this is my first fan fiction, and not my best. You've been
This is a Luke/ Mara romance.
Disclaimer : I make no claim on the Star Wars copyright. I have not nor will I ever make any money from the sale of this story. This is written with the intent to support the fan base and not in an effort to make money. Please do not distribute this work without my permission. This work is based on characters and situations that are copyright protected by George Lucas and Lucasfilms Ltd.
By Rhea Jediknight
Weakened by Force lightning Luke was unable to save himself when the temple ceiling collapsed overhead. Luke Skywalker, Jedi Master and hero of the Rebellion, died before Mara's eyes. Rubble fell down from overhead like rain until it obscured everything. Mara Jade felt numb as the darkness seemed to penetrate her soul.
She woke up with a start her heart pounding, eyes out of focus. Mara quickly looked about the room to orient herself. She lay on the bed in the cabin on the Jade's Fire. The trader closed her eyes and sent out a force tendril, tentatively seeking the Jedi Knight. She could not sense him.
Mara rose quickly from the bed and moved to the COM station. She hoped that her dream was a premonition of things yet to come and not as she feared a vision of things that have already occurred.
Filled with an suprising fear for his well being, Mara connected to Coruscant where Leia was negotiating a treaty with the Tanasi. Tanasia was a newly discovered planet on the edge of Wild Space, inhabited by a particularly force sensitive race
After exercising her negotiation skills to no avail, Mara allowed her anger to come to the surface. Unable to cope with the full brunt of her ire, the Aide scrambled to pull Leia out of a meeting.
"Mara!" Leia exclaimed, "What's wrong? What's happened?" immediately sensing the darkness that filled the red haired woman.
"Where's Luke?" Mara bit out.
The use of the Jedi's first name caused a palpable wave of concern to emanate from his sister.
"I . . . I don't know. He should be at Tanasia by now. He said something about investigating a report of a Jedi living in some abandoned Temple. Why? Is he in trouble?" Leia asked.
"When did he leave?"
"Yesterday. He won't get there for another few days."
Mara released a breath she had not even know she was holding. "Can you send me the coordinates to this planet?"
Leia gave her an odd look then nodded slowly, "I don't sense that he's in any danger."
"Not yet. Do you have his COM frequency?"
"I don't know if it will do any good. He said something about meditating on route. He was warning me that he might be incommunicado for the next day." Leia warned.
"Blast. I gotta' go."
"Mara, what's this about?"
"I don't know, not yet." Mara replied slowly.
"Keep me posted?" Leia asked.
Mara nodded somewhat reluctantly then said as an afterthought, "Thanks," before breaking the communication.
The course to Tanasia came up on the navigation display. It would be tight, but she might make it there in time. She laid in the course, abandoning her scheduled rendezvous with a fringe smugglers group. Talon Karrde would be upset, but she was sure he'd find someone else to go in her place. She sent a brief message to her boss, informing him of her change in plans. She was grateful when the Wild Karrde's computer intercepted the transmission, not wanting to explain to him how she was once again rushing across the galaxy to save a particular Jedi Knight.
Luke stood at a grassy bank overlooking a roaring waterfall the length of a mountain range. A red haired woman stood in front of him, the mist from the falls forming glistening beads of moisture on her hair. A tendril of Mara's hair escaped the silver band and floated around her face in the breeze. Her green eyes were dark and her pulse beat visibly in her neck. Unable to restrain himself, Luke pulled her against his body. The contact sent a ripple of shock through the both of them, as their emotional barriers collapsed for a moment. Luke gazed down into Mara's wide green eyes, feeling her swirling passion and something more? His heart thudded in his chest and he captured her lips with his own.
The image swirled away and in its place a darkly cowled face, shimmered into view. His face was obscured by shadow, but it was hauntingly familiar. A bolt of force lightning erupted from the palm of the dark lord's hand and then the vision was gone.
Luke jolted away, his trance broken. Luke ran through a few calming exercises to slow his heart down to a more leisurely speed. He threaded his fingers through his blond hair and glanced at the chrono on the X- Wing's dash. A quarter of a cycle remained before landing. It was only a few moments before he would have emerged from his meditation anyway.
The image of the dark Jedi disturbed Luke, but oddly enough the vision of Mara disturbed him even more. He had always found the trader attractive, but he had thought their destinies ran in different directions. Had he been wrong? Even remembering the dream, his breath became short and he was filled with a familiar longing. Had the vision been a premonition? Or one of just many possible futures?
Luke might have dismissed the entire episode as fantasy, if not for the dark lord at the end. That was certainly not something he enjoyed. There was something that eluded the Jedi; it was like a half-remembered memory. It was possible that if he tried hard enough, long enough, he just might grasp what was eluded him. Either way, he knew that the menace was powerful and all too real. A hard lump of dread settled in his stomach.
The star lines condensed to pinpricks of light.
The Jedi stretched out with his feelings. He could feel the incredible presence Tanasia had in the force. The planet shone like a beacon and Luke wondered how it had been lost to the Jedi all this time. A dark presence intruded upon his consciousness, an oily tendril sought to enter his mind. Luke swatted it away with barely a thought. A shudder rippled down his back in its wake. For the first time, Luke wondered if the Jedi he sought was a Master of the Sith.
R2D2 chirped inquisitively and Luke read the translation as it scrolled across the screen.
"Yes. I'm alright, Artoo."
