TATOOINE, Outer Rim
The trek from the canyon to the Sand People's settlement wasn't a short one, nor was it a pleasant one. Despite's Harry's magic taking the searing heat away from wind and sun, the constant sting of the sand being swept along by the breeze was an irritant in and of itself. It was one that Ahsoka was beginning to deeply dislike—mainly because it gave her an intimate understanding of why the Sand People were so content to wrap themselves up in the desert.
They'd been walking so long, and walked so far, that they'd since left the endless desert and entered a rocky area that consisted of countless canyons that wound their way around an equally countless amount of large mesas.
"Thirsty?" Harry asked from beside Ahsoka.
Ahsoka looked toward him and found him holding out a canteen of water. "Where did you—oh I don't even care, give me that," Ahsoka said, snatching it out of his hand and immediately gulping down multiple mouthfuls. She let out a sigh of content and handed it back. "Thanks."
"My pleasure," Harry said as he took the canteen back and turned his gaze toward the sand person leading them. He called out to it in the strange language that they used, and as it turned toward him, he tossed the canteen.
The sand person fumbled with it, but managed to catch the canteen and looked at it for a few seconds before giving a warble. It lifted the canteen to its facial mask and somehow drank it. Ahsoka didn't pay enough attention to figure that part out, instead she looked back to the human beside her.
He was peculiar—not just in his abilities which, in and of themselves were oddities and impossibilities—but his very demeanour. She knew few people who would have been willing to walk side by side such a savage creature unarmed, more so back to a gathering of substantially more, well known for their brutality. There was a confidence about him that if she hadn't already gotten a glimpse of what he was capable of, she would have labelled as arrogance.
Harry noticed her stare, and soon she found his green eyes turned back on her, an ever present smile on his lips. "What's on your mind Ahsoka?"
Ahsoka turned her gaze forward, breaking eye contact. "I was just thinking about what you did back there," she explained. "Taking his memory of his language and absorbing it. It's similar to a dark side ability called Drain Knowledge."
Harry's eyebrows rose. "It wasn't that, I assure you."
"I know," Ahsoka responded after a moment of silence. "I was just commenting on the similarity," she said, before shaking her head and smiling. "Did you know that Jedi have their own method for getting around language barriers?" She asked.
Harry tilted his head slightly. "They do?"
Ahsoka nodded and forced a grin. "They do—two in fact. One is called Force Listening, and the other is called Comprehend Speech. My former Master's master was quite skilled at them and taught me a thing or two about the former. It allows one to listen through the force to others at a distance and even understand words in other languages."
"So you could have just asked him, instead of me doing that?" Harry asked, giving her a strange look.
"I couldn't have," Ahsoka admitted and looked toward the back of the sand person who was still lavishing in the canteen of water. "It only works on sentients who are willing to communicate, the sand people are too xenophobic for it to work."
Neither Ahsoka nor Harry spoke for several minutes. They walked in silence.
"Do you want to learn their language?" Harry suddenly asked, catching Ahsoka by surprise.
"Can I?" Ahsoka asked in surprise, before she could stop herself.
"Of course," Harry said, "My mind's already done most of the heavy lifting with word association. It should be a simple matter for you."
Ahsoka genuinely considered the offer. It was enticing, being able to learn and understand a language just like that. She'd seen how quickly Harry had gone from staring at the sand person to conversing with it. It would certainly be more convenient than having him translate for her—which she wasn't even sure that he would. He hadn't thus far.
Ahsoka licked her lips. "If I say no, you'll still tell me what they're saying, right?" She asked, looking at Harry.
"Of course," Harry said without hesitation. "I just figured you'd prefer to hear things first hand."
Ahsoka mulled over it for a few more seconds, before smiling and shaking her head. "I'm fine," she said. "Thank you for the offer, but…" She struggled to put into words why she didn't like the idea beyond 'because the Jedi taught her to be mindful of mental manipulations'.
"I understand," Harry said, smiling warmly at Ahsoka. "It took me a while to get comfortable with things like this as well. I don't begrudge you for being wary."
Ahsoka smiled in relief.
The smile lasted a whole second, before Ahsoka felt it. She almost cursed. She'd been so distracted by their conversation that she'd barely noticed the large group presence in the force ahead of them. "We're almost there," Ahsoka informed Harry.
As if on cue, their bandaged wrapped guide began to wail loudly, his screeching voice echoing throughout the canyons around them. Even before the echoes ended, there was multiple shrieks, distinctively different from the first.
"What's going on?" Ahsoka asked Harry, turning toward him.
"He's telling them that he's bringing guests and not to shoot us on sight," Harry replied with a faintly amused look on his face.
"And the others?"
Harry was hesitant to say, but in the end answered. "They're basically telling him that if we mess up or offend them, then he is going to die with us for bringing outsiders to their settlement."
"That doesn't sound very promising."
"I'm sure we'll be fine," Harry said, "We just have to avoid offending them."
Ahsoka watched as more and more sand people began to appear around them, all of them wielding a brutal looking pole weapon in hand, various shapes of spikes and blades on one end, and large heavy opposite ends. She could see more than a few stained with red.
As they rounded a bend in the canyon, they caught glimpse of a small sea of makeshift huts under the shadow of nearby ridge. "I hope you know what you're doing, Harry, for both our sakes," Ahsoka said, her voice quiet as they were lead into the proverbial rancors den.
