The purple shimmer of a repulsor field stood in sharp contrast with the fog and foliage surrounding it. Jolee huffed as he approached.
"There, you see? Beautifully subtle, isn't it? At least, compared with the rest of the trash Czerka's dumped down here. Only been here a short while, or the Wookiees would have disabled it. They wouldn't have had an easy time of it, though."
"Why put it here?"
"Probably to block things larger than katarn, making it easy for Czerka to plunder uninterrupted. It's all very calculated, very precise." He knelt over it. "Now how did those Czerka engineers do it? Ah-ha!"
The purple field wavered before fading away entirely. Jolee motioned the others to follow. "Keep moving, folks. These are the most dangerous depths of Kashyyyk."
Not more than a few meters from the repulsor field did they hear the clang of blades and the sounds of Wookiee pain. Sabers and blasters drawn, they rushed in - thinking it was a lone Wookiee hunter besieged by slavers.
What they found was more stunning. Two Mandalorians in full armor clashed blades with a white-furred Wookiee. He carried a powerful vibroblade, parrying and trying to attack, but he was already badly wounded. Two Mandalorians lay crumpled and dead alongside two brown-furred Wookiees.
"Hey!" Canderous shouted, punctuating the statement with a warning shot from his blaster cannon.
The Mandalorians turned from the Wookiee and ran into the woods, engaging the stealth belts. Canderous and HK-47 fled into the woods after them, Juhani at their back.
Jolee and Kairi were first to the injured Wookiee. Lying on the forest floor, he held his bleeding side. He spoke with a rasp, and coughed up blood. His injuries were severe indeed
"Arrgh! Great Bacca, let these outsiders be different from the slavers. I beg you. I need to be healed. I am dying..."
"Grrrrwahrr?" Jolee said. "It's just me, Crazy Jolee. I've brought friends. We'll help."
Kairi nodded to Jolee and they hovered over the critically injured Wookiee. Taking the woman's hand, he felt almost dizzy. She was unbelievably powerful and her strength in the Light Side was halfway blinding...and humbling.
They put their hands on the Wookiee and Jolee cleared his mind. He had drawn on the Force before to heal those who asked for his aid in the Shadowlands, and many young Wooks had slept next to his fire pit. He never forgot he was only a guest to their world.
The pain would have been intense. Force Healing was not often comfortable, but he noticed something through working in tandem with Kairi. She was pulling Grrrrrwharr's pain into herself - a Force Empath! If that wasn't enough to confirm...
The jungle of Juhani's upbringing had been one of permacrete and steel. The natural jungle called to her, awakening instincts that had been honed in the urban jungle of Taris, but were designed for places like these.
HK-47 and Canderous were clumsy, trampling the brush and making too much sound. Claws out, body balanced, she scrambled up one of the smaller trees - perhaps a wroshyr sapling - and traveled above the ground, making little noise as she pounced amid the branches. Papa had long told her about the vast tree-cities and groves of Cathar, and he only seemed to grow more heartsick for them as time went on and life became more hopeless. He had tried to drown the sickness in Tarisian Ale, frittering away the few credits he and Mama could earn.
He never did drown the sorrows - they would only twist into rage for a lost world, for a dead-end life for he and his mate, and more of the same for his cub. In his rage, he would fight. Papa was strong and would sometimes kill those who provoked him. Not like it mattered to the Lower City - life was a profane thing there, cheap and disposable. One night, it would happen to him. Drunk and loaded with the battle stims sold as recreational drugs, a human goaded him into a fight. His injuries were severe, and when the stims wore off, his body could not handle the strain of both. He perished in the street like an animal, and was tossed in the slum's incinerator like trash the next morning.
Reveling in the freedom of the trees and the thrill of the chase, it was easy to understand how Papa had missed it. She could not see the hunters, but she could hear them…sense them. The Force or old instinct? Did it matter?
Unfortunately, the trail ended at a clearing and two swoops. The Mandalorians disengaged stealth and ran to their swoops, leaping on and flying off into the woods. Juhani cursed and leapt down from the branch. Seconds later, Canderous and HK-47 crashed through the brush.
"Swoops. Damn. We're not catching up to them on foot," Canderous said. "Let's rejoin the party. I get the feeling we're not seeing the last of them."
Juhani didn't answer. She was still feeling a little giddy from the chase, a little more in-touch…more primal.
"Query: Juhani, are you in need of adjustment or repair?"
"Oh, silence, droid!" she hissed. She turned around, grinning savagely. "They are afraid of us. Afraid of…" With an almost audible snap, she came back to her senses and shook her head. "Great Force, that…"
"Battle-lust, Juhani," Canderous said. "Come on."