Another set of lines dashed across the monitor.
"That's Okay Artoo. I'll take her in from here."
The astromech droid twittered again.
"A message? From whom?" Luke asked.
"Mara!" Luke exclaimed, not sure exactly why he was surprised. He had, after all, just been thinking about her.
More words scrolled across the screen.
"She's coming here? Artoo play back the entire message."
Mara's face appeared on the X-Wing's monitor. Luke caught his breath and found himself examining every detail of her image. "Skywalker, by the time you get this message, it may already be too late. Don't go to the planet's surface, and since knowing how hard headed you are you'll probably ignore my warning, by the Force, do not go into the Temple alone. Your life may depend on it," She paused and seemed to be looking directly at the Jedi, "Take care, Luke." The message winked out.
Luke was preparing to replay the message to see if he could detect any under currents in her emotions, when the ship was jarred out of its trajectory. It felt as if a tractor beam had locked onto the ship and was pulling it down. Luke knew that could not be. The Tanasi were a people who shunned technology. In fact, they rarely left their planet, which made it all the more impressive that they had agreed to meet the Senate on Coruscant for talks.
No. It was not a tractor beam then.
Artoo screamed, and Luke throttled the X-Wing, but could not break free of the invisible grip. Something dark had him and would not let go.
Luke closed his eyes and pushed back the power that held him. The X-Wing lurched free, but they were now much closer to the planet's surface. They spun widely out of control and Luke remembered Mara's warning, "Do not go down to the planet's surface alone."
The ground rushed up to meet him. Darkness engulfed the Jedi.
A disturbance in the force jolted Mara as she checked the surrounding star maps.
"Luke." He was in trouble. She checked the chrono and saw that it was at least a full cycle before she reached the planet. "Blast!" She was already going as fast as she could, but she busied herself with packing a survival pack and strapping her blaster and lightsaber to her belt.
It seemed like forever, but finally she was within the Tanasian system. Without knowing why, she brought the ship out of hyperspace a moment early. The planet shone as a brilliant globe, the golden sun encasing Tanasia in a brilliant halo.
Mara reached out through the force, "Luke." But received no answer. She closed her eyes and let the force guide her actions as she plunged the ship recklessly through the atmosphere. The clouds and wind swirled about the Jade's Fire buffeted about by the growing resistance. The shields grew bright red from the friction and she knew that she should ease her decent, but something told her that it would be more dangerous to slow down. Hills came into view, and when she neared she could see that they were actually mountains.
When it seemed that Mara would be unable to stop the descent, the ship righted itself and landed in a green valley undamaged. A shadow seemed to cross her mind, but when she attempted to focus on it, the presence was gone. She exited the Jade's Fire and saw that alongside her ship was Luke Skywalker's X-Wing. Or what was once an X-Wing. It was hard to tell. A twisted lump of blackened metal was all that remained of the ship.
Mara ran towards the ship. She exhaled in relief when she saw that the center dome was undamaged. It was also quite empty.
"Luke?" Mara called out with her voice as well as with her mind.
"Mara?" A mental answer came to her.
A rush of relief and joy poured out of her causing Luke's mental voice to respond, "Hey, I'm alright. Just a little banged up. Besides, I thought you wanted me dead."
Mara replied ruefully, reigning in her emotions, "You scare me like that again, and I'll kill you myself."
"You already tried that before," Luke came into view, as he walked back towards the wreckage. Artoo trailed behind. He wore his customary black cloak, hood thrown back. His dark blond hair glinted in the sunlight, and his eyes glinted with mischief.
The minute Mara saw the Jedi an image of Luke's crumpled form entered her mind. She tried to dismiss the vision and closed her eyes to keep her emotions, the despair at bay.
When she was aware of her surroundings again, she found that she had fallen to her knees, her heart beating rapidly. Luke was kneeling beside her, blue eyes gazing anxiously into her face.
"What's wrong Mara?" He brushed a strand of red hair out of her eyes, catching himself when he realized that she was wearing in her hair the same silver band from his vision.
Their eyes locked and they stared motionless. The barriers that normally existed between them seemed to fade away. Their emotions overlaped each other. Mara could feel Luke's awareness of her presence and the attraction that he attempted to hide.
Luke's mouth tipped up in a grin and Mara knew that he could also read the thoughts that had sprung unbidden to her mind.
A blush stained her cheeks and she pushed back breaking their contact, rebuilding her mental shields. Luke grabbed Mara's hand and kissed the palm. His lips were warm against her flesh. Her fingers curled reflexively and a tingling sensation shot from her hand to her very core. He glanced up at her gasp, his eyes darker than Mara remembered. She snatched her hand away, still feeling the imprint of his lips. She wanted to ask why he had done such a thing but she was not sure she was prepared for his answer. He smiled and stood up. Mara ignored his proffered hand and rose to her feet unassisted. She looked everywhere except at Luke, mentally cursing the infuriating Jedi. Her eyes settled on the droid, shifting from foot to foot. A nasty indentation scored Artoo's dome. Mara bent over the Artoo unit, "Is he damaged?"
Luke walked forwards, "Just a little banged up."
At Artoo's indignant squawk Luke added, "Don't worry. You'll be good as new once we get back to Coruscant." Luke turned to address Mara, "Not that I'm not glad to see you, but Tanasia isn't exactly the center of the universe. Why did you come?"
