A/N: Thanks to those helping me write and plan out this story and checking it for continuality and logic errors.
This chapter was released at least 3 weeks ago to my Pat-re-ons (with them seeing a draft version around 2 months ago) and on the story's Discord server (in GDoc form) about a week ago.
Links for both are at the end of the chapter.

Hopefully, all the little mistakes have been found and removed.

Yes, this chapter is far longer than normal, but that's so everything can be handled in one go.

The Phantom Menace 6

… …

I sat on one of a half-dozen medical beds inside a private ward of the royal palace of Naboo. The man examining my lower arm, or more accurately, where my elbow had once connected to it, ran a scanner over the burnt, sealed flesh. He wasn't, as Padmé first insisted, one of the Naboo doctors, but a fellow Mando'ade. I'd told the Queen that her people needed more help, and I knew the wound was already sealed and not infected; one odd upside of a wound coming from a lightsaber and not a vibroblade, which was why I had a Mando'ade medic giving me the once-over.

While I was glad to have survived Maul, and relieved that, in the end, the various tools I'd prepared for fighting him had worked, the fact I'd lost my forearm had to be some sort of sick joke by the Force or TPTB. I wasn't Anakin or Luke and wasn't set up as the Chosen One, yet I'd suffered the same injury as they had. The only difference was that I'd lost my left forearm whereas they'd both lost their right.

Still, from what I'd felt from Anakin, something had happened to him at the same time, so perhaps it was my connection to the true Chosen One that had resulted in me losing my forearm.

"The bacta has done its job," the medic, Mij Gilamar said, drawing me from thoughts about why I had to suffer this injury, "and there's no hint of infection. There is some damage done to the nerve endings, however, the wound was cauterised instantly by the lightsaber, saving you from any complications. Though that fact is also why the limb would be extremely difficult to restore." I nodded, understanding that issue, as while the wound was clean, Maul's lightsaber had burnt away around an inch of flesh, so if I had the hand reattached, my left arm would be fractionally shorter than my right.

"Small mercies," I muttered with a dark chuckle.

"Yes," Gilmar replied. "I can forward you a list of Mandalorian companies that specialise in replacement limbs so you can decide on what sort of replacement you wish to get."

"I didn't realise there were options." I was playing dumb as I knew Adonai's replacement leg had several after-market modifications, including – according to Bo – a built-in launcher with three rockets similar to those she used in her vambrace. What I wanted to learn about was what my options were regarding modifications for my replacement limb, and how easy it would be to hide those changes from detection by others.

"There's a large range, going from a thousand credits up to, I'm told, close to a million. The materials used in the cover and internal circuitry, along with hidden compartments of weapons. Something I'm told Alor Adonai has in his leg, though that's not something I can speak to. That said, from the other Mando'ade that I know with replacements, a hidden blaster is the most basic advantage taken from the mechanical limb." I nodded as he continued. "Though I suspect that those alterations won't be popular with either the Republic or the Jedi Order."

I chuckled and held up my left arm, displaying the missing limb. "If I'd have fought as a Jedi I'd have lost far more than just a forearm," I said with a dark chuckle.

"Fair enough," Gilamar replied with a smile. "Nor, I suspect, would you have reached out for warriors to march under your banner." While he was being friendly, there was something in his tone that had me pause.

"I wasn't trying to make a statement with the move." That was true, as while I was grateful so many had answered my call – be it because of loyalty to me, Adonai or Torrhen, or the promise of credits – I'd noticed that since Naboo was freed even Mando'ade who had held issues with my status as a Jedi seemed more tolerant of me. Not to the point that I didn't think it was still an issue, but to the extent many, if not most of the gathered Mando'ade saw me fully as one of their own. It hadn't reached a point where I'd caught suggestions I should become a leader of our people, but the hints – such as in Gilamar's tone – meant I knew I'd have to speak with Adonai, Torrhen, and others about how my actions might be misconstrued.

"I understand that, but to others, it could be seen as a statement of intent," Gilamar countered with a friendly smile. "Your status as an Alor, even one from a very minor clan, and your alliances with Houses Kryze and Ordo aside, for any Mando'ade to send out a call to arms, and have so many warriors respond, and unite under their banner, is something that others will take note of. Especially, at least to some, that you also found worthy allies to fight beside us in the Lokella." He chuckled softly. "To those already predisposed toward you, due to your heritage or verd'goten, these actions will resonate. To those who weren't, it will place your name upon their lips; either as a threat to their intentions or as someone they might have use for."

"I have no interest in trying to lead our people."

Gilamar leaned back, raising his palms defensively. "I never said you did, nor, as a Jedi, would I expect you to have it. However, to others, especially those with desires to lead our people – for better or worse – the mere chance you might is something they'll have to consider." He smiled as he stood. "Remember, that you are the first to defeat a Darjetii since before the Dral'Han; and that you did so as Mando'ade and not Jedi also affirms your stance as aligned with our people over the Jedi and Republic." He placed a hand on my right shoulder. "To many, even those with no wish to have the Clans unite, that, when combined with the number that fought under your banner, means something. Especially after another devastating war."

"Again, I don't plan to or want to lead our people. The fact I'm a Jedi as well means I simply can't." That said, I understood his thinking. It would be better, perhaps, if the Mandalorians united under the banner of someone else. Yes, I'd have to follow that person as Mando'ade myself, but having that sort of might as an ally may well be more useful than having it directly under my control. I expected it would also remove most of the issues with commanding a nation that, if the numbers I'd heard were right, numbered in the hundreds of millions, if not billions spread across the galaxy.

"That is something you will, perhaps, one day have to reconcile, as I did. Perhaps, even choose between the laws of the Republic and the Resol'nare. Know though that, as long as the Mando'ade and the Republic don't find themselves at war, I would be happy to consider you a friend."

"Vor entye Mij," I said, accepting the offer and extending my good arm.

He laughed gently as he grasped my forearm. "Ba'gedet'ye Cameron. Though it is I, and others, who should thank you." After that, we broke the clasp. "Now, I think I'll head to see if the local medics need any help. While there were few injuries among our people," he glanced behind me, to the bacta tank that supported Serra, "or the Lokella, the Naboo suffered greatly. As did the Gungans. I and the other medically trained Mando'ade have offered our services to help with the wounded, though Queen Amidala was insistent that you be checked first."

"Since you've finished then, I won't keep you." He gave me a final nod and smiled before leaving the ward. That left me alone in the place. Well, besides Serra, but she was in no condition to speak with me, and Fenrir who was resting at the base of the tank containing Serra, chewing on the remains of a battledroid that he'd had ever since the battle had ended. Fenrir had been there ever since Serra had been brought in and placed in the tank as if guarding her.

Fenrir had few marks on his skin, some from blasters and others from lacerations that didn't appear to have gone deep, but otherwise looked fine. A doctor had tried to scan him, but they'd scampered away when Fenrir had growled loudly at the unwanted attention.

When Gilamar had arrived, Bo and Naz had been with him, the pair pleased to see I was safe – bar the missing limb – and Bo had spent time checking on Serra as she floated in the tank. Bo had seemed off when she turned back from the tank, and Observe revealed she felt as if Serra's injuries – and the death of Master Drallig – were in some way her fault. I'd talk with her later about that, and hopefully clear the air, but before I could do so the pair had, at my insistence, left.

While the battle was won, Theed was in ruins and Padmé needed everyone she could get to search the rubble for survivors and bodies. Plus, if Bo remained here, having to keep seeing my lost arm and Serra's condition, I feared she might become depressed. Helping search for survivors would distract her for a while. At least until I could talk with her about what I feared had happened to Anakin. Still, with them and now Gilamar gone, I was left in my own thoughts, which centred around my friend and lover in the bacta tank.

The constant, steady beeping from the tank for her vitals filled the now silent room as the bacta worked to heal her myriad of physical wounds. Those she would recover from soon enough, but the mental wound of losing her Master – and the closest thing she had to a father – because of choices she made, was one that would take a year, or longer, to heal.

Not only did losing Drallig have major repercussions for Serra, but it would massively affect the Jedi Order. The High Council would want answers as to why he was even here, something Serra would have to face censure for, along with comments from other Padawans, and I would also be questioned for allowing my emotions to influence my choice to let her come along.

However, for all that, the biggest issue Serra was going to have with what happened here would be regarding my choice for Maul's fate. Yet, with what I knew was brewing now with Sidious as Chancellor – though I'd yet to have it confirmed – I needed insight into any plans Maul was privy to.

That could wait though, as I first had to figure out where to store him, and how, and then work to recover from our first battle, hopefully to surpass him so that when we fought again it was clear I was the better fighter. Otherwise, I doubt he'd ever consider speaking with me, never mind the more insane ideas I had for using him to help bring about the end of the Banite Sith.

However, thoughts about the future and what it would bring for me, Serra, and Maul were things I could consider over the next few days. As was heading to see Anakin and learn what had caused him to shout into the Force with such strength and pain. For now, with time alone to think, I turned my mind to the Interface, or more accurately, the messages that had come once the battle for Naboo was confirmed to be over. I'd already read them, but I still pulled them back up, wanting to go over them once again and consider my choices now that I'd finally reached Level 30.

Quest Completed!
The Phantom Menace [ƍ] [ ]
:a: Free Naboo from Trade Federation control before any treaty recognizing the occupation can be signed. [Yes]
:b: Ensure that Padme Naberrie survives the invasion. [Yes]
:c: Defeat Maul. [Yes - Captured]
:d: Ensure that Obi-Wan survives the invasion. [Yes]
:e: Ensure that Bo-Katan Kryze survives the invasion. [Yes]
:f: Ensure that Naz Vizsla survives the invasion. [Yes]
:g: Ensure that Serra Keto survives the invasion. [Yes]
:h: Ensure that at least one of Asta Ordo and Osto Ordo survive the invasion. [Yes - Both]
:i: Ensure that Validus and Ferox survive the invasion. [Yes]
:j: Ensure that more than 75% of those who fight in the battles survive the invasion. [Yes – 87%]
:k: Ensure that Cin Drallig survives the invasion. [No]
:a: A massive increase in Reputation with any sentient living on Naboo.
~Variable Reputation gains with any who oppose the Trade Federation.
Variable changes in Reputation with members of the Jedi Order, Galactic Senate, and the general populace of the Republic.
8000XP (+1600XP)
:b: 2 tests of friendship with Padme Naberrie are passed.
A massive increase in Reputation with Padme Naberrie.
A large increase in Reputation with Padme's family and closest friends.
2500XP (+500XP)
:c: Overall increases in reputation with Darth Sidious and Darth Plagueis.
A decrease in Reputation with Darth Maul.
5000XP (+1000XP)
:d: A Test of Friendship passed with Obi-Wan Kenobi.
A large increase in Reputation with Obi-Wan Kenobi.
A decent increase in Reputation with Qui-Gon Jinn.
1000XP (+200XP)
:e: A Test of Friendship passed with Bo-Katan Kryze.
A decent increase in Reputation with Bo-Katan Kryze.
A small increase in Reputation with Clan Kryze.
A small increase in Reputation with Naz Vizsla and Serra Keto.
800XP (+160XP)
:f: A Test of Friendship passed with Naz Vizsla.
A decent increase in Reputation with Naz Vizsla.
A small increase in Reputation with Clan Vizsla.
A small increase in Reputation with Bo-Katan Kryze and Serra Keto.
800XP (+160XP)
:g: A Test of Friendship passed with Serra Keto.
A decent increase in Reputation with Serra Keto.
A decent increase in Reputation with Cin Drallig.
Variable small increases in Reputation with members of the Jedi Order.
A small decrease in Reputation with members of the Jedi High Council.
A small increase in Reputation with Bo-Katan Kryze and Naz Vizsla.
800XP (+160XP)
:h: Tests of Friendship passed with Asta Ordo and Osto Ordo.
A decent increase in Reputation with Torrhen Ordo and Alys Ordo.
A small increase in Reputation with Clan Ordo.
800XP (+160XP)
:i: Tests of Friendship passed with Validus and Ferox.
A decent increase in Reputation with members of the Lokella.
A small increase in Reputation with Anakin Skywalker and Shmi Skywalker.
800XP (+160XP)
:j: Large increases in Reputation with everyone who fought in the battles to free Naboo.
1250XP (+250XP)
Decent decrease in Reputation with Serra Keto.
Variable decreases in Reputation with members of the Jedi Order.
A small decrease in Reputation with members of the Jedi High Council.

Quest Completed!
Changing Fate [Qui-Gon Jinn]
:a: Prevent Qui-Gon's death at the hands of Darth Maul. [Yes]
Bonus: :b: Introduce Anakin Skywalker to Qui-Gon Jinn before the battles for Naboo. [No]
:a: A decent increase in Reputation with Qui-Gon Jinn.
A small increase in Reputation with Obi-Wan Kenobi.
:b: An almost zero chance that Anakin will be taken by Qui-Gon Jinn or Obi-Wan Kenobi as their Padawan.

Level: 29 - 30
FP: +650
PPP: +1
PP: +2
STAM: 43
SP: +6
SKP: + 41

You've made it to Level 30.
Well done on completing the training section of your new life and reaching the final evolution of the Interface!
This evolution of the Interface isn't like the previous evolution.
Here, the choice in how it evolves rests with the Player, though the choice is a binary one.
This choice doesn't have to be made instantly but must be completed before Level 31 is reached or the Interface will remain locked in its current configuration.

The choices for Interface Evolution are:
Natural Evolution


This is, for lack of a better term, a doubling-down on the current Player-inspired work of the Interface.
However, several important changes increase what the Player is capable of achieving with this evolution.
First, there would be an increase in the tiers of all Force Powers and Skills, allowing you to take any of them to an 8th tier. However, each new tier has skill requirements equal to 2.5x that of the previous level.
The growth rate the Player is capable of won't change, but these far larger level XP requirements will slow the development of any Force Power or Skill taken into the 7th and 8th tiers.
Once a Force Power of Skill reaches Level 100 of tier 8, then can only be improved beyond that with the purchase of a new ability: LEVEL BOOST.
This can be purchased with either a Perk Point or Player Power Point.
However, it can only be taken once every 10 levels from Level 30, and no matter how many times you take it, can only ever be applied once to a Force Power or Skill.
It grants either a 1 or 2 Tier increase to whichever Force Power or Skill it is applied to.
Perks will also be available to remove restrictions on Force Powers that the Player lacks a natural inclination toward.
However, as with LEVEL BOOST, the strength of the restriction can only be removed once every 10 levels starting from Level 30

Natural Evolution

Skills will gain a new base maximum limit of Level 100 of Tier 7.
However, this evolution would, in essence, free the Force from the control of the Interface. At least when it comes to the Player and how they access it.
It would still work with the Interface, allowing the Player to use the Force in conjunction with their special abilities such as the Minimap, but the tracking of what level or tier a Force Ability is at, and the hard limits on what the Player can do with the Force would be, in general, removed.
One key caveat is that while this freeing of the Force would place the upper limits on what the Player can do with a Force Ability, all Force Powers would suffer some form of degradation.
This is due to how the Interface filters the Force for the Player versus how other Force-sensitive and trained sentients interact with the Force.
The Player will need to, to varying degrees, relearn how to use their Force Abilities and the growth rate in their Force Abilities will be determined by the strength of their connection to the Force.
Again though, the Player would be capable of doing things with the Force that, even with Player+, they would not. Perhaps, with concentrated training and effort, capable of feats that could reshape a planet, star system, or even the galaxy.
That, however, would depend entirely on the focus of the Player, their understanding of the Force, and their desire or determination to achieve it.
Note, that while Natural Evolution goes a different direction from Player+ the new ability LEVEL BOOST would still be available.
It would, however, only apply to the Player's Skills, with what it grants altered to reflect that.
Perks to grant natural inclinations toward certain rare Force Abilities would also remain.

In simpler terms:
With the current Interface setup, the Player is limited to a base of Level 100 of Tier 6 of every Force Power and Skill.
With Player+ Force Powers and Skills get a new base of Level 100 of Tier 8.
Though there exists an ability,
LEVEL BOOST, to lift each Force Power of Skill once to a higher Tier, to a maximum of Tier 10.
This would, for Force Powers with no usage of LEVEL BOOST, lift the Player's capacity to that of an average member of the Jedi High Council.
With Natural Evolution Skills get a new base of Level 100 of Tier 7.
With this version of LEVEL BOOST, any skill can be raised once, to either Tier 8 or Tier 9.
However, the Force is freed from Interface control, and based on the Player's current Force sensitivity, they are, potentially, capable of rivalling, and even surpassing, any mortal Force-user to ever live.

With the evolution of the Interface and the choice The Player faces, another option becomes available.
If Player+ is taken, then either PLAYER's BODY or PLAYER's MIND may be cancelled, and the Perk Point returned to The Player.
If Natural Evolution is taken, then either PLAYER's BODY or PLAYER's MIND must be cancelled, and the Perk Point returned to The Player.

With this Ability (be it purchased as a Perk or Player Power) The Player can lift the threshold of any Force Power (where applicable) or Skill by one or two tiers.
Each purchase has three applications. These can only be applied once to any Force Power (where applicable) or Skill, though it is possible to apply two at the same time, granting one Force Power (where applicable) or Skill a 2-tier increase.
This Ability can only be applied to a Force Power (where applicable) or Skill once, so choices have to be considered carefully.

Even though I'd read that before, I was still impressed with the choice I had for reaching Level 30, and how either option had the potential to be amazing. However, the more time I had to consider them, the more I was leaning toward Natural Evolution. While it had a lower Skill tier available and would cost me some training with the Force, the ability to match – or even surpass – beings like Yoda, Windu, Sidious and Plagueis wasn't something I could ignore.

As I'd seen with Maul, with the limits currently in place, I simply couldn't engage a Council member or higher – before leaving Maul with Osto to be taken from the battlefield, I'd used Observe on him to discover he was Level 36. I needed to improve, yet Player+ only took me to the level of a High Council member, which given how those who'd come with Windu had done against Sidious simply wasn't high enough to be capable of stopping his plans. And that was without considering my actions might've resulted in Plagueis' fate changing.

However, I also understood that I couldn't, and wouldn't, make the change now. The moment I took Natural Evolution if that was my final choice, then I'd lose Dark Side Masking, exposing the taint I no doubt had because of how often I'd drawn on the Dark Side. While that would cause massive problems with Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan currently on Naboo, more than likely members of the High Council and Palpatine would be arriving soon to handle Drallig's body and celebrate the liberation of the planet.

If I took Natural Evolution then I needed time away to learn to mask my Force presence, at least enough that none could sense anything different about me to the point they'd either try to imprison me (the Jedi) or recruit me (the Sith) or attempt to kill me (possibly both).

Now, Qui-Gon, and possibly Obi-Wan though given his limited Force Potential I wasn't sure, had likely sensed my flares of anger but I could easily play those off as concern for my friend. While a Jedi Knight, I was young, and still maturing physically, so emotional reactions were prone to occurring, especially for one who's come late to the Order. Appearing without the ability to mask any taint I might have would be another matter entirely. To say nothing of the other things I'd learnt from Ada's holocron ever since I'd first activated it on Zonama Sekot.

That would ruin everything I'd done up until now, and place my slowly developing plans for the future in danger, all but handing the galaxy to the Sith.

Pushing those concerns to one side for the moment, I pulled up my base stats, wondering how they'd changed because of reaching Level 30 and my injury.

Cameron Shan
Species: Human
Title: The Player
Age: 17
Level 30
HP: 253/253
(-7.5% for lost limb)
FP: 16022/16022
(-10% for Raven)
XP [11874/40000]
STAM [1213/1213]
Hunger [67/100]
STR: 21 +
VIT: 22 +
AGI: 22 +
INT: 42 +
WIS: 32 +
CHA: 32 +
Luck: 10 + [+10]
SP: 18
SKP: 179
PerkP: 0
PPP: 1
Credits: 5492463

Overall, that wasn't bad. The loss of HP because of my missing forearm wasn't massive, though the concept of HP when a single blaster bolt or lightsaber to the gut could, potentially, kill you made the value seemingly worthless as far as I could tell. The XP being a little over a quarter of the way to Level 31 was an indicator that even with the massive force I'd managed to bring to the planet, the way the Interface granted me XP for every droid taken down meant large-scale battles against the CIS in future would be a useful method for XP farming. At least to a degree.