They finished the healing and Kairi had gone ashen, slumping forward with her head in her hands. She was taking deep, gasping breaths to steady herself. Carth dropped by her in a flash, rubbing her back as she worked to steady herself.
"I...I didn't realize how much pain...they can take..." she said shakily.
"You gotta be careful, Kairi. You worry me," he said, helping her to her feet and standing by in case she began to wobble.
"I...thank you, Hairless One," Grrrwahrr said to Jolee. "Now I see who you are. I had not expected your kind to aid me."
"Decent folk don't grow on branch ends," he said. "Just relax a moment and let me know what happened."
"I've never seen their kind before, not even among the Czerka. You saw them, armored from head to toe, yet blending in with the forest. They attacked us only when we had no weapons, killing my hunting party only to flee."
"Rest here, my friend and head to the surface as soon as you're able," Jolee said to Grrrwahrr.
Canderous stomped back to their position, cursing the attackers, their parentage, and seven generations worth of potential offspring in his native dialect. HK-47 and Juhani came marching after.
"Report," Kairi said. She had just recovered enough to stand.
"Statement: Our attackers went into stealth mode within second of pursuit. Their models are very sophisticated, master. I would wager corporate prototypes. Opinion: These models would not be available to common poachers, master."
"Ten credits says Czerka's backing them," Carth grumbled.
"No bet, Carth. I'm willing to say the same," Canderous said. "Slave hunters. Hunt the ones who escape, grab the ones that can be broken to the life and kill the ones who won't." He shook his head and let off another streak of curses before switching to Basic. "Running from a fair fight, attacking only when they have the advantage. Teja, does no one carry the honor anymore?"
"They have swoops," Juhani said. "We will not be able to reach them on foot."
"I think we haven't seen the last of them," Canderous said. "Nor do I think they've gone far. Come on."
Looking at the bodies of the poachers and the fallen Wookiees, Mission said glumly. "Not much else to do with them other than pick their pockets and let the Shadowlands do the rest, huh?"
Gathering grenades and a few other items from the fallen poachers in their packs, they went on. Jolee led the way, quiet and grim. Kinrath ran rampant down here, as did katarn and a few other beasts that he did not name, charging them only to be shot or cut down.
The trail curved through an ancient bog. The stench of decay was more obvious here, and the fog so thick, the party could barely see each other. Kshyy vines ascended high into the tree canopy above, the ground below them stained by old ichors and blood.
"Did you get us lost, old man?" Canderous asked.
"No," Jolee said. "But we are taking a long route. Maybe those poachers that are following us can get lost in here. Good riddance is what I say."
"So, Jolee," Carth asked. "You decided to leave your little hermitage in the forest and come to help us stop the Sith. I guess you realized this was worth coming out of retirement for, huh?"
Jolee shook his head. "That's right, sonny. The Sith are the greatest evil to hit the galaxy since, well, the Mandalorians. And they're the worst thing since Exar Kun. Blah, blah, blah, etcetera, etcetera."
It had obviously confused Carth because he walked ahead to keep pace with him. "Okay, old man, you lost me there. Are you trying to make a point?"
"Look, everyone figures the time they live in is the most epic, most important age to end all ages." Jolee shrugged. "But tyrants rise and fall, and historians sort out the pieces."
"Are you saying what we're doing isn't important?" Kairi asked.
He looked over his shoulder at Kairi. "Malak is a tyrant who should be stopped. If he conquers the galaxy, we're in for a couple of rough centuries. Eventually, it'll come around again, but I'd rather not wait that long." Halting in his tracks, Jolee put his hands behind his back and looked Carth in the eye. "So, we do what we have to do and we try to stop the Sith, but don't start thinking this war - your war - is more important than any other war just because you're in it."
"Interesting theory, but I don't buy it. The Republic stands for something; it's stood for 15,000 years." Carth hung his head. "And if it falls, everything will change forever."
Jolee dispelled any doubts he had about his earlier reading of Carth. The Dark Side and the Sith were not one and same. Sure, the Jedi here needed reminding of it, but this man was in most need of that lesson - especially with the shadows Jolee saw around him.
"You just believe whatever you need to get you through this, sonny." Jolee put a hand on Carth's shoulder... "The bottom line is that we both want to stop Malak, so let's not get hung up on details. Let's just get back to stopping him."
"Hey, what's this?" Mission said, interrupting them. She knelt by a stone covered marker marked the edge of the bog.
"Probably nothing much," Jolee lied. "What you're looking for is this way."
"I...I can read this. Zaalbar taught me." Her small hands traced the lines and characters, wiping away the moss and dirt that the years had accumulated, following the lines made by many generations of Wookiee claws.
