AOH :: KTARAH3.TXT|
Star Wars: Child of Darkness: Part II - by Genevieve Williams.
(Copyright 1995, Genevieve Williams. Based on characters and
situations created by George Lucas. All other elements are the
author's creation. Any resemblance to real or fictional persons,
living or dead, is entirely coincidental. This piece may be
distributed freely with the inclusion of this notice.)
Star Wars: Child of Darkness Part II
by Genevieve Williams
"I don't understand." Leia was pacing around the common
room, window to couch to doorway and back again. She halted and
turned to stare at her brother, who was still standing next to
the window and looking out of it, apparently unconcerned. "You
just let her walk off like that?"
Luke shook his head. It wasn't the sort of thing he could
explain very well - but perhaps he could get her to understand.
"If I had tried to stop her, she would always wonder what
would have happened. More importantly, she would wonder if it had
been my choice or hers. She wants peace - she wants to know."
Leia turned away, continuing to pace the floor. "I don't
understand," she said again, as the door whisked open and Han
walked in. Hurried in - damned unusual - and looking upset.
"We've got a problem," he announced.
Leia looked up. Han's alarm was radiating through the room
like heat waves from a blast furnace. "What is it?" she asked, as
Luke turned from the window to look at Han as well.
"Trask garrison's moving," Han said, his words terse and
clipped. "Ground forces only so far, but who knows how long
that's going to last."
Leia swore under her breath. "Did you send word to our
Han nodded. "Soon as I heard. I also tried to raise Kantwel
and find out what the hell's going on, but some aide told me -
get this - that he's in a meeting and can't be disturbed."
Leia shook her head. "If he things we're buying
that...where're Anje and Lista?" she asked, referring to her two
Han shrugged. "I don't know. Don't know anything - I came
here as soon as I figured I couldn't raise Kantwel."
"All right," Leia replied. "Let's find them - make sure they
haven't been arrested or some such nonsense - and go talk to
him." She was so on edge she felt as if she might punch a hole in
the wall. Something was very wrong here - had Kantwel been
planning this all along? She didn't want to believe it; Jedi-
trained instincts told her not to. But years of other kinds of
instinct, built up from guerilla warfare and setting up
revolutionary cells, screamed alarm.
She took a deep breath and let the agitation fall aside; it
wasn't going to help her here. Turning toward her brother, she
began, "Luke - "
He looked as if he hadn't heard a word. There was a look of
deep concentration on his face, as if someone were calling his
name from somewhere far away and he was trying to determine where
the voice was coming from. "Luke?" Leia said again.
His focus shifted, and he looked at her. Looked completely
spooked, in Leia's opinion. "This isn't Kantwel's doing," he said
quietly. "It has to do with K'Tarah."
Leia clenched her fists in frustration. "Luke, do you know
what kind of position this puts us in? What in the name of the
Force is she doing?"
He met her eyes, an even, level gaze. "That's not it. I
think she's met up with the person we came here to find. Ask
Kantwel about" - his eyes closed, and for a moment that look of
distant concentration came back over his face - "about unwilling
alliances. Ask him why he's been stalling you all this time. I
think he'll tell you the truth."
"Why?" Han broke in, but Leia only nodded, anger replaced by
comprehension. "I'll explain on the way," she told him. "Luke,
you'd better get going."
Luke nodded, smiling faintly. "I'd better," he said, and,
pulling his hood over his head, made for the door, which swept
open to allow him passage. Within moments he was gone.
Leia picked up her own robe from where it was draped over a
chair, and slid it over her shoulders. Han raised an eyebrow, and
Leia caught his quizzical look.
"Diplomacy hasn't worked," she said calmly, attaching her
lightsaber to her belt. "Now we'll see what a Jedi can do."
Han nodded. "I told Chewie to put the Falcon into
preflight," he commented as they headed for the door.
Leia grinned. "We didn't get this far by forgetting to take
precautions, did we?"
Damned right Kantwel would level with them this time. If
Luke was right, it was the only card the poor man had left.
Trask was a planet of varying terrain. The cultivated fields
that surrounded its sprawling cities would give way to forest,
hills, and mountains, places where few people lived and one was
more likely to come across an Imperial outpost - occupied or
abandoned - than a township or settlement. The Empire hadn't
completely conquered Trask's wild places; there simply weren't
enough people, and lately the Empire itself had neither the
troops nor the time to spare. In any case, Trask had never been
particularly high on the Empire's priority list, except as a
waystation into its sector of space.
All this and more occurred to K'Tarah, in the moments when
she wasn't considering strategies, reassuring Andra, or quelling
her own doubts. What had seemed so clear to her when she had
walked away from Luke, what had seemed so important - even
destined - now at times looked to be nothing more than a good way
to get herself killed. Or worse, she thought as they drew ever
closer to their destination.
Luke had asked her about motivation. Yesterday morning it
had seemed so vital to discover who was responsible for the death
of Andra's family, why Andra herself was so important, why
K'Tarah and Luke had been called here by a dream sent halfway
across the galaxy.
Sent? Perhaps. There was still too much that she didn't
understand. Was it the Force that had warned her, or was it some
other agency, taunting her, drawing her nearer to an unwholesome
fate? Questions, she thought, Master Hane's teaching resurfacing
in her consciousness, bringing calm deliberation with it. Now is
not the time for questions. For there was no turning back from
here; by now Luke's sister would know what had happened; by now
Governor Kantwel would know, she was certain. Whoever it was who
manipulated this - clearly not the governor - would not have been
idle. He would be acting, even now, to make whatever would happen
She had been right all along. It was a trap. And she was
walking into it willingly.
Andra's hand was small in hers, warm and trusting. What have
I done, bringing her into this? She shook her head, as much to
deny as to clear it. There was only what lay ahead.
A road wound into the mountains, a high, narrow ridge to
west of Trask's capital city. Black-paved, with high fencing and
guardrails as big around as K'Tarah's waist, it had every look of
a garrison road, with Imperial ground transports creeping slowly
along it at periodic intervals. K'Tarah and Andra walked
alongside of and occasionally under it, as it bridged
increasingly deep gullies between the slopes of the foothills. It
was difficult going, scrambling down the rocky inclines and
climbing up the other side, covering only a little distance every
time with a good hour spent on the effort, but preferable to
walking on the road itself. The garrison road wasn't designed for
pedestrians, least of all those in Jedi robes.
As the afternoon wore on the number of transports moving
westward increased, and with them K'Tarah's concern. She smiled
ruefully, thinking on it. So that was her enemy's move. It was
all too plain; she and Andra would walk into the trap, and when
the New Republic forces moved in - with, she was sure, Luke
Skywalker and Leia Organa - there would be more than enough
troops to deal with such mundane matters as a Republic ground
assault. It looked like the entire Traskan garrison was on the
move; the task force leaders could hardly fail to notice.
Well, she would deal with it when the time came. If she
turned around and went back now, it was doubtful that she could
reach the city in time to prevent the New Republic from moving,
or Leia from staging a coup.
She could warn Luke. There was always that option; but
something contrary within her would not let her take it. She
cursed her stubbornness with grim humor, but she wasn't ready to
admit yet that Luke had been right. She was in trouble,
regardless; the Council would probably be furious with her for
creating a potential disaster. She chuckled to herself, amazed
that she could still laugh, given her situation; and Andra looked
at her strangely.
"It's all right," K'Tarah said, wondering if she were mad.