"It's a good thing I did. You're going to have a hard time leaving in that thing." Mara gestured to the still smoking ruin next to the Jade's Fire.
Luke nodded slowly, his gaze focused on Mara's face. His mind probing but stopping when he encountered her mental shields. He could probably break through, but he would never violate her privacy in such a manner.
"The Tanasi probably don't have a single space going vessel on this entire planet." Mara added.
"You're evading my question, Mara." Luke commented.
Mara turned to him and said, "Didn't you get my message? I told you not to land. You're just so blasted stubborn sometimes it makes me crazy!"
"I didn't have any choice. Something grabbed my ship from orbit. I barely managed to escape." His voice was calm and it infuriated Mara even more.
"Don't you know that you could have died? This place is dangerous, Skywalker." She glared at the Jedi. Luke would have grown angry at her words, if he had not sensed the anxiety behind them. He found himself mesmerized by the fire in her green eyes. Mara waved her hand in frustration. She was reluctant to share with Luke her vision, afraid that if she said it aloud it would become the Jedi's immutable destiny.
Luke stepped forwards and was about to say something when he stopped suddenly. He grabbed Mara and pushed her forward, "Down!" he said.
Her danger sense flared and she allowed herself to fall to the ground.
Luke fell atop her, and rolled quickly aside. A blaster bolt split through the air in the space they had just vacated and splintered the gnarled tree overhead. A large branch tumbled towards them and without thought Mara gestured with her hand. The branch veered in midair falling harmlessly aside.
Luke glanced down at Mara, surprise showing on his face.
"What?!" she asked defensively. Mara jumped to her feet.
The snap-hiss of Luke's lightsaber caused the Artoo droid to retreat behind the fallen tree.
Mara pulled her blaster and they stood side by side watching the three approaching battle droids. Their silver bodies glistened in the bright sunlight. They were humanoid in shape with sharp angular faces and red glowing eyes. They moved inexorably forwards towards the two. Red blaster bolts came in quick succession. Luke stepped forward to block them all. Seeing that none of the bolts were making it past the Jedi, Mara shot at the droids. The bolts bounced harmlessly off their metal exterior. She then ignited her lightsaber and concentrated for a moment. She threw the blade at one of the approaching battle droids. It sailed in a wide arch to neatly slice the metallic creature in half. Sparks flew and the smoking droid collapsed into a heap of metal parts.
"I thought the Tanasi didn't use technology, " Mara gasped.
"They don't," Luke answered grimly.
The two remaining droids produced another set of weapons and the blasts came in quicker succession. Seeing that Luke would not be able to deflect them all, Mara called back her lightsaber and joined him in deflecting the bolts. They combined their force abilities, each growing more powerful together than alone. Mara had deflected blaster bolts in the past, but never at such speed or accuracy. Luke's lightsaber was a nimbus of green light, deflecting and redirecting the red bolts onto the abdomen of the droid on the left. The droid burst into flames melting under the intense heat. The charred smoke of ruined wiring filled their nostrils.
A metal fragment made it past their guard and impacted Luke in the right shoulder. He hissed. Mara felt his pain ripple through their connection.
"Luke." She exclaimed continuing to block the onslaught of blasts from the remaining droid.
Luke tossed the lightsaber from right to left hand. His pain ebbing slightly as he paused to focus some of his energy on the wound. A bolt flew uncomfortably close to Mara's right ear singeing a loose curl of red hair.
The droid's rhythmic pattern left a moment margin where the blasters paused in firing. Taking advantage of this weakness, Mara ducked and rolled ending up at the base of the droid. Before the guns could be lowered, she plunged the tip of her lightsaber into the metal. The blue blade disappeared in the metal before slicing through to the other side. The red light in the droids eyes winked out.
A small metallic groan shuddered through the creature and he toppled heavily towards the crouched woman. But instead of falling on her, the droid hung suspended at a crazy angle, defying gravity.
"Are you going to make me hold this thing all day," Luke gasped.
Mara scrambled out of the way and the metal droid collapsed heavily to the ground.
Luke sheathed his lightsaber. The blade collapsing in on itself in a familiar hiss, then he dropped to his knees. Mara ran to the Jedi, putting her lightsaber away. Artoo approached slowly, still wary of the smoldering wrecks on the ground.
Luke grasped the jagged piece of metal and pulled it from his shoulder. He gasped involuntarily from the fresh waves of pain. Blood seeped out the gaping wound and Mara dropped to her knees. She ripped the lining of her jacket and offered the cloth to him.
"Thanks," Luke said pressing the cloth over the wound with his hand.
"Let me help." Mara said. She placed her hand over his and Luke closed his eyes. Mara studied his face as it relaxed, then closed her eyes as well. She could feel that Luke was using the force to heal at an accelerated pace. Not very comfortable with this skill, she offered to lend him her strength. He accepted her offer, but did not use as much as she was willing to give.
He was fully aware of this fact and when Mara opened her eyes she saw Luke smiling at her. The pain was gone, and the wound had stopped bleeding. It would take a while for it to truly heal, but it would not inhibid their progress.
"We can go back to the Fire, " Mara suggested.
"No. It won't be long before whoever sent those droids comes after us again."
Mara rose to her feet and she offered Luke a hand. He took it with his left and did not let go.
"For whatever reason, I'm glad you came. I'd hate to think what might have happened if you weren't here."
Mara tightened her grip on his hand.