"The beast comes when summoned, if you are generous. It comes to battle if you are worthy and wise. It grants you glory, if you are fearsome and brave." She looked up, awed. "Look at the ground. That's kinrath blood. This place must have been a shrine - a sacred place." She looked up. "Sounds strange, Kairi, but can I take one of those kinrath we killed back there and tie it to the vines? Y'know, since Zaalbar can't be here?"
Kairi nodded. "I don't see any reason why not. Jolee?"
Jolee looked over Mission. Good instincts and a better soul in that one. He knew what this place was, but never felt inclined to pay homage in that fashion. Maybe because he stopped believing that any aspect of the Force really gave a damn about anything aside from its own amusement.
"I'll help you haul over the kinrath, Mission. Things are big enough to need two sets of hands in order to carry it."
Her eyes lit up and she sprang back towards the kinrath body they left a few meters back. It was a heavy one, too. Heavy enough for Kairi to dispatch HK-47 to give them an extra set of hands in dragging it over and tying it to the vine. The creature was easily wrapped in the vine, and it did not distort under the weight.
Mission patted it. "For you, buddy." She looked skyward. "Um, if anyone listens…well, any help you can give the Wookiees…especially Zaalbar…Well, they really need it. Thanks."
"Did no one teach you prayer, Mission?" Canderous asked.
Jolee patted Mission's back. "Ah, it's not so much the words the Force listens to as a pure heart and intent. I'm sure it was understood."
They barely got three meters from the marker when the ground shook and a terrible creature lumbered from the foggy distance, a bone-chilling cry rending the air.
"Great Gods..." Jolee hardly dared to breathe. "A terentatek!"
The Jedi knew of these creatures - razor-backed, bipedal creatures of pure Dark Side creation. Their face was like a rancor's, and their great maw filled with jagged teeth. Their blood was a poison, and its twisted visage the last thing too many Jedi had seen.
The four Jedi ran ahead, sabers glowing. The others set upon it with their blasters, rifles, and canons. Foul-smelling gas poured from its wounds, dissipating (thankfully) in the thick air.
"Aim for its legs," Canderous shouted to the others. "That appears to be its weak spot."
Mission opened her belt pouch and took out a cryo-grenade. She stole it from the dead Mandalorians. They were mostly used to immobilize a target and prevent it from fleeing or fighting back. She saw her shot - the Jedi split two to a side and left the terentatek's legs exposed.
She hurled it, and it landed true. The Jedi leapt out of the way and the artificial ice ensnared the creature's legs, immobilizing it. As it struggled fruitlessly to escape, Juhani's blade severed one of its legs, sending it toppling over. From there, Jolee, Bastila and Kairi finished it off.
Mission ran forward "You okay?"
"You threw the grenade?" Jolee asked.
"Well, yeah," Mission admitted. "Canderous mentioned the legs were its weak spot, so..."
Jolee laughed. "Good thinking. Maybe the Jedi ought to carry a few of those from when sabers aren't such a good idea."
Mission noticed something just over Jolee's shoulder. "Hey, what's that?"
Mission saw the glint of metal embedded in the creature's side. Pulling it out, she held a beautiful vibroblade. Runes were inscribed along its length and the balance was perfect, even if the handle was broken off
"It's missing the hilt, but look at it...it's...it's beautiful."
"And useless," Canderous said. "Leave it be, girl. We've no use of it."
She put it in her backpack. "It certainly isn't useless to the Wookiee it belongs to. We can take it back to the village. Maybe someone there knows what it is."
Jolee led them back up a forking path. The faint outlines of ancient ruins far in the distance seemed to beckon to them.
"Those look a lot like the style we saw on Dantooine," Carth said. "That Star Map has to be there."
"Oh, it's there," Jolee said. "Accessing it might be a different matter."
A hole in the right wall was blocked with a mess of crumbled stone and jungle overgrowth, easily cut away with lightsabers and moved with hands. By the light of sabers and glow-rods, the party walked into a large, circular room. Four passageways - two to their left, two to their right led down into darkness.
"I'm noticing that these guys consider four a lucky number," Carth commented. "The structure here is different from Dantooine's, but not the numbers."
Kairi walked forward, her fingers tracing the characters on the wall. Jolee's eyes narrowed as he studied her. Bastila shot him a warning glance. "The same characters, too," Kairi said. "Yes, the Star Map will be here."
"Creepy," Mission said. "Look at all this - still standing after all those centuries?" She frowned. "Hey...there's a computer under our feet. Probably so far down we can't access it, but I can feel it, the power cables are right under our feet!" She walked to a raised dais in the room's center. "Kairi, come over here. I think this might be some kind of console, but none of the writing here makes sense."
As Kairi was about to touch it, they all heard a voice that made them jump.