It was, she thought, not entirely out of the question.
But Andra only nodded. "I know," she said, sounding a good
deal calmer than K'Tarah felt.
K'Tarah looked at her. "Do you?" she asked. "How?"
"You are a Jedi," the girl said quietly, her dark eyes
K'Tarah stopped short, turned to face the child and crouched
before her, so that they could look at one another on the same
level. She placed her hands on Andra's shoulders. "How is it that
you know what I am?" she asked, feeling, for the first time, the
stirrings of fear.
Andra shrugged, the bones of her thin shoulders rolling
beneath K'Tarah's fingers. "You carry a lightsaber, and you talk
about the Force. My father told me stories."
K'Tarah considered a moment, stretching out, feeling into
Andra's trust of her, past dark places in the child's recent
memory - and saw. "Your father was a Jedi," she said quietly.
Andra looked puzzled. "I wasn't to speak of it, but he was
once," she said. "How do you know?"
K'Tarah sighed, feeling guilty. There had been no need to
search the child's memories like that. "Where is he?" she asked,
forgetting in that moment, in her confusion.
Andra's dark eyes grew darker. "He's dead. You saw." Her lip
trembled, and liquid pooled in that dark gaze.
Gently K'Tarah drew the child into her arms. "I know," she
said quietly. "I'm sorry."
After a long moment, she let go, and looked up. It was
starting to get dark, and they were in a place far too open for
her liking. "Come on," she said, straightening up and taking
Andra's hand. "Let's find someplace to sleep." That was a
difficulty she could solve; but a dark cloud hovered at the edge
of her awareness that hadn't been there before, and as the day
sank into dusk she ceased to be certain of anything.
They had been sitting in the conference room for hours;
Leia, Han, Anje and Lista, New Republic General Grayson Lewons,
and across the table, Governor Kantwel and his aides.
"So tell me," Lewons was growling, "why I shouldn't send my
troops out to this mountain fortress of yours right now."
Kantwel's look had grown more and more desperate as the
afternoon wore on. Now, in early evening, he was rumpled and
sweating, quite a pair of changes from his earlier graciousness.
"Because," he said wearily, "that's exactly what he wants.
This K'Tarah walks into his trap, Skywalker follows, and the
Traskan garrison deals with your forces. He's wrapped it up quite
Leia fingered her lightsaber, forcing down her rising anger
with an effort, as Han said, "And you let him."
Despite his nervousness and evident frustration, Kantwel
bristled. "I had little choice," he said flatly.
Leia put a hand on Han's arm. Kantwel was no rebel; all his
life had been spent in the service of the Empire. The Empire that
had been made manifest in the personage of Darth Vader, who had
walked the dark path with the Emperor and twisted his trained
powers of the Force in the Emperor's name. Hardly surprising that
when someone with like powers had appeared to Governor Kantwel
and had offered to remove three troublesome Jedi in return for
Kantwel's life, that the governor had agreed. Against his better
judgement - which had judged well, as it turned out - but the
bargain had been made.
But he wouldn't give a name. They had stuck on that point
early on, and no amount of arguing could persuade him to dislodge
it, for whatever reason. Leia could only conclude that the name
was somehow damaging, although she doubted she would recognize
it. Perhaps Luke would.
But Luke was gone, taken off after K'Tarah, and he hadn't
returned. Tempted to search for him, Leia nonetheless kept her
mind on the task at hand. New Republic ground forces had occupied
the deserted garrison on the other side of the city; a word from
Lewons would send them streaming westward over the garrison road
in pursuit of Imperial troops. New Republic ships were still in
orbit around Trask, prepared to pick off anything that might be
launched from planetside. Kantwel was desparately urging them to
do nothing, not knowing what they had already done.
Anje, one of Leia's aides and barely older than Leia had
been when she had represented her foster father in the Senate,
slid a data pad along the tabletop in Leia's direction. It was a
calculated move; Kantwel watched the pad's progress, watched Leia
glance down at the information displayed on it, saw her look up
from it to gaze levelly at him.
"One of your farming townships burned to the ground
yesterday, Governor," Leia said quietly. She had already known,
of course; Luke had told her the whole story that morning. She
was willing to bet, though, that Kantwel didn't. The shocked look
he returned to her in the face of this news told her she'd been
right. She tapped the data pad. "No survivors. All housing is
destroyed, as are the crop storage silos. Would you care to
hazard a guess as to who might be responsible?"
"He assured me he would not," Kantwel whispered, pale-faced.
Leia felt a pang of sympathy. Unlike most Imperial governors,
Kantwel was cursed with a sense of compassion. Which was,
probably, why he had been consigned to this backwater system in
the first place.
Han shook his head. "You don't make deals with people like
him. You of all people should know that."
"Han," Leia started, but Kantwel held up a hand that
trembled slightly, although when he spoke his voice was steady.
"No, he is correct. This has been an extreme error of judgement
on my part. General Lewons," he turned to the battle-scarred
officer, "feel free to take whatever action you deem necessary.
Inform any survivors that they are henceforth under your command,
until a permanent New Republic commander is sent to oversee them.
I hereby relinquish all political and military authority within
the Traskan system to the New Republic, until such time as the
fate of Trask, its people, and myself have been decided."
Leia looked over at the governor, feeling the relaxation of
all her Force-trained instincts. She'd been right.
"Now all we've got to do is get out of here in one piece,"
Han commented dryly from her right. He was, Leia decided,
thinking the same thing she was; Kantwel had neatly removed
himself from needing to take any action whatsoever with regard to
the situation. Maybe.
"Governor," she said. Kantwel looked up from where he was
studying his fingers. "Might you simply transmit orders to the
garrison to return, and place themselves under New Republic
authority? It would save us some trouble."
Kantwel shook his head. "I tried. Comlink transmissions are
jammed, both planetside and base-to-ship. Technicians from my
personal staff have been working all afternoon to reroute
communications and nothing's worked." His voice was starting to
take on an edge of panic. "It's not just military channels,
either - everything's down, for as far as our systems can reach.
Nothing but static on all bands."
Beside Leia, Han frowned. "Look, there ain't no way to jam
anything that effectively. There's kids half my age runnin'
around that can route past jamming in minutes, and you're tellin'
me you've been workin' on this all afternoon?"
"It's a static blanket," Kantwel explained, and Leia nodded,
adding, "Han, it looks like whoever this is isn't concerned with
his own communication systems. He doesn't need to transmit
anything, so he's blocking everything. All channels." Which
meant, she thought but didn't say, that this mysterious adversary
had other means of communication that didn't depend on
electronics. There was no way to static-blanket the Force.
Assuming, of course, that Kantwel was telling the truth.
"Looks like we do this the hard way, then," Lewons grunted.
"If you'll excuse me?" He stood up, made to leave the room.
Leia nodded. "Han, go over to the garrison, will you? See
what they've got in the way of maps and so forth. I trust,
Governor," she added, "that we have access to this information."
Kantwel nodded, some of his former dignity restored. "The
files will be cleared for your use."
"Thank you, Governor," Leia said, bowing her head in
acknowledgement. "I suggest you get some rest. I have things of
my own to do, before this is settled."
"Thank you in turn, Senator," Kantwel replied. Straightening
his tunic, he moved slowly out the door, apparently feeling the
weight of his years - and his actions.
"Do you trust him?" Han asked her as they stood up in turn,
starting for the door.