Since there was no definitive reveal of how much combat XP I got, I couldn't tell how much I'd done, but I felt I'd not gained any XP from the space battle. The battles in Theed and on the grass plains had been connected to me via the Battlenet, so gaining a minute fraction for each droid, tank and transport from those battles made sense. If the space battle had been added in, then the XP gain would've been less as there were more people manning the various ships in the allied fleet engaging fewer droids when compared to those on Naboo.

I was slightly surprised that the Changing Fate [Qui-Gon] quest was complete as the objective was to ensure Maul didn't kill Qui-Gon, with nothing being stated clearly about that having to take place on Naboo. There was still a chance the quest could be retroactively failed if that occurred in the future, but if that happened then I'd cross that bridge when I came to it. While I wasn't overly close to Qui-Gon, bar us both being members of the loose – and rarely meeting – Coalition of Jedi trying to prepare for the darkness to come, as a fellow former Padawan of Dooku I felt a faint kinship toward him.

I dismissed my Stats page and those relating to the choice I had to make. Once everything regarding Naboo was over, and I was lightyears away from the Jedi and Sith, I'd see about making my choice. For now, my focus could return to the present.

I slipped from the bed, moving toward a small table nearby. There lay my beskad along with two lightsabers and the remains of two more. Like myself, Serra had lost a blade when fighting Maul, though for her it had been the shoto I'd helped her with. Most of the components hadn't been recovered, but the crystal had been found by Fenrir when He'd been helping Bo dig Serra out of the rubble, and like the two smaller ones from my main blade, it now rested on the table. My issue, however, was that one of my crystals was cracked, having been damaged when Maul destroyed the emitter.

Beside Serra's remaining blade was Master Drallig's, which Bo had placed there thinking Serra would want the connection to her former Master/father figure, which was a sentiment I agreed with. When she awoke and began to recover mentally, she'd have to decide what to do with the blade, though I half-expected her to start wielding it along with her blade, returning to dual-wielding two full-sized lightsabers.

I picked up the crystals and small krayt dragon pearl from my lightsaber, rolling them around in my palm as I considered how to handle rebuilding my blade. While I'd still go for a curved hilt as Makashi was the base of how I fought, I wanted to add more features. The ability to have it not short out when wet, or be able to alter the blade length were things I knew would be added, but I wasn't sure what other features I might add.

I knew that I wanted to add the Mantle of the Force crystal to the blade, and while the crystal was almost entirely aligned with me, having four crystals in a lightsaber was currently beyond what I could manage. Mechanics [Lightsabers] was at Professional:97, and I hoped that once I hit Master:1 I could add everything I wanted to my new blade, but only time would tell. I could manage with the shoto and beskad for now, and if I waited to rebuild my blade until Anakin had found a crystal, we could bond further over building our blades together.

That had my thoughts turn to the Chosen One, and I looked upward, wondering just what had happened to him. I could still, very faintly sense his pain, but it was just a background feeling, only able to reach me due to our bond and the strength of our force sensitivity. However, before I could consider once more what had happened to him, the door opened.

Turning I took a step back, a clearly emotional Sia-Lan Wezz bearing toward me.

"Hey," I said, though I couldn't get anything else out, nor was there a reply as she stormed past me to Serra's bacta tank.

I blinked, processing the flood of emotions rushing from my friend as she placed a hand on the tank. Sorrow and concern were the dominant emotions but a slowly growing, but powerful rage was present as well. That anger, I suspected, was directed at me, and I was fine with that. Sia-Lan was closer to Serra than me, and likely blamed me for Serra's injuries and Drallig's death; something I did as well.

"Rann," I said to the other Padawan who entered with Sia-Lan.

"Cameron," the older but lower-ranked Jedi replied. "We didn't know you were on the planet until we sensed you during the battle." His tone was calm, but I noted his mind was closed as if he didn't want to project his feelings outward. That fit with my previous interactions with him as his thoughts and feelings had always been distant and protected. Though from the way he stood, at a distance, arms crossed over his chest and slightly at an angle, it felt like he wasn't happy I was here. "Nor that Serra and Master Drallig were also present."

I opened my mouth to respond only to stop as Sia-Lan spun and marched toward me.

"Why was she here?!" The girl raged, a finger gesturing toward my face. "It's your fault that she's in that tank and Master Drallig is dead!" the finger jabbed closer, forcing me to lean back and avoid being poked in the eye.

"Padawan!" I snapped, not liking her behaviour. "Calm yourself. Now!" I used Force Persuasion as I spoke, entirely unimpressed with her behaviour. While we were roughly the same age, my rank carried weight, as did the fact that even without an arm or lightsaber I knew I could beat the shit out of both Padawans.

Normally, I wouldn't use the Force against another Jedi, but Sia-Lan's behaviour was unacceptable. No matter how right she was.

"Don't you dare tell me what to do!" She snarled back, the finger jabbing my chest as she lowered the hand. "youghd…"

Her words trailed off as I closed my fist, grasping her with the Force. Before she could get another sound out, or counter my grasp, I lifted her upward, bringing her to my eye level, which left her feet dangling below as I held her afloat via her robes.

"While we are, I hope, still friends, you are overstepping your bounds, Padawan," I said as calmly as I could, though my annoyance and irritation at her behaviour were still clear in my tone and body language. "I understand why you, why both of you," I added, glancing at Rann whose hand had drifted toward his lightsaber though he'd yet to grasp it, "are upset. But remember that you are a Jedi, and if I need to remind you of that fact again, you will regret my training."

With my piece said, and some of her anger lost by the shock of my actions, I let her go. The fall was short, as while she wasn't as tall as me, she wasn't that short, but I'd already turned away from the pair, moving toward the bacta tank. While my way to nullify her anger wasn't one most Jedi would do, I wasn't going to stand there and let her berate me for choices I, or Serra and Drallig, had made.

I placed a hand on the tank and sighed. I knew that, as a Jedi, I'd fucked up in letting Serra come along, and thus having Drallig come as well. However, as a Mandalorian, I'd been left with little choice. To dismiss an ally and friend when I'd called others to battle would've made me look weak and unworthy to gather the forces I had, never mind lead them into battle.

Turning back to the pair I saw that while Rann had relaxed, Sia-Lan's hand rested on her hilt, though she hadn't drawn the weapon yet. The narrow eyes that glared at me suggested it wouldn't take much to have her do so. As amusing as it would be to see her lose control, and then school her about the failure of doing so without proper training, I wasn't interested in that. Not when a stray move of a lightsaber could damage Serra's tank.

"Sia-Lan," Rann began, placing a hand on the elbow of the arm gripping Sia-Lan's lightsaber, "perhaps we should hear Knight Shan's reasoning before jumping to assumptions."

"I know what happened!" Sia-Lan snapped at Rann as she turned to him. That had him raising a single eyebrow. I was a little surprised when that, more than anything else, was what broke through her anger at Serra's condition. "Fine," she muttered, her shoulders slumping and the hand drifting away from her lightsaber, "but I doubt anything you say will change my mind."

I looked at her carefully, thoughts of reminding her of the Jedi Code and the concept of keeping an open mind drowned out by a need to smack her around the head for acting like a Force-damned child. "Understandable," I eventually said as I rejected both options, "but I again remind you of who and what you are." That drew a scoff as if she felt I was being hypocritical, which in a sense I was as I'd come to Naboo as more Mando'ade than Jedi. To say nothing of my tendency to ignore the Code. That said, any irritation I had with her behaviour I let go of, as staying annoyed at her was fucking waste of time, and would show that I could still act like a Jedi.

"To begin, Serra knew I was intending to come to Naboo to help with the situation. I consider both Queen Amidala and Senator Palpatine friends and felt the Force wanted me to help them. That said, I knew this battle would be dangerous, and when Serra first asked to come with me, while she was still inside the Temple, I told her to stay away."

I paused here, turning back and placing my remaining hand on the tank. "The Force, it seemed, had warned us both that if the other came to Naboo, we'd be in great danger. I didn't want her here anymore than she wanted me to go alone, but I pulled rank." My shoulders slumped as the tank continued to beep in time with her constant, but slow, heart rate. "However, Serra reached out to our common friends, and they arranged for her to leave the Temple." I didn't have to mention that those friends were Mandalorian. I was still in my armour, sans my helmet and the section I'd lost with my arm which suddenly itched, and given the warriors that had fought on Naboo, even a youngling could put two and two together. "When I discovered her at the meeting point for the allied fleet, I wanted to send her back; to order her as a Padawan to return to the Temple. She, however, convinced me to let her stay."

I turned back to the pair. While I could mention how she convinced me, by appealing to our status as Mando'ade, it would only make things worse, and drop Serra in deeper trouble with her friends and the rest of the Order. If she wanted to reveal that, it would be her choice to do so. I wasn't going to shift blame to her to save myself from rage and disappointment from others that I felt I deserved.

"Once we were planet-side, Master Drallig arrived soon after. How he slipped past the Federation's fleet I'm not sure, but he did. At that point, and after he'd spoken with his Padawan, there was little I could do to insist he not join the allied forces once he stated he would do so. He outranked me just as I outrank Serra or you. That said, during the battle, I assigned them what should've been a low-risk assignment: to find and rescue a group of Naboo who were about to be shipped off-world and sold into slavery." I sighed and looked down. "I'd hoped by doing that to keep them out of danger. The Force, however, had other ideas."

Silence fell over the room, Rann seemingly considering my words while Sia-Lan slowly calmed herself. I stood there patiently, ignoring as best I could the itching of my missing limb, waiting for their response.

Ever since the battle had ended, my mind had been replaying my choices. I should've pushed for Drallig and Serra to fight elsewhere on the planet. I should never have let them come to Theed, not when I knew Maul was there. In the end, however, I had, and now Serra was paying dearly for my mistake, though I swore on Drallig's memory that I'd not make that mistake ever again.

"Was it really a Sith?" Rann asked after perhaps a minute.

"Well, I didn't exactly stop and ask him if he was," I replied with a small smile which drew a chuckle from Rann. Sia-Lan seemed uninterested in my humour though. "By the time I reached him, he'd already killed Master Drallig and was about to dispatch Serra. I… I couldn't allow that, so I rushed in trying desperately to save her."

Another silence fell over the room, though this one was broken not by a question but by the doors to the medical centre opening and Qui-Gon walking in.

"Well, it seems I was beaten to meeting you, Cameron. I do hope that I'm not too late to hear of your battle with the Sith." He wore a smile that I suspected was meant to relax the tense atmosphere in the room, but there was a hint of, perhaps, apprehension, under it.

"You're sure it was a Sith, Master?" Rann asked, earning a small smile from the old Jedi.

"While I didn't engage him, I sensed his presence as he fought Master Drallig, Knight Shan, and Padawan Keto. I'm left with no doubt that the Zabrak was a Dark Sider, however until Padawan Keto recovers, the only proof we have of his status is Cameron's report."

"And that he defeated Master Drallig inside a few minutes," I added, wanting that point to not be forgotten. While I could understand them dismissing Maul as a Sith if he'd just fought me and Serra, Maul had dismantled Drallig in the time it took me to reach them. And there, again, I saw another mistake that I'd made and had made at times before. A flaw of not using the menagerie of powers at my disposal when they'd be most applicable.

"Yes, there is that," Qui-Gon agreed with a sigh, his shoulders drooping slightly. "While it is conceivable that a random Dark Sider, or even a failed Padawan that I'm unaware of, might be able to defeat a random Jedi Knight or Master, Master Drallig was the Order's Battlemaster and one of our most skilled duellists. That any but a trained Sith could defeat him is something I find doubtful."

Silence returned to the room as the Padawans contemplated Qui-Gon's words. As it stretched on, I considered a way that might help convince Qui-Gon and the Council that Maul was a Sith. I lifted my vambrace and went to access the controls only to stop as I moved my wounded arm over, forgetting the hand was missing.

I sighed loudly, annoyed at making that mistake, but knowing that I'd be making it for some time to come. Even after getting a replacement limb, I knew I'd suffer from phantom limb syndrome as I'd known a few former operators in my former life who'd had to deal with that.

"There is no shame in being wounded," Qui-Gon said, his hand giving my shoulder a gentle squeeze, gesturing to what Gilamar had done earlier. "The Zabrak defeated a Jedi Master and almost killed another Jedi. That you were able to defeat him is a testament to your skills; and the training of your Masters."

I nodded, accepting the praise, though it wasn't fully deserved. "I only won because of the beskar and the weapons in the vambrace," I said slowly, letting my regret seep into the Force and tone. "If I'd fought as a true Jedi, Serra and I would've shared Master Drallig's fate."

"Then it seems the Force has guided you to places where you could discover how you might survive the battle without you perhaps realising it." I looked at him, seeing the sort of wise, amused smile that I often saw from Fay. The kind that implied they knew something I didn't. "It was the Force that led you and Padawan Keto to Mandalore to train. There, like when working with Master Dooku to free those who would become the Lokella, you came into contact with others who'd be of use to you when Naboo was under threat. It also, at least with the Mandalorians, showed you another way to fight in ways not taught in the Temple. A way that, when the chits were down, allowed you to survive and defeat a Sith."

"Yes, Master," I said with a nod, accepting his words even if I didn't entirely believe them. While the Force may have played a part in my helping to establish the Lokella, going to Mandalore had been my choice. I'd wanted to head there and determine if they might be of use come the Clone Wars. Still, it was reassuring that, if nothing else, he didn't hold it against me for using non-Jedi – or less civilised as Obi-Wan famously said – methods to combat Maul.

"And I am relieved that I don't have to inform Master Dooku of your death. While it has been many, many years since I've faced it, I'd prefer to not face him once more when he is displeased."

I chuckled at that. "Aye, that's understandable," I said, well aware of the face Dooku had when annoyed, irritated, or unimpressed with someone, something, or a piece of news he disliked.

"Is he as scary as they say?"

Qui-Gon and I turned to Rann, who, realising what he'd just blurted out, brought a hand up to cover his mouth. The stuttering start of an apology began to slip through his fingers, but it died out when my earlier chuckle turned into laughter as I imagined how Dooku would react to the question. I heard a few quieter, though just as amused, chuckles slip from Qui-Gon before I got myself under control.

"Master Dooku isn't scary per se," I replied, "he's just… very strict about the high standards he expects. And while he expects that from everyone, for his Padawan the standards are considerably higher."

"A very diplomatic answer. One, I suspect, Master Fay would be proud of," Qui-Gon commented, to which I smiled in confirmation. "Now, while I'm glad you're alive and have recovered enough to joke about other matters, I must return this impromptu meeting to the Zabrak." He glanced at the bacta tank, the constant beeping of Serra's heartbeat bringing me a small amount of comfort. "The High Council is aware of what has occurred, and representatives are being dispatched to recover Master Drallig's body and speak with you directly. However, they, like myself, will no doubt wish to hear the details of your battle with the Zabrak."

"As expected, Master, and I believe I can help with that." In the original timeline, many of the Council had come to Naboo for Qui-Gon's funeral, and as Drallig was more important to the day-to-day operations of the Order, his death would have greater implications and importance.

I reached over to another table, this one holding my severed arm contained in a stasis jar. Turning it over with my remaining hand – and doing my best to ignore how awkward and painful doing this was – I accessed the still-working controls of that vambrace and ejected a datacard.

Carefully I passed it to Qui-Gon. "That's a recording from the armour's sensors up until the Sith lashed out after I struck him with poisoned darts," I explained as he took the datacard. "The poison wasn't designed to kill, simply render anything affected by it unable to move. That he was able to continue fighting afterwards was a testament to his skill, and I suspect how infuriated he was that I'd managed to drug him."

"Yes, I suspect that would anger many Dark Siders," Qui-Gon said as he moved over to a nearby console. There, after a minute or so of typing at the console, he activated a small holoprojector, and the image of Maul as I found him standing over Serra, ready to kill her emerged.

Seeing that again, my gaze drifted to Serra, and I had to control myself, lest my fury at what she'd endured resurfaced. A faint gasp of shock from Sia-Lan was accompanied by her residual anger toward me easing, though, after her earlier behaviour, I didn't care if we ever recovered our friendship.

The recording ran on, and we watched silently as my battle with Maul played out. Qui-Gon had slowed the file down slightly, though not by much as the blades were still moving rapidly around the screen. What I did notice was that Rann and Sai-Lan, even at the slower speed, were struggling to keep up with the display. The speed of the battle was still too much for them to handle.

Eventually, the recording stopped, cutting out after Maul had thrown me back, his rage at getting poisoned lashing out hard enough that the impact with the wall was a logical place to edit the recording. Now, the commanders of the allied army who had access to the Battlenet knew it had lasted slightly longer, but since all were Mando'ade and would have no interest in speaking on the matter to the Jedi – not that the Jedi knew they had the recording as well – it wasn't a deception I expected to be discovered.

One of Qui-Gon's eyebrows rose, mirroring an action Dooku used when he wanted an answer but wasn't going to directly ask the question. That made me smile even as I detailed what had happened after the recording shorted out.

"After recovering from the Zabrak's Force attack, I stood to find him slumped against a wall not far from where we'd just been fighting. My beskad had been thrown from my hand in my tumble, and at the time, I didn't know where it had gone. However, I could still sense my shoto and summoned it to me as I approached him. The Sith was down, his breathing steady but slow, the tranquiliser I'd shot him with having begun to overpower his body as the Force abandoned him."

"As is often the case for those who think the Dark Side offers power without cost."

"I thought he was down for good," I said, dismissing Qui-Gon's remark. "But he drew on his remaining strength, leapt to his feet, and charged at me." Pausing to ensure everyone was listening, I projected honesty about my words. "His attacks were slower than before. I sidestepped, wanting him alive, and drove my blade into his side. He snarled, then pushed forward, and was bisected just above the waist. He fell into the river and went over the falls."

"Did you try to recover his lightsaber?"

I cringed. "I admit that it slipped my mind as I watched the body disappear, though the last I saw it, it was still in his grasp." This was true, though the 'he' here wasn't Maul but Osto as he'd been holding the blade as the subdued Maul was taken away by the warriors in his squad.

Qui-Gon looked at me intently, as if sensing I was holding something back. I saw that Rann and Sia-Lan were also looking at me, but that was likely because they were struggling to process that I'd defeated the Sith who'd killed the Jedi Battlemaster. If Sia-Lan still wanted to blame me for Serra's injuries she could do so, though if she pushed about it again my patience would be even less than last time.

"It is unfortunate that the Sith – and after viewing your duel I have little doubt he was one – chose death over imprisonment, but it isn't unexpected," Qui-Gon said slowly, seemingly accepting my recounting of the end of the duel. "And your actions, made so soon after your injury, are entirely expected. However, I feel the Council may wish for greater detail about those final moments. Not just in how the Sith died, but regarding why he was on Naboo, and why you, if as I suspect, felt a danger here, you didn't ask the Council for support."

"I believe you said they wouldn't listen to you when you asked, Master," I said, recounting something he'd mentioned before we'd entered the system. "As for why he was here, I'd wager a good number of credits that he, and his Master as I feel he was the Apprentice, were, and possibly still are, involved in some way with the Trade Federation."

"Yes, the choice made by the Viceroy to blockade Naboo was rash, and invading downright reckless. Illogical even for one who places importance in credits over direct power." Qui-Gon paused and stroked his beard. "The Viceroy is secured in the palace. Obi-Wan, a squad of Naboo and Gungans and a unit of Mandalorians standing watch over him. When the time is right, he will be handed over to Republic security for questioning and trial."

"I suspect he might not make it there," I said slowly, seeing a way to cover my tracks if I was able to enact justice on Gunray. "If the Sith are involved, then the Master will want the Viceroy silenced before he reveals anything that might incriminate others."

