Here is another chapter!
When she heard her brother's words, Aphrodite's face fell and she wrapped her arms about herself, shivering. "Not her, not Hope!"
"Who's Hope?" Padme asked as a cold fear gripped her heart. The fact that the news had upset the blonde Goddess was not a good omen. In fact, it was very bad. What did a Goddess have to fear when she had the power and ability to do anything she desired? Aphrodite's powers made Anakin look like a mere child when he had been considered the most powerful Jedi before his fall to the Dark Side. And if the Goddess was scared of this Hope what could they possibly do to her?
"She's the daughter of Dahak." Ares explained to her as a frown marred his face. "Basically she's an evil goddess that loves bloodshed and destruction. Her father is even worst. At the moment he's trapped in an alternate realm but he wants to get free. The last time that happened it wasn't pretty. I suspect that's what Hope wants now: to free her father."
Padme tightened her grip on Luke until he yelped in pain and she suddenly realized what she had been doing, loosening her hold on him. Then she recalled what Palpatine and Ani had said of the other unknown Sith…what if it hadn't been a Sith at all that had taken her daughter but the Goddess Hope? If she were evil as these Gods claimed, her energy signature would be dark and she might have been mistaken for a Sith. But no, it couldn't be…could it? If this Hope had Leia, how would she ever get her back? Padme's heart pounded loudly in her ears, the other noises in the room seeming to fade. She could feel her heart beating, too, thump, thump, thump… "Please Aphrodite! You have to get Leia and bring her to me…! I'll do anything!"
But the blonde Goddess who had seemed so carefree and confident continued to shiver in her transparent pink outfit, a white bikini underneath it. "I would love to Sweat Pea, but I can't go there!"
Padme leaned forward at the words, eager for any news at all about her daughter. "But you know where she is?"
"Yes, I can sense Leia and for the moment she's unharmed. Hope has her in her temple." Aphrodite looked worried beyond belief, frightened even. "I know you don't understand, but she can destroy us! She's destroyed other pantheons before, like the Sumerian Gods. And we're weak right now. Our powers aren't what they used to be."
Her worst fears realized, Padme didn't know what she should do. Crying wouldn't help nor would pacing the floors. And even if she could run into action as in the old days, a powerful blaster in her hand, it would prove useless. The Goddess Hope was probably just as immune to blaster bolts as Palpatine was. It would probably feel like a tickle from a feather. No, she had to stay here and protect Luke, if that even were possible.
"Don't ask my sis to fight her." Ares told her with a hard look in his dark eyes. "She's a lover, not a fighter. The most she could do is turn Hope's clothing pink or some other equally stupid thing."
Aphrodite punched Ares on his upper arm, clearly annoyed. "Hey! My powers aren't totally useless! I once pulled a star out of the night sky! It made such pretty jewelry!"
Padme gasped at the bit about the star. She had no idea that the blonde goddess could even do something along those lines. All stars were really suns; they just appeared as tiny bits of light due to the distance involved. Had some innocent world frozen to death because their sun was yanked away to be worn around the blonde's neck as a sparkly gem – the thought was frightening.
The War God shook his head. "This is a job for a hero. Gee, I wonder where I could find one these days?"
"Anakin…" She blurted when she felt the God's intense gaze fall on her. She had no idea how her husband could possibly take on this Hope and come out on the top. It seemed impossible and a lost cause, but they couldn't give up, either! "Anakin can do it! The Jedi always said he was the Chosen One but they never actually explained what that meant. Do you know?"
Ares rolled his eyes. "Of course I know! I'm a real God, aren't I? He's supposed to follow in Hercules footsteps: be a heroic demigod and then later become a full god, but he has to earn that. He's been off on the wrong track for a long time until Sis here woke him up. He's supposed to replace Nemesis and bring balance. Nemesis died a long time ago. She was widely known as the Goddess of Revenge or Divine Retribution, but she also handed out fortune in equal measure to all."
The former Queen of Naboo gasped at this. Ani was going to become a god? It seemed too insane to believe!
"I have to go knock some heads in…" Ares popped out in a bright flash.
"I'm out of here, too! Tootles!" A pink flash and Aphrodite vanished, too.
Luke gaped up at his mother. "What does 'tootles' mean?"