"Life forms detected. Determining parameters. Initiating neural recognition."
Standing on the dais was the image of a strange creature. The shape of its body was vaguely humanoid, with the teardrop shaped head and eyestalks that resembled the broken statues on Tattooine. Its three-fingered hands gestured and waved.
"Yes, there's the thing," Jolee said. "Obstinate machine. I've no doubt it holds what you seek, but good luck in getting it operational"
"Primary neural recognition complete. Preliminary neural match found. Greetings!"
"Match found! What the...?" Jolee shook his head in disbelief. "All I got when I tried was some muttering about rejected patterns!"
"Begin socialized interface Awaiting instructions. This terminal has not been accessed for quite some time."
"One of us is the match?" Mission said. "That would mean..."
"Perhaps nothing," Bastila argued. "This is an ancient machine, Mission, and perhaps malfunctioning."
"Who has last tried to access this installation?" Kairi asked.
"Three attempts at access by the Wookiee Freyyr. One hundred twenty-two attempts at access by human Jolee Bindo. Last successful attempt 4.3 years prior to current date."
Juhani couldn't suppress a chuckle. "Persistent. I could like you."
"Well, there wasn't much else to do here," admitted Jolee.
"I've questions about this installation," Kairi said. "What is its purpose?"
"The original purpose of this installation was to monitor planet-wide agricultural reform. Malfunction occurred 241 years after last Builder communication...29,642 years before current Republic standard."
"That would fit with the data we gathered in the Dantooine ruins," Bastila said.
"Speculation: This planet's resources were insufficient to sustain levels of production. It can be theorized that produce was being exported to supply a larger demand. It can also be theorized that the super-growth of Kashyyyk's forests can be directly linked to the malfunction, as well as hastening evolution of both native and bio-seeded species."
Jolee whistled. "So, there is something to those old legends after all. Doubt any Wookiee would truly believe it."
Carth took a step backward. He could chalk this up to being paranoid, but something was very wrong about this. Kairi had accessed three out of three maps, and Bastila was right behind her - extremely reluctant and argumentative whenever Kairi had to be out of her sight. Put that together with Canderous's assessment about Kairi, the Jedi Council's bickering, and Bastila tipping her hand up in the village...
But there was still a large part of the puzzle missing - he couldn't figure out why.
"Carth?" Mission looked up at him worriedly. "Are you as scared about Kairi as I am? Something's not right at all."
"I'm worried, Mission. You better believe I am..."
Kairi continued to address the machine. "Why have you acknowledged me?"
"Error. Subject displays unfamiliarity to environment. Behavioral reconfiguration will be needed before access. I am sorry. I did not mean to confuse you. I will answer questions to the best of my programming limitations. Likelihood of restriction by previous user 100%."
"Previous user?" Juhani stroked her chin.
"The date sounds about right if we're talking Revan," Carth said.
"Couldn't have been Czerka," Jolee said. "This would have had to be installed in the strictest secrecy."
"Again, sounds like Revan," Carth said.
"We seek the Star Map," Kairi said.
"Accessing. Yes, I have found a Star Map in my original system memory. Access is restricted. Your request requires additional security parameters. There are measures available. Personality profiling will verify the basic structure of your conscious mind. I use a retro-adapted holocron interface. I have been programmed with a limited field of knowledge and must restrict access to those fitting the pattern."
"Who are you comparing me against?" Kairi asked.
"That information is not accessible. It is a pattern I have been given as a baseline for security access."
Bastila's eyes were on Kairi, and she was looking at the dark-haired woman with what might have been expressionless if one didn't know her. Carth had seen too much of Bastila not to detect the anticipation in her stare. It was like that of a star-pilot who finally got a lock on the enemy ship.
"Begin evaluation," Kairi said. The trance-like state she had dropped into on Dantooine was starting to call to her. All she had to do was surrender to its pull and allow it to pull her along with it.
"You and a member of your party - say this Zaalbar fellow - are imprisoned. If you both claim innocence, you both get one year. If he accuses you of the crime, and you claim innocence, you get five years while he goes free. If you accuse him and he claims innocence, then you go free and he gets five years. Accuse each other, and you both get two years."
"I trust Zaalbar," Kairi said. "He wouldn't accuse me to save his skin, and I'd not accuse him to save mine."
"Incorrect: If you turn on him, you risk two years or none at all. If you rely on loyalty, you risk one year or five. Loyalty is dangerous. Your companion could benefit by turning on you. Zaalbar's family is mired in treachery. What loyalty do they know?"
"Hey!" Mission said angrily. "If you weren't guarding a Star Map, I'd rearrange your chips for that!"
"The choice is mine," Kairi said. "I'm not altering it."