Ahsoka was no stranger to being the centre of attention, but there something to be said about dozens of masked faces staring at you with a mixture of curiosity and in many cases, outright hostility.
They were whisked along to the centre of the makeshift village to the largest hut where they found themselves alone and face to face with a single sand person who was kneeling on a large leather mat. There was nothing really different about him, he looked the same as any of the other dozens she had seen, except… the weapon beside him was slightly more ornate than the others she had seen.
If Ahsoka was a betting girl, she'd say that he was the leader of the village—their Chieftain.
The Chieftain said something and Harry lowered himself onto his knees and sat on his heels. He gave Ahsoka a pointed look and she quickly did the same, dropping onto her knees and resting her rear on the back of her ankles.
Harry said something to the Chieftain, lifting a hand up and gesturing to Ahsoka.
Ahsoka suddenly found herself the object of the Chieftain's attention and found herself straightening her back slightly as she was put under scrutiny. She was already regretting the decision not to have Harry implant the language for her.
The Chieftain turned back to Harry and inclined its head.
Harry responded in its language, before speaking in basic again. "He's agreed to let me translate for you, Ahsoka," Harry explained, sending her a brief smile, before he turned his attention back to the sand person in front of them.
The Chieftain spoke.
"Why have you come before the People of the Sand, outsider?" Harry translated, before responding, "We come seeking knowledge of the history of the sand people and this planet."
There was a long stretch of silence and Ahsoka could feel the chieftains gaze burning into Harry, even though his mask and goggles.
"The history of my people is sacred and not for outsiders to hear at their own whim. If you wish to prove yourself worthy of such an honour, prove yourself to be friends of my people," Harry said, translating what the chieftain said as he spoke, before replying in kind.
The Chieftain reached to the side and picked up a crude cup that looked like it had been carved out of stone and set it in between himself and Harry.
Harry picked up the cup and held it in one hand. He brought his other hand up and began to trace his fingertip around the rim, closing his eyes as he did so.
As close as Ahsoka was, she was able to see inside the cup and watched in fascination as moisture began to condense and slowly by slowly the cup began to fill with water. She watched in rapt attention as Harry extended the cup forward, showing the Chieftain who, despite his masked face was expressing genuine wonder at the sight
"I give you the gift of water as a gesture of friendship," Harry said calmly and slowly turned his hand, tilting the cup and beginning to pour the water out onto the hut floor.
Ahsoka flinched as the Chieftain let out a howl of outrage—only for Harry to hold up a hand and speak again, quelling the anger at what Ahsoka assumed was his waste of water.
It was then that Ahsoka—and the Chieftain—noticed something. The cup was still pouring water despite the growing puddle on the floor, far more water than it should have been able to hold. Finally, Harry stopped, turning the cup upright and extending it toward the Chieftain who cautiously accepted it. As he passed it over, Ahsoka noticed that the water level hadn't changed at all.
"What the heck did you do?" Ahsoka whispered to Harry, "How did you do that?"
Harry smiled and mouthed the word 'Magic', much to Ahsoka's chagrin and nodded toward the Chieftain.
Ahsoka glanced back toward their 'host' and saw that he was examining the cup, rotating it in his hands. Finally, he reached over to a nearby bowl and placed it in front of him before beginning to pour the cups contents into the much larger bowl. He moved to upend the cup completely, only for Harry to hold up a hand and speak.
"If you empty the cup, there will be no more, as long as there is water, there is water," Harry said afterward for Ahsoka's sake.
The Chieftain stopped and regarded Harry for a long moment before nodding and setting the cup down again. It began to speak, its voice holding a reverent tone, despite the sounds it was making.
Ahsoka noticed that Harry had gone still for a brief moment, before he relaxed and smiled, inclining his head.
Ahsoka nudged him.
"Sorry," Harry said, before repeating what had been said. "I accept the gift of water on behalf of my tribe, wizard. Know that you are now friend of the Kr'kah'rrk," Harry paused, before adding on, "That's their tribe name."
The Chieftain lifted a hand up and gestured toward Ahsoka.
Harry grimaced. "He's asking what gift of friendship you brought for them," he said, looking troubled.
"I didn't bring anything," Ahsoka pointed out quickly, her eyes wide in a mixture of surprise and concern, before her mind kicked into gear. "I-I mean there are some spare electronics in the back of the speeder, would those work?"
"Relax," Harry said reassuringly, before turning back to the Chieftain and talking to it.
They conversed back and forth, and from what Ahsoka could see the Chieftain wasn't reacting badly to whatever Harry was saying to it.
Finally, it turned to face her and spoke.
"Tell me why you have come before the tribe," Harry translated for her. "What do you seek, orange child?"
"I'm only here because you're here," Ahsoka pointed out to Harry, "I'm looking for whatever it is you're looking for."
"I don't think he'll respond well to that," Harry admitted, reaching up and lightly scratching his cheek. "Personally, I'd respond with something profound that he can't take offence to or question."
Ahsoka raised an eyebrow skeptically at Harry's suggestion, but didn't dismiss it out of hand. She mulled over the question, unwilling to just say the first thing that came to her mind. Saying that she was only there because Harry was there was the truth, however, it wasn't the whole truth.
The truth was… The truth was that the first words that Harry had ever said to her—before they had even seen each other—had been more right than she had been willing to admit at the time.