Leia nodded. "Anje, Lista, go with Captain Solo and General
Lewons. When our force moves, though, stay here and keep an eye
on Kantwel." The two women nodded as one and headed down the hall
after Lewons. As Han started toward the main exit, he glanced
back at her. "Where are you going?"
She smiled tightly. "I'm getting in touch with Luke. He's
got to know what's happening back here." She paused. "Go on -
I'll be fine."
Han grinned. "Sure. Then what?"
"Then I'll join you in the garrison command center. I'll be
there by the time our forces are ready to leave."
"Should you? I mean, leave Kantwel here by himself, with
only those two to watch him?" He tilted his head in the direction
Leia's aides had gone.
Leia nodded grimly. "I think he needs the time to reflect.
Get going - I'll be there shortly."
"Right." He went on down the hallway toward the main exit,
as Leia took the main lift up to the roof.
The breeze felt warm on her face as she stepped out onto the
rooftop terrace, a railed platform generally used for observation
purposes, but abandoned since the entire garrison had taken off
westward. Leia searched in that direction, seeing the lights of
the city peter out until there was only a string of them, snaking
away across the landscape. She saw where they began to wind back
and forth; the garrison road, ascending into the mountains.
There was little else for the naked eye to see in the
darkness, but to a Jedi the absence of light was no issue. We
carry our own, Leia thought; Luke had said that to her once,
during training. The memory pleased her, and from it she
stretched out, searching across that darkened vista for her
Quicker than thought came a returning touch, gentle but
somehow strained. Leia?
The Republic forces are moving, Luke. Han and I will be with
For a moment there was no response, although she still felt
the touch there, a presence that brushed her awareness, seeming
to struggle to keep up the contact. Luke, are you all right?
She felt the presence grow stronger, so that she was more
aware of it than of her surroundings, of the rooftop on which she
stood with the wind of late spring whispering against her face.
I'm all right. But K'Tarah's in trouble...I've got to stop her.
Leia, don't come into the garrison, and don't let anyone else in
The contact broke abruptly, leaving Leia feeling cold and
very, very small. The distance seemed suddenly very great as she
looked out into the expanse of darkness into which her brother
and K'Tarah had vanished.
It was barely dawn when K'Tarah awoke, cramped and out of
sorts. Even late spring meant chilly nights on Trask, so that
K'Tarah's limbs responded sluggishly as she unfolded herself,
stretched, and shook Andra awake.
"What time is it?" the girl asked grumpily, rubbing a hand
across that thin, pale face. K'Tarah chuckled, looking westward,
up into the mountains. "No matter, my child," she replied. "We
haven't far to go."
Andra stood and stretched in her turn, likewise looking
westward. A small smile touched her lips, but K'Tarah, eyes and
thoughts elsewhere, did not notice.
My child, she thought, disliking the phrase. It sounded
proprietary. Her voice, for a moment, had not been her own, and
the feeling that came with it was not pleasant. She wondered
again, fleetingly, whether they should turn back, then squared
her shoulders firmly westward.
The mountain outpost was guarded, to be sure, but to one
with whom the Force was allied, Imperial guards were easily
avoided. That the entire Traskan garrison had taken up positions
about the fortress and surrounding slopes did not trouble K'Tarah
overmuch; she simply went where they were not, a shadow slipping
easily through the untracked forest, Andra a smaller shadow
There were trails, but those were guarded, and avoiding
those guards was as much a matter of practicality as of instinct.
Occasionally they crossed one, swift, silent movement, with eyes
darting to either side, to the undergrowth roundabout and the
trees overhead. But they saw no one; those few times any trooper
drew near them, K'Tarah had detected his presence long before and
moved to sidestep him. Even without her skills, she thought with
grim amusement, the noise those idiots made tromping through the
woods would alert any quarry within miles.
It was rather like her life on Terron, among Roden's people.
They, too, had done this; raided castles of stone rather than
this synthetic plasticized material the Empire favored, shooting
bows and arrows rather than blasters, but those were the details.
Long-remembered skills returned to her, here, that had been of
little use on Coruscant; watching the movements of animals and
the flights of birds, noting broken branches and the scent of
bruised plants. Differentiating between the rustle of leaves
stirred by the wind and those stirred by booted feet, careful
placement of her steps in a peculiar kind of balance that left no
Thus it was that by midmorning, they could see the walls of
the Imperial outpost rising high above the trees.
"Is that it?" Andra whispered, and K'Tarah laid a hand over
the girl's mouth. She could sense no one close enough by to have
heard, but here her awareness was strangely clouded and she found
that she could not trust it. Slowly, she rose from her crouching
position and, taking, Andra's hand, made her way around the
outpost's outer walls until the main entrance was in plain view.
The black ribbon of the garrison road snaked its way right
up to the gate, which was flung wide open, although several
white-armored soldiers, their helmets oddly frowning skulls,
patrolled outside it. K'Tarah smiled slightly. Luke had told her
about Imperial stormtroopers; they had figured rather prominently
in his tales of the days of the Rebellion. A fair dozen of them
promenaded back and forth before the open gate, scattering
occasionally as a ground transport, massive on its rolling
treads, made its way in or out of the gray-walled fortress.
They stayed where they were for some time, hidden behind a
screen of trees, while K'Tarah studied the gate, the guard, and
the road with its stanchioned fence that ran right up to the
walls. It would be some trick for anyone to get in who wasn't
coming up the main road. But there were always ways of getting
around such things.
It was well into the afternoon, the sun slanting down from
the slopes rising behind the outpost and bleeding through the
narrow, shallow pass that the fortress guarded, before the
movement of vehicles into and out of the place ceased entirely.
Preparing for a siege, perhaps; her enemy knew that once she had
gotten inside, the New Republic ships wouldn't dare hit the
But if she stayed outside, this whole mess would rapidly
sink into a stalemate.
That decided her. All day she had waited, watching,
formulating and discarding one plan after another until her
thoughts grew muddled. That troubled her, she who had always felt
sure of her clear thinking, until she wondered whose idea it had
been to come here.
Does the Jedi way lead to this place? Or is it the dark
side, drawing me to my own undoing?
Luke? Which is it? Whose hand guides the course I take now?
There was no answer, only that cloud that fogged the corners of
her mind with a strange silence. So she would move.
"I'm making this difficult," she murmured, and Andra looked
up at her curiously. She noted the child's glance and shrugged.
"No matter. Shall we?"
Andra nodded solemnly, as K'Tarah took her hand and stepped
out from the protective screen of trees.
The stormtroopers did not even notice her until her
lightsaber cut through the wire-netting that was spread between
the supporting stanchions of the fence. She slipped through the
opening, keeping Andra behind her as the stormtroopers swiveled
as one, their blasters levelled and pointing in her direction.
She grinned and walked forward, the humming blade of her
lightsaber held ready between her body and their weapons. "Halt!"
one of them ordered. "State your business."
Ignoring the order, she continued toward them, a strange
exhiliration trembling her limbs. "Halt!" that one shouted again.
This time, she stopped, focused on that one. The sergeant,
obviously. "I will enter," she said quietly. "Do not trouble
There was silence, as she counted her breaths, relaxed into
that steady rhythm, calmed the thudding of her heart so that it
did not ring so loudly in her ears. The stormtroopers didn't
move. After a long moment she walked through their ranks, Andra
trailing behind her and looking from one side to another in
astonishment. They passed the last trooper, and under the arched
entranceway of the garrison outpost.
