They hurried back to the elevator only to find it abandoned. Already, it was creepily still. The lift was simple enough to work, and the party arrived in the upper branches, not knowing what to expect. They rushed back to the spaceport - it was time to set a few things right before the inevitable conclusion to all this.
It was the dead of night, and the Czerka patrols were easy enough to avoid. Most of the crew were making sure the Ebon Hawk was ready for a fast getaway if necessary. Kairi and Jolee went to make their scheduled stop at Eli Gand's. It was simple enough to find the freighter Gand used as "home" and slice the lock.
The gangplank opened and Eli came staggering down the ramp. "What in the blazes do you want at this hour?"
"We have something that Mr. Dasol needs to see."
"If it can wait until morning -"
"Oh, no," Jolee said, making a smooth hand gesture. "He really needs to see this."
"He really needs to see this," Eli said sleepily. "Oh, all right, but be prepared to pay triple."
Matton had been awake anyway, walking up behind Eli. "Customers, Eli? At this hour?"
Jolee held up his hand. "This is best delivered in person, lad." He pulled out the droid head he'd put in his pack. "I found this droid head near my house."
"Oh, a droid head? Possibly Czerka surplus. Nothing of value..." Eli blanched. "Wait a minute - you're that Bindo fellow, aren't you? The one who lives in the Shadowlands?"
"Like hell that's Czerka surplus!" Matton's eyes went wide as he grabbed the droid head and examined it. "That's D-AO2, my ship's repair droid! Why was it in the forest?"
Jolee folded his arms. "I think you ought to listen to its last recording."
Kairi pressed the playback. The last moments of the crew played through again, and the recording ended in a chilling staccato of screams and blaster fire.
The two men were frozen, Matton wide-eyed with shock, and Eli just a step away from cowering. Matton threw the droid head aside and lunged for Eli.
"You lied to me, you Hutt! You murdered my crew while I repaired your freighter and have the gall to keep me as a slave, lying and saying my crew jacked the ship without paying the bill!" He grabbed Eli by the lapels and slammed him against the landing strut.
"Well...that is...Oh, for all you know it's a fabrication! A good mechanic is hard to find, and..."
"Lying Jedi? I don't think so, Eli. I thought I owed you! You tricked them into the Shadowlands and killed them, didn't you?"
"Matton, this isn't…it was just business, I tell you!" Wrenching away in a panic, he darted off past the safe point, heading towards the Wookiee village and Shadowlands entrance. Jolee grabbed Matton and held him back as Eli vanished into the night.
"Let the natives or the Shadowlands take care of him. He's finished."
"They…they were my friends. I knew they had…and not…"He looked up. "But what will I do now?"
Carth found Jordo in the cantina. Sure enough, it was open all hours, and Carth's memory about Jordo being a night-flyer proved to be the case. He was checking a cargo roster when Carth came in. Fortunately, the Czerka here were drunk or asleep by now.
"Carth? What in -? What are you doing here? Janos had your ship impounded. What happened?"
"No real time for it, Jordo. I hear Czerka's in for a hostile takeover here. You still looking for a ship mechanic?"
"Yeah, what of it? You found one?"
Carth grinned. "Oh, we found one, all right...He's probably none to happy with his last employer. But take some advice - take the kid and get off this rock fast."
"Yeah, very. And this is a good kid - honest to a fault."
Rounding the corner were Kairi and Jolee. Matton was with them.
"It's not like this post's got a lot of positions for a good ship mechanic," Matton said. "And there's no way I want to work for Czerka - the slaving bastards..."
"You say you're a mechanic? Looking for work?" Jordo asked.
"What of it? The name's Matton Dasol."
"Well, now, I'm in the market for a good mechanic, and I take recommendations, especially from a old space dog like my friend here. You know Serenity class freighters?"
Matton laughed. "Hey, I was born on one. You bet I know 'em."
"G7 Arcatech or a 21-E Zarister?"
"Trick question. Neither one of those models worked. How about a 77-BC series? I'll bet I can get more out of that than you ever dreamed."
Jordo grinned. "Well, now. If you can come aboard and prove it, you have yourself a job. Dock seven."
He waved the young man on ahead, and looked over at Carth. "We've got to hook up sometime, or at least send me a letter. I didn't hear from you after..." He stalled uncomfortably. "Er, what I mean is, my condolences on your wife. I heard what happened to Morgana. At least your boy made it through all right."
Then walkway might as well have dropped out from under Carth as he tried to wrap his mind around it. "My...my boy? You mean...Dustil?"
