shot back with no hesitation, "And if you remember your history, the Jedi also acted as mediators in the name of the Republic. We are here to represent the New Republic and make sure that you receive the peace agreement that you deserve."

    For a long moment, Krun Li stared back at Jaina with no expression. Suddenly, he emitted a low laugh and said, "Well done, child. You have effectively established trust needed for the peace proceedings."

    Jaina nodded her gratitude, but had to add, "That was my intent. But I'm not a child."

    Krun Li smiled full to show his white teeth that almost glowed against his dark flesh. He then said, "My apologies. And I must also apologize for my assumption regarding the Jedi's role in our request. I must admit, my knowledge of Jedi lore is limited to recounts of Mahra members who had dealings with the Jedi. I also only have seen Jedi in holographic images on the HoloNet. It was my understanding that Jedi wore honorary robes over their tunics."

    Jaina sneered in jest, "That's because you're used to seeing male Jedi. Female Jedi are much more fashionable."

    Krun Li laughed again. It was the kind of laugh that made you want to join in with his laughter. Mara, nor Jaina, could sense any ill will underneath his amusement. His misunderstanding of their purpose seemed genuine. The Mahra Spirit Leader shifted his position so he could introduce the second man standing behind him. "This is the Mahra Prime Leader, Croag B'has."

    The man leaned forward and uttered, "It is a pleasure greeting you both. I give you my warmest welcome into the Mahra compound."

    "The pleasure is all ours," greeted Mara. Croag's voice was much smoother and higher pitched than Krun Li's. It had almost a velvet texture and it was less boistrous. Yet, the strange accent of Krun Li's was also present in Croag's dialect. It made Mara wonder where the two men originally hailed from.

    Krun Li then announced, "Excellent! Now that we have the introductions out of the way, we want to invite you to share our morning feast with us. We have much to discuss, and I always believed it is better to do so with food on the table."

    Mara started to say, "Thank you, but we already had our break–"

    "We would be honored, Spirit Leader," cried Jaina. Jaina whispered back to Mara, "Dehydrated nerf sticks can hardly be called breakfast, Aunt Mara."

    Krun Li laughed again and said to Mara, "Your apprentice must be a full time project."

    "She's a handful, all right," replied Mara. "Guess she's decided for us."

    "Very well!" Krun Li beamed. "The feast has been prepared in the Main Hall. This way, please. Croag will lead you." After Mara and Jaina started following the Prime Leader with Trogan in tow, they could hear Krun Li address the crowd. "Those of you with assigned duties, carry on! Those who do not, please return to your own interests, but be prepared to greet our illustrious guests with honor! Thank you!"

    The crowd started to disperse and now Mara could see the layout of the compound better. The courtyard with the altar seemed to be in the center with various paths led to what she could see as buildings. She focused in on one of the dwellings nearby and saw that it had been part of an Imperial bunker at one time. It seemed to have been refitted for personal use. She checked all the other structures and they, too, had once been parts of old ships or bunkers. The source was probably Trogan's junkyard. In that sense, they were very much like pirates rummaging through second hand junk and making it their own.

    They walked closer to the structure that Krun Li called the Main Hall. What Mara could make of it looked familiar. Transparasteel plating had been placed over the top of a rectangular-shaped structure. Once they entered inside the building, the sides of the walls gave away its source.

    Mara exclaimed, "This used to be a mess hall from a Star Destroyer!"

    Croag turned and replied, "That is correct. It took us great effort to reform it and place it here."

    "I'll bet it did," said Mara. "You seem to have a knack for rebuilding old junk here."

    Croag smiled. "Whatever works, we will use it. Please, seat yourself. Krun Li will be with us shortly."

    Mara saw laid out before them several elongated tables with chairs accompanying them. She looked down at the opposite end of the hall to see a spot in the wall that was closed up. That would have been the entrance to the kitchen on a Destroyer. That end of the hall was clear of tables or anything else, so it was probably used as a staging area for official meetings or even as entertainment theater.

    Mara and Jaina took their seats on one side of a nearby table and Croag took one on the opposite side. Trogan sat next to him. Krun Li entered the building along with two members of the Mahra. A human male and a blue-skinned Twi-Lek female walked behind them. The two separated from their leader as he took the seat at the head of the table.

    "Vestir and Nem Yar will be serving the food soon," said Krun Li. After he sat down, he mentioned, "Trogan said you had a power outage last night."

    "Yes," Mara replied. "Very strange. It even took out the power in our lightsabers, and they have a separate power source."

    Krun Li uttered, "Interesting. I imagine that the fault line in that area had something to do with that."

    "That's what we thought," Mara said. "Some kind of magnetic disturbance. But it doesn't explain how our lightsabers didn't work."

    "Perhaps the answer will soon present itself. I also understand there was an incident with our liaison, Ruht."

    "Nothing we couldn't handle," Mara said with pride.

    Krun Li suggested, "Yes, it was good that your apprentice acted when she did. The gurlanins can be dangerous when they perceive they are being challenged."

    Before anyone could reply, the servants entered the hall with trays of steaming hot food.

    "Ah, breakfast is served," Krun Li announced. "Please, help yourselves."

    The servants started placing plates of extravagant fresh food on the table and Jaina gaped at what was offered.

    Jaina whined with hungry joy, "Garto eggs with kista cheese. I haven't had that since I was seven. And Trandoshani flatcakes. Nilluk strips and braised nerf patties."

    Krun Li smiled at Jaina's mouth watering and noted, "You will find that since we have such a mix of cultures here there is a variety of foods from different regions. Though, it sounds as though your apprentice has not had a full meal in any region for a long time."

    Jaina was already spooning out a healthy portion of garto eggs when she answered for Mara. "Trust me, I haven't."

    Mara smiled at her but warned, "Hey, Han Jr, save some for the rest of us."

    Krun Li saw Mara's empty plate and mentioned, "You are not famished, Ms. Jade?"

    "It's Mrs. Skywalker Jade. Mara, if you please. And I do admit, the smoked terrafin loin looks good."

    "Freshly shipped from Ryloth just last week," beamed Krun Li. "Our Twi-Lek members, including Nem Yar here, can't be away from their home tastes for very long."

    Mara dished up a few slices of the loin with a few Dressellian prunes. She then absently said, "I haven't had terrafin loin since my days in the Imperial Court." She then winced at her casual hint of her past.

    Krun Li said off her look of embarrassment, "Do not worry, Mara. Trogan had already informed us that you have Imperial ties."

    "Had," Mara corrected. "That's in my past, and I'd like to keep it there. I was very young and impressionable."

    Croag remarked, "Then you and Trogan have something in common. He was also–"

    "Young and impressionable," Trogan said quickly as he stabbed his fork into his flatcakes.

    Krun Li then commented, "If you had Imperial connections, then you must be fully aware of our raids during the Empire's reign." Mara lifted her head while she chewed the tender meat and her emerald eyes met Krun Li's sienna's. He continued in saying, "That also seems to imply why you, in particular, were chosen to greet us."

    Mara inwardly admitted that Krun Li was intelligent. Maybe too intelligent for his own good. Like the other members of the Mahra, she could sense none of the violent tendencies that they were accused of. What would push these peaceful beings to resort to violence? As Krun Li suggested earlier, perhaps the answer would present itself.

    Mara wryly replied, "My former Imperial ties did play a factor in the choice to send me. After all, I may be among the last living witnesses to your actions then."

    Krun Li nodded in disappointment. "How very true. But allow me to say this before our discussion of peace. The violent acts that the Mahra were involved in, were required. We have not the time to go into details right now. Nevertheless, it was part of our past. Much like your ties to the Imperial Army was yours." He then spoke as if to himself, like he was in a dream. "Those who perished in that mission, gave their lives in duty to honor her."

    Without missing a beat, Mara filled in the mysterious pronoun. "Agharta."

    It was as if time had frozen for everyone but she and Jaina. The look of horror on Croag's face was immense. The servants had completely stopped what they were doing to gape at Mara. Trogan just shook his head. Only Krun Li sat motionless. For a fraction of a second, Mara thought she could see blind rage behind the Spirit Leader's dark eyes.

    Krun Li calmly replied, "I see you are familiar with the Mahra goddess." He glanced ever so slightly. "I must warn those whose job it is to greet new guests to disclose information carefully next time."

    Trogan countered with, "It wasn't me. Ruht was the one who mentioned her. Mara only asked who she was. What was I supposed to do? Lie?"

    Krun Li smiled. "Of course not. It is not a sin to have a thirst for knowledge. Is it not, Mara Jade Skywalker?"

    Mara shot back, "Could be dangerous for some."

    After chewing a strip of Nilluk, Jaina piped in to ask, "When you say goddess, do you mean like a mythological being?"

    Krun Li explained, "Agharta is our light. Our life. All reason, all purpose leads to Agharta. Much like the Force is yours, I believe."

    Jaina said, "But we don't have a god or goddess."

    Croag curiously asked, "Then to whom do you pray?"

    Jaina looked confused so Mara jumped in. "Jedi don't pray at all. The Force is made up of all living things. It's the glue that holds Life together. It is all around us. The Jedi, or anyone with Force potential, can use it to accomplish many things, or use it for guidance. It is a misconception in the galaxy to believe that the Force is a religion."

    Krun Li remarked, "Yet Jedi do meditate. Is that not a form of prayer? The difference is that the Mahra pray to Agharta and the Jedi meditate to a faceless entity."

    Jaina replied, "That faceless entity is all around us. Even here."

    "My dear child, as I appreciate your beliefs, I can assure you that your Force is not present in this compound. Agharta is the only one present here in spirit." Krun Li motioned to one of the servers and commanded, "Vestir, if you could please pass the Kuul milk for my phrag grains. Thank you."

    When Vestir reached for the container of milk, Jaina thought and acted quicker. She used the Force to lift the container in the air and move it towards Krun Li. Vestir shrieked in surprise. The Prime Leader, Croag, nearly fell out of his seat from the sudden show of magic. Trogan once again shook his head and went back to finish his flatcakes. Mara gritted her teeth at her apprentice. Krun Li did not bother to hide his rage this time. He merely stared at Jaina as if he could kill her with his eyes. The container of milk landed near his bowl.

    Jaina sneered, "I can assure you that your Agharta did not do that. I did it by using the Force."

    For a moment, nobody moved or spoke. The servants eventually went back to their duties, albeit hesitantly. Croag returned to sitting properly in his seat. Krun Li cleared his throat and began with Jaina, "Let me make this perfectly clear, my child. Whether or not you understand the Mahra beliefs is not pertinent to our peace agreement. I do, however, expect you to respect them."

    "As long as we get the same respect for our beliefs," Jaina demanded.

    Krun Li went back to smiling, but it was more of a smirk this time. "I admit that I may have disrespected you. For that, I do apologize."

    Jaina was silent until Mara elbowed her in the abdomen. Jaina took her mentor's cue and said, "And I apologize as well."

    Krun Li addressed Mara to say, "You have taught your apprentice well in the ways of diplomacy."

    Mara replied, "Actually, that could be genetics."

    "I may have my mother's diplomatic sense, but I also have Han Solo's foot-in-mouth disease."

    Casually, Krun Li asked, "Who?"

    "Han Solo. My father. Ex-smuggler. Co-hero of the Rebellion. All around scoundrel." When the Spirit Leader still looked confused, Jaina asked incredulously, "You've never heard of Han Solo?"

    "Should I have?"

    "Never mind."

    Croag spoke to break the tension even more. "That was fascinating, young woman. I had heard the Jedi have god-like powers. I've just never witnessed them in person. Quite impressive. Perhaps you could later indulge us in a demonstration of your full powers?"

    Before her excited apprentice could answer, Mara cut in. "Jedi do not like to show off." She eyed Jaina and added, "Usually."

    Krun Li smiled in full again, showing his white teeth. "I hope this incident does not deter us from our purpose."

    Mara said confidently, "It will not happen again, Spirit Leader."

    "Excellent. Then allow me to offer you a proposal. We would like for you to be our guests for the next few days before we begin the peace proceedings. You were sent here to find out about us and to see if we truly seek peace or if we are using this for an ulterior motive. You can easily find that out by observing us for the next few days as we carry out our normal daily routine. Accommodations have already been set up for you both. I suggest you can take some time to freshen up before we take you on a tour of our facilities. You are welcome to ask anything you like and greet with anyone you want. What say you?"

    Mara looked over at Krun Li and decided that there was more information needed to form an opinion about the Mahra. Mara nodded to the Spirit Leader and answered, "Your proposal is acceptable. We will stay."

    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
    tbc
     
    Last edited: Jan 14, 2021
    WarmNyota_SweetAyesha likes this.
  4. madman007

    madman007 Jedi Master star 4

    Registered:
    Aug 22, 2007
    Chapter Four: Tour Of Insanity
    Their accommodations were rather fitting. It was once a sleeping chamber from a Correlian Corvette. The formerly white walls had been dulled in color by dust and grime over the years. The irony of the quarter's origins was not lost on Mara. New Republic historians all agreed that the one major event that set the Rebellion in motion against the Empire was Princess Leia's capture by Vader while aboard her Corvette hovering over Tatooine. Mara remembered reading an Imperial log that stated the Devastator had destroyed that particular ship. Considering how the Mahra were scavengers for the scrap of the galaxy, it forced Mara to wonder if these quarters came from the very same space craft. As Trogan gave she and Jaina the half-credit tour of their facilities, Mara mentally scoffed at that idea. The odds were insurmountable that they were in what was once part of the famous Tantive IV.

    Trogan finished up his tour. "We made sure everything in the refresher works. We have a separate plumbing system and a powerful Newton-Roush generator running the juice."

    Jaina looked around and felt down on one of the two cots placed on each side of the room. She pushed down to test its firmness. She smirked in satisfaction. "Not bad. I've had worse places to sleep in." She set her pack on top of the bed. There were no dressers to place clothing inside.

    Mara agreed. "Yes, I think it will do."

    Trogan sneered, "Good. It was the only one we could get prepared in time. The Mahra are not used to having guests."

    "Maybe that can change soon," offered Jaina.

    Trogan rolled his eyes at her and stated, "Krun Li will give you a standard hour to get settled and refreshed. He and Croag will meet you then at the central altar where you first met."

    Mara was inspecting the refresher when she absently replied, "Sounds fine."

    "Well, I have some things to attend to." He started for the door when he stopped to glance at Jaina. "Oh, and kid, that thing you did with the milk this morning at breakfast...nice skill you have there. Well, see you two later." The door slid open and he disappeared before it closed.

    Jaina smiled as she jumped on her bed.

    Mara eyed her apprentice. "Before your ego grows any larger, I should remind you that true Jedi don't use their abilities for retaliation."

    "I wasn't. I gave him an example of what we can do with the Force."

    ""Oh, so you're calling that display this morning a demonstration?"

    "Hey, your words, not mine. Besides, he provoked me. He set himself up when he put down the Force."

    "In which you should have gracefully respected his opinion and his beliefs."

    "That's boring. Really, Aunt Mara, you're starting to sound like Uncle Luke everyday." She looked up and paused before she added with a sigh, "All right, stop giving me your evil look. I'm sorry for reacting the way I did."

    Mara smiled in triumph and sat on her own bed. "So, what is your opinion of the Mahra so far?"

    "They certainly don't act like any pirates I remember. I can't sense one violent thought among them."

    Mara suggested, "Their religion could force it on them."

    "Mara, do you really believe that religion can have control over the actions of a whole group?"

    "Why not? The Force partially controls our actions."

    "But it doesn't tell us to go out and murder people."

    "Not specifically."

    "Look, these people were answering to a goddess who told them to do exactly that."

    "Telling Krun Li what to do, not the people."

    Jaina nodded. "He does seem to be their leader. He has a great influence on them. You did notice Trogan's say Krun Li will give us an hour. Wonder what else he'll give us."

    Mara gave a small shake of her head. "I don't sense anything from him except his beliefs and commitment to his members."

    "And to Agharta. I wonder what her myth is."

    "Myth?"

    "Sure. Her origin. All religions in the galaxy each have their own origin story."

    "More research time on Yavin?" When Jaina smiled sheepishly, Mara went on. "You're talking about how Agharta became their goddess."

    "Exactly." Jaina paused and thought aloud. "Maybe that cry for help feeling I sensed last night in the woods is connected."

    "I don't see how. How can a cry for help make someone a goddess?" When Jaina didn't answer, Mara asked, "You don't sense that now? Because I don't."

    "Me neither now."

    After a short pause, Mara got herself off her bed and said, "I'm going to go ahead and get ready first. My niece has been known to take the longest to get ready."

    Jaina absently replied, "All right." It wasn't until after Mara closed the refresher door when Jaina finally realized what her aunt said and Jaina exclaimed, "Hey!"


    One standard hour later

    Mara and Jaina set out to greet Krun Li at the central courtyard. Mara chose to dress in a loose black tunic that was perfect to travel through the woods in. Jaina merely wore the tight beige tunic of the inner Jedi uniform sans the thick billowing robe. The white sun was obscured by few clouds but the air was still on the brisk side. As promised, Krun Li and Croag stood at the altar waiting for them. Trogan was standing near. Mara and Jaina headed towards them.

    They were greeted by several members of Mahra along the way, who were simply going about their business. Though there were still looks of awe at them, they didn't seem to behold them in the same heroic and god-like manner as when they first arrived. One Rodian woman carrying a bushel of twigs almost ran into them. Mara caught her before she fell down by the weight of the load. The Rodian said something in Huttese and continued on her path. Mara looked dazed for a moment and then chuckled.

    "What's wrong, Mara?" asked her confused apprentice.

    "I've just never heard a Rodian apologize so sincerely before. Usually, they're so rude."

    "Miracles never cease."

    As they approached the altar, Krun Li greeted them with open arms. He bellowed, "Ah, Mara Jade and Jaina Solo. You both are visions among our people. We shall now take a tour of the compound, and perhaps then you can see how peaceful we live."

    Mara countered, "I'd rather see it under a less controlled environment."

    Krun Li smiled wide again. Any resentment he showed over Jaina's action at breakfast had disappeared. "Ah, you mean without a chaperon. I appreciate your skepticism, Mara. To appease your ways, you may ask any question of us that you wish along the tour."

    "Any questions?" Jaina emphasized.

    Krun Li glared at Jaina. "Yes, child. The Mahra have nothing to hide." He paused and boomed with joy, "Now, having that out of the way, let us begin the tour."

    They started walking through the campground along various dwellings that were once part of starships or military bunkers. The smaller huts were mostly made into homes for the individual members' families. Outside of each were projects to make their homes more comfortable or entertaining. Gardens were aligned by many and hoopball rings were set up in others. In addition to the homes, there were several larger structures that acted as libraries, banks, and schools. In essence, the Mahra developed their own community within itself.

    Krun Li explained that the members did not have any agenda other than to fulfill their own personal choices. Their purpose was to live life as it came. Though Mara considered that lifestyle to be too passive, she was willing to concede that it was their own choice to follow it in their own manner. The compound was larger than they originally thought. The homes went into subdivisions that looked like mazes. At the far end of one such grouping of homes sat two large structures. One was an oversized water tank with pumps coming in and out of it. This would be the plumbing and water purification system as Trogan explained. The second structure was an enormous Newton-Roush power generator, complete with several power droids to supply the power to each home and facility. Mara couldn't fathom where they could have obtained a popular generator such as this one.

    Both she and Jaina were impressed at the Mahra's quality of living within such a small space as well as their resourcefulness in maintaining it out of basic junk. Along the tour, several members smiled and greeted them with warm welcomes. None of their sentiment was false. There was no sense of underlying violence that had been the assumption of the galaxy for some time. Granted, that assumption came from the galaxy's most formidable madman. Mara and Jaina alike wanted to know more about the basis of their religion. Though Mara was convinced that these people were not violent nor did they express any ulterior motive to harm the galaxy, she still believed their goddess calling for a war against the Empire was mysterious.

    After they passed the utilities, Mara carefully asked Krun Li about the nature of the Mahra beliefs. Mara already knew not to mention the name of their goddess unless otherwise authorized. Jaina had already stepped on the their toes with her display at breakfast. Any further outbursts might scare the Mahra away from joining the New Republic.

    Krun Li casually explained, "The basis is simple simplicity. We respect nature and cherish what this world not only gives us but creates on its own. The Mahra have stayed on Qiilura a thousand years for this very reason. It has all that we require. It is not overly beautiful, like Ithor, but no less graceful."

    Jaina commented, "The Order of the Sacred Circle on Monastery have a similar view."

    "With a difference," Krun Li countered. "Their Order is represented by the renewing shape of a ring. It echoes the natural ring that surrounds their planet. They thrive on all aspects of their entire world. Whereas the Mahra are only but a small portion of Qiilura. We live among the primary species of this world."

    "The gurlanins," Jaina supplied.

    "Yes," Krun Li agreed. "Savages as they might be, they are still within this world's nature. We do not rely on such objectivity as a ring. Our goddess, Agharta, brings all nature together. You see, the gurlanins can never understand this belief."

    "Some do," Mara said. "Trogan's assistant, Ruht, seems to know your beliefs well."

    "Yes. That is a byproduct of him having a unique relationship with the Mahra. He is in constant contact with us. You do know the gurlanins have a telepathy with each other. They also have it with other species, though it is mostly one-sided. Ruht can absorb some of the knowledge emitted from our members like a living sponge. It is quite remarkable really."

    "Yet you forbid him from joining the Mahra," mentioned Jaina.

    Krun Li looked down sadly. "The gurlanins do have a thirst for knowledge. But they also have a rage that is uncommon. We can purge that rage as humans and other species. The gurlanins have not been able to release that rage inside of them and become peaceful, no matter how hard they try. Agharta forbids it."

    "And why is she the one to decide that?" Jaina kept on.

    Krun Li was almost taken aback by Jaina's patronizing tone. Croag breathed deep in semi-shock and Trogan just shook his head in disbelief. Mara, however, was proud of her apprentice. Even at age fifteen, Jaina already knew how to glean more answers from people when they were on edge. Just like Mara Jade, the assassin, used to.

    Krun Li finally smiled and replied, "My dear, Agharta is not our boss, so to speak. She is our everything. Our calling."

    "But how did she become your everything? Surely a goddess has an origin myth that created her."

    Krun Li eyed Jaina with a look of admiration and said, "Ah, I see you are a young lady with true wisdom for your age. In answer to your inquiry, there is a myth. A long story of a legend. Perhaps I can share that with you at another time." He glanced away to a point behind her and said, "I think now would be a good time to greet your fans."

    In response to his words, Jaina quickly turned around and saw a group of children of various ages and species crowding around behind them. Once they were exposed, many started to giggle and flee away to hide. Jaina uttered to Mara, "Wonder how long they've been following us."

    Mara answered, "Ever since we left the central courtyard. They seem to be mainly interested in you."

    Jaina smirked and said, "It's about time I had admirers who weren't after one thing."

    Mara cocked a green eye at her and muttered, "I'm not even going to touch that one."

    The children who didn't shy away looked at Jaina with wondrous curiosity. Krun Li boomed his voice at them in encouragement. "Children, there is no need to hide. It is all right to be curious of the Jedi. Some of you have researched them on the HoloNet. It is time you speak to them in person. Who is willing to come forth?"

    Most of the children backed away from being too shy. But one was left. A small human girl stood alone before the group of kids. She had her dark chestnut hair braided into loose curls and wore a bright green tunic. Her wide eyes were filled with a promise of wisdom.

    Krun Li announced, "Ah yes, I should have known. Our best Jedi scholar. Come child, introduce yourself to our guests."

    The young girl came forward and said with a gleeful tone, "My name is Ristina Tai'lor. And you two are real Jedi!"

    Jaina replied, "Well, technically, I'm not a full Jedi yet. But my aunt Mara here is." Jaina bent down to extend her hand so the girl named Ristina could shake it. "And my name is–"

    "Jaina Solo," Ristina exclaimed back as she let go of Jaina's hand. "I know. You are the daughter of Leia Organa and Han Solo." She glanced at Mara. "And you are Mara Jade Skywalker, Jedi Knight and husband to Jedi Master Luke Skywalker."

    Mara noted, "My, look who's well informed."

    Krun Li stated proudly, "Ristina has quite an interest in Jedi lore. She was hoping she could spend some time talking to you about it."

    Mara asked the girl, "Is that so?"

    "Yes! I know all about the Great Hyperspace War. Several Sith battles. Nomi Sunrider. All kinds of stuff." She addressed Jaina. "Are you Mara's padawan?"

    Jaina gave a short laugh and explained, "That's very good. We don't use that terminology today. I'm merely an apprentice."

    "Oh, you're so much more than that, Jaina Solo."

    Jaina turned to Mara and quipped, "I'm gonna like this kid."

    "Of course you will," Mara dead-panned.

    Without hearing their exchange, Croag explained, "You have to understand, most of our Jedi data was compiled from the HoloNet archives. They are a bit outdated."

    Jaina asked a question more for her mentor. "But data like the Great Hyperspace War and Nomi Sunrider would have been censored by Palpatine. Wouldn't it?"

    Mara replied, "Remember, Jaina, that Palpatine only censored information of Jedi from his generation. He only needed to hide his true scheme for the galaxy. Ancient Jedi history did not get in his way."

    Little Ristina added, "That makes sense. Most of the old Sith went after the Old Republic or the Jedi themselves. The Emperor was the only one who went after the galaxy itself."

    Mara raised an eyebrow at the girl and expressed, "That is an impressive deduction for someone of your age. How old are you?"

    "I'll be a standard twelve years next month," Ristina announced proudly. "I was born on the final day of the Crseih Confrontation."

    Krun Li added, "A great symbolic birth. It was a day that saw the death of the Reborn Empire and the birth of an extraordinary young girl."

    Jaina remarked, "I remember that day well."

    Krun Li changed subjects slightly when he mentioned, "Ristina has quite a collection of Jedi memorabilia handed down to her by her own family."

    Ristina beamed at Jaina. "I really wish I can show you."

    "Perhaps after the tour," assured Jaina.

    Krun Li smiled with his white teeth shown in full. "We have but one more place to visit. It is a long way and will require a speeder to reach it."

    Mara caught Krun Li's hint and suggested to Jaina, "Why don't you go with her. You might learn something."

    "For once?" Jaina quipped.

    Krun Li offered, "Yes, Trogan here can bring you later to our final destination. We have a surprise awaiting both of you there."

    Jaina nodded and addressed Ristina. "It's settled then. I'm all yours."

    "Yay!" the girl screamed. She reached for Jaina's hand and started to pull her. "Come on! This way!"

    As she was being drug away, Jaina looked back at her aunt and whined, "What am I getting myself into?"

    "Tell me about it later," Mara yelled back. Jaina watched her rejoin Krun Li and the others as they continued the tour. Meanwhile, as Ristina led her to her home, several of the children surrounded them. They weren't as shy this time. Their questions started immediately.

    What's it like being a Jedi?

    Do you get to travel to other planets?

    Can you read my mind?

    Can I see your laser sword?

    Jaina finally had to shout, "Guys! There's only one of me so I can only answer you one at a time."

    "That's right," cried Ristina. "She can only answer your questions one at a time. And, by the way, Adham, it's not a laser sword. It's called a lightsaber."

    Jaina was impressed with Ristina keeping her friends under control. She was reminded of another very familiar girl with the same spirit at that age. Jaina proceeded to answer their questions in turn. She said that she had already been to many planets in the galaxy. She explained that while she couldn't read the specifics of their thoughts, she could sense their feelings. She promised that she would show her lightsaber to them perhaps sometime in the future. And she finally said that she felt both honored and lucky that she was learning to be a Jedi.

    When they all were satisfied with her answers, Jaina felt a joy that she hadn't found since she was a small girl herself. It was a feeling of innocence and gleeful wonderment that she had once possessed. Over the past years of battles and kidnappings, she thought her innocence had abandoned her completely. As it turned out, it was a group of children who helped her find it again. Their awe of her status was so inspirational to her. She allowed that feeling wash over her.

    Ristina brought Jaina up to a door of a permacrete structure.

    "Here we are," the girl said.

    The front door entrance was wider than most homes. There were small thin windows cut in the sides at particular intervals. Ristina activated a switch to the side and the heavy metal door slid open. The sound of a repulsor drive was heard and the two of them entered. Her friends said their farewells from outside. The walls inside were made up of the same permacrete worn down by time and climate. It was similar to the walls of a Manassi temple on Yavin 4. By the layout of the corridors and rooms, Jaina had guessed this was once an old military bunker. Ristina led her to a wider room that looked to be a kitchen and dining area. Two adult humans, a male and female, stood nearby. A third human girl, who didn't look a day over age four, stood on a kitchen chair.

    Ristina started to introduce them. "Jaina, these are my parents. My mom, Lana. My dad, Edyn. And that's my little sister, Ronesta."

    "It's Ronny," the girl corrected in a high-pitched whine.

    "I'm just being polite, Ronny. Guys, this is the Jaina Solo. She is studying to be a Jedi Knight."

    Ristina's father, Edyn, was the first to extend his hand for Jaina to grasp. "Edyn Tai'lor. Very good to meet you."

    The middle-aged woman came over to face Jaina with a wide peaceful smile. Her chestnut hair and face mirrored that of her eldest daughter. "I am Lana Tai'Lor. It is an honor to welcome you here to our home. The Jedi were always welcome. And it is quite fitting that you are the first Jedi to visit the Mahra."

    "Thank you. And what do you mean by fitting?"

    Lana gave a look of temporary confusion. "Are you not the daughter of Leia Organa Skywalker?"

    Jaina had to stifle a chuckle at hearing her mother being called that. She explained to Lana, "I am her daughter. Pardon me, but my mother doesn't use my uncle's surname. Though, she is Luke Skywalker's brother, she prefers her marriage name, Solo."

    Edyn remarked, "Then Han Solo is your father. A rugged individual from what I've read and heard. If you don't mind my saying so."

    "Not at all. Some of that ruggedness rubbed off on me, too." Jaina gave the ever famous Solo crooked smile. She edged closer to the small girl at the table.

    Before Jaina could say anything, Ronny blurted out, "You pwetty!"

    They all laughed. Jaina smiled and replied, "Why, thank you. And so are you."

    Jaina's arm was suddenly being tugged again. Ristina cried, "Come on, Jaina. You have to see my room! You're gonna love it."

    Jaina rolled her eyes at her parents and said, "Guess I don't have a choice."

    Edyn called out, "Risty's been wanting for a Jedi to see her room for quite some time."

    His voice faded as Jaina was drug through more corridors and into one of two mid-sized bedrooms. Inside was what looked to be a typical ten-year-old female's room. Pink bed sheets were still wadded back from an early wake up. There were dolls atop a dresser with a mirror attached. A closest was half opened which exposed the various clothes and shoes. It reminded Jaina so much of how Winter used to scold her on how to treat her bedroom. But as she came inside more, she saw something that was not typical for a near teenager to have in her room..

    Several holographs were hung neatly on the opposite wall. They all had one central theme. Jedi. There were several holos of Jedi of the Old Republic and some were simply holos of scenes from the ancient Jedi Temple that used to sit gracefully on Coruscant. Jaina panned each one as if they were pieces in a museum. The depiction of Nomi Sunrider was a rendering done by an artist. Not many holos from her time would survive. There were a few names there that Jaina came across during her studies at the Jedi Academy. She was never treated to a true holo of them until now. The holocrons that Luke found in the archives supplied only manufactured images through the Force. Many were not in true color. For instance, Mace Windu had an intense glare that made him look as tough as he was described. No wonder he was the only Jedi to perfect Form Seven in lightsaber duel. Aayla Secura's blue skin looked even more beautiful in full color. Ki-Adi-Mundi looked as wise as the holocrons presented him. As she gazed at the holos, she realized that these were not merely created holo images for Jedi holocrons. These were actual holos taken live either for a Jedi archive or for personal use. Jaina almost felt as if each Jedi on the wall were watching her. What would they think of the new Jedi? She had the urge to speak to them. And she did so through the Force.

    Anakin's son is doing a great job. You would be proud of him.

    "Jaina?" cried out a young girl's voice.

    She awoke from her meditation to reply to Ristina. "Sorry. I'm just so impressed with these. Where did you get them?"

    "They were my grandfather's. He used to live on Coruscant and had contact with the Jedi almost everyday."

    Jaina asked, "Was he part of the Senate back then?"

    "No. Just a droid repairman."

    Jaina gave a small chuckle. "Oh. Well, that's important too. Even a Jedi may need a–" She stopped in mid sentence as she came across the last holo on the wall. Instantly, she could recognize the great Jedi's features from the description told to her many times as a young girl. And here he was in a younger version of that depiction. She whispered his name with honor. "Obi Wan Kenobi."

    "Yes. My grandfather said he was the wisest of all Jedi he ever met."

    "I know he was," Jaina agreed. All at once, she had one sudden thought as she watched her uncle's Master pose majestically for the holo. "Ristina, I wouldn't want to intrude on my guest status. But would you mind if I copied the data on this one? It would mean a great deal to me."

    Ristina brightened. "Oh yes, of course."

    Jaina smiled as she took out a data transfer card and inserted it into the holo's side port. She mentioned as it copied, "This will make a great Life Day gift for my uncle. It's coming up soon. He's going to cherish it."

    Ristina gulped and repeated words that she couldn't believe. "Something of mine will be a present for the Jedi Master Skywalker."

    Jaina laughed as the card beeped and she took it out of the port. "I can assure you, my uncle Luke will be humble with your gift."

    Jaina looked over at a banner that was handwritten in child lettering. Mahra Paddywon's of Qiilura. "That's impressive. Your own Jedi Council?"

    Ristina didn't sound as thrilled. "Yes. I did it when I was younger. I didn't know how to spell padawan then."

    "It's all right. I probably would have spelled it wrong too."

    Suddenly, Ristina burst out in excitement again, "Oh! I have to show you something!" She turned around to reach into a drawer of her dresser and pulled out a silver cylindrical object. She presented it to Jaina.

    Jaina's initial response from just the sight of it was, "A lightsaber?"

    "Not exactly. Here, feel it."

    Jaina did so and she could immediately feel the difference. It was greatly lighter than a lightsaber. When she inspected it further, she saw that there was a long thin piece of flimsi transparasteel where the blade began. All of a sudden, Jaina knew the object's nature. "This is a toy."

    "Yes. Here, let me show you." Ristina took back the toy and held it out so the clear tube was away from her. She flicked an oversized red switch and a tiny swishing sound emitted and a soft blue light appeared inside the clear tube. The sound was an obvious recording of a lightsaber's hum that did a good job of mimicking one.

    Jaina gave the Solo grin and said, "I accept."

    "What?"

    "Your challenge," Jaina bemused. "I've decided that you deserve the first look at a real lightsaber." She reached for her weapon and held it out in the same manner as Ristina did with her toy. Jaina depressed the switch and the snap-hiss drowned out the sound of the toy.

    Ristina's eyes could not appear larger. She whispered a long, "Wwwwooowww!" as Jaina waved the blade around a few times. It hummed with every movement.

    "That is so amazing! It's so pretty. And purple."

    "Yes. I wanted it to be different color than the usual blue or green." As Ristina gaped at the blade, Jaina asked her, "How did you become so interested in the Jedi?"

    "My grandfather told me many stories about them. He told me how heroic they were and how far the Jedi would go to protect the Old Republic."

    "That was their purpose. To protect and keep justice in the galaxy." Jaina wished some of the Jedi on the new Council could listen to this girl.

    "I know that. So did my grandfather. He didn't believe once that the Jedi would try betray the Old Republic. He knew the Emperor was lying."

    "That was one of his strong points."

    "Very few in the galaxy wanted to tell him that he was a liar in person. My grandfather would have. He did try."

    "What happened to your grandfather?"

    She recounted sadly. "He was in a raid against the Empire in the name of the Mahra before I was born. He was injured but he came back alive. He lost both of his legs and had to stay in a hoverchair. I remember falling asleep in his arms from his stories he'd tell to me when I was real little. He died when I was six. Five standard years ago. My little sister would never know him."

    "But you have his stories that you can pass down to her. And you have all these collectibles and this toy."

    "That's true. He left them all to me. He wished I could meet a Jedi someday." Her voice raised in joy. "I'm so glad that it was you."

    "That's sweet, Ristina."

    The girl's smile faded into concern. "Can I ask you something?"

    "Sure."

    "Can anybody be a Jedi even if you don't have the Force?"

    "What makes you ask that?"

    "Because I know I don't have the Force."

    Jaina shut down her lightsaber and said, "Ristina, the Force is what keeps living things alive. It's the glue that binds everything in the galaxy together. That includes you."

    "But I don't have Jedi powers. I can't even tell when my sister sneaks up on me."

    Jaina gave a laugh and said to her, "Sometimes my brother sneaks up on me and I can't feel him. And we're twins."

    Ristina was on the verge of tears when she cried, "But I can't move things with my mind or read peoples feelings. I can't be a Jedi. How can I help the galaxy?"

    The girl's sincerity nearly broke Jaina's heart. She bent down to see her eye to eye. "You don't have to be a Jedi to be an inspiration to the galaxy. You first have to be an inspiration to your sister, your family, and more importantly, to yourself. The fact that you want to help the galaxy is enough."

    Ristina quickly cheered up at hearing her words, but Jaina didn't have enough time to enjoy her elation.

    Suddenly, the same feeling of helplessness that she felt the previous night in the woods was back. It was stronger now. It hit Jaina hard. She stood up and quickly immersed herself in the Force to feel it. It reeked of despair. It was as if it was calling to her.

    Her sudden movement made Ristina worried. "Jaina, is something wrong?"

    "Just a strange feeling I'm getting in the Force." Jaina thought a moment and asked Ristina, "Is there someone you know nearby who's sick or injured?"

    "I don't think so. Everyone I know is happy here. What does it feel like?"

    "It feels like someone is calling for help."

    Ristina looked deep in thought and said, "I don't know who it could be...unless..." She looked up at Jaina. "You're sensing the crazy woman."

    "The crazy woman?"

    "Yes. They keep her in a small hut up on a hill."

    Jaina nodded. "Away from everybody else. Why do they say she's crazy?"

    "Cuz she is, I guess. She just speaks nonsense. No one knows what she's talking about. She won't even come out of her hut anymore."

    "How did she get like that?"

    Ristina gave an exaggerated shrug. "Nobody knows. Nobody talks about her." She suddenly frowned. "I'm probably not supposed to tell you about her."

    "Why is that? Is she a secret in the compound?"

    "Sorta. My mom and dad told me so. They said our Spirit Leader told us it would be better if we all left her alone. Something terrible must have happened to her. If anyone would be crying for help around here, it would be her."

    Jaina hadn't been around the Mahra people for very long, but she knew enough to show her that they lived in peace. If there was something, or someone who might jeopardize that peace, small communities such as this would hide them, thus effectively sweeping the secret away like it never happened. And the Spirit Leader, Krun Li, seemed to be the guardian of that secret. Nobody knew what happened to the crazy woman? Krun Li did. She had to find out. It was her duty as a Jedi to find out. Her inner voice recalled, I'm not a Jedi yet. Neither was Ristina. It wouldn't stop her from helping someone in need.

    Ristina's voice burst out in joy, "You're going to save her, aren't you?"

    Jaina stopped herself from saying that she would try. Instead, she remembered the words of another Jedi Master on the concept of merely trying. She then replied to Ristina, "Yes, I am. It's what Jedi do."