"We make a pretty good team." Luke added
Mara looked up into his face and found that her throat had gone dry. She had never really noticed before how blue his eyes were. The trader was suddenly aware of their proximity. There was barely a centimeter between their bodies. Her gaze drifted to his full lips and she noticed that they relaxed slightly in response.
She said, "How's your shoulder?" attempting to break the sudden tension between them.
"What shoulder?" Luke asked brushing his hand along her cheek. 'By Vader," she thought "Luke's going to kiss me" She was surprised to find that she did not reject him outright, Instead, Mara leaned slightly forward and she could feel Luke leaning down towards her. A flock of birds erupted to cross the sky overhead. Her eyes flew open and Artoo started chattering wildly.
Luke drew back, his arm falling to his side. They watched the avians disappear into the clouds, obviously startled by something.
"The town's just on the other side of this ridge, we can go there and hire some form of transportation." At Mara's look, Luke added quickly, "We better leave your ship on the ground. We can't afford anything to happen to it, as its our only means of leaving this planet."
Mara nodded, "As long as we leave this place behind."
Mara stepped away from Luke as casually as possible. Her emotions were in turmoil, confusion the most dominate. She made sure that her mental barriers were firmly in place and made a quick detour towards the Jade's Fire to grab the pack she had prepared.
Luke attempted to take if from the trader, but she brushed if off, "Don't get all chivalrous on me, Skywalker."
At his slightly wounded expression she continued more softly, "I still have two good shoulders."
Luke only slightly mollified. The Jedi glanced at the astromech droid, "Artoo, you stay with the ship."
The droid whistled in assent.
Mara marched off. The Jedi watched her thoughtfully then jogged to catch up to the retreating figure.
The journey was relatively short and blissfully uneventful. Luke could not stop thinking about Mara. He found himself remembering the almost blending they had shared even before they had combined their force senses to defeat the battle droids. He had not felt such strength since he had gone over to the dark side. He quickly pushed those memories aside. Even with Callista, he had never felt such closeness, such a unity. It was as if they were bonded somehow. Luke thought back to his vision by the waterfall.
"You never did tell me why you're here," Mara interrupted his thoughts. They had just entered a sleepy village. The Tanasi did not seem to find the appearance of strangers odd. It was almost as if they anticipated their arrival.
"I could ask the same of you."
Mara thought a second then came to a decision, "Alright, but you first."
Luke inspected the village while forming his answer. The buildings were actually trees growing in the form of beautiful dwellings. The windows and doorways appeared to be natural openings in the wood. Luke marveled at the ability of the Tanasi to coax their environment to suit their needs. A stream flowed through the village, irrigating plants along the narrow walkways. "I came to see if the rumors that a Jedi Master lived here were true. Supposedly there is an ancient temple of Ado-Nami somewhere on the planet's surface."
Mara stopped in her tracks. The vision of the cowled figure standing in an ancient edifice swam before here eyes.
"What did you see in your premonition?"
Mara shuddered at Luke's perception, wishing it were not actually a premonition at all. Before she could answer, a Tanasian approached them. He bowed low over his hands. His black eyes were a striking contrast to his silver fur. He inspected the two strangers and gestured towards a dwelling. His meaning was clear. They followed him inside. Luke shot Mara a look that said, "This isn't over yet". Mara was grateful for the reprieve. She did not relishing the idea of sharing her vision.
The Tanasian gave them a bowl of what seemed to be stew and said in Basic, "The transport you seek is being readied. Eat. Eat."
"But how did you . . .?" Mara started to ask.
"Is this not what you seek?"
"Yes." Luke answered, eating the food cautiously. Deciding it was actually very good, he ate with relish. Seeing this, Mara tentatively consumed hers as well.
A grumbling sound echoed through the braided tree roots. The Tanasian said, "Ah, it is ready." He waved for Luke and Mara to follow. They set down their wooden bowls on a flat stone and followed the Tanasian outside.
A creature not unlike a Tauntaun paced before them. It stood on four legs instead of two and regarded them disgruntly. Its white hide was stripped with black fur and two sharp curved horns bracketed either side of its head.
"We're going to take this?" Mara asked incredulously.
"The Prital is a worthy beast. He will take you to the place you seek."
"He will do just fine." Luke said warningly towards her. She shrugged.
"Thank you." Luke turned towards the Tanasian, but the creature was gone.
The Prital lowered itself so that its back was within easy reach. A primitive saddle was strapped to its back.
"After you, "Luke gestured to the Prital. Mara mounted the creature and grabbed the reigns. Luke swung his leg, and seated astride the beast behind Mara. Her back was pressed up against Luke's chest. The Prital rose and began to run. It was only a moment before Mara realized that the reins were not meant as a method for directing the beast, but more as a means for holding on.
Luke circled Mara's waist with one arm, grabbing the end of the reigns with his other. She would have protested the forced intimacy of their situation if it had not been so obvious that it was unavoidable. Besides, as much as she hated to admit it, she was actually enjoying the feel of Luke's' body pressed up against hers. As if in answer to her thought, his grip tightened minutely on her waist.
The Prital quickly left the meandering path and the village behind. Large rocky outcroppings jutted out of the grassy ground. The wind whipped through their hair. Luke felt exhilaration swell within him as the landscape sped past. The musky smell of Mara's hair filled his senses making his stomach flop over in his gut. It felt right to hold this woman in his arms and he tightened his grip ever so slightly. She did not seem to notice.