"Yes, of course. I saw him at my last stop, on Korriban. He didn't recognize me, though. You...you didn't know he was there?"
"No! Jordo, Dustil went missing during the attack on Telos, and..." He grabbed Jordo's shoulders. "Are you sure it's him? Absolutely sure?"
"I'd recognize Dustil anywhere. Positive!" Jordo's voice dropped and he shifted nervously. "He...he's...joined the Sith, Carth."
Carth staggered back. It was like being shot. The room started to sway around him and he couldn't keep his feet. "What do you mean he's joined the Sith?"
"There's an academy on Korriban for Sith...Force-users...he's a student there. Saw him in their uniform and everything." Jordo looked up. "Sorry, Carth. I thought you knew."
"No...No, I didn't." Carth stammered. He wasn't sure how much else he could take. "Thanks for telling me, Jordo."
"Sure....uh, no problem. Good to see you again, Carth. Hope things work out with you and Dustil..." Jordo vanished out the door.
So much so fast! His knees felt like water and his mouth went dry. He tried to imagine it, and couldn't. His son...Carth thought he was dead for so long, dead along with his mother in the attack...And a Sith? What in the hell was this supposed to be - a dream, a nightmare?
"Carth?" Kairi's soft voice and the feeling of her hands on his shoulders broke through the shock that numbed his brain. She guided him to a chair. "I know you aren't all right, but..."
"Dustil...my son is alive!" He looked up, gripping her arm. "We've got to go to Korriban, Kairi. We've got to find him!"
"We'll go as soon as possible," she said reassuring him. "There a Star Map we have to find still."
"Thank you, Kairi." He took two sucking breaths to try and regain his equilibrium. "I...I just have to see him. I have to know if it's him. I have to know what happened. All this time, I thought he was...he must be a man by now..."
"I'll go with you if you need someone at your back, Carth." She took his hand in hers.
He nodded and squeezed her hand. Kairi was trying to project calm to him. There was still much in the air and so little time. At the same time, she had felt the blow of the terrible news as surely as if it had happened to her. No small part of her wanted to drag him back aboard the Hawk and blast off to Korriban, holding him through as much of the journey as he would allow.
"Just lend me a little strength for the time being, beautiful," he said. "Whatever you can."
She brushed away the stay lock of hair, and kissed his forehead. "Agreed."
Jolee kept his silence. He knew what he sensed. He may have been an old hermit, but he certainly wasn't blind. Unfortunately, it was going to be a lot more difficult keeping that silence once aboard their ship. He still felt to calling to join the quest. The Force had led them to his cabin for its own reasons, and he knew to trust its workings.
Hastening to the village, the traffic on the walkway was eerily quiet - not even the beasts of the forest tried to attack. Czerka patrols were nowhere to be seen, smashed patrol droids and non-functioning equipment providing mute testimony.
When they reached the village gates, they found those unguarded as well, just bolted shut. Jedi telekinesis was enough to take care of the bolt, and the party sealed the gates behind them as they rushed past the eerily quiet pathways to the Holder of the Laws. His dwelling was thickly occupied by small groups of nervous-looking Wookiees talking amongst themselves in strained voices.
"Outsiders! I have heard what you have done...is it true? It is heavy in the air, like an approaching storm. Many are afraid and come here for advice, but I have none to give."
"It's true," Jolee said. "I don't have much for advice either, old friend."
Juahni took the bolt casing from her belt pouch. "We have also discovered some more sad news for your people." She handed it to Worrroznor, and let the old Wookiee examine it closely.
Worrroznor looked over the bolt casing. "It is Jaraak's. The family insignia is there. How did you get it?"
"We found Rorworr's remains in the Shadowlands. That casing was from the bolt that likely killed him." Carth explained. He was very glad that Kairi and Mission were able to understand the local language and translate for him.
"Oh my, very distressing. It would seem that Jaraak had a hand in his death, then. I can't ignore this. Wait here, outsiders, while he is fetched. I hope he can explain this. I really do."
It wasn't long before Woorwill and Jaraak were brought before Worrroznor, standing in the open room in his home. Woorwill was confused and frightened, while Jaraak looked old and broken - a defeated man.
"Jaarak, you know why you have been summoned here. As Holder of the Laws, I ask you to explain. Do...do you recognize this bowcaster bolt casing?" Worrroznor asked.
"The casing is mine. It bears my family runes, and markings for the creatures I killed."
"Yours?" Mission said. "Why would we find your bolt casing by...No, it couldn't be. Could it?"
