Title: Loth-rat Run Author: Raissa Baiard Genre: humor Timeframe: ca. 12BBY, 4BBY Characters: Caleb Dume (Kanan Jarrus), Tai Uzuma, Sammo Quid, Master Leedo Aldo’pold (@Findswoman’s OC) Synopsis: One of beastwarden Leedo Aldo’pold’s creatures leads young Caleb Dume and his friends on a strange adventure through the World Between Worlds. Notes: this is my Non-Denominational Winter (for some) Holiday Fic-Gift Exchange gift for @Findswoman . Her wish was: Here is your story, my dear friend, and I beg your forgiveness for any errors that there may be, since I was writing without my usual, excellent beta reader! (And you have no idea how many times while I was writing this that I wanted to show you something or ask your opinion!) ------- “Master Aldo’pold?” Caleb Dume knocked on the door of the guest room that was assigned to the elderly Ithorian beastwarden. Caleb and his friends, Tai Uzuma and Sammo Quid, had met Leedo Aldo’pold, along with his trio of porgs, Belladora, Amarantine and Floridogabalus, two years earlier when they’d come to the Temple for its Life Day fete. When they heard that Master Aldo’pold had returned from touring the Outer Rim with several new specimens of wildlife, Caleb, Tai, and Sammo had been eager to see what kinds of creatures he’d brought this time. But as much as he liked the porgs, Caleb was secretly hoping that Master Aldo’Pold had discovered something bigger and more impressive, on… on…what was that planet he’d gone to? Oh, yeah…Lothal. That was it. He’d really hoped Master Aldo’pold had brought back something awesome from Lothal-- maybe with some sort of cool Force-powers or something! He knocked again and tried the touch panel, too, because it couldn’t hurt, right? The door swished open. Inside, the room was filled with an array of crates, baskets, carrying cases and nests. They covered the tiny desk and dresser and were stacked in precarious columns in the corners, leaving just enough room to walk around the bed. There was no sign of Master Aldo’opld or any of his porgs, but a faint chirruping squeak came from a domed basket made of woven grass that was sitting on top of the dresser. There was a small, circular opening near the bottom of the basket, and a pair of bright blue eyes peeked out from inside. They definitely were not the dark, round eyes of a porg, and Caleb was curious what sort of creature they belonged to. He edged his way into the room, trying not to disturb any of the other stacks as he went. “Caleb! You can’t go in there if Master Aldo’pold isn’t there!” Tai protested, standing in the doorway, her hands planted on her hips, as if to block Sammo from following him. “He’s a master and you aren’t even a padawan yet!” “I’m not going to mess with anything!” Master Aldo’pold wouldn’t mind if he just took a quick peek. Hestretched his hand out towards the basket and clicked his tongue coaxingly (it worked on tookas, at least). A pointy, bewhiskered face poked out. It belonged to a small rodent with sleek white fur, oddly scaled, almost bird-lik forelegs, and traces of the same scaling pebbling its nose and eyebrows. The rodent climbed onto Caleb’s outstretched hand and chirruped inquisitively at him. Caleb extended a cautious finger and stroked the creature gently between its scaled brows; it emitted a blissful, purring squeak. “What is it?” Sammo’s lekku wriggled uncertainly as he peeked around Tai’s shoulder. “Eww!” she cried, her features screwing up in disgust. “It's some kind of rat! Put it back before you catch something from it!” Tai tossed her head; the bronzium cylinders in her hair rang brassily against each other. The rat gave a startled squeak, leapt off of Caleb’s hand down to the floor, where it darted around frantically, its nose twitching and its tail lashing. “Tai! You scared him! Come on, little guy…” Caleb knelt down, held out his hand and clicked his tongue again, but the rat was having none of it. It cheeped in alarm and scurried backwards, away from Caleb and towards the door. “No, no…this way…” he coaxed, scrambling after it on his hands and knees. “Argh, no! Sammo, quick, catch him before he…gets out of the room…” The rodent dashed past Sammo’s desperate grab and shot down the hallway like a fathier from the starting gate. “Way to go, Caleb,” Tai sneered with another toss of her head. “I told you not to come in here.” “Everything was fine until you scared him!” Caleb shot