Anakin and Obi-Wan stared down at the discovered bodies they had been lead to by a farmer. The man had found them by accident when he went for a stroll down by the river near his farmland. He had thought to take a few hours break and get some fishing in, as the crops were growing well and everything had been done. There were neither weeds to pull nor plants to tie to stakes. And so he had carefully climbed down the steep hill to the bank of the river, a fishing pole on his shoulder. He then headed to his favorite spot where the river bended, as he generally caught fish easily there. But instead of fish he had seen bodies snagged on some branches that had gotten stuck on some rocks in the river.
"I… I just stared at them for the longest time!" The farmer told them, his body trembling. "I mean, I half expected them to vanish like the morning mist! There was no way they could be real…but the longer I stared at them the more real they became. And so I thought they might have drowned…so I called the local authorities. I just never heard of anyone finding bodies on Alderaan before!"
"It's all right…" Obi-Wan soothed the upset man as he placed a calming hand on his shoulder. "You did well. We'll find out who they are. Just go about your business."
The Jedi put some of the Force into the last line and he watched the man leave. The farmer was a simple man and worked hard at a noble profession, although many may not see it that way. But without people to grow crops, many people would go hungry and starve.
Anakin was already using the Force to pull the first body out of the river. It floated over to a patch of dry ground along the river bank and settled on its back. The corpse's eyes were open and staring up at the sky without seeing anything. The body was not chewed by fish and not bloated, so it wasn't in the water for very long. The dead man wore a simple white robe, one that tied in the front with a fabric belt about the waist. He was barefoot and his head had been shaved bald.
The Jedi knelt beside the corpse, examining it. "There are marks about both wrists from restraints. It appears he was held captive somewhere before he died and was then tossed into the river. From his lack of bloating, I'd say he wasn't in the water long at all…"
And it was obvious what had killed him: a hole in the center of his chest.
"That's not from a blaster…" Anakin added as he too stared at the wound. "There's no charring at all. And it's certainly not from a lightsaber. Could it be a knife injury?"
Although it was modern days, it was well known some people still preferred more primitive weapons. Knives were still effective, especially if the victim didn't expect anything. A person's throat could be sliced open in mere seconds to spill their life down their chest and onto the floor.
"Possibly…" Obi-Wan examined the next copse after Anakin freed it from the water and found the same marks about the wrists. The others after that were all the same with the same modus operandi or M.O. Some were males and a few were females but otherwise they were the same and even wore the same white robes. The Jedi stood, an uneasy feeling growing in his stomach. "I do hope this isn't related to Leia's disappearance…"
"It looks like a serial killer…" Anakin replied glumly, his blue eyes dark and cast in shadow by his brows. "This is the sort of thing I've been cleaning up working for Palpatine. The local authorities don't know how to handle cases like these anymore, not on a supposedly peaceful planet as Alderaan."
"Anakin, don't be ridiculous!" Obi-Wan snorted. "Palpatine is a Sith! He doesn't care about some serial killer!"
"But he does care! He cares about the people, all of the people and not just the super rich ones!" The Sith Lord insisted as he reached out to his former master. "Look into my mind and you'll know it's true! He's been doing good things! He's built schools that anyone can attend."
The Jedi scoffed at the mere suggestion but he felt Anakin's mind open to him, inviting him in. As linked as they were now, a deep and proper bond, he could dive right in. Still, he hesitated. He felt uncomfortable invading the other's privacy. It was stupid really, as Anakin was a Sith or had been a Sith and he should know what he had been up to during the time gap as Lord Vader but part of him didn't want to know. Watching the Younglings murdered and struck down in cold blood had been just too horrifying and he doubted if he could stand seeing more things like that. And Anakin's memeries would be in a first person viewpoint, which was even worst in the Jedi's mind.
"Are you still scared of our bond?" Anakin asked. Disbelief was clear in his voice and his eyes looked sad. The sadness there surprised the Jedi as he hadn't expected a Sith to feel that. But there it was clear as day. And he could feel the other's emotion pouring through the link.
"Poor Master. It's horrible what the Jedi have done to you…" Anakin stated as he stood there with his mind still open and inviting him in.
"The Jedi?" Obi-Wan stared at the other feeling a mix of confusion and annoyance. "The Jedi haven't done anything to me!"