"Yes, that is true. And it is something I already plan to mention to Master Yoda when he arrives," Qui-Gon replied with a smile. "I'll ensure your agreement with that is also mentioned." I nodded in thanks, pleased I wasn't being dismissed and would get some credit for the decision. While I doubted it would make any difference to how members of the Council saw me, it would help divert attention and blame from me if Gunray was removed from the board after leaving Naboo. Before that, I had to determine how, when, and where he would face justice for his actions. "Now, since you've been given the all-clear, perhaps you and the Padawans would be willing to help with the search for survivors?"

"I would Master, however, I first wish to collect Raven. During the fight, I sensed something shift in the Force, and I feel I need to investigate the matter quickly."

"This would be what brought about your moment of hesitation during the duel?" he glanced at my missing hand, making clear what he was referring to. I nodded in confirmation. "Hmm. I will speak with the Queen to arrange your departure. Though I suspect she and others will be disappointed to hear of it."

"I don't think I'll be gone long. Perhaps a week at most, and if I still can't find the source of the shift, I'll return so I'm here when the Council arrives."

"That would be advisable. I don't think Queen Amidala would be willing to hold the celebrations of victory without the one responsible for the forces that came to her planet's aid." His lips twitched. "You two may speak with Knight Shan when he returns," He continued, addressing the Padawans. "For now, our services are needed by the populace of this world."

Rann gave me a nod, which I returned. Sia-Lan stared at me, the fury she'd had earlier calmed slightly by, I suspected, seeing the duel I'd had with Maul. The trio then left the room and once the door was closed, I turned back to the bacta tank.

Placing my remaining hand on it, I sighed. "I'm sorry," I muttered, taking a moment to reach out for Serra's mind. I could sense it, though it was obscured; likely from the drugs flowing through her system that were keeping her sedated. I could sense her pain and anguish but knew there was little I could do to help with that currently.

Turning, I attached my shoto to my belt and then the beskad. Fenrir lifted his head, sensing we were leaving, and after he stood and stretched, he gave Serra a long look, one mirroring mine from moments earlier. Moving toward the door, I wondered how difficult it was going to be to fly Raven with only one hand. While we shared a connection and she could sense my intentions and react, I'd be slowed down in using the controls because of the missing limb.

I knew Anakin was still alive, but something had happened to him. What I'd felt wasn't a premonition, but a live reaction felt through the Force. Why it had to happen while I was engaging Maul only the Force could say, but it had.

Carrying my helmet under my remaining arm, I used the Force to open the door and walked out of the medical bay. Two guards stood outside, nodding as I exited; admiration and respect were easy to sense from them. As I walked away, I started playing around with ideas in my head. Gunray had to be removed before he was handed over to Palpatine, as that would simply allow the snivelling grub to return to Sidious' control. However, with the guard on him currently, it would take a bit of work to ensure the Neimoidian ended up dead without anyone being implicated.

The fact that I was contemplating the removal of Gunray by assassination - as that was what it would be - was something I'd taken a few hours to process. I could remember clearly that when I'd been captured by those who raped and abused children, including a fellow Jedi, I'd decided against executing the rapist. Yet now, less than a decade later, I was fine with ordering an assassination of an enemy that could trouble me in the future.

Pulling on my helmet, I opened a secure channel and contacted HK. If anyone knew how to remove Gunray without it being linked to me, it would be the droid. It was what Revan had constructed him for after all.

… …

… …

"Your ship is refuelled and ready for launch, Master Jedi."

I looked up and gave the technician who'd approached a smile. "Thanks." He turned and walked away, and I looked at Raven.

Finding her unharmed in the swamp had been a relief as this was the first time I'd parked her somewhere off the beaten track, and after settling in I'd flown her to the palace. Currently, she was resting in a small private hangar inside the cliff that the royal palace rested upon. The hangar was just large enough to let Raven enter, though the royal cruiser would've never fit, which was why it was usually docked in the hangars in Theed.

That said, the interesting fact was that I was in the second of two small bays, with the first being an unknown ship that had been discovered after Theed was freed. It hadn't taken me long to investigate the matter and discover that the vessel was Maul's and that it had already killed a group of technicians that had approached it before my return to the city.

Its presence raised a handful of issues as, while an impressive-looking vessel, I'd never seen or heard of it again in the knowledge I had of the future. No doubt it had come up in comics or novels, but I'd never read any, so I was at a loss here. Likely it had returned, slowly, to Sidious' control, but I wasn't willing to allow that to happen here.

While it had formidable defences – the video of a technician screaming as their body melted was one I wasn't going to forget, even if Eidetic Memory ensured that – I wanted it. The information inside would provide intel on the Sith plans. Intel that I might never get from Maul.

As such, I'd tasked HK with finding a way inside the vessel – whose name wasn't on the landing records nor the ship's hull – but already he'd run into a small issue. While a great combat and assassin droid, HK wasn't built for slicing into systems. That had, however, offered me an opportunity that I planned to take when I next spoke to Padmé.

HK would remain on Naboo while I returned to the ShaDo system to determine what had happened to Anakin. I'd tried contacting them via the Holonet, but the signal was down. While not an encouraging discovery, the fact neither he nor Dooku was dead – my quests for them and Force Bonds with them were still active – meant I wasn't panicking just yet about what had befallen the Lokella. Still, HK remaining here would also have him looking for ways to eliminate Gunray before representatives of the Republic arrived to take the Neimoidian.

HK's initial suggestions of simply vaporising the entire detention wing of the palace were shot down when I explained I needed it handled discreetly, with no links back to us. That had sparked a reaction in his optical receptors, and I suspected he was looking forward to that more than gaining entry to Maul's ship.

As I reached the Raven's ramp, I sensed two familiar presences and turning I saw Ferox lead Bo into the bay. While Bo wore her helmet, I could sense her concern, though it was drowned out by Ferox's for his newly-formed family.

"What's this about a problem with Anakin?" Ferox asked once he was closer, Fenrir growling at the Corellian's rapid approach and aggressive tone, though he refused to do anything more, content to laze around at the base of the ramp.

"During the battle, I sensed something happened to him," I replied. "I've tried to contact the station, but the signal's not getting through. Now, I know Anakin is alive, but I can't tell much more than that," I added, trying to calm his rapidly fraying nerves. "Because of that, I want you and Bo to come with me."

"The Mando'ade have gathered aboard our prize of war to celebrate."

"That can wait!" Ferox snapped at Bo, stepping toward her, and growling at her helmet. "The lives of my people, my family, matter more than any stupid celebration!"

Bo held her ground, and while she didn't audibly respond, I saw her fist clenching.

I moved forward, sliding my good arm between the pair. "Easy there," I said, moving the rest of my body between the pair. This had the potential to explode given both had fiery personalities, and that was the last thing I wanted to see. When it was clear that neither was going to add anything else, I turned my attention to Ferox.

"Ferox, Mandalorians always celebrate a victory, especially one of this magnitude. Something I know the Lokella do as well," he grunted at that and took a step back, turning in the process. That let me turn to Bo. "I'm not asking our people to delay the celebration, but tell me you wouldn't rush from a party if your family or friends were in potential danger?"

She nodded at that. "You're right, I wouldn't. Anakin and Shmi will always take priority over a victory celebration."

"I apologise for my aggressive behaviour," Ferox said, catching me off guard as he rarely apologised unless he had the issue beaten into him. The relationship with Shmi seemingly had smoothed his more unbalanced tendencies. "I am simply worried about my family."

Bo nodded, accepting the apology, and then turned to me. "How long will we be gone?"

"If I push Raven, and we don't run into any complications, perhaps a week, six days tops."

Bo nodded. "I'll inform my father and Alor Torrhen to delay festivities until then."

I frowned at hearing that as with the Ne'tra Tal'ade, Saak'ak, and Luuhan all controlled by them, and in orbit of Naboo, the longer they dallied here, the greater the chance they'd still be present when the Chancellor and High Council arrived. As much as I'd love to see their faces at the sight of a Mandalorian warship sitting peacefully in orbit of Naboo, it would be better for the ships to be gone. Then again, as Padmé had granted every warrior who'd fought to free Naboo permission to remain as long as they wished, and that so long as they weren't wanted for violating Republic law, every one of them - be they Mando'ade or Lokella - would have safe harbour in the Naboo system.

They would always be offered safe harbour – so long as they weren't being hunted by Republic security – there was no reason for the Mando'ade to leave early with their ships.

Now, the Vuutun Palaa was in orbit as well, however, she was little more than a wreck. Her engines had blown during the battle and one of the hangar arms had been breached just before they'd surrendered. From what I'd heard the Naboo were planning to have the vessel stripped for parts and sold to help with the rebuilding.

Personally, I'd have considered seeing what condition the power core and the rest of the ship were in as while it was a reminder of the invasion, as a station or defence platform it had some potential. However, I could understand why the Naboo wouldn't want a symbol of their planet's darkest moment remaining. That said, if I could, I hoped to convince Padmé to have an actual station developed that could help defend the planet, system, and nearby planets. It was unlikely to happen, but it was worth trying.

"They'll be fine with that?" I asked as Bo turned away, probably to open a channel to them through the Battlenet.

Bo stopped and looked at me as if I'd suddenly grown a second head. "Cam, you're the Akaan'lor of the battle. To celebrate without you, while appealing to many, would dishonour you, and those who fought under your banner."

I stared at her, wondering how much of that was true or not. Mandalorians enjoyed celebrating, or at least Bo did, so for her to suggest every warrior that had answered my call would simply wait for me sounded far-fetched, though I could see why she felt they would.

"Fine then. Contact them once we launch as I want us airborne inside five."

She nodded and moved toward the ramp. I looked at Ferox, and with a grunt, he followed the Mandalorian. As I moved toward Raven, Fenrir stood, sliding up to Bo, happy she would be joining us again. While I couldn't exactly speak with him, I knew the tuk'ata missed Bo, considering her a part of our pack. Truthfully, at any other time, I'd agree with the feeling, but my mind was still concerned for Serra, and I took the first step onto Raven's ramp, hoping she'd be awake by the time I returned, if not out the tank entirely.


Turning, I saw Padmé entering the bay, her steps hurried enough that the guards with her were struggling to keep pace and continue to ensure the area they were entering was safe. Padmé wasn't in her royal garb, which was a relief as I found the clothing choices the Naboo had for formal occasions to be gaudy, if not pointless. I knew it was their tradition, but not all traditions made sense.

"Wh," she paused, taking a moment to regain her composure and breath. "Where are you going?"

"I need to check on something," I replied, amused at the worry I saw in her eyes. "When I fought the Sith I sensed a disturbance in the Force centred around a friend. Bo and Ferox are coming as they know this person as well."

"When will you come back?" There was a slight hint of urgency in her tone as if I was somehow important to the formal celebrations the Naboo were planning. I hoped that wouldn't be the case, but knowing my luck it would be.

"Five, maybe six days."

"Oh." Padmé relaxed at that. "OK then. I was just concerned you wouldn't be here for the celebration."

"Aye, Bo was worried about the same thing," I replied with a chuckle. "Didn't think you'd be joining the Mandalorian festivities," I added with a teasing smile.

"What?! No!" Padmé paused, realising she'd raised her voice higher than intended, and drawn the attention of several technicians in the bay. "There will be official celebrations for the liberation of the planet, the new alliance between the Naboo and the Gungans, and the election of a new Chancellor. One who will be coming here personally as his first official act." The last bit was spoken with a wide smile, which all but confirmed that this little detail of the timeline hadn't changed.

"Given your smile, I take it I know the new Chancellor?" I asked, matching her smile.

"Yes. Former Senator Palpatine was elected a few days before the battle," She replied, her smile widening as she believed this was a good thing for Naboo. "With him as Chancellor, I'm certain the Viceroy and the Federation will be forced to pay for their actions."

"I'd say losing three of their most valuable vessels along with the extent of their military might being exposed will cost them, though, I fear the Federation's sycophants in the Senate will work overtly and covertly to ensure the Viceroy and those with him escape with nothing more than a slap on the wrist."

Padmé held my gaze for a moment before sighing. "I… I fear you may be right. However, I'll reserve judgement until Chancellor Palpatine has had time to reshape the Senate into the voice of the people that it should be."

"I feel he will change the Senate, but I cannot say if that will be for the good of all," I said, adding a small seed of doubt about Palpatine's intentions to her thoughts. The speech she'd given before the battle, along with the help to free her world and people coming from those unaligned with the Republic had shown that she wasn't as ardent a supporter of the Republic as she had been in the other timeline, though I wasn't sure how much I could change her, and her planet's fate regarding the Republic.

Now, while I didn't want Naboo joining the CIS, or whatever they became here because of my actions altering plans that led to their creation, having Palpatine's homeworld, or at least its current leader and one the people would revere for her actions in liberating them, questioning some of his motives would, I hoped, lead to others to see through the blinkers the Sith Lord was placing over their eyes. All I had to do was ensure that I knew how to spin this approach once it got back to Palpatine, but I felt he'd subtly approve as it served his true intentions.

Padmé nodded, accepting my words, though her eyes soon fixed on my arm, the one missing a hand. "How is it?" She asked softly. Before I could reply, her eyes widened, and she brought her hands to her mouth. "I…"

I chuckled and lifted my good hand to cut off her apology. "It doesn't hurt, though I can still feel it. Phantom pains the doc said," I added with a chuckle. "I'll get a replacement limb when I can, and the galaxy will move on. For now, though, the disturbance in the Force takes priority. As it did when I knew I had to help you and your people." She nodded, though remained silent as if scared to make another faux pas. "There's nothing wrong with showing concern for a friend, Padmé," I added, placing my remaining hand on her shoulder. "Still, I'd rather questions about the limb came only from those I consider friends and not others who might gloat over the injury." The faces of Jon Savos and Master Belfour came to mind, and while I doubted either would say anything to my face, they and others who disliked or hated me would enjoy hearing I'd lost a limb in battle.

She nodded as her eyes met mine, a faint smile creeping back onto her face. There was a spark of something more than just concern in her eyes, and I slid my hand from her shoulder. She was only fourteen after all.

Though it all depended on Serra still wanting to pursue something with me after she recovered. For a while I expected she'd resent me for Drallig's death, which was understandable, but I hoped that, whatever became of our relationship, we'd remain friends. Serra was, and always would be, the first person in this life that I considered my friend and I'd do as much as I could to ensure that wasn't irrevocably damaged.

"I'll ensure Serra gets the best of care until you return."

And there was another reminder, however unintended it was, of Serra, my feelings toward her, and her condition that was heavily my fault.

"Thank you," I said with as natural a smile as I could manage. "And because I worry about your safety, and to ease your concern about my return, HK and Simvyl will remain behind to help ensure your safety." Currently, Simvyl was helping guard Gunray while HK was in the bay next door, which allowed me to segue into something I'd been planning to ask Padmé when I returned. "Actually, now that I think about it, HK has examined the vessel in Bay One, and has deduced he needs help accessing the ship's computer. While not what he was designed for, might I request that the R2 unit he knows be assigned to help him? I know the vessel will be turned over to the Republic and Jedi soon, but I want him to try and access it before then on the chance it might have information that could help ensure Gunray doesn't escape justice." I leaned closer, a smile widening as I spoke. "I feel, though he won't admit it, that HK misses T3, so a new companion might smooth some of his rougher edges."

Yes, I was manipulating her to get what I wanted. However, given R2's insane luck in the other timeline, the connection he'd formed with Anakin, the chaos of HK and R2 as a team, and whatever Maul's vessel contained, I had no issues with using Padmé in this way.

"I doubt HK would ever admit to that," Padmé replied with a small and gentle laugh, "but I agree with the idea that gaining access to that vessel might be of worth." She paused and looked at me. "As thanks for your services to Naboo, I'll have the R2 unit transferred to your ownership by the time you return."

"Yet another way to ensure I return, Your Majesty?" I asked jovially.

"Well, I can't have the Hero of Naboo absent for the victory celebrations," She replied with the same amusement. "May the Force be with you, Master Jedi. The thoughts and prayers of the people of Naboo and their current Queen will be."

I bowed, breaking eye contact as the spark of desire returned to her gaze. "And may the Force be with you and your people in the years ahead, Your Majesty."

I turned then and walked up the ramp into Raven.

Already I could feel the power racing through her skin, the engines slowly powering up as Bo worked to ensure Raven was ready to fly by the time I reached the cockpit. As the hatch closed, I put concerns about Serra, Padmé, my relationships, and everything else to one side. What mattered for now was Anakin, Dooku, and the Lokella.

Something bad awaited us in the ShaDo system, but I felt it wasn't anywhere near as bad as it could've been.

… …

… …

Raven slid from hyperspace, depositing us into the ShaDo system. Already I sensed her missing the exotic energies of faster-than-light travel, as if she was slowly becoming hooked on them, like an addict on spice. Or at least one of the less dangerous variants of spice as I never sensed she was becoming lost in the sensations and experiences of hyperspace, just that it seemed to excite her, making her more energetic and alive.

Thoughts on Raven's behaviour and reaction to hyperspace were driven from my thoughts as the initial sensor readings came in, confirming what I was seeing.

"The fuck?" I muttered as I scanned the debris of ruined vessels that littered the system. Now, it wasn't a massive number as the ships here were minute when compared to those around a Core or other well-developed world, but it was still a shock to see the wrecks of dozens, if not hundreds of vessels stretching from the hyperspace exit point toward Mtael's Gift and Gai.

"What happened?" that came from Ferox who sat in one of the spare seats in the cockpit behind me with Bo occupying the co-pilot's chair.

"Battle," Bo replied shortly. "A major one for the Lokella."

I bit back a sarcastic remark about stating the obvious, as this wasn't the time or place for it. Instead, as Raven slowly moved forward, I scanned the debris, noting which ships matched those I knew belonged to the Lokella and which didn't. The debris around us currently wasn't heavy, consisting of two gunships that had seemingly been overwhelmed when the attacking force had arrived, though as we neared the station, the amount and variety of debris increased.

Almost all of it around Mtael's Gift didn't match anything in Raven's logs, though one ship did. The markings on the hull that the scanners could see underneath blast marks bore a striking similarity to a vessel that had been on Tatooine when I'd gone there to meet Qui-Gon, Padmé and the others.

Before I could think on that further, a proximity alarm sounded and two battered, but still capable, CR70s slipped out from behind the wreckage of a large cargo hauler. With them came a flight of starfighters, mainly composed of Z-95 Headhunters.

Not wanting to get into a firefight, especially as Raven was unarmed, I threw open the comms. "This is Cameron Shan along with Ferox aboard the Raven. We request permission to approach and land on Mtael's Gift." While none of the approaching vessels had locked their weapons on us, I could sense their agitation and anger from here. That said, if any of them fired on Raven, I'd be having words with them; ones that they'd likely not enjoy as an annoyed Force user was not something many wanted to face.

Thankfully, before anyone could make such a mistake, the small holo-display in the cockpit flickered to life, revealing a Twi'lek that I couldn't immediately place. "Mtael," he began with a bow, "we are grateful that you and Commander Ferox have returned. However, the battle has ended and those responsible were killed, captured, or driven off."

"Yeah, I can see that," I snarked, drawing a snort of amusement from Bo. "I'll save questions until I've docked. Provided, of course, that I can?"

The Twi'lek blinked, and I thought I saw his lekku twitch, though that might just be a trick of the hologram as it flickered slightly. "Yes, Yes. I will inform the Council of your arrival." He turned as if to close the channel only to pause. "Many will be relieved that you and Commander Ferox have returned."

"Croz's twitchy," Ferox said once the channel closed, and the defence force started to change their vectors. "There's more that happened than just a space battle."

I stayed silent, as I already knew that. Anakin wouldn't have screamed into the Force so powerfully that I'd hear him from so far away for only a space battle. However, I could sense Ferox's growing fears about what might've happened and didn't want to add to them.

As Raven slipped toward the debris the corvettes and fighters had been hiding behind – which included a Valor-Class light cruiser built by TransGalMeg Industries – I reached out through the Force.

The first presence I sensed on the station was Dooku. The calm, almost cold centre he projected into the Force relaxed some of my fears even as he pushed back against my probe, letting me know he was in good health. I didn't try to speak with him telepathically, as I needed to keep my mind at least mainly focused on Raven. While I could pilot her easily enough with one hand, the increasing volume of debris along our flightpath meant I couldn't be too distracted.