    Jaina received the crude directions to the woman's hut from Ristina. The girl couldn't even give the name of the woman since none was given to her. Jaina gave her farewells and gratitude to the Tai'lors. Ristina begged to go with her. Jaina had to convince her that it was something that she couldn't be involved in. For one, the woman might not open up with someone she knows is present. Secondly, Jaina didn't know how crazy the woman was. There were too many unknowns when dealing with a person who is labeled as crazy. She could be a quiet crazy or a violent crazy. She wouldn't know how she was going to react. Using that logic, Ristina understood how dangerous it could be with her there. The little girl complied with Jaina's wish that she go alone, albeit sadly.

    The same feeling of helplessness was growing stronger as Jaina followed the path that Ristina told her about. The sense in the Force was almost leading her to her destination like a trail of bread crumbs laid out along the way. She passed many Mahra members along the way who greeted her without questions of where she was heading or why she was alone. Once she reached deeper into the woods there were less members around.

    She finally came to the small creek that Ristina mentioned. It had a log bridge to get to the other side. She stepped on the log and found it to be a little slippery, just as Ristina had said. Jaina proceeded to cross the creek by using the Force to balance herself along the log. She noted how hard it was to get to. It acted as a barrier for children who dared to cross it. This area of the compound was more desolate. Yet, the Force told her that the sense of despair was strongest here. She went forward on the other side of the embankment and into more woods. This was exactly the kind of place where secrets were held. She waded through the limbs and leaves and eventually found a clearing with dense trees shutting out the light from above. Not far ahead of her was a small structure of thin metal.

    The hut was the color of rust and looked ancient. Scattered around the entrance were pieces of rotted meat that produced a distinct stench. Ristina did say the woman never came out. Someone had to be feeding her. The door frame was without a door and offered nothing but darkness. Jaina approached cautiously. When she reached the empty entrance, several ding beetles scurried to escape.

    Jaina tried calling out. "Hello! Anyone here?" She entered the hut into the dark and her eyes slowly adjusted to it. She saw inside a small cot unmade. More plates full of half eaten food were lying about. Other than that, the place was empty. Yet, Jaina still felt a presence nearby, though the feeling of despair quickly dissipated. She looked more thoroughly. There was no else place to hide except–

    The attack came from above as Jaina scarcely had time to react. She was knocked down to the floor as the figure pounced on her. The being growled enough to let Jaina know it was a human female...and that she was in charge. The mysterious woman released Jaina and jumped on the cot. Jaina turned her head up from the ground to see the woman from her point of view upside down. Jaina corrected her position by getting herself up.

    The woman looked to be in her late twenties and she held a defensive position towards her new foe. Her straggly long black hair was in several chaotic angles that fell just above her shoulders. Her face was so full of dirt and grime that it wasn't possible to identify any distinguishing features. The woman had apparently not seen the inside of a refresher for ages. Her white eyes bore into Jaina like an animal's to their enemy. Jaina was about to carefully speak to her but she beat her to it.

    "Bugs! The color is off! No gate anymore. Not allowed without a pass," the woman cried.

    Her accent was clearly Coruscanti. Her rhetoric, however, was of an unknown origin. Jaina extended her hand with palm out and said to the woman in a soft tone, "I'm not going to hurt you."

    "You can't play the parcel. The saw is in the bed. Their hearts are in the water. Can't survive. Can't survive."

    Jaina sighed. "All right. Not knowing what that means. Let's start out small. What is your name?"

    "You're not the right shape! You can't just lie in the fields and pretend to label the data!"

    "Uh huh," Jaina said at ease. She continued. "My name is Jaina Solo."

    Suddenly, the woman's eyes brightened as if in recognition. Jaina could feel the elation rise inside her. The woman made a quick move off the bed and got up right into Jaina's face. Jaina backed away slightly but didn't back down.

    "It is you," the woman whispered.

    Jaina crinkled her brow. "It's me. Do you recognize me?"

    Now the woman was examining Jaina. "You will know our Queen. She is coming."

    "Of course, she is."

    The woman all at once smiled and then started to spin and dance around the room.

    "Well, that worked," said Jaina. "Whatever I said."

    As she danced, the woman cheered dreamily, "She is here! The stars are screaming!"

    Jaina dead panned, "Something tells me I'm not getting any answers out of you."

    "The day of her reckoning will be cherished for centuries."

    Jaina corrected, "Any answers that I can understand, anyway."

    "The Jedi foil is here to heal!"

    A jolt of recognition sparked in Jaina. "How did you know I was–"

    "You're not getting anything from her," a voice suddenly boomed from the entrance.

    Jaina spun around to see Trogan leaning inside the doorway. "How did you know I was here?"

    "I stopped by the Tai'lors and Ristina confessed that you went to find the crazy woman. Only one who fits that description in the compound."

    Jaina nodded and glanced at the woman who was still dancing. It finally dawned on her that the woman had lessons at some point in her life. Jaina explained, "I thought she needed help."

    "She certainly needs some."

    "What happened to her?"

    "Why don't I tell you on the way to the beach? Your aunt and Krun Li are already there."

    "Sure," said Jaina as she walked towards the entrance. She glanced back at the dancing woman right at the moment she stopped.

    The woman spotted Trogan and spoke. "Ah, the gentleman awaits his turn. But it's not his Life Day today. It's his anniversary from five-zero-one."

    "Whatever you say, Seria," replied Trogan.


    Trogan's speeder was parked not far from the edge of the creek and he and Jaina both climbed in and sped off. For a while, he didn't speak. Recalling how Trogan had to be prodded for information, Jaina started her inquiry.

    "So who is Seria?"

    "Seria Rayne. She wasn't exactly on the tour."

    "I kinda got that. What happened to her?"

    "Long story short, her parents were killed in a raid on the Empire when she was young. She ran away and went missing for a long time. When she was found again, she was like she is now. Not in the right frame of mind. Been that way ever since. Goin' on twenty standard now."

    "Has anyone tried to help her?"

    Trogan gave a shrug. "Doctors we've had as members here tried speaking to her. Some tried drugs. Nothing worked."

    "Maybe they weren't really listening. Though most of what she said didn't make sense, she did know I was a Jedi."

    "Oh, please! Don't tell me she's one of your mystical Jedi."

    "I didn't say that. In fact, I couldn't sense anything from her other than her presence and her feelings. I don't think she has Force potential. But she knew who I was. Sort of."

    "Yeah, don't try racking your brain with her words. They're meaningless. Trust me, they've never made sense. Doctors here wasted hours to try and figure them out."

    "What about off world doctors?"

    "Too risky. As you may have noticed, the Mahra like their privacy. Word gets out that we have a woman crazier than a Jawa on spice and we can say goodbye to that privacy. Besides, the doctors here were not just hacks. They were good ones. If they couldn't do anything for her, what more can an off world doctor do? Nope. Seria Rayne is beyond help."

    Jaina's thoughts immediately went to Jagged Fel. She stated absently, "I'll never believe anyone is beyond help."

    "Great, who brought you up to be an idealist?"

    Jaina's voice edged with rage. "My parents and my uncle, thank you! You might know my uncle better as the Jedi Master."

    Trogan scoffed. "You Jedi think you live in the real world."

    Jaina shot back, "My uncle did live in the real world for nineteen years."

    "And where was that again? Tatooine? Yeah, he really got a slice of life on that dust bowl planet."

    Jaina sighed in frustration. She decided that since it would be easier to wrestle a gundark than to change Trogan's mind, she changed the subject. "Seria mentioned something about a Queen. The Queen is coming. Know what that could mean?"

    He replied, "Haven't the slightest." She could still sense a small flicker of recognition. She let it go for now until she knew more.

    Her attention turned to the scene they were coming up to. Ahead of them was an enormous body of water. She could see the water that stretched far beyond the shore of the large lake. The white sun shone down on the waves making the water shimmer with crystal elegance. There were members of the Mahra on the beach, though few were brave enough to enter the cool water. Trogan parked the speeder on the edge where the green grass faded into the light gray sand.

    "We're here," he announced as he jumped out.

    Jaina climbed out and scanned the beautiful scene. In no time, she spotted the red-gold hair of her Jedi mentor. She was standing on the edge of the beach speaking with Krun Li and Croag. She headed toward them. When she was closer, Krun Li caught sight of her.

    "Ah, Jaina! How was your visit with Ristina and her family?"

    "Very enlightening." She nodded to Mara in a way that told her that they needed to speak privately soon.

    "As I expected," Krun Li went on. "Ristina is a very special girl."

    Jaina remarked, "This is so lovely."

    Krun Li bellowed, "Welcome to Neekro Lake. As you can see, it is a glorious place for recreation. Now that you two are back together, I can announce your surprise. Tonight, we shall have a feast for dinner right here on Neekro Beach. We will have the best foods, like our breakfast this morning. We will also have entertainment and perhaps more."

    "Excellent," said Mara. "You may want to discuss those plans with your head of security. I want to speak with my apprentice alone, if you please."

    Krun Li nodded and addressed his Head of Security. "Trogan, a word please."

    As Trogan obeyed and went over to his boss in private, Mara and Jaina were left alone. Jaina recounted her visit with the Tai'lors and Ristina. She mentioned the holos of the great Jedi of the Old Republic, including a future Life Day gift for her husband.

    Mara uttered, "He'll love that. I don't think he has any holos of Obi Wan in that era. I finally caught a sense of that cry for help you felt last night."

    "And that led to another mystery." She explained about finding Seria Rayne and her condition.

    When she was finished, Mara added, "I can see how she would have gone mad with something that tragic happening to her. Did you say her parents' name was Rayne? Sounds familiar. Wonder why she's being kept a secret."

    "Sounds like they're scared of the publicity."

    Mara nodded. "She's not so much as a secret than she is an embarrassment. Guess they figure if it gets out that she went mad here the galaxy will assume they all did."

    Jaina asked, "What did you find out?"

    "Not much. We took a drive around the shockball field and then to the meditation shelter. That last place just screams Agharta."

    "Funny thing. While I was with Ristina and her parents, not one of them mentioned Agharta."

    "Doesn't mean they don't believe in her, whatever she is. And remember, Krun Li said he was the only one who could converse with her." Mara paused as she looked across the lake and said, "Hey, there's something out there."

    Jaina looked out and said, "I can't see anything but water."

    "There's a piece of land out there."

    "Yeah, it's the other side of the lake."

    "No, look at the edges. See how there's water on each side. That's an island. See it?"

    Jaina gave a long frustrated sigh. "No. Uncle Luke always said you have super sight."

    Instead of replying to her, Mara called out to Krun Li. "Is there an island out there?"

    Krun Li stopped speaking to Trogan at once and answered Mara, "Yes, it is. That is Neekro Island. And we never speak of it."

    "Why not?"

    Krun Li replied grimly, "We have our reasons."

    "Is it dangerous?"

    "It could be. None of us have set foot out there in decades. The last person to visit Neekro Island came back quite insane."

    Whether it was by accident or instinct, Jaina blurted out, "Seria Rayne?"

    Krun Li edged closer to the two Jedi and turned harshly at Jaina to ask, "Where did you hear that name?"

    Trogan came up and admitted, "I told her the name. She was already there with Seria."

    Krun Li shot a suspicious glance at Jaina. "How did you find her?"

    "I felt her. The sense of her despair was in the Force and that led me to her."

    "You can do that? Follow a feeling?" Krun Li asked incredulously.

    "It's one of our many talents," Mara retorted.

    "She needs help," Jaina pleaded.

    Krun Li said, "We have tried."

    Trogan put in, "I already told her about all the doctors here had done everything they could. She just still keeps talking gibberish that makes no sense."

    Jaina suggested, "Maybe it doesn't sound like anything to you, but it could be part of a puzzle you have to put together."

    Trogan scoffed again. "Please. Spare me the hokey Jedi rhetoric."

    Krun Li finally said, "My dear child, I appreciate your concern for the woman. She had been through a traumatic event when she was a child. That made her flee and disappear for quite some time. When she was found, she was never the same since. We supply her with food and water now and she lives on."

    "Meaning you've given up on her," shot back Jaina.

    Krun Li told her, "I assure you, Jaina, there's nothing else we can do for her."

    Mara uttered, "That's not entirely true." She stared Krun Li in the eyes and stated emphatically, "You've never introduced her to a Jedi."

    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
    tbc
     
    Last edited: Jan 14, 2021
  5. Cowgirl Jedi 1701

    Cowgirl Jedi 1701 Jedi Grand Master star 5

    Registered:
    Dec 21, 2016
    Me likey! Moar!
     
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  6. madman007

    madman007 Jedi Master star 4

    Registered:
    Aug 22, 2007
    Chapter Five: A Myth In Trade
    Qiilura Mahra Compound - Neekro Beach, evening

    Mara Jade had encountered her share of the male population who were stubborn beyond measure. Han Solo made an art out of being stubborn. Her former boss, Talon Karrde, made a profit from it. Even her own husband had shades of stubbornness over the years that she knew him. The Spirit Leader of the Mahra, Krun Li, was no exception.

    After Mara offered her service as a Jedi to help the woman named Seria Rayne out of the insanity that plagued her, Krun Li was very evasive. From her first meeting with him, she could sense the sincerity of his words about the Mahra beliefs. He had shown courtesy to Jaina and herself as a host on their visit to the Mahra compound. His wide, white smile could radiate joy within the range of his presence.

    Yet, there was something else there. Behind his well-intended nature was something that made Mara not trust him. It was distant. Locked away beneath his conscious thoughts. She wasn't strong enough in the Force to glean any details from his mind, like her husband could. She felt as if the deeper she tried to reach, the stronger his mental walls barricaded whatever it was that he was protecting. The wall seemed to feel stronger after Seria's name was mentioned. It made her frustrated that she couldn't go further into his mind.

    It also made Mara wonder regretfully if this was the same frustration that Luke had felt for several years after meeting her. Was that what he had to endure during his conversations with her? Had her own mental walls prevented an earlier courtship? If that's what Luke had to go through first, then it was a credit to him that he even persisted all those years when she rejected him.

    She shook away those thoughts for the time being and concentrated on Krun Li's reply to her offer for helping Seria Rayne.

    "We shall see," was his only response. It was really all she could ask for at the moment.

    Instead of dwelling on it, Mara joined in the celebration dinner that the Mahra members prepared on the beach in their honor. Much like the breakfast they had that morning, the food that they supplied for dinner was just as grand. The main course was a huge gornt that was being roasted on a spit over an open fire. Barrels of Andalian brandale were carried to the beach. Mara felt compelled to partake in a glass or two, but stopped her apprentice cold when Jaina tried to sneak in a glass.

    "I'm not having you start drinking like a Solo this early in life," Mara explained.

    "Guess I'll just have to wait till I'm the proper age," Jaina replied sweetly. Though she gave a fake pout, Jaina went back to the party with Ristina and her friends.

    The skies soon darkened as the celebration dinner went on. Everyone was full of food and drink, though their joy never ceased. Some members brought out acoustic instruments and started playing music. The adolescent boys attempted to entice Jaina to dance with them. Then, the smaller children, including Ristina, joined in. If it wasn't for the children dancing, Jaina wouldn't have bothered with dancing with the boys of her own age. With all the adventures that Jaina had in the past year, adding more boy issues was far down on her list.

    The band played on through the night and more adult members began to dance, especially after one barrel of wine had been consumed. Even Mara herself joined in on the dance blanket. After the band took a much deserved break, all the dancers collapsed on the blanket near the fire. The spit with the gornt carcass had been taken away so that the children could affix sweet melmars to the end of sticks to roast in the fire for dessert. As they rested, Croag B'has asked Mara and Jaina about the powers of the Force.

    He added, "We've already seen an example of telekinesis with the milk this morning. We read that some Jedi are omniscient. Is this true?"

    One of Ristina's friends burst out, "Yeah, can you read our minds?"

    Since they all knew that Mara was the only official Jedi present, all eyes were on her as they anticipated her answer. She glanced over at her apprentice who gave her a knowing smile and a shrug. Mara Jade had always considered herself as someone who could learn fast at nearly anything. It wasn't until after she became an official Jedi when she felt confident enough to call herself a teacher. She still had doubts about handing down knowledge of the Force. As the Emperor's Hand, she was always alone. There were no trainees to teach to take her place. One of the reasons why she agreed to take Jaina on as an apprentice in the first place was to gain the confidence in herself to teach the Force to others. At least with Jaina, Mara didn't have to teach her the basics. Yet, she could enhance her abilities that were already there. Now Mara was dealing with people who had little to no knowledge of the Force or the Jedi. It was more than a little intimidating for her. She tried anyway. Mara addressed her new students.

    "It is different with each Jedi, but for the most part we can feel your emotions more than your thoughts. I can read your joy, your weariness from dancing, and the pains from your full stomachs." There was a collective chuckle from the crowd for a few seconds before they went back to hanging on her every word. She continued, "Jedi have different abilities and strengths just like yourselves. One Jedi on the council has the ability to project images into your mind that aren't really there."

    Croag asked, "What about premonition? Can you tell the future?"

    Mara breathed in and treaded carefully. She recalled all of her conversations with Luke on the subject. "We can see images into the future through the Force. It doesn't tell us the future. The images only supply us with pieces of a possible future. It's up to the interpretation of those images that determine what that future may or may not be."

    "I see," said the satisfied Croag.

    Ristina then asked a peculiar question. "What are each of your midi-chlorian counts?"

    Her question drew a blank stare from Jaina, who asked, "Our what?"

    Sensing that Jaina would have a hard time answering, Mara cut in to explain, "We don't use that terminology anymore in this age, Ristina. That was a theory of Force ability that dates back before the Clone Wars. Besides, comparing our midi-chlorian counts today would only promote competition between our new and younger Jedi."

    Ristina was satisfied with Mara's answer but Jaina gave her aunt a look of confusion. Mara gave her a mental promise that she would explain later.

    The questions from the members continued as another boy asked, "Are you able to make people do things against their will?"

    Mara automatically responded without thinking, "Only if you're dumb enough to fall for it."

    Jaina almost choked on a piece of melmar when she immediately cut in to say, "What my Aunt Mara meant to say was that Jedi mind tricks only work with weak-minded people. I'm positive that none of the Mahra members would qualify."

    Mara smiled proudly and admitted openly, "Forgive me. My apprentice has more tact and diplomatic manners than I'll ever have."

    Another boy asked a question more for Jaina, "Do you guys fight a lot?"

    Jaina chuckled and said, "Not very often, though we do disagree with some things. That doesn't mean we fight over it."

    The boy persisted by saying, "But you fight with your laser swords."

    Before Jaina could reply, Ristina corrected, "Lightsabers."

    Everyone chuckled before Jaina explained, "We do have duels together for training, but we make sure we don't hurt each other. A Jedi uses knowledge of lightsabers only for defense, never for attacking."

    Croag suggested, "I'm sure the children and adults would like to see a demonstration of a lightsaber duel."

    A wave of cheers erupted from the children after Croag spoke. Jaina glanced at Mara with a sly grin and asked, "How about it, Aunt Mara? You up for a sparring match?"

    Mara stated her reply in monotone. "Jedi also do not show off, Jaina."

    Cries of disappointment came over the children and Jaina eyed her Aunt as she stood up from the blanket and said, "I'm going to get some more juri juice. Could you come with me please, Aunt Mara?"

    Mara's red-gold eyebrows were raised above her bright green eyes at her apprentice. Mara lifted herself off the blanket to shake off the excess sand before she started to follow her niece. Mara addressed the crowd to say, "We'll be right back."

    Once they were out of earshot from the crowd, Jaina abruptly turned to her aunt to quietly exclaim, "What do you think you're doing?"

    "Wondering why you're indulging in their entertainment. We're not actors performing on stage, Jaina."

    "It wouldn't be like that. Don't you see? These people have never seen a Jedi. They only know about them through what they could get from the HoloNet, which isn't much."

    "Thanks to Palaptine."

    "Exactly. It's outdated information. Speaking of that, don't think I'll forget to ask what the hell is a medi-chlorian."

    Mara shrugged. "Palpatine told me about them when I was very young. That discussion is for another time."

    Jaina nodded and went on. "I think the Council forgets that the average citizen in this galaxy has never seen a Jedi in action. Sometimes people need to see how they will be protected in order to build trust. That's what these people need from us now more than anything else. All right, your point about a Jedi not showing off is true. But I didn't use the Force to lift that milk pitcher this morning to boost my ego. I did it so that the leaders can see what the Force can allow us to do. It was knowledge passed down. And that's what Jedi should do best. A Jedi used to be a symbol of peace, security, and knowledge."

    "I don't need the lecture, Jaina. I know all of this."

    "You should. Because I learned it straight from your own husband." Jaina lifted the decanter of juri juice to pour herself another cup. She turned to go back to the crowd and said in passing, "Just think about it, Aunt Mara."

    She walked away but Mara called out to her. "Jaina," she said, not knowing how to get her question out. She asked meekly, "Do you really believe the Jedi can return to what it once was?"

    Without hesitation, Jaina smiled and replied, "Yes, I do."

    Jaina continued to rejoin the members of Mahra, leaving Mara alone with her thoughts. Eventually, she did follow her niece back to the members. Instead of sitting down on the blanket, she unfastened her lightsaber from her belt and walked past Jaina saying, "Let's go."

    Wearing the famous Solo grin, Jaina put down her drink and followed Mara with her own lightsaber taken from her belt. They walked out several meters away from the crowd for safety reasons. Shouts of joyous anticipation were coming from the crowd. There were people calling others over to join in the spectacle. With better timing than a Rogue Squadron, all Mahra members who were present formed a semi-circle surrounding where Mara and Jaina were to duel.

    When Mara faced her apprentice, she quipped, "If we're a hit, we can take this show on the road."

    "You are too much, Aunt Mara. But because of my underage lack of drinking, I'll have the advantage. How many glasses of brandale did you have?"

    "I'll have you know that unlike your father, I can hold my liquor."

    They each ignited their swords which resulted in a collective gasp from the crowd. Mara and Jaina angled their weapons in defensive positions at first. They each could sense the anticipation from the crowd. Finally, Mara swung a strike from above that Jaina parried easily. Purple and blue clashed loudly in the night followed by the cheers of the crowd.

    "I feel like I'm on stage," uttered Mara.

    "Maybe life is a stage," responded Jaina.

    "Oh, hush, Luke Jr." Mara quickened her pace with a series of tight thrusts coming from various angles. Jaina had to concentrate harder but she did mange to block them all. After Mara's attack, Jaina took the offensive in a low upward swing. Mara swerved to avoid it in a move that was more relative on a dance floor. Jaina backed off and they circled to go back into defensive mode. Seemingly stuck in a standstill, the two waltzed around each other with swords at the ready. They were surprised that even with the crowd looking on they were still focused on the duel. They were mentor and apprentice challenging each other. The crowd almost didn't exit.

    Suddenly, Mara started a wide arc sweep from above on Jaina's left. Jaina was set to block it when Mara feinted to the right that changed direction in mid swing. Knowing she couldn't block Mara's strike in time, Jaina called on the Force to jump up and over Mara's head. She performed a somersault and landed in the sand facing Mara's back. Just before Jaina's strike down from behind, Mara reached her blade across her back to parry it. The two blades clashed with such force that sparks flew from their contact point.

    Their focus on the duel was lost for a few seconds with the roar of the crowd cheering and applauding.

    Jaina cracked, "We can see who they're rooting for."

    "If you think I'm playing the villain again, you don't know me well."

    "I know you well enough."

    "Care to wager on that?"

    "Come on, Aunt Mara. You know to never ask a Solo to bet on the shorter odds."

    "Good thing you're shorter than me," she replied just before she went into a quick succession of swings. Jaina blocked each one but Mara's pace was growing faster. It was soon getting harder for Jaina to keep up. Mara then started spinning as if she were on the dance floor. Her movements were fluid yet dangerous. Jaina kept her mind on watching where Mara's white-blue blade was going to end up. She did manage to block all of Mara's attacks, but barely. Abruptly, Mara made a sudden thrust after a downward arc. By the time Jaina made to block it, her purple-white blade was ejected out of her hand from too much force behind Mara's sudden attack. Jaina's extinguished blade landed softly nearby in the sand. Mara raised the blade to Jaina's chest and Jaina could taste the ill flavor of defeat.

    The crowd cheered as they stood to give their Jedi guests a standing ovation.

    "Now who are they cheering for?" sniffed Mara.

    "Honestly, I think they're cheering for both of us."

    Mara shut down her blade with a hiss and she and Jaina turned and faced the crowd. Their cheering became louder. Here and there, they could hear exclamations such as, "That was incredible!" and "I can't believe how fast they were!"

    Mara awkwardly asked, "Do we bow?"

    "Why not?" cried Jaina. And they each bowed to the crowd.

    Mara straightened and uttered, "That has to be my first standing ovation after a duel."

    "You deserve it," admitted Jaina. "You are way better than me. Those last spins were incredible. And that last thrust came out of nowhere. I didn't see that coming."

    "Because you were focusing only on the blade."

    "Yeah. Uh, isn't that usual in a duel?"

    "For someone without the Force. If you focused more on my actions instead of the blade through the Force you could have anticipated that last thrust. Just like you did with my fake battle sounds the other day, you didn't use the Force to anticipate my true actions."

    Jaina look dumbfounded and muttered a blank, "Oh."

    "Don't worry. We'll work on it more sometime. I'm guessing my moves were a little more advanced than what you're used to."

    "I'd say. Uncle Luke can't move like you."

    "Thank the Maker for that."

    They rejoined the group while still receiving praise for displaying such skill at lightsaber duel. Twilight was ending and the younger children were starting to yawn. Mara sat down on the blanket first but something caught her eye. She watched with a mix of admiration and regret as Jaina sat down on the blanket beside her. Jaina could catch the emotion rising in her mentor and grinned.

    Jaina gave Mara a small nudge and asked, "Credit for your thoughts?"

    Mara looked as though she'd been caught in some nefarious act. Her mental walls came down and she snapped back, "My thoughts are worth more than a credit."

    Jaina was about to say something in response but was interrupted by Krun Li's booming voice. "Members of Mahra, it has been a fulfilling evening of food and entertainment, some of which was just provided by our Jedi guests. But it is that time of the night for the younger ones to rest." The response came in the form of disappointing whines coming from the children. Krun Li smiled wide. "Now, now, I don't want your parents to blame me if all of you are too tired to spend more time with our guests tomorrow. But before we end our night of celebration, I wanted to give a special treat for our Jedi guests. They have supplied us with a demonstration of their skills, so I have decided to indulge them with one of ours. Storytelling. If you would all gather around what is left of the fire here, I shall recite the story of our beloved Agharta."

    Gasps of joy sounded as the group moved to form a semicircle closer to the fire. The elder children sat with legs folded in the first row. Mara and Jaina were already at a spot close enough. Despite the outside scenery of the dim fire, Jaina still was reminded of all the times on Coruscant when she and Jacen were very young. C-3PO would tell them stories and lullabies. She felt a reminiscent joy at the innocence of her youth at that time. She was a girl then who had no knowledge of the horrors of the real galaxy. She and Jacen looked forward to hearing the protocol droid's attempt at singing as well as his inclusion of sound effects in his stories. Even though she didn't expect Krun Li to recite The Little Lost Bantha Cub, she knew he would tell a good story.

    As soon as everyone was settled by the fire, Krun Li began.

    "Many thousands of moons ago, on the world we know as Qiilura, there was a group of settlers from all kinds of mixed human and alien races. They had been forced to land here for their space craft had been damaged beyond repair and they had no communication. They already experienced loss of life in the crash. They were then forced to live among the beasts and animals of Qiilura. They endured with bravery and a resourceful spirit as they made Qiilura their home, safe from harm.

    "Or so they thought. The creatures of Qiilura known as the gurlanins did not like a mix of human and alien species on their world. The gurlanins then terrorized the settlers into scaring them off their sacred land. The gurlanins would mimic the shape of any one of the settlers to lure them away from the main group. Then they would torture and murder them. The gurlanins set fire to their gardens and killed all of the animals in the vicinity so that the settlers would have no food.

    "The settlers did not know how to fight the gurlanins. Their hope was soon diminished. Yet, there was one young girl among them. A little golden-haired human girl spoke out against their oppressors. Not one of the settlers could remember the girl on board. No one even knew her name."

    A small boy in the front cried out, "But we know her name."

    Krun Li smiled and replied, "Yes, Tarni, we do. But the settlers didn't at first. The young girl did not indulge violence against the gurlanins. Instead, she promised that the settlers would soon benefit forever with a pact with the gurlanins. She promised that the gardens would soon replenish and the animals would return to populate the area, providing food to hunt and grow. She said that once the pact was agreed upon, the settlers would thrive thereafter. When asked her name, she only replied, "I will be your mahra.

    "The gurlanins soon heard about the girl's prophecies. They could not have the settlers keep their hope. One night, the gurlanins captured the girl. The settlers tried to find her the next morning. Deep into the woods, they found her. Her corpse was hanging from a high pole. The white light of Qiilura's sun shone down through her golden locks. The settlers gave the brave young girl a proper funeral. When they cut her down, they noticed something written on her gown in her own blood. Agharta. That was her true name that the gurlanins forced out of her through their telepathy. Finally, the girl had a name.

    "But as we all know, that was not the end of the story." The crowd chanted their answer with a, "No!" Krun Li continued saying, "No. Soon after her funeral, the ground shook uncontrollably. Hard rains came down from the sky. New animals started to populate the area. As a result, the soil became richer for growing crops. Animals roamed the area for the hunters. Everything Agharta had promised was coming to pass. Not only did the settlers realize this, but also the gurlanins. Even the violent creatures could not dismiss the idea that the girl was magical. Because of her epiphany, the gurlanins decided to leave the settlers alone as long as they stayed in their area.

    "And so shall it was. The settlers decided to call themselves the Mahra. They lived in peace while living separately with the gurlanins. Over the centuries, the Mahra would add to its numbers. And our beloved Agharta became the light of our future."

    After he stopped speaking, a wave of applause erupted from the crowd. After the members started to scatter towards their respective homes, Krun Li thanked each of them for their help with the preparations of the evening and wished them a good night. He then approached Mara and Jaina, who were stretching and getting ready to go back to their hut too.

    Mara spoke to him before he could. "Interesting story."

    "Your skill with a lightsaber is likewise." He hesitated briefly before he said with rare reluctance, "I will consider your offer to help Seria overnight. I can give you an answer in the morning. Her situation, as you can tell, is delicate."

    "Delicate situations are a Jedi specialty. I'll be waiting for your answer in the morning."

    "And I'll still be sleeping in the morning," yawned Jaina.

    With a chuckle Krun Li wished them a good night but added, "We thank you for sharing your abilities with us."

    Mara only nodded as the Spirit Leader walked away.

    Along the way back in Trogan's speeder, Mara and Jaina were too tired to speak. Trogan dropped them off with his obligatory good night. They each entered their hut and prepared for bed.

    After they both were lying under the covers in the dark, Jaina uttered, "Well, that was fun. Admit it, Aunt Mara, you had fun."

    "I admit nothing."

    "Come on," the teen prodded.

    "It was...fulfilling."

    "Guess that's the best answer I'll get from you tonight." Jaina rolled over to face her Aunt in the opposite bed. "Then again, you could still be thinking about that woman who was breast feeding her baby just before Krun Li started his story."

    Mara tried to sound innocent. "Why would I be interested in her?"

    "Because as soon as I noticed you watching her, I felt an immense feeling of doubt coming from you."

    Mara again tried to sound nonchalant but failed. "Why would I feel doubt?"

    "Mara...you are talking to both a Solo and a Skywalker here. You can stop the drama. Haven't you and Luke thought about a baby?"

    Mara snickered. "A child? With our schedules? Can't see it happening."

    Jaina gave a knowing smile. "That's not why you have doubt." She sat up to state emphatically, "You will be a great mother someday, Mara Jade."

    Mara strained to ask, "How would you know?"

    "I can just tell." Jaina sighed and added, "You know, I love my Uncle Luke. I enjoy his lessons and how he trains us. But I think he relies on the Force too much."

    "Tell me about it."

    "He doesn't listen to people or watch their actions to understand them. He just uses the Force to read people. The Force can tell you things about someone, but not everything. That's why I think it took so long for you two to get together."

    "When did you get so introspective?"

    "Again, that recipe is one part Solo, one part Skywalker. Stirred and simmered for fifteen years."

    "And other ingredients that made you grow up too fast." Mara hesitated before saying, "As far as bringing another being into the galaxy...Luke and I...we have talked about it. We're just not ready yet. Let's leave it at that for now."

    Jaina silently obliged and sank back deep into her pillow. She was almost asleep when she blurted, "What did you think of the myth of Agharta?"

    "Typical back story for a creating a goddess," Mara mumbled.

    "There were too many details missing for me."

    "Most myths don't have details. Over several thousand years, details get diluted."

    "Maybe. Still, how did the gurlanins know her true name? I know they're telepathic but I thought they could only get details only from their own kind. And why did she tell the settlers to call her mahra? And why–"

    "Why is it that you're not asleep by now? We'll talk about it in the morning."

    After a moment of silence, Jaina muttered, "See, you already have motherly instincts."

    "If you don't want a motherly whipping, I suggest you go to sleep now."

    "Yes, mother."

    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
    tbc

     
  7. madman007

    madman007 Jedi Master star 4

    Registered:
    Aug 22, 2007
    Chapter Six: Memories And Dreams
    Qiilura - Mahra compound: Day Two

    Sound.

    That was what awoke her. Or rather, the lack of sound.

    It sounded strange, but it was silence that actually awoke her.

    Jaina sat up slowly in her bed and into the darkness. She figured she hadn't been asleep long given Qiilura's short night cycle. She glanced over at the lump of covers in the cot opposite her own. Mara was sleeping soundly.

    At the beach earlier that night, there were numerous underlying sounds of nature surrounding her. At that moment sitting awake in her bed, there was no sound. There was no indication of any other living being outside of their hut. The air inside the hut also felt contrived. Her mouth was dry. She lifted her legs from under the covers and swung them over to the side of the cot and onto the permacrete floor. The sudden chill from contact to the cold floor sent waves through her nerves that shot up all the way to her shoulders. It was a coldness on her feet that felt like water.

    Jaina slowly lifted herself up from the cot to head towards the refresher. She looked into the reflector and ignored the untangled chaos of dark hair courtesy of tossing and turning on her pillow. She reached down to turn on the water. She cupped her hand into the stream and felt the sting of cool as the water cascaded over her fingers. She bent down to sip from her natural cup. She took a few gulps to quench her thirst. She stopped and shut the water off before she reached for a nearby towel to dry her hands. She stretched up again and looked back into the reflector...

    ...images flooded her mind coming at her at breakneck speed. Symbols. Crowds of beasts hungrily surrounding her. Covering her with fire. Earth swallowing her whole. Nowhere to go. Trapped. Destined for death. The beasts were grunting in unison. The sacrifice was almost over. The blood was already spilled.

    Help me!

    The girl's eyes sunk beneath her skull. The sheer whiteness of her gown clashed with the cracking gray of her rotting flesh. Her stare bore deep into Jaina's soul. Her lips parted just enough to let air through dead space. She stood there, waiting. There was a sharp feeling of–

    "Ahhh!" Jaina jerked up and screamed. She found herself back in her bed. There was now bright light coming from the small window atop the entrance of the hut. She could hear the sounds of the morning from members of the Mahra and birds singing. She glanced over at the opposite cot to find it empty. The covers were folded back unceremoniously. She turned toward the refresher and cried out, "Mara?"

    No answer.

    Jaina turned around to pull her feet to the floor. A sense of familiarity washed over her. She had done this same action at some point during the night.

    Or had she?

    She remembered intense images. One was recently familiar. There was a girl in the reflector. Was she crying for help? The details were fading fast. Was the Force sending her a vision? It didn't feel like the Force. Jaina still strained to remember when–

    "Morning, sunshine!"

    Jaina jumped at the voice to her right.

    "Whoa, that must have been a deep sleep."

    Jaina saw her aunt at the entrance fully dressed. "Mara!"

    "Sounds like you really missed me. What have you done with the real Jaina Solo? Anything wrong?"

    "No. You just startled me."

    "I'll say."

    "Where did you go?"

    "Krun Li commed me early this morning to summon me into his office. Trogan came and escorted me there. Krun Li has agreed for me to try and help Seria Rayne. Only on his terms, however."

    "What's that mean?"

    "He has to supervise as well as Croag and Trogan."

    "So much for them trusting us. You get the feeling that they're afraid of what Seria will say to us?"

    "Or more afraid of what she doesn't say." Mara stopped to watch Jaina slowly get up and hesitate toward the refresher. "What's with you sleeping in so late?"

    "Can't I enjoy something I haven't been able to do since I was a toddler?" Jaina tried to mask the bewilderment of heading to the refresher again. As she had discovered over the years, it was hard to hide much from Mara Jade.

    "Uh huh. It just seems so out of character for you. You're sure there's nothing wrong?"

    Instead of giving her aunt a pat answer to end the conversation, Jaina admitted, "I woke up from a dream, I think."

    "Oh. Must have been a bad one."

    "I'm not sure. The details are going away fast. But the images I saw. They were...creepy."

    Mara sat on the edge of her cot as Jaina stood at the doorway to the refresher. "Could you elaborate on creepy?"

    "That's all I can say about them now. I can't even describe them anymore. I tried recalling the details through the Force, but I can't. I do know it has something to do with that sense of helplessness I felt when we first got here."

    Mara considered first before asking, "Do you think it was a Force vision?"

    "I don't think so. I've had visions before and this wasn't like that. It was more like a...nightmare. But it felt so real." She paused and asked, "Do you remember our first night when the power went out?" Mara nodded. "I thought I saw something in the woods right before I got back into the transport."

    "What?"

    "That's just it. I can't remember. Something very...white. Almost blinding white."

    "Was it the same thing in your dream?"

    "I think so. Maybe they're connected."

    "Jaina, don't confuse a dream with reality. You saw that vision, dream, or whatever it was when you were fast asleep. You were very much awake the other night on the transport."

    "I can't explain it. I don't know what I saw, Aunt Mara. I can't remember any of it now. It's gone."

    "But do you remember how you felt? Even if it wasn't a Force vision?"

    For a long time, Mara thought Jaina wouldn't answer. Her niece finally replied reluctantly, "I felt...cold."

    Having no words to react to, Mara simply nodded and suggested, "Just be mindful if it comes again. Now, let's get going, sleepyhead. We have to meet Krun Li soon."

    Jaina got herself ready in double time. She then followed Mara to the converted Star Destroyer's mess hall where Krun Li's office was. Some members of the Mahra laid out a small breakfast table of fruits and muffins. As she passed it by, Jaina grabbed a psuenberry muffin and ate quickly while still following Mara down a hallway. Once they reached to a point on their left about a third of the way down the hall, they saw Trogan at an entrance door waiting.

    Upon seeing them approach he started to key a lock code into the door console and simply said, "Krun Li and Croag are waiting inside."

    The double doors slid open and they entered. It was a room that was rectangular in shape with the entrance at the longer side. Mara immediately recognized it as a former storage facility on an existing Star Destroyer. There was a homemade window that was cut out that allowed the sunlight through. The room had been converted into a quaint office. There were no decorations or holographs of loved ones scattered about. Krun Li sat behind a long desk that was situated in line with the entrance door on the opposite wall.

    Mara looked to her right to see two figures. Croag and a grown woman in her late twenties were sitting opposite one another. The woman's dark chestnut-brown hair hung down straight with no sense of fashion. Her face and dress were very clean. Too clean. The woman had been spruced up for her visit with the Jedi. Mara only hoped that whatever secrets she could get from this woman were not as cleansed.