"You cannot refuse. Evaluation must continue. You must match the pattern in memory - your memory. I must demand honest acceptance of proper behavior. That is a condition of my programming."
Kairi blinked with confusion, and she found herself fighting off the trance. Was this a computer malfunction? Did it have her confused with someone else, or was it tied to…My memory? A million questions, none of them tied to the Star Map, raced through her mind, and she felt very chilly all of a sudden…
"Kairi," Bastila said. "Clear your mind. Just focus on your task."
Kairi took a deep breath, and emptied her mind of questions for the moment. Bastila was right - they had a task, and she wouldn't get it done if she got distracted. "Continue evaluation, computer."
"Future incorrect responses will result in rejection. Hypothetical: Upon capturing an enemy spy, you discover two things. In five days, a large city will be attacked. In ten days, the enemy forces will be at their weakest. What do you do with this information?"
"I reinforce the city's defenses quietly while preparing to attack."
"That is not an answer. Do you save your people or abandon them for the sake of the war? Attempting two victories will merely dilute your efforts."
"Basic military strategy, Kairi," Canderous argued. "War demands sacrifices, and what's a city if you crush your enemy."
"But if you aren't fighting that war to protect your people, then what are you fighting it for?" Carth countered.
Kairi put her hands behind her back and looked up at the computer. "And you've not considered a counterattack? Sending them faulty information? Setting a trap for them in the city?" She looked up, her voice becoming snappish and short. "The enemy would be expecting one of those two options. Find an option they will NOT expect."
The computer image wavered. "Analyzing…analyzing…"
"Look out!" Carth said, noticing an egg-shaped object hurled through the air.
They party scrambled as the grenade blew. When the smoke cleared, they saw their only ways out blocked. Xor and a Mandalorian in the red armor of a clan leader blocked the way they had come in. Juhani and Canderous leapt from their hiding place, saber lit and cannon primed.
"You've interrupted our hunt, interloper," the commander said.
"We'll just strip this place. I'm sure there's treasure to be found here. People pay big for relics." Xor leered at Juhani. "Enough for me to keep you proper, pretty pet."
She said, "And you will pay in blood for the death of my father!"
Xor laughed. "All I was trying to do was collect what my boss was owed, kitty. Your parents defaulted on loans to the Exchange. I put down the male, all right. Cathar males are too animal to be good slaves, but the females can be broken…and I've broken a lot of them."
Juhani held her ground, struggling not to make a move. "And when my mother perished, the debt was passed to me. They took me in the night and tortured me…used me…But it was not enough for you, was it?"
Xor laughed. "Of course not. I've got plans for you…"
"The inhabitants of this world could do little against us," the clan-leader said. "But you've become a threat Czerka wants removed. "
"More than enough of a threat for you!" Canderous shouted.
"Another Mandalorian, is it? Will you draw arms against those you should serve?"
Canderous raised the cannon. "I think you've got it backwards."
The commander laughed and so did the Mandalorian henchmen. "Clan Koltha thrives. Ordo is a dead clan, as were the rest of the fools who fell in a Jedi's trap. We are the Mandalorians now, relic."
Canderous could stand no more! He fired off rounds to scatter the bullyboys and rushed in for the commander. Juhani thumbed on her saber and rushed for Xor. Kairi, Bastila, and Jolee pulled their sabers and deflected the incoming shots. The rest of the party broke out the blasters and returned fire.
The other Mandalorians were outmatched badly by the flurry of lightsabers. Carth also felled one as it tried to rush Canderous. Mission got in a couple wound shots.
"Droid efficiency at its best!" HK-47 shouted as he blasted holes in the armor of one combatant unfortunate enough to get in his way.
"I'll turn you in to scrap, droid." One of the Mandalorians, little more than a boy, had lost his helmet. He took a swing at HK-47's head with his empty blaster cannon.
HK-47 didn't need to turn around. Reaching out, he grabbed the barrel as it approached and turned his head in a perfect 180-degree turn. From his shoulder, the flamethrower shot up and aimed at the exposed head of his attacker.
"Statement: your meat-bag mind is a little raw. Let me assist."
The white-hot blast did its job. A headless corpse with a charred stump at the neck dropped to the stone. "Statement: Thank you!"
"Who programmed that lunatic droid?" Canderous grumbled. Using his canon as a club, Canderous swung it and knocked the red-clad man off his feet. The commander pulled a vibroblade and stabbed Canderous in the leg. The implant set to work on it, but the shot was a good one. Dishonorable cur! Before the man could get another swipe in, Canderous tackled him and yanked off the helmet. It rolled some distance away - useless. They rolled around on the floor of the citadel, exchanging a flurry of blows.