"I've lost my way," Ahsoka finally said, looking at the Chieftain, even as Harry began to translate for her. "I once had a purpose, but it was taken away from me by betrayal, deceit and mistrust. I travel with Harry so that one day, I can find what I'm searching for, both within me, and within the force itself."
As soon as Harry finished translating for her, there was another round of silence as the Chieftain stared at her through his goggles. There was an intensity to his look that hadn't been there when he had been looking at Harry.
The uncomfortable notion that perhaps she had inadvertently offended him niggled at the back of Ahsoka's mind, and she found herself squirming ever so slightly, despite her best attempts to keep calm and collected.
The Chieftain finally broke the silence, gesturing as he spoke.
"The spirits have brought you before the Sand People so that you may seek enlightenment and find your path through a journey of self-discovery," Harry said, "In ancient times, the lost would be set the task of anointing themselves with the blood of a Demon of the Sand." As Harry spoke, the Chieftain brought its hand up to its face, drawing lines over its forehead and cheeks.
"Destiny has foretold your arrival, fate has brought you here to aid my people. There is a place known to the sand people as the Valley of Spirits. Many years ago a tribe brought the vengeance of a ghost upon them. It cursed the land with the blood it spilt by way of its sun sword. We pay tribute and sacrifice to appease the ghost, lest it turn its gaze to Kr'kah'rrk…"
Harry stopped translating and began to intently listen to the Chieftain, leaving Ahsoka with no idea what was being said—not that she would have been listening. No, her attention had faltered the moment she had heard the term 'sun sword'. She'd heard that term before from primitive species in relation to lightsabers. What she couldn't understand was what had prompted the Sith to attack one of the sand people villages in the past.
As Ahsoka furiously thought over everything she knew about Tatooine and the sand people, the Chieftain and Harry had finished talking.
Ahsoka's gaze snapped up, and she found Harry looking at her in concern. "Are you alright?"
Ahsoka shook her head and smiled, "Yeah, of course, has he told you what I need to do yet?" She asked, glancing to the Chieftain.
Harry looked at her for a moment in silence before nodding. "He has," he said, "but I'm not certain if you should do it," he admitted, "It's dangerous."
"One of the sand demons that he talked about has made the valley of the spirits its home," Harry explained with a grimace. "He wants you to go there and deal with it, alone. He won't let me go with you to help."
"That seems straight forward enough," Ahsoka said after a second, considering the request. It would be a lot easier if she had a lightsaber, but beggars couldn't be choosers—plus she doubted that the sand people would react well to a 'sun sword' in their presence.
"Ahsoka," Harry began to say. "I don't think you understand how dangerous a sand demon is."
"Then enlighten me," Ahsoka said dryly.
"They hunt krayt dragons for food," Harry said, a serious look on his face.
"Oh." Ahsoka stared. Krayt Dragons were huge and could grow as long as fifty meters and as tall as ten meters. They were one of the apex predators on the planet, able to swallow people whole. "That's bad," she said, biting her bottom lip.
"Just a bit, yeah," Harry agreed. "I'm not going to force you to do this," he told her firmly. "It's far too dangerous for you."
Ahsoka frowned. "Says who?" she demanded to know, folding her arms across her chest.
Harry opened his mouth to respond, before stopping, closing it, considering and nodding. "You're right, it isn't for me to say if it's too dangerous for you or not," he admitted, "I'm just concerned for you, from how he's described it, these things are something that I wouldn't want to tussle with."
Ahsoka took a breath and exhaled slowly before smiling at Harry. "You worry too much," she told him, "Where do I need to go?"
Harry looked at Ahsoka for a long time, before shaking his head and smiling at her. "You're proper brilliant, you know that right? You'd fit right at home in Gryffindor."
"I have no idea what that is," Ahsoka informed him.
Harry chuckled. "No, you wouldn't," he agreed, before sobering up. He turned toward the Chieftain and asked him a question in their language.
He got a response.
"Come on, I'll walk you to the edge of the village," he told her and slowly stood up.
Ahsoka did so as well, stretching slightly as she considered the task before her. "I get a feeling I shouldn't have turned down the blaster or sword from earlier," she said mildly as they began to walk.
"No," Harry said with a shake of his head. "I don't think you were wrong to do that. This is a journey of self-discovery for you, I don't think violence is the way you should go about it." He paused. "But that's not for me to decide, is it?"
Ahsoka didn't respond as they walked through the village, sand people on all sides, silently watching them. Most of them had ditched their weapons along with the outright hostility. Meeting with the chieftain had apparently earned them form of leeway.
"What happens if I fail?" Ahsoka asked, her voice quiet.
Harry didn't answer straight away, and it wasn't until they reached the edge of the village that he did. "I imagine if you don't return victorious, they'll be unhappy and try to take it out on me," he admitted, before flashing her a smile. "Not that they'd succeed. Just stay safe Ahsoka, that's all I ask."
"Where do I need to go?" Ahsoka repeated her earlier question as she stared out along the canyon.
"This area is called the Jundland Wastes by the settlers," Harry said, "To the west is the Western Dune Sea, the Valley of the Spirits is somewhere between here and there. If you see a massive rock formation that looks like a bridge then you're going the right way. They call it B'Thazoshe." He hesitated for a moment before adding, "Don't go under it, the sand people believe that it brings misfortune if you don't fire a weapon into it before passing, and well, you don't have a blaster."
Ahsoka rolled her eyes and smiled, despite herself. "Yet another reason why I should have brought one," she said mildly before shaking her head. "Don't worry, Harry, I'll be back before you know it."