Instead, I simply gave him a sense I was near and would soon be able to speak directly with him. That drew the expected cool acceptance, though there was a faint hint of concern as well. That was odd, though given the other Force presences I could sense on the station, I quickly understood why he was concerned.

Before I focused on the unexpected and unwanted one, I located Anakin. As normal, he was instinctively hiding from detection through the Force, but I was used to that and knew how to sense the faintest of shifts his natural attempts to hide caused in the Force. What helped to find him this time though was that his mind was a mess.

Anger, fear, disbelief, and despondency raged for control of him. He didn't react directly to my presence in the Force, but what he was feeling had me concerned about Shmi and her child. I kept my eyes forward, not wanting Ferox to catch my eye as his concern would only amplify if he felt I knew something he didn't.

That left me focusing on the third powerful Force presence I felt on Mtael's Gift, and wondering why Vosa was present.

Coming face-to-face with her was so far down my bucket list, that I suspected I'd have to go two systems over to find it. Yet, not only was she no longer on Gaia, as she had been ever since Dooku had started trying to rehabilitate her, but it felt as if she was unrestrained, though hopefully she wasn't armed with anything more than the Force.

My mind, as it often did when Vosa came up, returned to my time under her care, and the horrors I'd endured. My missing arm twitched, the pain of the lost limb merging with once more feeling the rage that had been brought forth by Vosa's machinations; suffering under her direction in an attempt to break and turn me.

I jerked when I felt a hand on my shoulder. Looking up I saw Bo there, a hand on my shoulder and a concerned expression on her face. Looking out of the viewport I saw we'd moved much closer to the station, so much so that I must've gotten lost, again, in reliving my experiences with the Bando Gora.

"You ok?"

"Yeah," I replied absently. "Just… When we get there I need you to remain calm," I said, turning back to her. Bo frowned so I kept going. "Vosa's there."

Her grip on my shoulder tightened, as did her jaw and her eyes narrowed as she looked toward the rapidly approaching and growing Mtael's Gift. The slightest of twitches crept onto her face and I felt I had to intervene. "Bo," I said softly, but in a clear tone that I knew she'd listen to.

Her gaze returned to me, and I felt a surge of desire and relief at the fire burning in her eyes. However, as much as that fire was one I wanted to sate, now wasn't the time nor place to do so. I needed her to remain calm once we landed, as while she was a good fighter – possibly becoming great with a few more years of experience – Vosa was several leagues beyond her.

"Fine," Bo said eventually, some of her fury fading away as she spoke through gritted teeth. "But if she puts a hair out of line, I'm going to blow it and the head attached to it off her shoulders and then jettison the body into the star."

I chuckled at the image, finding the idea of ending Vosa extremely appealing; even if what Bo suggested felt too quick and easy for what Vosa had put me through.

"That's all I can ask for," I said with a smile before turning my focus back to Raven and the controls as landing vectors came in from the station.

… …

… …

I stood in Raven's airlock waiting patiently for the ramp to descend. Outside were dozens of sentients, though three were closer to us than the others. Dooku wasn't with them, nor was Vosa who was close but not directly with him, or Anakin. While I'd have liked to speak directly with either of them upon arrival, given the chaos that had been seen outside the station – warships and fighters on high alert while a few transports slowly moved debris away from the station – I could understand if Dooku was busy helping the Lokella and Anakin was focused on whatever had greatly upset him.

Vosa not being present was a double relief, as not only would I not have to face her as soon as I arrived, but it removed the threat Bo might react to any off-hand remark the deranged bitch might make. Ever since realising that Vosa was on the station, I'd been dreading a run-in with her to the point that, once Raven had landed, I'd been reluctant to leave my chair. My remaining hand had gripped the controls tightly as Ferox had stormed from the cockpit.

With us being alone, Bo had come over and placed a hand on my shoulder for support. She'd not said anything, simply waiting for me to prepare myself and stand, but her presence and support had helped immensely. As had the silent promise I saw in her eyes that if Vosa stepped out of line, Bo would do everything she could to put that bitch down for good. It didn't, however, stop my missing hand with itching, nor with the nagging doubt I had that if I saw Vosa I'd be able to restrain myself from trying to kill her. Preferably, as painfully as possible.

As the hatch hissed and then opened, Ferox rushed forward. Fenrir growled at the disrespect, but I wasn't offended. Ferox was, understandably, worried about his family and if our positions were reversed, I'd have done the same.

Walking forward, the recycled atmosphere of the station filled my lungs, a faint hint of cleansing agent fresh in the air. That suggested there'd been a battle in the bay, and a quick look around confirmed it as blast marks dotted the walls, discolouring them.

As the landing area came into sight, I saw Ferox meeting with three other members of the Lokella Council. While the group was led by Baalta, the fact Maan Lonwin and Tweq Ruhn were missing – when both were high in the chain of command of the Lokella and Mtael's Gift – wasn't encouraging.

"What happened?" Ferox blurted out before Baalta could acknowledge my presence. "Where's Shmi?"

"Mtael, Ferox, we are grateful you have returned," Baalta said, trying to be diplomatic, yet in her tone, and within the Force, I could sense the pain and fear of the Lokella. In fact, it was so strong that the usual worship they had when I arrived was almost non-evident.

"Where is Shmi?" Ferox asked again, his voice positively feral, which drew a growl from Fenrir as he moved to my side. I went to place my hand on his head, only to stop as I realised he was on the side with the missing limb.

Baalta looked down and sighed. "I… It would be better if we took you to her." She then turned to a Rodian with her. "Take Commander Ferox to his wife." The Rodian did as asked, though as he stepped away Ferox came over, grabbed the alien's clothing and all but dragged him away.

"What happened here?" I asked once Ferox was out of earshot of us.

Baalta sighed again and shook her head. "It seems that not all who joined our cause did so because they believed in it. When the fleet answered your call, a signal was sent out. Not long after the Mtael had insisted that most of our forces return, another fleet arrived in the system, intent on forcing our people back into chains. Those who stayed behind fought valiantly, but by the time the Liberator and the rest of the fleet arrived, only two gunships remained to defend the station, which had already been boarded." Baalta paused and looked down at the deck. "While we wanted to honour the Mtael by providing him help as he had once done for us, in our haste we over-committed and many of our people died, though I'm led to believe that none were captured and re-enslaved."

I moved forward and placed my hand on Baalta's shoulders. "The future is uncertain, even to those of us who can use the Force."

She lifted her head, the faintest of smiles creeping onto her face. "Master Dooku said as much after the battle. I… If not for him and his apprentice, I fear the loss of life on the station would've been far worse." I nodded, choosing to not vocalise any thoughts about Vosa. Especially how she wasn't Dooku's apprentice. "He is currently in the station's command centre and awaits your presence."

I glanced over to the door that Ferox had raced through, the Lokella Council member being dragged along behind him. "What happened to the Skywalkers?"

"The boy, young Anakin, is fine. While he didn't see battle, he helped where he could." the smile on her face grew. "According to reports, he used the Force as you and Master Dooku showed him where he could and, at other times, seemed to know when and where the attackers would come from." The smile fell. "Shmi, however…" she shook her head, her lekku twitching while the montrals moved. "Many people suffered because of our haste to help."

"You did what you thought was right based on what information you had at the time. That is all anyone can do. To blame yourself in hindsight, if one doesn't learn from the mistakes, only leads to recrimination and doubt."

Baalta nodded, the smile slowly returning. "The Mtael is wise. As expected of a Jed… Your arm?!" she whispered as she saw the missing limb. "What happened?"

I lifted the arm, smiling as if I found it funny that this kept coming up even when it was hard to find anything amusing about losing my dominant hand. "While the battle with the Federation went easier than I'd expected, they had unexpected help. A Dark Sider, possibly even a Sith if that word means anything to you," judging by her non-reaction it didn't, "was there. While I was able to defeat him eventually, it came at a high cost."

Baalta's eyes widened as if she was struggling to understand what I'd just said. Her hand came out, gently touching my arm slightly above the elbow where I'd lost the forearm. "You… you paid this price to free others? To protect them from enslavement?"

"He did," Bo replied as I saw an amused smirk on her face, her helmet under her arm.

"You truly are the Mtael," Baalta said; a wide, proud smile coming to her face. "To pay this price for others shows that we were right to support you. While we will mourn our dead for some time, it will offer many some respite to know the Mtael continues to fight to protect others. To end the tyranny of slavers. And we will continue to stand with you, just as you do by arriving here so soon after your battle."

I considered heading to Anakin directly, though since Ferox was heading there already, I decided that speaking with Dooku and learning more about what happened here should come first. Yes, Anakin was in pain, and it sounded like Shmi – and possibly her child – was gone. While I wanted to comfort him, Ferox should, as his stepfather, be the first to have that opportunity.

"Is Dooku's… guest still present on the station?" I asked. I knew she was, as I could sense her twisted, deranged presence in the Force, but I wanted to hear from Baalta about why Vosa was here before I spoke to Dooku.

Baalta's face tensed, and her lekku seemed to vibrate. "Yes… she is currently staying in a small room near Master Dooku. He felt it was best if she remained close, but not too close, to him."

"An airlock would be better," Bo muttered, and I found myself disagreeing simply because, with her training, Vosa might be able to survive that long enough to make it to another airlock or a nearby hatch. Now, if we opened the airlock near the system's star and accelerated away before she could recover, I might consider it a fitting action to take.

"While many share your distaste for her Lady Bo-Katan, she fought beside Master Dooku during the attack. She saved many from the slavers when they boarded the station."

"You're sure they were slavers?" Bo asked as Fenrir growled, showing his dislike for those in that profession.

"Yes. While few of them survived, thanks to the actions of Master Dooku and others, we captured several of their boarding parties. Those that chose to surrender were quite forthcoming after Master Dooku spoke with them."

"Aye, I expect they were." While a Jedi, Dooku had no issue with doing what was needed to discover the truth, especially from sentients barely worthy of the name. It was honestly surprising he remained a Jedi for as long as he did in the other timeline given his opinion of most beings in the galaxy. "Although, perhaps we might discuss this as we walk," I added as I saw many in the bay were still watching us, and while I couldn't hear their voices – or at least wasn't going to bother using the Force to enhance my hearing – I could sense the growing curiosity, confusion, and even some anger all directed toward me. "Master Dooku isn't one to tolerate being made to wait."

Baalta chuckled. "Yes, that is indeed true." She turned and indicated toward a door leading from the bay, one heading in the opposite direction from where Ferox had gone. "While we respect him for his role in creating our people, he is cold, almost strict in a way that reminds many of their former enslavers. If not for his role, and his connection to you, Mtael, I feel many would fear his presence. Much as they do with his current apprentice."

"Master Dooku is… careful to a fault. It makes him, to those who don't know him, hard to read; almost to the point where one would question whether he has a heart."

"Yes. We on the Council, and among the first generation of Lokella, have always understood his importance to our cause. While I wished it hadn't happened, the attack has shown that to those who came to us later. If not for both his and his apprentice's presence on the station, we would have suffered far more grievously."

"Who hired the attackers?" Bo asked as we reached the door exiting the bay.

I was curious about that as well. While it was possible it was just a large slaving group, I felt that was unlikely. Even with most of the fleet gone, the concentrated forces left behind would've made the venture a risky one with the loss of slaver ships and personnel not able to be covered unless every Lokella was captured.

"The Hutts. Specifically, Decca." Baalta all but spat out that name, and I reached for my lightsaber, only to be reminded that it was gone, as was the hand that would normally wield it.

Decca had been the Hutt behind the slaving and mining operation in this system when Dooku and I had stumbled upon it. He'd held a grudge against the Lokella ever since and had been the one who sent the thugs after me during my verd'goten.

I ground my teeth; the face of the walking handbag that had shot me at my moment of triumph seared into my mind without the help of Eidetic Memory. Now, I knew that incident, and a few others involving Trandoshans had coloured my opinion of the species, to the point I wouldn't stop someone from wiping out the race, but a group that pleased their God by killing others wasn't one I considered high on any list to protect. Something the Wookies – among others – agreed with.

"While gathering your forces and striking back at Decca will be appealing, I must advise caution," I said slowly, keeping my feelings toward the giant slug out of my tone. "He deserves to pay for what he's done, but his mother is Gardulla. She is, even by Hutt standards, a remarkably influential being in the criminal underworld. And that's before we consider the Kajidic, Hutt Clan, that she leads. They are only rivalled, from what I know, by one other Hutt Clan for power, influence, and greed. Moving openly against Decca, Gardulla, or even the entire Kajidic would have the rest of the Hutt Clans allying to protect them. Not because they care about those two, but because it would be an affront to their entire system."

"We are aware of this. However, the need for retaliation is strong." Baalta's response was aggressive, almost challenging, and she seemed to understand this as she blinked in shock after she finished speaking.

"There's nothing wrong with being passionate," Bo said before I could tell Baalta she didn't need to apologise. "The trick is learning to focus that passion – that rage – properly to not get lost in your emotions and lose sight of the objective when facing your target. Also, you need to find targets that won't risk another major assault. Find weak points in your enemy's lines then strike them hard and fast; cripple their operations without endangering your warriors."

"Wise words, and ones I'll pass along to the Council," Baalta said as we stepped inside an elevator. That brought a few moments of silence as Baalta used a display inside the car. "A small security measure to ensure only those with permission can access the command levels," she said as we started ascending.

"A wise precaution," I said before turning to Bo. "With the war now over, might your father, Alor Torrhen, and other trustworthy warriors be interested in resuming the training program for the Lokella's warriors?"

Bo nodded. "Aye, I think they'd be interested."

"We would be grateful for any help you or others can offer," Baalta added with a smile; one that exposed the sharp teeth her species were known for. "The initial training programs put in place by your people are still used for training our warriors, but refresher and advanced courses wouldn't go amiss. Nor, perhaps, training in ship-to-ship operations."

Bo nodded, taking on Baalta's words and I knew she was sincere in her promise to pass on the suggestion to her father and Torrhen. Her people needed a focus and, while training a small group of freed slaves might not appeal to many, it was an honourable job to take. It would, if they chose to, allow the Mando'ade who came to see battle against the slavers; a foe deserving of extermination.

The Lokella were a small group, barely a power beyond their system, but with the right training, support, and targeted assaults, they could become a small regional power. One that, in theory, could check some of the Hutt influence in this section of the Outer Rim.

"What about the settlement on Gaia?" I asked, changing the topic.

"There was some bombardment, but no true damage was done. With the credits you've provided over the years, and what we've liberated from slavers and pirates, we purchased defences for the settlement. Those included a shield generator large and powerful enough to protect both the settlement and the mine from sustained bombardment from several cruisers for a few hours. After realising this, the slavers focused their firepower on the station intending to take it out before moving on the planet."

"I'm glad the credits allowed those simply looking to start their life anew to be protected, though I'd suggest a few surface-to-air cannons at a minimum as the settlement grows." The settlement, Hope, had grown a touch north of thirty-five thousand sentients when I'd last checked on it. The people there were, by and large, ones who simply wanted to live as peaceful a life as they could but had no interest in returning to the galaxy and Republic that abandoned them.

"I will pass along the suggestion, Mtael, though since the attack many who had chosen to not involve themselves in our struggle have changed their minds. It seems the idea of being re-enslaved has sparked a desire to fight for what they have and need to protect."

"A worthy reason to fight," Bo offered. I was thankful that was all she said, as I knew her feelings about those who wouldn't fight to defend what they had, and agreed with the sentiment. It was close to the ideals those called the New Mandalorians had followed. Thankfully, that group had all but been destroyed by the latest civil war; reduced to atoms. To the extent that even prominent supporters of the concept – like Satine Kryze – now saw the flaws in peace at all costs without the ability to defend it. "And it will increase your need for skilled trainers and weaponry."

"Yes, though we no longer need to rely solely on the generosity of the Mtael. Beyond the credits taken during freeing others who are enslaved, the phrik mine is now active enough that we can begin selling it."

"I'd suggest only doing so in small quantities and in a variety of different markets. The Republic, Jedi, and others will take note if a new, decent-sized phrik mine suddenly appears," I suggested, worried that selling the phrik too rapidly might draw unwanted attention. Especially from the Sith.

"We had already considered that, and as they are allies of yours, we were interested in seeing if the Mandalorians might be curious about purchasing the alloy. While I know many of your warriors use beskar, from my understanding, many don't. While phrik isn't comparable to beskar, in both cultural and practical significance, it has some similar properties; hence, as you would've observed on Naboo, why our warriors now wear it. As such, we'd be willing to pay any of your people who agree to train our warriors in either credits or phrik."

"I'll pass along the offer to my father and others," Bo answered, once more displaying, for her, unusual tact. I didn't think many, if any, Mando'ade would be interested in using phrik for their armour, but the fact Bo hadn't called Baalta out on that was a sign she was understanding, at least to a degree, the need for diplomacy. Something I was sure Adonai would be pleased with.

The elevator stopped, and when the doors opened I saw four guards, all in phrik armour, turn our way with weapons ready but not directly aimed at us. That was a new feature; one brought on by the recent attack. Once they saw it was us, they relaxed, though their blasters remained in hand.

Walking past the guards, we reached the door for the command centre quickly, which wasn't the one the Lokella had used initially. With the growth in the size of their people and forces and the handful of merchants that came to the system, they had needed more room. From what I'd been told, this was the former bridge of the Pius Dea cathedral ship, though most of the ostentatious decorations had been removed and sold for credits to both help the Lokella and rewire much of the station.

The large, recently installed bulkhead door to the command centre opened, and I saw two more guards there. They stood just as ready as those outside, though my focus quickly shifted to Dooku as he turned and looked our way. Vosa, thankfully, wasn't present, being located a level below.

"Master," I said once we came closer, "I'm relieved to see you alive and well." Several members of the command crew glanced my way. That was likely due to me using the term Master, though when they saw it was me, they returned to their duties. Well, all but two who seemed a little starstruck at seeing the Mtael.

"As I am for you, though it appears you didn't escape the battle unharmed," he replied, his eyes flickering down to my missing forearm.

"Sadly yes, but given the other option was death I consider it a fair exchange." I tried to be flippant about it, but I could tell that I failed to convey any hint that I was comfortable with what had happened. The smile I wore also wouldn't pass muster with someone who knew me as well as Dooku did. Plus, there was the fact he'd consider the loss of a limb a sign of weakness. While he'd never commented directly on the matter, I'd inferred he felt as much from the various discussions we'd had over the years.

"If that was the only other outcome, then I can accept your injury. However, I would prefer to speak further about what, or who caused you such a wound."

I smirked as my other hand slipped into a pouch on my belt. "I thought you might say that," I said as I pulled out a small datacard. "The recording from my armour. It begins from when I first encountered the Sith," a single eyebrow rose on Dooku's face, indicating how unexpected that reveal was, "as he was about to kill Padawan Keto having already dispatched Master Drallig."

Dooku's brow rose further. "I had sensed Cin's passing, but I was unaware he had been on Naboo when it happened."

"He came because of Padawan Keto," I explained as he took the datacard. "Though before you watch it, I'd like to hear about what happened here and then speak with Anakin."

"I expected that you would come for the boy," Dooku said as he slipped the datacard into his robes. He gestured toward another exit from the command centre. Like the one we'd entered through, this one was guarded, and after a nod accepting his suggestion, I fell into step at his side.

Bo came along as I expected, though I'd thought she'd have gone with Ferox to see Anakin. As much as she might protest it, she had a soft spot for the boy.

"During a training session with Komari, I sensed a shift in the Force warning of danger. I had planned to leave her on Gaia, however she said she felt the shift as well and wanted to help. I pondered the request for a short while before granting it, feeling it would be a good test of how far she has come in recovery from what the Bando Gora did to her." I bit my tongue, not wanting to mention that she had been the one who'd ordered me broken, not another. "We arrived on the station moments before a sufficiently large force exited hyperspace causing the beginnings of panic within the station. Neither I nor Komari have the inclination toward Battle Meditation that you possess, so I felt the best place for me was in the command centre. Komari followed along, though I had her assigned to a room nearby; the same one she has returned to now that the battle has finished."