    Krun Li saw them enter and acknowledged them as he got up from his desk chair. "Ah, Mara Jade and Jaina. We've been waiting. You are rather late."

    He tried not to add any indignation in his voice but Mara detected it anyway. The best way to counteract it was with humor. "Blame the oversleeping teenager."

    Jaina did give her a sour look but Krun Li chuckled, releasing the tension. "Say no more. Now, first thing–uh, Trogan...lock the door please. Thank you." He reached outside of his desk to stand toe to toe in front of Mara. "Now, Seria has been prepared for your treatment. Like I said last night, you may not be able to tell what she says. We've had professional doctors examine her with no results."

    Mara said, "This may be something that is beyond the care of doctors."

    Krun Li hastily added, "Before we begin, I wish to discuss our condition to this."

    Mara raised an eyebrow, yet she was expecting this. "Which is?"

    "Whatever information that Seria reveals must go no further than this room. Nothing that she says should be repeated to any other Mahra member."

    Jaina noted, "You're afraid of her. That's why you had her separated from everyone else."

    Krun Li grunted, "Seria was secluded for her own safety and for the Mahra protection. She is too unpredictable for her to be around others. And we are not afraid, child. There are nights when the beasts are silent and only the moon howls." He turned to Mara. "Now, I assume you do not have any problems with my condition."

    "You assume all right. But I have a condition of my own. Before I use the Force to dig into someone's thoughts, I usually like to know all I can about them first. I only know through Jaina that Seria's parents died in one of your raids on the Empire."

    "I see," said Krun Li. "I trust you did your research on us."

    "Naturally," Mara replied.

    Krun Li gave a small chuckle. "You wouldn't be Mara Jade if you hadn't. Do you remember details on the Mahra raid on Bastion?"

    Mara scoffed. "I was part of the garrison who captured a few of them."

    "Then you must remember the names Nehreta and Jodi Rayne."

    It took Mara only seconds to access her rather large memory banks and remember those names. She gasped under her breath, "Sithspawn! I knew that name sounded familiar."

    Krun Li said sadly, "If you remember their names then you remember their fates. They were captured and killed by the Empire."

    Mara breathed in slowly and then let it out even more slowly. A part of her past came out with her breath. "They weren't just killed. They were tortured first. By the Emperor himself."

    Krun Li looked puzzled. "But we received word directly from the survivors."

    Mara nodded. "Let me guess. You never heard from the rest of the survivors either."

    "Well, yes. We lost contact with them. We assumed they went underground."

    "There were no survivors, Krun Li. The Emperor sent that message to twist the pain further and to hope that you would come to rescue the survivors. It was one of the Emperor's favorite tactics against his enemies."

    Trogan stepped in and spat, "And you knew this before you came here?"

    "I knew who was involved. I didn't know the details. Truthfully, I didn't want to."

    Trogan kept on. "You send her parents to their deaths and now you're questioning our peaceful ways? Quite a double standard."

    Mara shot back, "The Empire is a part of my past. It's not who I am now, if it ever was."

    Krun Li said with ease, "But she is here now, Trogan, to help Seria. I'd say that's quite an atonement. And rather symbolic. Now, Trogan, the Mahra are not ones to speak about the past. I assure you, Mara, we do understand. As to the Bastion raid, we were ill equipped to take on such a force. We are not proud of our actions of that time. It was months after the raid when we received a cryptic message that Seria's parents and others had died. We didn't question the validity of the message. We assumed the ones who sent the message were survivors themselves and they escaped."

    Mara tried to get back on the subject at hand. "How did Seria take the news?" she asked, almost knowing the answer.

    Krun Li breathed in and said, "Not well, obviously. She was only seven years of age then. She could not accept it. We tried to console her, as we did others in the Mahra. She was the only child who's parents had perished. The other victims had no family. The Rayne's were very headstrong."

    "What did Seria do after that?" asked Mara, sensing Krun Li's evasive answers.

    "She ran away. She was missing for quite some time. She went deep into the woods outside the compound. We assumed the worst. A gurlanin or some other beast had attacked her. The Spirit Leader at the time had declared her lost. Then, one day over a month later, she was found. She was conscious but she only spoke in gibberish."

    "How and where was she found?" Mara questioned.

    "One of our members was fishing when he found her in a small boat lying unconscious. She had been on Neekro Island."

    "Which is forbidden," Mara verified.

    "Yes."

    "What made her go there?"

    "I don't know."

    Mara smiled confidently. "Why don't we find out?"

    Before Krun Li could stall any further, Mara made a beeline towards Croag and the young woman with Jaina trailing behind. Seeing her approach, Croag sat up from his chair after he leaned into Seria Rayne and said in a tone more suitable for seven year old, "Now Mara Jade is going to speak to you now. You remember I told you that she is going to ask you some questions."

    The woman stared blankly into an unspecified area. Mara noticed her eyes were not focused on any one thing. As Croag moved away, Mara took his seat. She was about to introduce herself but Seria spoke first. "The red gem glows. Shiny new coin."

    Mara actually looked surprised enough for Jaina to ask, "Aunt Mara?"

    Mara explained as if she were in a dream state, "Palpatine used to call me his red gem when I was very young."

    "How would Seria know that?"

    "I'm not sure she does. What do you sense from Seria, Jaina?"

    Jaina took a small amount of time to concentrate in the Force and finally said, "I...can't. At least, I can't narrow it down. There's too many emotions going on at once."

    "Exactly. It's like tuning in on an overused channel on a comlink. She can't filter them all out." Mara paused and said, "Luke told me that he once visited the mental ward in the Hesperidium Wing of CorMed and this was how the patients there felt in the Force."

    "What does that mean?" asked Krun Li.

    Mara answered, "Seria has experienced a psychosis of some kind."

    Trogan offered, "Like the deaths of her parents?"

    "Possibly."

    "For over twenty years?" asked Krun Li.

    Mara admitted, "That does sound improbable. The fact remains that not only can she not control all of her emotions, she can't be rid of them either."

    Trogan incredulously asked, "How can too many emotions make her crazy?"

    Jaina answered, "The mind simply can't take all of them at once."

    Krun Li let out a breath that almost sounded like relief. "So, you're not able to help her."

    Mara sneered, "I never said that. I think I can slow her thoughts down."

    Jaina was the one who asked, "How?"

    "Luke showed me how to do a Jedi trance. I wonder if that could work on another."

    "A Jedi trance placed on a non-Jedi?" asked Jaina. "I don't know, Aunt Mara. That could be dangerous."

    "Only if I don't go in too deep. All I would be doing is sorting out her emotions on the surface."

    Croag asked with a tinge of admiration, "You can do that?"

    Mara shrugged. "In theory."

    Seria suddenly burst out with, "Talk is a fried egg. No longer there. Needs escape."

    Krun Li stated grimly, "I think perhaps that even theories could work better than what we've tried before."

    Mara leaned into Seria and said in a smooth gentle voice, "Hello, Seria. I am Mara Jade. I'm here to help you. We want to find out what happened to you. I'm going to put you to sleep so you can remember what happened on Neekro Island."

    Seria first stated blankly, "Neekro." Then her face suddenly distorted into a look of horror before she squirmed in her seat and screamed, "No! Don't want to go back! Under the fire and below the soil. She stays inside. Not invited to the party."

    Trogan bluntly offered, "I'll hold her down."

    "No!" Mara snapped. "This woman has experienced enough violence. By isolating her from everyone you left her alone with all of her thoughts and fears. She couldn't face them when she was seven and she still can't twenty years later. Let me handle this, Trogan."

    Trogan backed away and replied, "Suit yourself."

    Mara turned back at Seria who was now calming herself down. A good sign, thought Mara. Though the young woman was rocking back and forth in her chair and chanting, "Can't speak. Can't speak."

    Krun Li grunted, "I think that will be enough for today."

    Mara objected. "I haven't put her in the trance yet. There's obviously something she's afraid of and it's deep inside her subconscious. She has to be at ease before she can let go of that fear."

    Jaina uttered, "I feel like I'm back at the Academy. You sounded just like Unc–"

    "Not now, Jaina." Mara focused on Seria and said her soft voice, "Seria, I'm going to put you in a deep sleep. You will only hear my voice and will answer my questions truthfully as best you can. You will be asleep until I awake you. When I say the phrase, red gem, you will wake up refreshed with less on your mind." Mara added under her breath, "Hopefully." She then asked her, "Do you understand?"

    Instead of answering her directly, Seria starting speaking in sing song. "'I'll dissolve when the rain pours in, When the nightmares take me, I will scream with the howling wind, 'Cause it's a bitter world and I'd rather dream.'"

    Trogan sighed and mumbled, "And we have more nonsense."

    Jaina gave him a sideways glance and said, "You're an idiot. Seria just recited Lonely Lullaby. It's a famous bedtime song on Coruscant. Threepio sung it to Jacen and I on many nights. Seria is saying she understands that she's going to sleep."

    "Then why doesn't she just say that?" Trogan retorted.

    Mara answered, "That's the only way she can speak right now. She has to clear her mind. Now I need for everyone to stay quiet. I need concentration for doing this." She turned back to Seria, who had already closed her eyes. It was almost as if the woman was anticipating her sleep.

    Mara closed her own eyes and opened herself to the Force. She focused on inducing a Jedi trance, but instead of projecting it inward towards herself, she transferred it into Seria. Using the Force, Mara set up the release phrase, red gem. Once Mara was inside Seria's thoughts, there were many different emotions to wade through. Fear, confusion, remorse, and regret were among them. When Mara reached deeper just above the surface of her subconscious, she hit a wall of helplessness and pain. Jaina's claim was now justified.

    As Mara cleared away a path for Seria to think straighter, there was a small hint of the Force within Seria. Could she have Force potential? The feeling was distant but still present. Mara had wondered, as Jaina had, how Seria could know to call her red gem. Could she have gleaned that from Mara's mind? In the state that Seria was in now, Mara figured she wouldn't be able to tell.

    Mara opened her eyes as Seria kept hers shut. Mara was still open to Force and Seria was deep in a Jedi trance. But could Seria respond as Mara asked?

    Mara spoke to her softly. "Seria? Can you hear me?"

    "Yes," answered the woman in a plain montone voice.

    "How do you feel?"

    Seria gave a hint of a smile and replied, "Calm."

    "Excellent. Now, I'm going to ask you some questions. Do you remember how I told you to answer them?"

    "Truthfully, as best as I can."

    Krun Li spoke in wonder, "She speaks normal now. Did you do this?"

    Mara quickly gave him a shushing gesture as she continued with Seria. "Very good. Now, let's start small. What is the last thing you remember?"

    For a moment, they all thought Seria wouldn't answer. She finally said, "Playing with my brush."

    Immediately, Trogan scoffed. "A brush! Guess she's back to nonsense again."

    Mara twirled in her seat again and whispered hard, "Shut up! If she hears any other voice but mine it may confuse her. Let me be the only one to speak." Trogan kept quiet as Mara turned back to Seria. "You remember a brush, Seria?"

    "Yes. It was my mothers. It had her hair in it. They took it away."

    Mara questioned, "Took it away?"

    Krun Li cut in, "We had all of the Raynes' belongings collected and kept in storage."

    Mara spun around to snap, "I told you not to speak–"

    This time, Seria interrupted, still with her eyes closed. "I can hear everyone else, Mara Jade. But I listen only to you."

    Mara glanced back at the woman in admiration. This was not the same person before she was put in a Jedi trance. And, at least, part of that was Mara's accomplishment. Mara continued carefully. "You must miss your parents."

    "Everyday."

    "Were you depressed after you heard that they died?"

    "Oh, yes."

    "Can you tell us what you did after you heard that they died?"

    "I was very confused. I didn't know what to do or how to feel. Everyone came up to me and said they were sorry. Everyone said they were sorry. I didn't know why. I had to get away."

    "Where did you go?"

    "Into the woods. I ran and ran until I couldn't anymore. I had no one. My mommy and daddy were dead. I was all alone. When I couldn't run anymore, I found a lake. And a boat. I rowed to an island."

    "Neekro Island?"

    "Yes."

    "But you knew it was forbidden."

    "Yes. But it didn't matter. There was no one else to tell me what to do. It was the last place anyone would look."

    "What did you do there?"

    "At first, I was alone. Then I met her."

    "Her?" Mara questioned.

    Even though her eyes were closed, her voice emitted a sense of joy. "Yes. I found a friend there. She was living there."

    "That's impossible," cried Krun Li.

    "No," demanded Seria. "She had been living there too. Her parents died like mine. She helped me. We played together. We played Hide and Seek and Crosstops. She taught me how to hunt for food. We slept under the stars. It was perfect." Suddenly, Seria frowned making her look more like a grown woman.

    Mara caught the change in her mood and said, "And then it wasn't perfect anymore. Right, Seria?"

    "Yes," the woman's voice cracked. "Everything was fine until she showed me that place."

    "What place?"

    "A place on the island. It was very creepy. And evil. She said that we can live there forever. I didn't like that."

    "You refused her."

    Seria nodded. "That's when she got mean. She wouldn't let me sleep. She would call out to me in the middle of the night. When I tried to hunt for food, she would scare the animals away. She wouldn't leave me alone. I had to get away from her."

    "That's when you escaped the island on the boat?"

    "Yes."

    "Is your friend still on the island after all these years?"

    "No."

    "Where is she?"

    "She followed me."

    "You mean she's in the compound?"

    "No. She followed me in my mind."

    Through her own confusion of Seria's statement, Mara could feel relief from the men hearing the same. To them, Seria's friend on the island was made up. Though she couldn't prove it yet, Mara wasn't so sure. Something did happen to this woman twenty years ago. Her description of her mysterious friend was too vivid and sincere to be imaginary.

    Mara decided to ask, "Is she still inside your mind?"

    It took a moment for Seria to answer, almost as if she were trying to detect the presence of her friend. Another Force trait. She finally replied, "No. She was before. Now she has gone to another who will help her."

    "What does that mean?"

    "I don't know. She didn't tell me."

    After Mara gave an amused grin, Krun Li ejected. "This is useless! She is obviously speaking about an imaginary friend."

    Seria replied, "Everything I imagine is real."

    Jaina expressed, "And I believe Seria is more intelligent than you imagine."

    Croag ignored Jaina's observation to say, "I'd like to know more about this place on Neekro Island that she spoke of. Like the Spirit Leader said, it's been uninhabited for generations."

    Mara asked Seria, "Can you describe the place where your friend showed you?"

    Seria tensed and said, "No. I can't."

    "Seria, it may be important."

    Seria closed her eyes shut and twisted her head from side to side. "No! I can't! Please don't make me."

    Mara phrased the question more delicately. "What did you see there? Remember, as truthfully as you can."

    Seria started sobbing thorough her shut eyelids and spoke in broken sentences. "Bones. Ash. Fire. Death..." She then screamed, "Don't make me remember! I don't want to sleep anymore! Need to wake up!"

    "Mara," Jaina uttered.

    "All right, Seria. Calm down. We won't talk about that place anymore. I'm going to say the phrase that will wake you up. Are you ready?"

    "Yes," the woman let out more calmly.

    Mara then said the phrase, "Red gem."

    Seria's head fell to one side but her eyes were still closed. Unconscious.

    Trogan looked too amused. "She still looks asleep to me."

    Mara said, "The memory of whatever she saw on that island took a lot out of her."

    Krun Li said with a tone of satisfaction, "If you truly heard her, what she described was inside her mind. It could all have been a dream. None of it was real."

    "I agree," said Croag.

    Jaina said, "I'm not so sure."

    Krun Li jabbed a look at Jaina. "How could you know? You didn't put her in a trance."

    Jaina said, "No, but I could feel her emotions through the Force. They were too strong for them to be made up."

    "That would be my assessment too," said Mara. "Imagination can go far, but it rarely creates a terror so horrible that you can't talk about it."

    Croag suggested, "Perhaps it was from the death of her parents. That was traumatic."

    "Yes," Mara admitted. "But so could leaving her in seclusion for twenty years."

    Before Krun li could counter Mara's remark, they were interrupted by another voice.

    "Mara Jade," Seria muttered weakly.

    They all turned to see Seria raise her head and open her eyes. Mara could not put her finger on it, but the woman's face seemed different than it was before the trance. It seemed more aware. Her eyes were focused instead of wandering without reason. The woman spoke.

    "She's gone. I can't believe it. Mara Jade, you did it. I'm free." She spoke with a distinct Coruscanti accent and with much more confidence.

    Mara asked her, "How do you feel, Seria?"

    "I feel great. Released. And I have you to thank for it." She suddenly lurched from her seat to wrap her arms around Mara's torso. "Oh, thank you. Thank you."

    Mara Jade never could handle sudden affection outside of a certain Jedi Master. She awkwardly padded Seria on the back and parted from her. "Your welcome, Seria. But it was you who did all the work. I only cleared your thoughts."

    Seria looked at the rest of the people in the room and her eyes brightened at the site of Krun Li. "Oh, Spirit Leader, you took care of me all of these years. Thank you as well."

    Krun Li grinned wide with his white teeth shining against his dark skin. "It is my honor and my pleasure , my child. Your parents were very special to us."

    Seria's smile faded as she replied, "They were to me, too. As are all the Mahra members. They came to me in grief and I shut them out and ran away."

    Croag said, "It was understandable, child. You were very young."

    She nodded and then formed another grin. "You know what I am now? Hungry. Those grains you fed me everyday were not enough."

    Croag chuckled and said, "There is plenty of food out in the main hall."

    "Perfect. See you in a bit," Seria said and disappeared out of the room.

    It was Trogan who admitted, "As I live and breathe, the Jedi do perform miracles. You actually made Seria Rayne sane again."

    Mara stated, "As I said, she did all the work. I only cleared her thoughts and emotions." Mara paused and added, "But this isn't over yet."

    Krun Li asked, "What do you mean? You said you would help Seria and you did."

    "Which brought on more questions."

    "Oh, like her mystery friend on Neekro Island. I think we can all agree that she was a figment of her imagination. It was all in her head. Hardly enough to call for an investigation."

    "Isn't it?" Mara replied. "You seem very certain that nothing could have happened there."

    "Nothing did."

    "Then why is it abandoned? Surely, there has to be a good enough reason why no one can set foot on it or speak about it."

    Krun Li frowned. "That is irrelevant."

    "Then you won't mind if Jaina and I conduct our own investigation."

    Croag questioned, "For what purpose?"

    Mara shrugged. "Simply to see what made Seria crazy."

    "She made herself crazy," insisted Krun Li. "You heard her. The pressure of everyone trying to console her made her run away."

    Mara Jade was just as persistent. "That was confusion combined with grief. Something on that island made her crazy."

    Krun Li folded his arms across his chest. "I can assure you that was not the case."

    Mara stated, "I can tell that what we see and what we feel are two different things."

    Krun Li said just as emphatically, "But that difference is not important enough for an investigation. Pardon me if I am too blunt, but it is none of your business."

    "Yes, it is," Jaina said.

    They all turned to her and Krun Li said to her, "Young lady, I don't see how. And if you don't mind, this discussion is for adults. You are a–"

    "A child?" Jaina burst out. "A child who used the Force on that pitcher yesterday morning? A child who can handle a lightsaber duel with an experienced Jedi Knight? I am a child, Spirit Leader, who knows our purpose here. It's to determine if the Mahra are members of a peaceful society or a group of violent pirates as the galaxy sees them. It seems to me that from Seria's description, something very violent happened on that island. An investigation could clear that up."

    "Young lady, you cannot force us to allow your investigation," Krun Li stated with too much pride.

    Jaina stepped forward in front of Krun Li. "No. But you can't force us to sign your way into the New Republic."

    Krun Li was taken aback by her veiled threat while Mara Jade smiled proudly. He said, bewildered, "That's blackmail, young lady!"

    "Call it what you like. I prefer to call it a negotiation."

    Trogan took that time to quip, "You may want to drop the 'young lady' on this woman, Krun Li."

    Before anyone could respond, the door slid open and Seria waltzed inside with a psuenberry muffin half eaten in her hand. She chimed, "Oh, these muffins are delicious. Gartie would have loved these." She stopped when she noticed their solemn faces. "What's wrong?"

    Mara asked what was on everyone's mind. "Who is Gartie?"

    Seria smiled and replied, "Oh, Gartie was my friend on the island."

    Jaina asked, "Was that short for a longer name?"

    Seria shrugged. "I guess. I don't remember."

    Mara stated, "Agharta?"

    Seria cheered, "Yes, that was it!"

    If it were possible, the shock inside the room doubled.

    Mara came up to Krun Li and stated, "We are going to Neekro Island now."

    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
    tbc​


    *Disclaimer: Lyrics to Lonely Lullaby belong to Owl City



     
  8. Cowgirl Jedi 1701

    Cowgirl Jedi 1701 Jedi Grand Master star 5

    Registered:
    Dec 21, 2016
    The plot thickens....

    Also, I don't know how deliberate it is, but Seria Rayne gives me serious River Tam vibes. Wait a minute. Seria....Rayne? Coincidence, or deliberate Browncoat bait?
     
  9. madman007

    madman007 Jedi Master star 4

    Registered:
    Aug 22, 2007
    Shhhh....you discovered my Browncoat tendacies in my writing after 2005. I speckle a few Easter Eggs from Firefly here and there. I based a character in my other epic, Traits Of Descent, on Topher from Dollhouse.

    BTW, the character of Ristina Tai'Lor (in a green tunic) was an honorable tribute to the 9 year old Christina Taylor Green: the little girl who was killed during the shootout in Arizona in 2010 that shot, then congresswoman, Gabby Giffords. It was my way of immortalizing her.
    [​IMG]
     
    Last edited: Jan 16, 2021
  10. madman007

    madman007 Jedi Master star 4

    Registered:
    Aug 22, 2007
    Chapter Seven: Neekro Island

    Qiilura: Day 2: Krun Li's office

    The Spirit Leader of the Mahra watched as Trogan escorted Mara Jade and Jaina Solo out of his office and into the dark hallway. They had just agreed to meet Trogan and himself in thirty standard minutes for their excursion to Neekro Island. All because of Seria Rayne's claim that she befriended a girl named Agharta on Neekro Island over twenty standard years ago. It had been known that Seria had not been in her right mind ever since she was found after a month on the island. She had only been seven years of age back then. Mara Jade used the Force to enter Seria's mind. Krun Li could not have believed it if he hadn't seen it. Mara managed to clear Seria's head and bring her back to sanity.

    Word had quickly spread throughout the Mahra compound that Seria was healed. There were already several members willing to take the young woman in as her caretaker. Over the years, Krun Li tried to separate Seria from the rest of the members. It almost seemed like the members were now making up for years of neglect. Before she was released to be taken care of, Croag and himself emphasized to Seria that she should keep the knowledge of her friend's identity to herself. She understood and didn't seem to mind.

    Amidst the joy of the newly healed woman, Krun Li had many other new worries going through his head. The source of those worries had just disappeared through his office doors with Trogan.

    Croag came up beside Krun Li and instinctively waited to utter, "I know what you're thinking."

    "Do you, now?"

    "Naturally. We've been together too long for me not to tell."

    Krun Li nodded in agreement and paused before absently saying, "I believe we have made a mistake with inviting the Jedi here."

    "Nonsense, Krun Li. Fifty years ago inviting the Jedi would have worked. They were so much more into their rules back then. It's a different Council now. It seems they're more reckless."

    "And persistent."

    Croag gave a knowing smile. "Mara Jade is not a typical Jedi. She was once a personal employee of the Emperor himself."

    "The New Republic chose their representative well, then. Maybe they are not as reckless as you think."

    After a small space of time, Croag asked, "Do you think she will find the truth on Neekro?"

    "Perhaps. The truth can be manipulated to our advantage."

    "You don't believe she has sensed the truth through her Force?"

    "She has given no indications as of yet. Neither has her apprentice. Yet, their Force powers are more formidable than I imagined."

    "The Jedi powers are such a mystery. We only have knowledge of it through what we could scrounge from the HoloNet. Still, we should pray that Mara Jade's investigative skills are not equal to her Jedi abilities."

    Krun Li softly chuckled and turned slightly towards Croag. "You obviously haven't read her file in detail. She was an expert assassin and interrogator under the training of Palpatine himself. She could break a droid into giving up secrets."

    Croag nodded. "With those skills on top of her Jedi abilities, she would be a powerful ally."

    "Or a dangerous enemy."

    After a moment of thought, Croag shook his head. "No, I can't see that. I would be more worried about the Solo daughter, given the reputation of her infamous father."

    "I would be more concerned with the traits that she inherited from her mother."

    Croag let out a long breath. "Are we simply going to allow the Jedi to expose us to our own secrets? When they get to Neekro, they will be close."

    "I have already thought of that."

    "I see. Have you also thought of the prophecy?"

    Krun Li turned abruptly to Croag and scowled. "That has no bearing in this situation."

    Croag leaned closer to the Spirit Leader and uttered, "Does it not? Seria Rayne has claimed to have seen and spoken to Agharta. As it is written, only the Spirit Leader can do so. Anyone else who claims to do so shall be–"

    "I know the prophecy, Croag. My point is that I do not believe Seria has seen, nor heard our almighty Agharta, despite what the Jedi feel."

    "She did see something there on the island, Krun Li. The Jedi are right about that. Her reaction from just mentioning Neekro was too sincere to be false. What happened there–"

    "Is deep in the past. It cannot be what you think. Besides, the human mind can sometimes play tricks on its body. Especially when it's in grief."

    "Hmm, yes. And we would know all about the human mind. Is it that knowledge that makes you believe that whatever Seria Rayne saw on that island was entirely her imagination?"

    "Perhaps not all. We both know what terrors used to occur on that island. It could very well be that what she saw there explains her mental state for the past several years."

    Croag frowned and put his hand to his lips. "Be that as it may, I am still afraid that she will reveal what she saw to the other Mahra members."

    Krun Li nodded in confidence. "If she does, her years of insanity will play to our advantage. At this point, who would believe her?"

    "And if someone does believe her?"

    Krun Li breathed deeply and said, "Then we shall find other means to eliminate the problem." He turned to Croag at eye level and reiterated, "You do understand."

    Croag answered hoarsely, "Yes, I do."

    Unbeknownst to them, another figure beyond the office door also heard them and understood.

    Thirty standard minutes later, en route to Neekro Island

    Mara Jade had been on a number of water skiffs in her lifetime. She had even piloted a few here and there on occasion. None of them had been known for speed. The water skiff they were on now was slower than a running Bantha. She tried to place the age of the craft at somewhere around the Clone Wars. It seated six, yet there was only four of them. Jaina and herself were seated in individual bucket chairs at the front section. A low partition separated them from the rear section of seats, which was where Krun Li sat beside an empty chair. He had instructed Croag to be in charge of the Mahra compound until his return. The last seat was for the pilot, and Trogan supplied that position.

    Mara's hope was to discover the mystery of Seria Rayne's phantom friend, and if she was indeed a phantom. Mara did not need the Force to see Krun Li's resentment about leading them to the island. To him, Seria had been cured of her insanity and should be left at that. Mara didn't know what to expect to find on the island. Mara knew that there was more to Seria's friend than even Seria knew. Mara also relied on the fact that she did feel a glimmer of the Force within Seria at first. And then, nothing. It was enough for Mara to begin an investigation.

    And when Mara Jade began an investigation, she saw it through to the end. As she had been trained a generation ago, Mara was compelled to examine all angles of an investigation to find its answers. It was the same kind of drive that led Luke to end his initial training too early with Yoda on Dagobah to save his friends.

    Passion.

    Luke's passion for his friends nearly killed him. Vader relied on that passion to lure Luke to him. Mara's passion was to complete every mission that was given to her. She had only failed once. Ironically, it was the mission that involved assassinating her future husband. She cringed every time she thought about what she would have done if she had succeeded. She was positive that Luke had similar regrets if he had not succumbed to his passion on Dagobah and completed his training. Neither one of them could ever know of their speculated fates. Nevertheless, both of them had their own passions that kept them going forward and made them each strong in their own way. It was only one of the things that she had in common with her husband.

    Jaina interrupted Mara's thoughts by remarking, "Ah, more water. Just what I needed after my time on Mon Calamari." She had to nearly shout over the sound of the skiff's repulsor engines.

    Mara sensed her niece's sarcasm and replied, "I thought you had fun on your vacation there."

    Jaina scoffed. "It's what happened before my vacation on Mon Calamari that leaves a bad taste in my mouth."

    Mara slowly shook her head. "You must not dwell on past failures–wait, from my understanding, you did very well with the Bail Jumper's cyborg pilot."

    Jaina sighed heavily. "Failure or success, it's all still a huge weight. Especially with what I had to go through with Jagged and the Shadow Academy before that. It's all just so tiring, even for someone my age. Yet, I keep going on."

    Jaina's aunt took her hand and ran it gently through the Solo daughter's long dark hair. "I know," she said in a low voice. "But that mentality is what will make you a Jedi Knight. That, itself, should make you feel proud. If it makes you feel any better, you're gaining more battle experience than I did at your age. I was commanding drills for stormtrooper squadrons at fifteen."

    Jaina uttered just loud enough for Mara to hear, "We seem to have both skipped our childhoods."

    "I don't know. You still have more child in you than you think. And so do I. I wouldn't be married to the biggest child in the galaxy if I wasn't."

    Jaina chuckled and said, "The truth is that this time here at the Mahra compound feels more like a vacation."

    Mara grunted. "You may change your mind when we get to Neekro island."

    "What exactly are we expecting to find there?"

    "Whatever made Seria Rayne mad with fear. You heard her description."

    "Yes, I heard it. I didn't feel it."

    "What do you mean?"

    Jaina paused and asked, "Did you see a vision through the Force when you put Seria in a Jedi trance?"

    "Not exactly. I did feel a sense of the Force within her at the beginning."

    Jaina exclaimed, "So did I. But then it disappeared..."

    "After she woke up. Yes, I noticed that, too."

    Jaina remembered, "When Seria said that she was gone..." Jaina hesitantly asked, "Mara...are you considering that Seria's friend could be the actual Agharta?"

    Mara stated almost too stoically, "I consider every angle until I can prove them wrong."

    "Yeah, but in this case, that would mean proving Agharta is a Force gho–"

    "Don't say it. I know how it looks. Let's keep that theory to ourselves for now. Something tells me Krun Li would laugh us off this planet if we suggest that idea."

    "I agree," said Jaina. She allowed a space of time to let the wind blow her hair back before she brightened. "At least there's one comforting thought. Agharta is no Sith Lord."

    Several minutes later they could finally see the edge of a shoreline consisting of several trees lined up against the water. At first, they didn't know where they were to land. Trogan circled almost the entire length of the island. It almost seemed that the trees were the island's own protection. Finally, a clearing presented itself in the form of a shore made of dark gray sand and rock. Trogan edged along the shoreline before setting the skiff onto the flat surface. He shut off the repulsors and each of them stepped out of the skiff and into the soft sand.

    Mara dropped her foot into the moist ground, thankful that she wore her high boots that morning. Jaina followed her but Mara paid more attention in scanning the new terrain. The small clearing of sand ended merely a few meters away from the water line. Bordering it were several tall trees and plants creating a wall of green before them. There wasn't much else.

    Krun Li made to emphasize the point. "I don't know what you expected to find. As I said, there is nothing here."

    Mara tilted her head to listen before she stated, "You don't know how right you are. Jaina, do you sense anything in the Force?"

    Jaina took a moment to fully open herself in the Force before she replied with confused interest, "No. Other than us, there's nothing. I don't have my brother's sense of animals, but I can't even feel any of them either."

    "Exactly," Mara agreed. "No evidence of birds or beasts."

    Krun Li scoffed. "That doesn't prove a thing."

    Mara walked more inland as she replied, "It proves that something here scared even the animals off. How long has it been since anyone's been on this island? Other than Seria two decades ago."

    Krun Li shrugged and answered, "Must be several thousands of years."

    "Any ideas on why that is?"

    "As I said, Mara, there is nothing here." Krun Li sounded more smug than usual.

    Knowing he didn't answer her question, Mara pressed again. "Let me ask again. If there's nothing here, then why is the island forbidden to enter?"

    Krun Li stiffened. "That is on a need to know basis."

    Mara grinned slyly and looked directly at him. "Well, guess what? The members of the New Republic need to know." She waited a beat as she still stared at him. "Do you have the specs on the island?"

    Krun Li almost smiled. "I do not."

    Mara stated, "I wasn't speaking to you. Jaina, do you have it yet?"

    "Almost," she said as she held a datapad parallel to the ground. Suddenly, a red holographic outline of the island projected itself over the datapad screen. It rotated as Jaina fiddled with the controls to zoom in on the image. "Got it!"

    Krun Li came closer to the image with surprise and cried, "Where did you get that?"

    Jaina answered, "From the Jade Sabre. We scanned the entire planet on our approach the other day. I just focused in on Neekro island with a detailed image and geographical stats."

    Mara cut in, "And speaking of that data."

    "It's coming, it's coming. And I thought my dad was impatient." Soon, Jaina started quoting numbers off the screen. "Here it is. Roughly three-hundred kilos wide and a thousand long. The terrain is a mix of dense quartz and rich soil surrounding the entire island. Oh, this is strange."

    "What?"

    "There is a specific concentration of grappa almost in the dead center of the island."

    Mara recalled her memory of geology. "Grappa? Isn't that volcanic?"

    "Yeah, it's what's formed after molten lava is cooled under the surface. It hardens into a black rock over time."

    Krun Li added, "There is a fault line that extends across Neekro."

    Mara nodded. "Yes, Trogan here mentioned it the other night." Mara asked Jaina, "Can you lock down a direction?"

    Jaina read off the datapad and announced, "Yeah. Quickest route is northeast. About two klicks from here."

    Krun Li stepped in to say, "I really think you are wasting your time here."

    Mara replied, "That's for us to decide. Now let's get go-"

    "Hey," Trogan shouted from further inland among the trees. "You have to see this."

    Mara and Jaina came over beside Trogan with Krun Li behind them. Amidst the shade of trees was a small shelter made out of tree limbs tied together and heavy leaves acting as shielding. A few of the limbs that were part of the structure were coming apart from age. Not far in front of the former shelter was a ghost of a campfire that had been extinguished long ago.

    Mara's attention was on the size. She called attention to it. "Looks big enough for a ten year old to fit inside."

    Trogan quipped, "Looks a bit tight for two of them though." He tried not to grin but failed.

    Jaina sneered, "Having your fun, Trogan?"

    "Hardly. Only pointing out that the shelter could hold only one seven year old."

    "We get your point, Trogan," Mara snapped.

    "At least we have proof that Seria was here," Jaina supplied.

    "Yes," Trogan started. "It proves that she was here alone."

    "You are certainly keeping with that theme," Jaina remarked.

    "I'm just saying..."

    "How do you know you're right, Trogan?"

    "I just do."

    "Oh, sorry, laserbrain, you forgot your ego back at the compound."

    "Ah...I'm so wounded."

    Mara barked, "All right, enough! We've got proof that Seria was here. I want to know more about this area of volcanic rock in the middle of the forest."

    Krun Li spoke to point out, "It looks as though Seria did not venture further than this position. I really don't see why we shouldn't do the same."

    "I don't see how you could know that, Krun Li," Mara began. "I think it's impossible to believe that a seven year old would not wander off while stuck on this island."

    "Especially for as long as she stayed here," added Jaina.

    "Besides, she described a very creepy place, and I have a feeling this isn't it. So, time to move on. The quicker we're off this island, the better."

    Jaina muttered, "Let me guess, Aunt Mara. You have a bad feeling about this?"

    "Cute. There's just something...not right with this whole place."

    "Tell me about it."

    Mara addressed Krun Li and Trogan. "Jaina and I will take point. We'll have to cut through the way with our lightsabers. Trogan, you take the rear flank."

    "Sure," he replied. "Let's go."

    They moved forward in the positions that Mara ordered. She and Jaina cut through limbs and trees of various sizes. As Mara cut through the forest, she was reminded of another time long ago in her life when she cut through another forest.

    Myrkr.

    At that time her company was an astromech droid and a person whom she had sworn to kill on the first chance she got. That chance dissolved into something else over the years. She would always consider that system as the place where she had met the true Luke Skywalker. He was a far cry from the Skywalker whom Palpatine wanted her to see. There were differences between then and now, of course. She was now much more skilled in her own use of the Force and not the borrowed power from the Emperor. There was plenty of daylight this time, rather than going through a forest in the black of night. Then there was the absence of vornskrs. She was glad she didn't have to face any of those nasty creatures again. Thinking of the beasts reminded her of their current discovery of sensing no other living things besides themselves. As they cut through the forest, there wasn't even a hint of insects on the ground or on the leaves. It was amazing to her that–

    "Mara! Look out!"

    Mara's danger sense in the Force did not trigger in time for her to feel the rush of sudden air and a dark shape coming at her. In her peripheral vision, the dark shape lunged from her left with a distinctive growl and she ducked underneath the creature just in time. The large beast sailed over her and its momentum carried it back to the ground only meters where she originally stood. Mara lost her grip on her lightsaber but she quickly sprang up and called it back to her hand and ignited the blue-white blade. She turned and faced her new foe. She almost did a double take with recognition. She had just thought of these creatures not seconds ago.

    Hunched down low and preparing for another attack was a black-skinned vornskr. It's rows of sharp teeth were dripping with the anticipation of its next meal. Its eyes targeted Mara. It's tail whipped in the air ready to swipe. For the time being, Mara put aside her question of how one of these particular creatures appeared with almost no warning from the Force. Right now, she only concentrated on surviving.

    Jaina moved Krun Li and Trogan to one side to give her aunt enough room to battle the creature.

    Trogan cried, "Aren't you going to help your Aunt?"

    Jaina shrugged casually and said, "Nah, she's got this one."

    Mara stared at the vornskr with a determined glare. It growled and skidded its leg into the ground so it could be ready for attack. Mara brought her blade up into a defensive stance and silently dared the vornskr to come at her.

    And it did. Fast!

    Mara anticipated the move and lifted herself up in the Force. Her lightsaber was positioned to thrust the point into the brain of the creature. She timed the vornskr's lunge with her thrust as she flipped directly over top of the beast and pointed her blade downward. She was just about to thrust the blade into its head as it ran past her. But she instead felt a new pain as something swung at her and knocked her sideways and sent her to the ground with a thud.

    "That kriffin' tail!" she cursed.

    The vornskr already pivoted around toward her but didn't give Mara time to recover. It lunged immediately after her while she was still on the ground. Mara used the Force to spring back into her defensive stance but she had no time to plan a counter attack. She merely let the vornskr come at her and she simply stepped aside, using the creature's momentum against it. As the vornskr passed by, its tail whipped in the air at her. Knowing that attack was coming, Mara dipped down to avoid the tail. As she crouched down, she swung her blade in an upwards arc that sliced off three quarters of its tail.

    The vornskr wailed in pain. Too much pain for just cutting off part of its tail. She remembered from her past experiences with vornskrs that cutting off their tail only made them more angry. This vornskr writhed in pain on the ground. It was making sounds unrelated to any vornskr that Mara had ever heard. Instead of wondering why, Mara simply went around to the creature's head and thrust her blade deep into its skull. Its cries had ended.

    Mara breathed evenly to calm herself down as Jaina and the men came over to her side. Trogan was wide-eyed and his mouth fully open when he gasped, "That was amazing. It usually takes a few large men to take one of these buggers down. You did it alone in a few minutes. I've never seen a vornskr go down that quickly like that."