"Oh, but they have. They made you nervous and scared of social situations, haven't they? You'll never feel or experience love and the idea of family is totally foreign to you. Humans are not meant to live out their lives as emotionless as a droid, locking every warm feeling away because it may lead to attachment as that was forbidden. And those lonely years watching over Luke has only made it worst I fear." Anakin stood there calmly gazing at him with those intense blue eyes of his. At least they were blue for the moment. With Anakin one never knew as he had wild emotional swings and they could turn to Sith red at any moment.
Obi-Wan crossed his arms over his chest in a defensive manner, leaning backward slightly on his heels. "You misunderstand, Anakin. I'm holding back because I fear what I might find in that head of yours. I haven't forgotten what you did at the Temple all those years ago and I don't want to see any more. It's enough to give me nightmares."
"But I've been doing only good things, things you would approve of!" The younger man insisted as his voice rose in volume and tone. His wavy tresses blew in a sudden burst of wind and his dark chocolate brown cape fluttered as well. He looked identical to the way he looked before that it was uncanny. It was almost as if those long years in the middle had been erased except they hadn't. The memories were still there and the time had passed. The would-be Jedi's eyes darkened then, his brows hooded. "You still don't trust me, do you?"
"Anakin, now hold on!" Obi-Wan raised his palms in the air as he tried to frantically stop the other from a massive meltdown. If that happened and Anakin switched back to Lord Vader, well, he was very likely to lose – fast. The long years on Tatoonie have had their affect and he was far from the powerful Jedi he had been. He had grown older and tired, the hot desert taking a toll on him. Yes, he had tried to keep fit but there really hadn't been a lot for him to do out there. He had grown a tad lazy and out-of-practice. "Look at this from my view point. You were a Sith all of these years and we've been apart. You can't expect me to just trust you implicitly as I had in the old days when you were my padawan. Trust takes time. Then there is the matter of Palpatine. You're still bound to him as well and we now apparently have some weird three-way bond going on! What am I supposed to think about that? Am I just supposed to believe that the Sith Master is a kind grandfatherly figure who gives out sweets to children? He's evil, power hungry and has you wrapped around his little finger!"
Anakin sighed wearily. "You just hate politicians as you always have, that and you're a coward when it comes to revealing your feelings."
The older Jedi allowed some of the tension in his body to bleed into the Force, releasing it. It seemed for the moment Anakin was controlling himself and that was a great relief. He knew it could have lead to a fight, possibly even blows. And while he didn't like being called a coward, he knew Anakin was correct: he was scared to reveal himself, his inner self, to the other. "Yes, Anakin, you're right. I am a coward and I have always been that way. I told you I would second guess and even triple guess myself. I did that all of the time and I never felt confident with the choices I made. I had hoped they were the correct ones and many times they were, but still I felt unsure."
"Perhaps I expect things to happen too fast." Anakin shifted his gaze down to the seven corpses that lay on the bank, water dripping off of them. "Do we have any ID on these people yet? Do they match any of the missing people?"
Obi-Wan turned on his Padd and quickly began flipping through the profiles and photos of the numerous people that had been reported missing. And to his surprise it had been more than just a few. The number was over one hundred, the people coming from all parts of the planet. None of them seemed interconnected and none had known the others. He had gone through records and there had been no comm. Calls between the missing, no written texts, nothing. They all worked different jobs in different fields. Some were single and others married. It was why the cases had not been linked, had not been seen as a bigger more serious problem. A bunch of missing people from one town would ring alarms right away but a single person from each district wouldn't.
His flipping through files stopped, his blue eyes darting from the photo to one of the corpses. It was the bald headed man. He had a particular crook in his nose from it having been broken in the past and so did the man in the photo. The Jedi indicated the man with the tip of his still dusty boot. "This one is in the files. He vanished over two months ago and was reported missing by his worried parents. At first they thought he had a row with his girlfriend and ran off with cold feet but the girlfriend said there had been no fights."
Anakin frowned, waving a hand at the bodies. "But why would a Sith kill these people? They're nobody. It makes no sense!"
"That's because it's not a Sith." A new male voice said from behind them.