"I know," Harry smiled back at her, reaching out and lightly touching her upon the shoulder. "Good luck."
With that said, Ahsoka wasted no more time and began to walk away from the village. As she walked she could hear more of the sand people speaking in their guttural language.
She couldn't help but wonder who was going to be in more danger, her with the sand demon, or the sand people with Harry. It perplexed her how quickly he was capable of acting like a wise jedi master one moment, and an excitable youngling with their first training saber the next.
Ahsoka looked up toward the sky and saw that the light blue was beginning to darken and take on a more purplish tone, a sure sign that the day had progressed into the afternoon. She had no idea how many more hours of sunlight she had left, but she had to make the most of them. Once more she cursed Harry insisting that they left the speeder behind and broke out into a sprint.
She had no idea how long Harry's magic would last, nor what would happen once the sun had set and there was no more heat to cool, but while she had it, she was going to take advantage. With renewed purpose, Ahsoka began to run along the canyon bottom, her eyes set forward, intent on reaching the 'Valley of the Spirits' before the sun set.
The wind whipped past her, grains of sand carrying along with it as she raced onward. Half an hour later she found herself exiting the canyon out onto a large open rocky plane that spread out into the desert beyond.
The sky had long since been dyed a burning red that cast the world itself in a purplish orange glow. In the far distance to the west, Ahsoka spied what she could have only assumed was the natural bridge that Harry had told her to look for. Even as far away as she was from it, it was still massive.
Ahsoka let out a breath and began to hurriedly make her way toward it. As she got closer and closer, it became readily apparent that she was walking toward the sunset as Tatooine's twin suns dipped below the bridge and began to sink beyond the horizon.
Ahsoka watched in muted wonder as twilight began to set in and the cloudless sky itself looked as though it had caught fire, casting the horizon in hues of yellow, orange and red. There was something familiar about it, though Ahsoka couldn't quite put her finger on it—nor did she have the time.
By the time she passed under the bridge the suns had well and truly set, casting the land in a darkness only broken up by the bright stars above.
The magic that Harry had bestowed her with had long since fizzled out by the time Tatooine's three moons had risen into the sky. The bitter cold of the night bit at her skin, and made her regret not bringing along warmer clothes.
Suddenly, at the edge of her senses, Ahsoka felt something…dark. At first it was barely noticeable, but as she continued forward, it began to grow and grow until it was impossible not to feel it.
A beacon of darkness within the night.
It was repulsive and unsettling. She could scarcely imagine what acts of horror had been committed to taint the land to the point where it could be sensed miles away.
Steeling her nerves, Ahsoka began her final approach, climbing up over onto a rock mesa that stood between her and the valley beyond. She was mindful as she scaled the wall, using the force to enhance her ability to scale it with the use of empowered jumps.
Ahsoka pulled herself up onto the top and dusted herself off, making her way to the other side. As high as she was, she could feel the chilling night breeze biting at her skin, she couldn't help but wrap her arms around herself, rubbing her upper arms to try and stave it off.
The moons and stars lit up the valley below with a faint white light, illuminating the remains of a village much like the one that Ahsoka had found herself at hours earlier. None of the huts were intact, their frames of bone and animal leather having been unable to withstand Tatooine's inhospitable mercies after so long.
Ahsoka slowly crouched down on the edge of the mesa, peering down at the ruins. She couldn't see any signs of movement, no sign of a 'sand demon'. There was a visible pile of something at the centre of the village—what it was, she couldn't say from this distance.
Still… the dark presence in the force that ensnared the land, it unsettled her deeply and she found herself reluctant to go down. She had no trouble understanding why the Sand People thought that it had been cursed by an angry ghost.
"Alright Ahsoka," Ahsoka said to herself, "Time to head down to the creepy village." With a deep breath she drew upon the force and dropped down over the edge of the mesa.
She fell fast, but she was unconcerned, even as the wind whipped past her, burning her eyes, she could feel the force within her, empowering her and giving her strength and resilience. As the ground began to close in on her, Ahsoka tucked her limbs in and curled up, spinning forward and at the last second, extending her limbs and landing in a crouch. She felt a shudder run through her bones at the impact, but the majority of it had been buffered by a sudden burst of force she let loose at the last second to cushion her fall.
Ahsoka let out a short breath and stood up, turning toward the ruined sand people village and beginning to make her way toward it. As she got closer she found herself tensing as the oppressive nature of the dark side that permeated the area began to gnaw at her.
By the time she first set foot inside the ruins of the village, she found herself on edge, her fists clenched at her side. As she slowly walked in, she began to see more and more details that had eluded her from far away. Large white bones scattered the area—no doubt the remains of the Bantha that the sand people had domesticated. There were smaller bones scattered around including skulls that had been cut in half and whole skeletons that had been split down the middle.
Right at the center of it all there was what appeared to be an altar. Upon it there were various trinkets, some metal, some organic,—along with… Ahsoka found herself stopping and staring at a pile of bodies in varying states of decay. They ranged from dried out husks to yellowed bones with gristle hanging off them.
A wave of nausea overcame Ahsoka. "I'm going to be sick," she muttered as she took a step back, revulsion overcoming her. The sand people had been so civil with her and Harry, that she forgot what they were, and how barbaric they could be.