    "Actually, neither have I," admitted Mara. "It was almost too easy."

    "Too easy?"

    "I agree," Jaina said. "I've never seen a vornskr be in that much pain with just its tail cut off. And why didn't we feel it in the Force until the last minute?"

    "Vornskrs do have a strange attraction to anything in the Force. But you're right. That one went down too easily." She looked down at the side of her arm where its tail had knocked her down. "There's no venom. Usually, vornskrs have poisonous barbs on the end of their tail. This one didn't."

    "There's a simple reason why," said Krun Li as he inspected the dead beast.

    He allowed too much time to pass by before Mara cried, "Ok...why?"

    Krun Li simply stated, "It is already reverting. Look."

    Mara and the others looked at the dead animal and they all froze at the new site.

    The body of the vornskr was changing in appearance right before their eyes. The body itself was shrinking with its back forming a more subtle curve instead of the rugged backbone of a vornskr. Its snout started growing shorter and more broad. The rows of long sharp fangs along its mouth receded to form a set of two shorter fangs that protruded out from its upper and lower lip. There was a hint of a short thin tail with pinkish red blood congealing at one end. Cauterized by a lightsaber. It no longer was a vornskr.

    "What the kriff," Jaina exclaimed.

    "What is it?" asked Mara.

    "It's a gurlanin," Trogan said, showing his own astonishment.

    "How is that possible here?" Mara questioned.

    Krun Li shrugged. "This place has not been inhabited for thousands of years. It must have been hungry."

    Mara countered, "No, I've seen Ruht and he doesn't look like this."

    "Because Ruht isn't a full grown gurlanin. Plus, Ruht is in the form of a human now. This is the gurlanins' true form," Krun Li explained.

    Jaina asked, "So why was this one in the form of a vornskr?"

    "Because I was just thinking about them," replied Mara absently.

    Jaina cried, "Wait a minute. You mean you just thought of this thing and it turned into one?"

    Trogan explained, "We always knew the gurlanins have a telepathy between themselves. It was always a theory that they could read the minds of their victims."

    Krun Li stated emphatically, "It's a myth, Trogan. It's not possible."

    Recognition clicked in Mara's memory and she exclaimed, "The myth of Agharta. If gurlanins can become human, and they can read the mind of a human.."

    "And know what they fear the most," supplied Jaina.

    Mara pointed out, "Or know what they need the most."

    Jaina nodded. "Like a young friend for a ten-year-old girl."

    Krun Li eyed Mara with his hand to his lips. "I see what you're getting at. Seria would have been the first being on this island in centuries. At that time, Seria was filled with grief and confusion. If she thought she needed a companion to talk to and play with, a gurlanin could easily manifest itself into one. A friend for her."

    Mara continued with, "It told Seria that her name was Agharta. It must have known about the myth somehow."

    Jaina followed the thought. "And once she, or it, got close enough to Seria, it would try to lure her towards something."

    "What, exactly?" Trogan asked.

    "Something not good, for sure," Jaina offered.

    "Bones. Ash. Fire. Death..." Mara reiterated Seria's words while under a Jedi trance. Mara looked in the direction where the gurlanin came from. "Maybe it's something we haven't seen yet." She turned to her niece and asked, "You up for a little walk to a volcanic site?"

    Krun Li asked, "Why do we need to see that? We've already answered the mystery of Seria's imaginary friend."

    "Which you first denounced and then suddenly accepted," Mara noted. After Krun Li had no reply, Mara went on. "We might have answered what her friend was but not how Seria became insane. She saw something here that terrified her and it scarred her for twenty years. I want to know what."

    "Would it make a difference if it was known to you?"

    Mara edged closer to him and nearly shouted, "Yes, it would. It's the difference between you joining the New Republic or not. Because I keep coming back to my question of why this island is forbidden. And the only answer you give is that we don't need to know. I used to work for an organization who used that phrase as their motto. The galaxy called them the Empire. And they didn't exactly hold the trust of the people. Neither are you with us, Krun Li."

    Krun Li looked at the ground with his head down. It almost seemed to Mara that he was contemplating something. She had encountered people who were hard to read in the Force, and Krun Li was definitely one of them.

    He breathed out and finally said, "Very well. Lead us on."

    "Fine. Back in the same formation, then." She said to Trogan, "There may be more of those gurlanins. Watch our backs."

    Trogan grinned much in the same way as Han Solo and he motioned down at his firearm that he took out of his pack. Mara followed his gaze and saw that it was a heavy duty BlasTech Quad blaster-cannon. Trogan announced proudly, "Nothing's getting past this."

    Mara raised an eyebrow and nodded. "Nice weapon." She addressed the others to announce, "All right, if you need a pit stop, now's the time to do it. We're not stopping until we get to this spot." She turned to her niece who was smiling. "What's so funny?"

    "I was thinking. What if we imagine harmless creatures for the gurlanins to turn into? We could conjure up some evil nerfs." Jaina laughed. "Or those sinister profoggs."

    Even though Mara smiled and forced herself not to laugh, she said sternly, "I don't have time for teenage antics right now. Let's move."

    They started back in the same direction and Mara and Jaina cut through more limbs and trees to clear a path. After a few minutes of this, Jaina kept it up.

    "Gee, I hope we don't come across any of those dangerous and nasty Ewoks. I'm getting the shivers just thinking of those horrible creatures. Can you think of anything so scary as an Ewok, Aunt Mara?"

    Though Mara was laughing inside, she still snapped at her niece. "Quiet!"


    Jaina took a swing at a rather large limb with her lightsaber. It was an action she had repeated several times in the last hour and her arm was starting to feel its effects. As the limb fell to the ground, the view opened up before them. On the other side of the tree was a large clearing with no trees. On the ground, the color suddenly changed from the deep green of plants to a dark heavy gray of hardened stone.

    "Ah-ha! Found it! Finally!" the teen announced.

    Mara wasn't far behind and soon stood beside her niece to survey the new area. Krun Li and Trogan came from behind her and they stood on the edge of the stone surface. The area was roughly sixty meters across. The dark gray stone had once been molten lava oozing out of a crack of a fault line somewhere deep beneath the surface. Echoes of liquified ripples were now frozen in time. The surface was so smooth that it seemed as if it were paved across. The site was an impressive display of geographic power. For all of the living beings' accomplishments, nature still held control of the galaxy.

    It was amazing to Jaina how the lava came out of the fault line and essentially stopped at a certain point creating a definite edge between the hard stone and plant life. As grand as the sight was, it also gave off an eerie feeling. It was as if a black ink blot had been spilled on an otherwise beautiful painting.

    Each of them walked in their own directions taking in the scene.

    Krun Li grinned as he surveyed the rock. "So this is what made Seria Rayne go mad. Not very scary to me."

    "I don't know," said Jaina. "I would have had to change my pants if I saw this when I was ten."

    "It may be more complex than just the site looking scary," said Mara, ignoring her niece's comment.

    "How?" Krun Li asked.

    Mara considered before answering, "You said the gurlanins have a telepathy between them. If the theory is correct that a gurlanin created a friend for Seria through her mind, then we can assume it could reach her mind in other ways."

    "What other ways?" spat the skeptical Krun Li.

    "Images," replied Mara. "It could have implanted them in her mind."

    "That is a bit far fetched, don't you think?" said Trogan.

    Jaina replied from the other side of the formation, "Not really. Remember, we said there's a member of the Jedi Council who can project images into a person's mind."

    "What images would it have given her?" asked Trogan.

    Mara shrugged. "Could be anything. Something to scare her. Or lure her. Maybe it tried to manipulate her for some reason."

    "What reason?" asked Krun Li.

    "I have no idea," replied Mara.

    Jaina called out from her position, "I think I might know! Come and look at this!"

    They each came over beside Jaina on the opposite end of the area. There was a distinct grade angling down a hill where the rock still flowed. There were more trees lining the edge of the rock but where Jaina stood, two were more prominent. They stood a few meters apart and in between them was some sort of chain that rusted over the years. It was tied around each tree and stretched across forming a line. Hanging on the line vertically were several odd shaped limbs. A centuries worth of moss had been growing on the limbs and the line.

    Trogan bemused, "Ooh, tree limbs hanging from a chain. I am shaking in my boots."

    "Look closer," said Jaina.

    Mara did so and saw that on one end of a limb closer to the line was a knot that was almost too rounded to be made out of wood. There was no wind in the air on the island, so Mara used the Force to move one limb around. As it turned, they could see two distinct holes where daylight shown through from the other side. The two holes were spaced in line of each other with a larger third hole beneath them. Those holes looked all too familiar to Mara. Evidence of a former face combined with the heat of the lava, it was now unmistakable as to what had happened here long ago. Soon, she could feel the horror of recognition from all the others. All except Krun Li.

    Mara froze for a moment while still in shock. She focused in the Force on Krun Li. It took a great deal of concentration but she could feel a sense of emotion that was opposite of what he was showing. She wasn't clear yet what it was, but she got her answer after Jaina covered her mouth and spoke.

    "Tarkin's Ghost. They were human. Who could have done this?"

    "Gurlanins," said Krun Li almost too calmly. "It had to be them."

    Her years as Emperor's Hand taught her the subtleties of speech in its infliction. He wore an expression of horror but inside was something else.

    Knowledge. And whatever it was, Krun Li did not intend to share it. Mara's rage began to boil and she acted quicker than any of the others realized it.

    Krun Li was a rather large man with a hefty build, but any biped's weakness was balancing on two legs. Mara lunged toward him and wrapped one of her legs around his forcing him to lose his balance and hit the ground. His broad body hit the hard rock but it would have been harder if Mara hadn't have grabbed the man's robe in the front near his neck. She bent down to get in his face. His surprise was legitimate this time.

    "You knew we were going to see this!" Mara yelled. "You knew all along that the gurlanins sacrificed humans like this! That's why this island is off limits! Isn't it?"

    Trogan began the motion of pointing his blaster at Mara but she was faster. The hand blaster she always kept under her sleeve suddenly appeared and she held it outstretched and pointed at Trogan. She never took her eyes off Krun Li as she warned, "Try it, Trogan, and you'll need a med kit very quickly!"

    He backed off and Mara switched targets from him to Krun Li. She let go of the front of his robe but kept the small blaster pointed at him. She growled, "I still haven't heard an answer."

    "Y...yes. Yes!" Krun Li managed to cry. "I knew we might see this."

    "Might?"

    "I wasn't sure what we would see exactly."

    "But you led us into danger anyway."

    "We're in no danger now. What happened here ended a thousand years ago."

    Mara snapped, "They look too preserved to be a thousand years old."

    Before Krun Li could reply, Jaina remarked, "What I can't understand is how gurlanins can perform a sacrifice. They're animals."

    "They are more than just animals," cried Krun Li. "They are highly intelligent and very adaptable. Especially when they copy humans."

    Jaina talked it out more to herself to understand. "So the gurlanin who became Seria's friend in human form forced her here and gave her images of torture and death. That would explain the madness for twenty years."

    "Are the gurlanins still here?" questioned Trogan.

    "No," answered Krun Li. "There may be some left from this tribe, like the one we just encountered, but they've all but died off."

    Mara forced her blaster lower into his face. "But you knew we would be attacked."

    "No! I had no knowledge that there would be any gurlanins still here. The one you killed had been too old. A younger gurlanin would have fought back regardless of its tail missing."

    "And it didn't have the poisonous barbs at the end of its tail, either," Jaina noted.

    Krun Li explained in a more calm manner, "Gurlanins can't copy bodily fluids in another species' body. They can only form the main structure."

    Mara finally turned her blaster away from his face and said, "You lied to us, Spirit Leader."

    Seeing how Mara backed away, Krun Li took the hint and lifted himself up from the volcanic rock. He tried to correct Mara. "There is a difference between lying and misleading."

    "Call it what you like, Krun Li. You didn't come clean with us." She shot a look at Trogan and snapped, "Neither did you."

    Trogan held up both hands palms out and exclaimed, "Hey, I knew nothing about this. This is my first time on this island."

    Mara chose a sarcastic tone. "Because it's forbidden to the Mahra. Now we know why."

    "Please, let me explain," Krun Li pleaded.

    "I'm all ears," said Mara.

    "The sacrifices that this tribe of gurlanins performed ended centuries ago. The evidence of what they did is still here. I can't tell you how it was preserved. The knowledge of what happened here had been passed down from Spirit Leaders in the past. We try to protect the Mahra members from this knowledge. It is not necessary for them to know."

    "And it wasn't necessary for us to know, either?" Mara questioned.

    Krun Li gave a heavy sigh. "Mara, I truthfully did not expect you to have a detailed map of this island's terrain. I figured when you saw that Seria had been here that it would be the end of your investigation. I had no idea that you would want to come here."

    Jaina said, "But you knew we would find this place anyway after the fact. You couldn't have given us a little hint?"

    Krun Li looked down at the gray stone. "Perhaps it was an oversight on my part."

    "And that oversight has made us trust you even less," stated Mara more calmly.

    Krun Li edged towards Mara and looked directly into her green eyes. "Please don't judge my mistake for the Mahra. I just didn't want you exposed to one of Qiilura's past horrors."

    Jaina cracked, "You'd be surprised at the horrors I've been exposed to over the years. And I'm only fifteen."

    Mara considered something and then said, "That's why you want to join the New Republic. Retribution."

    "That is part of it. Not only for the gurlanins' role in Qiilura's past but our own in acting out against the mighty Empire. The cost of that was too great."

    "I think we're familiar with that concept," Jaina sneered.

    Krun Li nodded slowly and went on. "We've been hiding from the galaxy for so long. We even allowed the Empire to create a false profile for us."

    Mara noted, "It worked to your advantage. Most people left you alone over the years. Except those who sought you out by word of mouth."

    Krun Li admitted, "It is time we come out of our shell and be a part of the galaxy again. Please don't deny the Mahra that chance because of your mistrust of me. It was my fault for not informing you first. Don't let the Mahra pay for my mistake."

    Mara kept a straight face at him and said with a tinge of humor, "Are you done politicking? Because we are definitely the wrong ones to impress in that category."

    Krun Li then asked sincerely, "Then can you arrange a meeting with someone who will listen?"

    With a sideways glance at her niece first, who merely shrugged at her, Mara said, "I've had stranger places for negotiations but we were never here for that. Fine. I can inform Chief Of State Leia Organa Solo that you want to set up an official meeting. That is if you stop lying to us."

    Krun Li smiled wide, showing his bright white teeth for the first time since being on the island. He bowed and said, "Thank you. Now, are we finished with the Neekro Island tour?"

    "I know I'm ready to get off this creep show of an island," cried Trogan.

    Mara expressed, "I hope this sidetrack was worth getting your peace agreement."

    "If it could have been helped–"

    "It could have, Krun Li. You could have told us the truth."

    "I know."

    Seeing how his shoulders were hung low and a hint of regret she felt from him in the Force, Mara managed to say to Krun Li, "Forget it for now. I'm a pretty good judge of character but my sister-in-law has made an art out of it all her life. We'll see what she says when she meets with you." She faced Trogan. "You ready to head back? We'll take the same path since it's already been cleared. Jaina, I want you up front with me in case we meet with another gurlanin. It's your turn to fight one this time."

    "Thanks," Jaina's reply came dripping with sarcasm. "You know, I almost thought–hey! There she goes!" Jaina's attention was on something down hill. She turned back at her aunt and cried out, "Didn't you see her?"

    "See who?"

    "The little girl. She just ran by here and went down the hill. She wore a white dress." Jaina looked back over the hill.

    "I didn't see anybody," Trogan said.

    Krun Li stated, "Neither did I. I must warn you, Ms. Solo that it could have been another gurlanin."

    Mara agreed. "I'd hate to say he's right."

    Jaina continued to search. "But I wasn't thinking of anything. Certainly not a little girl. I swear I saw her."

    "Maybe you did, but it could be–"

    "I'm going to find her! She went down here!" At that, Jaina took off down the hill.

    "—a trick," Mara finished her sentence.

    Krun Li uttered after Jaina disappeared, "And here I thought she was a precocious child."

    "She does show her true age now and then," Mara replied. "We'd better follow her. I don't like the idea of anyone alone on this island."

    The three of them started down the low grade hill and could see Jaina running way ahead of them into another clearing. The ground turned back to green grass with less trees. And then the ground changed to a bright yellow as several flowers of that color dominated the green grass. As they eased down, they could see Jaina suddenly stop several meters ahead at a tall post in the ground. As they came closer, the post held a hand made symbol made out of small tree limbs. Above a center horizontal limb was another limb bent into a wide arc. Below the central limb were smaller limbs that made three separate upside-down triangles.

    The four of them stood before the post with interest. Jaina had not said a word as she stared at it.

    Mara asked Krun Li, "What is it?"

    This time, the Spirit Leader did look confused as he said, "I'm not certain what the post is doing here but the symbol is familiar. It is the ancient symbol for Qiilura itself. The sun shines on life from above the ground and fire rules death from below."


    "Namely the bright white sun versus the fiery volcanic activity," mentioned Mara.

    "Exactly. This symbol has not been used in centuries."

    Trogan looked around and motioned to Jaina to tease, "So where's your little girlfriend?"

    Mara glanced at her niece who seemed transfixed at the symbol.

    Jaina finally replied absently, "She's gone. She led me here. It wasn't a gurlanin. She was real. She's led me here before but I didn't realize it at the time. I didn't understand then. She tried to reach Seria but she was too young. But I can understand. I can help her on her way."

    Trogan scoffed. "Just what we need. Another crazy female. What in the stars does this place do to the young girls?"

    "What are you talking about, Jaina?" asked her aunt.

    Without taking her eyes off the post, Jaina replied, "I've seen this symbol before."

    Krun Li cried, "That's impossible. Where could you have possibly seen this symbol before?"

    Jaina finally turned away from the symbol and looked directly at Mara. "In my dream this morning."

    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
    tbc
     
    Last edited: Jan 18, 2021
  11. madman007

    madman007 Jedi Master star 4

    Registered:
    Aug 22, 2007
    Chapter Eight: Such Strange Mysteries

    Qiilura: Returning from Neekro Island

    Mara did not need the Force to tell her that Jaina was confused. It was written all over her face. Throughout their trek back into the same woods they came through, Jaina was distant and silent. Even when they all climbed in the water skiff to return to the Mahra compound, Jaina hardly said a word. It was in her eyes where it was evident that something dominated her thoughts. Mara's niece stared blankly into space for the entire journey back to the complex. It made Mara worry more because her demeanor was so unlike Jaina's true self. Mara could safely use words like vibrant and lively to describe Jaina. Not this time. Granted, the young girl had been given many challenges in the past year with the Shadow Academy. But she had come through those experiences better than most adults would have. Mara had never seen Jaina this far out of reach.

    The real problem was that Mara had no clue as to how to help her niece. Mara herself could not see the young girl in the white gown as Jaina claimed she did. Not only could she not see her, she couldn't feel her in the Force. Mara figured it would be treading on thin ice if she suggested to Jaina that she was seeing things. Her trust with Jaina might be in danger if Mara did that.

    It was times like these when Mara Jade cherished the wisdom of her husband's advice. And that was what she intended to receive soon.

    When they hit the mainland, Jaina exited the skiff wordlessly and headed straight to Trogan's speeder. Even Trogan seemed worried about the girl. "Is she going to be all right?"

    Mara sighed heavily. "Honestly, I'm not sure."

    At that moment, the Mahra Spirit Leader, Krun Li, came up to Mara as Trogan headed to the speeder and said in a low tone, "I do have your assurance that you will discuss our peace agreement with New Republic officials."

    "It may not be as simple as that. If you get this agreement, it would mean the New Republic will have representatives here. No more secrecy. You will have to update your facilities, including irrigation and plumbing. We will have to comb through that mini Raxus Prime that Trogan has stashed away. There would also have to be a spaceport that will be much closer to the compound. Trade routes work better that way. That trek through the woods to get here is quite unnecessary. On top of all that, the gurlanin leaders in Imbraani will have to be spoken to and convinced that humans won’t try to ruin Qiilura again."

    "I believe they will see reason after all of these years. What about recruiting more members?"

    "The New Republic can establish a site on the HoloNet for that." She paused before saying, "The time for secrets are over, Krun Li. Despite what you will eventually receive, I will have to report your reluctance to inform us about the gurlanins' past on Neekro Island. I'm still having trouble understanding why. That was the reason they sent me first. They knew I would find secrets like that and I wouldn't sugar coat them. The New Republic cannot afford the wrong type of publicity." She emphasized, "You must understand that before I go further with this."

    Krun Li said with a nod, "I do. And I must say that your reputation for efficiency has been quite proven."

    "Fine. I only have one request. I need the communications relay on the Jade Sabre to contact my husband."

    Krun Li looked confused. "Your husband? Is not Leia Organa Solo the official Chief Of State?"

    "She is, but she will be mightily busy for a visit here. The Jedi Master, Luke Skywalker, can act in her place and grant the same authority as his sister, Leia."

    "I see. It will be acceptable. Though Trogan is also quite a busy man himself. He would have to take you to your ship immediately so you can return here."

    Mara mentioned to him, "I think I would like to stay on my ship for the night. I have the urge to take Jaina away from here for a while. No offense, but I think it will be good for her."

    "As long as that is your reason. I would hate to believe that you are leaving the compound out of vengeance for my actions. Your reputation precedes you in that area."

    Mara came closer to him and glared at him with green daggers. She added an edge to her voice. "Listen to me now. Vengeance was never part of my history. I killed as a necessity on missions for which I was assigned. I am no longer that person. It's in the past. Much like the gurlanins' boiling humans in lava. Do not ever assume that you know me, Krun Li. History is always written by the people who have gained the most."

    "My apologies. You will be contacted when Trogan is prepared to take you to your ship."

    "Sooner would be better." She walked away and entered the speeder. Mara uttered to Trogan who was already at the pilot seat, "Your boss is quite a character. Subtle as a star cruiser wreck."

    Trogan chuckled. "He is that. Though usually he's a very private man. You must bring out the best in people."

    "I try."

    Trogan gave a nod to Jaina who was still silent in the backseat. "What are you going to do with her?"

    Mara sighed. "I'll think of something."

    A standard hour later in Mara and Jaina's Mahra compound hut

    To Mara's disappointment Jaina did not eat anything at the luncheon brought before them in the converted galley. She watched as her niece flopped on her cot and said not a word. Mara was finally fed up with the silence and sat on her own cot across from Jaina and exclaimed, "Jaina! Snap out of it! Time to wake up!"

    "I'm sorry," Jaina answered drearily.

    "Look, I know this is hard for either of us to comprehend, but could you at least try to explain it to me? I'm worried about you. You have to give me something."

    "That's just it. There's nothing I can give you. Nothing that makes any sense anyway." She paused and recounted, "I saw her, Aunt Mara. She knew I was there and that I could see her. She motioned for me to follow her."

    "But I didn't even feel her presence in the Force," Mara retorted.

    "Neither did I. Yet, some part of her...or it...was part of the Force. That feeling of helplessness that I felt since I've been here...it was more like a cry for help. And it felt the strongest on that island."

    "So it didn't come from Seria Rayne like you first thought. Then why did we both feel the Force when I put her under the Jedi trance?"

    Jaina slowly shook her head but replied, "Maybe it wasn't Seria we were feeling. Maybe it was Agharta."

    "That doesn't make sense. I know that's not what you want to hear from me, Jaina, but you have to see this from my point of view."

    "I know how this looks to you and the others. That's part of why I've been distant, I suppose. It's like the knowledge is so foreign to me but at the same time I've always known it to be true. You remember our black out on our first night here? I'm positive that Agharta had something to do with that."

    "Jaina, honey, Force ghosts don't just cut all the power."

    "How would you know? Ever see one? I have. It was the Force ghost of an ancient Sith Lord."

    Mara cringed at the sudden truth to Jaina's words. "No, I may not have physically seen one. I just know they exist."

    "And that's how strongly I feel that I did see her. The only thing is, I don't think Agharta is a Force ghost. She wasn't glowing or transparent like Exar Kun was before he took over Kyp. She was just...there. On top of all that, seeing the same symbol I saw in my dream this morning just freaked me out. You know me, Aunt Mara. I wouldn't make this up."

    "I know. You also know me, Jaina. I deal in hard facts. I have to have an angle to work from."

    Jaina smiled for the first time since being on the island and shook her head in mock disgust. "Mara Jade, always the pragmatic."

    "You got that straight. Now, are you ready to hear my plan, regardless of what you saw? Once we get back to the Sabre I'm going to contact Luke to come here and officially open discussions of peace with the Mahra. Leia will have to find time to come with a delegation later for the HoloPress."

    "Isn't Uncle Luke with my dad and Lando on the Falcon?"

    "Yes. Some new project of Lando's on Carratos."

    "Carratos. That's on the edge of the Inner Rim. They're not too far away."

    "Depending on how deep Lando gets Han and Luke into his excursions." She paused and said, "While on the Sabre, I am also going to research further into Qiilura and these gurlanins."

    "We've already looked into the archives. There's not much that we don't already know."

    "We've looked into New Republic archives. I intend to look in a place where I have access to."

    Jaina gave a knowing nod and uttered, "Bastion. What makes you think there's more about Qiilura there?"

    "The Old Republic archives are there."

    "All right. When are we getting to the Jade Sabre?"

    "I'm off to find Trogan to see if we can get there sooner."

    "And I overheard you telling Krun Li that we're staying there overnight."

    "I think it's best."

    "Oh, I agree with you. You have no idea what all this nonsense is doing to my mental state."

    "No, I don't. There was a time after the Emperor died when I lost the power of the Force. I felt so alone at that time. I had nobody. The sudden unknown was making me crazy. Even after I met Luke I was unsure of myself and my role in the galaxy. But he helped me get over it."

    "Yeah, after a decade of dancing around each other," Jaina sneered.

    "Ah, there's the Jaina I know. I'm not sure if that's the same thing you're going through now."

    "Thanks anyway, Aunt Mara." She suddenly winced and her hand went to her side.

    "What's wrong?"

    "I think my stomach is afraid of the unknown."

    "Because you haven't eaten a thing since this morning." Mara got up from the cot and said, "After I find Trogan I'll bring some food. In the meantime, you rest. No questions or exceptions."

    "Yes, mother."

    "And that better be the last comparison of me to Leia. I'll be right back."

    It wasn't long after her aunt left when Jaina felt alone. She knew Mara tried to console her the best way she knew with her own version of solitude. But this was something that was beyond healing.

    Had she really seen that girl on the island? She seemed real enough. Was she only visible to herself and not the others? Apparently. Why? And how did that ancient symbol of Qiilura appear in her dream that morning? Jaina was sure there was a message there. And it was sent to her alone. Jaina let out a heavy sigh. Too many unanswered questions. Rest, Mara demanded. Like that could happen now.

    Jaina lifted herself off the cot headed into the refresher. An eerie sense of remembrance fell upon her. She made this same path to the refresher in her dream that morning. She was still asleep then. Plus, the afternoon white sun shone through the small window of the hut. Nothing sinister ever happened in the daytime. Or so the folk tales proclaimed.

    Jaina looked in the reflector as if she expected to see another person's image there. Mara was right. Maybe it all was in her head. Jaina bent down to splash some water on her face. She reached blindly for a towel nearby. She dried her face as she lifted her head. She removed the towel from her face and looked into the reflector–and shrieked.

    She was there beside her staring back at Jaina with her dead eyes.

    Jaina jumped back and stared in horror. She turned around to see that there was nobody else in the cot. She turned back at the reflector and there she still stood. She was only in the reflector! No smile. The white of her gown was almost blinding against her gray cracked skin.

    Jaina shook her head in disbelief. "No! I shouldn't be able to see you! I'm awake!"

    The girl actually spoke this time. Her voice was a cold echo whispering out from the past.

    You hear. You will always hear now, not just in slumber.

    "Well, that's just perfect." Instead of fighting it, Jaina played along. "Who are you?"

    You know more than the other girls.

    "Other girls? You mean there's been other girls you've tormented besides Seria Rayne and I?"

    The last one...too young to hold my power. Others removed from living by their own hands.

    "They...they killed themselves?"

    You are stronger.

    Jaina cried in a whisper, "I'm not strong."

    Help me release. Power will destroy their mark.

    "No! I can't help you. I'm not going to end up like Seria."

    You require belief.

    Suddenly, the girl's gray skin started to change. It started peeling away. It broke into pieces of dead rotting flesh that fell into oblivion. It's dark skull began to show it's features. It opened its jaw, which now consisted only of teeth. It looked to Jaina like a sinister grin. A piercing high-pitched screech emitted out of its jaw. It was so loud that Jaina had to cover her ears. The sound penetrated through. She bent down lower to the floor. Her back was now to the refresher.

    That's when she witnessed the next show of power.

    Inside the cot, all of their belongings were being lifted into the air and started revolving around the room. The objects–tunics, shirts, pants, trays, utensils–were soon gaining speed while spinning around the room. Jaina's first thought was that she was using the Force somehow. But Jaina knew. She felt its absence.

    There was no Force.

    This was another power.

    Hers.

    The girl's voice returned but it was deeper. Heavier. Inhuman.

    I can help you help me. Together we are as one.

    "No!" Everything in the room that wasn't tied down to the floor was in the air spinning. Fast. No pattern. No sense of will. Jaina crawled low out of the refresher. She was afraid to raise her head for the risk of being pummeled by something. "This is not happening!"

    You must see with my eyes.

    Jaina suddenly felt a searing pain in her head. Her sight was gone. It was replaced by images that bombarded her mind. They were so real that she felt like she could touch them. Fire. Heat. Searing flesh. Screams of infinite pain. Burning. Bodies alive wriggling on chains attached to tree limbs. Lava flowing below. Intense heat crackling from the bright yellow-orange glow. Images of that symbol. The symbol from her dreams. From Qiilura's past.

    The symbol of Agharta.

    The images were rapidly being thrust at her. Jaina couldn't tell which direction was up or down. She could still hear the monstrous voice of a former girl.

    You now know. You will help me escape. We are joined.

    Jaina felt...something...enter her mind. She tried using the Force to block it out. She didn't have the strength to stop it. It was not the Force. It was unknown. Her mind continued to swirl and she finally screamed at the top of her lungs, "Get out of my head!"

    The pain continued until she finally heard a familiar voice. It sounded miles away but yet closing in.

    "Jaina!"

    The grisly images stopped as abruptly as they began. Jaina could see again. She saw that she was sprawled flat on the floor in an awkward position. She was near the entrance of the hut. How did she crawl all the way from the refresher? Despite the images disappearing, they would be forever burned into her memory. She slowly moved her head to the side. Her aunt Mara was looking down at her with an expression of extreme worry.

    "Jaina. Are you all right?"

    Jaina formed a strange smile. "Mara. I understand now. I believe."

    Mara looked around at the mess of the hut. "Jaina, what the kriffing Hell happened in here?"

    Jaina replied, "She happened."


    Mara threw the last of their packs into the back of Trogan's PX-7 transport. He parked it awkwardly near their hut. What took the longest time wasn't the packing. It was the collection of their belongings that were strewed about inside the hut. Mara didn't want to press the issue of how their stuff was scattered. It was already evident that something happened to Jaina that emotionally drained her. Her niece was standing nearby the transport covered in a thick wolen blanket. Jaina was in no shape to be answering questions. All Mara wanted was to get back to her ship.

    Which was what Trogan hesitantly agreed to do before Mara went back to the hut to tell Jaina. Trogan warned that the gurlanin, Ruht, was on an errand and could not go yet. He quoted Qiiluran law that stated a gurlanin had to escort them out of the Mahra compound. Mara didn't care about laws now. Mara successfully persuaded him that it would be much healthier for him if they went now. Trogan even tried to help her pack but she refused.

    "Didn't realize you were this impatient."

    Mara snapped, "Oh, I passed impatient hours ago. This is wanting to get the hell out of this place."

    As if on cue, Krun Li's voice boomed, "Leaving so soon?"

    Mara was almost embarrassed that she didn't sense him beforehand. She looked over at him and saw that Croag was a step behind his Spirit Leader. She called back at him, "Not soon enough! No offense, but I can't keep Jaina here any longer."

    "Has something happened?" asked a concerned Croag.

    "All I know is that the hut was trashed and Jaina is a pile of nerves."

    Krun Li suggested lightly, "Perhaps something frightened her."

    Mara cracked a smirk. "You don't know this kid well. She doesn't frighten easily." Mara paused as she stood before Krun Li and said, "I will have Jedi Master Luke Skywalker come here and you can speak with him on the details of the agreement. He isn't far away so he could be here sometime in the next standard day. Right now, my concern is for my apprentice and niece and I want her away from this compound."

    "Maybe it is for the best."

    With a nod, Mara addressed her niece. "You ready, kiddo?"

    Jaina nodded absently and began to climb into the transport when they heard a cry across the yard.

    "Wait! Jaina, wait!" The raven-haired Ristina Tai'lor was running towards them and waving for them to not go yet. She slowed down to end up standing in front of Jaina. She said between breaths, "I heard you were leaving. And that you were not feeling well."

    "News travels fast in the Mahra," uttered Mara.

    "Oh, Seria said you might be feeling sick. She is so much better since you healed her."

    Jaina questioned, "Why would she think I would be sick?"

    "Well...she said that you might be meeting her."

    Krun Li warned the girl, "Ristina, remember what we talked about."

    "I know."

    Jaina asked, "What did you talk about?"

    "I'm not supposed to say," replied the girl. "But I can give you this." Ristina reached under her tunic and pulled out a small pouch and handed it to Jaina.

    Jaina took it and instantly caught the aroma coming from inside the pouch. It wasn't too unpleasant. Jaina just wouldn't want to smell it for very long. "What is it? It has a rather...distinct smell."

    "It's glyphic spice. Mother uses it in some of her meals. My grandfather told me that it would chase off any spirits."

    Trogan muttered, "Maybe your grandfather was full of spirits at the time." He was greeted by a nudge by Mara.

    Krun Li said, "That is only a myth, Ristina."

    The girl went on. "No, it's true. My grandfather said they had to use it a long time ago here when–"

    "Ristina!" boomed Krun Li. "That's enough. Now Mara and Jaina are leaving. You can say your goodbyes and then it's off to your chores."

    "Yes sir." She frowned but proceeded to hug Jaina and said, "I'll never forget you."

    "Nor will I forget you, Ristina. Thank you for sharing your HoloPic with me."

    "I hope your uncle will like it."

    "An old holo of his Jedi mentor? He'll love it."

    They parted and Ristina said a quick bye and ran off.

    Jaina stared where the little girl disappeared. She looked down at the pouch of glyphic spice. My grandfather said they had to use it a long time ago here. Jaina thought on what Ristina was about to say before Krun Li interrupted. Her thoughts then went to what the spirit girl in the reflector said. Others removed from living by their own hands. Jaina uttered," They've used this before."

    "What?" asked her aunt.

    "Ristina. She was about to say that they've had to use this glyphic spice here before." Jaina paused before saying, "There were others. Other girls like Seria who claimed they saw something."

    Krun Li calmly replied, "I do not know what you're talking about."

    "Of course not," Jaina continued. "They officially never happened. Some of them might even have taken their own lives. The rest just went crazy like Seria. All because they were told what they were seeing was not real. I knowwhat I saw in the reflector was real. The images shown to me were too real. The girl who gave them to me was real. The girl who you call Agharta. I saw her."

    "That's blasphemy!" cried Krun Li.

    "What? To see the truth? She is still around here and she appears and speaks to girls to help her. Seria Rayne was too young to understand. She went mad trying to. I think Agharta becomes a part of the girls' minds. They couldn't take that kind of power at their ages." Jaina paused and emphasized, "But I can."

    Krun Li chuckled. "Listen to yourself. A spirit of our beloved Agharta inside a child's mind? That is fantasy. Only the Spirit Leader can make contact with Agharta. Not children."

    "Why is that? Did you ask her?"

    Krun Li scoffed. "I will not stand here and discuss our beliefs to you, child. As I understand it, an agreement with the New Republic includes that they not interfere with a culture's religion."

    Mara countered, "Your agreement is still dependant on the Jedi Master's decision."

    Jaina edged closer to Krun Li and shook her head. "There were other girls who were destroyed by this. And you knew. You knew."

    "Careful, Jedi. You are treading in dangerous waters," Krun Li warned.

    Jaina ultimately said, "I'm ready to leave, Aunt Mara." She climbed in the back of the transport.

    Mara glared at the Spirit Leader but addressed Trogan. Her bright green eyes kept on Krun Li. "Let's get going. I want to get to my ship before dark."

    After Mara climbed into the transport, Trogan headed into the cockpit. Krun Li followed him along with Croag. The two leaders of the Mahra glanced at each other grimly and nodded in agreement. Krun Li then uttered to Trogan, "I am afraid it is time to eliminate our problem."

    Trogan protested in a half whisper, "She's different. She's a Jedi."

    Krun Li stated, "Not even a Jedi can interfere with Mahra prophecy."

    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
    tbc
     
  12. madman007

    madman007 Jedi Master star 4

    Registered:
    Aug 22, 2007
    Chapter Nine: The Prophecy

    The Jade Sabre - approximately one standard hour later

    The trek back to their ship was similar to the one from Neekro Island. Silent and uneventful. Jaina was the same mute self. While Mara was tracking down Trogan to leave earlier, she also managed to grab a few Nilluk strips on the way back to their hut. With the confusion of how she found Jaina among the mess in the hut, Mara had forgotten she had them. She handed them to her niece in the transport and Jaina did finally eat. She ate in silence though. When they arrived at the Jade Sabre, Jaina made a beeline to her bunk. After he helped Mara with their packs, Trogan gave her a nod.

    "Take care of her."

    "Will do," she replied, failing in hiding her surprise at his concern. She heard him leave in the old transport and then headed to Jaina's quarters. There, she found her niece flopped on her bed.

    Mara truly was in the dark at how to handle her niece's dilemma. She already tried the hands on approach back at the Mahra compound. She wanted to talk to her niece about what happened in the hut. Where would she start? If she kept on questioning her it might sink Jaina deeper into seclusion. Mara decided that she would wait until Jaina talked to her. Mara allowed a smirk when she realized that this was the Skywalker method of therapy.

    She said to the body lying on the bed, "Finally resting now?"

    "Hopefully alone this time."

    "I'll let you alone while I contact Luke and then Bastion." She spotted the pouch given to her by Ristina Tai'lor. "I'll get this out of your way." She was just about to reach for it when Jaina stopped her.

    "No! Leave it there, please."

    "Jaina, it stinks. Glyphic spice may do well in all kinds of meals but it's not for helping you sleep."

    "Then put it over there on the table. I want to keep it in here with me."

    Mara tilted her head as she reached for it and moved it. "You're not seriously buying into that old tale about glyphic spice warding off spirits, are you?"

    "Just humor me, Aunt Mara. I'm so confused right now that I can't think straight. I just want to rest now."

    "Try a Jedi trance."

    "Not sure if it will work."

    "Sure it will. Just reach into a place of relaxation and concentrate in the Force to keep you there."

    "And if that doesn't work?"

    Mara shrugged. "I know a mug of Luke's favorite chocolate drink always helps him out of a depression. And I know you can never resist sugary drinks."

    Jaina smiled so softly that it gave Mara a glimpse of her old niece. "And you're afraid you'll be a bad mother?"

    "One issue at a time. Now you rest."