Anakin and Obi-Wan turned together upon hearing the unfamiliar voice. Hearing anyone out here in this remote area surprised them, especially someone who knew about the Sith and what that word meant. Most people would not cross endless acres of farmland to gape at some corpses and certainly not the people of Alderaan.
The first thing they noticed about the newcomer was his odd style of dress. He wore a black leather vest that was partly open in the front to reveal a few black chest hairs. Black leather pants and boots completed the outfit, except for the sword scabbard at his side. Both frowned at that, as who in the Force even used metal swords these days? But the scabbard contained a sword all right as they could see the metal hilt poking out. The man had decent arm muscles, muscles that suggested he worked out a lot. His hair was thick and black, a bit wavy. A silver earning hung from one ear in the shape of an old fashioned sword – the straight type called a longsword. He had dark eyes and a neatly trimmed beard. Intense power radiated out of him, clueing them in on the fact he was probably another god like Aphrodite.
"Who are you?" Anakin finally asked after a few moments of silence.
"Ares, Son of Zeus, God of War!" Ares replied as he stood before them with one knee bent. "You're my little bro…"
"I am?" Anakin stared at him in surprise.
"Yeah. Be thankful I didn't pound on you all of these years like I did to that other half mongrel, Hercules." The god threw back his head, laughing to reveal snowy white teeth. "That was my favorite hobby in the good old days, beating up my half-brother. It turned him into a proper hero. I was training him but it sure was a lot of fun…"
Obi-Wan and Anakin exchanged glances, unsure what to think. It was clear to them though that Ares was out of their league power wise.
"So this wasn't caused by a Sith?" Anakin cautiously asked as he still felt uneasy with this new god. He had sort of known what to expect from Aphrodite but this one…
"Look, you're my warriors, my warlords!" Ares said as he suddenly gone serious. "I need you to do something for me."
"Excuse me, but Jedi are not warriors." Obi-Wan stated in a calm voice although he felt like quivering inside. No matter how he twisted it around, the title of God of War did not sound like a good thing at all. In fact, it sounded very bad. He knew very little of gods as people in the Old Republic had dismissed them long ago as just myths and legends. No one actually believed they existed. Perhaps a few primitive tribes still did but then that was just small isolated groups. And for all he knew, this man before them may be the one responsible for all of the fighting, the Clone Wars and so on. "We are keepers of the peace."
"I know what you're thinking and before you go getting the wrong idea, let me explain something. I don't start wars. Humans and the other alien races do that just fine by themselves. Without a sitting god of war, there would be thousands of murders every day. I channel those aggressive feelings into a more appropriate outlet. Understand? And you are warriors. Why else do you use swords? A pacifist is a true peace believer and they generally end up dead." Ares gazed at him intensely. "Now I need you to go destroy a temple for me. The Goddess Hope has already gathered followers and if she's not stopped, things will grow far worst."
"Why should we wreck her temple?" Obi-Wan asked as a funny feeling grew in the pit of his stomach. This conversation was getting worst and worst. "From what I've seen, gods and goddesses have incredible power, far more than any Jedi. What has she done to you that you want her temple destroyed? Is she the one responsible for these corpses?"
"That's her handiwork, yes." Ares scowled as he stared down at the corpses next to the river. "She builds up a cult and does bloody sacrifices to her father, Dahak. Her goal is to free him from the other dimension where's he trapped and to do that she needs lots of blood to flow."
Anakin's blue eyes took on a desperate look then. "Please say she doesn't have my daughter, Leia!"
"Hope does indeed have her." Ares confirmed with a nod of his head, his silver earring shaking. He waved his hand and a paper map appeared in the air before them. It floated over to the Jedi who accepted it. "I marked the location of her temple there. You need to break her cult up and destroy the temple. There's no guarantee she doesn't have other ones though…"
Anakin sunk to his knees at the War God's words, devastated. An evil goddess who was murdering people had his poor daughter? "But how can we fight her? She can surely do things we can't!"
"That's your problem, but you two better settle your differences or I'll fix it for you. And trust me, you won't like my solution." The dark haired god glared at them one final time and then vanished in a flash of bluish-white light.
Anakin and Obi-Wan were left alone with the corpses once again.
Note: I always found the Dahak/Hope plotline on Herc/Xena interesting hence this storyline.