back. OMF, Tai was so bossy sometimes, you’d think she outranked Master Yoda! “Umm, guys? Can we maybe argue whose fault this is after we catch Master Aldo’pold’s rat?” Sammo suggested. Tai glared at Caleb; he glared back for a moment before they shrugged in mutual accord and sprinted after the recalcitrant rodent, with Sammo close behind them. The rat zigzagged its way through the hallways in the old section of the Temple that housed the visitors’ quarters. The corridors became progressively darker and narrower as it ran until they dead-ended onto a steep, twisting staircase. It (and the rat) went down and down until Caleb figured they must have gone all the way to the center of Coruscant. The stairs made one last sharp u-turn; at the bottom, in the middle of an otherwise nondescript stone wall, was a ring of swirling white light that opened onto nothing. Well, not exactly nothing, but blackness--the dark, endless blackness of deep space, only even darker somehow, crisscrossed by a network of stark white lines so crisp and precise it was as if they’d been drawn with a giant, fine-point stylus and a straight-edge. “Wha-at is that?!” Caleb exclaimed, skidding to a halt. Sammo slammed into his back, Tai crashed into him, and all three of them tumbled down the stairs, landing in a heap at the bottom. “I don’t know,” Sammo said as he sat up, grimacing and holding his head. “But there goes the rat!” Later, Caleb would wonder exactly what possessed him to think it was a good idea to dive through the vortex after the white rat. But at that moment all he could think of was that he was going to be in so much trouble when Tai went back to tell Master Aldo’pold that he’d gone into his room without permission and lost one of his bond-beasts through an interdimensional portal to nothingness. “This is another great mess you’ve gotten us into, Caleb Dume!” Tai’s voice seemed to come from very far away. Caleb glanced over his shoulder to see her and Sammo scrambling through a set of concentric white circles suspended in the inky sky. The staircase in the Jedi Temple’s basement was just visible behind them. “Me?!” That was so unfair, and just like Tai to blame him for everything. Still, Caleb had to admit that she kind of had a point. If the otherworldly dimension looked strange from outside the portal, it was mind-bogglingly bizarre on the inside. White-lined paths curved off into infinity, some looping upwards in ways that were clearly impossible, and there was only a faint opaqueness between the lines to indicate the path was there. Caleb wasn’t sure what pale, cloudy substance they were standing on actually was or why their footsteps seemed to create ripples in it as they ran—and he wasn’t sure he wanted to think too much about it. The fugitive rodent streaked down the incorporeal pathway, past more circular portals that hung mysteriously in the nothingness, and Caleb could hear faint voices emanating from these gateways: “You know, if you ever need a little inspiration…” “Yeah. Then I'll be sure to look elsewhere.” “Don't even think about coming back without at least one meiloorun fruit. Clear?” “What? I need to breathe. Have you smelled me?” “This is my excited face!” There was something strangely familiar about that last voice, Caleb didn’t have time to think about it. The white rat suddenly gave an excited squeak, stood up on its hind legs, sniffing, and then raced off the main path towards a portal that was bordered by animated creatures of various sizes. The animals were drawn in the same celestial white ink as the path lines, and they chased each other in an endless circle. The smallest creatures seemed to be the same species as the white rats. Tookas chased the rats, and were in turn pursued by enormous, shaggy canids. The rat paused for a moment at the portal’s threshold and seemed to look backwards at Caleb before it leapt through the opening into… The creepiest Jedi Temple Caleb had ever seen. The portal looked out onto a large stone chamber with sharply slanted walls. A double row of columns ran the length of the room; they were etched with symbols that looked a lot like the runes carved into many of the pillars in the Coruscant Jedi Temple, the one on Ilum and several others that he’d seen holos of in the archives. But unlike those temples, this one had an air of desolation. Cracks zigzagged the stone walls, and sickly yellow-green moss grew