    Jaina's eyes were already shut as she muttered groggily, "Not a problem."

    Mara placed a light cover over her niece and closed the light down before she left her quarters.

    Mara reached into her own ship's food tray and grabbed the last of the ribenes. She was famished as well. She chewed on them as she entered the cockpit and sat at the pilot's seat. She keyed in the encryption and comlink codes for the Millennium Falcon. She rubbed off a smudge of ribene sauce off of one of the keys before she sat back and waited in front of the holo-projector. Within a few standard minutes, a small blue-white image of Luke Skywalker formed before her. He was sitting at the controls of the Falcon. Alone.

    For a few seconds, Mara cherished the sight of seeing her husband for the first time in weeks. The feeling washed over her as he spoke.

    "Ah, Mara, my darling love," he greeted.

    "Darling love? Han and Chewie must not be within earshot if you're calling me that."

    "Yeah, they and Lando are in the other room playing sabacc."

    "And you're sitting up there bored?"

    "Well, I, uh...just thought I'd...go over some logistics on that new mining prospect on Cinnos."

    "Uh huh. Lost at sabacc again, did we?"

    Luke gave his embarrassing smile. "Yes, I lost a hand."

    "I hope you don't mean that literally. You only have one human hand left."

    "I was just never good at sabacc."

    "Well, you know what they say, my love. Unlucky at cards, lucky in love."

    "I think that's backward."

    "Not in your case, dear." She could hear a sudden familiar Wookie growl coming from his background. "What was that about?"

    "Oh, Lando must have won another hand. Threepio keeps changing the value with random pulses. They keep going into a Sabacc Shift and Lando ends up winning every time."

    "Just so Lando keeps all of his limbs attached."

    "For now."

    "How was Lando's security project on Carratos?"

    "Where most of his projects land recently."

    Mara nodded. "In the garbage chute."

    "Pretty much. Turns out it was too much of an investment even for Lando to risk. We were going to head home but figured we'd wait to hear from you since we are in the neighborhood. How is your meeting with the Mahra pirates going?"

    "For starters, they're not pirates. It's more of a religious retreat for different species only known by word of mouth." Mara went on to recount to him the events of their visit. The welcome greeting and the cookout on the beach in their honor. She also described to the best of her knowledge their religion based on their goddess, Agharta. Mara explained how Jaina found Seria Rayne though a sense of helplessness in the Force. Mara proudly retold her experience at transferring a Jedi trance to Seria and helping her gain back her sanity. Luke smiled back at his wife just as proudly. She then described what they found on Neekro island. The ancient gurlanin that reformed into a vornskr that Mara had just thought of. She described the hardened lava bed and the human remains they found chained to trees. She also mentioned the fact how the Spirit Leader, Krun Li, tried to cover up the fact that ancient gurlanins performed human sacrifices over the existing lava at that time.

    Luke nodded and uttered, "He was afraid you wouldn't approve since the colonists let it happen back then."

    "I came to the same conclusion, but I think there's more to these sacrifices than Krun Li is telling us. I want to research it further with Bastion records."

    Luke nodded again but said in confusion, "Fine. But you don't really need my permission. In essence, you don't really need Pellaeon's permission either."

    "Force of habit. But I think it's warranted. There's still some skepticism from former Imperial officers over the peace agreement with the New Republic."

    "Unfortunately, that may last until the old officers are long gone." He paused and said, "I assume you do approve of the Mahra joining the New Republic."

    "I'd like for you to come here and make that decision. In the meantime, I'll research further with Bastion."

    "That's all well and good, Mara, but that decision was yours. It was either Leia or I who would make it official on your word."

    "I know. I trust your opinion. I still want you to come."

    "Fine." Luke looked down at the nav-com on the Falcon, which was invisible to Mara. He was doing calculations in his head before he began, "If we begin our jump now, we can be there in about eight, nine hours."

    "You have the beacon coordinates for the Sabre there on the Falcon?"

    "Yeah. Do we need them?"

    "It may be difficult to find us without them. You'll see once you get here."

    "Dense terrain?"

    "Think Endor with more bodies of water."

    "Got it. Okay, now tell me what's really worrying you."

    Mara gave a defeating sigh and uttered, "It's amazing how you can see through me from this distance."

    "No distance is too great for us, my love." After he watched her roll her green eyes at him, he defended himself by saying, "Hey, I can't exactly use my romantic charm on anyone aboard here. Seriously, if this is about Jaina, tell me what happened."

    Mara went on to explain how Jaina has been seeing a small blonde girl in a white gown and claims that she is the embodiment of Agharta herself. Mara mentioned the symbol of ancient Qiilura was seen by Jaina both in her dream that morning and on Neekro island. She then described how she found Jaina sprawled on the floor near the entrance with all of their belongings scattered about the hut. Mara told Luke she has yet to find an explanation for that.

    For a moment, Luke stayed silent in his thoughts. He then breathed deep and said, "There is so much that we don't know about Force spirits. My own knowledge of them is limited to what I've seen and heard myself. They're not exactly easy to research."

    "There's nothing about them in the Jedi holocrons?"

    "Very little. I do know that becoming a Force spirit after death requires a great deal of meditation in the Force. Obi Wan trained himself with it all those years on Tatooine and succeeded at the exact moment Vader cut him down. And I literally watched Yoda fade away into nothing. They both became Force ghosts or spirits. I don't see how a small girl could know that much in the Force to show up as a spirit after her death." He looked hesitant to add, "It is possible that this is all in Jaina's mind."

    "You haven't seen her, Luke. She's not herself. She really does believe that she saw and spoke to this girl's spirit."

    "Then if Jaina is the only one who can see her, the Force has a reason for it."

    "What if the Force has nothing to do with this?"

    Luke scowled and looked at his wife as if she knew better. "The Force has everything to do with everything."

    "Spoken like a Jedi Master, not an uncle. She's confused and in emotional pain because of this."

    "What do you want me to say, Mara? I have as much, if not more, background on this than you do. The Force isn't always exact and can't be proved with hard evidence." He paused before he said, "My suggestion, though you may not like it, is to let this play out. Whatever it is it will reveal itself in time. Jaina will pull through this. She's strong."

    "And if she isn't strong enough to deal with this? I don't have to remind you what she's been through in the past few years. That's enough to make any adult break. She's only fifteen. Physically, she's not harmed. Mentally...I'm not sure."

    "If it comes to that, we can induce her into a Jedi tra–"

    "Oh, that's it! The Jedi answer! Put her in a coma because she's gone mad!"

    Luke's voice kept calm. "That's not fair, Mara."

    She put her head down in her hands and let out a long breath and said, "I'm sorry, Luke. This is just...I don't know."

    "You're at a point where you don't know the answers. And you don't know what to do. And that scares you."

    She looked up at his image to say, "Sometimes I hate it that you know me so well."

    "Consider it a gift."

    "Maybe something in Bastion's records can shed some light on all of this."

    "That's the spirit." Luke cleared his throat. "No pun intended."

    After she gave him a deadpan stare, she said, "Don't you have coordinates to enter into the nav-com?"

    "I was going to wait until I can inform Han about–" There was another sudden Wookie growl in his background followed by Han shouting, "Chewie, back off!" Without missing a beat, Luke kept his eyes on Mara as he stated, "Or I can enter the jump and tell him later."

    "Good choice. I'll see you when you get here."

    "I'll be there soon, love, but I'm never too far away. May the Force be with you." He shut off his end of the holo-projector and his image slowly faded.

    Mara immediately began to enter the comlink code to Bastion Research Division from memory. She wouldn't allow herself enough time to feel guilty about her outburst to her husband. Instead, she did what she did best. Move on to the specifics of the mission.


    To contact a high-security research facility like Bastion or Yaga Minor, one doesn't just enter a code to call and say, Hello, I want to research your extensive Old Republic archives. Despite the signing of the Pellaeon–Gavrisom Treaty four years ago, there was still Imperial bureaucracy to wade through when certain services were needed by the New Republic. A typical representative of the New Republic would spend wasteful time cutting through many levels of officers before getting to where they needed.

    But Mara Jade had an advantage. She had once been a part of the Imperial system regardless of how obscure her position was. She had ways to get through the bureaucracy. She knew that Grand Admiral Pellaeon would put aside politics and speak to either herself, Luke, or Leia with ease. The catch was how to bypass the officers whose job it was to guard communication traffic. Luckily, Mara Jade had the key to get directly through to those in higher positions in the Imperial Remnant. All it took was for her to utter five words.

    Her code was received and the Imperial insignia filled the screen. Several standard minutes later, the first low officer on the Imperial pole appeared. He was very young with dark close-cropped hair that was obscured by the military issued hat. His face was as stern as his voice.

    "State your name and your business." No please or hello. Mara shook her head. The coldness of Imperial society still lingered after all these years. She considered that he noted her ident codes of her ship, which she did not disguise. And part of that code told the officer that she was New Republic. She made a point to avoid using her married name when dealing with Imperials. The name Skywalker still drove some Imperials mad with anger.

    She stated, "Mara Jade. I request permission from Grand Admiral Pellaeon to use your research library."

    "I'm afraid the Grand Admiral is very busy right now. Let me take your name and data and we can set up an appointment within a few standard weeks."

    Mara blinked in surprise. "Weeks? I don't think so. Tell the Grand Admiral my name and we'll see just how busy he is."

    "I'm afraid I can't do that, Miss...uh, Jade. There are thousands of requests to use the research library at the moment."

    "Then tell him that this is a New Republic request."

    "I am sure this is important for the New Republic, but I still cannot simply place you at the top of–"

    "Let me tell you what I can't do!" she snapped. "I can't reach through space to wring your neck, Private. I know what your job is, and in this case I really do need to speak to the Grand Admiral. My name is Mara Jade, former Emperor's Hand, if that title doesn't sound familiar to you. My Imperial entrance code sequence is hapspiri barrini corbolan triaxis. Look it up and I'm sure you will be embarrassed at the high security level it holds. So, if I don't see the Admiral in the next ten minutes, I will make sure your next post will be monitoring comm channels on Polis Minor. Understand?"

    Her intimidation skills were still intact as the Private looked around nervously at what to do and then said weakly, "Y..yes, Ms. Jade. One moment."

    "I do believe I said ten minutes, Private."

    "Yes, of course. Just hold on."

    He shut off his comm screen and the insignia returned. It actually took less time than she figured. The screen changed in less than five minutes. An elderly man with white close-cropped hair wearing the bright white uniform of a Grand Admiral stared back at her through the screen. Pellaeon's features were older since the last time she saw him. Yet, age seemed to make his wisdom blossom.

    "Mara Jade," he greeted in his rugged voice. "Charming as always. I'm afraid you made Private Jinzen take an unscheduled refresher break."

    "I still have that effect on some men. How are you, Admiral?"

    "As well as to be expected. Now what is it that I can help you and the New Republic with?"

    Mara smiled. True military tact and quickness to the point. If only Pellaeon had been a Grand Admiral much sooner Mara wondered what the Empire would have been like. "As you may or may not be aware, the New Republic is in talks with the Mahra on Qiilura."

    "Qiilura. Yes, that does sound familiar. Pirates, I believe."

    "Actually, they are far from being pirates."

    "I figured as such. We have not heard from them in quite some time. I would venture to guess that their pirating was propaganda from our mutual former boss."

    "You would be correct."

    "And if my memory serves, you yourself had captured a few Mahra members during their raid of this very facility."

    "Your memory serves you well." Mara looked away from him and spoke more to her conscience than the Admiral. "I met the daughter of one of the couples I detained."

    Pellaeon raised his white bushy eyebrow and finished her thought. "And therefore indirectly handing them their death sentence. I can see how that could be awkward."

    "You have no idea."

    "On the contrary, I have lived through many awkward moments such as that. The key is to endure the bad. Otherwise you may not live to see the good." He cleared his throat and said with a smile, "Now, I'm sure you didn't contact me to give you life lessons. A task which I'm sure your husband provides."

    Mara nodded and stated, "I am requesting the use of the Bastion research library. Particularly those in the Old Republic archives."

    "Specifically, files based on Qiilura and the Mahra. I'm assuming your resources on Coruscant have been exhausted."

    Mara nodded. "There wasn't much to begin with. Nothing but a basic history. We know about Commander Tur-Murkan's actions to evacuate the colonists on Qiilura after the gurlanins' betrayal of their pact to leave the colonists alone."

    "You believe that some colonists refused and stayed?"

    "There's nothing official, of course. That seems logical with the formation of the Mahra. The Mahra's Agharta myth has to be at least a thousand years old."

    "Which would precede the human colonists on Qiilura by a great margin." Pellaeon shook his head and said, "You do seem to have a mystery on your hands, Mara. I'm afraid I am unfamiliar with this aspect of the Mahra. Perhaps the archives here will help you. Though it seems this subject is more for an historian." Suddenly, his eyes brightened. "Do you know who you should speak with?"

    "An historian?" Mara said dryly, almost immediately regretting the informal manner in which she answered a high-ranking officer.

    Instead of a reprimand that she was expecting, she was greeted with bellowing laughter coming from the Grand Admiral. Something of a rare sight she had heard from him. He then said with amusement, "I apologize. It is not often I hear such witty replies."

    Mara lowered her head in honor. "It is I who should apologize, Grand Admiral."

    "Nonsense, Mara Jade Skywalker. It is rather refreshing to hear your retorts over the complete dryness of Imperial officers. And, please, do not insult me with the formal Grand Admiral. Gilad will do. I believe you earned that much over the years."

    "Thank you, sir...er...Gilad. So, who should I talk with?"

    "Yes, right. Professor Jeydrian Usar. He is one of the few remaining historians of the Old Republic who is still among us. I would never attempt to guess at his age in front of him, but it is up there. And he still retains a remarkable memory for things in the past. He first taught at the original Republic University, which, as you may know, became the Imperial Academy."

    "And I'm guessing along with the name change came the Professor's retirement."

    "Yes. The Empire had no use for historians of the Old Republic at that time. He has recently acted as a consultant on the ancient archives, as well as Executive Administrator of the Bastion Library."

    Mara smiled at Gilad's veiled hint to her. She called him on it. "A position I'm sure he didn't get appointed to without help from within."

    Pellaeon smiled as well. "Cannot get much past you, Jade. Yes, I had a hand in that. Reward for teaching me as an ambitious kid all those years ago at the old University. I suspect he could be a great asset to your mystery. Though, I must say, that you are the first New Republic representative to make use of our facilities here on Bastion. Officially, of course."

    "I'd like to think of that as rather fitting."

    "Very well. I will grant you access to the Senth Herf Herf module of the Bastion Library server. That's where most of the Old Republic documents and archives are located. I would normally have them opened up but I'm afraid I would insult you since I know you can get into them anyway."

    "Thank you, Gilad. And Senth Herf Herf? Cute aurebesh code for a library. And I could have sliced into the files myself, but I prefer to ask these days. I have nothing to hide."

    "A sign of the times. Ah, I found Professor Usar's comlink code. It is very early morning here but I'm sure he will be awake. I don't think the man ever sleeps. Sending the encryption now."

    "Got it. Thank you so much, Gilad."

    "And to you, Mara Jade. You always seem to make things much more interesting than they are. Good luck with your mystery. If that is all, I do have a schedule to keep. Even if there is less for me to do than Private Jinzen thinks."

    "Of course, Admiral Pellaeon. And thank you again."

    "Anytime, Jade. Pellaeon out." His image faded away.

    She immediately went into the HoloNet to delve into the Bastion research library. It was encrypted of course and, normally, one would need special pass codes to enter for access. That or a good slicer. Mara Jade was that slicer. It was amazing to her how her memory retained the algorithms needed to get into the site. Within a half hour, which was a longer time than what she had once completed, she was in. She went to the proper server that Pellaeon told her. The Old Republic archives. Mara thought for a few seconds about what some people wouldn't give for access to what was in front of her. She quickly entered Qiilura and data started to come up.

    She frowned as she read through the same basic information that she already knew. It gave Qiilura's agricultural history and the many products it once gave to the galaxy. Drunks across many cantinas could thank Qiilura for their contribution of the powerful urrqual drink. Neimoidians took control over the farms and the product at first. During the Clone War, there was the agreement from the gurlanins with the Old Republic to act as spies for them due to their unique shape-shifting abilities. The price for the Republic was the removal of human colonists and farmers. But the gurlanins betrayed the Republic by invading and killing most of the colonists.

    Though Mara knew these facts, she also applied them to what she knew from Neekro island. She wondered how many human colonists were sacrificed into the molten lava or chained to tree limbs simply because they refused to leave. The Republic Commander, Etain Tur-Murkan, evacuated the colonists in response to the gurlanins' betrayal. Mara wondered if he did, in fact, evacuate all of them. Or perhaps he only took care of the human colonists. Either way, the Mahra followers would have stayed. Why hadn't those followers succumb to the sacrifices?

    Mara skimmed further to see more data that she already knew. She did come across the entry about the Mahra pirate raid on Bastion. In the Empire's version, all of the Mahra pirates were eliminated during the battle. There were no prisoners. Mara shook her head. Censorship within the Empire's own institution. How did she ever work for such an organization so blind to its fallacies?

    Mara soon felt frustrated when she found nothing new. She tried a new angle. She looked up Mahra in the seek field on the site. It took a few seconds but the computer came up with a one sentence answer.

    The religion of the Gurlanins in the Qiilura system.

    Though it was short, there was one word that got her attention. Gurlanins.

    Mahra was a gurlanin religion? That put a new spin on this. If that was true, then why would humans and other species follow it? Or perhaps that was the condition for humans to stay on Qiilura and not be sacrificed?

    Mara realized that there were now more questions than answers in her research. She went over to the comlink and entered the code for the Professor who Pellaeon referred her to. She entered the code and the Imperial insignia appeared once again. After a few minutes, an image on the holo-projector started to come on. It was an elderly human man with gray-white hair that was receding from his forehead. Aged wrinkles and blemishes dominated his face and skin. Despite his apparent age, he was quite alert and he greeted her with an acute awareness.

    "Yes? Who is it?"

    "Professor Jeydrian Usar?"

    "Who's asking?"

    "My name is Mara Jade. I was referred to you by Grand Admiral Pellaeon."

    "Ah...Mara Jade. The Emperor's Hand."

    "You've heard of me."

    "I've heard of you, and your reputation."

    Mara looked down. "I assure you that reputation died quite a while ago."

    Usar grinned knowingly. "Unless I'm referring to your reputation for getting results. What can I do for you?"

    She explained what she was looking for in Qiilura and the Mahra religion.

    He smiled confidently. "Not finding much, are you?"

    "No."

    He nodded. "The Gurlanins are very much a private species. Highly intelligent. Quite useful in their unique ability. Most shape-shifters can only change into one form or another. The gurlanins can become anything. Including inanimate objects, like a rock."

    Mara began her questions without fanfare. "Why would the Old Republic trust them to get the human colonists off of Qiilura?"

    Usar shrugged. "Simple naivety. The Republic couldn't see how unpredictable they were. I saw the gurlanins' betrayal a parsec away."

    Mara hesitated but asked, "Had there been any evidence of human sacrifices by the gurlanins?"

    The professor squinted his eyes at her before he stated, "Not that I can recall. Nothing on record, of course. There may be hints in the written archives."

    Mara was taken aback and repeated, "Written archives? Written by whom?"

    "Why, the colonists who were evacuated, of course." He hesitated before he said, "I'm afraid I must stop you there, Miss Jade. I must ask why you are interested in the gurlanins when it's the humans of the Mahra making the deal to join the New Republic."

    "You're well informed. And a fair question. There is a human Spirit Leader at the head of the Mahra. He lied to us about the gurlanin past as well as hid the fact about there being human sacrifices on their island. We found human remains still hanging on chains to tree limbs along a hardened lava bed."

    "And you don't trust this Spirit Leader."

    "No. I suspect he is hiding more."

    "I see. As I said, there was never anything official about sacrifices. Though, I wouldn't put it past the gurlanins to perform such a heinous act. They are a violent race with very strict customs."

    "A dangerous combination."

    "Indeed. Well, the only way to find out is to consult the archives themselves. If you would excuse me for a moment while I fetch them."

    While waiting for his return, Mara chewed meticulously on the last of the ribenes. After a few minutes, Usar returned with scrolls of ancient flimsi instead of a datapad. Each piece looked so old that Mara was afraid they would fall apart.

    After Usar spread a few of the sheets on his table, he read through them. Mara couldn't read them but she could see Aurebesh handwritten on them. She could only watch him read and anticipate what could be on them. Finally, he pointed his bony finger at a space on the flimsi and said, "Ah, here we are. These are a series of scrolls I found under the entry of Qiilura. It is dated 75 BBY."

    Mara did the calculation and said, "That's over fifty years before the Clone Wars."

    "Yes. Interesting." He flipped over a page carefully. "Ah, here is a name of a colonist who wrote it. It only says Antilles."

    Mara scoffed. "That can be any one of a million."

    "He describes himself as a farmer. His family was born and raised on Qiilura. He says they joined a group of gurlanins in the religion of Mahra. He and his family lived in peace and harmony among the Mahra followers. Human and alien alike. He goes on explaining how their lives were grand. Ah, until something happened."

    "What?"

    "Just a moment. I'm reading through. There was an incident with his daughter."

    Mara nodded. "Let me guess. She was fairly young, ten or eleven years old. And she claimed she saw something."

    Usar read for a bit and then eased his head up to look at Mara. "Yes. That is it. How did you know this?"

    "It's already happened to a girl around the same age twenty years ago, and it's happening now to my niece. Does this Antilles mention what she saw?"

    "Yes. An apparition. She claimed she saw a girl-"

    "In a glowing white dress and long blonde hair," Mara finished.

    The professor nodded. "And she claimed that the girl she saw was of the Mahra goddess, Agharta."

    "Figured. What does he say he did?"

    Usar read more before he answered, "He doesn't say how, but he found out about a prophecy in the Mahra religion. He said it states that only the Spirit Leader can have contact with their goddess, Agharta. No one else can see her or communicate with her." He read further, but this time his expression turned to horror. When he looked up at Mara through the holo-projector, he could hardly get his words out. "It says...anyone else who claims to have seen or spoken to Agharta...will perish into the flames of the Mother."

    Mara nodded slowly. "The lava bed. It could have been active a century ago. His family was threatened, weren't they?"

    "Yes. Antilles said he gathered his family in the middle of the night and took off for the nearest Republic outpost. They left Qiilura on a shuttle the next day."

    "More like escaped."

    Usar flipped through the rest of the pages of flimsi. "There is nothing else from Antilles. But I think we can conclude what has been happening on Qiilura since at least a century ago."

    "Possibly longer."

    "Perhaps. If you found evidence of human remains on that island, you may have discovered just why Antilles was afraid for his daughter and family enough to leave an otherwise tranquil life."

    Mara muttered to herself, "Maybe they weren't sacrifices. From what Antilles said, that was the price to pay for claiming to see or speak to their goddess. Only a Spirit Leader can do that. Jaina figured there had been others. She accused Krun Li of knowing about those others. And he threatened her back. He was the only one who can make contact with Agharta. Or can he?"

    "Uh, pardon me, Miss Jade...but who are you talking about?"

    He shook her out of her thoughts and she said, "I'm sorry, Professor, I was thinking aloud."

    Usar smiled. "Not a problem. The way I see these writings, Antilles must have written them down after he left Qiilura. I can't find any other reports from colonists about the Mahra religion. Maybe Antilles was the only one who thought to record what he went through with the Mahra. In case it happened again."

    "Which it has."

    "In any case, I would doubt that the current Spirit Leader would go so far as murder because of what your niece saw. There aren't any more active lava beds on Qiilura."

    "There are other methods."

    "Miss Jade, surely you don't believe the Spirit Leader would go up against not just one, but two Jedi."

    "Stranger things have happened."

    "True. But from what you explained, it seems to me that the Spirit Leader hid the gurlanins past for fear of exposure. If you were about to become a large part of the galaxy, would you want that on your record."

    "I guess not. There's still the mystery of Agharta."

    "As you said, it was part of a legend. There have been numerous stories in various systems that include a young heroine tragically murdered."

    "Yes, but if all of these young girls like Seria and Jaina did not see a spirit of Agharta, then what exactly did they see?"

    The professor quietly replied, "What, indeed."

    Mara thanked the professor for his help. She didn't receive the answers she wanted but she learned a long time ago to accept the answers she did find. The prophecy of the Mahra helped her understand their religion better. It disturbed her that gurlanins would torture and kill anyone who claimed to even see their goddess. A former Emperor kept the same standards for simple acts of morality. She wanted to research into how many mysterious deaths of girls occurred over the years within the Mahra. Because of their lack of technology, that would be even harder to find.

    She suddenly yawned and realized it was dark outside. The only lights on were the nav-com and auxiliary lights. She decided she had thought about all of this enough and intended to go to her bed. There was a time when she would work through fatigue. That was a weakness according to her long dead former boss. Since she spent so much time with Luke Skywalker over the years, Mara Jade had learned to slow down.

    As she got up from her cockpit seat, where she sat for several hours, she stretched her arms.

    There was a sudden thud coming from outside the cockpit. She sprang up and opened the door to find darkness in the lounge. There was a light coming from the hallway going to Jaina's quarters.

    Mara called out, "Jaina? You awake?"

    No answer. Mara reached into the Force and touched the mind of her niece. It told her she was sleeping. Mara edged into the lounge with her hand on her lightsaber. When she reached closer, a figure emerged into the hallway. It was only in the shadows but Mara could never mistake the shape of her niece's hair. Yet, why was the Force telling her she was asleep? Was Jaina sleepwalking?

    "Jaina, are you all right? I know how tired you are. Just go back to bed."

    Jaina shook her head.

    "Jaina, I found something about the Mahra tonight. Luke will be here sometime in the morning. We can talk about it then."

    Jaina only stood in place.

    "Look, Jaina, it's late and I'm going to sleep too." Mara turned her head slightly towards her quarters and when she turned back at Jaina–there was no time to react to the hit at the bottom of her head. Mara had felt the muzzle end of a blaster at her head before. As soon as she realized it, she was already on the floor and sinking fast out of consciousness. Her mind went blank with a faint memory of pain.

    Mara awoke with a pin light shining into her eye. She reacted and opened both eyes to bright light. Daytime. She was in the med center of the Jade Sabre. The next thing she saw gave her an elation that she wasn't expecting so soon.

    "Luke," she uttered weakly. "What happened?"

    "I was going to ask you the same thing. We found you on the lounge floor with big welt on the back of your head."

    "Jaina?"

    Luke breathed in heavily and let it out. "She's not here, Mara. She's gone."

    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
    tbc
     
    Last edited: Jan 18, 2021
  13. madman007

    madman007 Jedi Master star 4

    Registered:
    Aug 22, 2007
    Chapter Ten: Truth of the Faithful

    Qiilura: Day 4 - The Jade Sabre infirmary

    Mara Jade allowed herself to bask in her husband's shadow for a few glorious moments. Then she focused on his words. Jaina was gone. How was that possible? Was it Jaina who hit her and knocked her out? Mara could only feel Jaina's presence in the Force as if she were sleeping. How could she be awake enough to create violence? Unless...that dark shadowy figure she encountered last night was not Jaina. But she looked like her. The sudden thought of how that could be possible on Qiilura entered her mind.

    Mara tried to speak but it came out a mumble.

    "Don't try to speak yet," commanded Luke.

    "Have...to...find...Jaina." Mara lifted her head and received a searing pain. She eased her head back on the pillow and muttered, "Oh, that was a mistake."

    "You've got quite a welt on your right side. We can put a bacta patch on it now that you're awake."

    "Sounds like a plan." After he placed a thick blue patch over her wound, Mara managed to say, "Not like Jaina to knock me out."

    "From what you described to me last night, it seems Jaina is going through something unique."

    Mara sighed. "You always put things so mildly. Jaina has been an emotional wreck because of what she's seen."

    "She's seen Force spirits before. Why would this one be any different?"

    "Like I said last night. Maybe this one has nothing to do with the Force."

    Luke took almost too much time to reply. "I'll never believe that."

    "Then why can't I feel her in the Force?"

    "You can't feel her? I can. You're still too weak right now. Jaina is there. She's faint as if she's asleep."

    "Or unconscious. That's how she felt to me last night. Peaceful. Then she took me out. How could she act that violently when she's sound asleep?"

    A familiar sound suddenly emitted from her right side. She turned her head to see Chewbacca sitting beside her. "Oh, Chewie. I didn't see you there. What was that you said?"

    Chewbacca slowly repeated his phrase.

    Mara looked confused. "I'm sorry. Guess I'm rusty on my Wookie speech. Did you say 'death walk'?"

    Luke added, "That's what it sounded like to me, too. What's a death walk?"

    When Chewie looked frustrated, another voice coming from the entrance to the infirmary spoke. "He said walk of sleep, not death. Sleep walking," said Han Solo.

    Mara considered. "Jaina has no history of sleep walking. Does she?"

    Han shook his head slowly. "No. But she's been through so much lately. Hell, even her attempt at a vacation turned into a small battle."

    Luke assured him. "She's strong, Han."

    "Yeah, I know. She's got the strength of heroes in her blood."

    Mara sat up with less pain in her head and cried, "Would you two wake up? Jaina only tries to be as strong as you and Leia. She creates that illusion of strength because she feels she has to live up to the both of you. She's only fifteen. How strong were you two at that age?"

    For a long moment, nobody replied. Until Luke smiled and asked her, "Feeling better?"

    "Yes. Let's focus on our missing niece, shall we?"

    Han began, "Let's start with how my fifteen year old daughter knocked out her full grown teacher. Because I know I would have liked to have taken out a few of my teachers at that age."

    Instead of addressing his remark, Mara answered seriously, "I don't think Jaina would knock me out deliberately. Nor do I believe that Jaina was the one who hit me."

    Luke furrowed his brow. "But you said you only sensed Jaina and yourself. Who else could have been there without you knowing?"

    "A gurlanin," Mara replied.

    Luke asked, "How could that be? Aren't they just animals?"

    "Not necessarily," said Han. "They can shape-shift into anything and anybody."

    Luke turned to face his friend. "How do you know about them?"

    "Chewie and I made a run of supplies here a few years before we met."

    Mara figured, "Right about the time of their raid on Bastion."

    "Not long after that, right. That was when the Empire branded them a fierce pirate gang. The infamous Mahra pirates. Turns out they needed supplies shipped in and no one was taking the job. Chewie and I heard about it anonymously and we cashed in."

    "And you didn't believe that they were pirates," said Luke.

    "Not for a minute. The supplies they needed from Ord Mantell were foodstuffs, building equipment, toys for children, medicine. Not one blaster or weapon."

    Chewie added a series of grunts.

    Han replied, "Exactly. Not the kind of items that fierce pirates ask for."

    Mara thought to question, "Did you ever set foot inside the compound?"

    "No, we were given beacon coordinates for a landing area like this one. We dropped the supplies off at the rendezvous point and a gurlanin and a human male picked them up and they paid us."

    "Was the gurlanin in the shape of a human?" Mara asked.

    "More or less. I remember it didn't speak Basic well."

    Mara stated, "And the actual human was named Trogan Eclaine."

    Han looked into the air in memory. "Sounds familiar."

    Chewie grunted.

    "Yeah, you're right. That name sounded familiar to me back then too."

    "For me too when I heard it, but I can't place it," admitted Mara.

    Luke asked, "Do you think this gurlanin made itself to look like Jaina and then knocked you out?"

    Mara wondered aloud, "It may have been under orders. From the Mahra Spirit Leader himself. Krun Li."

    "Why would he be involved?"

    Mara gave them an overview of what she found out from Bastion records and Professor Jeydrian Usar. The fact that the Mahra religion is gurlanin based and what happens to girls who claim they saw and spoke to Agharta. Like Jaina did before she left the compound yesterday. They're taken to Neekro island to be sacrificed or simply to disappear.

    Luke questioned after listening to Mara, "Do you really believe that the Spirit Leader would go to those lengths to capture Jaina all because she claimed she saw Agharta?"

    "It seems to have happened here before. Small girls have a history of disappearing here. Their prophecy states that only the Spirit Leader can speak to or even see Agharta."

    Han followed with, "Not the first time a religious cult has taken people in the name of their god."

    "Or goddess, in this case."

    Luke let out a breath. "All right, you have motive. How do you prove it?"

    Mara cocked one red-gold eyebrow at him and said, "We challenge him."

    "Sounds good to me," replied Han.

    "Now wait a minute," Luke bellowed, "we can't just accuse someone just because you have a hunch. We need proof. I just can't see how a religious Spirit Leader would follow the ancient traditions of gurlanins. Plus, I don't see him going up against two Jedi Knights."

    "You haven't met him, Luke. I could tell there was a reason why he didn't want us on that island. He was trying to discourage us from going every step of the way."

    "Why would he not want you to find that place on the island?"

    It was Han who replied, "He was afraid Mara would see what the gurlanins are capable of."

    "Right. And since the religion is gurlanin based, he was afraid that we would think the Mahra leaders were also capable of that violence."

    Luke took a while to consider and finally said, "All right. I should meet with this Krun Li and make my own judgment. But first I want you to rest that injury."

    "I'm fine now, Luke. Trust me, I've had worse. It's better since you put on the patch."

    "Doesn't it still hurt?"

    "It does, but I've learned over the years how to divert pain away. Especially on missions."

    "Jaina is not just your mission, Mara."

    "Finding her is. She's my responsibility."

    "Now that we're here you won't have to take it on alone."

    Mara sighed almost in defeat. "All right. Just give me a few minutes to get ready and we'll head to the compound."

    Luke gave a reassuring smile and kissed her on her forehead. "Love you, Mara. And we will find Jaina. We'll be on the Falcon." Without another word, Luke, Chewie, and Han left the infirmary.

    Mara got up from the medical bed and headed to her bunk. The wound on her head was still painful but not as much as when she first awoke. She used the Force to soften the pain. She then dressed in a basic green tunic and then grabbed a bite to eat. Mara then made sure all of her weapons were secure and headed toward the Millennium Falcon. Han landed it several meters away from the Jade Sabre, but her ship still dwarfed the Corellian freighter and it's shadow loomed over it. The ramp to the Falcon was open and she walked up into it. She could hear the murmur of men's voices as she entered the main lounge area.

    Lando Calrissian was sitting on the far bench behind the hologram board. Luke was seated beside him while Han was busy at the comm. Mara glanced toward the cockpit to see Chewie and C-3P0 arguing. Mara felt like she entered an exclusive Gentleman's Club. Unfortunately, Luke wasn't the first to greet her.

    Lando, wearing the latest men's fashion and at least a liter of cologne, shot up from his seat and went over to Mara. He gave a sloppy gentleman's bow. "Ah, the lovely Mara Jade graces us with her presence."

    She detected a distinct aroma of liquor on his breath, to which she replied, "And you're gracing me with your lack of sobriety."

    He brought his index finger to his lips. "Shh...I'm always drunk on Life, my dear."

    "Kind of early for a drink, eh Lando?" she asked.

    "I am still on Carratos time so it's still afternoon to me."

    She glanced at Luke. "He must still be reeling from his failure there."

    "All through the trip," Luke confirmed.

    She exaggerated the motion of sniffing the air around Lando and said, "Let me guess...a '25 Brandale."

    Lando gave a mock gasp. "A '25? Don't insult my collection. It's a classic '40."

    Han spoke from the comm console, "If it's the same '40 that you've been bragging about for more than two decades then that's one big bottle."

    "What do you know about Brandale? You just drink that cheap Corellian ale."

    Han shot back, "It does the job at half the expense."

    Lando ignored him and addressed Mara. "I'm not that drunk. I had to use it for medicinal purposes." He angled his face to the left toward the light so she could see fresh scars across his neck.

    "Quite a wound you have there."

    "Same to you," Lando said as he glanced at her head.

    "At least I didn't have an encounter with a Wookie."

    As if on cue, Chewbacca entered the lounge with a snarl. Threepio followed him.

    Lando corrected, "Actually, my head stopped his paw from going through the bulkhead."

    Chewie rumbled a sentence.

    Threepio erupted, "For the last time, Chewbacca, Lando did not cheat! It is perfectly legal for the dealer to randomly select a Sabacc Shift at any time during the hand. My programming for Sabacc dealer was approved by the Galactic Gaming Commission."

    Han uttered, "Which is the same organization that allows grifters to win on Ryloth, Goldenrod."

    Mara chuckled at seeing Luke's eyes roll and said, "Glad I came in at the right time. Have we formed a plan to meet with Krun Li?"

    Luke stated, "Han has two swoop bikes in storage. The both of us can use them to go to the compound–"

    "No," Mara injected. "We can take the Falcon in. There's a clearing south east of the entrance to the compound. It's too small for the Sabre, but a perfect space for the Falcon to land."

    "I don't know if that's a good idea, Mara," Luke whined.

    "It'll be more intimidating that way. Keep them off guard and less official. Less time for Krun Li to think his way out of it."

    Threepio added, "May I remind you, Miss Mara Jade Skywalker, that it is Gurlanin law for a representative of their species to escort visitors to the Mahra compound."

    "No offense, Threepio, but to Hell with their law. We have a missing niece and a gurlanin is a suspect. Krun Li knows it."

    Luke blew out a breath. "And this is how you get proof? By using interrogation tactics?"

    Mara pleaded, "Luke, I know he is involved somehow."

    "How? Are you feeling this from the Force? Or just from you?"

    Mara stared at him for a moment and slumped her shoulders. She said, "All of these years away from Niruan and you're still back to the same Skywalker. Always relying on the Force over instinct and experience."

    Luke mumbled, "Many things have happened since Niruan."

    "But not enough for you to change. I guess I can't expect you to change as much as you can expect me to."

    "I'm just afraid you will lose yourself over the Emperor's Hand version of justice."

    Mara stepped forward and said, "Maybe you should trust your wife's version of justice more often."

    There was an awkward pause hanging after her words. Until Lando said, "Hey, if you two need a moment, we can all squeeze into the cockpit."

    "Never mind, Lando," Luke said. "We have to get the Falcon ready. We'll be landing in the Mahra compound."

    Inside the Mahra compound, thirty standard minutes later

    The landing area that Mara spoke of was obvious and Han spotted it immediately. He maneuvered the Falcon around to face the entrance after he swerved to miss the large yerchwood trees that guarded it. Mara and Luke were inside the cockpit along with Han and Chewie. She could see through the viewport all of the Mahra members scatter about on the ground at the sudden appearance of a ship. Their routines were being disrupted. Curiosity was the main feeling coming from them through the Force. Mara almost felt a twinge of guilt that innocent beings of the Mahra had to stop their normal work and play so that Mara could find Jaina. It was one of those sacrifices needed for a mission. Jaina was worth it.

    When Han landed, her elation grew as she saw both Krun Li and Croaga approach the Falcon's ramp. She smirked. "Look at that. Just the two I wanted to speak to."

    Luke gave a sideways glance at his wife. "Just be careful, Mara."

    "Don't worry. I can be subtle."

    Han muttered, "As subtle as a cruiser wreck."

    Mara bemused, "Watch your mouth, Flyboy, or you'll find yourself floating home."

    "Cute," Luke remarked.

    Chewie let out a humorous growl.

    Han replied, "That wasn't funny."

    Chewie growled innocently.

    "No, you didn't mean ironic. You said funny."

    Mara nudged Luke and said, "Let's leave this couple alone."

    Mara and Luke went through the corridor to get to the ramp that was lowering. They could already hear the murmur of the crowd and the booming voice of Krun Li shouting.