They followed the stream until the stream became a river and than the river opened out into an undulating lake. The light had begun to dim, and the Prital had slowed. When they rounded the next bend, Luke caught his breath. A waterfall, the length of a mountain range came into view. It was exactly like the place in his vision.
"What is it?" Mara asked when the Prital slowed enough to make speech possible again.
Luke did not answer.
The creature stopped and slumped to the ground. It began to make a noise that was very obviously snoring. It was fast asleep.
Luke chuckled and Mara joined in.
"I guess this is where we stop for the night." He dismounted and Mara quickly followed. He unstrapped the pack from the end of the saddle. Suddenly, he found himself nervous. He did not know what to say or do.
Mara scouted the area and found a relatively smooth spot in which they could pitch the survival tent.
"That waterfall's magnificent," Mara breathed.
Luke didn't answer. He proceeded to pitch the tent and take stock of their supplies. He knelt to unload the pack. While his back was turned Mara began to tell him her vision in great detail. Luke forgot about his attack of nerves and stared up at the red haired woman. When she was done she seemed lost in thought, no longer aware of her surroundings.
Luke stood up. He brushed the dirt off his dark pants, lost in thought. When he glanced up, he saw that she was watching him closely.
"You can see why I was reluctant to tell you," Mara said.
"Have you had these visions since you landed?" Luke asked.
"Of the dark Jedi? Yes, but that's all."
"The future is always in motion. There are many paths to take, but it's good to be prepared. Do you remember seeing yourself in any of these visions?"
"No. I wasn't there. That's why I had to come."
"I'm glad you did." Luke moved over to where she stood. They watched the water flow over the cliff to crash into the lake below. The sprays of water lightly dusting their face. Luke turned to face Mara, "Should I tell you of my vision?" he asked softly.
"Was I in your vision?" she asked softly.
Luke nodded. "It was here."
It took Luke a moment to answer and then when he did it took another moment for his whispered words to register, "We were kissing."
Something in his voice made Mara's heart thunder in her ears. She glanced quickly towards him. His eyes were intense, as if trying to see into her soul. For all she knew, the Jedi Master could, and the thought both thrilled and scared her.
A red curl fluttered free of the silver band in her hair and Luke reached forward to capture it. It was so like his dreams that he wasn't sure what was reality and what was vision.
"Like this?" she questioned. The next thing he knew, Mara was pressed up against him. Their heart beating in unison. She gazed up at him and then her hands combed through his blonde hair, pulling his head towards her. Luke kissed her, his hands running down her back and arms, all the while pressing her closer.
Mara moaned and a responding surge of desire flared in Luke. He couldn't think. He was all sensation and emotion. The barriers that usually lay between them were gone. The desire, the need to be closer, the hunger reverberated between them feeding off each other, to magnify a thousand fold. The force linked them in a way that was only possible between two Jedi and Luke did not think he would ever be free. And he found that the thought did not frighten him. Mara broke away to take a breath and stared up in wonder. The blood moved sluggishly in his veins and he could hardly hear through the roaring in his ears. A sense of unease crept into Luke's soul, at her withdrawal. He knew that she shared his desire, but did she share his love? A thrill of shock filled him at this sudden revelation. Did he actually love her?
"I like your visions much more than my own." She said.
Relief flooded through the Jedi. He chuckled and held her close. His chin rested on her head. This was all so fast. He could feel himself losing control, and that was not something that he was very comfortable with. It was as if they were riding a pod-racer without brakes. He needed to give her more time.
"Don't you think ten years is long enough?" Mara asked amusement evident in her tone.
Luke was surprised that she heard his thoughts, and wondered just how much she had heard.
He pulled back to look down at her, "If we start down that road, I won't ever be able to turn back." He warned.
"Then, I guess I'll have to be the navigator." Mara pulled his head down again into a kiss.
The Prital's grumbling woke Luke. Mara lay on her side, eyes closed in sleep. Her hair was spread out on Luke's rolled up robe. He was tempted to ignore the plaintive calls of the Prital and stay in this tent with Mara a little longer.
"That would be wonderful Luke, but I don't think our Prital guide is the understanding type."
Luke blushed, wondering if Mara had heard all of the thoughts that had been going through his head since he had awoken.
"With a blush that red, I'm sure I missed some."
"I'm going to have to be more careful about shielding my thoughts with you around." He said ruefully.
"Sorry." Mara said, "I'm not quite use to this. But make sure you share all the good ones with me."
The dressed quickly. Mara could not help but dart quick glances at the Jedi's back as he gathered their gear. She turned aside, when she realized that Luke was aware of her regard. He smiled but did not say anything. They mounted the Prital and were soon on their way again.
There was no doubt that they were nearing the Temple. A shudder coursed down Mara's back as she examined the darkened hills. The land was decaying. The trees were skeletal and the grass was a scrubby grayish smudge on the ground. The Prital slowed and Mara asked, "You sure this is really necessary. Can't we just leave this Jedi to his own devices?"
Luke shook his head. "We can't leave the Tanasia people at his mercy. My experiences with the Sith lead me to believe that you can't leave one alone. Given time, the dark lord will only become stronger before they seek us out."