from the cracks. “Oh, for the love of the Force, forget the rat!” Tai exclaimed, wrinkling her snub nose. “I am not going in there!” She shook her head; this time the clanking of her hair cylinders sounded hollow and was quickly lost in the emptiness of space. “Yeah, me neither.” Sammo had gone several shades paler blue. “They’re, um, all dead in there….” He pointed a shaky finger towards three figures that were seated at the columns’ bases. Two of themwere wearing Jedi robes, and knelt with their hands in their laps in the traditional meditation pose, but the familiarity of the scene was marred by the fact that they were desiccated corpses. It was as if they’d forgotten to stop meditating long enough to eat or, y’know, breathe, or any of those things, and here they were, thousands of years later, still at it, because there was no death, only the Force. The third figure, however, was different. His flesh was still, well, fleshy, and he still had hair—dark brown and tied back in a queue—and a neat, short goatee on his chin. Instead of moldering brown robes, he was dressed in a green shirt and gray pants with dark green armor, but only on his right shoulder and arm (which seemed fairly pointless to Caleb. What kind of opponent was only going to attack one arm?). But mostly the man was different from the others because he was alive. Caleb could see his shoulders rise and fall slightly with each breath. And there was something about him. Caleb couldn’t put into words, but it drew him like a magnet. He didn’t even realize he’d crossed over the threshold until he heard Sammo’s frantic shouts and Tai’s dire warning that he was so going to get himself killed in there. The white rat also seemed to be drawn to the man in green. It gamboled around by his knees, darting towards Caleb and then back as if it was trying to get him to come closer to the kneeling man. The rat finally came close enough that Caleb was able to reach down and scoop it up. He heard Tai and Sammo shouting at him to come on already, let’s go, but he paused. He was within half a meter of the man in green, and he could see now that the man had thick, pointy eyebrows, an aquiline nose that looked like it might have been broken at some point, and, even though he was meditating and should have been at peace, he seemed to be frowning slightly. Being face-to-face with the man felt surreal somehow, like deja vu, only not. To satisfy himself that this wasn’t just some weird hallucination, Caleb reached out and tapped the man’s beaky nose. The man’s eyes flew open. “Aaaaaah!” he yelled, scrambling to his feet and staggering backwards, his arms pin-wheeling like a droid with a malfunctioning gyroscopic balance module. “You…I…What…” he panted, staring wildly at Caleb. Before he could muster an answer, the man tapped his nose exactly the way Caleb had tapped his. He let out a startled yelp which the man echoed. “You’re not a vision!” the man sputtered. “What’s going on? How did you get here?!?” Caleb stifled the urge to rub his nose where the man had tapped him. “Uh… I followed a rat?” he offered, holding up the rodent. It squeaked cheerfully, apparently unfazed by the man’s half-crazed expression. “What?!” The man blinked down at the rat several times, and then, oddly enough, something like a look of understanding passed over his features. “Oh…Master Aldo’pold’s white Loth-rat…the portal… Wait, that was… is… me?” He leaned forward and put his hands on his knees, shaking his head and looking like he’d very much like to sit down. Caleb seized on the only part of that that made any sense to him.“You know Master Aldo’pold?” The man looked up, his impressively pointy eyebrows quirking a bit. “I’ve…met him once or twice, yes.” “You seem really familiar.” Maybe it was the eyes. Or the voice. Or the…eyebrows? Something… “Do I know you?” “I know you, at any rate-- and Tai and Sammo, too,” the man said, looking past Caleb’s shoulder to where his friends were lingering in the shadows near the portal. Emboldened by this statement, Tai strode forward with Sammo tagging after her. She stood next to Caleb, crossed her arms over her chest and fixed the man with an arch look. “Who are you, anyway? And what are you doing here?” Caleb winced a little at Tai’s tone, but if anything, the man seemed slightly amused at her impudence. “You can call me…Master Meiloorun.” “Really?” Sammo’s brow furrowed as he considered