    "This is an outrage! You have no authority to land here! Show yourself now! I demand you explain your actions!"

    Mara tilted her head back at Luke. "Please let me at him."

    "I'll be right behind you."

    "Great. You're my husband and my chaperone. Try to keep up."

    She started storming down the ramp and made a beeline towards Krun Li. He was standing close in front of the ramp. He only had time enough to recognize Mara and say, "Ah, so it is you, Mara Jade. I should have kno–"

    Mara grabbed the front of the Spirit Leader's robe and twirled his huge body around 360 degrees so that his back was against one of the ramp's metal pillars. She thrust him back hard and his head hit metal. "Where is she?" she bellowed.

    At first, Krun Li was so stunned from the sudden pain that he couldn't answer. Then he found his voice and uttered, "I assume you mean your niece. I have no clue where she would be."

    She shook his shoulder and slammed his head back up against the pillar. Krun Li let out a yelp of pain. "Liar!"

    "Mara," her husband warned.

    "Not now, Farmboy. I'm doing this my way." She addressed Krun Li. "Where is Jaina?"

    Krun Li breathed hard before he asked, "What makes you believe that I know where she is?"

    "From what she said yesterday before we left. She claimed to have seen and spoken to your precious Agharta. I know what happens to those who claim the same thing in your history."

    He sneered. "Do not presume you know about our religion."

    "Our religion? Don't you mean the gurlanin's religion." Upon seeing his eyes go wider, she said, "Yes, I've been doing my homework. Direct from the main source."

    "Whatever you were told, it is misinformation."

    "Don't test me, Krun Li. You know about how I can tell your emotions through the Force."

    Krun Li gave a strange confident smirk. "All too well."

    Mara tried to reach in the Force but only received a sense of worry. She concentrated as hard as she could and found that the worry was coming from Croag, not Krun Li. What she felt from the Spirit Leader was almost incomplete. She felt as if she hit his mental walls. He seemed to pick up on her confusion.

    "You seem to be struggling, Mara Jade. You don't seem to be able to read my thoughts."

    "I can," announced Luke.

    Mara let go of Krun Li against the pillar and gave her own confident smirk at him. She said with pride, "Krun Li, allow me to introduce you to my husband. The galaxy knows him as Master Jedi Skywalker."

    Luke stepped off the ramp and turned to face Krun Li. He said nothing.

    Krun Li bowed his head and said, "It is an honor to greet you as our guest. We have studied all of your great accomplishments."

    "Then you know about my abilities in the Force. Specifically with detecting emotions. I can tell there was a sense of joy from you in knowing something that Mara does not. You may not know where our niece is. But you do know something."

    Krun Li ended his expression of awe and straightened his back. "I will not stand here and be accused of kidnapping within my own compound."

    Luke smiled and said, "Funny, I don't believe we said anything about kidnapping, did we? Strange that you did."

    Croag shifted awkwardly from behind them and said, "Krun Li, perhaps it is time to–"

    "It is time for us to banish these visitors from our compound. They have already insulted us and have broken Qiilura law. How dare you accuse us without reason or motive."

    Mara said, "I know what happens to little girls over the years who claim to have contact with Agharta. They're given a visit to Neekro Island. That's what happened to Seria Rayne, correct?"

    Krun Li shook his head slowly. "No. We do not condone such acts of barbarism. You have no right–"

    "We do have the right to search this compound," Luke cut in. "In the name of the New Republic, of course. May I remind you, Krun Li, that you invited us here. With Jaina missing and your evasiveness about it, the joining of the Mahra and the New Republic is in serious jeopardy."

    "So it is threats that a Jedi Master is reduced to."

    "Only because you have forced me into the situation. Now, we are going to conduct a search for Jaina. That is well within our rights as guests of the Mahra. Should you choose to help, it would be greatly appreciated."

    "Of course, we will help. If we know something about her whereabouts we will contact you immediately. I trust you will be leaving with your ship in order to conduct your search."

    Ignoring his indignant tone, Luke replied, "Yes, the search does not require us to dock here. We will leave at once." He addressed his wife. "Come, Mara."

    She came up beside him and muttered, "You do realize that once we're gone, he has no way of contacting us if he knows where Jaina is."

    "I do."

    Krun Li turned toward the crowd and demanded, "The foreigners have desecrated our sacred grounds no longer! You may return to your daily routines!"

    As Luke and Mara noted that he called them foreigners, Mara heard her name being called from the crowd. It was the tiny voice of Ristina Tai'lor. The eleven year old came up to the Skywalkers but stopped at the ramp.

    Ristina's eyes looked watered and red as she stumbled to ask, "Is it true? Is Jaina really missing?"

    "I'm afraid she is, Ristina."

    "But she will be a Jedi. She's strong and can save herself."

    Before Mara could reply, Luke spoke from behind her. "Yes, that's true. Jaina will be a strong Jedi. She has an excellent Master." Husband and wife glanced at each other and smiled.

    Instead of replying to him, Ristina stared at him with eyes popping. She eventually found her voice. "You're Luke Skywalker."

    Luke bemused back, "And you're a girl in a gray tunic."

    Mara introduced him to Ristina, calling her a connoisseur of Jedi history.

    "Is that so?" Luke approved.

    "Yes, my grandfather told me all about the Jedi Knights of the Old Republic. Are we going to join the New Republic and the whole galaxy soon?"

    Luke replied, "Well, there's many things we have to look into first. We'll wait and see. First we have to find Jaina."

    "I'm sure you will. She knows a lot about this place already. You know, when Seria Rayne said she saw Agharta, I never really believed her. She was crazy for twenty years and all. She never made any sense before Mara healed her. But when Jaina said she saw and spoke to Agharta, it got me thinking."

    "Of what, Ristina?" asked Mara.

    "Well, if a Jedi can see Agharta, then she has to be real. Right?"

    Mara found herself speechless. How would she answer the girl? She didn't have to. Luke spoke in his mellow voice as if he were talking to one of his students. "If you truly believe that Agharta is here in this compound then it is true to you. It doesn't matter if anyone can see or speak to her. You don't have to be a Jedi to have faith in something, Ristina."

    Ristina beamed at Luke's words and said, "Thank you, Master Skywalker. Our Spirit Leader never talks to us about Agharta like that."

    "How does he talk about her to you?" questioned Mara. Upon a look from her husband, Mara added, "If I may ask."

    "Well, he is always saying how sacred she is to the Mahra. That her sacrifice started our belief on how to live our lives peacefully. But he makes it seem like only he can...control her...I don't know. How can you control a goddess?"

    Luke supplied with, "I think you mean Krun Li makes all the decisions regarding Agharta. Right?"

    "Exactly. He tells us when we can worship her but only when he is around. Anything we want to ask Agharta must go through him. He says she won't answer us if we don't. It's almost like Agharta is the Mahra goddess, yet we know nothing about her. I can look on the HoloNet and find out almost anything about the Jedi in detail. But there's nothing about Agharta. I mean...her myth...is a bit sketchy. I always thought so, anyway. But I can't tell the Spirit Leader that."

    Luke looked deep in thought and he supplied an answer to her unspoken question. "She is too mysterious to you, so you can't trust your feelings about her."

    Ristina reacted slowly as if she discovered something new. "Yes. That's it."

    Mara assured, "Maybe that will change when you join the New Republic."

    Ristina squinted her eyes and furrowed her brow. "I'm not sure. The Spirit Leader didn't want us to join in the first place."

    Mara asked, "You mean Krun Li never wanted to join the New Republic?"

    "Not at first. He was outvoted in our favor of joining. Then he had no choice but to contact you."

    "Interesting," Mara uttered.

    "Well, I'll leave you alone to look for Jaina. It was great to meet you, Master Skywalker."

    He put a hand softly on her shoulder. "Call me Luke." She smiled and turned to run off. By now the crowd dispersed and Luke and Mara were alone at the foot of the ramp. He watched his wife stare at where Ristina disappeared to. "Something on your mind, Mara?"

    "What? Oh, just thinking of how mature she is for her age."

    "Remind you of someone?"

    "Jaina, of course."

    Luke turned up the ramp and said, "I was thinking of someone even more personal to you. Despite her upbringing, of course."

    She looked into his bright blues and found herself wanting to drown in them for his suggestion. She shook her head away from the idea. This wasn't the time. She said, "I was also thinking that the more I stay here the more I feel that the Mahra is a dictatorship rather than a religion."

    "Never confuse the faith with the supposedly faithful, Mara."

    They walked up the ramp as it closed behind them and she looked back at him and surrendered to his charm. "I love you, Farmboy."

    "I know. Now let's go find our niece."

    They entered the cockpit and Han turned to say, "Kind of a serene group. Except for that Krun guy. We were monitoring your conversation with him here. He seemed a bit defensive for someone claiming ignorance."

    Luke replied, "His true intentions will reveal themselves eventually. Now, we're going to find your daughter."

    "Just like that?"

    "Yes. Do you still have that heat response system in the Falcon's comm?"

    "Yeah, but aren't we taking off somewhere?"

    "They can wait."

    Han got up and headed toward the lounge area and they followed him. "That's what I'd like to hear more from you, kid. You do realize there are a hundred or so beings out there and not all are human. It's going to be hard to distinguish my girl among them."

    "That's why I won't be looking for a living object. Just the one with the brightest heat signature."

    Han sat down at the main comm console and started the program. "Luke, I know my daughter is a hothead, but that's taking it too far."

    Luke gave a chuckle and answered, "Her lightsaber, Han. It wasn't in her bunk. She would still have it with her."

    Lando said from the bench, "She wouldn't have it on."

    "Doesn't matter," Luke countered. "The infrared in this system will detect the extreme hot ions still in the crystal chamber whether the blade is ignited or not."

    "Ok," Han said as he sat back. "It'll be a few minutes to scan the area. I limited the scale of area from the compound to the landing area where the Sabre is."

    Mara sat down next to Lando and Luke glanced at her. He could feel her anticipation and he assured her, "We'll find her, Mara."

    As she felt his assurance, Lando started asking, "You believe a gurlanin came aboard the Sabre, took Jaina, disguised itself as Jaina, and then knocked you out?"

    "That's the running theory."

    "So why would Jaina still have her lightsaber? Wouldn't the gurlanin take it away?"

    Luke considered Lando's words. "That's a good point. Mara, are you positive that it wasn't Jaina last night?"

    "Again, why would she knock me out?"

    Han suggested, "You did say she went crazy after seeing this ghost girl."

    "Not that crazy. No, I'll never believe that it was Jaina who hit me last night."

    Luke said, "Well, regardless if it was or wasn't her, and even if the gurlanin took away her lightsaber, it will still show up on the scan here."

    "It should be coming up soon." As if on cue, the screen showed a rough hologram map of the surrounding area. Progressing every few seconds were a series of red dots in varying degrees of brightness. Some were faint and others were strong. "Here we are," Han announced. He started pointing out specifics on the screen. "Now, see where the concentration is? That's the compound. There must be some Rodians here."

    "How do you know that?" asked Lando.

    "They're not as bright." After Lando gave a humorous snort, Han said, "I mean their red marker is not as bright as others. Cold blooded species have less heat."

    Luke stared at the screen and called out, " Han, enhance grid 10-A."

    Han did so and the small area was so filled with bright dots that it looked like one combined dot. "Wow, wonder what that is?"

    "Whatever it is, it's giving off a lot of heat."

    Mara judged where the area was in relation to the compound and said, "That's Neekro island. There was a lava bed there centuries ago."

    "Looks like it's still there," mentioned Lando.

    Luke asked Han, "This system doesn't take into effect how deep the heat is coming from?"

    "No, it's not that specific. But that does make sense if there's a fault line there." Han gave a disappointing sigh. "Hope Jaina isn't around there or we'll never find her."

    "I doubt it," Mara said. "Try outside the compound."

    Han scrolled the screen over and they came across one dot in particular. It was so bright that it seemed that it could burn through the screen. "Wow, never seen a marker that bright. That can't be a living being."

    Luke said quickly, "No, it looks like it could be a lightsaber. Looks like it's outside of the compound."

    "Where, exactly?" asked Mara.

    Han answered, "About nineteen point four meters from the entrance."

    Mara saw where Han indicated and did the calculations. "I know where it is."

    Outside the Mahra compound - thirty standard minutes later

    "How much further is this place?" asked Luke.

    Keeping pace with her husband on foot, Mara answered, "Just beyond this yerchwood tree." They had walked from where the Falcon was parked. As soon as they left, Luke was true to his word to Krun Li and had Han take off to conduct further search from the atmosphere.

    Luke noted as he neared the massive dark trunk, "Some of these trees are taller than some Coruscant towers. The detail in the entrance is impressive, too."

    Mara expressed with no small amount of sarcasm, "All hail the almighty Agharta."

    Luke gave a sideways glance at her and said, "Do I detect blasphemy in your words, Mrs. Jade?"

    "No, just the fact that Krun Li is forcing an ancient gurlanin religion on an unsuspecting group of innocents."

    "Yes, but they still believe in their goddess. Despite how they worship her. You heard Ristina."

    "Yes, but he's controlling their belief."

    "I think you're underestimating the Mahra members. To believe in a god or goddess because someone tells you to is the height of stupidity. Our senses determine what we do with information given to us and intelligence allows us to understand that information. Yet, each being must figure it out for themselves. The members are not just following one man's belief in a deity. They truly have faith in her and therefore, themselves."

    Mara suddenly stopped to consider her husband. "When did you become so introspective?"

    Luke shrugged and replied casually, "It comes with the job."

    They began walking again and were almost around the tree when Mara said, "Listen, I hear you about the people believing. It's Krun Li who I don't trust. I can't read him very well so I'm not able to assess him as well as you can."

    "It's not easy, I'll admit. There is something strange about the man that I can't put my finger on."

    "If you could have seen him when we were on Neekro–" She stopped talking so suddenly that her husband cried out for her.

    "Mara, what's wrong?"

    "Look."

    Straight ahead of them was the maintenance shed of Trogan's. Parked in front of it was a large craft. For an instant, Luke thought he was looking at a TIE fighter. The wings and cockpit were similarly shaped. But this ship had an extra wide hold behind the cockpit that looked to transport a small group of troops.

    "Is that a..."

    "Not a TIE," Mara replied. "It's a Lone Scout-A. Sienar Fleet Systems made them during the Empire. Shorter range than a TIE and less firepower. Used mostly for scouting missions. Still heavily shielded."

    "So what is it doing here?"

    "Part of Trogan's collection, I assume. He has quite a bit of one behind there. Interesting how Trogan got a hold of one."

    Luke took out a small datapad. "The coordinates Han gave us for that bright marker is inside that bunker."

    "I was so hoping Trogan wasn't involved in this. If he is, I'm wringing his neck."

    "Now, Mara, we don't know what's going on."

    The next instant they could hear a voice coming from the shed. Mara clearly recognized it as Trogan's. They were still several meters away so they couldn't tell what he was saying. They both watched the entrance to the shed in anticipation. What they saw next made their blood boil.

    Coming out of the shed was Trogan and his assistant gurlanin, Ruht. They were coming out slowly because they were carrying something each with an opposite end. Mara could see with her excellent sight that it was a limp human.

    Jaina!

    Without thinking, Mara yelled out, "Trogan! You kriffing Hutt-spawn!"

    Both Trogan and Ruht spotted Mara and Luke but instead of calling back at her, they both doubled their speed toward the ship's ramp. Mara knew she only had seconds before they entered and took off. One advantage of the Lone Scout-A was its quick ignition time. Mara started into a run towards it.

    By the time she reached it, the ramp was already shut and the repulsors started. She slammed her fist against the closed ramp. "Shavit!" She could feel the extreme heat of the engines and she was forced to back away. The ship rose into the air as Luke finally caught up to her and held her back by the waist.

    "Are you crazy? You're going to get yourself killed!"

    "Trogan has Jaina!"

    "I know! I saw her too!"

    "She wasn't moving!"

    "I can feel her in the Force but she's very faint!"

    "We have to go after them!"

    "We can get Han to go after them!" The ship was gaining altitude and was fading away into the sky.

    "No, it's too late. We have to find something." She looked backward into the maintenance shed. "There has to be something back here we can use."

    Before Luke could stop her, she was already into the shed and through to the other side. It opened up to a massive junk pile of an assortment of items from old appliances to rusty ship parts. Luke followed her as she scanned the area for any kind of useable craft.

    She spotted an old sand skiff nearby and said, "There! That should work."

    "Mara, that has to be a century old."

    "It'll work. Come on, Farmboy. I'm piloting."

    "Of course you are. I'll try and contact Han–"

    "No time. Besides, he's keeping watch of the area. He will notice a Lone Scout ship taking off."

    She climbed onto the skiff and fiddled with the piloting controls. The repulsors sputtered a few times before finally igniting. She revved the engines and thrust the throttle before Luke could hold on. The skiff leapt into the air and glided over the junkyard.

    Mara mumbled, "Let the chase begin."
    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
    tbc


     
  14. Cowgirl Jedi 1701

    Cowgirl Jedi 1701 Jedi Grand Master star 5

    Registered:
    Dec 21, 2016
    *munches popcorn while experiencing much edge-of-seatness*
     
    madman007 likes this.
  15. madman007

    madman007 Jedi Master star 4

    Registered:
    Aug 22, 2007
    Chapter Eleven: Past Excuses

    She opened her eyes into the darkness. Her head lifted up without any pain. Without any feeling as a matter of fact. She looked out into the shadow of trees that held no color. She sat up and raised her arm. Her movements felt like she were inside a vat of bacta fluid. Thick. Slow motion. Unreal. Was this a dream?

    Jaina tried to think. Last memory? Sleeping in her bunk on the Jade Sabre.

    Maybe I'm still there, she thought.

    Her upper portion of her left arm suddenly stung. She rubbed it with her other hand.

    You had help in your inactivity, said a voice around her.

    Jaina twirled around to find its source, but found further darkness. "Who is that? Where are you?" As if on cue, a faint image of a little girl with blonde curls appeared seemingly out of nowhere. Her gown was glowing white so brightly that it almost hurt Jaina's eyes. The gown flowed back against a wind that Jaina did not feel. "Oh, wonderful. You again. Where am I?"

    Neither here nor there. Where I am now. Where I have always been.

    Jaina muttered, "Of all the ghosts I can see, I get the one that makes no sense." She addressed the girl. "Agharta, I assume."

    The label is wrong. Yet, I am the myth of power from which the elders created me. They needed a name for their fault.

    "For a girl your age, you do have a large Basic vocabulary."

    My age is seamless. Wrinkled through the fabric of time. No constant in worth.

    "Yeah, whatever. Can you tell me why I'm here?"

    You have come through. Those before you faded before reaching the post.

    "Why me?"

    You possess the power to understand and the will to action. You can release me before the dawn. Many rocks and grass will disappear.

    "Release you? From what?"

    Eternal turmoil.

    "That doesn't sound good. Where can I find you?"

    Everywhere. But tranquil in one place.

    "Guess I'll have to figure that one on my own.

    Seek the sacred post mortem.

    "Wonderful. Another vague clue."

    Must be done before it's time.

    "Time for what?"

    Instead of the spirit answering, the ground beneath Jaina started to rumble. Jaina tried to steady herself while the girl stood completely still. Not moving. Almost as if she were floating just above the ground's surface. The ground quickly graduated from rumbling to violent shaking. Jaina almost fell over from trying to balance herself. She started to see cracks in the soil that bled out bright yellow-orange light. Jaina could already feel the extreme heat exuding from the cracks.

    "What is this? What is happening?"

    The blonde girl frowned and replied, The end.

    Within seconds, the wind carried her image away from existence.

    Jaina could hold on no more. The ground began to take the shape of a large staircase and she slipped and collapsed onto the next lower slab. The yellowish light was just underneath her. The heat was too intense. The slab she was on rises and another forms beneath her. She grabs hold of the edge, holding on for dear life. Her fingers can't take the pressure. She slips. There is no other slab beneath her. Nothing but yellow orange light. And the heat. She falls. And falls. She lands hard on the–

    –metal grating. Jaina opens her eyes. She catches her breath from the...dream? Vision? She couldn't say. She remembers everything from it in detail. She looks around at her new surroundings. Her movements don't feel as slow now. This must be real. The metal underneath her was just as unstable as the ground she was once on. It tilted in one direction and she found herself latching on to the legs of a metal bench to hang on. Was she just on that bench? Is that from where she fell to the grated metal floor? In addition, the sounds of a whining engine filled her ears. A sound that was very familiar.

    I'm on a ship, she thought.

    When the craft leveled out again, she lifted her head and torso to look around. She was in a cargo hold of some kind. It was used to transport troops with the long benches on either side and the racks hanging on the wall for blasters that were not there. She starts to stand up and immediately feels a sting in her arm.

    Just like in the dream.

    She braces her arm with her hand. Again? She looked down at it to see a small red mark that was starting to vanish.

    She had been drugged in her sleep. But why?

    Another mystery to solve. But easier to find the solution.

    She started to move forward towards the cockpit. A few times she had to hold on to the benches. The pilot was banking like crazy. She reached the cockpit door and slid it open. She caught site of the familiar geometric shapes that made up the viewport. Combining that with the distinctive engine sound, she knew what type of ship she was on. A TIE fighter. She dismissed this quickly, as no TIE she knew of had space enough in the cargo hold for troops. She looked in front of her to see two pilots in the cockpit. Neither seemed aware of her presence. She couldn't tell their identities from the backs of their heads just yet. The pilot was holding the throttle for dear life. He still swerved, but now Jaina knew why. A small boom exploded outside to the starboard nearby. The pilot moved to miss its impact. Warning shots.

    Who was firing at them?

    The pilot cursed. "Damn, this guy is good." She instantly recognized that voice. Trogan. She looked in the co-pilot's seat. Sure enough, it was the gurlanin, Ruht, in human form.

    What was she doing on their ship?

    Her answer came in the form of another very familiar voice coming from the comm.

    "Attention Lone Scout pilot, those were my final warning shots. I suggest you land before I start disabling something valuable on your ship."

    Dad? She almost blurted it out.

    Trogan ignored her father's warning and commanded to Ruht, "Increase rear deflectors. I think I can outrun this joker."

    Think again, thought Jaina proudly.

    Trogan tried speedy maneuvers but couldn't shake off his adversary. After a series of moves, a blast came and rocked the ship. Alarms started blaring.

    "Kriff! He's got us!"

    Her father's voice came back on the comm. "I just disabled your port stabilizer. You won't be able to escape into orbit. You had better land before it gets worse."

    Trogan reached the comm and flicked the on switch. "Who the kriff is this?"

    The voice answered, "My name is Han Solo. You kidnapped my daughter. Prepare to land."

    Trogan shut off the comm in a daze. "Oh, sithspawn," he muttered.

    Ruht asked him, "What we do now?"

    Jaina took that moment to ignite her lightsaber–which, for some reason, was still hooked to her belt while in captivity–and held it between the two surprised pilots.

    She told them, "I think it's best to do what my father says."


    Aboard the Millennium Falcon, a few moments earlier

    Lando Calrissian cried out through the comm, "Luke! We were following your chase and we lost you. Then we detected a sudden heat source like an explosion. Tell me you and Mara are all right."

    "We're all ok, Lando," Luke replied through the comm. "I just don't reccommend crash landing through a tree. Mara and I are all right."

    "Just you and Mara?" Lando looked over at Han's anticipated expression.

    "Well...Jaina–" Luke almost sounded emarrassed.

    Han grabbed the comm mic and cried, "Jaina is what?"

    "Han...uh–"

    Han could detect the nervousness in Luke's voice. "Just tell me, Luke! What happened to my daughter?"

    He could hear Luke sigh and then say, "She's been kidnapped."

    After a beat, Han asked in an almost casual exasperated tone, "Again?"

    "Well, yes, but we know who it is. Do you still have the Lone Scout on the tracking scanner?"

    "Oh, so that's what that ship is. Looked like an oversized TIE to me."

    Han could hear Mara's voice through Luke's comlink say, "Still a Seinar System craft. More of a reconnaissance shuttle than a fighter. It's not nearly as fast or agile as a TIE."

    "Good. That means I can catch up to him faster."

    Luke had to add, "Don 't forget, Jaina's on that ship."

    "I'm not stupid, kid. There's probably many ways to disable it without blowing it up. I want him alive to have a little chat with him."

    "Get in line," Mara added.

    Ignoring their threats, Luke said, "Make sure you get him to land nearby the clearing with the Jade Sabre. Mara and I are heading there now."

    "We'll keep him comfortable until you arrive," said Han. "Han out." He clicked off the comm. He then turned to stare at the scanning screen. "Now, where is our little friend? Ah, there he is. Twenty-nine point four degrees northwest. Chewie, hit it."

    Lando asked, "Do you think you can get to him before he breaks atmo?"

    Han looked at his friend sitting adjacent to him with an expression of disbelief. "You used to pilot this hunk of junk. What do you think?"

    Lando shrugged. "I never had half of the modifications it has now when I had her. She's your ship now."

    "Oh, are we done gambling over her now?"

    "Sure."

    "Finally. Chewie, you got an intercept course?"

    Chewie grunted an acknowledgement.

    "Ok, punch it and let's get my daughter back."

    Within a few minutes, the Falcon was behind the Lone Scout that held Jaina captive. Han proceeded to follow a course to pursue it. "There he is. Chewie, jam his transmissions. Just his outgoing. I may want to speak to him."

    As Chewbacca complied, Lando mentioned, "I don't think there's anyone he'd be contacting."

    "Now we know he can't anyway. Just in case. Chewie, when we get in range, fire a shot about thirty or so degrees to his port side. That should get his attention."

    Chewie did so when it was time and the shot rattled the Lone Scout. The pilot swerved very effectively to avoid its impact. Chewie fired another shot on the starboard side a little closer. The ship went into an expert evasive tactic to again avoid damage.

    Han widened his eyes. "Wow, this guy's good."

    Lando cut in, "So much for intimidating him."

    "He's been trained to manage that move. I have a pretty good idea where. He's good. But I'm better. All right, Plan B."

    Chewie snarled a question.

    "Yes, I do have one. Chewie, open a channel and find his frequency. I want to speak with him."

    "He may not be in a talkative mood."

    "Don't care. I want to put the fear of Solo in him."

    Han ignored both Chewie and Lando's rolling eyes. Chewie flipped a few switches and dialed in on one slowly until he found a match. He grunted to Han.

    "Found it? Good. Open it. Attention Lone Scout pilot, those were my final warning shots. I suggest you land before I start disabling something valuable on your ship."

    There was no acknowledgement from the Lone Scout. The craft simply gained speed and flew into an inverted S-curve to avoid further pursuit.

    Lando remarked, "Yeah, that sure put the fear of Solo in him. Now what? Plan C?"

    Han was too focused on his pursuit to reply. Han thrust the throttle forward to catch up to the Lone Scout. The Falcon easily was just beside the Scout in no time when Han finally said to Chewbacca, "When I get closer along his port side, fire a concussion on the edge of that wing assembly. See it?"

    Chewbacca growled in protest.

    "No, it won't destroy the whole ship. Not if you aim it just at that assembly. That holds the port stabilizer. It looks like the same configuration as a TIE. You just hit that and he'll have to land. Got it? Ok, here we come along side of him. Ready? Fire!"

    Chewie did so and the missile did just nick the assembly between the wing and the mainframe. Sparks flew as the ship rocked in the opposite direction and black smoke trailed behind it. The ship tried to right itself but kept tilting back and forth.

    "We got him! Open the channel again. Lone Scout, I just disabled your port stabilizer. You won't be able to escape into orbit. You had better land before it gets worse."

    A rugged voice finally answered back on the comm, "Who the kriff is this?"

    Han answered, "My name is Han Solo. You kidnapped my daughter. Prepare to land."

    For a moment, it looked like the pilot was going to ignore him again. Eventually, the craft started to descend and Han could see its landing cycle beginning. Han then took the comm and ordered, "You see that long ship shaped like a vibroblade? You might recognize it being that it belongs to Mara Jade Skywalker. Try to land near it." There was no voice reply for a while and Han asked back, "Did you hear me?"

    "They sure did, Dad."

    Feeling a fresh bout of relief from hearing his daughter's voice, Han asked, "Jaina, is that you?"

    "The one and only."

    "You all right?"

    "Fine. Just woke up from a drug-induced nap, courtesy of my captors here."

    "Your captors?"

    "Hi, Lando. Yes, my captors. My lightsaber and good looks are keeping them company while they're landing. Right, guys?"

    Han shut off the comm for a moment that cutoff any response from Jaina's reversal of captivity. He muttered to the air, not caring who listened, "Here I am trying to rescue her and it turns out she rescues herself."

    "Must be a Skywalker trait."

    The comm crackled. "Dad? You there?"

    Han flipped the comm back on. "Right here, hon. Glad you're ok."

    "Anything you want me to tell them?"

    Han gave his famous lop-sided grin. "Tell them to expect extreme pain."

    "Take a number. Too bad Aunt Mara will have to be last. All right, we see the Sabre. I'll see you in a bit, dad."

    "You betcha, hon." Han tried to eliminate the love in his voice for his daughter, but failed. His co-pilots understood.

    On the Millennium Falcon lounge, approximately thirty minutes later

    Mara and Luke walked up the ramp of the Falcon and entered the main lounge. Inside they found Trogan Eclaine tied to a chair with crash flight straps. Han was sitting nearby in another chair watching Trogan like a hawkbat. Trogan's partner, Ruht, was sitting on the far side of the lounge bench with Chewbacca keeping guard. Jaina was sitting on the bench nearby with Lando while See-Threepio was hooked into the Falcon's computer station.

    Upon seeing her aunt, Jaina leapt from the bench and called out her name. They embraced before Mara asked her, "You all right?"

    "I'm fine. What happened to your head?"

    "I got cold-cocked by a certain gurlanin in the shape of you." Mara turned to indicate Ruht and noticed he wasn't tied up at all. "Is he secure there?"

    Han answered, "Oh yes. Told Chewie that if he even starts to change he can throw him against the wall."

    The gurlanin quivered and said, "No change. Only do what was told."

    Han quipped, "I told you the gurlanins were intelligent."

    Mara tilted her head back toward Trogan with his head slumped down. She approached the Mahra Security Officer as Jaina sat back down on the bench. "Interesting." Mara looked upon Trogan as she would an Imperial prisoner. She took her finger to lift up Trogan's head. She noticed his face was sweaty with redness surrounding his left eye. "Seems you had an accident. I'm sure you can supply a reason for that."

    Han's sarcasm was set to high. "Yeah, it couldn't have been helped. What with all the dangerous things aboard the Falcon."

    Mara replied coldly, "Indeed. Now there's something else more dangerous on board. Me."

    Han said, "He told us he would only answer to you."

    "Did he, now?" Mara found an empty metal chair and pulled it up in front of Trogan. She sat in it backwards so she could be closer to him and she said, "Well, here I am. Let's talk. We can start with something simple. Why did you take Jaina?"

    Trogan coughed a few times and muttered, "For her safety."

    She took the back of her hand and smacked the side of his face.

    Immediately, her husband called to warn her, "Mara."

    "Stand down, Farmboy! I'm handling this." She addressed Trogan again. "Her safety? Was it for her safety when your pet gurlanin became her and knocked me unconscious?"

    Trogan sputtered out, "He...wasn't supposed to do that. He was acting on instinct." Trogan sighed heavily and said amusingly, "Things didn't exactly go as planned." After Han scoffed, Trogan pleaded, "You have to believe me!"

    Mara casually replied, "I never trust former members of the 501st."

    For a few seconds, Trogan's face froze in an expression of surprise. Then he abruptly started chuckling. "I thought you would find out quicker."

    "I didn't at first. There were no hints in your everyday speech or actions. Then I saw how you flew that Lone Scout. Classic evasive moves taught right out of the advanced Imperial handbook. No stormtrooper with casual training on Carida would know that."

    Trogan managed a smirk. "Tricks that work well with the Scouts. Not so much with TIEs."

    "So what's your story, Trogan?" Han asked.

    "You mean how did a killer like me end up in a place of peace like this? Purely circumstantial."

    "Not that much if you managed to escape Vader."

    Trogan squinted his eyes at Mara with a look that wondered what she knew. "What do you mean?" he asked cautiously.

    She explained, "Seems I remember a 501st trooper who went MIA on a mission to Wistril. I was still in training then but I heard rumors that the trooper went missing on purpose. Vader even went so far as to have a search party for him. When that turned up nothing, he had you branded as a–"

    "Traitor!" Han ejected. "Trogan Eclaine! That's where I've heard that name. It was plastered all over the galaxy. Wanted man by the Imperials. Extremely dangerous. They never said why."

    Trogan said, "They didn't have to. With the Empire you only got half of the story. And the other half they made up."

    Mara pressed on. "So what happened to you?"

    "The short version? I was too young when I joined the Imperial Academy on Carida. But I was way ahead of the other recruits. Tops in all areas. Piloting, infantry, reconnaissance, weapons. Vader noted me instantly and had me promoted to his own Legion. At first, it was exciting. I was part of the elite 501st. But it was strange. I was the youngest member and it showed. I never fit in."

    Mara mentioned, "Most of those soldiers never cared to fit in."

    Han agreed. "Yeah, you had to have a certain mindset to stay in that regiment."

    Trogan said, "Exactly. I was too different. I had the skills, but not the determination."

    "What happened?" asked Luke.

    "The missions we were sent to started to become acts of genocide rather than rescues. More sadistic."

    "That was closer to Vader's style," said Mara, ignoring the awkward shifting from her husband.

    Trogan continued. "Vader had no shame. No remorse. He would kill any soldier or officer if they made one mistake with a flick of his hand."

    Mara nodded her head and uttered, "Instant promotions by death. The Executor was full of those."

    Trogan sniffed. "It was aptly named. Anyway, I knew I had to get away. But there was a catch."

    Han nodded. "You don't exactly turn in your resignation papers in the 501st."

    Trogan answered, "No. I tried to find ways to escape and none came. Until that mission on Wistril. The Imperials tried to overtake the system's supply depots from the natives there. The 501st were sent to 'rehabilitate' them."

    "Which is Empire-speak for elimination," Lando supplied.

    "Pretty much. They were tough, though. We were backed up against an outpost of theirs and getting our butts kicked. Me and another trooper took a position around their left flank through a tunnel to the outpost. They anticipated that move and placed several C-22 Frag mines with laser trips along the edges of the tunnel."

    Mara sighed heavily. "You got hit."

    "I was rear guard. I only received several lacerations and a concussion. The trooper who took point was shredded into nothing."

    "Ouch," Lando remarked.

    "I was unconscious for I don't know how long. When I came to, I was blocked both ways in the tunnel from the blast."

    Mara cocked one eyebrow. "You had mini dets on your utility belt."

    "And I used them. Much, much later."

    Mara nodded in understanding. "After the Imperials took the outpost and ignored the tunnels."

    Han said, "They presumed you died."

    Trogan nodded. "MIA, officially. After the rest of the troops deployed off the system, I blasted my way out of there and escaped. I shed my stormtrooper armor and found an abandoned shuttle. I migrated out to the extreme Outer Rim to get myself healed and start a new life."

    Mara noted, "But Vader knew you were alive."

    "After the Wanted alerts started popping up for me, I realized that. Never understood how he knew."

    Luke answered, "He felt your presence in the Force."

    Trogan seemed hesitant to accept that as an answer but he went on. "Well, anyway, I had to go deeper underground. I heard about this place by word of mouth and I headed here to Qiilura. I offered my services to Krun Li as Security for the Mahra compound and then started to run supplies for them."

    Han asked, "Is that how you managed to collect all that junk back there?"

    "Yeah, impressive, isn't it?"

    Mara stated casually, "Hitting Bastion was your way of taking revenge on the Empire."

    Trogan was caught off guard and admitted sadly, "More or less. I saw an opportunity and I went with it. I got my hands on some old fighters. Some Headhunters. A few Triple deuce fighters. Some old Hornets."

    Lando noted, "Some archaic vehicles to go up against the Empire's most secure base."

    "I knew the odds were not in our favor. I convinced the Mahra that it was time to fight back."

    Mara spat, "Because of your thirst for vengeance, Seria Rayne lost her parents."

    Trogan snapped, "Don't you think I know that? It tears me apart every time I see that girl."

    Mara thought a moment before saying, "You took care of her when she came back."

    Trogan bowed his head and stared at the metal floor. "Yes," he croaked. "That was why I couldn't cut it as an elite stormtrooper. I had a soul."

    Luke assured him. "You can't blame yourself for sending people into battle."

    "I used the Mahra members as my tool."

    Luke shrugged. "Seems to me you gave the Mahra the peace that they wanted."

    Trogan tried to bend his neck back towards Luke but the flight straps prevented a full turn. "How is that?"

    "The Empire branded the Mahra as dangerous pirates. The galaxy was afraid to interfere with them."

    "Especially if they had to go through the gurlanins to do it," added Han.

    Trogan finally managed a smile. "Yeah, savor the irony. The wild gurlanins protecting a pacifist group like the Mahra."

    Mara leaned in closer to him with her chair. "But they're not all pacifists, are they?"

    "What does that mean?" Trogan asked.

    Mara smirked and said, "Let me ask my original question another way. Who told you to take Jaina?"

    As if knowing where she was going with her questioning, Trogan answered, "Krun Li."

    Luke gasped and asked incredulously, "Krun Li ordered you to take Jaina?"

    Trogan nodded and added, "And to bring her to him."

    It was Jaina who asked him, "Why would he want that?"

    "After you started seeing figments of your imagination in the sacred form of Agharta, Krun Li felt threatened. It's part of their prophecy."

    Jaina stated, "So, this has happened before."

    "Yes."

    "Seria Rayne was the last one," cried Mara.

    "And I'm the current one," said Jaina.

    Mara went on. "Seria didn't just find a boat to Neekro, did she?"

    "No. She was placed there."

    Lando slowly gasped, "Tarkin's Ghost, why?"

    Mara answered for Trogan. "Neekro Island is where all the girls who claim to have seen Agharta end up. That was their punishment. The Spirit Leader knew that Neekro was infested with wild and uncontrollable gurlanins."

    Han guessed, "I don't imagine they were taken there to survive."

    Mara said, "And just like the Agharta legend, they didn't. It was blind luck that Seria Rayne survived and came back. Though she went crazy. That played right into Krun Li's hands. The prophecy was safe."

    Luke leaned forward and put his elbows on his knees. "Just what exactly is this prophecy?"

    To everyone's surprise, the gurlanin, Ruht, spoke the reply. "Only Spirit Leader contact Agharta. All hope and praise go through Agharta and Spirit Leader. Any others will perish before the reign of fire."

    All fell into a stunned silence for a few moments before Trogan said, "I told you Ruht has an interest in Mahra religion."

    Mara asked him, "Ever wonder why that is?"

    Trogan shrugged. "An interest since he became human."

    "No," Mara countered. "The Mahra religion was originated by gurlanins."

    Trogan cried out, "What? That's nonsense. Where did you hear that?"

    "From an ancient journal of a former Mahra member. He fled the Mahra compound with his family because he was afraid for his daughter's safety. Seems she also claimed to have seen Agharta and was threatened."

    "That's insane. That was long ago. Krun Li wasn't there. No way the Mahra could be as threatening then too."

    Mara shrugged this time. "Traditions usually don't die. Prophecies either."

    "No, the Mahra was established by human settlers a thousand years ago," Trogan countered.