"Jolee was correct," Bastila said with a sigh. "This can only end in sorrow."
"On Rorworr's body? He is dead? It can't be!"
"Don't listen to him, Woorwill. Outsiders only lie when their mouths are open. Didn't I teach you? I won't answer. I can't answer. Must my son be here to see this?"
"Woorwill was Rorworr's student. Since Rorworr has no family, he is allowed to stand here." Worrroznor seemed exasperated. "Jaraak, please speak. If you are guilty, it means death and this outsider inherits your possessions. Do you wish that?"
"Is there no alternative to death as a punishment?" Kairi asked.
"If there were mitigating circumstances, perhaps another punishment could be considered. It depends on what was behind it."
"Good thinking," Carth said, pulling the datapad from his bag. "Jaarak didn't murder without reason. Take it. Show it to the judge."
Jolee warned, "I urge you caution. This may seem like the right path to follow, but you don't know these people as I do."
"This is a failure of honor. It is very serious. Jaraak, are there any factors to be aware of?"
The older Wookiee did not speak.
"Jaraak, say something your own defense," pleaded Mission. "You know what Rorworr was up to!"
"I killed Rorworr. I will accept whatever punishment is given, Holder. It is better if my honor alone it tainted."
"Why did you do it, father? Why? Rorworr was a hero!"
"You only need to know that I did it. The reason is not important. Woorwill, I am sorry."
Mission wasn't about to stand for it. Snatching the datapad from Carth's hand, she marched up to Worrroznor. "Your honor, Rorworr was dealing with slavers. Carth and Juhani found the slaver contract on him. Woorwill was going to be the next one he sold to Czerka!"
"What are you talking about?" Woorwill howled. "That's not...it can't be."
"Don't do this. Rorworr was admired. They need to believe in him. I am old and unimportant. Let Woorwill and the other children have their hero. Don't listen to the outsider's lying, please."
Mission handed the datapad over. The Holder of the Laws read it quietly, a pillar of quiet in the heated emotions of the room.
Jaarak gave a huffing sigh. "I'm sorry, Woorwill. I never wanted you to know. So much is against us. You need someone to look up to. I couldn't let him betray you...betray us all. Outsiders are a threat by themselves. We don't need traitors of our own."
"How awful," Mission said. "Big Z always talked about how important honor was to his people. It's everything."
"In light of this, Jaarak, you are declared innocent and shall be released." He turned to the party. "Well, I must say you are the first outsiders I have been glad to know. You have surprised me. Perhaps some of you are indeed capable of honor."
"It feels like the right thing to do," Bastila said. "But to destroy a hero..."
"What's gonna happen?" Mission asked.
Worrroznor patted her shoulder gently. "It will cause a stir, and much pain. But it will pass in time. We will be disappointed in him, but we've other enemies to face. You are strong and good - all of you."
"Ah, a painful end," said Jolee. "But perhaps it was the only way. We shall see..."
The door was flung open and a disheveled-looking Wookiee, fur spattered with blood, marched in. "Worrroznor, the fighting! It has overtaken the village, and Chuundar demands your presence at the Chieftain's Hall!"
"What? Oh, Gods..."
"It's Freyyr. He has returned with Bacca's blade in hand! He told me these outsiders refused to kill him. Some were loyal to Chuundar alone, others to Freyyr. We had to fight!"
He turned to the party. "Outsiders, you must come right away. It is as I feared!"
Loud arguing and more than a few clashes of knives echoed through the air. They had been right about what would happen. The village was in chaos, some calling for Chuundar, others talking about the "High Chieftain's" return.
The warrior Wookiee explained as they ran. "Freyyr is in there now, as is Chuundar. Zaalbar is trying to keep his father and brother from bloodshed, but he will not succeed."
"Oh, no..." Mission said.
"Much is to be decided," Worrroznor said. "Hurry, friends of Zaalbar!"
Worrroznor led them to the Chieftain's Hall and threw open the doors. It was a deadly stalemate now, Chuundar and his Czerka guards on one end, Freyyr and his supporters on the other. Zaalbar hung in the middle.
"And your clan of outsiders comes as well?" Chuundar shook his fist at them. "Everyone is here now! Quite a reunion!"
"Yes, my son. By the blade of Bacca's sword, I've come to end your treachery. No more will you sell your own people!"
"You've the blade, father? Hah! So what? I have the hilt, held by each true High Chieftain in recent memory. Even you claimed it was all-important. We have our ancient trinkets, and who will the people follow? You? You are old and weak!"