"For that, I'm glad," I commented before taking a long, deep breath to push away the memories of what I'd endured under her attention.

"Understandably so, even before considering you fought a Sith on Naboo." There was no hint in his voice that he doubted my words, which was a nice reassurance after Qui-Gon and others not entirely trusting my words at first.

"The other Jetii needed to see the recording first before believing Cam." Bo's comment wasn't entirely accurate.

Dooku glanced at me as we reached an elevator, having passed another squad of guards in the short corridor that led to it.

"Master Jinn and his Padawan had been assigned by Chancellor Valorum to defuse the blockade of Naboo. They weren't successful."

"Quite." Dooku's tone was as close to amused as he'd ever come to be in public. While he accepted Bo around me, he didn't trust her to the degree I did. Then again, he didn't trust many sentients to begin with. I, his other former Padawans like Qui-Gon, and a handful of others might be ones he considered reliable, but the majority of beings were, in his eyes, unworthy of any role other than simply existing.

"Master Jinn accepted my words enough to agree with me that the Zabrak was a Sith before viewing the recording, though that helped to confirm his suspicions. His Padawan, and two others who were by chance on Naboo during the invasion, were less convinced without the recording."

"There is no chance where the Force is concerned, though their reluctance to accept the emergence of the Sith is understandable." He paused as the doors closed and he entered the floor we would be heading to. "Have you spoken to the Council regarding this?"

"No, Master, though they are due to arrive in about a week to collect Master Drallig's body. The new Chancellor, Sheev Palpatine," that drew an interested look from Dooku, "will be arriving with them to celebrate the liberation of Naboo. However, when I sensed Anakin's distress, I knew I had to come here first with Bo and Ferox coming along due to their connection to the boy and his mother."

"Indeed." There was a slight pause before Dooku resumed speaking. "Returning to events here, when I arrived at the command centre I discovered that the attackers, which I later learnt were hired by Decca the Hutt, had breached the station. Feeling I would be of more use there, I headed to the nearest landing bay. Komari accompanied me simply because I was unwilling to leave her behind on the small chance she might somehow betray my trust." I wished she had, as Dooku would've struck her down for the action, thinking her beyond redemption. "It was fortunate I allowed her to come. While I was engaged against a large enough group of attackers to require the majority of my attention, ones that were targeting a group of children which included the Skywalker boy, Komari slipped away. When I realised this, I pursued her, unsure of her motives. I didn't sense a hint of betrayal from her, yet she had disobeyed my commands."

As the elevator slowed, he continued. "When I found her, she was surrounded by bodies. A group of perhaps ten Lokella lay dead on the ground, killed by blaster fire. Nearby four Weequay lay, their wounds brought on by one trained in the force. Komari was there, knelt over one of the Lokella, the Force shifting around her and the woman on the floor. Once I was closer I understood the woman was Shmi Skywalker." He paused there, allowing a moment of remorse. "Shmi was gravely wounded, Komari rested her head on her lap. Komari was never skilled with Force Healing, yet I could sense her using the Force to try and save the life inside Shmi. I knew there was nothing I could do to help Shmi; such things are beyond my abilities, but seeing Komari work to save the child Shmi carried was unexpected." He paused again, meeting my gaze. "Even given that Shmi had been one of the few Lokella to have interacted with Komari, displaying a degree of patience with my former Padawan that would rival that of Master Yoda." That caught me off-guard as I didn't realise the Skywalkers had any interaction with Komari, though knowing how kind Shmi was, it didn't surprise me that she would be willing to help Komari if needed. "Just as Shmi passed, the last of her life given to protect her unborn child, the boy arrived." The doors hissed there, signalling we'd arrived at our level. "I believe that his anguished scream is what you sensed?"

"Yes, though the timing was less than ideal," I held up my missing forearm, the fingers on it itching again.

"Yes, that would've been most unhelpful when battling a Sith. However, the Force often acts in ways we fail to understand, or comprehend." He stepped forward, leading us into the corridor. "Even decades later I struggle to fully grasp certain moments the Force seemed to insist that I experience."

I considered responding, suggesting I was fine with what had happened, but the words died on my lips as we rounded the first corner and I saw what lay ahead of us.

We'd arrived at the largest medical centre on the station, yet the corridor outside it was lined with beds until the next junction perhaps a hundred metres away. Some of the beds had been brought here to handle the overflow, others temporary ones constructed in a rush. Every bed was occupied; many of them had people sitting and either talking to each other or keeping to themselves; bacta patches, bandages and the like showing the various injuries they'd suffered during the attack.

The fact they were still here days later, instead of inside the centre or returning to quarters to recuperate, was an indication of just how devastating the battle had been. As were the dozen or so medical staff moving through the corridor, checking on the patients.

I moved forward slowly, taking in the sight; a voice nagging me that what had happened here was my fault. I shouldn't have asked the Lokella for help on Naboo, and shouldn't have asked them to risk their fleet to help others in need.


I stopped and looked down, seeing a young Twi'lek female looking up at me, reverence on her face. Her hand, the one not held against her chest, reached over her body. "You came," she said softly as I noted one of her lekku was bandaged, the tip of it no longer there.

Hesitantly I reached out, taking her hand into mine. As much as I wanted to comfort her, I didn't want my actions to turn the admiration on her face into devotion. While I accepted many of the Lokella felt that way about me, I never tried to encourage it, nor use it to my advantage. At least not intentionally.

As my fingers grasped her hand, her eyes saw my other arm and a gasp slipped from her lips. Her eyes returned to my face, and I already knew the question forming on her lips.

"Where were you?!" The angry, snapped question took my attention from the Twi'lek to an enraged Human. The man stalked toward me, pushing past others on their bed. "Where the kriff were you while we were dying?" He raged, anger burning in his eyes and fuelling his movement. "Why did you call our ships away?" That question was accompanied by the thrusting of his hand toward me.

Behind and around him, others turned, wondering what the commotion was. While some shared his rage as they saw me, and some displaced the respect the Twi'lek granted, most were confused as to why the man was so enraged at me.

I could understand the man's rage and the pain he felt. I understood the loss of a loved one as the image of a red-skinned Togruta was broadcast into the Force so loudly that I felt they'd sense it on Coruscant. Yet, for all that anger, his behaviour here, pushing past others far more grievously injured, was unacceptable.

However, before I could answer him, Bo pushed past me, one hand floating over a blaster pistol. "Don't your osikyr dare, you shabuir!" Her snarled, venomous response had the man stopping in his tracks, though the rage in his gaze never wavered. "Cam never asked your fleet to leave!" Bo added, taking another step toward the man."Osik, he ordered them back when we saw how many had come, and if not for that you'd not be standing there to shabyr shout at him!" she continued to close on the man, her hand grasping the pistol though she didn't draw it. "And on top of freeing another world from slavery; besting a Darjetii to do so!"

"Bo, that's enough," I said, placing my remaining hand on her shoulder even as the Togruta blinked, confused at the venom in Bo's tone. I was too, but I saw it as Bo simply defending me from what she saw as baseless accusations. "Oriam is just angry; at the world, at the slavers, the Hutts and losing the one he loved in the battle." Oriam blinked; shock at me knowing why he was angry - thank you Observe - pushing back his rage.

Bo grunted, but she allowed me to gently ease her to the side so I could pass. "Oriam," I began as I came face to face with the man, "while I don't know the full details of what everyone else here endured, I'm sorry. I shouldn't have asked the council for help, not even to free the citizens of another world that were invaded and bound for slavery." As I spoke, I lifted my other arm, the one missing the forearm, using the injury to show I'd suffered as well. "The safety of the Lokella matters greatly to me. Certainly more so than asking them to forgo the defences of this station or the planet below to answer my wishes." Behind him I saw most were watching us, listening to my words. "I never expected the Council to offer the majority of the fleet, never wanted them to. Just because to many, though not all, I am a figure of importance doesn't mean my wishes and my needs supersede those of your people. Something I explained to the fleet that came to help when I demanded most of it return to this station."

I watched Oriam as I spoke, noting the anger slowly fading into the background. It didn't disappear, nor should it, but it pulled back enough that when he spoke again, there was little hint of it in his voice. "Why," he paused and licked his lips. "Why did we have to help a world of the Republic? They did nothing to help us!"

"No, they didn't. Nor did the Senate, whose new Chancellor hails from Naboo; the planet we helped to free. I, however, won't stand by and do nothing. Not if it led to innocents being enslaved and abandoned by those sworn to protect them. The Trade Federation, the Hutts, and others like them, have run roughshod over the Outer Rim for centuries, doing whatever they pleased. The voices of those they hurt, those they enslave – be it officially or with contracts so one-sided they might as well be – have been ignored by those in the corridors of power; many only concerning themselves with personal power and wealth."

"Yet I knew I couldn't help the Naboo, couldn't make a stand against oppression, be it of slavers or corporations, alone. So I reached out to the Lokella and the Mandalorians." Given their history, having them help to free the oppressed was an amusing turn of events, but it would also, I hoped, help rehabilitate their image with some. "I'm sorry that my request cost you, cost all of you," I added as I looked past Oriam and took in the sentients in the corridor. "But I won't stand by and do nothing because those who should've helped the Naboo, who should've helped you, did nothing."

I stopped there, taking stock of my words while Oriam considered them. It wasn't lost on me that my words might sound like something a Separatist would say, but I suspected that for many who joined the CIS, their issues with the Republic were genuine. However, their cause was only a front used by the Sith to shatter the Republic and the Jedi and bring everything under the control of a Sith-led empire.

If I'd seen myself say that back when I'd been inserted into this galaxy, I'd have wondered what had changed. Yes, Sidious had used the Clone Wars to gain control of the galaxy, but I believed in the concept of the Republic and the GAR. Yet, after seeing how the Republic worked – or in many cases, didn't – I could no longer see myself standing with the GAR against whatever the CIS became in this timeline. Not if it was, as in the other timeline, controlled and corrupted by the corporations before they were turned on by the true puppet masters.

The issue was that, unless something changed drastically, I only had maybe ten years before galactic war broke out. Yet, before I could begin laying true foundations for what was to come, I had to sort out several critical issues. With myself, with Anakin, and with others.

Putting those thoughts to the side again, I placed my hand on Oriam's arm. "I'm sorry that you lost someone you cared for deeply, I truly am. But I cannot change the past, nor will I apologise for the choices I made that led to your loss save for wishing I'd been clearer about only wanting a small section of the Lokella Force to aid me. However, no one; not you, or me, or the most powerful Jedi to have ever lived can know for certain the repercussions of any action we take. Nor how that action can alter events across the galaxy." I removed my hand from his arm and stepped back. "If you and others wish to hate me for what happened here, then I understand and wouldn't blame you. I'm not a dictator, nor do I ever wish to become one. That said, I will continue to do what I feel, in my heart, and in the Force, is best for not just myself but the galaxy as a whole."

Having said my piece, I moved to one side and slipped past him before he could reply. I was interested in hearing his thoughts, and those of other members of the Lokella. However, I wasn't here now for them. That was a cruel thought while they were in pain, but it was the hard truth and I'd be an arrogant, deluded fool if I ignored it.

The doors to the medical centre slid open as I approached, even as those in the corridor continued, like Oriam, to consider my words. The sickly-sweet smell of bacta – one I'd grown used to after defeating Maul – grew stronger as I entered the centre.

Beds lined the walls, all occupied. Bacta patches, larger than those used outside, covered many of the sentients lying on the beds. The other beds held sentients whose eyes made clear their injuries were mental more than physical. Nurses and doctors moved around, the signs of tiredness and weariness easy to see in their movements.

Dooku and Bo were at my side as the doors closed behind us. My eyes searched the room, though I didn't see Anakin. Reaching out with Detection, I sensed Anakin in a small room near the back of the centre. Inside were two others. Ferox and one I didn't know.

I moved toward the room, ignoring the looks from those present. Like outside before my impromptu speech, the faces that watched me ranged from adulation to disgust, however, I wasn't interacting with any of them. I wasn't here for them.

The door to the small, backroom slid open with an audible hiss. Inside I saw Ferox and Anakin, the boy had his head against the Corellian's side, one of Ferox's arms around the boy, as they sat near a bed. Something was on the bed; the source of the third presence I'd felt in the Force. Yet before I could approach close, Anakin shifted, sliding from Ferox's side, and turned.

"Cam!" My name came out in a mixture of relief, shock, and fear. Yet before I could process his emotions fully, I'd dropped to a knee as he rushed toward me.

His arms grasped around my neck as mine went around his back, and a moment later, tears flowed from his eyes as he sobbed into my shoulder. With my remaining hand, I gently patted his back, letting him release his pain. As he did that, I lifted my head and looked at Ferox.

His eyes, like Anakin's, were red, though in his arms I saw a small bundle of blankets. I knew instantly that this was the child Shmi had been carrying, though before I could ask its name, or even use Observe to determine if it had any true Force Potential, Anakin lifted his head from my shoulder, drawing my attention.

"Mom died," he managed to get out between sobs, his face wet and his eyes bloodshot.

"I know," I replied, offering him a small, sympathetic smile. "I'm sorry."

My hand came around and up, intending to wipe away his tears, only for me to stop as I realised I'd once again used the arm with the missing limb.

"Your Hand!" Anakin blurted out before I could lower the arm enough he might not see the wound. "What happened?"

"He fought a Darjetii," Bo replied, drawing Anakin's attention to her and saving me from having to explain what happened without revealing it was his scream that had distracted me.

Dooku clarified. There was nothing in his voice to hint at anything else, but I sensed a faint ripple in the Force suggesting he knew more than he was letting on. "However, Cameron sensed your pain, and as soon as he was able, came to visit," my former Master added, not letting me dwell on what he might be holding back.

Anakin's gaze returned to me, his eyes widening at Dooku's words, and I offered him a smile. "I felt your pain through the Force and knew I had to come," I explained as I brought my other arm around and wiped away some of his tears. I wasn't going to mention when I'd sensed his pain, or what it'd led to, for a good, long while. Knowing Anakin, he'd blame himself for it and never fully forgive himself which wasn't something I wanted. When he was older, I'd probably tell him the full truth, but by then he'd have moved on from the event enough it wouldn't affect him psychologically.

In truth, the mistake was mine. I'd enjoyed the fight with Maul far too much and granted the Zabrak too much control over how it went and where we fought. I should've gone to the tools in my armour sooner and used them more. If I had, I might've kept my hand. However, as I was aware, hindsight was a bitch, so I wasn't going to dwell on the mistake, only learn from it going forward.

"Mum's dead," he repeated as my hand came away from his face.

"I know," I answered again. My fingers brushed back the hair on his forehead that had stuck there when he'd buried his head in my shoulder.

I wanted to help him, to take his mind off events, but I wasn't sure how. I'd already promised to take him as my Padawan, but making that official now felt wrong; cheap even. And disrespected Shmi. Around us, I could faintly feel the Force shifting as if trying to nudge me toward an action it wanted. However, as was often the case, I wasn't attuned to its intent as strongly as most other Jedi. Yet, as my fingers lifted away from Anakin's forehead, I caught sight of my vambrace, of the beskar it was made of, and an idea took root in my mind.

"Anakin," I said slowly, sorting out rapidly if this was the right idea. "I want you to know that I'll still take you as my Padawan. However, I know you're not ready for that. You need to grieve for your mother. That said, I have… an idea that I think you might like." Anakin's head tilted to one side, his curiosity shining through his grief. I looked up at Ferox. "Were you and Shmi married?" I asked. It was a touch callous to ask that now, but for the idea I had, I needed to be sure of Anakin's relationship with the Corellian.

"No," Ferox replied gently, the bundle in his arms held securely against his chest. "W.. we'd agreed to wait until after Lia's birth before making it official. We… we had hoped you might be there when we married, given your role in bringing us together."

I nodded at that, unsure what to say to him to apologise for not having considered that when I'd taken Anakin to Mandalore before the invasion of Naboo. It was nice to also have a name for Anakin's sister – one that, amusingly, was close to what his daughter had been named in another timeline. However, my curiosity about Lia Skywalker would have to wait until later. "Then, with your permission, I'd like to adopt Anakin."

"I thought Jedi couldn't have families," Anakin blurted out before Ferox could answer my request.

"While that isn't entirely accurate," Dooku replied as I was reminded of Ki-Adi-Mundi, "I believe Cameron isn't interested in making you his son in a common, Republic sense."

I turned to my former Master, curious to his thoughts on the plan brewing in my mind. The slightest, barely perceptible movement of his head gave me his blessing, though I knew he'd want to hear my reasoning for this choice at a later date. Bo, on the other hand, was trying and failing to keep a proud smile from spreading over her face.

Turning back to Anakin, I smiled gently. "A Jedi isn't normally allowed to have a family. I, however, am far from what most would consider a normal Jedi." Bo snorted out a laugh that she tried to hide behind a cough. "Nor am I only a Jedi. I am Cameron Shan, Alor – that means Chief – of Clan Shan of the Mando'ade. If you want I cou…"


Anakin's response cut me off from finishing my question as his eyes radiated joy at the idea of becoming Mandalorian. The pain was still there, but for this moment at least, it was replaced by other feelings.

"Ni kar'tayl gai sa'ad, Anakin." He blinked at my words, clearly not understanding them. rather amusingly, he looked up at Bo for an explanation.

"That means you are now, by the laws of our people, Anakin Skywalker, son of Cameron Shan," She said, amusement easy to detect in her voice.

Ankin offered a weak laugh, any excitement at his change in status lost under the sorrow he felt over his mother's death. I held him close, letting the mixture of emotions wash over him while around us the others stood.

Later I'd speak with Dooku about how this development would change the Master-Padawan relationship I'd have with Anakin. I also knew that I'd have to keep this development hidden from the Jedi Council, and by extension, the Sith. However, given I planned to take some time, perhaps a year or two, away to train Anakin while continuing to build a base of support for the wars to come, that shouldn't be a major hurdle.

Eventually, and thankfully before I needed to call on the Force to counter the lack of fresh oxygen entering my lungs, Anakin eased his grip. As he slid back, a wide, happy smile dominated his face. "Wait," he muttered as his eyes drifted down. "Does that mean I get armour like yours and Bo's?"

"One day, maybe," I replied with a chuckle as I ran my hand through his hair. Given his changed mood, he didn't react to the action. "However, that won't be for a good while yet, and not until after you've completed your verd'goten." He gulped at hearing that, memories of the stories of my and Bo's hunts coming to mind. "First though, I'd like to meet your sister."

"Okay," he said, turning he grabbed my hand and dragged me forward. I stood as I moved, approaching Ferox who leaned forward slightly to grant me a sight of the babe in his arms. She looked much like any other newborn, though I swore I saw the same spark of curiosity in her eyes that I often saw in Anakin's gaze. "Lia, I'd like you to meet Cameron Shan, my new father."

I blinked as Anakin said that, marvelling at how right it felt to hear him call me father. I hadn't considered the idea of having children for a long, long time. Certainly not until the wars against the Sith were over. Yet, standing here with Anakin, meeting his half-sister – who Observe confirmed had little potential with the Force – I knew I'd made the right decision.

Yes, when it was discovered, it would place an even larger target on our backs, but that, I was discovering, happened naturally the more active I was in the galaxy. With events that were still to come, regardless of whether they happened as they did in the other timeline or not, I'd rather have Anakin trained and ready to fight than risk leaving him exposed to the chaos to come.

… …

… …

Later that day, as the station's chronometer ticked toward midnight, I was almost ready to leave Mtael's Gift. Anakin had transferred his belongings to Raven not long after I'd adopted him, taking a room between mine and Bo's. Currently, he was off saying farewell – for now – to Ferox, Lia, and his friends on the station. Many of the Lokella were sad to see him go, but as it was an open secret that I'd intended to make him a Jedi, most were accepting of the change.

Bo found the idea of the adoption amusing, teasing me regularly about it, even mentioning that she'd had the idea of adopting the boy first. When I'd shot back at that saying she still could, and we could co-parent Anakin, she'd laughed so hard she'd not been able to reply for nearly a minute. While she liked the boy, she continued to claim she had no interest in having children – be they through adoption or birth – and was happy to be the fun-loving, gun-toting aunt. Though when she'd spent time holding Lia, I noticed a look in her eye that suggested she wasn't as against the idea of children as she claimed. That, however, was a discussion for, at best, several years down the road.