The New Republic ground forces crawled along the garrison
road, no more than a strike force but, in General Lewons'
estimation, more than adequate.
He hoped so, anyway. He was in a bad temper this morning;
Kantwel had officially ceded Trask, and chasing off after this
Jedi witchwoman wasn't particularly high on his list of things he
preferred to be doing. When he had said as much to Senator
Organa, though, she had quietly pointed out that the Traskan
garrison could still cause trouble. His suggestion that a few
well-placed blasts from Rogue Squadron, currently cooling its
collective heels in orbit, would settle the matter handily had
been met with a solid refusal.
Well, so be it. Whatever the senator's motivations were, he
knew her instincts were good. The woman had commanded her own
cell during the rebellion, she wasn't completely ignorant of
tactics. Her determination to go through with this could hardly
Leia, at the moment, had gone ahead with a small scout team,
to prevent unwelcome surprises on both sides. Now she and Han,
with a small group of troopers, mounted on speeder bikes that
sped over the road at upwards of two hundred miles per hour,
watched the small but complete sensor arrays that scanned the
road ahead and the surrounding countryside for life forms and
other obstructions. The road showed clear for the next thirty
miles; not much advance warning at the speeds they were reaching,
but some. Lewons followed, at a slower pace, with the main body
of the strike force; ETA for the outpost was late afternoon,
since they would have to slow down considerably once they reached
the mountains. According to the Governor, their adversary would
have sent the garrison forces to cover the mountainside,
intending to keep them from ever reaching the outpost itself.
So he can deal with K'Tarah at his leisure, she thought,
feeling a chill that was not entirely due to the wind. And
wondered where Luke was. Her attempts to reach him, and K'Tarah
as well, had been met with silence.
The land below them wrinkled, and soon the road was climbing
into hills. They slowed now, dropping back closer to the main
force; Leia adjusted her sensor controls to a wider focus as
trees began to appear on either side of the path. Very soon now,
if Kantwel was right, they would be attacked if they weren't
Aboard his own bike, Han started as his console blatted a
long, highly irritating tone. With the comm system still down,
they'd synchronized chronometers before starting out. This
particular alarm was the signal to fall back to the main force.
"Right," he muttered, and raised one arm. As one the advance
group slowed even further, a gradual deceleration as the miles
slipped away, until the main squad drew into sight behind them.
They were at the foot of the mountains by the time Lewons caught
up with them at the speeds they'd reached. It was there that the
general called a halt.
"Anything?" he asked, as his troops began unloading rifles
and slinging them over their shoulders. A modified heavy cannon
was being pulled off its transport in pieces; from here it would
Leia shook her head. "Nothing." It didn't feel right. The
Imperial garrison troops had to know which way they'd come, if
they resorted to a ground attack at all; she couldn't believe
they'd gotten this far unnoticed.
Apparently Lewons agreed; after taking stock of the
situation, he detailed a rearguard to cover the transports and
left them the heavy cannon, pointed up the road toward the
garrison. He then ordered an opening cut in the stanchioned fence
that ran along both sides of the road. Within minutes the entire
squad was in among the trees. Point guards were sent off in
various directions; trained for this sort of activity, they
melted silently into the woods. The main squad moved out parallel
to the road, keeping it in view to their right but staying out of
Leia moved forward, blaster out and ready. The forest seemed
to bristle with hostility, although she couldn't pinpoint it. She
stretched out, relaxed into that presence instead of guarding
against it, seeking places garrison troops might be hidden.
Beside her, blaster in hand, Han offered her a tight grin
but didn't speak. They were well into it now, she thought. And
wondered again where Luke and K'Tarah were.
Inside the mountain fortress, plastic had been reinforced
with steel, and previously open doorways were sealed by heavy
A judicious slash with a lightsaber had opened one of these,
in a relatively deserted corner of an inner yard where numerous
transport vehicles and speeder bikes were parked, even an AT-ST
or two. Trask's garrison had been fairly well supplied for such a
backwater little planet.
Now K'Tarah, with Andra in tow, made her way carefully along
the stronghold's inner corridors, lightsaber held deactivated but
ready in her right hand. So far they hadn't encountered any
guards; this was a little-used access corridor. Not much branched
off of it in the way of side passageways; if they were caught
there was no way out save the way they'd come in. But K'Tarah
wasn't planning on retreat.
As they went on, though, she began to feel uneasy. She knew
it was a trap; she wished whoever had set it would get on with
things already. Their access here had been far too easy, her
stunt at the gate far too unnatural.
When did I get so manipulative? she asked herself, not much
liking the answer. Luke would have hardly been pleased. "We can
move within the minds of others, direct their thoughts and
actions if we so choose. But a Jedi must always be judicious in
choosing that course, K'Tarah. It must be necessary to be
Dark fog clouding her mind again, against that thought. She
resisted it, seeing it now for what it was. She had slipped so
close to darkness, all unaware. And the battle was barely joined.
The end of the corridor came in sight. A squad of
stormtroopers was passing by in the wider hallway visible beyond.
Instantly she halted. She was directly under one of the
corridor's dim lights; if any of them turned their heads, they'd
see her. But if she didn't move...
They passed, two by two, while she counted her heartbeats.
Beside and a little behind her, Andra's warm presence pressed
close; K'Tarah could hear her harsh breathing, but didn't even
tell her to be quiet.
The last of the troopers passed. Swiftly, silently, K'Tarah
moved to the juncture and peered out cautiously, Andra staying
close behind her. Off to the right the stormtrooper's boots
clicked on the gray floor, then faded out. They were alone.
Reaching out, K'Tarah felt her way instinctively into that
wider hallway. A slight tug, barely perceptible at the edge of
her awareness..."This way," she murmured, pulling at Andra's hand
that gripped hers with sweaty tightness. She was astounded at how
calm she suddenly felt. The darkness receded, for the moment held
Keeping to the shadows, they moved off down the corridor,
K'Tarah's cloak making the faintest of whispers on the floor.
The warning flashed to Leia's mind an instant before the
shot came. "Down!" she shouted; those nearby, including Han,
dropped to the ground.
She had already ducked behind a tree; peering out
cautiously, she could barely see the attacker. Nearly invisible
in camouflaged gear, he was lining up his sights where the
forward group had been, waiting for one of them to make an
Leia took careful aim, fired; her shot hit him in one of his
armor's vulnerable spots, the neck. He fell, thrashing the
undergrowth as he did so. She dropped and crawled, just in time
to avoid another shot that came winging in from the opposite
direction to strike the tree at the level her head had been.
Blaster bolts began to explode all around the squad as they dove
for cover behind fallen trees and brush.
A few didn't make it. Leia winced as she heard screams from
the unlucky squad members, then flattened herself against the
ground as a shot rang past. Forcing herself to be patient, she
waited, relaxing against the tension that tried to tighten her
back and jaw.
Off to her right, she saw Han leading the surviving members
of their group forward on their elbows. A stand of slender
saplings cut her off from them; quietly she waited, feeling out
the territory ahead. A hostile presence made itself felt, easing
its way between her and the squad, knowing exactly where she was.
Holding her breath, she moved as quietly as she could to the
left. The whole area boiled with attackers, but she wasn't sure
where that lone trooper was, and she needed to know that before
he fired a bolt into her back.
She eased up onto her elbows. From behind the protection of
a fallen tree, she could see her attacker making his way
carefully toward her. She fired; the shot hit him full in the
face, and he fell backward with a gurgled outcry. At the same
time a bolt whistled over her head, a ranging shot. Swiveling on
one hip, she spotted the second attacker a split second before he
fired again; he likewise went down.