The Prital stopped suddenly and lowered himself. Luke and Mara disembarked and the beast trotted off. The darkness was palpable. The shadows seemed to whisper and nightmarish images repeatedly arose in their minds. Luke halted after a particularly disturbing image seared his thoughts. An afterimage came through their newly formed link and Mara recoiled in shock. It was more a feeling than anything coherent, but the feeling left her filled with fear.
"Maybe you should wait here. I'll meet this dark lord alone." Luke suggested.
Mara grabbed his arm and shook her head vehemently, "I can handle anything you can, Skywalker. I came here for the sole purpose of entering this temple with you. I'm not going to back down now."
Luke nodded and they proceeded towards the rocky edifice that jutted out of the ground. It gleamed dull silver, its metal surface aged and corroding. At one time, the Temple was probably beautiful. That time was far in the past. The edges were sharp and shadows deep. Malevolence filled the air.
"I wonder why there aren't more battle droids," Mara mused.
"I think he might have something else in mind, " Luke replied ominously.
The door opened when they reached the front. The opening looked like a gaping maw from which they would be swallowed whole. Luke took Mara's hand and they entered the darkness together.
The door slid swiftly behind them. The boom echoed in the cavernous interior; the reverberation causing bits of metal shavings to fall from the ceiling and into their faces. Darkness descended on them. It was as if an impenetrable fog had rolled in obliterating all sight and sound- even the force. Luke moved forward and stepped out of the emptiness to find that he stood on a precipice. He could feel the force again.
He was alone.
Luke glanced back, searching for any sign of Mara, but she was gone. He could feel her thread in the tapestry of the force, but it was strangely remote. He could not tell if she was aware of him, or if she was in any danger. He was about to retrace his steps when he encountered the closed doors to a lift. There were no controls on this side.
The Jedi quickly suppressed a moment of panic, when he realized that he was no longer anywhere near the entrance to the Temple. He inspected his surroundings, stretching out with the force as he did so. An inclined durasteel gangway bridged a wide abyss. The opening plummeted down an incredible distance. Most of the lights had long since gone out, but there were enough dotting the smooth metal sides of the incline to show the immense scale of the drop. He could hear generators working far below, and sensed that the heat of the planet's core fueled them.
Luke wondered why a temple would need such immense power. He unhooked the hilt of his lightsaber and walked across the narrow bridge. Wind blew his hair around his head, hissing like a never-ending exhalation of some great beast.
When he reached the wall on the other side, he activated the far panel. A doorway slide open and Luke walked through. Mara was closer now, and unease skittered across his soul. Something was dreadfully wrong. The bond he had shared with the trader seemed broken, and she was . . . different somehow.
The room was dimly lit. Large rectangular blue lights striped the walls in a regular pattern. His footsteps echoed loudly, the only other sound was an occasional hiss, as if nearby, a vent were periodically releasing pressure. Luke stepped into a wider room. Banks of consoles lined the walls and were clustered in the middle of the room. A series of walkways stretched overhead, presumably to access the controls higher up.
The light of a red lightsaber hissed into existence in the darkness between two of the blue lights. Luke stopped his danger sense ablaze. A dark form stepped forward. Another red lightsaber snap-hissed behind the dark silhouette revealing a second figure in the darkness. He stepped forwards to stand alongside the first. They were both young humans, their faces were remarkably innocent looking. The older one's visage was partially scarred across one cheek and a yellow mechanical eye glowed from the left socket.
"I don't want to fight you," Luke said.
They moved forward as one, their movements oddly coordinated. It was then that Luke realized something about the two. They were identical twins, but they differed in age by at least ten years. They wore dark hoodless robes, designed for ease of movement. Luke tried to read their thoughts and emotions. Nothing. Something nagged him, but he could not quite pin down the feeling.
The older man with the mechanical eye lunged forward. Luke's lightsaber ignited to block the blow in one smooth motion. The younger man attacked as well. The Jedi had no time for thought as he immersed himself in the force. His movements occurred without conscious decision. He parried and thrust, whirled over the two Sith lords to land on the gangway above.
They peered up at Luke without expression. Waves of malignant energy emanated from the darkly clad fighters. The one yellow eye seemed to penetrate the darkness and pierce Luke's soul. They leapt in one great bound to join Luke on the narrow walkway. The younger Sith to the left, the scarred Lord to the right. Luke blocked both lightsabers simultaneously. Prompted by the force, Luke leapt up and grabbed a dangling cord suspended from the walkway above.
A scream sounded below followed by a muffled blast. When Luke looked down, only the yellow eyed Sith remained. Luke was surprised that they had been so easily tricked into fighting each other. He was just beginning to think that perhaps the danger was not so great when he felt a convulsive tightening of his throat.
He quickly pulled himself to the next walkway and tried to pry the invisible force fingers that closed about his throat. Too little oxygen was flowing into his lungs, and he tried to slow his body, putting himself into a partial trance. Still the pressure did not release. Darkness collapsed around Luke.
Mara could feel the moment that Luke's presence disappeared. She was in some sort of darkened transport that seemed to block the force. Mara wondered if there were some Ysalamiri nearby. The floor seemed to rush up to meet her and she found herself on the ground. Stunned for a moment, she realized that she was deep underground. Cave walls surrounded her. It was extremely hot. Visible waves of heat distorted the red illumination pouring from a single gash in the rocky floor.
A darkly cowled figure stood with his back to Mara, dangerously close to the pit. As she neared, Mara could see that the pit was filled with a molten mass of red-hot magma. She halted, recognizing the person from her visions.