Ferox, for obvious reasons, would be staying on the station. Not only did he have a new-born daughter to raise, but the Lokella needed his leadership. With a child to care for, I hoped he'd temper his more aggressive approaches to life. He had, though, given me a datacard to pass to Validus – who was back on Naboo, containing information on the attack and a private message between the pair.

Before I departed, and with Anakin still off speaking to his friends, I'd found the time to speak again with Dooku. After adopting Anakin, we'd not had much time to speak, yet as I approached him on the balcony that overlooked the bay containing Raven, I knew he'd have examined the recording of my battle with Maul.

"Master," I said as I neared though he'd already been turning before I spoke.

"Cameron, I won't keep you long," he replied as I approached. "I only wish to speak with you about your duel with the Zabrak, and pass along an unexpected revelation from Komari." I tensed at the mention of the bitch, but relaxed a moment later. "Knowing your continual disinterest in meeting with her, I felt relaying the message to you would be preferable."

"My thanks, Master," I said as I reached his side, my hand coming out to grip the balcony's railing and looking down at the Raven as Lokella technicians moved around her under Bo's watchful direction. "While I have grown and changed since my time with her and the Bando Gora, I know I'm not in any condition to meet with her again."

That was, as Dooku knew, a massive understatement. Everything I'd endured at the hands of Vosa and the Bando Gora was, because of Eidetic Memory, fresh and clear whenever I thought about it. That made releasing the feelings I held toward her, and about my time with her, into the Force as a Jedi was meant to do, be extremely difficult to manage. If not downright impossible, which was why I chose to push the anger and rage that time, and other moments in my life, down deep inside. It was something that would, if not for anything else, keep me from ever being a 'good and proper' Jedi. Though given I'd never really been a proper Jedi, it was perhaps not a major issue.

"Quite." Dooku's response was succinct, to the point, and oddly amusing. "According to Komari, she fought the Zabrak at some point while you were under her care." I grimaced at referring to my time with the Bando Gora like that, but I understood Dooku was being diplomatic about the ordeal. "It seems that the Bando Gora were involved in a plot with the Zabrak to kill someone I believe you are familiar with. Hego Damask."

I blinked at hearing that. "Huh." The word slipped from my lips as I processed what I'd just learned. "That wasn't something I've heard him mention, though if the Sith were involved, then it was likely only tangentially as otherwise the Muun would've died. I'll have to see what I can learn about this, subtly of course."

Dropping a nugget like that could, if Plagueis was still alive, cause friction between him and Sidious. It hadn't been a direct attack by the Apprentice on the Master – which spoke to how powerful Plagueis was – but it was an interesting development to learn of, nonetheless.

What I didn't know though was if, in the other timeline, that was the event that enabled Sidious to kill and replace his Master, or just an early attempt that failed there as it had here. Plagueis must've died not long after Naboo, as I felt there was little chance the Muun would've stayed in the shadows while his Apprentice was Chancellor, so I'd know soon if my actions, unintentional as they were, had fucked up this timeline enough that Plagueis survived. If he had, then things would be a million times harder as for all of Sidious' power – taking down three Council members almost instantly being a prime example – Plagueis would be on another level. Perhaps beyond even Yoda and Windu together.

That was a frightening thought and meant my plans for training Anakin would have to be accelerated.

"Indeed. Though I would be cautious of whom you reveal this to. To most outside the Council, Komari is missing and presumed dead. The reveal of this information, if it reached the ear of the Zabrak's Master, would have him investigating us, and those around us intensely. That could endanger many, if not all, of the plans we are contemplating."

"The Sith might also seek to take Vosa, replacing the Zabrak," I added, which was something Sidious would be working on now. Dooku was, I was all but certain, off the table as Darth Tyrannus, but the Sith would have backup plans upon backup plans. So much so that I feared little I did would stop them from reaching a point where they could implement Order 66.


"Thank you for this, Master," I said after nearly a minute of silent contemplation. "Also, can you offer my… thanks to her? While, in the grand scheme of things, it's likely this information is unimportant, it is another small thread in our investigations of what the Sith are planning. With it, we might be able to find moments between where she encountered the Zabrak and Naboo that may have been influenced by the Sith."

"I shall pass along your words, though I'm unsure of how she will take them." he paused as if considering something. "She retains an interest in you, often wondering what latest event you have found yourself involved in. That interest has only increased with your defeat of the Sith, though I fear it has also increased the interest the Sith may have toward you, and potentially the boy."

"I had feared that Master, and have some plans to limit our exposure for the next year or so. If the Force allows me the freedom to avoid incidents."

Dooku grunted, understanding the joke. "Like you, I believe the Zabrak is only the apprentice. While his form is impeccable, he was intent on defeating you with the lightsaber only. A true master of the Force, be they Jedi or Sith, wouldn't allow themselves to be so limited. If the Master focuses on you, I am concerned you will be unable to escape their machinations."

"On that, we agree, Master. And while I take the time to train Anakin, I feel I now know how to overcome my deficiencies with the Force. While I'd have preferred the clarity to have occurred before losing my hand, I'm glad it has finally come." OK, the clarity came from reaching level 30, but Dooku wouldn't, and couldn't, understand that.

I took a step back and bowed to him. "May the Force be with you, Master."

"And with you, Cameron, and your new Padawan. I sense you will both need it for what is to come."

I nodded, understanding the final warning he gave, and then turned. While I was curious about his opinions of my fight with Maul, I already knew the critiques he'd offer as they'd been the same ones he'd been giving for the last few years. By the time I met Dooku again, if all went as planned, then I'd have overcome those issues, and at the very least, I hoped I'd be able to push him into taking actions during a spar that he'd not normally wish to.

Before then though, I had to return to Naboo. I couldn't avoid meeting the High Council, or the Sith Lord that was the new Chancellor of the Republic.

… …

… …

I had Raven turn, banking her under and around one of the arms of the Saak'ak before she then swooped over the arm.

"Woo-hoo!" Anakin called out as Raven turned almost on a credit-chit to face the entrance to the hangar. That let me see what was parked there and I whistled at the sight of the Royal Naboo Cruiser.

"Damn! Padmé's going to be pissed," I muttered as Raven moved into the bay and the damage to the royal cruiser became apparent.

The superstructure was still intact, and the engines still mounted, yet the hull was peppered with holes, scorch marks, and other forms of damage including what appeared to be the arm of a Vulture droid wedged through where the cockpit was. Sections of the inner workings were exposed in several places, with the panel R2 and the other droids had exited through during the cruiser's escape from Naboo having been blown off.

"It served its purpose," Bo remarked from the co-pilot's seat as Raven flew past the royal cruiser. "I'm sure the Queen is fine with the damage given it helped free her people. But, if she does have it rebuilt, please insist that she adds some shabyr weaponry."

"I'll pass that along," I said with a chuckle as Raven turned, planning to set her down between the royal cruiser and the assortment of vessels that filled this bay, along with the next one.

"Oh!" Anakin called out, his arm thrust between Bo and me. "That's a D-17 Patrol craft! I've always wanted to see inside one! And that's a…"

"Anakin," I cut in before his enthusiasm for the collection of vessels overwhelmed him, "When we arrive I need you to not start fiddling with other people's belongings. The Lokella allowed it because they trusted you. Here, while the Mando'ade trust me, none know you're my ad. As much as Bo would no doubt enjoy me settling any grievances that are brought up, I'd rather not waste my time doing so."

"Okay," he said, much quieter than before, and pulled his arm back.

"If you're good, I'm sure my father and Alor Torrhen would be willing to let you visit the Ne'tra Tal'ade, ad'ika," Bo offered, using the Mando'a term for child or little one, which oddly, was close to Anakin's name.

"Really?" Anakin asked, not even attempting to hide his hope. Somehow, the idea of getting to see the inside of a Mandalorian dreadnought was lifting his excitement to new, untold levels. While I was a little concerned about it, I was letting it go as it kept him distracted from crying over his mother. Something he'd done each night since we'd left the ShaDo system.

"Yes. As Cam's ad, you're now an ally of my Clan and Clan Ordo." From the corner of my eye, I caught the smile on Bo's face as she talked to Anakin, once more showing her feelings toward the boy. "If not for Cam, the Ne'tra Tal'ade might've been returned to dock without seeing battle. Since it is here, and because of everything, I feel it won't take much to convince them to allow you a tour of one of our older, but powerful, warships." She leaned closer. "Perhaps, if you're really good, it might even be possible for you to fire the turbolasers at a nearby asteroid," she added in a conspiratorial tone.

"Woo-Hoo!" I winced at Anakin's volume as he was right next to my seat. "Come on Fenrir!"

As Raven reported touching down on the Lucrehulk's deck, I turned just in time to see a bemused tuk'ata follow the boy out of the cockpit. "Are you trying to spoil him?" I asked Bo as I turned to her, even as, with just one hand, I powered down Raven's systems.

"Maybe, but I'm also encouraging his shereshoy," she replied as she stood. Shereshoy was a uniquely Mando'a word that, as close as it could be translated, meant 'lust for life' in Basic. While I didn't fully understand it, I knew that term only covered part of what shereshoy truly meant. It did, though, remind me of the saying 'seize the day' from Earth. "And to show him that our ways are better than those of the Jetii."

"I remind you that I'm a Jedi," I countered as I stood.

That drew a snort of amusement from her. "Even you know you're not a good one." She took a step toward me, entering my personal space. "You fought and defeated a Darjetii as Mando'ade, not Jetii." Standing on her tiptoes, her lips moved toward my ear. "And a very emuur'la one at that," she added before nibbling gently on my ear.

I rolled my eyes as she pulled back, well aware and used to her flirting. Though I'd admit that if not for Anakin, his trouble sleeping each night, and the fact his room was next to mine, then I'd have struggled to not give in to Bo's temptations. Even with thoughts of Serra still fresh in my thoughts.

Before we'd docked with the Saak'ak, I'd contacted Theed for an update on her condition. Padmé had informed me personally that while she was still in the bacta tank, her doctors assured her that my fellow Jedi would be out of the tank before the celebrations. Padmé was also glad I'd returned as the Chancellor and Jedi Council were due to arrive tomorrow. From the way she spoke of the festivities, I suspected – and dreaded – that she planned for me to be front and centre in them.

"Come on," I said to Bo, once more ignoring her flirting. "If we don't get out there quickly enough, I fear what sort of chaos Anakin might get into."

"Knowing his buir, a lot," Bo added as she fell into step at my side as we left the cockpit.

It took about a minute to make our way through Raven and reach the exit hatch. As we entered the airlock, the sound of the ramp deploying was heard, but attention was on Anakin and the way he was struggling to not bounce from foot to foot. I could sense his excitement, along with Fenrir's amusement, as he waited to see new vessels. "Anakin," I said, drawing his attention, "remember what I said."

"Yes, sir." He wasn't calling me father, which was a relief as I wasn't sure I was ready to hear that, but I'd made it clear he didn't have to address me as Master. For former slaves that term had negative, and likely painful, connotations. In time, I'd explain how to the Jedi it was meant as one of respect, but given he wouldn't be around any Jedi bar myself and Dooku when we stopped in the ShaDo system, that wouldn't be an issue.

I took the lead once the airlock hissed open, and looking around, made note of the various ships in the hangar. To say they were an eclectic collection would be like saying Kashyyyk had big trees. There was little to no uniformity in the ships in the bay, showing how each Mando'ade was free to select a vessel that suited them. While that allowed them great freedom, it also made it hard for others to track Mandalorians based on starship types. However, it did feed into the idea that they wouldn't be unified, at least not without a strong, powerful Mand'alor to control them.

Around the bay, Federation droids moved, though these were the unarmed, cargo-type droids a ship like the Saak'ak was meant to have and not the various battledroids that it had carried to Naboo. Since there was no cargo in the bay, at least as far as I could see, the droids were likely helping with the maintenance of the various ships here.

From what I'd learnt speaking to Asta Ordo when we'd approached for docking, the remaining battledroids and Vulture droids were being stored in the port arm, along with any surviving crew from the three Lucrehulks. Well, bar the senior figures who were, unfortunately for me, held in Theed. Hopefully, HK had discovered a way to remove Gunray while I'd been gone, but if not, I'd have to try another approach to ensure he never reached a Republic jail. There was no way I was allowing Sidious to keep that piece on the board.

Once on the deck, my focus shifted to an approaching group of Mando'ade. None wore their helmets, instead, like Bo, they carried them under an arm, but I'd know each of them even if they wore the helmets. I watched them all as they came closer, though I held Osto's gaze a touch longer until he gave a subtle nod. That meant Maul was secured aboard either this ship or more likely the Ne'tra Tal'ade ready for transport to a secure Mandalorian facility designed to house and contain Force users.

I wasn't sure what my plans would be with him, but I knew he'd be of some use. The Force had been clear in that as I'd stood over him, considering my options as the sedative designed for bull rancors that I'd shot him with rendered him unconscious. In the end, I'd used the Force-suppression cuffs I held in my Inventory to secure him, and then had Osto and his squad withdraw from the city with the Zabrak. I knew I'd have to talk with Adonai, Torrhen, and the handful of others who knew about Maul, regarding what to do with the Sith, but that could wait for a few days. Though I did know I needed him out of sigh, preferably out of the system, before Palpatine arrived.

"Alor Cameron, it's good to see you again," Adonai said as he led the greeting party. He extended an arm, thankfully for my remaining hand.

"You as well, Alor Adonai," I replied as I grasped his forearm. "Though I had shab'an idea you and Alor Torrhen would turn up with a shabyr dreadnought," I added with a smile. That drew laughter from everyone within range to catch my words. "Not that I'm complaining, mind you."

"We wanted it active for the civil war, but by the time the last upgrades were installed and checked, the war was over," Torrhen replied as I grasped his forearm while Adonai hugged his daughter, much to her annoyance. "The vessel had been powered down since then and we feared we'd have wasted the credits on improving her. Of course, that was when your call to arms came in and we felt it would be a waste to not deploy the Ne'tra Tal'ade into combat once again."

"Given the smoking hulk floating nearby, I'd say it more than lived up to design," I remarked as I greeted Asta and Ordo in turn. "And while I'm sure the Naboo are grateful for the extra firepower, I can't imagine how the Chancellor and Jedi Council will react when they arrive tomorrow."

"Aye, we're looking forward to that," Asta commented with a grin matched by the others. "It will be nice to show the Tsad Droten that Mandalore isn't the feeble backwater they believe."

"We had considered removing the Ne'tra Tal'ade to avoid an incident, but I was outvoted on the matter," Adonai added, though the smile he wore made clear he wasn't offended or upset to lose that vote. "Given reports of her travel would've reached Coruscant already, there was little point in attempting to hide her existence."

"Besides, your Queen granted every warrior and vessel that fought to free her world safe passage in their system, and a port in the storm if needed," Osto added. "So long as it's not to hide from Tsad Droten law or the Jetii."

"I'm sure the new Chancellor is going to love that," I commented with a grin, doing my best to ignore the teasing Osto used regarding my friendship with Padmé. Bar Adonai and Bo, though I couldn't see her face to confirm it, none understood what I was implying. "Until a few weeks ago, he was the Senator for the Chommell sector, being born on Naboo."

That had the group laughing in delight, which was what I expected. Having the homeworld of the Chancellor of the Republic – or Tsad Droten in Mando'a – grant Mando'ade safe passage and protection would place him in an awkward position if he ever had to censor the Mandalorian sector. Not that most Mando'ade would listen to the Republic, but it would be an interesting dilemma for Palpatine to handle.

"You mean that we didn't just save a Tsad Droten world, but the home of their new leader?" Asta asked between chuckles. My nod of confirmation only had her and the others laughing harder. "Shab elek!" She exclaimed, punching the air in delight.

As the group and those nearby heard and passed on my information, I realised that none had remarked on my missing limb. They'd all seen it, the glances impossible to hide, but none seemed concerned about it. It had been a regular thing that others asked about, but the Mando'ade here just accepted it. Now, Bo had already told me that would be the case, using her father's artificial leg as an example of how being wounded in battle wasn't something to look down upon, so long as the battle had been a worthy one, which defeating a Sith certainly qualified as. Still, seeing the lack of reaction to the wound in person was a nice experience.

As the laughter died down, Adonai's eyes drifted to those with me and Bo. "While I expected Fenrir, I hadn't expected the ad'ika to be with you," he said, looking at Anakin.

I turned and called the boy forward, placing my hand on his shoulder once he was in front of me. "Anakin, I'm sure you remember Duke Adonai."

"Hello sir," Anakin said, getting a smile from the older Mando'ade.

"To the rest, may I present Anakin Skywalker, my ad."

That statement caught everyone off guard, and they blinked as they stared at either me or Anakin. Adonai glanced at Bo, seeking confirmation, and when he returned his gaze to me I assumed she'd given it.

"M-my mother died when we were attacked by slavers hired by the Hutts," Anakin said, and I didn't need the Force to sense the shift in tone that fell over the hangar. Not just with the group in front of us, but with others nearby who were watching. "Cam was already going to make me his Padawan, but when he offered to make me Mandalorian as well, I accepted."

Adonai stepped forward, and after dropping to a knee, placed his hand on Anakin's free shoulder. "Su cuy'gar Anakin Skywalker of Clan Shan," he said softly. "While you were not born Mando'ade, you are now one of us. Aliit ori'shya tal'din."

"Family is more than blood," I explained as Anakin turned and looked up at me, he turned back and smiled at Adonai as I saw the others nod in agreement.

"Vur entye."

I chuckled at Anakin's attempt to use Mando'a. While he didn't know much, Bo had enjoyed, among other things, teaching him phrases along with telling the history of our people. So much so that Anakin was already listing ideas for his verd'goten. While I was against a sarlacc or a krayt dragon, I could see him taking on a Rancor: It would be a nice homage to what Luke did in the other timeline. That, however, was something I'd have to meditate on when he was almost thirteen.

"It's vor entye," Adonai corrected, "and ba'gedet'ye ad'ika." He squeezed Anakin's shoulder before looking up at me. "Have you taught him the remembrance chant?"

"Bo did," I replied. It had been something she did not long after I'd adopted Anakin. While she'd used it nightly ever since joining me – back at the start of the last Mandalorian civil war – I'd not joined her until our return from the ShaDo system. While I'd lost my grandfather and mother, I barely knew either of them or felt little connection to the pair. However, with Anakin now using it as well, I'd joined in and added my mother's name, letting him see that everyone suffered. I'd also explained that Jedi mourned the loss of friends like any would, however, we were expected to release our feelings into the Force. Knowing the boy, I knew he'd not do that, which was why the Mandalorian chant was something I joined in with.

"Good," Adonai said, looking at his daughter for a moment before returning his attention to Anakin. "Ni su'cuyi, gar kyr'adyc, ni partayli, gar darasuum. Urin Kryze, Sellena Kryze."

"Korkie Kryze," said Bo, adding the name of her dead nephew.

"Gregar Ordo."

"Ane Keldorn."

"Ressa Shan," I added, just as I'd done for the last few nights.

"Shmi Skywalker," Anakin said after me, and I gently patted his shoulder. This was the first time he'd not seized up when saying his mother's name. He still mourned deeply for her – that I knew without using the Force – but this was the next step in his recovery from that traumatic event. Since the chant was helping him deal with his grief, I planned to continue it after we left Naboo, and I began his training.

Other voices joined in, adding the names of loved ones lost over the years. While that would help Anakin see that he wasn't alone, that he was a part of something greater than himself, as the names continued to be added, my mind shifted to other things.

As far as I knew, HK and R2 were still working to gain entry to Maul's vessel. I'd contacted HK through a secured channel, wondering how they were doing. He'd been insulted that I was concerned for him as if the idea a starship could destroy him was in some way more demeaning than letting a meatbag do so. That said, he was impressed by the security on Maul's vessel. I wasn't yet convinced of where I wanted that ship stored, but I had a few ideas. I had to get the hyperspace coordinates of the systems without the Jedi or Sith learning of my intentions which would require me to head to somewhere other than the Temple for the information I required.