Leia waited for another attack, but none came. The fight
seemed to have moved off from her position; Han and the others
had disappeared. She paused to consider her options. Trying to
get back to them or the road at this point could very easily get
her killed. Taking her bearings as best she could from the lay of
the land and the maps she'd studied back at the abandoned
garrison, she rose carefully to her feet and moved off in the
direction she judged the outpost to be.
The corridors widened as they moved on. K'Tarah judged that
they were coming to some central location, from the way other
side passageways led onto this one; she moved even more carefully
now. By luck or by design, none of the troops they'd seen so far
had seen them, but that wouldn't last, the closer they got to the
Then they came to a set of large double doors, blast-
shielded and embossed with some sort of archaic design. They were
deep within the fortress now, although still on ground level;
K'Tarah wondered if they had actually tunneled into the mountain.
She hadn't thought to look from the outside.
But that, for the moment, was secondary. About these doors
she could feel, as if leaking through the cracks, a dark power
that was all too familiar. And that thread that had guided her
here, whether of her will or another's, seemed to shrivel or fade
away in the face of that power, so that she stood before the
doors and had no idea what to do next.
A shout came from down the hall; a dozen troopers had
rounded the corner and spotted them. Even as blast rifles
levelled at them, K'Tarah seized Andra by the shoulder and pulled
her back, interposing herself between the girl and the
stormtroopers. The humming blade of her lightsaber flashed out
and cut into the doors' control panel so that the doors slammed
The stormtroopers advanced at a run; not shooting yet, but
they would be. K'Tarah dove through the door, tugging Andra along
behind her, and slapped the panel on that side. The doors slid
shut, with the troopers outside barred by the destroyed controls.
K'Tarah drew a deep breath and looked at Andra, but Andra wasn't
Leia had come up along a steady ridge; from here she could
keep an eye on the land around her without, she hoped, being too
visible herself. She occasionally heard shouts and the sound if
blasters firing, but the noises grew further and further away
until they faded out altogether. She was alone.
She leaned against a tree and tried to get her bearings. The
road had led into a dip between two mountain peaks; that was now
some distance to her right, and probably below her. She wondered
if she could come upon the place from above; the Imperials
wouldn't be guarding against attack from that direction, since
Lewons was keeping them busy elsewhere. She hoped.
Looking down in the direction she had to go, Leia saw a
steadily descending pile of boulders, overgrown here and there
with moss, spindly trees poking out of the ground in between.
Holstering her blaster to allow her the use of both hands, she
began to make her way downward, senses constantly alert although
there didn't seem to be anyone nearby. She skidded down a last,
steeply sloping rock, breaking her fall by catching one of a
small stand of saplings at the bottom - and found that she was
there. Gray walls rose up only a few feet away, and now that she
had stopped making noise she could hear the sounds of fighting
some distance away. Around in front of the outpost, she guessed.
They'd tried that back-door trick at Endor, but here there didn't
seem to be one; the walls of the outpost ran straight into the
mountain, and it would be quite a feat to have them come out the
Peering through the thin screen of trees that separated her
from the open area around the outpost, she saw no one at first.
Then she looked to her right, toward the front, and a familiar
black-cloaked figure stepped out from the trees.
He turned, looked directly at her as she hopped down from
the last boulder. "Leia...what are you doing here?"
"Looking for you," she replied. "And K'Tarah. Have you found
He shook his head, his face tightening for a second. "She's
Leia only nodded. Now that they were close to it, the dark
cloud hanging over the outpost was as palpable as a cold rain.
"Didn't she know?" Leia asked.
"I'm sure she did," Luke replied, sounding suddenly weary.
"Hopefully we'll be able to ask her."
Leia nodded again. "Han and General Lewons are keeping the
garrison troops busy out front. I don't see another door though."
Luke smiled tightly. "We have another way." He walked to the
base of the wall and looked up.
"Right." Leia walked up next to him and scanned the wall
high above. There didn't seem to be anyone there; so, gathering
herself, Leia took a deep breath and jumped.
It was a good twenty-four feet, but she made it easily. As
she looked over the rooftop on which she now stood, Luke landed
beside her. There were battlements here to be manned by the
troops, but apparently they had all gone down to deal with the
disturbance at the front gate or had been otherwise called away,
for the rooftop was deserted.
"Where do you suppose everyone is?" Leia asked, holding her
deactivated saber ready in her hand.
Luke considered. "Front entrance, except for maybe a
Leia nodded. "No one around here, anyway." It was true; the
whole section of the building below them felt completely empty.
"Nice view," she commented, looking eastward down the
mountainside and out onto the flatlands. From behind the cover of
the battlement wall, she peered over the edge.
Luke turned to the trap-door hatchway set near the front
edge of the roof, examining the control panel. Leia glanced up at
him, the noise of battle sounding from below. "Shall we? Let's
find K'Tarah and get out of here."
Luke didn't answer; looking at him, Leia saw his face
tighten. "It won't be that easy," he said. "Don't you feel it?"
She did. The dark feeling they'd both gotten at the
outpost's base was twice as strong here - and concentrated in a
particular direction. "That's him," she murmured, more to herself
than to Luke. "I can't feel K'Tarah anywhere."
"I can," he said, his voice even quieter than hers. "Leia -
go help Han at the gate."
"And let you go off to deal with this alone? Are you crazy?
Not this time, Luke. I'm going with you."
He shook his head. "Not me. It isn't my fight, or yours. We
might be too late already." His voice was distracted, as if he
wasn't hearing himself or her.
"No. Luke, you're not making any sense."
"Please, Leia," he said, and she stopped. She looked at him
then, and understood. He might have already lost K'Tarah; he
didn't want to lose her too. Not to whatever waited for them in
the center of the citadel; it waited for them both, she could
feel it. It had K'Tarah, and whatever happened now might claim
Luke too, as Vader had claimed Obi-Wan, once upon a time.
But he had said..."It isn't your fight," she reminded him.
"You said yourself that she has to do this on our own. If you
step in, she'll never know if she could have done it. You know
that, you said it yourself."
He thought about that, while Leia fidgeted. They were needed
at the front gate, now.
"All right," he said at last. "Let's go."
Leia drew her lightsaber and ignited it, peering once again
over the edge of the wall. Luke came up beside her, and she felt
him grin. "After all that trouble we took to get up here?" he
She grinned back, as he drew his own saber and ignited it.
They climbed up onto the wall, examined the crossing red and
green blasts that flew back and forth through the gate, and
simply stepped off the edge, plummeting into the thick of the
Andra was between K'Tarah and the door, still staring at
something beyond her; her attention was momentarily caught by the
vain efforts of the stormtroopers on the other side to get it
open, then apparently they gave up and moved off in response to
some other alarm. There was turmoil boiling around the front
entrance she and Andra had entered by; the strike squad had
reached the outpost then. She hoped Luke and Leia weren't among
them; now that she was here, she was starting to regret her
Slowly, K'Tarah turned around, her train of thought cut off
as if it had hit a wall. Behind her Andra froze, as K'Tarah,
unwillingly, followed the girl's line of sight.
The room in which they stood was some kind of meeting hall;
the ceiling was high enough to accomodate a tiered balcony that
ran all around the walls. There was some kind of raised dais at
the opposite end of the room, and dark arched doorways along both
sides through which nothing could be seen, for the light was dim.