Zaalbar blocked both of them with his body, shoving the apart before blows could start. "Shut up, both of you! This will end now! I will not see Rwookrrorro suffer any more! Put down your blades NOW!"
"Aw right! You tell 'em, Big Z!"
"I...I do not know what to do." his voice wavered. "I think...I don't know."
"Chuundar held you and brainwashed you, Zaalbar. Listen to your dad!" Mission urged.
"Chuundar holds the power here, Zaalbar," Canderous warned. "And if you overthrow Czerka here, they will return and will double their efforts to destroy you."
Kairi stepped forward. "Zaalbar, you are someone of great conscience and honor," she said evenly. "And you may be right in saying there is no need for blood to be shed here."
"We work together. It will be hard," Zaalbar said. "But I will not have us slaughtering each other when the true foes surround us! The fighting stops NOW!"
Freyyr looked across at Chuundar. "I have no desire to shed shared blood, Chuundar. Despite all you have done, you are still my son. Kashyyyk can grow stronger under our hands."
Chuundar raised his blade. "What does it matter? I have Czerka's support. You will all die!"
"Brother, NO!" Zaalbar stepped before Chuundar, blocking his strike at Freyyr. He shoved Chuundar back, but he needed a weapon!
From the corner of his eye, he saw Mission pull her vibroblade. Like a single mind in two bodies, she threw the blade to him and he caught it. They had done this so often on Taris, it was as natural as breathing. It was barely a large dagger to him, but a weapon enough.
Blasters fired, energy shields engaged, lightsabers were drawn. Outside, in the village and inside the hall, the battle raged. Freyyr was struggling against two of Chuundar's guards and Zaalbar rushed in.
Chuundar raised his sword and rushed for Zaalbar.
"Big Z - Look out!"
Mission's warning was just in time, Whirling around, he ducked Chuundar's attack. It would have killed him otherwise.
Zaalbar savagely backhanded Chuundar. Chuundar swiped back, gashing Zaalbar's arm. Zaalbar swung back with his fist and blade with all the savagery and rage brought on by his long years of exile. His mind went blank, and he was dimly aware of Chuundar's face before him. Let him know the pain of his people! This was a traitor, a creature of no honor!
He grabbed Chuundar by the shoulders and threw him against the wall, continuing his savage assault. Chuundar made a couple attempts to strike back, and Zaalbar was wounded in several places. It didn't even register with him. The pain of his body and the pain of his heart fused together.
The fever ran through him, and finally broke. It was silent all around him…Gods, he was exhausted. There was blood all over his fur. Some of it was his own, but most of it…
He looked down at his hands, they were soaked and stiff with dark red blood…and they were shaking. Zaalbar forced himself to look down. Chuundar's nose was bashed in, his ebony fur soaked in crimson, and the sword had fallen out of his limp hands as his neck was bent where it shouldn't be.
He had beaten Chuundar to death. It was over. He let out a long and mournful cry, but whether it was from fatigue, heartache, or relief, he did not know.
Mission was covered in blood, too, and limped. He could say nothing to her, only look up and try to form a word. Mission said nothing as she knelt next to him with a medpack and started to clean his wounds.
"Zaalbar?" she asked quietly. She glanced over to Chuundar's broken body and scowled, shaking her head. She took his hand to clean some of the blood off his arm. "Zaalbar…Zaalbar, look."
She held his hand up to the torch light, pressing her thumb into the center of his palm. Zaalbar's claws slid out. In contrast to the rest of his bloodied paw, the claws were clean. Freyyr and his supporters saw this and gathered behind him. His father took his wrist and lifted his hand high.
"My son is no mad-claw," Freyyr said. "Let it be known to all."
The battle had been a hard one, but in the end, a half-dozen Czerka slavers and an equal number of Wookiees lay dead on the floor. The Jedi were tending to the wounded, or seeing to their own wounds. Canderous had taken some stabs to his arms and his leg was still sore. A glancing blaster shot had struck Carth in the leg. HK-47 was reattaching an arm.
"We…we have done it," Freyyr said sadly. "I am saddened that it came to this, but I could not let it continue."
"Father…I grieve with you."
"Zaalbar, my son. I am truly sorry. You have suffered a great wrong, a great shame. I was blind. I have no excuse."
"I can forgive, Father. I have learned much over the years."
"What will be done about the slavers?" Kairi asked.