Ahsoka was so overcame by her disgust at the sight that she barely registered that something was approaching. It was only thanks to the passive echolocation provided by the montral atop of her head that she wasn't caught completely unaware.
Ahsoka lunged backwards as the sand exploded out from beneath her and something large and ferocious tore itself up out of the rock and sand below, with razor sharp talon-like legs, showering the ruins of the camp with debris.
The creature let out a shrieking howl from a massive mouth filled with needle-like teeth. On either side of its head there were curved eye stalks, each contained a single blood red eye that were locked onto her, even as she continued to dash backwards to put distance between her and it.
Once Ahsoka had managed to claim some breathing room, she took a chance to get a look at the thing that had ambushed her.
The Sand Demon was large—not big enough to easily swallow her in one bite, but big enough to attempt the feat and have a decent chance at pulling it off. It had six mottled black legs that were apparently powerful enough to cleave through rock as if it were dirt. Its carapace was a greenish yellow, between the segments of which pale tan muscle could be seen.
Ahsoka's hands reached down to her waist for her lightsabers on instinct, only to find nothing. Once more, for the second time in as many days, Ahsoka cursed her lack of Lightsaber and cursed Harry for putting her in another situation where she was faced with something that wanted to eat her.
The sand demon let out a screech of challenge and rampaged forward, it's talon-like legs gouging holes in the rock beneath them as it charged toward her.
Ahsoka gave herself over to the force and lunged forward, rolling beneath the creatures body as it swung it's front legs, gouging out deep trenches in the rocky surface and sending shards of rock flying.
Ahsoka came to her feet and broke out into a sprint, putting distance between her and the vicious creature as it turned around and once more charged her.
Ahsoka's heart pounded in her chest as she found herself besieged by the monstrous creature as it savagely pursued her. It took her entire attention and all the skill she had gained over the course of the Clone Wars to evade its relentless pursuit. She was starkly aware that even a glancing blow would maim, if not outright kill her. She had no room for error, no room to think, only to react, darting beneath it and avoiding its legs as it attempted to skewer her as she dashed back out.
"This was a terrible idea," Ahsoka complained to herself as she ducked and rolled out of the way of another vicious series of swipes that tore the stone itself asunder. As she came to her feet, she found her foot caught on something. Her eyes widened as she realized that she'd stumbled upon one of the huts coverings.
Thinking quickly, Ahsoka gripped the edge of the animal leather and flipped forward, yanking it up behind her. She felt the ground tremble as the creature charged her, and at the last second she leapt up using the force to boost her. She twisted in the air, pulling the large thick blanket of leather up and into the path of the sand demon.
She gripped the edges tight as she felt the tension snap to in the leather and landed on the creatures back. She held on for dear life as the creature beneath her roared in frustration and began to thrash around, attempting to free itself.
"Make this easier on yourself and give up!" Ahsoka shouted out over the top of the sand demons howls. The creature's massive legs tore into the rock, sundering it violently in its efforts to be freed, culminating in the ground below shattering and falling out from beneath them.
Ahsoka's eyes widened in panic as she suddenly found herself weightless in fall. She and the sand demon she rode dropped, its violent thrashing causing them both to spin out of control as they fell, chunks of rock falling around them.
With an almighty kick, Ahsoka launched herself clear of the sand demon, bounding to a large falling chunk of rock, and then another, and another, climbing higher and higher amongst the falling debris in an attempt to reach the surface.
With a final empowered jump, Ahsoka launched herself toward the edge of the hole, her hands reaching up. A thrill of relief surged through her as she felt the cold dry rock of the still solid surface edge.
The relief lasted as long as it took the rock beneath her fingers to crumble.
She fell into darkness.
Ahsoka shut her eyes as the wind stung them. Had she been a lesser Jedi, or not a Togruta, she may have panicked. As it was, she focused on the sensory information provided by her montral. She heard and felt the stones hitting the cavern floor below and used the sound to estimate how far below the ground was.
At the last second she drew upon the force and as she landed, she let out a telekinetic burst, buffering her fall, even as the ground beneath her trembled from the blast. She stumbled as her feet hit the ground and found loose rocks beneath them, but managed to keep from falling over.
Ahsoka let out a shuddering breath as the dust that filled the air began to settle, and the sounds of tiny fragments of rocks hitting the ground slowly pattered off.
For the briefest moments, Ahsoka held hope that she had been lucky enough that the fall had managed to kill the Sand Demon—or at least knocked it unconscious. She cursed herself for even considering the possibility that the universe would have been kind to her as, at the far end of the cavern, she heard stone groaning and shifting.
The Sand Demon burst out from beneath the rubble that had piled atop it, letting out a shriek of maddened rage. Through the dim moonlight, that had begun to filter through the dust, Ahsoka could make out its shape as it thrashed, its massive talons clawing at the rubble around it and pulling itself out from beneath the pile of stone and rock.
In that moment, as the beast snarled and tried to find her, Ahsoka had an epiphany. The Sand Demon was angry. It had been angry from the start. It made no sense. If it had been attacking her out of hunger or in defence of its territory—Ahsoka could have understood, but from the very beginning it had been practically frothing at the mouth.
As clouded as her senses were, Ahsoka could clearly feel the hand of the darkside at work, driving the creature rabid. As long as its mind was tainted, it would not stop, it would not rest.
Ahsoka lifted a hand up, extending it toward the Sand Demon, even as it caught sight of her and let out a furious screech. She closed her eyes, reached out through the force and connected with it.