On the dais stood a cloaked, hooded figure; so like Luke
that for the briefest moment K'Tarah thought it was him - but it
"Greetings," the voice flowed down the hall like cool water
over stone. "K'Tarah of Terron, lately of Coruscant, welcome. And
you, Andra my child. Welcome."
K'Tarah stood still. For a long moment it felt as though she
would never move again; her muscles were inert, all motion held
in check. Then Andra stirred beside her, shattering the moment,
and time flowed on.
"Who are you?" she asked. "What do you want with me? With
us?" She was acutely aware of Andra at her side, of the child's
rising panic. She wanted to reach out and take her hand, but she
could not distract her attention even that much from the dark
figure before her. She could only be aware.
The figure gestured, arms rising in a motion that was almost
benedictive. "I am called Samsar by many. Once I was accorded
titles, but they did not see fit to keep me." He - the voice was
certainly one of a man - chuckled softly, a sound that seemed to
run into the corners of the room looking for a place to hide. "No
matter. They were labels affixed by those who wished to tame me
to their service. But there is time enough to speak of that.
Approach, lady Jedi. Surely you do not fear me?"
That fear held her body in check, but at once anger rose to
match it. "You are baiting me, Samsar," K'Tarah said. "You have
baited me - and my friends - all this time, yes? What would you
with us?" She heard an echo of old Master Hane in those words,
and drew strength from it. The anger and fear abated somewhat,
although they were not extinguished.
Samsar seemed to consider that, and her. He shifted his
weight, folded his arms. "Someone has taught you well, lady Jedi.
But you have not been long with Skywalker, have you? I always
knew that Lord Vader had not killed all of the Masters, although
he would hardly admit as much. Certainly he did not know of me."
"And who are you?" K'Tarah asked, fighting down the twin
channels of fear and anger that urged her silently to attack this
man. "Who are you that the Empire should have concerned itself
Samsar uncrossed his arms, turned his hands palm upward;
K'Tarah saw them move in the dim light, pale and ghostly. "Why,
no one, unless they wished to make an example of me. I do not
like politics, lady Jedi, nor do I crave the rule of the galaxy.
My goals, for the moment, are more specific, if no less
"You wish to turn us." Stop dancing around me, you old
bastard...she squelched the thought before it could be completed.
She could play his game, if need be.
He laughed outright then, a shivering sound that vibrated
through the hall and crept up K'Tarah's back with icy fingers.
"Ah, lady Jedi, what an all-encompassing statement! I do not deal
in such petty categorizations. Surely you must know that for the
Master such terms are meaningless?"
"Masters are not proud, Samsar." You are no Master. You
desire too strongly. She could feel it, and it sickened her,
bolstering her resolve with rage. "Masters do not bait those they
would teach. They do not kill to lure their students within their
"You wound me." For a moment he was silent, and K'Tarah
sensed that she had touched a nerve. Then the moment of
uncertainty was gone, and Samsar's voice was smooth as polished
glass again. "Lady Jedi, I told you, did I not? Life and death
are all one with the Force. If some move from one stage to
another sooner than they would wish, what concern is it of mine?
It is a common occurence. Outside this outpost it is happening,
your New Republic forces and the garrison the Governor was so
kind to lend me. What are they to me?
"But you, my dear," he went on, as K'Tarah drew back, almost
pressed against the door in revulsion. "You are another matter.
For the Jedi there is potential, and for the two of you, and your
friends out there, the brother and sister Jedi - there is safety.
And there is promise. For you may know what I know, and be at
peace above these petty wars of the galaxy."
K'Tarah was about to reply, but next to her Andra stirred.
She tore her gaze from Samsar's dark-cloaked form with a supreme
effort of will to look at the child, who looked back at her with
black eyes that seemed curiously hard and glazed - pieces of
polished stone in that thin, pale face.
"And you, child?" Samsar asked, his voice low and smooth as
silk. "For your family there is nothing more. But you - would you
be a Jedi? Like the lady here? Or" - and here the voice took on
an undertone of subtle malice, so deeply buried that K'Tarah
wondered if Andra heard it - "would you know more power than she,
or the man Skywalker, would ever teach you?"
"You lie," K'Tarah whispered, but she felt as though she
fell into Andra's dark eyes, and was blind in the slippery dark,
not knowing if either of them heard her. "Andra," she said
desparately, "he lies. He says he knows all, but he doesn't. Luke
would show you the true path, if you let him."
Her words seemed to fall away into nothingness, unheard. She
did not have Samsar's glossy speech and over-gentle tone, and she
could not offer the safety that Samsar did. For the Jedi knew,
and the Masters more than any other, that there was no safety,
save that one relinquished and then accepted darkness - but that
was not an easy road. Far simpler was the abdication Samsar
offered - and his speech was more attractive.
K'Tarah placed herself between Andra and Samsar, so that
their eye contact was broken. She turned her back on Samsar,
although it made her skin crawl to do it, and took hold of
Andra's shoulders so that the child had to look at her.
"Andra," she said desperately, "don't listen to him. It is
never that simple."
But she feared that Andra was already lost.
Leia felt the air rush past her body and tear at her tightly
braided hair for the briefest of moments, then the ground rushed
up and she was landing, the Force flowing through ankles, knees,
and back to absorb to shock of the long drop. She gripped her
lightsaber tightly in both hands, flattening herself immediately
against a wall and holding her saber up defensively as she slid
under the heavy archway that was the outpost's front gate. Luke
landed on the other side, his movements almost a mirror image of
hers. He met her eyes across the span of the gate, crossfire
tearing through the air between them, and tilted his head toward
the left, further inside the gate. She nodded, sidestepped
further inside and bringing her blade up instinctively to block
the blaster fire that began to track toward her, then slipped
inside an open doorway and made short work of a group of four
stormtroopers who were crouched there, the last of their
attention focused on Luke across the way.
Leia glanced up short passageway to make sure that no more
enemies waited inside, then turned and peered out the doorway.
The strike force was still outside the gate; many of the troops
had taken cover behind the stanchions along the road, or else
flattened themselves against the outside wall to lean around it
and fire sniper shots. But the Imperials had cover as well; the
open doorway opposite her, which Luke slipped into and cleared
out even as she watched. Some had set up a blockade under the
archway of the main entrance, and were firing from behind the
cover it provided. Stalemate. Leia grinned. She and Luke might
alter those odds a bit.
She raised her lightsaber; someone outside must have seen
it, for a blaster bolt flew toward her. Quicker than thought she
parried, relaxing into the familiar movements of her training and
into the Force. The bolt ricocheted off her blade and struck a
stormtrooper that had eased out from behind the blockade and was
making for the opposite doorway where Luke was crouched. The
stormtrooper fell to the ground; his companions lined up to fire,
but Leia vaulted out of the doorway in a running leap that took
her over the armored bodies tumbled outside. She landed, the
dropped and rolled as blaster fire began tracking toward her from
behind the barricade. Between two platoons shooting at each
other; a bad spot by all accounts, but she fetched up against the
wall opposite to where she'd started. She was on her feet and
through the doorway there, further inside the archway than the
one Luke had taken, before the stormtroopers were even aware of
where she'd gone; her lightsaber made quick work of them.