"We will fight them. It will be difficult, but they shall not take another of my people without bloodshed. I'll send my best climbers to other villages to rally a defense. We must guard against this happening again." Freyyr nodded to the crew. "Your kind will be the only outsiders welcome here for some time. It will be a change for the better, I think."
Mission walked up to Zaalbar. "I'm gonna miss you, Big Z, but this is your home and family. I wish you all the best."
Freyyr held up his hand. "Zaalbar, wherever did you find her? Do you know what she has done?"
"Father, she is Twi'lek. Whatever she has done, I…" He looked up at his father. "She found me after I had killed my captors, when I had become a true mad-claw and beast. She tried to protect me, and has refused to leave my side. I owe her more than even life-debt could pay. Please, do not harm her!"
Freyyr laughed. "Zaalbar, she sacrificed to the Great Beast in your name, helped in its defeat, and pulled Bacca's blade from its side, carrying it to me. You even taught her our language!"
"You'd have done it if you were there, Big Z."
"The Gods could not send another Wookiee to be at your side, so they took the heart of a Wookiee and put it in the body of a Twi'lek." Freyyr patted her head. "Your clan must be proud to boast such a daughter."
Mission smiled sadly. "Zaalbar is my family, sir."
"Then, it shall be. I welcome you, Mission the Clever-Handed, to my clan. I would be honored to call you daughter to my spirit."
"You...you mean it?"
"When I was without honor, I could not use the term," Zaalbar said. "But you have been honor-sister to me, and we welcome you to our clan with open arms."
"I don't know what to say but yes!" Mission said. "But what will you do now, Zaalbar?"
"Returning home has lifted a great weight from my mind...but it has been painful as well."
"You have a place at my side, Zaalbar," Freyyr said. "I would be honored if you would take it."
"I cannot. Not yet. I'm just used to being free, and not just from the slavers. And I have a life-debt to honor. Now that my life is truly my own, honoring that agreement is all the more important."
Freyyr beamed with pride. "Listen to my son! His insight humbles me. Take that good judgment with you, and all the stars will come to revere Wookiee wisdom!"
That night, under the canopies of the village, the silence belied the bloodshed that had taken place earlier in the day. With Chuundar exposed as a Czerka pawn before his people, all-out rebellion was starting to burn across the planet like a wildfire.
Under the stars, and by the light of the torches, Carth squeezed Kairi's hand, partly to reassure her, but more to tie himself to the present. As much as he didn't want to admit it, Kairi had become his strongest link to it. She offered a lifeline he still wasn't sure whether to hold onto. Would she betray him? Or was he the one about to betray?
"Saul took his fleet to Telos. We had no idea he was about to attack. After the first wave of bombing, he demanded our surrender. We fought back, but...but it was too late. When my task force arrived, there was nothing we could do. The colony was burning. We ran out of everything. Medical supplies were gone." He could barely speak, but forced himself to form the words. "I...had...a wife and son on Telos."
"Had..." He felt more than heard Kairi's voice, their hands clasped tighter.
"I remember holding my wife in my arms, screaming for the medics, but..." He shuddered. "She...there was nothing anyone could do." The only thing time had done to the grief was turn it from a sharp pain to a dull ache. That crazy old man on Taris had been right. He truly hadn't healed, had he?
"After that, I had nothing left, really. I devoted myself to the fleet. Hunting Saul was my only purpose." He sighed. "I miss them so much, Kairi. Now that they're gone...I know killing Saul won't make me happy or bring them back...but...but I have to do it."
He forced his eyes open, looking at their hands. Back on Taris, he would have flinched from it. Back on Dantooine, he would have accused her of some Jedi mind trick. Now, he just didn't want to let go.
Carth didn't know what to expect when he caught her gaze. Pity, maybe…probably disapproval... Jedi didn't go in for revenge. Besides, how could she understand? He knew on some level Kairi could read his emotions. Still, her knowledge was a vicarious one.
She was open, not judging him or pitying him, just listening and accepting. Carth didn't know what to make of her sympathy and tolerance. Was he glad that she wasn't tearing him a new one over his dark confession? Did she even understand what it meant? He wanted her to follow him through the end of this; he wanted to push her away now before he condemned her. Hell, he must have been sending off more mixed signals than a short-wired communicator.
Self-consciously, she looked away. Her thumb traced over the wedding band. "What was she like? Your wife?"
"Morgana was beautiful. Stubborn, too. Couldn't talk her out of something once she set her mind to it," He chuckled. "Guess you're a bit like her that way." He pulled his hand from Kairi's. "She hated it when I signed back onto the fleet at the start of the war. I'd planned on leaving soon, to join her..."