There was no time for doubt, no room for hesitation. Ahsoka felt the ground tremble beneath as the beast charged across the cavern, it's powerful legs shattering the loose rock that scattered the floor.
She reached across the space that separated them, into the maddened creatures mind and supplanted the power of the dark side with her own, pushing away the dark emotions that plagued the sand demon with peace and tranquillity.
Ahsoka was so focused so intensely on reaching through the force, that at first she didn't realize that she wasn't in agonising pain, and that the cavern had gone silent. Ahsoka slowly cracked open her eyes, and found the sand demon's tooth filled maw mere inches away. It's eyes while still red, were no longer murderous.
She watched as the sand demon slowly rose back up and stepped backwards, putting a small amount of distance between them as it stared down at her, a perplexed look in its eyes.
"I can't believe that worked," Ahsoka muttered to herself, shaking her head before smiling up at the sand demon. "Hi," she greeted, and then found that she had nothing else to say to it. What could she say? 'Hi, I want your blood'?
With the immediate danger out of the way, and the sand demon more or less docile, Ahsoka took a moment to get a good look at it, both with her eyes in the dim light from above, as well as through the force.
It certainly was a vicious creature, but Ahsoka couldn't sense any outright hostile intent anymore. As she thought about it, and took in the cavern around her, Ahsoka began to piece together what had happened.
"You… were hibernating down here," Ahsoka said slowly, turning her gaze back toward it, sensing something through the force that she tried to put into words. "You must have been tainted by the dark side while you slept," she reasoned. "Your mind corrupted by it, and when you woke up…" she trailed off, trying to imagine the state it would have been in—that it had been in when she had arrived.
Whatever the sith had done in the village above, it had turned an intelligent, vicious predator into a mindless, ravenous beast. The anger and hatred that it had manifested within it had been obscene and deadly, and yet now, she could still sense how dangerous it was, yet it posed none to her thanks to the connection she had forged between them through the force.
She could sense that it no longer wished to linger in the area, and that it was hungry. Thankfully it didn't consider her part of the dinner menu any longer.
Ahsoka let out a sigh and smiled up at the sand demon. "I don't suppose you understand that I need your blood do you?" She lamented.
The sand demon stared down at her for a long moment, before it bowed its head down and a shudder ran through it. Ahsoka watched in mild surprise as blood began to ooze out of the membrane beneath one of its eyes.
She reacted instantly as it dropped, her hands reaching out to collect it. She felt the hot blood splash against her palm. The sand demon spared her one last look, even as drop continued to drool out of its eyestalk, and then it left, turning away and vanishing into the darkness of the cavern. She could hear the faint click-clack of its six legs against the rock growing more and more faint.
But that wasn't important, what was important was the warm blood, freely given in her hands—that smelled so awful that Ahsoka thought she was going to throw up.
Her face contorted in disgust, "Oh gross!" she gagged, looking down into her hands and immediately regretting the choice. She had to put it on her face? She was never going to get rid of the smell!
Ahsoka steeled herself and brought her hands up to her face, dragging two fingers coated in the disgusting goo across her cheeks and up along her forehead. "It smells worse up close," Ahsoka groaned, her face contorted in disgust as she began to wipe her hands on her tunic, well aware that she was never going to be able to get the smell out.
With her grotesque task accomplished, Ahsoka turned her attention upward to the large whole in the roof of the cavern. As she looked up, she began to notice something strange. The dust had finally settled, and the light from the stars and moon above had begun to filter into the cave brighter and brighter, and as it did so, the ceiling of the cavern began to glimmer with flecks of silvery white light.
A strong sense of Déjà vu overcame Ahsoka. She felt—no, she knew that she had been here before. She remembered standing exactly where she was, looking up at the dark ceiling that sparkled like the night sky above. It was something important, she was certain.
As Ahsoka wracked her brain and attempted to recall, she turned her gaze away from the ceiling, and as she did, she noticed something similar happening at her feet, motes of silver trapped within the debris. She bent over and picked through the rocks, pulling out a fist sized chunk with a gleam of silver embedded in it.
She brought it up to her face and curiously examined it. Ahsoka's eyes widened as she realized what she was holding—what covered the caverns ceiling and a smile broke out on her lips despite the stench she endured.
Ahsoka gripped the rock firmly in hand and crouched down, smashing it against the floor. It broke, shattering and releasing the crystal inside it. She brushed away the remaining rock and picked up two shards of silver that had fragmented.
She held them up to the moonlight, and stared at it in fascination, watching the light refract through it and her face broke out into a smile.
Ahsoka didn't quite believe in destiny, but she did believe that if one looked closely, they could see the hand of the force in all things, somethings, more clearly than others.
She reached inside her tunic and drew out the pouch that she had received from Master Plo Koon, slipping the crystals inside and placing it back inside her clothes.
"Now, how am I going to get out of here?" Ahsoka asked herself.
The simple answer would be to try and climb out—simple in the sense that it was straight forward. The only other option was to try her hand at navigating out through the tunnels that the sand demon had taken, which lead who knew where. For all she knew they could lead further down into the planet and never reach the surface.
Ahsoka began walking toward the closest cavern wall, knowing full well that the only way she was going to get out—bar some miracle—was to climb out with her own two hands. She just had no idea how she was going to manage it.
Nor would she have to figure it out.