this unlikely name, but Tai just snorted. “Suuuure, Master Meiloorun,” she said. “And how come you're in here, hanging out with a bunch of dead Jedi?” “I…” Master Meiloorun paused for a moment, as if he was considering his words carefully. “I’m waiting for my padawan. He’s undergoing his trials and should be coming back any minute--which means you three need to get back to the Jedi Temple where you belong.” “How did you know--” Caleb began, but Tai interrupted. “How are we supposed to do that?” she demanded, crossing her arms a little tighter. Master Meiloorun’s smile widened. “The same way you got here—follow the white Loth-rat.” He took the rodent from Caleb and held it up so that he could look it in its twinkly blue eyes. Caleb felt a tiny stirring in the Force. The rat squeaked and nuzzled Master Meiloorun’s thumb as he set it down on the stone floor. “You really think that will work?” Sammo asked hesitantly, glancing between Jedi and rodent. "Well, I’m here, so, yes, I’d say that it will.” “What…?” “You’d better get going.” Master Meiloorun nudged Sammo towards the white rat, which was waiting by the portal. “Oh, and Caleb--” he called out, as Caleb prepared to follow his friends through to the path in the darkness, “Tell your master hello.” Caleb frowned; apparently Master Meiloorun didn’t know him all that well after all. “I don’t have a master yet; I’m just an initiate.” “Oh…that’s right. Well, don’t worry; you will.” Caleb almost thought there was a tinge of sadness to Master Meiloorun’s voice. He lifted a hand in farewell. “May the Force be with you.” As Caleb stepped across the threshold, the portal began to shrink, with the rats, cats and canids chasing each other in ever smaller circles until they vanished to a pinpoint of white light. “...and also with you.” He hoped that Master Meiloorun could sense his well-wish in the Force, even if he couldn’t hear it. The rat traveled at a more sedate pace this time, yet somehow it didn’t seem to take them nearly as long to return to the Jedi Temple as it had taken to reach the portal to Master Meiloorun’s temple. “That Meiloorun guy was so weird,” Tai opined as they climbed the winding stairs up from the sub-basement. Sammo shot her a quizzical glance. “We followed a rat through space on a path made of nothing, and that’s the part you thought was weird?” “Well, I wouldn’t want to be his padawan, that’s for sure,” she retorted with another little toss of her head. “I don’t know, he seemed okay to me.” Caleb didn’t know why it annoyed him so much to hear Tai criticize Master Meiloorun, but it seemed very important to defend him. He was definitely going to keep an eye out for the prominently-browed Jedi at the Temple from now on; he had a feeling he was going to see him again someday. -------- Kanan was glad to be able to set the Phantom on auto-pilot for a while as he and Ezra flew back from the Lothal Temple to the Spectres’ temporary base on the plains near Capital City. Ezra was engrossed in contemplation of his new kyber crystal, and turning the shuttle’s operation over to the computer gave Kanan some time to consider what in the name of the Force had just happened. He was not particularly proud of the way he’d yelled when he’d been startled by…er, Caleb. But he defied even the most stalwart Jedi to remain calm when their meditation was interrupted by their twelve-year old self booping them on the nose. No, the most disconcerting part--well, other than the realization that, as a child, he’d followed a rat across time and space and met himself--was the way he remembered the incident. Kanan recalled Master Meiloorun as an old, eccentric guy with weird eyebrows and a big nose. He could forgive himself for the eccentric part, given the way he’d had to avoid saying anything that might cause some sort of temporal paradox—but old? Really? He wasn’t even thirty yet! Ezra stirred in the co-pilot’s seat and looked over at him “Hey, Kanan—when I was coming back, I thought I heard voices. It almost sounded like you were talking to someone.” Maybe someday Kanan would tell him about the Loth-rat and the portal and Master Meiloorun, but right now, he wasn’t sure he was up for it. “Oh. I was just…talking to myself.” ++++ Notes: Master Leedo Aldo’pold appeared in @Findswoman ‘s story Caleb Dume’s Foofiest, Messiest, AWESOMEST LIFE DAY EVER! which was, coincidentally, her Holiday Fic Gift to me in 2018!