"Can you feel the power?" the form said without turning around.
Mara started. It was a woman's voice, somewhat familiar. The dark lord turned to look at the trader. Mara's face peered back at her. Mara's grip tightened convulsively on her lightsaber hilt. The face was weathered and eyes heavy lidded but there was no mistake. It was like looking into a badly distorted mirror.
"Surprised? You shouldn't be." The other woman said.
"You're a clone?"
"I'm the Emperor's contingency plan," Maara answered.
Mara exhaled heavily, recognizing the nagging feeling that had plagued her during the visions. All this time she had been seeing visions of her own clone!
"How could you let Skywalker live? It was the Emperor's dying command, and you betrayed him."
"The Emperor is dead. He cared nothing for me . . .for us." Mara said
"He was like a father to me, and his death must not go unevenged," the clone spit out.
Fear pulsed in Mara, as the image of Luke's dead body flashed into her mind. She suppressed the emotion quickly.
"Yes. I see that you have dreamed of this too. Perhaps you haven't given up all loyalty. Could it be that you were too weak, without the dark side to complete the job?" The clone neared, peering closely at Mara, "I have no wish to kill you. After all, you are in a sense my mother."
"Is this not true? My life came from your body. It's not so very different."
"Where is Skywalker now," Mara asked the clone, unable to stop herself.
"He is being entertained by two of my apprentices. They may very well take care of the Jedi for me."
Mara ignited her lightsaber and lunged at the clone. She did not have any time to spare. She could not let Luke face two Jedi alone. Before, Mara could reach the clone, a burst of force lightning caught her in its grip. She stumbled back, racked with pain. The white blue streams arching about her body.
"Oh Mother, I had hoped we could share a purpose. That we could join together and rid this galaxy of Luke Skywalker. We could have been quite a pair, you and I."
Mara dropped her lightsaber hilt and hunched to the ground. The lightning continued in a steady stream unabated. She collapsed to the ground.
The clone felt the life drain from the Jedi. When the body was a mere husk, Maara kicked the still form.
Mara, her mother was dead.
The clone smiled regretfully then left the room to finish off Skywalker.
Luke regained consciousness just as the yellow-eyed man was swinging his lightsaber for a killing blow. Luke place the hilt up against the Sith Lord's belly then ignited the blade. The yellow eye dilated in surprise as he was impaled on the glowing blade. Luke sliced to the side and quickly swung over the walkway catching himself heavily on the bridge below. The moment an explosion billowed from above, Luke knew the Sith was dead.
Luke leaned over panting heavily, still not recovered from his lack of oxygen and quick hibernation trance. He realized how closely he had timed his immersion from the trance, and was grateful to the force for saving him. Luke sheathed his lightsaber and jumped to the ground level.
The sound of the door sliding open caught his attention. The Jedi turned to see Mara entering. Luke smiled and began to jog towards the red haired woman, glad to see that she was unhurt. Something made him stop cold in his tracks. Mara opened her arms towards him and smiled.
This was not the woman that he loved. Her face was withered and the dark force surrounded her like a cloak. With a sudden clarity, Luke realized what she was. This was Mara's clone. Suddenly, the pieces fell into place. The strangely unified movements of the two Sith lords made sense. They had been clones as well.
"What, don't you love me anymore?" Maara asked.
Luke didn't know how to respond to this. He wondered how it was possible that Mara's clone would be aware of his feelings, and yet the trader did not. Or did she?
The clone lowered her hands. "We had a little mother daughter talk and I decided it was time to grow up. I think most beings have to leave the family unit at sometime. I just didn't think it would be so soon."
"What have you done to her?"
"Oh, this is too good." The clone laughed, "If only the Emperor could see you now. It's ironic really. The one thing that could cause you the most grief is the death of the assassin sent to kill you. I'm sure he would be pleased at this recent turn of events."
Luke sent a tendril of the force seeking Mara's presence, but there was nothing. Anger grew with the Jedi and he glared at the clone.
Maara continued, "Yes, I'm afraid she's quite dead. But don't worry Skywalker, you'll soon be joining her."
Luke lunged at her with lightsaber lit. She leapt over the Jedi's head landing behind him. Luke whirled around --to face a blast of force lightning. A memory of himself on the Death Star flashed through his head. He fell to the ground. Maara was not as strong as the Emperor, but he did not have his father to save him this time.
Mara's side still ached where her clone had kicked her. It had taken an effort to remain still, and it had worked. Mara was not sure if her plan had succeeded because, her mind and the clone's were so similar or if deep down inside Maara had no wish to actually kill her "mother". Still, when she had used the force to sway the clone's perceptions, it was an awful risk.
The trader was shaking and it was more than a physical reaction to her recent assault. Her mind was still reeling. The image of her own face distorted by the dark force would be one that would most likely haunt her till the day she died. Hopefully, that time was not near at hand.
She knew that the Emperor had other "hands". She had never suspected that at least one of them was her own clone. She should be flattered on some level, but she wasn't. Mara made her way back to the lift, activating a light and lowering a damping field. Ysalamiri lined the perimeter of the lift. Mara quickly pulled their supports off the wall and deposited them outside the lift. She was about to leave, when she spied her pack lying on the durasteel floor. She opened the interior and quickly found a detonator. She set a time delay then placed it next to the glowing pit. She was reasonably sure that when the explosion occurred it would start a chain reaction that would destroy this facility and perhaps any Spaarti cloning cylinders within.