He rubbed his forehead. "And Dustil...Well, he's alive, but a Sith?" His eyes stung. "I...I failed, Kairi. All this time, I thought he was dead and gave up. All his life, I have put myself on the line so the war would never reach them...Now..."
She put her hands on his shoulders, looking up at him. She was frowning slightly - afraid for him, he knew. Great Stars, he could get lost in her eyes.
"Carth, we'll go to Korriban. We'll find Dustil and we'll do what we can from there. I know you too well to believe that you didn't do everything - "
"That's...that's another thing about you," He stepped away from her while he was still able. "How well, really, do you know me, Kairi? How is it you can trust me? The fact that I'm the first person you remember accounts for some of it, I'm sure, but the rest…" He sighed and turned away, staring over the edge and into the darkness again.
She wasn't about to leave him to it. She did not touch him, but stood so close that he could feel her heat. "I've seen enough…enough to know you are a good man."
He looked up, into the distance. "Is there a place for good men in this universe anymore, Kairi? I have to wonder." He looked up at the stars. "The Wookiees here fight back, but Czerka's got a lot of power. They'll be back. The Sith are on the advance, and the Republic dwindles…"
Kairi sighed, shaking her head, her shoulders sagging slightly. "You make it sound as though they'll get away with it."
"Will they, though? Revan was betrayed by Malak…and Malak hasn't won." He shrugged. "Corruption is everywhere. People are greedy and stupid and do horrible things…" He looked over at Kairi, tracing her cheek with the back of his hand. "I'm starting to think it's different for you Jedi, though. That there's some kind of evil watching you, just waiting for its chance."
"I'm not going to disagree with that assessment," Kairi said. She neither leaned into his touch or flinched from it - merely accepted it as she accepted him thus far.
"I didn't think so. Kairi, you've got so much courage, compassion, and strength inside you…Yet, somehow…somehow I have no trouble imagining it differently - like the flip side of a coin."
She caught his hand and laced her fingers with hers, pausing to examine the contrast between their sizes. She pulled their joined hands towards her, resting on her heart. For someone who claimed to have no talent for telepathy, Carth sure could credit her with saying so much with small gestures.
"Not just you, Kairi. Bastila, too…and don't even get me started on Juhani! You're all so…so intense! I don't pretend to know anything about the Force, but I know evil. When you have so much power, the stakes are higher. I'm just concerned at what might happen."
She studied their hands again. "I understand." Pulling herself to full height, she looked up at him, determined. "It's good to know you care, Carth, but sacrificing yourself is not the answer, either. You will not face Saul alone - not if I can help it. I'm not letting you go over the edge - not that easily."
Carth gasped. "Well, that's not what I…I mean…I just don't want to see you hurt - any of you." He shook his head. "I suppose that finding these Star Maps… I just hope there's not a price for you to pay." He shook his head.
"Despite what you think, we couldn't have made it this far without you, Carth. And…" She struggled with words. "I don't want to see you hurt, either."
Carth was about to look over the edge again. Pulling himself from it, he looked in the distance where Zaalbar was getting a hero's welcome by those who had once called him insane and Mission was making her introductions as the villagers draped garlands of beads about her neck. Jolee was laughing it up, telling something that could have been a dirty joke from the way the Wookiees around him were laughing. Canderous and Juhani sat on a bench and soaked up the atmosphere while HK-47 used his flamethrower to re-ignite a burned-out torch. Bastila stood apart, like usual, but even she seemed to be opening up a bit, questioning Freyyr on what direction he would like to take his people. And somewhere out on a distant star, his son still lived.
He had reason to look away from the abyss.
At the dock, the Ebon Hawk was the only ship present. The Czerka office and Cantina were little more than smashed ruins, and Wookiee guards were patrolling the catwalks Czerka patrols once strutted.
Freyyr and an honor guard were there to see them off. He carried Bacca's sword (newly repaired) in his massive hand. Having been groomed and cleaned, Freyyr now looked every centimeter a king.
"I'm not sure there is a reward that accurately reflects what you have done for us. Kashyyyk will remember you long past your lifetime. Because of you, I have been reinstated as Chieftain. Not only that, but you have returned my son to me and given me a new daughter! Our world has changed because of your actions."
"I have thought about it much, Father." Zaalbar said. "I request to carry Bacca's Sword."
"Well, Zaalbar, that is quite a request. I am tempted to say no, but perhaps I should consider it an investment. Do you realize what this means? It is the legacy of our people, held by chieftains and future chieftains."