    Mara kept on. "The gurlanins on Neekro formed it after they tortured and killed an innocent girl. Now it seems her spirit lives on and shows herself to little girls."

    Jaina muttered in protest, "I'm not little."

    "Not now, Jaina," scolded her father.

    Trogan leaned into Mara as much as his binders allowed him and asked, "You actually believe that what these girls, and Jaina, are seeing is a ghost? What is that, a Jedi thing?"

    Luke replied, "I hardly think all the girls were Jedi. A Force spirit only appears to those who have the Force."

    Mara offered, "The girls in the past could have been Force sensitive. They may not have realized it when they saw her."

    Trogan cried out, "No, this is all hokey Jedi religious mantra."

    "That's what I thought at one time," said Han.

    "Well, I still do. Agharta is nothing more than a figure of the Mahra beliefs. She's not really real."

    Ruht shouted, "She is real!"

    "No offense, buddy," Trogan addressed the gurlanin, "but Agharta is about as real as you are human." He looked directly at Mara and emphatically stated, "The same humans who created her a thousand years ago."

    Han asked, "Who told you that tale? Krun Li?"

    Lando added, "The same man who demanded you to bring Jaina to him. Did you think he was just going to scold her?"

    "I had no intention of bringing her to him. I had to make myself look loyal to him. The man is very perceptive. He would know if I were to deceive him."

    Mara asked, "But you convinced the pacifist Mahra members to go and attack the Empire."

    "Yes."

    "No, you didn't. You convinced Krun Li to attack." As Trogan's head sprang up, Mara went on. "And Krun Li presented the attack to the Mahra as a mission from Agharta herself." Trogan's softened face was all the answer she needed for an affirmative. Mara went on to ask, "Let's go in another direction. How did the subject of joining with the New Republic come up with the Mahra members?"

    Trogan slowly replied, "They said they wanted to be part of the galaxy again. Some of them threatened to leave the compound if Krun Li didn't agree. He was outvoted."

    Jaina said, "Let me guess. He agreed later by saying that Agharta told him she approved."

    Trogan answered in the low voice of defeat, "More or less." Trogan lifted his head and pleaded, "Look, I know how all this looks to you, but I swear I had no intention of bringing Jaina to Krun Li."

    Mara asked, "Then why did you run when we saw you carrying her to your ship?"

    "It was too close to the compound to talk to you. Plus, you looked like you could kill a gundark with your bare hands."

    "She always looks like that," said Lando, grinning.

    "I do not," Mara snapped while flashing her green eyes at him.

    Trogan said, "In any case, we should be figuring out what to do since we're all here."

    Han said icily, "And we're going to let you cooperate with us after what you pulled?"

    "Look, I'm not proud of how this happened. I didn't want Jaina in the hands of Krun Li. I didn't want her to be the next Seria Rayne."

    "Thanks for the sentiment, but I could have survived with my sanity intact," Jaina said proudly.

    Luke patted his niece's knee and said, "We know that, Jaina. The point is that it didn't reach that level. Trogan could have brought you to Krun Li. He didn't."

    Mara said, "The question is how do we deal with Krun Li now?"

    Luke replied, "I think what it boils down to is what Krun Li will do once we approve the joining of the Mahra and the New Republic."

    Lando said, "He's not going to want to give up control of the members."

    Han mentioned, "Wish we could learn more about this ghost of Agharta these girls are seeing."

    "No!" exclaimed Ruht. "No ghost! Agharta is goddess of peace. She mean no harm."

    After the initial shock of hearing the gurlanin's proclamation, his words sparked the memory in Jaina of her last conversation with the ghost. "That may not be true," she said.

    Jaina told them about her vision right before she woke up on the Lone Scout. The deep forest. The girl speaking in riddles. And the description of the warning the girl gave just as the ground shook and broke into a bed of hot lava.

    After a few beats, Luke asked Jaina, "Did this feel like a vision or a dream?"

    "Is there a difference? I'm not sure. All I know is that it seemed so real."

    Lando said distantly to Han, "Lava. Didn't you say you detected a fault line near here?"

    Mara answered, "Yes, it goes right through Neekro Island. That hardened lava bed is where the gurlanins tortured humans."

    Jaina said without acknowledging, "She said she needed to be released."

    "How can a goddess be released?" Han asked.

    Luke said," Technically, we don 't know that this girl in Jaina's vision is the goddess."

    Jaina added, "She did deny the name, Agharta, but not the myth itself."

    Mara asked her niece, "What did she say?"

    Jaina rolled her eyes. "Oh, it's too complicated. She never speaks directly. You have to understand her code first. Kind of like how Seria spoke before you healed her."

    Luke said in tone of finality, "I have a feeling the answer will reveal itself in time."

    Mara finished his thought. "After we confront Krun Li with all of this."

    Luke shifted in the bench and said uneasily, "I'm not sure that is a good idea this time, Mara."

    Han cut in, "Sorry, kid, but you're outnumbered with that way of thinking."

    Trogan offered, "I'm not saying I would join you in a confrontation with Krun Li. But I will tell you that he would be addressing the members right about now after their breakfast. It's Advent Day. The day that Agharta comes to him for their weekly message."

    Mara followed his thought. "They're all in the mess hall? Perfect time for a religious intervention, wouldn't you say?"

    Luke asked in a low voice to his wife, "Is that what you're calling it? You sure this isn't about your own vengeance?"

    Before she could reply, Trogan snapped, "It's not about vengeance! It's about setting these members right. They're followers, not leaders. I'm no leader, either. I didn't see how far Krun Li would go until Jaina started seeing Agharta, whatever she is. The last one who claimed they saw her was Seria Rayne. I saw what they did to her and I did nothing. No one could help me. But now, a Jedi has seen her. I don't know much about the Jedi religion, but I've seen them in action. And I know that the Jedi are willing to help in just about any situation."

    Luke asked him, "What do you propose we do?"

    "I don't know. Tell the members that Krun Li is lying to them about Agharta."

    "I can't do that, Trogan," said Luke grimly. "Agharta is part of their belief. I cannot interfere with their faith. If Agharta is their basis for their belief system, who's to say they're wrong?"

    Trogan continued, "Well, someone has to do something about Krun Li. The man is crazy."

    There was a small silence before See-Threepio uttered, "Uh, excuse me, but I do believe I have to clarify something rather odd."

    "What is it, Goldenrod?" Han barked.

    "I have done an analysis of the earlier conversation with Mara Jade and this Krun Li on the ramp of the Falcon. I have concluded that his speech patterns are not consistent with Basic wavelengths. It does not seem that he is comfortable with the language."

    "What's your point?" asked Han.

    "Well, Sir, after the results of my analysis, I have surmised that Basic is not Krun Li's primary language. I tested it against the speech patterns of all humans present here and came up with the same inconsistent results. And then I tested them against our captor here and found a match."

    "You mean me?" Trogan incredulously asked.

    "No, Sir. I meant your companion. I compared the body structure of him with Krun Li and found them to be similar in basic design."

    "What are you saying, Threepio?" asked Luke.

    "I mean to say, Master Luke, that this Krun Li is not a human male at all. He is a gurlanin who has shape-shifted into a human for quite some time."

    There was a stunned silence from all in the lounge before Han uttered, "Huh."


    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
    tbc
     
  16. Cowgirl Jedi 1701

    Cowgirl Jedi 1701 Jedi Grand Master star 5

    Registered:
    Dec 21, 2016
    Well, this is getting quite interesting indeed.
     
  17. Cowgirl Jedi 1701

    Cowgirl Jedi 1701 Jedi Grand Master star 5

    Registered:
    Dec 21, 2016
    Edit: Oops.
     
    Last edited: Jan 23, 2021
  18. madman007

    madman007 Jedi Master star 4

    Registered:
    Aug 22, 2007
    Only two more chapters to go! Thanks for reading!
    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

    Chapter 12: The True Messenger

    On the Millennium Falcon, en route to Mahra compound

    The trip back to the compound was relatively quiet. The shock of C3PO's revelation that Krun Li and Croag were less than human affected all aboard in varying degrees. Because of Threepio's proven inability to exaggerate, they were all forced to believe his findings as fact. It affected Luke and Han the least since they had less exposure to the Mahra leaders. Mara and Jaina had to replay memories of the past few days with Krun Li and Croag with this new information as a variable. Mara now had a piece of the Neekro puzzle that she didn't know was missing. Krun Li's behavior on the island spoke to his reluctance to show the atrocities of his own people. Perhaps the one who was most affected by the news was the person who had spent the most time with the Mahra leaders. Trogan knew that gurlanins could stay within one form for long periods at a time. He would have never have guessed that time would be several decades.

    On the way back, Trogan kept silent and distant, evidence of a state of shock. Mara could relate to having the quintessential rug yanked out from under her like Trogan was experiencing. Through the first several years of her life she had been loyal to a man who had trained her since she was a child. It was a gradual shock after she learned of his true status as a monster underneath. The difference was that even Palpatine was still essentially human.

    They released Trogan's binders at Luke's request and Han's dismay. Luke pleaded to his friend that Trogan's reaction to Threepio's information was genuine and he no longer posed a threat to them. Luke knew that Trogan's intention of bringing Jaina to them instead of Krun Li as he was ordered was true. That almost made Han back off of the Mahra Security Officer for kidnapping his daughter. Almost.

    When they once again approached the barren field inside of the compound, there wasn't a soul around. Trogan mentioned that this was common on the morning of Advent Day. All of the members would be inside the mess hall converted out of an old Star Destroyer mess hall. Han landed the Falcon and Mara was already at the ramp's entrance.

    Luke met his wife at the entrance ramp. "I think it would be better if I started this confrontation."

    Mara sneered, "Don't worry, I won't do anything violent."

    "That's what you said this morning before you slammed Krun Li against the ramp pole."

    "Do you have to be so technical?"

    Before he could answer, Jaina came up to her aunt and uncle to proclaim, "I'm coming with you." Off her Uncle Luke's look of protest, she quickly stated, "I'm the one who started all of this. I'm the one who's seen her. Or it, whatever. That's the whole reason why Krun Li wanted Trogan to bring me to him. If he sees me, it'll look like an act of defiance. He would look weak to the Mahra members."

    "Is that our goal here?" Luke asked firmly.

    Mara said, "We have to discredit him. What they've done to these people over the years...disguising themselves as humans and creating a false goddess–"

    The gurlanin, Ruht, shouted from behind Chewie's guard in the lounge, "Agharta not fake goddess!"

    Mara gestured to him. "See, they even have his own kind believing all of this."

    Trogan uttered as he came up beside them, "Now I know why Ruht was never allowed on the compound. He could have sensed his own species."

    Luke gave Trogan a nod, but went back to address his wife. "Look, I agree with you. We should do something. But I also believe we should be cautious in confronting them. Especially Krun Li. We don't know what he's capable of."

    Jaina cried, "Krun Li meant to kill me."

    "We don't know that, Jaina. Even if you accuse him of it, he'll just use the crowd to back him up, whether it's true or false. And there's something else to consider. The members themselves. If you pour all of these accusations on their leader at once it's possible they could form a riot."

    Mara's features softened, indicating to Luke that she hadn't considered that angle. Jaina, however was persistent.

    "I'm still going with you."

    "I don't like it, hon," said a booming voice from the cockpit tunnel. Han came around the corner and added, "It could be dangerous."

    Jaina actually sneered at her father. "Don't tell me about danger, dad. I've been living with danger during the last several years. Or haven't you paid attention? Exar Kun. The Shadow Academy. Multiple kidnappings since I was three. This isn't nearly as dangerous. I can handle myself. I'm going!"

    After a moment of silent reflection, Han stood and looked at his daughter proudly. He sighed in mock defeat. "Leia's defiance and my gumption all rolled into one woman. There's nothing in this galaxy that can stop you."

    After that was settled, Luke began, "All right, I'll go in first, followed my Mara and Jaina. I'll be the one to speak to–"

    "No!" cried the voice of Trogan.

    "Now what?" exclaimed the usually patient Jedi Master.

    "I'm going too. I'll talk to him first. When Krun Li sees me standing with Jaina, he'll know his plan failed."

    "We still don't trust you," grumbled Han.

    Lando stepped in from the lounge as he was listening in and said, "Then I'll go to watch him."

    Luke said quickly, "All right, we got everyone who's going. Chewie will stay here and guard the gurlanin. Han, you're welcome to–"

    "What? Me in the same room with the mastermind behind my daughter's current kidnapping? My blaster might have a reaction to that." Chewie added a long series of growls and Han said, "And I'm not even going to translate what Chewie here wants to do with him."

    See Threepio called from the Falcon's computer station and exclaimed, "I do believe Chewbacca said that he wants to hang this Krun Li by his–"

    "Keep it to yourself, Goldenrod!" snapped Han.

    Luke and the others grinned before Luke addressed the droid, "I suppose you want to sit this one out, Threepio?"

    "Oh, yes, I quite agree, Master Luke. I am afraid I'm not good at confrontations."

    "Noted, Threepio. Lower the ramp, Han. Let's get this over with."

    As Han pulled the manual lever to lower the ramp, Luke felt Trogan's nervousness as he made his way to the front. Luke nudged him. "Hey, are you going to be all right?"

    "What? Sure. I'll be all right. Frankly, I'm not surprised it's come to this. I've disagreed with many of Krun Li's decisions over the years."

    Mara asked, "Do you know what you'll say to him?"

    "I'll improvise," Trogan said as they all walked down the ramp.

    They approached the former Star Destroyer mess hall with Trogan taking lead and Lando behind him. Jaina and Mara were followed by Luke bringing up the rear. The compound was dead with no one in sight. Trogan assured them the members were all in the mess hall. Sure enough, when they neared the security door to the hall, they could hear the low rumble of Krun Li speaking. Trogan was about to enter the security code that unlocked the door, an action he mindlessly performed several times over the years. This time he hesitated.

    Lando snickered. "Having second thoughts?"

    "No," Trogan replied. "It's just that...in all the times I've been in here...and all the things I've done for them...it all ends as soon as I open this door."

    Luke assured him, "I know how hard this must be for you."

    Trogan shrugged and said, "Not really. Just needed to say that out loud to hear what it sounded like." He flashed a confident smirk before he entered in the code. The doors slid open at once.

    The entire clan of Mahra members were present. They were sitting at several long tables. Scraps of their half-eaten breakfasts still lingered on their plates. The Mahra people were facing opposite of the newest visitors entering into the hall. The members were focused on their Spirit Leader, who was speaking to them. All Krun Li had to do was lift his head to spot Luke and company. He went on speaking about how their goddess, Agharta, was proud of them. He didn't notice his newest visitors.

    Trogan stepped forward into the hall and the others followed him. Trogan stood defiantly at the center of the hall in a spot where Krun Li could easily see them. Mara and Jaina stood beside Lando in a single row and Luke came up to stand next to Mara. Yet, Krun Li continued to speak with no indication that he knew they were there. It wasn't until Croag spotted them standing behind the members, when he slowly went over to Krun Li to tap him on the shoulder. The Mahra Priest gestured to their new guests and Krun Li finally saw them. He abruptly stopped talking.

    For an instant, Mara thought she could feel a sense of anger coming from the Spirit Leader. She wasn't sure since she could never read Krun Li's emotions well. Now she knew why. She then felt a nudge of verification from her husband through the Force that anger was the correct emotion coming from Krun Li. But it dissipated as quickly as it arrived.

    Krun Li was now speechless for the time being. His eyes were fixed on the group standing in a row at the back of the hall. Because of his abrupt end to his speech, the Mahra members became curious and one by one they started to turn their heads in the direction in which their Spirit Leader was facing. The members started mumbling to themselves as they identified their guests along with their Security Officer.

    Jaina could distinguish the voice of Ristina Tai'lor calling out her name. "Jaina!"

    Jaina spotted the girl in the crowd sitting with her family and gave her an assuring nod. Curiously, she noted who was sitting next to the Tai'lor family. Seria Rayne. She gave her own smile to show her gratitude for what Mara had done for her.

    These would be among the last moments of peace before Krun Li boomed, "Trogan! I see you brought some guests."

    Trogan replied wryly, "Ironic that you now call them guests. Just yesterday after Mara and Jaina left the compound I was under the impression that you considered them a nuisance."

    "A misunderstanding on your part, no doubt. Why have you brought them here?"

    "Oh, I'm doing exactly as you told me to do yesterday. I've brought you Jaina Solo to 'eliminate your problem'. I believe those were your words to me."

    Before replying to Trogan, Krun Li glanced at the Mahra members as they slowly took in what Trogan was saying. Confusion was dominant all around them and it seemed Krun Li planned to take advantage of it. "Congratulations, Trogan. Members of Mahra, we must give our Security Officer a great deal of gratitude. I am not sure if all of you were aware, but Jaina Solo was reported missing early this morning. It seems Trogan has found her." He gave a proud nod to Trogan and said, "Well done, sir!"

    The feint made Mara ill. It possessed no emotional response from anyone in her group. They knew Krun Li's truth. Admirably, Trogan didn't reduce himself to the same level.

    "I'm afraid the members here won't understand, Krun Li. They don't know that you told me to take Jaina captive overnight by any means necessary. You knew this before Mara Jade confronted you this morning about Jaina's disappearance. You lied to not one, but two of the most powerful Jedi in the galaxy."

    Krun Li stepped off the small riser that acted as his homemade pulpit and eased his way towards the tables. "That is quite an accusation, Trogan. And one that I didn't expect from you."

    "I'm done pretending to be your henchman who does your dirty work."

    Krun Li actually started to chuckle. "I'm sure we are all amused by your tales of fiction, Trogan. As you can see, I am rather busy at the moment. Perhaps we can talk this over in my office after the service, along with your...collaborators."

    It was Mara who spoke this time for Trogan. "I always say there's no time like the present."

    Krun Li glared icily at Mara and hissed, "You have no idea what you are doing."

    Trogan stated casually, "We're exposing you for what you really are. Just in case there's any confusion." He gestured to Jaina and spoke more to the crowd than to Krun Li. "This girl has seen the spirit of Agharta. So has Seria Rayne. And there have been others since I've been here. Always young girls claiming to see a spirit of a girl."

    "That is nonsense," cried Krun Li. He pointed at Jaina and exclaimed, "That girl is an abomination! She is a Jedi, like her Aunt and Uncle. It seems you have fallen under their influence, Trogan."

    Trogan lurched forward. "It's not their influence. I've just now opened my eyes to what you've been doing for the past several decades. You take these girls who say they have seen Agharta and you try and quiet them or destroy them. I'm not letting that happen again. You did order me to take Jaina by force." He hesitated before he said, "And years ago...you had me place Seria Rayne on Neekro. She didn't just find a boat. I put her in it when she was unconscious." The crowd started to mumble. "You thought the wild gurlanins still on Neekro would kill her. She was too smart for that. What she couldn't overcome was what she saw on Neekro. It scared her so much that she lost her sanity. But she came back. But you gave the order that she be left alone. See, you still got what you wanted. Hush Seria Rayne about Agharta. Then a Jedi finally comes here and claims to have seen the same spirit. Not as easy to keep a Jedi quiet, is it, Krun Li?"

    The murmurs from the crowd expressed emotions in the Force that ranged from confusion to anger, all directed at their Spirit Leader. Finally, Ristina Tai'lor spoke out to Jaina for verification. "Is it true, Jaina? Have you really seen the spirit of Agharta?"

    Jaina was caught off guard by the sudden attention she was getting by the girl's question. Jaina cleared her throat and replied, "Honestly, I'm not sure if it was Agharta herself. I know it is a spirit of a girl." Jaina hesitated and blurted out nervously as if she were afraid the crowd would laugh at her, "I think...she needs our help."

    Krun Li finally spoke proudly, "That proves that she is not Agharta. Our goddess does not need any help. She helps us."

    Jaina was in thought for a moment before she asked Krun Li, "You are the only one who can see and speak to Agharta?"

    "It is so written, so shall it be."

    Jaina sneered at him. "Then let me ask you a question. What does Agharta look like?"

    Krun Li held his head high and stated, "Agharta's appearance is insignificant. She can take on any form."

    Jaina gave the Solo grin. "Much like a gurlanin. Interesting. But she doesn't come in any form. Just one. A pale young girl with long blonde hair in braids on both sides of her head and wearing a free flowing white gown that's so bright that it blinds your eyes. When she speaks, it's the sound of a eerie whisper." Jaina looked over at Seria and confirmed, "Is that a good enough description, Seria?"

    The woman hesitated as all eyes were on her as she uttered, "Yes, that would be her."

    A female Rodian spoke out in broken Basic. "Me thought you are healed by Jedi woman."

    "I am healed," Seria said. "Mara brought back my sanity. She did nothing to my memories. Those will always be there."

    Edyn Tai'lor, Ristina's father, spoke up to ask the crowd, "Why would this spirit of Agharta come to these young girls and not our Spirit Leader?"

    Krun Li replied before anyone, "Because it is a fallacy. There is no spirit coming to these girls. It is the Jedi who are controlling your thoughts. We have seen them do this before in their history."

    Luke spoke to Krun Li with a harder edge than usual. "I can assure you, Krun Li, that the Jedi are not controlling anyone's thoughts. Furthermore, you cannot blame the Jedi for multiple sightings of this spirit by various girls in your history. To my knowledge, we are among the first Jedi to arrive here for generations. On the contrary, we are not making this up, either. Jaina herself has witnessed a Force spirit before. If she claims to have seen a spirit then I believe her."

    Krun Li then stated emphatically, "Then we must agree to disagree. I am afraid that means that you and your friends are no longer welcome among the Mahra. I must ask that you leave the premises at once."

    A human member of the Mahra, whom Mara or Jaina did not recognize, cried out, "Wait! If you banish them, then what about our merge with the New Republic? We voted for this."

    Amidst the rumblings of agreement within the crowd, Krun Li addressed the group as a whole. "They can offer you no more than what Agharta can offer you here."

    Edyn Tai'lor stated, "They can offer a connection to the galaxy. Think about it. We have to rely on our Security Officer to smuggle in our food and second hand equipment. All we have with ties to the galaxy is the HoloNet. We've been too alone out here for too long."

    Krun Li lowered his head and uttered, "Then you do not know what it is to be a Mahra."

    The crowd was silenced at this until Edyn finally said, "I guess I don't. In fact, with the information given to us here by the Jedi today, I'm not so sure Agharta even exists."


    As if on cue, there was a sudden spark in the far corner of the hall. Burnt embers of electricity began to spew out of the generator that controlled the lighting in that area. The former Star Destroyer mess hall was never intended to be used on a planet's surface. Though the construction of the roof was made of transparistreel plating, the outside elements did not make it entirely clear. When the generator blew out, the illumination inside the hall was now reduced.

    The members all gasped at their sudden plunge into semi-darkness. Luke tried to inject a feeling of ease through the Force as he bumped into Lando.

    "What in the blazes happened?" asked Lando.

    Luke answered simply, "The generator went out."

    Jaina replied wryly, "Nice observation, Uncle Luke."

    Nearby, Trogan added, "It is a bit strange for it to go out like that. Never had a problem with it."

    Luke suggested, "Why don't you and Trogan check it out?"

    Lando retrieved a compact lamp from his utility belt and said to Trogan, "Let's take a look."

    Meanwhile, Luke could feel Krun Li's sudden confusion at the generators' breakdown. The Spirit Leader didn't look like he was going to take charge anytime soon, so Luke did. He spoke to the crowd in a calming voice, "Everybody be calm. Please don't panic. My friend Lando and Trogan are looking into what happened."

    Lando and Trogan went to the generator placed in the front corner. Lando noted the brand of equipment. "A Newton-Roush. Not bad."

    Trogan boasted, "Had a good deal for them on Ossus."

    "Not a brand that breaks down suddenly." Lando inspected the generator all around with his lamp. "Contact points are clean. Transformer relays are intact. There's no carbon scoring around them."

    "That's weird for a blowout."

    "You're telling me. What in hell happened here?"

    "I'm not sure."

    Lando stopped looking and asked, "Do you hear that?"

    Trogan took a moment to listen but replied, "No. What is it?"

    "Sounds like...trickling. Like something's leaking."

    Trogan blew out a breath. "Tarkin's Ghost, that better not be the alkaline fluid. That stuff will eat away at the floor."

    Lando shined his light at a point below the generator. "No. Nothing coming out of the tanks. I still hear it though. Let me get up and look again." Since the generator was flush against the wall, Lando had to place his other hand on the wall for balance. As soon as his hand touched the wall, however, he shrieked and retracted his hand so quickly that the compact lamp fell to the floor with a clang.

    "What is it?" asked Trogan.

    "I…don't know. It feels like some kind of oil."

    "On the wall?"

    Lando hesitated out of disbelief and then admitted, "Yes. Here, pick up the lamp and shine it up there."

    Trogan complied and the light hit the wall.

    Both men stood in shock as to what they were seeing.

    A thick black liquid was oozing down the wall from an unknown source. It wasn't just in one spot. Trogan panned the light across the wall in both directions and the liquid was coming down evenly.

    "What…in…Hell," Trogan muttered.

    Luke came up behind them, unknown to the situation, and put a hand on Lando's shoulder. Lando and Trogan yelped in fear before recognizing Luke. Luke expressed surprise at their reaction. "I was just going to ask how things were going."

    In answer, Trogan shined the light on the wall and Lando asked, "Unless you can give a reason for that, you can understand why."

    Luke examined the wall with interest and uttered, "Well, there's something you don't see every day." He glanced at the crowd, still confused and scared just from being in the dark. He said quietly, "Let's not panic. We don't want a rushing crowd."

    "I agree," said Lando.

    "Yeah, it's just oil. What's the worst that can happen?"

    No sooner than Trogan said his words than a fire started to appear on the wall. Being that the substance was oil, and very flammable, the fire rapidly spread across the wall to the other side where the other generator had blown. It then spread until all four walls of the mess hall were engulfed in flames.

    Lando said wryly to Trogan, "You had to ask that question."

    By this time, the crowd saw the fire and the shrieks of horror began. Panic began to rise as they started to move toward the exit. Unfortunately, there was only one.

    Luke found his wife and niece in the crowd as Mara tried to cry out to the crowd. "Please, do not panic! Stay calm!" Luke then cried out with the same intention of easing the crowd.

    Seeing how Luke and Mara were failing, Trogan thrust the compact light in Lando's hand and headed into the crowd. There was no need for a lamp, now that the fire emitted a glow with which they could see better. Trogan waded through the crowd to reach the entrance, shouting at them to keep calm. Once he reached the door's controls he quickly tapped in the security code.

    With a jolt of high-powered electricity, Trogan was catapulted backward into the air. He landed amongst the crowd, who gasped at Trogan's failure. Jaina was the closest to him and she helped him up from the ground. Without thinking, Trogan said to her, "Thanks. By the way, I'm sorry for what I did last night. No hard feelings?"

    "Yeah, whatever. What happened at the controls? I've never seen a circuit board short out that hard."

    Trogan got back on his feet with Jaina's help. His clothing smelled of ozone and was smoldering. He told her, "We're seeing a lot of never befores today, dearie. All I know is that something doesn't want us to leave."

    The fire was billowing wildly along the walls now. The roar from its cry was almost deafening. The crowd had nothing more to do than to accept their fates. Luke and Mara could feel their despair and regret. Krun Li stood and watched bewildered. Luke could not read him so well in the Force. Perhaps gurlanins were harder to read. They did possess a form of telekinesis. It was at that same moment when Krun Li suddenly turned to Luke. The Jedi Master squinted his eyes, wondering if Krun Li had somehow listened to his own thoughts. Before Luke could react, his wife nudged him.

    "Luke, do you notice something about the fire?"

    Luke tore his gaze away from Krun Li and watched the flames. "Other than being normal fire?"

    "Maybe it's not so normal. Look up at the ceiling. See anything missing?"

    Luke looked up and examined where the thin slates of metal met the structure of the hall. Then he saw what she meant. There was no smoke. With the amount of fire in the hall, there should be smoke as thick as soup and everyone should be gasping for breath by now. But there was no smoke. Only fire.

    Luke ultimately stated, "Smokeless fire. There's something unnatural at work here."

    Lando exclaimed nearby, "You think?"

    Mara noted the crowd of Mahra members looking towards their Spirit Leader for answers as to why this was happening. So far, he gave them none.

    "He simply doesn't know," said Luke, answering Mara's unspoken question.

    "I do," said Jaina. "I know exactly who is doing this."

    "So do I," boomed the voice of Krun Li, who suddenly appeared behind them. The members were hushed as they anticipated answers to the current phenomenon. Krun Li exclaimed loud enough for the crowd to hear, "I know who is doing this! It is them!" He abruptly pointed to Luke and Mara. "They are causing this with their Force!"

    Luke stepped forward and snapped at Krun Li, "We are not using the Force! Jedi cannot produce fire out of thin air! This is something else. Something that's been disturbed and shouldn't have been."

    Krun Li scoffed and became sarcastic. "Another one of your Sith lords?"

    "No," Luke replied. "Something worse."

    The crowd was silent while they took in Luke's words. But something else started happening on the fiery walls. Starting at the far edges, the fire began to extinguish itself on both sides. The flames disappeared from the entrance to fade away towards the homemade pulpit where Krun Li was preaching several minutes before.

    "What's going on now?" Lando directly asked Jaina.

    "I have no idea," was her answer.

    The flames thinned out at on the wall at the opposite end of the hall. It began forming a single vertical line. Three quarters down from the top of the line a second line formed horizontally and a wide arc flowed out above it. Underneath the horizontal line, three small triangles formed upside down. There, the symbol stood.

    "What is it?" asked Lando.

    Jaina uttered, "Life from the Sun above. Death from fire below. It's the symbol of Qiilura."

    "Why is it being shown here?" asked Mara.

    Jaina looked deep in thought as she looked out at the crowd and then back to the symbol. She then said, "Proof."

    "Proof of what?" asked Luke.

    "Existence," his niece replied. She went on to explain as much as she could. "This all started after Ristina's father said he didn't believe Agharta existed. This is the spirit's way of showing us that she does exist in one form or another."

    "So, it is Agharta," Trogan said.

    "I'm still not sure of that," replied Jaina. "In all the times she allowed me to see her, she always denied that name. It has to be something else outside of the myth."

    "A myth created by gurlanins?" suggested Mara. "The same gurlanins who now control the Mahra members?'

    As if on cue, Krun Li came over and shouted at them. "What is the meaning of this? Why are you doing this?"

    Mara snapped, "Oh, for kriffin' sakes! How many times do we have to tell you that we are not doing any of this?"

    Krun Li barked, "I told you of this symbol on Neekro! It is too ancient for anyone else in here to know of it! No one else alive is aware of it!"

    I am aware and among the long departed.

    The sudden voice was in the tone of a loud whisper. A quiet echo. It contained no source. It was everywhere. And all who were present inside the hall could hear it. Everyone. The Mahra members went into a stunned silence. They were almost too afraid to speak. Jaina watched them in turn as they mouthed the name on their lips without sound. Agharta. Various phrases from the members expressed different levels of awe and joy.

    "She has come to us!"

    "We can all now hear her!"

    "We are now worthy of her voice."

    The only one among them who was not pleased was their Spirit Leader. He looked on at the members of Mahra in disbelief. His rage grew as he spoke vehemently to the voice coming from nowhere. "What trickery is this? Who are you? You are not our goddess! This is not supposed to happen! Speak at once, you false deity!"

    I am what you made me. A deity not in name, but in spirit. I am a victim of a crime committed long ago that turned truth into myth. Only the elders remember my forgotten name.

    Lando uttered, "What is she...it talking about?"

    Mara answered loud enough for all to hear. "The myth of Agharta. The elders know of her name. And her crime." She looked straight at Krun Li. "The reason for her torture."

    Lando asked, "How do you know this?"

    "I know," said Mara.

    Krun Li came over to them and softly said, "You already know too much."

    "Who are the elders?" asked Luke.

    Krun Li started to say, "It is best for some things stay hidden. I am not at liberty–"

    "The elders were ancient gurlanins who lived a thousand moons ago," interrupted Croag as he stepped beside Krun Li. The Spirit Leader shot his Priest a quick glance of warning but Croag stopped him before he could speak. "No, my friend. It is time. Time for the past to dissolve into the future. You can fool yourself if you want, Krun Li, but I have just witnessed a power that is beyond any Jedi abilities that we know of. And I can finally say for a fact that this spirit who is speaking to all of us is not our beloved Agharta."

    "Why do you say that?" Mara asked.

    He looked at Krun Li first before he stated, "Because Agharta was never a real person. She is a goddess made purely from myth. A myth that is based on truth and turned into a story handed down by each generation over the years."

    Luke stepped toward Croag and asked, "Can you give us the true story?"

    Without taking his eyes off Krun Li, who was shaking his head in protest, Croag replied, "Yes, I can. It is time, like I said." At this moment, the burning symbol of Qiilura was secondary. All the members' focus was on Croag. He began with a small chuckle. "I'm afraid I'm not much of a storyteller, but I will do my best. A thousand years ago the first settlers came to Qiilura. Human and non-human alike. The gurlanins at that time did not approve of their new guests, if you will. There were many attacks by gurlanins, many done by deception. The gurlanins would take the form of their captors and subdue them by surprise. Many humans and aliens were killed quickly. But there was one among the human settlers who was different. A young girl. It was found out by the gurlanins that this girl possessed magical powers. She knew what people were thinking. She could levitate objects into the air. She had the ability to destroy things in anger."

    Luke instantly registered the facts. "She had the Force."

    "That's what the settlers thought as well. The gurlanins did not know of the Force. Their magic was only in the land of Qiilura. Anything else was blasphemy. To them, the girl was an abomination." He turned to Krun Li in echo of his use of the same word earlier.

    Mara surmised, "Not all of the gurlanins felt that way, did they?"

    "No. There were but a few who were sympathetic to the girl. Saw her as special."

    Jaina followed the thought. "They formed into humans to comfort her."

    Croag nodded. "And to protect her. This was after the other gurlanins took away her parents and killed them."

    "Oh my stars," uttered Jaina.

    Croag continued. "The gurlanins who were helping her tried to hide her from the other gurlanins who set out to destroy her. The gurlanins who became human to help her shunned their way of life once they saw the wild gurlanins' true colors. They were cast out of their clan. Became one with the humans as they protected the child. They were, in the ancient gurlanin language, mah'ra. Traitors."

    "What happened to the girl?" asked Luke.

    Croag breathed outward. "Unfortunately, the two gurlanins were not enough to protect the girl. She was captured by the others. She was tortured almost to death."

    "By the lava pit on Neekro," said Mara.

    "Yes. But they didn't perform the rituals with lowering a prisoner into the lava pit. They kept her hovered over the pit. She burned slowly but alive. Barely. They presented her body to the settlers to prove that their gods were the only ones who had power."

    "Just like the myth," noted Jaina.

    "Yes, but with one difference," continued Croag. "The settlers were not given a chance to bury the girl. She was still alive when the gurlanins took her back to Neekro. And to this day, nobody knows what they did to her." The crowd was deadly silent now as they absorbed the new version of a myth they had heard hundreds of times. Croag continued with a more hoarse voice. "After that, the human-gurlanins formed an alliance with the human and non-human settlers. The former gurlanins rejected their own heritage and stayed human. As a group they would call themselves Mahra. And the girl would forever live in their hearts. She was, in the gurlanin language, agharta. The word for eternal."

    A Mahra member cried out, "So you deceived us! All along we thought we were following a goddess of peace. Instead, she is just another girl killed by the ancient gurlanins."

    There were murmurs of agreement amongst the other members before Croag defended his position. "She was not just another girl. She was brave and strong when her parents were taken and murdered. And when she herself was taken, she defied the gurlanins by staying alive for as long as she could. She was an innocent. In that act of peace, she became immortal. She became our goddess. We honored her memory by creating this organization. It is a tribute to her bravery."

    Another female human member cried out, "But it's still a deception. We should not be following such a travesty." The members chimed in all at once at their angry agreement with their fellow member. Soon the cries were heard as one and seemed uncontrollable.

    While the crowd continued to voice their resentment toward Croag and Krun Li, Jaina stepped up and screamed to be heard. "Hey! Everyone! Listen to me!" The crowd heard her and stopped shouting in curiosity of her sudden control of them. "Haven't you thought of why you follow Agharta in the first place? You live your lives in peace the same way that innocent girl wanted. I saw how happy all of you were the other night at the gathering on the beach. The same strength in her is the same in all the girls she made herself known to over the years. Maybe that's why the spirit goes to young girls. She tries to connect to them. Communicate even. Seria Rayne survived living on an island alone despite the odds. She made friends with a spirit whose only crime was being lonely. Except Seria couldn't distinguish fact from reality where the spirit was concerned and it took her sanity. It allowed itself to be seen by me because it sensed the same power that it had in life. The Force. The last time it...
    she spoke to me, I felt that she needed me to do something. I think it's in pain. Now, what Mahra member would refuse someone who was in pain? Do you think that girl who suffered at the hands of the gurlanins would refuse? She died a horrible death for all of you to live. I think you owe her that respect, regardless of how she came to be your goddess."

    Jaina felt herself tense up at the end of her words. Had she spoken so outwardly in the past? She must have by the looks of admiration on her Aunt and Uncle's faces. After a moment of silent thought throughout the members, Edyn Tai'lor finally spoke.

    "Jaina Solo is right. Whether or not this spirit is our goddess, or just a spirit in turmoil, she still deserves the title of agharta. Eternal. We shall treat it with the same respect as we had before." He paused before he said, "There is only one question." He turned to face Croag and Krun Li. "How is it that our leaders of Mahra know the ancient gurlanin language? We've researched it on the HoloNet for years and no data has been produced. It is a lost tongue. So, I ask again, how do you know it so well?"

    The Jedi in the hall could feel the tension coming from Croag. Krun Li was almost a blank slate of emotion. The Spirit Leader's only hint of feeling was the slow shake of his head to Croag. In response, Croag nodded his head.

    Croag began slowly. "We know it...because it is our native language."

    The crowd that was near deafening a few minutes ago, was now dead silent. The confusion hovered like a cloud in the mess hall.

    Ristina's father finally said, "But...that means you and he...are..."

    "Gurlanins," Croag finished Edyn's sentence.

    The same female woman member who cried out before noted, "But, you both look so human."

    Croag explained, "We have sustained human form for quite some time."

    "How long?" demanded Trogan.

    Croag just smiled and said, "Longer than you can imagine."

    It was Luke who deduced, "You two were the gurlanins who tried to protect the girl."

    Croag looked mildly surprised but then replied, "Well done, Jedi."

    Another Mahra male cried out, "But that would make you over a thousand years old!"

    "Gurlanins have an excessively long lifetime," Croag explained.

    "Not much different than Wookies or the Anzati," noted Mara.

    Edyn Tai'lor expressed his concern with the new information. "So, we've been deceived not by humans, but by creatures."

    Before the crowd could shout out their agreement with Edyn, Luke cut in at once. "They may be creatures on the inside, but with their banishment of their own race, all to try and save an innocent girl, they have grown to become more human on the outside."

    That made the crowd fall silent as Croag added, "I assure you that the truth of our heritage was not hidden because of ulterior motives. Both Krun Li and I believe the same as you believe. We seek the same peace and tranquility that Agharta stands for."

    A female member almost spat out, "You are not real. Agharta is not real."

    Croag stepped toward and chose a soothing voice to tell the woman, "No. Agharta is very real. She always is, regardless of how she came to be. She's real inside of each of you. In here." He motioned to the center of his chest.