As if answering her unspoken prayer, she heard a familiar click-clack in the darkness of the cave. She turned to the source and watched as the sand demon from earlier emerged from the darkness.
"Oh, hey," Ahsoka said awkwardly as she found herself face to face with the creature again. "I don't suppose you could give me a lift out of here, could you?"
Ahsoka watched as the sand demon lowered itself down onto its belly to allow her to climb atop it. She found herself at a loss for words, and another smile broke out on her features as she quickly climbed aboard.
The sand demon wasted no time, and Ahsoka found herself clinging on tightly as it rapidly approached a cavern wall, and immediately began to climb, its powerful legs easily puncturing holes in the stone and lifting it up further and further.
At one point, Ahsoka found herself upside down and hanging on for dear life as gravity threatened to yank her down, but through sheer force of will, Ahsoka managed to stay attached and within minutes they were out of the gaping hole in the barren flats that had once been the 'haunted' ruins of the sand peoples village.
"Thanks for the ride, stinky," Ahsoka said with a relieved smile, reaching forward and patting the sand demon on the back of its head before hopping off and landing on the semi-solid ground.
The sand demon let out a crooning growl before vanishing back down the hole and out of sight once more.
"Probably should have asked for a ride back to the sand people camp," Ahsoka mused, she shook her head with a chuckle and turned away, beginning the long trek back to the sand people's camp.
By the time she reached the camp and saw the glowing orange of camp fire, Ahsoka was well and truly beat. Her limbs felt like they were filled with lead, and her nose had long since passed on from the worldly plain.
She hadn't expected to see anyone waiting for her, let alone for Harry to be standing there, a look of relief on his face at the sight of her. "Welcome back Ahsoka," Harry said, tension visibly leaving his body. "You had me worr—oh god, what is that smell?" His face scrunched up in disgust and he took a step back.
Ahsoka gave him a withering look. "Not one more word," she warned him, "I will end you, Harry."
Harry bit down on his bottom lip and nodded, his features tightened with a grimace. "Come… come on," he said, gesturing for her to walk with him. "Let's… ugh… get that story and get you a bath."
Ahsoka reached over and punched Harry on the shoulder as hard as she could. It barely made him wobble. "Shut up and… just shut up," she said tiredly, reaching up and rubbing her eyes. "Let's get this over with."
Most of the Sand People had been asleep from the looks of it, but as Ahsoka walked with Harry they began to peek out of their huts and at the sight of her—and probably the smell, they began to cheer, lifting their weapons up high and pumping them in the air in celebration of her victorious return.
Harry escorted her through the wailing crowd's right to the Chieftain's tent, a grin on his lips. "You're a regular superstar here now," he commented offhandedly as they stepped into the tent.
The Chieftain was sitting in the same place as he had been when Ahsoka had left all those hours ago. She couldn't help but wonder if he had even gotten up or moved in the entire time she was gone. None the less, she sat down beside Harry, taking the positions they had before.
Ahsoka found herself the centre of the sand people's leader's attention, his head turned toward her. The Chieftain bowed his head briefly, lifting a hand up and gesturing as he spoke.
"Outsider, you wandered the desert seeking enlightenment. Did you find what was lost?" Harry once again took up his role as translator.
Ahsoka's first reaction would have been to irritably rebuke the question. They'd send her to go kill a creature that had been corrupted by the dark side against its will. There had been nothing 'enlightening' about the whole experience—well, at least not by their standards of violence.
Sure she'd somehow managed to use the force to communicate with it, and sure she'd managed to purge the dark side influence, but that hadn't been part of the trial at all, had it? It had been pure happenstance. She wouldn't have even had the opportunity had they not fallen into the cavern.
Ahsoka's thought process tapered off as a slow realization dawned on her.
The Clone Wars had caused much strife in the galaxy since their inception. The Jedi had been on the front lines for the entire time, commanding the armies of the republic and doing their duties as the protectors.
Ahsoka found herself staring down at her hands numbly. Violence had become such an ingrained reaction, that if she had possessed her lightsabers when she had been confronted by the sand demon, she wouldn't have hesitated in striking it down.
She would have never learned that it was a victim of the dark side.
Ahsoka exhaled slowly and smiled despite herself. "I don't think I'm at the end of my journey yet, but I think I've discovered something important," she said. "Thank you for helping me on my first step," she said, the gratitude genuine in her voice.
The Chieftain bowed his head briefly, before turning back to Harry.
"If we've satisfied your requests, we'd like to hear your early history now, wise one," Harry said.
The Chieftain said something to which Harry frowned and responded, before frowning again as the Chieftain vehemently pounded his fist against the ground.
"What's going on?" Ahsoka asked, trying to hold back a yawn.
"Well," Harry said reluctantly. "We're not allowed to just hear the parts of their history that we want to hear." He grimaced. "It's heretical to only hear certain parts, if we're going to hear it at all, it's going to be from start to finish. It could take several hours."
"We've come this far," Ahsoka pointed out, "It'd be a shame to not hear it after everything we've—I've been through."
Harry gave her a look and shook his head in amusement, before informing the Chieftain that they were willing to hear it all.
The Chieftain slowly stood up and gestured for Ahsoka and Harry to do the same, before leading them out of his hut and letting out a loud bellow. He approached the largest bonfire in the camp and spoke to Harry, before wandering off.
"Come on," Harry said to Ahsoka, "Let's grab a good seat. He's gathering everyone for the history reciting."