"Now, ad'ika, know that you aren't alone," Adonai said, bringing my thoughts back to the hangar bay. Adonai stood then. "All suffer loss, be it of family, friends, or limbs," he added, patting his leg, the one with the artificial limb. Given how freely he moved on it, it would be easy to forget, but given the rumours of weapons built into the thing, that might be what he hoped. "However, a warrior doesn't wallow in their loss. We mourn what has been taken, we remember those we love, and in the name of those no longer with us, we keep pushing forward. Oya Manda!"

"Oya Manda!" The chant was repeated by me and others in the bay.

"Oya Manda!" Anakin added a moment later, earning a nod of approval from Adonai as the man ruffled the young boy's hair.

"Good. We'll make Mando'ade out of you." His gaze then took in me, Bo and Fenrir. "Now, all of you, come. The warriors grow restless. We have delayed the celebration of our victory far too long waiting on the War Leader's return." He moved forward and clapped an arm on my shoulder. "First a dragon, then duelling for the fate of a planet, and now defeating a Darjetii," he said with a wide smile. "The blood of a true warrior runs thick in your veins."

"To be fair, I don't go looking for trouble," I replied with a chuckle and smile, "that said, I don't deny that I do enjoy the battles."

Adonai laughed loudly at that, as did others in the hangar. "Oya!" he shouted, others joining in a second or so later.

"And many say he's not Mando'ade." The partially whispered comment came from Osto and widened the smiles worn by his parents.

Adonai turned, pulling me with him. Anakin fell into step at my side as our group merged with Adonai's and we headed into the Saak'ak. Tonight, and probably into the morning, we'd celebrate. Food, drink, song, dance and other forms of entertainment would be partaken, and until I returned to Naboo's surface, thoughts of facing the Jedi and Sith would be pushed from my thoughts.

… …

… …

(Bo-Katan POV)

Bo-Katan moved to the free seat next to Cam's son – and that was something that continued to make her chuckle - with a wide smile on her face and a large, just-refilled mug of ne'tra gal in her hand. "Enjoying yourself ad'ika?" She asked once seated next to the boy, enjoying the fact his name was so close to the Mando'a term for 'little one'.

The boy smiled back at her; his face rosy as he nursed the single cup of ale he'd been allowed. "Yes," Anakin replied, "but I don't know what you're chanting, or what the dancing means."

She laughed and leaned closer, placing an arm – the one not holding her mug – around the boy's shoulders. She had no interest in children of her own – be they adopted or naturally born – but she liked this ad'ika. Not only was he, according to Cam, going to one day be very powerful with the Force but he was intrigued by her culture. Well, now his culture as well since Cam had adopted him.

The other thing about Anakin was, much like Cam, Bo-Katan sensed there was something special about the boy. He was jate'kara; touched by luck and had a destiny. One that, again like Cam, Bo-Katan felt a need to help shape and follow. The pair were drawn to each other, and while she felt for Anakin that he'd lost his mother, she was glad Cam had made him Mando'ade, or at least an adiik of their people.

Once the celebrations here were over, she knew Cam planned to take time away to begin Anakin's training, but he had promised her that it wouldn't just be Jetii training; that he'd begin teaching the boy what he could about the ways of the Mando'ade. Bo-Katan had, in return, promised that if he needed help with that training, or ever found himself needing an ally, she'd do what she could to help. And to Bo-Katan, this felt like one of those moments.

"Then let me teach you," She said as the group on the floor, which was most of the warriors in the chamber, restarted the Dha Werda.

"Taung sa rang broka Mando'ade ka'rta."

"The ash of the Taung beats strong within the Mandalorians' hearts," She said, translating the Mando'a into Basic. As they chanted, the warriors, led by Cam, Osto Ordo and Vonte Tervho – the generals of the ground offensive – pounded their fists against their armoured chests, setting the beat of the chant. Now, Cam wasn't able to set the beat properly, his missing limb ensuring that, but Bo-Katan knew none saw that as an insult. Cam had fought and defeated a warrior of great power and skill – one that had defeated the Jetii responsible for training all others in their ways of combat – becoming the first Mando'ade in centuries, possibly even since the Dral'Han, to defeat a Darjetii in single combat. That made his injury a mark of honour and victory, something even those who only came for the credits respected.

"Dha Werda Verda a'den tratu."

"We are the rage of The Warriors of the Shadow." As she continued her translation, Bo-Katan felt her smile grow wider as Anakin started trying, and failing, to copy the beat the warriors were pounding out. It pleased her that the boy was already becoming one with their ways, drawn in by the camaraderie the chant – and others like it – inspired in all Mando'ade.

"Manda'yaim kandosii adu."

"The first noble sons of Mandalore."

With this line, the warriors turned to their right, catching the ad'ika off guard, and continued the beat by bashing their fists against the armour of the warrior next to them.

"Duum motir ca'tra nau tracinya."

"Let all those who stand before us light the night sky in flame."

She felt Anakin wince, taken aback at the ferocity of the fists that crashed against the armour of another warrior, understanding that they weren't pulling their blows. That striking with anything but close to full fury would insult those chanting with them.

"Gra'tua cuun hett su dralshy'a."

"Our vengeance burns brighter still." The warriors jumped and spun to their left as Bo-Katan continued her translation. The hall echoed with the sounds of armour being pounded, every blow from the assembled warriors timed to perfection, making the deck vibrate with the ferocity and certainty of their blows. Almost as if the ship understood it was now part of their culture, that it served their cause.

"I was told a Jedi shouldn't seek vengeance."

Anakin's sudden statement stopped Bo-Katan from translating the next line as she looked down at the adiik. "You're not Jetii," she scoffed, "you are Mando'ade. Vengeance isn't something to be feared; it's something we use to power through our actions. To steel our thoughts during the darkest days of a cause." She pulled him closer, hugging him against her armour. "One day, when you're older, wiser, and better prepared, you will face the one responsible for your mother's death." Bo-Katan felt a pang at never being able to do that to the hut'uun who'd killed her mother and younger brother, though she knew her father had made sure of that. "When that day comes, don't let the desire for vengeance cloud your mind. Instead, temper it, control it, like the warriors are doing with this chant, into something infinitely more powerful. Use it to steady your mind, to guide your hand, but remain the one in control."

The ad'ika fell silent at that, and Bo-Katan sat with him, not bothering to translate the next few lines of the Dha Werda for him. The pain of losing a mother was one she understood well, and was perhaps part of why she'd thrown herself into teaching him what she could as they'd returned to the Naboo system; as if she wanted to be there for her ba'ad as her father had been there for her.

"I miss her."

The words were barely audible over the chanting that reverberated around the hall, but Bo-Katan caught them as she'd been watching Anakin closely. She shook him gently with her arm, keeping him closer to her side. "We all miss those we've lost," she said as the second verse of the Dha Werda began, the warriors had returned to pound their fists against their own armour for the moment. "However, we don't cry for their loss. We celebrate their life and their accomplishments. We honour them by continuing to live, by using what they taught us to fight each day as we carry their memories with us through battle and life."

Those were, she realised after saying them, the exact words her father had said to her after her mother had died. That had Bo-Katan blinking, wondering why, in this moment, that memory, those words came so easily to her thoughts, and if they'd been passed down through her family whenever someone lost a loved one.

"I want to kill the Hutts for taking her from me."

"Aye," she replied, loosening her hug, "I'm sure you do, but you're not ready yet." he turned and looked up at her, his eyes reddened by tears shed for his mother. Using the hand holding her mug, she gently pushed back a lock of his hair that had matted against his forehead as she hugged him. "Soon your father will begin your training, to start your journey toward being a great warrior, a true Mando'ade. The journey will be long, difficult, and dangerous. There may be moments where you feel you can't go on. That it's too arduous. In those moments remember your mother, your sister, your father, and everyone that cares for and wants you to succeed. Let those memories, and your father, mould you, train you, in the ways of the Jetii and the Mando'ade so that, when you're finally ready to stand beside us as a fellow warrior, you're something greater than either." She smiled. "On that day, when you ride into battle against the ones responsible for your mother's death, Cam will ride at your side. As will I and others."

Anakin's face had slowly shifted as she spoke as if he was engraving the words onto his heart. By the time she finished, a smile had returned to his face. "I'll be the best Jedi ever!" he said with certainty. "The best Mandalorian ever!"

Bo-Katan laughed, and almost attempted to ruffle his hair with the hand holding her mug. "I know you will be," she said as she chuckled at nearly drenching him in ne'tra gal. Yet, deep down, she knew that like Cam, Anakin would face a choice. The paths chosen by the Jetii and the Mando'ade were, at their cores, simply incompatible.

Cam knew this and warred within himself over it, yet he continued to try and keep to both. Bo-Katan knew it wouldn't, and couldn't last. Cam was Mando'ade – the joy and delight on his face as he neared the end of the Dha Werda with their fellow warrior made that clear – and in time, Cam would see where his path lay. As would Anakin.

Bo-Katan didn't know when that day would come, but when Clan Shan truly embraced their destiny, their jate'kara, the galaxy would tremble at their feet. And she, Manda willing, would be there at their side, revelling in the battles it brought forth.

… …

… …

(Cam's POV)

"Certain, you are, that a Sith this Zabrak was?"

"Yes Master Yoda," I replied as I stood in the centre of a small, secured chamber inside the Royal Palace in Theed. Almost the entire Council had come to Naboo for Drallig's funeral, which had taken place this morning; the morning after the Council and Chancellor Palpatine had arrived on Naboo.

While Drallig hadn't played a major role in helping free Naboo, to the Naboo and some Gungans it still mattered. As such, his body – at least part of it – had lain in rest for many to view and pay their respects to. I suspected that to many it was a reminder that even though it had been the Mandalorians and Lokella that had been the main source of the support for Naboo, the Jedi and the Republic hadn't entirely abandoned them.

Beside Drallig's body were the remains of a unit of Lokella and Mando'ade that had fallen fighting to free Theed. The Lokella had drawn an unfortunate short straw and encountered a group of heavily armed mercenaries who'd been guarding a group of Naboo. The same group I'd originally asked Drallig and Serra to free. Without the help of the Jedi, the Lokella had suffered badly, but those they'd fought against had died and not a single Naboo was killed or shipped off-world.

The Mando'ade had encountered a squadron of tanks moving to support one of the main battles in Theed. The pair had destroyed all eight tanks and their accompanying droids, but as both had used durasteel armour, they'd succumbed to their wounds before others could reach them.

All the fallen off-world warriors were granted honorary citizenship of Naboo by Padmé in a ceremony, and along with the Naboo and Gungans who'd died fighting to free the planet, would be forever remembered as Heroes of Naboo.

Not long after Drallig's funeral, as expected, I'd been summoned to speak with the Council regarding Drallig's death and events that happened in the lead-up to and during the battles for Naboo. The meeting had begun with them watching the recording I'd provided Qui-Gon of my duel with Maul, ending as it did, before I stood to supposedly kill him unintentionally.

They'd asked about what happened after the recording ended, accepting the reason for the failure. It seemed that they also believed me when I told them the story I'd told to Qui-Gon, which was a little surprising. While I was skilled at Deception, I wasn't sure I was good enough to fool those as experienced as the Council. And I knew I couldn't entirely fake the truthfulness of my statement on Maul's fate. Yet, they'd accepted my story, and we'd now moved on to discussing Maul and his possible connection to the Sith.

"Could it not have been a simple Dark Side Force user?"

I turned to Plo Koon to answer him. "By the time I encountered him, the Zabrak had already killed Master Drallig, and after seemingly toying with Padawan Keto was about to kill her as well." I paused and glanced down, to the chest piece that along with my greaves, pauldrons and single vambrace, I still wore as I spoke to the Council. "He would've killed me as well if not for the armour I'd chosen to wear." I knew the Council hadn't and wouldn't approve of me wearing armour, but it wasn't technically against the tenets of the Order to wear armour, and even if it had been, I'd still have worn it to this meeting. It helped, I hoped, reinforce that it was only because of it that I was able to stand before them today. "The speed he moved, his skill with the blade in a variety of forms, and his ability to react and counter everything I threw at him, are comparable to anything I've faced. Even you, Master Yoda, during our brief, and very one-sided, spar."

Yoda nodded, accepting and understanding my comparison.

"Yes, the recording you gave us certainly showed the speed and ferocity of the Zabrak," Even Piell replied, "and I, for one, am inclined to believe your opinion on him being a Sith. I will, however, wait until Padawan Keto is fully recovered and able to offer her opinion before reaching a position on the matter." He paused even as I saw a few of the other members of the Council nod in agreement. "I do, however, wish you had managed to recover the body and lightsaber so we might have examined them."

"My intent had been to wound and capture him, Master."

"Yes, we understand and believe you on that," Saesee Tiin responded. "And given the clear difficulty you encountered in the duel, not to mention having to be concerned about the condition of your friend," there was the faintest of hints in his tone that he felt Serra was perhaps too close to me, but I couldn't sense anything in the Force to confirm or deny that feeling, "we commend your restraint. Even if, perhaps, an attempt to end the duel quicker might've been more advantageous to you."

"In your place, after suffering the injury you did, many a young Jedi might struggle to restrain themselves," Windu added as he took over. "That you didn't speaks well of your temperament. Though it does leave the reason you came into battle, as if you were expecting trouble, in shall we say, less than traditional Jedi clothing open to discussion."

I lowered my head, accepting the slight rebuke before giving my reasoning. "Ever since becoming a Knight, I'd understood that I had limitations that, to this day, remain in place. Add into that… concerns I've held about a general feeling of danger growing somewhere in the galaxy, and I felt that, if I was to survive this danger, I needed a method to overcome my limitations. Knowing that Jedi in the past had worn armour for battle, I felt that was a way to go, and with connections to various political figures on Mandalore, I was able to secure an armour made of beskar that, barring one small mistake, enabled me to engage and defeat the Sith."

"I cannot fault your logic for seeking a temporary solution to what has been a long-term problem for you," Plo Koon offered as he leaned forward. "However, we are concerned by this continual choice you make to interact with Mandalorians." At this, Even Piell and Saesse Tinn nodded. "Particularly how close you seem to have become to a daughter of Duke Adonai Kryze. Given his other daughter is currently being groomed to become the Senator of the Mandalore sector and your connections to this world, and several important figures from it, there are suggestions, which we do not agree with, that you are becoming too political for a Jedi."

"I'm aware of that concern, Masters," I said, speaking to the entire Council. This point had been one I'd been preparing for even before landing on Naboo, and I already knew how to use it to my advantage. "Once I have a replacement," I gestured with my hand-less arm, "I plan to withdraw from events for a time, perhaps a year or so. I hope that by taking time away, not only will I finally overcome the hurdle in my development, but I distance myself from figures of importance in the Republic."

Silence fell over the chamber, and I felt the faintest of shifts in the Force. That meant, based on previous experiences, the council were speaking about my reasons telepathically, so I stood still, waiting for their response.

"Close to the new Chancellor, you are. A concern of this Council, that is not. Connections in the Senate, many in the Order maintain. Your youth, however, a concern is. Friends with Senators, Jedi Masters usually are. Close to one, rare for a younger Jedi it is. Doubly so, the Chancellor. On this, we trust you, however."

"On other matters, we retain our concern," Windu added, taking over from Yoda. "However, we approve of your plan to commune with the Force in isolation, and will withhold further comments until you return to the Temple after your sojourn."

I nodded in acceptance; glad they'd bought my reasoning for wanting time away. That said, I kept thoughts about a certain young boy far from the front of my mind. I needed to train him away from the eyes of the Jedi and Sith, to say nothing of needing time and space to see how the final evolution of my Interface altered things and adapting to that.

With time to consider the matter more, I'd chosen Natural Evolution. While it would result in lower peaks for my skills, and degradation of my Force Powers until I truly understood how to use them, the removal of any limit on what I could accomplish with the Force made it the logical choice. Not just for the threats Sidious, and potentially Plagueis as I'd not heard any mention of Hego Damask passing on over the Holonet, posed in the coming decade, but for – provided I defeated the Banite Sith – the Vong and whatever other horrors existed in this universe.

It would also, I felt, remove the issues I held with a lightsaber. That was something I needed gone as if I struggled against Maul, then I had no chance against anyone on the level of Windu, Sidious, Yoda, or Plagueis. All the technical skill in the galaxy wouldn't save me if I had to fight even one of that group; or any that I currently shared the chamber with.

"You are free to depart on your sojourn, though I would suggest waiting until after the Naboo celebrate their liberation," Windu added, drawing me from my thoughts about the future. "However, we may contact you if we have need of you, or require further information about events that happened here."

I bowed deeply, accepting their stance, and knowing that was my dismissal, turned and walked from the chamber. Outside Simvyl and Fenrir waited, the tuk'ata stretching as the doors to the chamber slid shut.

"How'd it go?"

"As expected," I replied as Fenrir moved closer and pushed his head into my arm. "They're pleased the Sith is defeated, unhappy about my armour and the manner in which I won, and accept my reasons for wanting to take time away," I added as I used my hand to scratch Fenrir under the chin.

"And they're okay with you taking a Padawan?"

I smirked. "They never asked about it, so I simply never brought it up." Simvyl frowned slightly but didn't challenge me on the matter. "They will learn at some point, and if they have an issue with it, then I'll ask for forgiveness."

"I see you're learning from politicians," Simvyl replied with a smile that revealed sharp teeth.

I shrugged in response as we began walking away from the chamber. As Windu had said, there was still the victory celebration to come this afternoon, but until then, and hopefully afterwards, I was free to do as I pleased. Though for now, that was heading back to Raven and resting. I might contact Bo to see how Anakin was doing as he was staying on with her and should be enjoying a tour of the Ne'tra Tal'ade. The vessel was still in orbit along with the two captured and still hyperspace-capable Lucrehulks, but all three would be departing at some point this evening or tomorrow. The Lokella had, bar a single CR70 Corvette, already left, wanting to return home and help with the recovery.

"HK sent a report while you were meeting the Council," Simvyl said as we walked, reminding me that the Council hadn't brought up HK. Either Qui-Gon had failed to mention him, or they simply didn't consider it an issue compared to my armour and other actions I'd taken. There was no way they weren't aware that the first of the Knights of the Old Republic series was out, so it was odd now that I thought about it, HK hadn't been mentioned. Of course, as HK had been out of sight since the battle, people might have semi-forgotten his presence. "He and the astromech had gained access to the target. After subduing a droid and the onboard defences, they've determined the vessel is named Scimitar. They've yet to access the flight controls, but HK suspects they'll be ready to do so within a day at most."

"Good. Once they've got full control of the vessel, we'll wait until after the celebrations to have it slip away. While I could have HK take it to Coruscant, I fear the Sith's influence extends to the highest levels of government. Otherwise, the Trade Federation wouldn't have become the power they are today. The longer it takes for knowledge of the Scimitar's fate to reach the Senate, the longer the Sith remain in the dark regarding where it is. Which, as I've already stated, is why I also don't want the Jedi Temple to be aware of the ship's existence."

What I'd love was if the ship had some way to hide from sensors. If it did, it should be possible to have it slip from the bay tonight, and head to a position far enough away that others wouldn't find it. However, that would only get it off Naboo. I still had to determine where I wanted the vessel stored, though I knew it wouldn't be in the Mandalore sector. That was far too obvious a location for it and would place it close to Maul if he found a way to escape his imprisonment before I was ready to deal with him.

Adonai and Torrhen had assured me that the prison they would secure Maul in was designed specifically to contain Force users. While it hadn't seen much use over the last few centuries, no Force user had ever survived an attempted escape. The list of those that had attempted escape was small and contained a Sith Lord and a few Jedi Masters, but as none had ever managed to break free, I trusted them to keep Maul on ice for the next few years.

"I understand your logic, and agree that the Senate and Temple could be tracked by the Zabrak's Master, but I feel we could bring the Jedi Council in on your plans. So long as they agreed to keep no record of this."

"While they accept that the Zabrak was a Sith, I don't think they'd be as cautious as I feel they'd need to be." I turned and smiled. "I know you have faith in the Order, but until I'm sure of how far the Sith's influence extends through Coruscant, I want to keep my cards close to my chest."