Mara entered the lift and waited impatiently as it glided to the top of the Temple. When the doors opened she saw the scene from her vision. Luke was crumpled to the floor covered by the spidery light of force lightning, the cowled figure leaning over the Jedi.
"No!" Mara screamed and she tossed her lightsaber, igniting it midair as it sailed towards the Sith clone. The clone looked up, force lightning running out of control. Luke raised his head painfully in time to see Mara's lightsaber slice the clone in two. Mara ran forward then hesitated when the force lightning arched wildly around the Temple.
"Stay back!" Luke commanded.
Luke rose to his feet, and staggered toward Mara. When he neared, Mara moved forward and took his arm. He leaned heavily against her. The clone disappeared in a nimbus of an electrical storm, the lightning raging uncontrollably. Silence descended on the room. Luke called Mara's lightsaber to his hand and still gripping the hilt, they ran from the room together.
An explosion rocked the room. The ceiling collapsed narrowly missing their fleeing forms. They paused in the doorway of the lift and watched as the rubble cascaded in front of them. Although, different, she recognized the collapse of the ceiling from her vision. That particular danger had passed.
"Let's go," The Jedi urged and Mara nodded wordlessly.
Luke gestured with his hand to the controls and the doors closed sealing them within the lift. The Jedi handed Mara her lightsaber, "I think you'll want this."
"Thanks." Then she leaned towards Luke and kissed him. He grabbed her and returned her kiss with a passion that took her breath away. He smelled of ozone and the unique scent that was all his own. Mara could feel her heart contract when she realized how close he had come to dying. She pulled back when she felt hot liquid under her right hand. It was blood.
"Luke, you're bleeding."
"It's just my shoulder. I'll worry about it later, right now I have a funny feeling that we need to leave this place as soon as possible."
"Maybe that's because I set a detonator at the base of this facility that will blow this place off the face of the planet."
" . . . .How long do we have?"
"Half a cycle."
"I guess we won't have to worry about more clones coming from this place." Luke said ruefully.
"That's the idea."
The lift stopped and the doors slid open. Darkness engulfed them. Luke took Mara's hand and led her through the empty corridor. The blackness was not as all encompassing now that they could feel the force again. They found the entrance to the Temple and stumbled into the sunlight outside.
The Prital was waiting for them. Mara and Luke exchanged glances, then Mara shrugged.
"You did say they were force sensitive on this planet."
They mounted the beast, and it was running before they could even grab the reins. The Prital ran even faster than it had on its journey towards the Temple. Mara suspected that it knew of the danger. She was just about to relax, thinking that the detonator would not go off, when an explosion rang through the mountains. The ground rumbled beneath the beast's feet and a fine gray powder fell through the air. The Prital stopped, side stepping agitatedly. Luke reached forward and ran his hands down the beast's flank, soothing the creature. The rumbling in the ground subsided and then was still.
The Prital resumed its run, stopping once they reached the waterfall. Mara slid off the Prital's back and Luke followed suit.
"Is it over?" Mara asked.
Luke pondered for a moment, then smiled, "I hope not." Changing the meaning of his answer.
She smiled and said, "I mean, do you think that there's another clone of me somewhere?"
"Not on Tanasi."
Mara shuddered. "Now I know how you must have felt before I killed your clone."
Luke put his arm around her and said, "It is possible that the Emperor created more than one clone of you."
Mara pulled back to see Luke's face, "Why do you say that?"
"Because I sure can't get enough of you."
Mara snorted, irritated, "You've a strange sense of humor, Jedi."
Luke laughed, and Mara joined in almost reluctantly.
"You sure know how to drive me crazy, I guess that's why I love you so much." She heard the words without realizing what she was saying until it was too late. She tried to pull away from Luke's arms but he tightened them about her.
"Oh no you don't. You're not going to run away from me now." A bright glint shone in his blue eyes. The corners of his lips were turned upward in a radiant smile.
Mara glared up at him, "Run away!" she said incredulously.
"Isn't that what you were going to do. You're afraid of what we share. Afraid of your own feeling towards me."
"What we feel?"
Luke bent down to kiss her and she felt his mental barriers drop. A flood of emotion filled her, and she was filled with such an overwhelming sensation of love, her eyes filled with tears.
"Oh Luke." She said to him through their link.
"I love you, Mara." His words echoed in her head and she found herself unable to let go. They stood there for a long while, basking in the shared emotions and swirling thoughts. Neither of them wanted to move, afraid that if they did so, everything would disappear like a dream. "Stay with me always." Luke said. Mara nodded. The light was growing dim and the rumble of Luke's stomach broke their embrace, but they were still linked in a way that seemed impossible. "As much as I'd love to stay like this forever, my stomach has other ideas."
Luke moved towards the pack when he stopped suddenly, sensing Mara's sudden flash of emotion.
"What is it?" Luke said concern darkening his eyes.
"I just realized something awful."
"You're sister is going to kill me. I promised I would keep her posted and I completely forgot."
"I guess we'll just have to tell her that you had other things on your mind," Luke's face was blank but his eyes glittered with humor.
"You're never going to let me live this down are you?"
"Nope. I'm going to make sure that you remember that you love me every minute of every day."
"Is that a promise?"
Luke forgot about the ration bars in the pack and scooped Mara into his arms.
It was a long time before they remembered to eat again.