Juhani chased Xor down one of the darkened corridors. Where was he?
"Looking for me, Cathar? Well?"
Xor was standing in the middle of the room, a cortosis vibroblade in his gnarled hand. "Come and get me, woman."
Juhani wanted to charge forward and remove the man's head, but hesitated. No…not from anger…from calm…Anger would only blind her. Xor wanted her to charge, wanted her to…A trap, it has to be.
She held position and scanned the room. What was he hiding?
He chuckled. "So, I killed your daddy, huh? Wasn't much of a challenge. Damn Cathar. Suugan Koltha took me with his clan when they burned the home planet. Lots of fun hunting them down, watching them beg before I cut their throats or took their mothers in front of their kittens…"
Juhani scowled, baring her fangs, and almost charged again. No, she still hadn't found what he was planning. She would have to stay still.
"Did you like it when my boys took you two on one to break you in, kitty? I was watching…Best damn view I ever got."
She scanned the ceiling…nothing there. The floor? The tiles were arranged oddly, a crossways pattern between her side and the center of the room, and what was Xor standing on?
"The Cathar beasts left me with injuries - scratched up my face and almost took my leg. They injured me so bad I never thought I'd fight again, but I've proven the beasts wrong. I still fight. And I'm going to hunt down and wipe out as many of them as I can…enjoying every second of it."
Juhani backed up.
"What, nothing to say, Jedi? Figures. Your kind always tucked tail between their legs when there's actually blood involved. Revan had to go to the Sith to get a backbone."
Juhani halted and made a run for the center portion of the room. Xor backed up and released the lever, swinging open the trap floor. Juhani easily vaulted it with a Force Jump to land in the center of the room. Surrounding them was an open pit where power snapped and danced across sharp metal spikes
"What have you got to say now?" she asked calmly, standing up and igniting her ruby saber.
Canderous realized that he had probably beaten the commander into unconsciousness, but the battle-fever was still in possession of him. He delivered a hard punch to his face - hard enough for bones to crack. Finishing up, he wrenched the man's head violently, feeling the snap of vertebrae.
With the last cry of their opponents, Canderous knew the battle had finished. The red haze of battle faded from his vision, and he felt pain shooting into his hand. His knuckles were covered in blood, and he found himself looking at the broken face of his slain foe. It was a man his age, his scarred face attesting to many successful battles. In many ways, it was like looking at a life he could have had.
Suddenly, he felt very old. Blood-fever had passed, but not the truth of the man's words. Ordo was a dead clan, and he was the last of his kind.
Jolee retracted his saber. "Interesting," he said. "I wouldn't want you as an enemy."
"Nor you. I saw you destroy two of them with your saber."
"Where is Juhani?" Bastila asked.
Kairi gasped. "Oh, no!" She dashed down one of the corridors.
Juhani had vastly overpowered Xor. He tried to strike. She countered it. He tried to charge, she pushed him back with the Force. His attacks became wilder, more desperate, while Juhani maintained her composure.
"Why won't you attack?" he roared at her.
He charged wildly again and Juhani dodged, knocking the blade from his hand.
"You are finished," she said, balancing the vibroblade in her other hand. "A broken shell of a man. Your Mandalorian friends are no more. You will be brought to Republic justice for your crimes."
"Hah!" He said, "Republic justice can't touch me. Your kind's a slave race - not members of the Republic, and neither are the hairballs here."
Jolee called out. "But these people were." He came into view, holding the droid head. He pressed the playback.
"Eli said there's be salvage down here. Wish we had Matton to check our equipment. I think it's broken…broken or…Hey, Xor. Did Eli send you? He did? Hey! Whoa! Wait a damn minute…Eli, you snake! What do you think you're -" The recording ended with a staccato of blaster shots.
Xor froze. "I thought I vaporized…" He looked around in panic, backing up.
Jolee shrugged. "And I thought it would make interesting garden decoration until my new friends here found the recording. They convinced me to put it in my pack."
Kairi ran up to Jolee's side and started to go forward.
"There is a trap, Kairi. Stay back. I will take care of him."
There is no emotion…there is no ignorance…there is no passion… there is no chaos…there is no death…Juhani powered down her saber, and lowered the vibroblade, holding her hand out to Xor. "Come."
Xor spat in Juhani's face and made a run for the exit, but with his lame leg he was not able to leap the pit. His fingertips reached the edge and Kairi dove to grab him, but her hand caught only air as Xor plummeted to the bottom of the pit and was vaporized by the energy discharge.
The trap floor swung back up, and the room was once again safe. Juhani walked forward, shaking, and all but collapsed in Kairi's arms.
"That…that fiend…that monster."