Someone shouted her name; she looked out, humming blade
between the exposed portion of her body and her attackers. "Han!"
she shouted back, seeing him waving his blaster in her general
direction. From this vantage, she could see him, while those
behind the barricade could not. A blaster bolt exploded over her
head; she ducked too late to prevent her ears from ringing. She
pulled further back and considered. The remaining stormtroopers
were stuck behind that barricade; the New Republic forces had
mopped the floor with a group that had attempted a sortie. But
Lewons' forces weren't likely to get past it unless they managed
to blow it up, which looked unlikely; no one could get close
"Dammit, get out of there!" he was yelling, but that wasn't
going to happen unless she'd suddenly become impervious to
blaster fire - she could see a few blasters casually trained
toward the doorway in which she was crouched, waiting for her to
try another move. She slid further back into the corridor,
debating what to do next, when Luke arrived, accompanied by a
shower of sparks as an Imperial outside took an unsuccessful
"Not bad," he grinned, lowering his lightsaber when he saw
they were alone in the corridor. "Now what?"
"We've got to take care of those stormtroopers out there,"
Leia said. "There's no way Lewons can get in close enough."
Luke looked out the door, took stock of the situation. "We
could take the direct approach."
Leia smiled and shook her head. Luke might have been a Jedi
longer than she had, but as far as tactics were concerned he
didn't know any approach other than the direct one. "I think I've
got a better idea," she said. "Come on." She turned and hurried
down the hallway with Luke at her heels. Rounding a corner they
came upon a squad of ordinary unarmored troops; even as the
Imperials took aim and fired, their lightsabers spun into action,
twin beams of energy repelling every shot. Most of the troopers
died from their own blasts. Leia took a deep breath and looked
for the corridor that had to lead to the inner yard where the
vehicles were kept. She couldn't help feeling that time was
running out. Beside and a little behind her, she could feel
Luke's anxiety rising to match her own, which worried her all the
For a moment Andra's eyes cleared, and K'Tarah thought -
briefly, hopefully - that it would be all right. But then Andra's
eyes shifted, to look over K'Tarah's shoulder at something behind
her, and with a numbing horror K'Tarah saw her dream come to
"Would I lie to you - to either of you - Andra my child?"
Samsar asked, and that voice wrapped itself coldly around
K'Tarah's head in tiny prickles, dulled her senses so that for a
moment she reeled, unsure of which way was up. "The lady Jedi is
deluded by this man Skywalker, who is himself deluded into
believing that he has mastered the powers of the Force. But he
has not. He does not make full use of its power, and the lady
Jedi too would demand restraint. Why follow them, when I will
show you all that is possible?"
Now Samsar's voice grew soft and cunning, while K'Tarah
stood frozen. She did not know whether to act on rage, or on
terror, but no other actions were possible. Her arms trembled
with the upwelling, it made the world swim before her eyes, and
Samsar's words seemed to come from a great distance: "She would
kill you rather than let you follow me. And it is Skywalker's
teaching that would make her do so."
K'Tarah blinked, and slowly her eyes refocused, to see
Andra's gaze return to her. Andra smiled, and her eyes glittered
with a malice not her own. Suddenly the smile vanished. "Would
you?" she asked. "Would you let me die?"
The voice was a child's, but K'Tarah could feel the current
flowing from the figure behind her, whom she could not see but of
whom she was all too aware. She hesitated.
She waited too long, for the tears spilled out of Andra's
eyes, and she screamed, her thin hands clenching into fists so
that the tendons stood out. With the suddenness of a viper, she
K'Tarah slid backward, almost stumbling but capable of
motion again. Samsar didn't care as long as he got one of them.
If she let Andra kill her rather than fight, what would that do
to a child's mind? But if she killed, would she be able to live
with what she had done?
Her thumb moved instinctively, and her lightsaber sprang to
life, the flash reflecting from Andra's eyes. Andra stumbled
back, seeming momentarily blinded although the light was not
bright, and K'Tarah stopped, and stared at the humming blade as
if she had no idea how it had gotten there.
She is lost to you. She must be destroyed.
K'Tarah didn't move, only stared at the child who huddled
away from her, fear replacing what had been trust. Would Andra
hate her now, and become in the end as uncompassionate as Samsar?
There is another way.
She didn't know if the thought was hers, or someone else's;
but another presence had invaded this hall like a breath of wind.
Samsar did not seem to notice.
"No," she said, looking at Andra who cowered and stared at
her with wide, tear-filled eyes. K'Tarah switched off her saber
and hung it on her belt. Still ignoring the presence of Samsar
behind her, although now she could feel his rising anger, she
held out the hand that had lately held her weapon.
"Andra," she said. I would never harm you. Could I, who
pulled you from the wreckage of your home? Who came here for your
sake, although I erred in so doing? She did not speak aloud, but
it seemed that Andra heard her, for she straightened, and her
face relaxed. I have no family to my knowledge, but I feel you
are my sister, my daughter, even if our blood is different. Will
you trust me?
Andra stood up, and came forward, and took K'Tarah's hand.
And the darkness that had wrapped itself around her faded, and
the darkness that had welled up inside cooled, and sank, and
Now K'Tarah turned. "The Jedi do not kill needlessly,
Samsar. We do not kill for personal loss, nor for vengeance, nor
for hatred. We are people of compassion, and do not punish where
mercy would serve, nor hate where love might be. And I am a Jedi,
He didn't answer. But something at once hot and cold slammed
into her back. She heard Andra scream in pain, a high, thin
sound, as she tumbled across the floor from the blow. She smelled
ozone, and knew then what had struck her. Luke had told her what
had happened to him, once upon a time.
She rolled, swearing under her breath. The floor was empty,
there was nothing to hide behind, but she wasn't thinking by
then, only trying to escape the pain that made her legs tremble
and her arms twitch as she tried to get to her feet.
Leia's lightsaber dispatched a stormtrooper than had been
left at the entryway to the inner yard, and she followed it
around the last corner. Now she was behind the troopers who were
shooting over the barricade. Beside her, she felt Luke flinch.
"What is it?" she asked, speaking low into his ear. They
still had the element of surprise here, and she didn't want to be
His voice was tight, as if he were having trouble breathing.
"K'Tarah..." he said. "No, it's Andra. Something's happening in
She touched his shoulder; the muscles were tight. "Luke,
relax. She can take care of it."
"I don't know."
"Trust her. You said yourself - this is her battle, not
yours." Stray blaster bolts from the New Republic troops flew
over the Imperials' heads, splattering into the yard to explode
against ground transports and walls in a shower of sparks. She
looked out again, wondering if she could get behind the
stormtroopers without getting hit.
"I have to go," he said, and she turned her head to look at
him. He sounded like his voice might break any second. "Leia, I
can't let her die."
"You said you wouldn't interfere!" Leia hissed, but she was
starting to doubt her own words. Facing your destiny was one
thing, but what if it got you killed?
Perhaps he sensed her doubt, for he suddenly relaxed, took a
deep breath - and flinched again. "I've got to."
She nodded, slapped his shoulder gently. "Go. I'll cover
Together, they raced out into the yard. Leia halted halfway
across, lightsaber ready for anything that might come over the
barricade. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Luke vanish like
a shadow into one of the other doorways, following the trail of
whatever it was he'd felt.