"Very well."

I was glad Simvyl trusted me on this, as he was the only sentient who knew about my plans for Maul and his vessel. Others only knew parts of the plan. Since Simvyl would be travelling with Anakin and me – due to his bond of loyalty – I considered him the best person to run my plans by. Which was why I was glad he was accepting of my intentions.

We fell into silence as we neared the main sections of the palace, not wanting anyone to overhear us. As we walked, we passed various members of the palace staff or Royal Guard. They either smiled or nodded in recognition and appreciation. While the official ceremony wasn't until later, it seemed in my absence that the story of my actions had spread throughout the populace.

"Master Jedi." I paused as I realised they were speaking to me. Turning, I saw a squad of four Senate guards approaching, their blue armour and long rifles making it easy to know who they were.


"If you have time, the Chancellor wishes to speak with you."

I kept a slight smile on my face as the lead guard spoke. "Then lead on," I replied. While I'd expected he would want to speak with me, I'd hoped it could wait until after the ceremony. Unfortunately, it seemed I wasn't going to be that lucky.

Palpatine would've heard what happened from Padmé already, but he'd want further details. I expected he would prod for greater detail of my duel with Maul, though without making it obvious he was doing so. If I were in his place, I'd also begin factoring my actions here, not just in helping free Naboo but in gathering allies to do so.

Those allies had, from what I knew, avoided the Chancellor. The Mandalorians were staying on their vessels, while Validus and the other Lokella who remained were simply staying until the ceremony and would be distracted by events back home, so the only source of intel Palpatine would have was from Padmé, those like Panaka, and myself.

My ad-hoc alliance was already changing things, as not only were the Lokella wanting to hire Mando'ade trainers, but Padmé and Panaka were interested in doing so as well. While I doubted the Naboo would ever shift entirely from their peaceful ways, the fact they'd only survived the invasion due to the actions of the small security force, concerned and eager citizens, the Gungans, and outside help seemed to have convinced Padmé to increase the size and capacity of the Naboo security forces.

It only took us about a minute to reach a corridor where more of the Senate guards stood watch, but I was again glad Anakin wasn't with me. The longer I could go without Palpatine becoming aware of him, and sinking his way into the boy's trust with his silken words, the better it would be for everyone. Yet as we moved through the guards standing watch, I pushed thoughts of Anakin, the Mando'ade and any plans about the future from my mind. I didn't need Sidious sensing anything about them. As far as I or the Interface knew, Palpatine hadn't attempted to scan my thoughts, not even my surface ones, but I wasn't taking the chance he might pick up on a stray thought and discover something I didn't want him to.

"Your companions will have to remain here," the guard who'd addressed near the temporary Council chambers said as he and those with him turned to face us.

His tone was serious, almost threatening, and I struggled to not smirk dismissively at his tone. Even without an arm, I knew I could take them by myself. Fenrir must've sensed some of my amusement, as he stepped forward and growled. It wasn't a deep or threatening growl, just one daring the guards to do something. All four of them tensed, concerned that something was about to happen.

"Of course," I replied, placing my hand between Fenrir's ears, and giving him a scratch. "Try not to make a new chew toy," I said to the tuk'ata before stepping toward the door at the end of the corridor.

The guards that had escorted us remained outside with Simvyl and Fenrir as I entered the chamber. Two more guards noted my arrival and tensed slightly, thinking I was a problem – which given the armour I wore, made sense – before they saw the lightsaber at my hip. That eased their concerns, and I moved forward, quiet voices guiding me toward my destination.

Turning around a corner, I saw Palpatine sitting on one extremely well-decorated sofa that along with a partner sat around a table that likely cost north of a hundred thousand credits. As Palpatine spoke to an older man who sat on the other sofa, Sate Prestige, who was standing behind the Chancellor and had seen me approaching, dropped down and whispered to his master.

Palpatine turned then, a wide smile coming to his face as he saw me. "Cameron, my boy," he began as he stood. The other man turned as the Chancellor approached and I recognized him as Sio Bibble, the Governor of Naboo. "The hero of the hour," the Chancellor said as he reached me, extending an arm.

"I wouldn't go that far, Chancellor," I replied as I shook his hand. He surprised me though by pulling me into a hug and laughing gently, enjoying my confusion as he patted my back. Sio and Sate smiled at the sight though there I could sense Sate not liking something about the situation. Perhaps he had known of Maul and disliked that I'd removed one of Sidious' tools, or perhaps he simply disliked that I was slowly growing closer to the hidden Sith Lord and feared for his position.

"Nonsense," Palpatine said as he pulled back, breaking the impromptu hug. His hands slid down my arms as he continued. "Without your actions, your ability to find allies in her most desperate hour, I fear my home would've become another cog in the vile grinding machine that is the Trade Federation." His hands stopped on my upper arms, just above my elbows. "Queen Amidala swears by this, and having seen the warship your allies brought, and heard tales of the battles that raged, I find myself agreeing with her. Though it seems that you paid dearly for supporting us," he added, his eyes glancing toward my missing forearm.

"Sadly, yes," I responded, ignoring the phantom itching from fingers that were no longer there. "Though it was a low price to pay to ensure millions remained free of oppression."

He smiled even as I watched Sate slowly guide Sio away from the sofas. "If I might ask, how exactly did this happen?" he said as he turned, knowing what Sate was doing, and guided me toward the seats. "and is it in any way connected to the death of the Master Drallig?"

"It appears the Federation wasn't working alone," I replied slowly, knowing exactly how I expected this conversation to go, and having a handful of contingencies if it moved in certain ways. "There was a Dark Sider present when we arrived." Palpatine reacted, as expected, with surprise. "There is a possibility he might even have been a Sith…"

"A Sith?" Palpatine cut in, his acting superb. "I-I had thought them nothing more than a legend?" He asked. Even knowing he was lying; I couldn't find even the faintest hint that he didn't believe what he said. This man, and Plagueis, were masters of hiding themselves, of convincing others they were exactly who they pretended to be. Which, given his true name, made perfect sense for Palpatine. He was insidious in ways no one could ever conceive, never mind detect.

"That, along with confirming if the Zabrak was a Sith, I leave up to the Council," I replied with a small smile. "All I will say is that he was an incredible duellist, on par with any I've seen." Truthfully, I felt Windu, Yoda, and perhaps a handful of others might be able to defeat Maul, but saying this would stroke Sidious' ego as he had been the one, from what little I know, to train the Zabrak.

"High praise from such a young and accomplished Jedi."

"I would argue against accomplished," I said, countering the Chancellor's praise, "but I thank you for the compliment." His smile widened. "I'm sure that if you inquire, the Council will keep you abreast of their investigation. If the Sith truly have returned, then they are a threat to the Order and the Republic. However, I expect the investigation to be stalled until they can recover the Zabrak's body." I offered a sheepish smile. "When the time came to end the battle, after I lost part of my arm, I… I struck him down."

This was a different story than the one the Council had received, but I felt it was a risk worth taking. I'd already opened up to him about using the Dark Side against the Vong, so hinting at doing that against Maul, because of my injury, would ease some of his concerns about how I defeated Maul. It would, no doubt, increase his and Plagueis' interest in seeing if I could be turned, but since I was all but disappearing for the next year or so, I felt this was a way to remain close to the Chancellor without him questioning how I managed to defeat Maul and going looking for answers.

HK had already deleted the recordings of the bay housing the Scimitar, but that wouldn't stop people from talking about the vessel. From there it wouldn't take long for Palpatine's spies to learn that HK was connected to me and that I had Maul's vessel. Hearing that I'd taken the vessel, but hadn't handed it over to the Council would further make them feel I was questioning my position with the Order. Which I was, but not in the way the Sith would, I hoped, believe.

"Given the grievous wound you suffered, I'm sure few would fault you for striking the Zabrak down in anger," Palpatine said, a hand coming to rest on my shoulder. "Not even the Council can expect you to forget your emotions all the time."

"They'd prefer that I did, which is perhaps why, like with the Vong, I didn't mention how I felt when the Sith died," offered him a small, slightly weak smile. "I feel many in the Order, including some of the Council, continue to question me. Even though I'm not him, some see my ancestor whenever they look at me." That included, I felt, the Sith I was sitting with, though where the Jedi might see a concern, Sidious saw an opportunity.

"While I don't understand the Force as well as you, I can understand the concerns of the Council. You are a remarkably skilled and powerful young man, Cameron. It is only natural that others, ones who've held positions of power and influence within the Order, would fear your potential."

"I wouldn't say they fear me, Chancellor. Just that many distrust me, which given my tendency to find myself in conflicts, is understandable."

Palpatine gave my shoulder a squeeze of support. "I don't share that fear, Cameron. No, if not for you, my home, and millions of my fellow Naboo, would be all but enslaved." He gestured toward where Sate and Sio Bibble had gone. "Governor Bibble was just telling me more details of what happened here, and after speaking with him, Captain Panaka, and Queen Amidala, I know with certainty that I and my people owe you a debt we can never repay. Know that, for your actions here, and elsewhere to defend the Republic, you will always have my thanks. And my support."

I gave him a wide smile and nodded. While I wasn't planning to draw on that support, it was something I might have use of in the coming decade. The idea of using Palpatine to help me bring about his downfall had a delicious sense of irony about it. "And you, Chancellor, have my support to help guide the Republic to become what it needs to be."

"I'm grateful for your support," Palpatine said as he turned to the table. "I fear that I will struggle to enact the changes needed to make the Senate what the people of the Republic need it to be," he continued as he refilled one glass that sat there and then started prepping a new glass. "As you remarked before my election, there are many there who serve only their own self-interests or serve at the behest of external influences."

"Like the Trade Federation," I said as I took the glass he offered me.

"Yes," he said with a nod. "I swear to you and my people that I'll do all in my power to ensure Viceroy Gunray gets the justice he deserves for his heinous acts here, but I fear it will take me far longer than it should."

"If you have need of me, I'll do what I can to help, uncle."

He smiled widely, enjoying me using the familial term. "For that, I'm grateful, nephew." As he raised his glass in thanks, I knew he planned to use that connection, that friendship to spin how he had more influence on what had happened here to free Naboo than he truly did. That though, had nothing to do with being a Sith, and everything to do with being a career politician. "However, I feel you have already helped more than enough and paid dearly for it."

"Aye, there does seem to be a pattern developing here," I remarked with a dark chuckle after taking a sip of the fruity wine "First it was almost losing an eye, and now an arm." I paused and shook my head. "I'm not sure I can survive another wound."

"Will you return to the Temple to have a prosthetic limb attached?" His tone was sombre now the topic had shifted to my injury.

"I'm unsure of the Jedi's position on the matter, so I'll have to wait and see."

Palpatine frowned deeply. "That is simply unacceptable." He placed his glass down and turned. "Sate," he called and a moment later his aide appeared from behind a pillar as if he'd been spying on us while we talked. "Compile a list of the best companies and figures in the field of limb replacement."

"Th-there is no need for that," I said, acting as if I'd not expected him to make this offer even as Sate nodded at the order.

"But there is, Cameron," Palpatine said as he turned back to me. "In my opinion, and that of our young Queen, you are almost wholly responsible for Naboo being free. For that alone, I shall do everything in my power to ensure your injury is handled and treated by the very best in the Republic with no expense spared. To do otherwise would be unworthy of my position as a citizen of Naboo, Chancellor of the Republic and, though it is not by blood, your uncle." He smiled widely as he finished.

"I," I paused and licked my lips, acting as if uncertain of the offer. Which I was, though not because of the offer, but because of who was making it. I knew he might make this offer, but I was still uncertain about accepting it. "I wouldn't wish to impose on your duties as Chancellor. The Senate must be divided after the unexpected removal of Chancellor Valorum and your elevation to the position."

"It is, however, I insist that you are rewarded for your actions in gathering the force to correct a mistake made by the Senate," he replied, his tone firm and unwavering. "To me, regardless of if I was the Chancellor, a Senator or simply a concerned citizen, to do otherwise would undermine everything the Republic stands for."

"I cannot accept the offer from the Chancellor," I said, keeping going before he could argue, "but I can if it comes from my uncle."

He smiled widely and raised his glass again. As my glass chinked against his, I wondered how I was going to get out of this. Or at least turn it fully to my advantage. I'd been expecting the offer or a replacement, but not for him to seek out the best in the business for the limb. That meant I'd be hard-pressed to reject the offer, and certainly couldn't leave it in a random location.

That was something I was concerned about as the odds he'd place some form of tracker inside the limb were high. Now, I knew he'd spin it as simply wanting to keep track of me out of concern for my well-being, but that would allow the Sith to track where I went, which wasn't something I could allow.

Sipping my wine and keeping a smile on my face, I realised that there were ways I could use this to my advantage. I already planned for the replacement limb to be coated in beskar, so whatever he had designed I should, in theory, be able to either have it examined closely by Mando'ade engineers, or built from scratch by them. The latter would also allow me to ensure the OS in the limb was one I knew of and wouldn't, in theory, have any hidden features that might work against me.

Of course, there was the chance Palpatine wouldn't have done anything to the replacement limb, simply using the extreme quality and cost of it as a way to further ingratiate himself with me. For now, I'd just have to wait and see how this latest development played out.

"Now," Palpatine began, leaning back on the sofa, "perhaps you might enlighten me not just to how your battle with this Sith went, but how you managed to gather so many allies in such a short amount of time." He paused and looked around almost conspiratorially before leaning forward. "I'll admit that the reaction of Masters Yoda and Windu upon seeing the Mandalorian warship was one I shall treasure for some time."

I laughed at that, wishing I could've seen it as well. "Aye, that would've been something to see. Though I admit that I only learned of the Ne'tra Tal'ade's presence after the battle as she didn't arrive at the rendezvous before we developed our plans for reaching Naboo."

Palpatine settled in, getting ready for the story of how the battles went. As I began, I already knew a few details that I'd be holding back, though so long as he didn't prod too much, there wasn't that much I wanted to keep from the Sith Lord.

… …

… …

"And again, Cam, thank you," Padmé said as she smiled at me through the holo-display. "If not for you…"

"You and your people would've found a way to regain your freedom even without my assistance, Your Majesty," I replied, as Raven swept past the wreck of the Vuutun Palaa, the first scavenger vessels – Mando'ade controlled – already working to begin stripping the massive hulk for parts.

"Perhaps, but without your help, and of those you called to your side, the death toll would've been catastrophic," Padmé countered. "I…" she paused and looked away for a moment. "Naboo owes you a debt we can never repay."

"Nor will you ever have to."

She smiled warmly at my words. "I hope that is true, but if not, then you have only to contact myself or Chancellor Palpatine and Naboo will do what we can. Until then, please, be safe, and may the Force be with you, Master Jedi."

"And with you, Your Majesty," I replied with a nod. A second later, as the faintest hints of her emotions reached me through the Force, the channel closed.

"Where to now?"

I looked over at Simvyl, seeing a smile on his face.

"First, we've got to meet up with Bo. I've got a Padawan and son to collect. After that, I'll need to contact HK and arrange a rendezvous. Where though, I'm not yet sure. I need to find somewhere out of the way to store the Scimitar; perhaps even masking its presence from the remaining Sith."

Anakin had departed with Bo aboard the Ne'tra Gal early this morning, though they'd be waiting a system or two away for me to collect the boy. While he'd wanted to head down to the celebration yesterday, I'd not allowed it. He'd not been happy, but I'd promised to explain why once we met again, though I'd only be going into the fact that the Jedi Council wouldn't allow me to train him now that he was my son and not that I wanted to keep him hidden from the Sith Lord that remained on Naboo.

HK and R2 had managed to gain enough control of the Scimitar that, during the festivities last night, with me keeping Padmé, Palpatine and the Jedi Council as distracted as I could, they'd managed to slip from the bay under the Royal Palace. Luckily, the Scimitar possessed a cloaking device, so they'd been able to slip past the Naboo and Republic scans with ease. While that would help keep the ship hidden, I still needed a location to store it.

The other issue that remained unresolved was Serra. While she'd been released from the bacta tank, the High Council had taken her into seclusion. It was possible that they were only trying to help her recover from Master Drallig's death, but a part of me wondered if the move was also about keeping distance between her and me. There was no way the Council wasn't aware that she'd snuck away to join the forces I'd assembled, and that would be something she'd have to face the music about. The Council hadn't, when I'd spoken to them, mentioned that to me, but I was sure the matter was one they were considering. Along with a few others linked to me and my choice of allies.

"Perhaps we could head to Obroa-skai? That's where the Celebratus Archive is located."

I considered Simvyl's suggestion. I'd heard of the Archive, as it was listed as one of the twenty wonders of the galaxy, and had existed for over sixteen thousand years. It was claimed that the navigational charts there were more detailed than even those held by the Jedi, but since the Jedi wouldn't let anyone prove or disprove that, it was merely a rumour. Regardless if the claim was true or not, it was a possible place to head to search for files I'd rather not have the Order now I was looking at.

While there was a Jedi Praxeum on Obroa-skai, it only helped handle the insane amount of data added to the Archive – and likely routed anything unknown to the Jedi Temple's Archive – and wasn't a full training facility. That meant that even if I interacted with the Jedi there, it was unlikely they'd be anyone of importance.

Still, I'd do what I could to keep clear of them, lest they report my searches to the Jedi, and the Sith through whatever means they had for monitoring the Temple, would also learn of my searches. I already had a location for both hiding the Scimitar and evolving my Interface in mind, but I'd have to first see if the system had been discovered by now.

Still, as Naboo slowly fell away behind me, I couldn't help but smile.

Anakin was now my Padawan and son, though while the latter hadn't been planned I could see how it would be useful. With him kept from the Jedi and Sith sight, I had the chance to train him the way he was meant to be. I just had to first train myself to ensure I didn't fail him as Obi-Wan had.

Maul was defeated and secured, on his way to a Mando'ade prison designed specifically for restraining Force users. Eventually, I would visit and begin speaking with the Zabrak. Perhaps he could be turned to my cause, perhaps not, but it was an avenue worth pursuing. His vessel was now mine, though it would take time to access all its files, and even when R2 did, I half-expected them to be empty. Any decently trained and skilled assassin wouldn't keep detailed records of where they'd been. Still, there might be technology or hints on the Scimitar that I could use for either Raven or other starships, or that might lead to unexpected threads regarding the Sith I could pull on.

With Natural Evolution just around the corner, I'd soon have full access to my Force connection, for all the good and bad that would bring. Still, it would remove my limits with the Force, and with a year or two of training, I should be at a point where I could, at the very least, challenge Dooku in a duel. Taking on any member of the Council was out of the question as news of that would reach the Sith, but if I could, before the Clone Wars – or whatever they became here – started, then I'd feel I was as ready as I could be to fight those who stood in my way.

That, however, was for further down the road.

As Raven's hyperdrive engine drew power from her core, I focused on the present, and on the steps I had to take.

The galaxy had changed on Naboo, but even with my knowledge of how events had played out in the other timeline, I couldn't be sure what effect my presence had made. All I did know was that the drums of war were beginning to sound, and the storm that would soon sweep over the galaxy was slowly forming, slowly gathering, readying itself to unleash chaos on an unsuspecting Republic.

… …

… …

A/N: Yes, taking Maul prisoner, and then having the Mandalorians hold him for a year or two is a very dangerous choice for Cam to make. However, consider that, as of now, the timeline is all but broken. What Cam knows of later events, while still probable to generally happen, won't happen how they would've before. Nor does Cam know much of events that are to happen before war breaks out across the Republic.
With that in mind, holding Maul has the potential to be useful. Yes, it might not pan out, but Cam has little other options for determining the Sith plans, beyond joining them.

A/N: Cam's adopting of Anakin might seem blunt, given Shmi's just died, but Cam felt the Force shifting around him, and interpreted that as meaning it was the right choice to make.

A/N: This is also the end of Book 2. Book 3 (The Reforged Path) will begin next month. I'll drop a chapter here to let everyone know that its begun.


As always, this story is crossposted on Questionable Questing, Archive of our Own, and Royal Road.

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