"I understand, Father. And I will return with it in hand when this quest is over."
"My son shall carry Bacca's Sword!" He handed the sword to Zaalbar, beaming with pride. "Carry it with pride and wield it with honor. We await your return."
As the Ebon Hawk took off into the skies, Mission and Zaalbar once again found themselves in their quarters, gazing out the window.
"So many things have happened on Kashyyyk. I'm not sure what my place is. I must learn more about you outsiders. When I know enough, I will understand how best to serve my people. I will travel with my eyes open this time." He smiled as he gazed back down on the tips of the wroshyr branches below. "But I leave with good feelings. My father will do what is right until I return. And I will, once this quest is over."
"I'm just glad I could help out, Zaalbar. There was so much I never knew about you!"
"You have seen more than I would have allowed, and taught me much as well. I should be grateful for that. It will be a while before I know what my role will be in making Kashyyyk truly free. I have a lot to learn."
"But why take Bacca's sword? Doesn't that belong more with your dad?"
I'm not certain I truly know. Father expects so much of me. I guess I do as well. I will bring it back to Kashyyyk when I have learned enough. What happens then…we'll see."
"Sorry we couldn't stay," Mission said. "I'm sure there's a lot of stuff you miss about it. Things you would have liked to do, things you rather would have done."
"We have important things to do, and I don't feel bad leaving this time. I know I will be welcome back. And it is good that Father met you. He was not making light of you, either."
"Oh, I know that. You taught me how seriously Wookiees take the concept of family. Honor-sister, though?"
"It means you are a Wookiee princess, Mission. Better get used to it," he teased. "Such as not piling on so many coverings..."
"I do not do naked, Big Z. I don't have enough hair for it."
"Maybe just a fur coat...a compromise."
"Only when you start using a comb and bubble bath!"
The two of them laughed until the Ebon Hawk was in orbit.
Jolee unpacked his meager belongings, mostly herbs that he had used to make healing poultices and the like.
His cabin was in good hands. A new arrival from Tattooine, Komad Fortuna, had taken an opportunity in the chaos to pick up a blade himself, guiding Wookiee scouts to a slaving pen he had found and leading a half-dozen Wookiee children to safety. Freyyr acknowledged the Twi'lek hunter's bravery by allowing him to stay, and Jolee willed him the cabin on the condition he would use it well and help Wookiees in need.
He wasn't coming back. How this would all end, though, was unclear. Either way, the choice was made - let the Force determine the rest.
He set up shop in the makeshift sickbay, setting his bag in one compartment. His rough-spun Kashyyk clothing was packed in there. He took out the old Jedi robe. He never had the heart to be rid of it, though he'd not worn it since he was a young man.
He pulled the sand-colored cloth over his shoulders. He hadn't expected it to still fit, but fit it did. He wasn't certain what to think of that.
Kairi was lying awake, unable to sleep. Three maps found and two more to discover. They were getting close now, she could feel it. Yet, the more she tried to think about anything outside the quest, the more confusing it all became. Too many things did not make sense, and the more she thought about the alien computer, the more one statement nagged at her.
You must match the pattern in memory...your memory.
Mercifully breaking her train of thought was Juhani walking in, and sitting on the edge of her bed. "Is something wrong?"
"Just...thinking, Juhani. What about you? Are you all right?"
"As well, as can be expected. I am over the worst of it, I think. I apologize to you, and have already apologized to Bastila. Confronting Xor again…" She struggled for words again. "He threw the whole of my past back at me."
Kairi nodded. "I wish I could understand, Juhani. Not just feel your pain, but truly…" She sighed. "Taris wasn't a friendly place..." Kairi felt cold, thinking of her encounters with the Vulkars and the other nasty predators down in the lowest levels. It gave her an appreciation for Mission's and Juhani's resiliency. To live for years the way she had in her earliest clear memories.
"We struggled each day to survive, to make something of our lives, but we could only go so far." Juhani sat on her bunk. "My father turned to stimulants, and my mother had to take loans from the Exchange to buy food. Ah, but we are warriors - it runs in the blood. My father would rather have died than see his mate and cub indebted to slavers - and die he did."
"Xor." It wasn't a question.
"Xor," she answered. "After my father perished, my mother worked…hard…to keep up with the loans, but taxes from the corrupt nobility, the extortion from the gangs…it was not enough. In the end, I think her heart gave out. I sat by her bed as she was dying, but there was nothing I could do."