They sat down and watched as the tribe gathered around the fire. It wasn't long before the Chieftain returned alongside two other sand people. The first was old, it's mask visibly worn, and was hunched over as they hobbled along, the second was younger and stood straight as it walked alongside the elder.
The two of them took centre stage with the chieftain to the side. The elder of the two inclined its head before sitting down. The younger remained standing in front of the large bonfire and began to belt out mind numbingly painful screeches.
As Ahsoka prepared for countless hours of headache inducing 'history lessons', a sudden quietness overcame her that was almost stunning in comparison to the loud noise that preceded it.
"That's a bit better, isn't it?" Harry asked, flashing a smile to Ahsoka before turning his attention back. "He's the Storyteller's apprentice," Harry explained, nodding toward the sand person. "This is his trial, if he manages to recite the whole history without making a mistake, he'll become the new storyteller of the tribe."
"What happens if he messes up?"
"For his sake let's hope he doesn't," Harry said with a grimace. "Looks like they're starting."
Harry began to listen intently and translate for her.
"In the ancient times, we were not sand people, for there was no sand. The land was green with life, and we walked without bandages. Though the land was beautiful, we lived apart from it. We build our walls high and saw beyond the horizon. We dared to reach to the stars."
Ahsoka watched the Storyteller as she listened to Harry, taking note of the grand gestures it made as it gestured to the ground and then clawed at the sky. She could scarcely imagine the 'sand people' not being sand people, or that, at some point in their civilization, they'd been capable of spaceflight—even if it was rudimentary.
"There are no words for how long ago it was. It was before the Outsiders, before the abduction, before the cities fell and before the Builders."
Ahsoka's brow furrowed. She wasn't surprised by the fact that they didn't keep track of time. She already knew the term 'Outsider', Builder, however, was a new one.
"Our arrogant ancestors touched the stars, and this sin drew the attention of the Builders. The Builders did not touch the stars; they bound them to millstones. Great demons of metal stripped the world of its riches, until all that was left was the green of the ground. The once great cities were lifted away."
Ahsoka watched as the Storyteller bowed down, scooped up a handful of sand and let it trail away through its fingers, scattering to the wind.
"Those who used the riches were taken along with them; transgressors abducted to serve past the sky, seeding the stars with penitent, adaptable slaves."
Ahsoka lifted a hand up to her lips and stifled a yawn. As she heard more and more, she began to wonder why the sand people referred to the slavers who had abducted their people as Builders. The obvious answer was that they had built something—something 'big' enough to earn that name—but that still didn't quite make sense.
"There came a time when the builders were also judged for their crimes. After generations, a plague weakened them, and the time of the Great War began. The builders faltered, and our people realized why we had been punished; so we understood the crime, and would now strike down the greater offender."
Despite her interest in the history lesson being told, as she listened to Harry, she began to feel her eyelids droop, more and more and struggled to keep awake and attentive.
"The ancestors worked chaos in the machines, so that they destroyed themselves. The builders fought back, laying waste to the green that had been misused with fire from above. Soil became glass, grinding to sand, but the fight was long-planned, and the ancestors were safe. Deep in the cave-homes carved from the valley walls. We were free."
Ahsoka wasn't sure when it happened, but at some point she had fallen asleep, she'd only realized it upon being nudged by Harry.
"Mm'awake," Ahsola murmured as she forced her eyes back open.
"Good thing," Harry said, "If you were asleep they'd have been honour bound to repeat the history, all three hours that you missed."
"I haven't been asleep for that long," Ahsoka said, frowning slightly as she glanced toward the storyteller and found him still gesturing, though she couldn't hear anything thanks to whatever magic Harry had used.
"You didn't really miss anything important," Harry said, reaching up and lightly scratching his cheek. "There was an interesting bit about a lost tribe who embraced machines that a Jedi brought at some point in the past, but besides that it was all wandering the desert and complaining about outsiders."
Ahsoka gave Harry an odd look, but didn't question him about it. Instead, she turned her attention to the sand people and watched as the elder storyteller approached the young one and they began to converse.
"He managed to recite the entire history without making a mistake," Harry told Ahsoka, "The older one is passing over the mantle of Storyteller to his apprentice and…" Harry trailed off.
Ahsoka watched as the old storyteller turned away and began to walk away from the central bonfire.
The sand people made space, and as one they all watched as he walked out of the camp, and kept walking, heading out into the desert.
She looked at Harry, only to find that he had a stony look on his face.
"What's going on?"
"The tribe only needs one storyteller, when the mantle is passed on, the old storyteller walks into the desert to wander until he passes on." Harry made a small gesture with his hand, and the sound barrier fell, causing a rush of sound to greet Ahsoka all at once.
She winced at the sudden increase in volume as the voices of the sand people suddenly reached her. "Could have warned me," she grumbled.
"Sorry," Harry said, not looking the least bit apologetic as he pushed himself up onto his feet. "Come on, we've stayed long enough, we should probably get going," he told her.
Ahsoka gave Harry a strange look, not immediately processing why he wanted to leave so suddenly, but it quickly dawned on her. "Oh." She pushed herself onto her feet and watched as Harry approached the Chieftain and bid his farewell—or made an excuse as to why they suddenly needed to leave.
Ahsoka had no idea what was being said, but from the look of things, the Chieftain was reluctant to let Harry go so soon. None the less, within minutes she found herself walking along side Harry, heading out into the desert after the old Storyteller.