    Luke could feel the members' realization of this fact. After the members took in Croag's words and started to understand, the ground started to rumble and shake for a few seconds. The looks on the members' faces expressed their weariness as they seemed to wonder what else could happen to them that day.

    "What was that?" asked Lando.

    "An earthquake?" suggested Edyn.

    Jaina nodded. "There is a fault line that runs straight through Neekro island."

    Mara replied, "That's still several kilos away for us to feel it here."

    "What else could it be?" Trogan asked.

    The eerie voice of the spirit returned.

    The elders know my station. The land is fertile. It will not endure until one is set free.

    "There's your answer, "said Lando wryly to Trogan.

    "Maybe I can speak to her," offered Jaina.

    Trogan tried to be honest without sounding ridiculous. "You do know you're talking to a ghost."

    Jaina shrugged. "Wouldn't be the first time." She stood out before her aunt and uncle and called out to the spirit. "What is it you want from us? From me?"

    The child with power knows no bounds. The foil of the dominant. Spot the fresh flowers on the ridge. Yellow is the code. I must be redone before the skies claim me. Less than the soil. Before the end.

    "The end? Like in my dream?"

    Dream is reality magnified. No sense of false hope. The glow will consume before the location.

    "What is she talking about?" Trogan asked.

    "Haven't you heard ghost-speak before," Lando questioned casually.

    Jaina ignored them both and repeated some of the spirit's words. "'I must be redone' That could mean refreshed or returned somewhere. 'Less than the soil' Less than...subtract the soil? Under the–" She abruptly stopped speaking and snapped her head at Croag. "Where was the girl buried?"

    Croag looked surprised at the question. "I'm afraid that has always been unknown. We never knew what the gurlanins did to her."

    Krun Li finally came out of his silence from Croag's confession and stated, "If they used the lava bed for torture, like the others, there may not have been anything left to bury."

    "No," said Jaina, "that would be too good for her. She used magic that, to them, she wasn't supposed to have. Only their gods could perform magic. They had to punish her severely. Pain not just in life, but in death. For eternity."

    Krun Li sighed impatiently. "I tell you we do not know. The horrors of what they did should be unspoken."

    The mark of the land hides my true nature.

    Jaina kept repeating in a whisper, "'Mark of the land.' Think, Jaina. Less than the soil. Mark of the land."

    Mara asked her niece, "Jaina, what does it mean?"

    Jaina snapped, "I don't know, yet." She turned away from her aunt and closed her eyes, still repeating phrases. She finally opened her eyes and caught site of the fiery symbol on the wall. She gasped. "Yellow is the code. Fresh flowers. Mark of the land hides her nature." She slowly turned back to her aunt and uncle and finally said, "I know where she is."

    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
    tbc​

     
  19. madman007

    madman007 Jedi Master star 4

    Registered:
    Aug 22, 2007
    Here be the last chapter. Hope you re-enjoyed. Thanks for re-reading. :D :cool:

    Chapter 13: Post Mortem

    Jaina’s revelation that she knew where the sprit girl had been buried eased her immediate family and friends, but the Mahra members were still skeptical about Jaina's claim. Trust was at least achieved with Jaina's familiarity with the mys terious spirit. The mystery continued when the fiery symbol of Qiilura on the far wall suddenly disappeared. The generator instantly turned back on, thus shedding the mess hall with bright light once again. The Jedi present could not just feel the elation of the crowd with the seemingly end to the strangeness. They could see them breathe out their relief.


    Yet, it wasn't quite over.

    Since Mara could now see the walls that had once been engulfed in flames, she gazed at each side with concern. "Look at the walls," she exclaimed. "There's no smoke after the fire."

    Lando looked closely at one of the walls. "There's no scorch marks. I can't smell anything, either."

    Trogan remarked after examining a wall himself, "It's like the flames never happened."

    Luke suggested, "It was an illusion forced upon us."

    Mara uttered, "Mighty big scale of an illusion to make over a hundred beings see it."

    Luke shrugged. "That's why I don't think we're dealing with something natural."

    "More like supernatural," said Lando. "This whole thing is getting weird."

    "Getting weird?" cried Trogan.

    Mara addressed her niece. "It's almost like she understands that you know where she's buried."

    "Aren't I the lucky one?"

    There came a series of beeps and a click as the exit door slid open. The Mahra members started frantically towards the exit. The crowd shortly formed a bottleneck at the door. Family members lifted their small children out of the way for their safety. Krun Li could see this problem growing soon and he edged his way into the crowd to the open exit.

    "One at a time, please. We will all leave here eventually. Just stay calm."

    A Mahra male snapped at Krun Li, "We're not listening to you anymore."

    The remark stunned Krun Li so much that all he could do was watch the members leave the mess hall silently. One small hint of hope came in the form of Ristina Tai'lor telling him, "It will be all right. Jaina will find her."

    "I hope so," uttered Krun Li. After Ristina disappeared around the exit, Krun Li still held his head down. Soon, the last of the members left and the Mahra leaders and the Jedi remained. Luke came over to the Spirit Leader, who exhaled and said, "I've lost them."

    Luke calmly stated, "Nothing is lost that cannot be found. There may be a chance to end all of this." He turned to his niece. "Jaina, where are we going to find her?"

    She turned to Trogan and said, "Get the water skiff ready. We're going to Neekro island."

    Since the skiff only allowed five passengers and the pilot, Lando volunteered to go back to the Falcon with Han and Chewie. He added that he had had enough strange adventures for one day. Croag also elected to stay behind citing that he would be needed to oversee the members. He also told Krun Li another personal reason.

    "This is your journey. You began this settlement so many centuries ago. You should be the one to end it. I was and always have been but a mere follower. I shall stay and tend to our members. I'm sure the events of this morning have left them shaken."

    "A good idea," said Krun Li. He put his hand on Croag's shoulder. "You are more than a mere follower, my friend. You are a loyal representative of this religion. I may have provided the initial ground work but you supplied the conviction. Perhaps someday you may have a chance to lead them." Before Croag could question Krun Li's cryptic message, Krun Li released his hand and proceeded to the skiff at once.

    Jaina, Mara, and Luke were already in the skiff with Trogan at the controls. After Krun Li entered, they began their trip back to Neekro island.

    The trek was as long as expected with such a slow moving vessel. They eventually reached the same shore where they landed before. It was at the height of the noon sun. Luke climbed out and surveyed the land. He noted the hint of a survival hut at the edge of the trees. He raised his hand to shield his eyes from the bright white sun.

    Mara saw where her husband was looking and said, "That's where Seria Rayne made her home here."

    "She stayed inland away from the main predators. Smart."

    Jaina explained, "She mostly stayed around here. She was led away to the site of the lava bed."

    "By a disguised gurlanin," supplied Trogan.

    Jaina replied, "I'm not so sure now. Not after what I saw this morning."

    Trogan scoffed, "Don't tell me Seria was visited by a ghost."

    "Why not?" Jaina shot back. "Is it any less conceivable than flames burning on walls without smoke or damage? And when you think about it, it couldn't have been a gurlanin." She addressed Krun Li. "Wouldn't the wild gurlanins here show Seria something threatening from her memory? Like the one that attacked Mara as a vornskr. Seems to me that a young girl wouldn't be very intimidating."

    "Perhaps. The wild gurlanins here were without a direct source of food for centuries. That's the reason why you don't see nor hear any creatures here. It was one of the reasons I sent those girls here when they claimed to see Agharta." His head looked down at the dark sand. "I am ashamed to say that I used their wild nature against the girls."

    Mara finished his unspoken thought. "And no one at the compound suspected. They thought the girls went missing."

    Krun Li nodded. "They eventually came to the conclusion that the girls perished at the hands of the gurlanins. They just didn't know where."

    "A perfect cover," said Jaina sourly.

    "I am not proud of my actions. I wanted to protect the image of myself as the Spirit Leader."

    "At any cost," added Mara.

    Trogan spoke before Krun Li could acknowledge. "Shall we press on? The less time on this island the better I feel."

    "Sure," said Jaina. "This way." She indicated the pathway that she and Mara cleared previously. They started following her.

    Krun Li asked, "Where exactly are we going?"

    Jaina exclaimed from the front of the line, "You should know."

    They trudged along the path that Jaina and Mara created on their last trip to Neekro island. Luke noted the lack of wildlife and pretty much any other life along the way, just as Krun Li said. He asked Krun Li, "Why didn't the wild gurlanins leave the island?"

    "You have to realize that these were ancient gurlanins. Croag and I were relatively very young at that time. Some were over two thousand years old. Very primitive. They neither had the desire nor the means to leave."

    They finally reached the clearing of black smooth lava rock. Luke looked on with childhood amazement. Mara figured he hadn't seen many volcanic areas such as this one on Tatooine. With all of Luke's Jedi teachings and wisdom, there were still hints of the boy inside before he left his home planet. Mara chalked that up as another reason why she loved him so much.

    Jaina pointed out to her uncle the half skeletons hanging from the tree limbs. "This is where the settlers were tortured."

    Krun Li admitted, "A sad day in our history."

    Luke looked at his niece. "But this isn't where the girl was tortured."

    "No," she replied. "I'm not certain exactly, but I have a feeling they did something much worse to her. Come on, down here." She beckoned for them to follow her down the hill past the lava bed.

    As they carefully eased down the hill, Jaina motioned to what was on the ground. She recited the spirit girl's words. "'Spot the fresh flowers.'"

    On the ground amidst the green grass were several small blossoms dotting the hillside. Their petals had a bright yellowish tint. Mara noted, "'Yellow is the code'. They look like lyris blossoms."

    "Probably similar," Luke said.

    Trogan said, "The first clue. Guess you were right, kid."

    Jaina stopped at the bottom of the hill where the land leveled out. She looked up and repeated the other phrase from the spirit girl. "'Mark of the land hides my nature.'"

    The others joined her from behind and saw before them the large post stuck in the ground with the symbol atop it. The symbol of Qiilura. The same one they all saw in fiery form inside the mess hall.

    Krun Li said, "That would definitely be the mark of the land."

    Luke questioned, "What would be her nature?"

    Jaina responded, ""More like where is her nature. 'Less than the soil.'"

    Mara nodded. "Under the ground."

    Trogan chuckled humorlessly. "Sorry, kid, we didn't exactly bring shovels."

    "We don't need them." She turned to face Trogan. "We have the Force."

    "Honey," Mara began, "what makes you think she's still buried under there?"

    Luke added, "The body would have disintegrated over a thousand years."

    Jaina countered, "Why would she show us this symbol? The flowers. The hints at being underground. No, I believe she led me here for a reason. I feel it, Uncle Luke."

    "But Jaina, finding a body intact under there would be-"

    "Impossible? I thought we were supposed to take that definition out of our minds. I thought if we felt something strong in the Force, we followed it no matter what the consequences are. The Force chooses for a reason. Isn't that what you said for all those years at your Academy, Uncle Luke?"

    Instead of showing his shame for doubting his niece, Luke simply smiled and uttered to his wife, "Seems you taught her well."

    "We taught her well."

    He nodded. "All right. Where do we start?"

    Jaina looked around the area for a moment. The ground looked hard and black. There were no flowers or green grass here. It may have been difficult to dig through the volcanic rock without a digger droid anyway. Much like it would have been centuries ago. How would the ancient gurlanins have buried her? Jaina looked back up the hill to where the lava bed was. The terrain would have been different back then. The bed may have been closer. And more shallow. The gurlanins then didn't care to bury their victims. At least, not intentionally. She turned to look back at the post where it dug into the ground.

    "Maybe she was buried naturally."

    "What do you mean?" asked Krun Li.

    "The post," she eventually said. "We have to pull up the post. It might be hard because the volcanic rock has been compressed for a millennia."

    Luke exclaimed, "Then the three of us shall work together in the Force." He glanced back at Trogan and Krun Li. "You may want to stand back a bit." He edged closer to the post and his wife followed him to stand at his side. Jaina did the same. All three then concentrated deep in the Force and directed it at the post.

    The wooden post started to shake at first. A rumbling from underneath began. The ground around the post started to split. The post was then lifted out of the ground slowly making the ground break around it. The post rose out of the earth with gradual resistance. Volcanic rock spilled out into a circular pile around the rising post. It kept rising seemingly without end. The area around it was crumbling into a pit surrounding the post now. The post went upwards into the air. For several minutes this continued, making them all wonder how deep this piece of wood went into the ground. Finally, there was a point where it became harder to pull the post out with the Force. A huge burst of black rock spewed out and Jaina spotted something on the post.

    "There! Look!" Jaina stopped concentrating on the Force to point at a large lump of something attached to the pole. She came to the edge of the small pit that the raised post formed. Luke and Mara continued to use the Force to angle the pole down on its side. They rested it parallel to the ground. The strange lump was now more accessible to examine. Luke and Mara ceased their control of the wood in the Force and came up alongside Jaina. Krun Li and Trogan came up behind them.

    "What is it?" asked Trogan.

    With her keen eyesight, Mara focused on the lump's form. The top was a small rounded piece that extended to two small limbs curled up at its center. Two longer limbs came out of the main section and were folded against the thick wood. What was particularly eerie was the surface that covered the lump. It looked to be the consistency of tough leather, like an ancient jacket protecting it from top to bottom. Mara knew that it wasn't a jacket. It had been, at one ancient time ago, human skin. Mara stated what was now obvious to the others. "That was a body."

    Krun Li scoffed. "That's impossible. A corpse could not retain its form after a thousand years."

    Jaina replied, "Unless it was preserved in compacted volcanic rock."

    Luke agreed. "It was mummified."

    Trogan shook his head. "I don't understand. Why didn't it dissolve in the lava?"

    Jaina glanced at the hill again to the lava bed hardened over time. It was several meters away where lava could flow down and stopped when the land became level. Right where the post stood. She explained, "This area wasn't the direct source of the lava. There would have still been extreme heat but the concentration of lava was less down here. Enough to let the gurlanins do what they wanted to her."

    Krun Li seemed almost afraid to ask, "What did they do?"

    After Luke realized what Jaina was saying, he replied grimly, "You said they showed the members what they did to her when she was barely alive. Her body had been exposed to the extreme heat. She would still be alive. After their...display...they tied her to this post...and left her there."

    Mara gasped, "Oh, sweet Tarkin's Ghost."

    Jaina finished, "She died slowly from the heat."

    Krun Li stared solemnly at the mummified corpse of the small girl that he made into a Mahra goddess. A small sliver of glistening moisture fell from his eye. "This was her sacrifice."

    Luke came over to the Spirit Leader and touched his arm. "How ironic that a gurlanin shed a tear over a horrific act performed by its own kind."

    "We may be non-human, Jedi, but it does not mean we are immune to emotions."

    Effectively avoiding Krun Li's emotional response, Trogan asked, "So, how did the body reach that deep inside the ground?"

    Mara shrugged. "A thousand years ago this level of land would have been considerably lower. All of the layers of volcanic rock built up over time."

    Luke completed her thought. "Sending her body down with it. Buried under the rock and compacted to preserve it."

    Jaina kneeled down to be at eye level to the corpse. Her voice almost cracked when she asked, "How did she endure that torture?"

    "I didn't," said a new voice from behind them.

    All of them did a quick about-face to see the figure of a young girl. Blonde hair flowed down over her shoulders. She was covered in a white gown. It wasn't as blinding as Jaina remembered it. The girl's form was semi-transparent, yet it still glowed. Much like a Force ghost. Her voice was no longer an echo. It rang of her true voice. She stood before them almost in anticipation of their reaction to her.

    Jaina had to speak first. "Just so we're clear, we can all see her, right?" The others nodded in turn.

    The spirit girl spoke again. "I remember the pain. I will always remember it for eternity." There was a distinct Coruscanti accent to her voice. In addition, Jaina realized that she was speaking in sentences rather than in riddles. Was this all because her corpse had been freed?

    "We saved you," cried Jaina. "Your body was trapped."

    "Yes. You have released my body from the ground. Although, I have yet to be freed. Until it dissolves into oblivion I am bound to this world."

    "Everyone has their problems," said a stunned Trogan.

    Before they could comprehend her words, she moved like a cloud over to Krun Li. He looked upon her as the tragic heroine that she was. She spoke to him. "I remember you. You and another tried to protect me. You were strong to go against your own kind. You even became our same species to comfort us. And you created my myth and made me your goddess. I am honored that you transformed my story into your faith." She paused a moment before continuing. "But you also formed a prophecy that allows only yourself to share my glory."

    "I...I know," he answered weakly. "I am so sorry. We tried to save you. We were not strong enough."

    "The gurlanins were too great in numbers. There was no way the two of you could have stopped all of them without dying yourselves. Despite your efforts and good intentions, they did what they wanted to do with me."

    Luke approached the spirit girl and calmly asked, "What happened to you?"

    The girl began. "My family was from Coruscant. I gather you figured that out from my accent. They were so loving. They found out early in my childhood that I had strange abilities. I could move objects with my mind. I could anticipate events before they happened. And I remember that within myself I could sense my parents feelings."

    "You had Force potential," surmised Luke.

    "Yes. My parents realized this but they did not want me taken away by the Jedi. They didn't want that life for me."

    "We don't do that anymore," bemused Jaina.

    The girl gave a laugh. "I understand." She looked at Luke. "I also sense that you are familiar with my parents' intentions."

    "Your insight serves you well."

    The girl continued. "My parents caught word of a settlement here on Qiilura and we came here. They changed their lives all for me. But the gurlanins soon found out about my power. They could sense me with their own abilities. They considered it a sacrilege against their own gods. They misunderstood."

    Krun Li tried to explain, "We had no knowledge of the Jedi or their Force then. It was so foreign to us. A few of us wanted to know more about it and understand what it was. Most of our clan did not."

    The girl stated, "And they did what most species do when they come across things they don't understand. They destroy it. It started with killing human and alien alike. They hoped to scare them off. They were killed instantly in the lava bed up there. When they found out about what I could do, they saw me as a threat. I was only ten standard years of age. First they took my parents. They tortured them before they were murdered. They thought that would weaken me. I remember how to be strong as my parents taught me."

    Krun Li said proudly, "A tribute to their upbringing of you."

    "Perhaps. When the gurlanins learned that my resolve was strong, they captured me. My body was subjected to the heat of the lava. But it did not touch the lava as the others had. I was hovered over it. It wasn't enough to kill me. My skin cracked and boiled but I was still alive. I still remember the pain even after a thousand years."

    Mara breathed out in a half whisper, "Oh, you poor child."

    The girl went on. "I was inches above death when they took me away from the pit. They showed my half burned body to the settlers as a warning. Then I was brought back here. Instead of exposing me to the lava bed directly, they brought me down here and tied me to this post. It was hoisted up and into the ground with me on it. At that time the lava bed up the hill did not flow down here. But there were fissures. The heat was still there. A few hours exposure and I still would have survived. But they left me there. I died slowly. And yet they still left my dead body hang on the post. They never took me down to bury me. They knew that was a human tradition. And there I stayed for a thousand years. My body was eventually buried under centuries of molten rock. Deeper and deeper it went under. The pressure above was too great. I was preserved seemingly for eternity."

    Jaina spoke in a weak tone, "That's why your...essence, soul, whatever you call it...that's why you could show yourself to those girls over the years. You were trapped here."

    "Yes. My attempts were in vain. Only small children could understand. Adults did not believe. No matter what species. Even some of the girls themselves did not understand. When they tried to explain that they saw me, people did not believe them. Some went mad. Others took their own lives."

    Mara figured, "You befriended Seria Rayne."

    "Yes. She was also in turmoil. Her parents had just perished. I presented myself as a friend to her. We played together on the sand. She never wondered why she couldn't touch me. She needed a friend. She reminded me of myself as a child long ago."

    Trogan questioned hesitantly, "But you still look like a child."

    "My physical appearance is as it was when I was last alive. My mental state has grown for a thousand years."

    Mara asked her, "Why did you show her the lava bed?"

    "I tried to explain myself to her. I told her the truth and showed her that I was no longer on her plane of existence. I gave her images of my death. It was too much for her. She went mad. And she left. I thought then that all my hope was gone. I projected that feeling across the area."

    "That was the sense of helplessness I felt when I first got here," cried Jaina.

    "Yes. For the longest time, I called for help and failed. Until now. You understood like no other, Jaina."

    "It took someone with the same Force ability to do so," said Luke.

    "Ironic that up until now no Jedi had ever set foot in the Mahra compound," said Mara.

    The spirit girl said, "I tried to get your attention. At that time my body had still been trapped. My powers were limited."

    "Powers?" asked Trogan.

    "I could enter dreams and allow myself to be seen in the living world. I possessed control over things of power."

    Jaina repeated, "Things of power. Power sources? You were responsible for our black out that first night."

    "Which you thought of as a natural act."

    Mara snapped, "Shutting down a lightsaber wasn't natural."

    Luke asked, "How did that happen?"

    "Simple," the girl replied, "I shut down its power source."

    Luke said frankly, "Knowledge of lightsaber structure is very limited. How did you learn of it?"

    It was the first time the girl had given a sinister smile. "I had a great teacher. One whom you had called Master a long time ago."

    Luke thought on her words and said, only half believing, "Obi Wan?"

    She nodded. "He also taught me how to appear through the Force."

    "Incredible," Mara whispered.

    Trogan neared the girl and stated, "You also shut down the generator in the mess hall this morning."

    Krun Li added, "And created fire that spread on the walls."

    The girl gave a knowing smile. "I needed an act that you would consider to be less than natural. It was needed to gain your attention."

    "Mission accomplished," cried Trogan.

    Jaina said, "You gave me the hint to find you here."

    "As I knew you would figure it out."

    "So now what?" asked Mara. "What is there to do now?"

    The girl spoke sadly. "As I said, my former body has been freed. But my spirit stays because of it's existence. Not for long. As you can see, my remains are starting to crumble into dust."

    They all looked at the mummified corpse on the post. It was, in fact, starting to disintegrate . Jaina was the first to cry out, "Look! It's falling apart."

    "Why is that?" asked Trogan.

    Luke answered, "It's been exposed to the air. After centuries of being compacted deep without oxygen, it's now being dissolved from sudden exposure to it."

    The girl stated sadly, "It is almost time for my final journey."

    Jaina came up to the girl and said, "I am so sorry for what happened to you and for what is happening to you now."

    "Don't be. Because of you, I can speak clearly to you now. You have my gratitude for releasing me. I should have known it would take someone who possessed the same powers as I once did to understand the horrors I faced."

    "I've lived through some horrors of my own already. Nothing like yours, though."

    "Humble as always," the girl said. "Thank you, Jaina Solo."

    Jaina shrugged. "Hey, it's what Jedi do."

    As if on cue, the ground beneath them started to rumble.

    "What was that?" asked Trogan.

    "The same thing we felt in the mess hall," said Mara.

    The girl spoke again. "You must leave this island quickly. It will soon be no more."

    Krun Li looked at her incredulously, "Why are you doing this? Why are you destroying us?"

    "It is not I who is responsible. It is the price for my freedom. And the only destruction will be this island and not the mainland."

    The ground shook now and Jaina had to balance herself. Just like my dream. She looked down at the ground and it already was starting to crack. "The post! It was deep in the ground under volcanic rock for centuries. It somehow prevented the fault line from caving in. Now with the post gone..."

    She didn't have to finish her sentence. The rock where the post had been was now being broken up from below. There was a thick release of steam that erupted from the ground. The intense heat was immediately felt by all. After the steam slowed to a calm mist, a glint of bright glowing orange emerged from under the rock where the post once stood.

    Mara cried, "You don't have to tell us we've overstayed our welcome."

    Luke exclaimed, "We have to get out of here!"

    Trogan and Jaina complied, but before Jaina started up the hill she stopped. She turned to the spirit girl to nod her farewell. The girl bowed her head in return to honor the young Jedi. Jaina then turned and ran up the hill. Mara and Trogan ran up with her. Luke began up the hill but noticed Krun Li stood motionless before the emerging chaos.

    Luke called out to him, "Krun Li, we have to go!"

    Krun Li did not budge but said, "You do. I must stay."

    "And become a martyr of your own mistakes?"

    "It is my atonement."

    The spirit girl floated toward him. Her transparency was more evident with her remains being dissolved slowly by the lava. Luke swore she was becoming brighter. She addressed the Spirit Leader. "I realize that my attempts to reach out for help were foiled by your actions. You punished them for seeing me."

    "I thought that only I could help you. Why did you not come to me? I would have understood."

    "Would you? Though you have been in human form for such a long time, your species will never possess what humans are capable of."

    "What?"

    "Something that is a part of human emotion. A power that is greater than even the Force itself. Younger children seem to grasp it better than adults."

    "But I have been human for a long time. So long that I cannot go back. When gurlanins stay in one form for too long it prevents their muscles from reforming. Not even to their original form. Why cannot I understand? What is this part of a human that I lack?"

    She smiled cryptically again and said, "If you have to ask then it does no good to simply tell you. It has to be experienced."

    The lava oozed out over the pit and onto the post. The girl's corpse was now engulfed in the super heated rock. The girl's image began to shine even brighter and become more transparent. She started to fade away. "My journey is finally at an end. I have time to tell you that despite your actions, I am still honored that you made me your goddess. I absolve you, Krun Li. And now, farewell."

    As she was fading away, Krun Li cried, "Wait! I have to know. What is your real name?"

    "You already know it. I am forever now. Your eternal, as you named me." Her words faded away as did her image. There was a brightness surrounding where her image once stood. She no longer had form within the pure light. When the light faded, she was gone.

    Krun Li softly uttered, "Farewell, Agharta."

    Luke looked at where her corpse was. There was nothing there but a pool of glowing lava. It oozed slowly toward them and the ground shook even more violently. He grabbed Krun Li's arm. "Come on, we're going."

    This time, Krun Li went with Luke up the hill. The black hardened lava at the top was now cracked in places that glowed bright orange. They ran quickly over the lava bed and then through the woods. The ground beneath them was cracking and separating in places at a high rate. There were crevices that were formed in various areas around them. Luke and Krun Li ran as fast as they could. Luke spotted one large crevice ahead of them. He concentrated in the Force to help him to jump over the gap. When he landed he neglected to realize that the gap was widening. Krun Li jumped as well but his footing only barely caught the opposite side and he slipped. He held out his hand and caught the edge at the last minute.

    Luke peered over the edge and cried out, "Give me your other hand!"

    "I cannot! It's too late! Save yourself!"

    "Afraid I can't do that. Just try and lift your other arm to me. I can pull you up."

    Krun Li did try and raise his other arm. As soon as he did, the edge where Krun Li was holding gave way. Krun Li lost his holding and he started to fall into the wide hole with glowing hot lava waiting for him. He was prepared to meet his fate.

    It did not happen.

    To Krun Li's extreme surprise, he was suddenly hovering in mid-air. He then started to rise up and out of the hole. As he rose, he saw Luke with his hand held out and eyes half closed. He landed safely on the solid ground next to Luke."

    Krun Li gasped in disbelief, "You...you saved me."

    "Yes, let's get going. We don't have much time." He turned but Krun Li grabbed his arm.

    "Why did you do this? After all I have done against your family?"

    Luke gave a shrug and casually replied, "Hey, it's what Jedi do. Let's go."

    They both continued to run through the trees and eventually came to the small beach. Jaina, Mara, and Trogan were already in the water skiff . They saw Luke and Krun Li emerge from the trees and Jaina yelled for them to hurry. They reached the skiff already starting to drift away from the land and climbed in respectively. Trogan sped off at top speed.

    All of them watched the spectacle of Neekro island sinking into the water through a bed of molten lava that had been dormant for a millennia. The trees caught fire and burned quickly as they fell into the lake. There soon was no longer an island. Only an underground lava bed took its place. The glow of the lava still was evident underwater as it seemed to move toward them.

    "Can't this thing go any faster?" Jaina cried.

    "It's going as fast as it can!" yelled Trogan.

    Mara watched the lava under the water. "It won't be fast enough. It's spreading."

    "It will stop," said Krun Li calmly.

    "How do you know that?" asked Trogan.

    "Because she said so. And I have faith in her," replied Krun Li.

    Sure enough, beneath the water the molten lava's glow diminished and cooled. It soon stopped flowing to begin hardening over time. The skiff went forward towards the shore of the Mahra compound. All were silent in an eerie memorial for Neekro island. And Agharta.

    As they approached the compound, they noticed all of the Mahra members converged near the shore. Obviously, they had all witnessed the demise of Neekro island even from this distance. Croag stood nearby watching as Trogan eased the skiff on the shore. Krun Li could already sense hostility towards him coming from the crowd. He let the Jedi and Trogan go ahead of him and hesitated. Luke saw this and came up to him.

    "What's wrong?"

    The Spirit Leader said at once, "You must take them. Take them somewhere away from here. They do not deserve my leadership."

    Croag reassured him. "Yes, they do. You've made your mistakes. Now you have to live with them. That is all they want to know."

    "But I betrayed them."

    "Maybe. But if you let them go now you will never experience what Agharta told you about. I think they'll surprise you."

    Krun Li nodded and walked passed Luke. The members all stared at him without a word. He let out a long breath and addressed them. "Members of Mahra, as you have just witnessed, Neekro island is nothing more than a piece of molten rock underwater now. It was a sign that our troubles have ended. Another chapter begins. Before we can move on, I must admit a few things to you all. I have done a great disservice to you. The myth of Agharta did actually happen. Croag and myself were witnesses all those centuries ago. We were gurlanins then. We were confused at the violence that our own species displayed. Therefore, by helping this poor young girl, we were cast out. We became human to comfort her. Our efforts proved to fail upon her death. Her soul survived but her body was trapped. She reached out to those who could help her. She could only do so with young girls. Because of our faith in Agharta, the girls thought they were seeing their goddess. This was both incorrect but yet so right. There was a spirit of the young girl who was tortured to death and her parents murdered by gurlanins. I was selfish when only young girls over the years claimed to have seen her. I went so far as to banish them to Neekro island where wild ancient gurlanins still lived. Some girls survived. Some did so without their sanity intact."

    He found the face of Seria Rayne looking on in the crowd. He gave her a smile and a nod of reassurance. Then he frowned. "Some girls did not survive, whether it was by gurlanin hands or their own. I punished those girls for saying they saw our goddess, Agharta."

    He paused before stating, "I was a fool for keeping the idea of Agharta to myself. Ironically, it took a young Jedi to allow me to see that. I will be forever haunted by the fact that we had never allowed a Jedi set foot on this compound. It was a Jedi who freed the girl's spirit and set her on her final journey to the afterlife. She is now our true light. Our eternal. Our Agharta. I now no longer want to keep her to myself. I want to share her bravery and sacrifice with every one of you. If you cannot see myself as a leader who can do that, I will understand. But hear this...I am truly sorry for my actions and I will bear my mistakes. You deserve a better leader. Therefore, I will stand down as your Spirit Leader."

    The crowd was deadly silent for the longest of time. Suddenly, a voice cried out, "No!" It was Edyn Tai'lor. He brought himself to the front of the crowd before stating, "We already have our Spirit Leader. Flawed as he might be, and perhaps less human than we first knew, he is still our Spirit Leader. Now his title has literal meaning. He helped the spirit of the girl who lived as a human but endured as our goddess. He has apologized for his actions. Shall we make him pay for them forever?"

    The members grumbled their answer. It was positive.

    Edyn went on. "We voted for joining the New Republic. Now we must vote on who leads us."

    Slowly the crowd murmured and then became louder. They all soon chanted with joyous glee, "Krun Li! Krun Li! Krun Li!"

    Edyn came up to Krun Li, who was both smiling but stunned. Edyn reached out his hand and said, "It seems unanimous. You are our Spirit Leader. Guess that means you're stuck with us." Krun Li reached out and shook Edyn's hand and Edyn brought him closer to him in a hug. The crowd all cheered. They switched their chant to yell out, "Agharta! Agharta!"

    After Edyn let go and returned to the crowd and his family, Krun Li turned to Luke. "I know now what power she meant. I believe I just experienced it."

    "Good. Then I can do this officially." Krun Li looked confused before Luke addressed the crowd. "Members of Mahra, in light of your Spirit Leader's actions today, and your honorable gesture displayed just now, I see no reason not to announce this now. Welcome to the New Republic!"

    The crowd cheered again. And they would cheer for years and generations to come. Eternally.

    On the Jade Sabre - eighteen hours later

    Mara entered in the code sequence for their next destination into the navi-computer. She waited patiently for it to calculate the coordinates and then set the Jade Sabre into hyperspace. Soon the molted star lines became the blue tunnel of the alternate existence of hyperspace. She got up from the pilot seat and headed towards Jaina's bunk to tell her of their new destination.

    That had been undecided ever since they left Qiilura. Her niece was exhausted. Mara had never seen Jaina so tired. She didn't pretend to be surprised why. Jaina deserved a rest. It wasn't all because of their adventures at the Mahra compound, which was now to renamed the Mahra Sanctuary. The term compound held a militaristic tone that the Mahra members never possessed.

    Luke had stayed on Qiilura to help supervise all the changes that were planned. An official spaceport. A proper irrigation and plumbing system. An oversized compactor for all of Trogan's junk collection. The New Republic would hire technicians and maintenance workers of all types to help bring the Mahra into the modern galaxy. Yet, before all of that could happen, Krun Li and Luke had to meet with gurlanin leaders in the Qiilura capital of Imbraani. Luke had to convince them that the members of the Mahra Sanctuary would be separate from Qiilura civilization, but also a part of the New Republic. It would not be considered an outpost, but an embassy of the New Republic. Leia had been scheduled in the next few standard weeks to meet with the same gurlanin delegation to discuss further talks of allowing the Mahra to join the New Republic. Mara hoped the creatures were as understanding and open as Krun Li. He may have been a gurlanin in the disguise as a human but he displayed human traits at the best possible moment.

    The Mahra people would go back to their peaceful lives. The only difference in their faith to Agharta was how she became to be their goddess. In the few extra days that Mara and Jaina had stayed with the Mahra, Mara noted that the past of their goddess didn’t seem to matter. It was strange to Mara to see that the knowledge of Agharta’s true heritage actually strengthened the faith of the Mahra people.

    True to Krun Li’s word, a gifted Twi’Lek in crafts was tasked at making small symbols made out of twigs. She spent a full day at making a hundred mini symbols of Qiilura, the same symbol that adorned the post where their Agharta had perished. It was now a symbol that they all would wear for their faith. However, the Twi’Lek woman had made two extra ones.

    On their last day with the Mahra, Mara and Jaina said their goodbyes to everyone, including Krun Li and Croag. They were just about to head up the Jade Sabre’s ramp when they heard someone cry out. It was Ristina Tai’lor.

    “Wait! We have something for you both.” The girl had in her hand two small wooden symbols of Qiilura. She handed each one to Jaina and Mara respectively. “We want you to have these as a token of our appreciation. We cannot thank you enough for bringing us even closer to Agharta.” She glanced back at Krun Li. “And our leaders.” She turned back to Jaina and Mara to say, “You are now honorary members of Mahra. Feel free to visit us at anytime.” She concluded by leaping into Jaina’s arms for a hug.

    Jaina hugged the girl back and said in her ear, “You may not have the powers of the Jedi, but you definitely have the spirit of a Jedi. Don’t let anyone tell you differently.”

    “Thank you, Jaina.” They separated and Jaina joined Mara inside the Jade Sabre.

    Mara now reached the open door of Jaina's bunk. Her niece's fatigue was not all from the Mahra mission. It was from the long series of events that preceded it. For the past two years, the poor child had to grow up too fast. Just as Mara herself had. Yes, she deserved a break. They both did. She saw Jaina stirring in her bunk. Wide awake.

    "Mara?"

    "Who else?" She said in half jest, "Care for a bit of lightsaber training?"

    "No!" Jaina emphatically cried. "I'm staying in bed for at least a month. I'm going to borrow one of Threepio's phrases and say, 'No more adventures!'"

    "I'm sure he'll appreciate that."

    "I felt the hyperdrive kick in. Where are we headed?"

    "Thought we could do some training on Zeltros."

    Jaina lifted her head up from the pillow, half smiling. "Mara, there's nothing on Zeltros but vacation resorts. It's known to the galaxy as the Party planet."

    "Exactly."

    Jaina's smile was in full bloom now. "What could you possibly teach me there?"

    "Only the most important part of the Jedi mantra. A Jedi must act when calm, at peace with the Force. Emphasis on peace."

    "I think I’ll like that lesson."

    "Thought you would." Mara took a beat before stating sincerely, "I want you to know how proud of you I am."

    "Proud for going insane after seeing a ghost?"

    "Proud for saving that ghost. I don't know if I'm ready to believe in the afterlife yet. The girl did have the Force."

    "And she knew Uncle Luke's Master."

    "And there's that. It would explain how she could be seen. Regardless of your doubt, you helped her anyway."

    "Same as you would have."

    "I'm not sure. I don't have the compassion that you and your mother have."

    "You may surprise yourself, Aunt Mara."

    "Maybe. I may become the apprentice to your Master in that area."

    "Or you could teach it to someone younger even. Much, much younger. Like, oh, say an infant with bright blue eyes. Or brilliant green ones." She smiled and quickly fluttered her eyelashes at her aunt.

    "Stop it. That's a discussion for another time. And with my husband." Mara changed the subject as she could do so well. "It'll be another ten hours until Zeltros. I'll let you sleep."

    "You mean so we can party in the all the nightclubs there?"

    "I am not letting you drink anything but azure milk or juri juice, young lady." Mara paused and smiled. "But there is gambling allowed. Even for teenagers."

    Jaina sat up and asked, "You are going to challenge a Solo at gambling? You are brave."

    "I'll take my chances. Now, go to sleep." Mara was about to turn away when Jaina spoke again.

    "Aunt Mara, why did the Mahra members accept Krun Li so quickly? After all he did to them."

    Mara thought a moment and replied, "They believed in him despite his faults."

    "Is that what belief is? Faith?"

    Mara breathed out. And remembered. "Luke told me once that belief is knowing that something is true. Faith is knowing something is true when no one else does. Simple, I know."

    "It answers my question. Maybe that's the problem with the Jedi of today."

    "What?"

    "They don't have faith in the Force."

    "Perhaps."

    "Sometimes I think most of the galaxy see the Jedi as being too religious. My own father thought that way once."

    "Then he believed. His faith in you and your brothers grew over the years. And it's always growing, no matter what you do."

    "Is that the same faith that Uncle Luke has in you?"

    Mara smiled and replied, "Oh, yes. One and the same."

    "Good."

    Mara gave a quick sigh. "All right, that is enough soul searching for one night."

    "There's the Mara Jade I know and love." Jaina sat back down in her cot. "Wake me up when we get to Zeltros."

    "I will. Sleep well, Jaina. You deserve it."

    "Thanks. I will." Jaina turned on her side. Before she closed her eyes, she spotted the small wooden Qiilura symbol on her bedside counter. “You too, Agharta,” she whispered. “May you finally have peace.”



    THE END
    Author's note coming soon.
     
  20. Cowgirl Jedi 1701

    Cowgirl Jedi 1701 Jedi Grand Master star 5

    Registered:
    Dec 21, 2016
    I thoroughly enjoyed this entire story. But I'm slightly disappointed that the ending did not include Luke's reaction to the picture of Obi-Wan in his prime.
     
    madman007 likes this.
  21. madman007

    madman007 Jedi Master star 4

    Registered:
    Aug 22, 2007
    [​IMG]
    This is the cover I designed in Photoshop for the story. Gives you a better view of the Mahra symbol.