"It was long ago, Kairi. As one with the Force, she no longer has to work or fear." Juhani's bittersweet smile faded. "But when she died, the Exchange took me and put me up for sale. Being an enforcer, Xor had first pick. He was just about to finish the sale when the Jedi rescued me. I think we both know what has happened since."
"You became a Jedi," Kairi said. "And resisted the Dark Side."
"I thank you, Kairi. You are far kinder than I would have expected...to put up with me using you in this way."
"You're not using me. I told you, I consider you my friend." She smiled wanly. "Decent humans are hard to come by."
Juhani's smile lit up her face. "I have come to meet many decent humans since those days. The Jedi order seems to have collected a fair number." Her voice was reverent, but calm. "The Jedi...the one who encouraged me to join the Order, the one who led the group fighting the Mandalorians, she was human. I suppose I see something of her in you, Kairi."
"I cannot name it, but something…" She shook her head. "Ah, but the hour is late, and I am getting away from my point - if there even is one. I sometimes curse the day my parents came to Taris, but I know that if they had not, I would not be who I am today. I never would have seen my future in that woman's eyes. And after Taris, the Enclave on Dantooine was like a dream come true."
Kairi smiled. "Oh, yes it was," she said. "I can't ever remember feeling so content."
"You as well?" Juhani said. "Ah, but even there, I felt…not ostracized, really, but separate…apart. Between that and the anger inside…" Juhani was truly smiling with contentment. "But no longer."
"I was not certain at first," she said. "But it was something Zaalbar had said to me the night you brought me back from the grove. Words to the effect that when the lost find each other, no longer are they so. When I truly understood it, however, was in the Shadowlands. A Mandalorian - blood-enemy to my people - touched my cheek and called me sister. I then realized he was without family - as I was. As we all are in some way." Juhani thought some more. "And the very nature of Compassion - the path of the Light - is to realize others can feel pain and accept joy."
Kairi pulled her hand from under the covers and touched Juhani's forearm. "Thank you, Juhani. Thank you for trusting me."
"Sister to my soul, I have spoken too much. For all that I have told you, I still know so little about your past. Your job? Your childhood? Your...family?"
Kairi hung her head.
"What is it, my friend? I did not mean you harm with my question."
"No harm done, Juhani. Just...Just I would have thought one of the others told you already. I'm sorry."
Kairi shifted position on the bunk. "I...I was a civilian specialist in the Republic fleet. A translator...Our ship was attacked over Taris."
"Taris. It seems to always return to that place. Please, go on."
"Carth, Bastila, and I might be the only ones who survived the attack. Bastila got away first, but as Carth and I were escaping," Kairi squeezed her eyes shut and shook her head.
Juhani sat with Kairi on her bunk, stroking the human's hair like her own mother often did when Juhani's empty belly or frightened dreams would not allow rest. Tears leaked from Kairi's eyes as she continued to explain.
"I...I don't remember much of the attack, it's all a blur. Carth told me what happened. I shoved him out of the way of an exploding conduit and was hit with a plasma shock." She opened her eyes to look at Juhani. "It destroyed my memories - all of them. Both the Council and a medical doctor told me there would be no way I'd recover them. I remember nothing from before the battle. It's...it's like my life began back there."
"You...you were not a Jedi, then?"
"No, I told you I was only an apprentice. Zhar speculated that the accident that destroyed my memories also blasted something else open - allowing me to sense and draw upon the Force."
"You mean to say your apprenticeship was only a few weeks?"
She nodded. "Juhani, I...I don't want to scare you, but Bastila knows more about who I am, I'm certain of it. The fact she won't say anything is even more confusing. I guess I could chalk it up to Bastila being Bastila, but..."
Juhani scowled. "Perhaps it is. Bastila is often hard for me to read, and I respect her privacy. Still, I would suppose your situation may be worse than mine, and I can understand now why you are so interested when we talk about our pasts, having none of your own."
Kairi squeezed Juhani's hand. "I wonder who I may have been, Juhani. I wonder if...I wonder if I can trust it. I wonder who I can trust. What if...what if that file...the only thing I know about myself before Endar Spire...what if it's a lie?" she shook her head. "If it is, though, then who would...and why?"
"I...I cannot give you an answer, Kairi. But know that no matter what that past could be, I know what I have seen in your soul, and so have we all."
Kairi accepted Juhani's words, and her comfort, drifting off into dreamless sleep. For the first time in their travels, Kairi also felt something else from her friend...inner peace.