The Pyres of Bourei

The air held with it a disturbing silence, broken only by the crackle of funeral pyres that dotted the Bourei Valley and the ripple of distant banners in the chill breeze that carried the spirits of the dead to Amanohara, a warrior's paradise. It was as if all of Haigara held its breath.

Waiting.

If only a single breath could change everything. As if the winds of a sudden exhale would wash the black clouds of nightmare away.

The drifting smoke diffused the distant fires creating false horizons as ash fell like snow from the heavens. The very air was charged with an unsettling knowledge that more pyres would light the night.

On a precipice, overlooking the shadowed valley stood Obi-Wan Kenobi. Drawing in a deep breath, he fought a cough inspired by the thick air that clouded his lungs. His gaze shifted to study the fiery orange that lit the true horizon, painting the wisps of clouds that wafted across the sky in ominous shades crimson.

A fitting color, he thought.

A few steps over the rocky ground drew him closer to the edge, but the view remained unchanged until he turned. A deep ache gripped him as battle worn muscles resisted the command to move. Too many days of fighting made it difficult to even raise his arms. His energy was sapped. He was desperate for a rest, but knew, like the white armored soldiers standing with him, it would not come until the battle was won.

Not until they tasted victory or death's sweet embrace.

Shrugging off thoughts of the price of failures, as it was not welcome on the eve of battle, he sought out the bulky form of a tank, one of many war machines that made up the battery ranks of the Grand Army of the Republic's Katsu'ra Battalion.

A small smile tugged at his lips as he spied one of his Jedi two counterparts, Master Ka'tau, balanced perfectly on the end of a gun turret. Her pale gray skin was highlighted by deep red war paint that belied the lithe, almost ethereal form.

Standing high on the turret, her flowing gray hair and robes shifted in the breeze. She was a perfect target for the hordes of the madman—Ranshin's followers—that waited in the valley.

Yet, she offered them no fear.

Such boldness.

Behind her stood the gunner, calm in the face of impending battle, awaiting orders. He was one of nearly two thousand battle-hardened clones who waited, focused on the moment.

Biting back a sigh, Obi-Wan faced the dying day, just beyond the reach of the great valley. His eyes strained to see into the shadows, but they failed him in the gloom, so he reached with his other sight. Casting out through the Force, he could feel the valley teeming with life. A very hostile life, he inwardly noted, feeling the rage boiling up from the hollow.

Military intelligence had estimated ten thousand soldiers still answered to the warlord. They far outnumbered the Republican Forces. In artillery power, they were little more than savages bandying about with crude metal swords and dated blasters.

The Sarujaa, as they called themselves, had more than just numbers. They had strength of will. They believed they were defending their homes from the Republic invaders that would who would their land for its valuable nutrients and enslave the people.

Their faith in the righteousness of their cause made them the most dangerous kind of enemy. They were defending their homes and their way of life at all costs.

The truth was, they were being cajoled into fighting for the Separatists, with tales of greed and corruption in the Senate. Fear of being enslaved by such unscrupulous beings ran through the world like a plague. The more they believed their way of life was endangered and the once protective arms of the Republic seen as invaders, the further the battle lines were stretched across the galaxy.

Noting the ash gathering in the folds of his tunic sleeve, Obi-Wan lightly brushed it away, but the effort was futile as more floated down from the perpetually overcast sky. The heavens were blanketed by thick smoke that rose up from the flames that ravaged the once glorious Shinden Forest. Millennia old great eldar trees, that once stood so tall and straight, reaching into the clouds of the pale green sky, fell to the insatiable hunger of the flames.

"The natives grow restless," Ka'tau whispered into his mind.

She was ethereal, alien to this world of the dead and dying. Obi-Wan looked to her quietly and imagined that she looked upon him as a mere child. Some Jedi still did. But she had been old long before his ancestors found their name.

Her long, elegantly embroidered robes shifted in the breeze, the pale creams transcending the blood and grime of the battlefield. While she took on an almost human appearance, he knew she was far from it; she was a rare kind of being that few in the galaxy that few had ever seen. She looked as if she should inhabit the corridors of a luxurious governor's palace, not be here among the ruins.

Whereas he had become a creature of the battlefield, bound by a title of General. Though he had never led troops before, nor known the face of command. He was a Jedi, not a soldier.

He was supposed to be a guardian of the peace, not a leader ordering the deaths of thousands and raining destruction down.

Carried on a warm breeze in the crisp evening, he felt her words more than heard them. "It is time."

Offering a slight nod, he turned his attention back to the turret where she stood, he noticed that her white eyes seemed to be stare through him. It was, at best, unnerving.

Gathering himself, Obi-Wan offered her a shallow bow before stalking across the uneven ground to the squad of speeder bike mounted Lancer troopers, part of the mechanized cavalry of Katsu'ra Battalion.

It was time.