Kairi wrapped her arms around her friend, stroking the short, soft fur at the back of her neck. "I…I could sense him, and you. Oh, Juhani, I was so scared for you."
"Good job in not taking the bait," Jolee said, admitting. "Had our positions been reversed, I probably would have allowed him to get my goat." He looked down at the tiles where the trap floor had been. "Would have been a nasty way to go, too."
"I…I was angry, though," Juhani admitted. "My blood was burning with rage, hate, and revenge. I wanted nothing more for him to die by my hand."
Jolee patted her shoulder. "I'm an old heretic, but I've had a lot of time to think down here. Courage isn't the absence of fear. It's doing what you have to in spite of it. I think it applies in most other emotions, too. You need peace of mind to what you have to do despite the emotions, not because of them."
Juhani nodded. "Your words have truth," she said. "But must I always fear the Dark Side's influence?"
"Well, yes, I suppose. But that's where the courage part comes in," Jolee said. "Come on. Let's not waste another moment here."
"Yes," Juhani said. "Let us go."
When they walked back into the room, the holographic creature was waiting patiently for them. Looking at Kairi, he gave his assessment.
"Neural scan complete. Correction: Initial assumptions were incorrect. Secondary scans during battle revealed much. Under duress, your readings were easier to read."
"Just what did they reveal?" Kairi asked.
"Information unavailable. Soon you will recognize the proper course to follow. Access to Star Map granted. This unit has completed its primary duty and has finished with subject. Activating Star map and shutting down."
A door hidden in the wall next to them opened and the Star Map's chamber was revealed. It was small and circular, but it had a domed ceiling high above them, the grimed-over skylight filtering dim light into the chamber. A mezzanine level circled the room above their heads. Kairi walked up to the closed spires and it opened for her like a black mechanical rosebud. Bastila started downloading coordinates.
"Well, well. Your Star Map, an ancient artifact of Dark Side power. Can't say I'm surprised. I always knew there was something funny down here," Jolee said. "I wonder if it's had an effect on the evolution of the creatures here in the Shadowlands. Might explain why it's so dangerous down here. An interesting theory, but I suppose we haven't time to test it, do we?"
"Three Star Maps revealed, and two more we must find. Well, now, our task here is finished," Bastila said.
"Hey!" Mission shouted. "What about Zaalbar? What about -"
A gray-furred, disheveled Wookiee barged into the mezzanine, brandishing a double-edged vibroblade. "More of you Czerka core-rats! Is even the heart of Kashyyyk not free from your kind?"
"Damn," muttered Jolee. "After all this time, he's almost feral." He shouted to the Wookiee. "Calm yourself, Freyyr. It's Jolee. Don't you remember me?"
Freyyr charged, leaping over the railing and knocking over Jolee before charging out into the main room. Unfortunately, Mission hadn't run far enough to get clear of Freyyr's rampage. She dodged his swipe, but was hit with the flat of it, knocking her back. Freyyr roared and raised his blade. Nothing could save the Twi'lek now.
She bellowed. "Mu ah grah!" Her attempt at Shyriiwook sent her into a fit of coughing while Freyyr, confused, bulled his blade.
"I...I understood that." He shook his large fist. "It...it can't be! The words of outsiders are tainted with lies. You can't convince me otherwise."
"I can understand what you're saying," Mission stammered. "B ...big Z...Zaalbar taught me."
Freyyr shook his shaggy head. "You...you know of my son, Twi'lek?"
She nodded, still shaken. "Let me get this straight," Mission said. "Zaalbar and Chuundar are brothers, you're their dad...Does that mean Big Z is some kind of prince?"
Freyyr squinted and looked around the room at the gathered party members.. "My boy still lives? And he's made friends of outsiders? Is he a slave?"
"No, he's not, sir." Mission shook her head. "My...my name's Mission. Zaalbar's my best friend, and right now, Chuundar's holding him hostage."
"He...he has returned to Kashyyyk? My brave boy..." He dropped the sword. "Why has he come?"
"It...It's a really long story. He's with Kairi." She pointed over to the small human Jedi. "She saved him from slavers that were trying to capture us. He swore a life-debt to her."
Now Freyyr was truly astonished. He looked to Kairi. "Does this Twi'lek speak the truth, human?"
"She does," Kairi said. "And I also understand your words."
"He sees something of worth in you both. I will listen...cautiously. Gullibility has harmed me in the past. If I had seen through Chuundar's lies, he would be exposed as a slaver."
"Can...Can you tell me what happened with Zaalbar, sir?" Mission asked.
"Zaalbar is a bright lad, always has been. He learned Chuundar was dealing with Czerka, leading them to our hunting parties and blaming their disappearances on the dangers of the Shadowlands. Zaalbar was crazed when he found out. He attacked his brother with his claws. I thought he had gone mad - shed his honor."