Strange that she hadn't. But he was closer to K'Tarah than
Dispassionately, she levelled her saber's blade at the
oncoming bolts. The Force streamed through her arms and they
moved as if of their own volition to block the shots as she
considered the row of stormtroopers who were not yet aware of her
Beyond them, she heard Han shouting. A moment later the New
Republic fire ceased. The stormtroopers rose, ready to break past
their barricade - and Leia hurled her lightsaber in a spinning
arc, a humming, whirling glow that sliced through the air with
A moment later, it was all over. Leia's lightsaber flew back
into her hand as Lewons and Han charged in at the head of the New
K'Tarah whirled around, and stumbled as another volley
caught her. Falling to one knee, she reached with a numbed right
hand for the lightsaber at her belt. She could barely feel her
fingers grasp it as she fumbled for the activation switch. The
moment of immobility was enough. The blue-white discharges of
electricity rained over her, touching her back, her limbs, her
face. Again she tried to rise; but her knees buckled and she
crumpled to the floor.
From a great distance she heard a high voice scream
something. It was incomprehensible, filled with rage - then the
sound of running feet, a light skittering over the stone floor.
The lightning stopped, although she could still barely move,
smelling the reek of ozone and smoke. She couldn't feel anything
Another scream, like an animal wounded, and the crackling of
discharging electricity. She forced herself to raise her head, to
Andra was caught in a halo of blue lightning, unable to
move, unable even to fall. The sound of her screams filled the
room, filled K'Tarah's head with awful noise, a pain that might
K'Tarah got one knee under her, pressed her weight onto it.
Her left hand found the cold stone, then, unsteadily, feeling her
breathing rasp hoarsely in her chest, she tottered to her feet.
Her right hand came up as if guided by some will other than her
own. The blade of her lightsaber sprang into existence.
Before her, Andra screamed again, a high, tortured sound
wrung from a ravaged throat. Strength flooded into K'Tarah's
limbs at the sound. She forced down the pain, ignoring it,
ignoring the weakness in her knees and her wavering vision, as
she hurled herself across the room, leaping in front of Andra to
catch the full force of Samsar's attack on her lightsaber blade.
The angry energy crackled around the beam like a living
thing; K'Tarah's wrists twitched, a motion made strong by hours
of sparring in a room on Coruscant - and the lightning, augmented
by the lightsaber's power and the force of her will into a great
blue-white bolt, threw itself back in the direction of its maker.
The energy blast hit Samsar full in the chest. Without a
word, without a sound, he toppled over backward, and didn't move
K'Tarah's arm dropped to her side. She switched off her
lightsaber and dropped it from numbed fingers onto the floor. She
turned to look behind her, stumbled to Andra's side and fell next
to her, whispering the child's name over and over.
It was short work to mop up the rest of the garrison; only a
few regular troops were left, and several noncombatant staff who
surrendered upon hearing Kantwel's decree. Leia saw to it that
those who had surrendered were sent back to the city with an
escort under the direction of one of the lieutenants, checked on
the progress Han was making on a tally of the equipment and
vehicles left behind, and went looking for her brother.
Luke had already made his way to the central meeting hall,
where he found K'Tarah sitting crosslegged in the middle of the
floor holding Andra in her lap. A soft sound reached him as he
came through the doors, which he had to cut his way through; at
first he thought K'Tarah was crying, but then he realized she was
He walked closer, and K'Tarah stopped and looked up. Her
face was streaked, but her eyes were dry. Luke glanced down at
Andra, whose eyes were closed.
"She's alive," K'Tarah said, but her voice was hoarse. "Luke
He shook his head, offered her a hand. But, lifting Andra in
her arms as she did so, she stood. "Let's go," she said quietly.
Luke looked over her shoulder, saw the form lying on the
dais, wrapped in its black cloak as if in a shroud. K'Tarah
turned her head, saw what he was looking at, and shuddered.
"You go on," he said gently. "Leia will get you a transport
back to the city, and I'll meet you there."
K'Tarah and Leia ran into each other in the hallway outside.
Leia paused to look at the still form K'Tarah held in her arms.
"She needs healing," K'Tarah said.
Leia looked at her. "So do you." She waved a nearby trooper
up the hall, instructed him to find K'Tarah a transport, then
instinctively wrapped her arm around the younger woman's
shoulders and gently hugged her before moving off.
"He's in there," K'Tarah said, nodding her head toward the
ruined doors. Leia only nodded, stopping to watch as K'Tarah
followed the trooper down the hall.
Luke and Leia stood side by side and looked down at the face
frozen in a death mask, a last soundless shriek of horror. Leia
nudged the body with her foot. "Who do you think he was?"
Luke shrugged. "I don't know. Perhaps he told K'Tarah his
name. And I'll bet Governor Kantwel knows, too." He took a deep,
clean breath. The dark cloud that had hovered over this place was
"Time we were gone, too," he murmured. Leia didn't answer,
but only took his arm and led him out of the hall.
The city glittered in early afternoon light, thousands of
glimmers from windowpanes and tiny air-shuttles that rode the
winds over and between the buildings.
One of these came to rest with a gentle hiss by a sprawling
residential complex, a gray, unassuming structure that cast sharp
shadows on the pavement. The passenger door popped open, and Luke
Skywalker stepped out, turning to wave at the golden-plated droid
that piloted the shuttle up into the winds with exaggerated care.
He walked through the building's front entrance, the
transparent double doors hissing open to admit him, and took the
lift up seventeen stories with the quiet patience of one where he
wished to be.
The door to the apartment was slightly ajar, but Luke
knocked anyway, waiting for an acknowledgement from within.
"It's open," the voice came from inside.
Luke pushed the door further open and walked inside. "I
could see that," he said, coming into the wide main room of the
K'Tarah stood with her back to him, looking down out of the
window, her forehead pressed against the pane. She raised one
hand, but didn't turn around or otherwise acknowledge him.
"I did a records search," he said to her back.
He struggled for words suddenly, against that
unreceptiveness. "Not much," he said, feeling awkwardly casual.
"Nothing from the Imperial files, and all the Old Republic had to
say about Samsar was that he was a Jedi Knight who abandoned the
Order shortly before Palpatine began to destroy it. Nothing on
what he did after that." Although it said plenty. Maybe the
former Traskan Governor, no longer serving any government in any
official capacity, could tell them something.
He doubted it.
K'Tarah responded to this news with a leaden "Oh," still not
turning or making any other motion. The sunlight slanted through
the window, surrounding her in its golden glow.
Luke crossed the room to stand next to her, leaning one
shoulder against the window. "Andra's doing all right," he said
quietly. "The em-dee says she was suffering some nerve damage and
bone calcification, but she'll recover. She's fine."
K'Tarah's shoulders relaxed, although she didn't move. "I'm
glad," she said, but her voice sounded dead.
It took her a long time to answer. "Luke, I almost died, but
that wouldn't have been so bad. Not for me. But Andra - I almost
got her killed, too. How could I have been so stupid?" She made a
fist and punched it against the windowpane, which withstood the
blow with inanimate patience.
"Should I have let you go?" he asked, turning his head to
look out over the city. He felt as if worlds hung on her answer.
She looked at him. "Yes." Some of the stillness was gone
from her voice, and she added, "Whatever happened, was up to me.
You let me choose. No one made me take that choice but myself."
"So what does that mean?"
She stood up straight and looked out across the city. "I am
Luke smiled. "Then you did well."
"But what if - " He stopped her, held up a hand. "There is
no 'what if' for the past, K'Tarah. What is done, is done. And
both of you are stronger."
She stood still for awhile, turning that over in her mind,
her hands clasped tightly in front of her.
"Yes," she said at last. "Let's go check on Andra."
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