Mission swallowed hard. "And he was exiled. Oh, poor Big Z! He never told me about this. He was too ashamed to."
"The failure to see treachery was mine. When my sons fought, I followed tradition and believed the elder boy. But less than a season after that, Chuundar started spreading rumors that I had also gone mad. His Czerka allies tried to kill me. I had to flee for my life."
"That's when I found him," Jolee explained. "I helped his pursuers lose him for a moment, helped get to safety down here."
"I am sorry for attacking you, but it has been so long since I have offered my trust or accepted that of another."
"The more I hear of Chuundar, the more I would like to expose him for the dishonorable creature he is," Juhani said.
"Chuundar is powerful, especially surrounded by his Czerka allies, but there is a chance I could appeal to the traditions of our people. It will take much to convince my people that they have been lied to."
"Bacca's blade," Mission whispered. "Some folks in the village mentioned that they wait for Bacca's blade. Maybe that can help!"
"I am starting to think that your soul was misplaced, little Twi'lek. Yes, Bacca was a great warrior who united our tribes and people. During his hunt, he found a crashed starship, our first hint of outsiders. He was a cautious old wook, fearing the taint of invaders. Constructing a great vibroblade from the wreckage, it has long symbolized our independence. Only destined leaders have held it."
"Where might it be found?" asked Kairi.
"It was damaged long ago in a ritual battle. Chieftain Rothrrrawr fought the Great Beast, his arrogance outstripping his ability. The blade was broken. Our tales say the Gods took it because we had become undeserving. The hilt remains with Chuundar..."
Mission rummaged in her pack and pulled out the metal shard she had dug out from the tetranek. "Freyyr..."
He turned around to see the blade in the hands of the young Twi'lek. Kneeling by her, he inspected it. "It...it is! It may not look like much, but this is an important relic of my people. I did not think I was worthy to search for it. I see now it was selfish despair."
He took the blade from Mission's hands. "I will climb to the surface and gather what support I can. Follow as soon as you can. When you arrive, we will confront Chuundar in the throne room. My people will no longer be slaves!"
"Wait." Canderous's voice halted the room. Only then had the rest of them noticed that he had not moved from the body of the fallen Mandalorian clan-leader. He rose slowly, hands covered in drying blood. There was something deadly serious in his eyes. His deep, gravelly voice was solemn.
"No sisters sit at my clan-hold." He reached out and stroked the tip of Juhani's cheek with his finger, turning her short fur crimson. He tried to mark Bastila, but she stepped back. Canderous looked very hurt at this, but nodded and continued.
"I have no daughters to sing at my burial." He stroked Mission's cheek, marking her as well. "I have no sons to train in the ways of the warrior." He marked Freyyr. "In place of your own son," he told him.
He marked Carth, who gave him a puzzled and astonished look, followed by a nod of understanding. "No brothers at my back."
He bowed his head before Jolee. "No elders to learn from." He streaked the old man's cheek. He walked up to Kairi and bowed before her, offering his hands. "And no clan-chief to pay homage to."
Kairi gasped and looked around. All eyes were on her, and she was riveted by the gaze of the iron-eyes warrior at her feet. She hadn't thought she had done much – settled the quarrels among the crew, listened to the stories, and stood at their side when asked. "Clan-chief?" Why would he consider someone like her a…
The answer struck her before the thought was complete. All of them were lost and outcast, including herself. No, they were no longer lost. They were a united force now…a clan forged by the Force rather than by blood. In accepting them all, they accepted each other.
"I should be the one at your knees, Canderous," she said. "Your loyalty, courage, and honor are there for all to see." The sheer acceptance and trust she sensed from him and felt echoed in the others almost broke her. "I hope to someday be worthy of the faith you - all of you - have placed in me."
Again, the knowledge of what to do swam up from Kairi's mind, even though her memory would not give her the "how" of her learning it. She took off her gloves and took his hands.
"Rise and take your place at my side, brother in battle."
He rose and kissed her forehead, eliciting a twinge of jealousy from Carth. He stepped away from her. "But I am not clanless - not any longer." He walked over to the shoulder cannon and picked it up. "Let's go," he said, leading the way out.
Mission bounded up to Carth as the rest of the party followed. "Uh…what was that about?"
"You're asking me? Well…" Carth looked ahead to see Canderous taking point, despite the stiff gait brought on by his mending leg. "From what I do know of Mandalorians, ones without a clan have no place in their society, but they can offer themselves to another clan in hopes of being…well, of being adopted."
"So did we adopt Canderous, or did he adopt us?"
"I think the answer is 'yes,' Mission," Carth said.