Backlash - More Than It Seems
1 year later, Coruscant, Jedi Temple
Amidst the sea of youthful faces a Twi'lek girl raised a hand timidly, her lekkus twitching.
"Yes, Seeda, you have a suggestion?" The voice was cold, but there was an edge of something to it too. Weariness? Annoyance? It was hard to tell.
"If the Force makes no distinctions, why do we have to bother?"
"Believe it or not, rules are very important. They are there for a reason."
"But, Master Kell, there are billions of different sets of rules in the different cultures and communities. Which one should we follow then?"
"The right ones. And, Seeda, this is a History Class. I suggest you go and study Ethics with Master Zerkan if you are not interested in the subject. And now let us return to the Sith Wars." The voice stopped suddenly and then turned even sharper. "This is a beginners class. I am sure you know that."
Jedi Master Belana Jen leaned against the door frame nonchalantly and smiled at her ennerved bond-mate. "And they are treating you well?"
Clapping his hands twice Kell signalled the end of the lesson and waited until the youths were out of the classroom before he walked over to her. He wrapped his arms around her neck with a tired smile. "Teaching is not really my calling. Especially not teaching adolescents of any species."
"I hear your Strategy classes are even worse. Even though the students are older."
"They like to argue."
"And I think you enjoy that. Let's go." Slipping an arm around his waist Belana was smiling to herself a bit sadly.
"You seem preoccupied. Is it Enja? Something to do with her?"
"No, she's fine. Yet."
Belana stopped suddenly and turned to face him again. "Kell, I have to leave on a mission. Negotiate a trade agreement. Again. But I need you here to keep an eye on your daughter."
"Think you can handle it?"
"Good. Tarla will make sure that you treat her well, so beware."
"Don't you worry."
Belana smiled at the grim expression on his face. It was endearing to see how fiercely protective he had grown of his daughter. During her pregnancy he had tried hard to remain aloof, leaving her alone for days sometimes to go and brood a bit about the future. She knew that it was hard for him to cope with staying in one place for so long. But despite his grumblings she also knew that he enjoyed giving classes, no matter what he said.
Once Enja was born his demeanor had changed abruptly. Now he could not stand being away from the little girl any more than her mother did. But Belana had been given more responsibility and duties when she had been elected into the Council. And in addition she had taken on another apprentice. As if she had not enough to do. Her low sigh caught Kell's attention immediately.
"You won't go there alone, will you?"
"Novis will be accompanying me."
"Ah, I see."
"Well, he still has a lot to learn and I think this trip will do wonders for his diplomatic skills."
"When do you have to leave?"
"As soon as possible. The planet is called Ordesha. Do you know it?"
His eyes narrowed slightly as he was scourging his memory. "Ordesha... Well, it seems familiar, but I cannot say why. It is probably one of those insignificant backwater worlds," he sniffed disdainfully and shook his head. Belana laughed softly.
"You got that exactly right. But I have to go nevertheless."
"A waste of talent. I would much rather have you stay here."
"I bet you do." By now they had reached their apartment and Belana opened the door with a smile. A warm, comfortable silence filled the airy rooms and the smile deepened when she carefully sought her daughter's presence. Enja was fast asleep, by the feel of it, and that was a blessing. Although the little girl was no trouble, never crying or screaming, she still demanded a lot of attention from her parents. Belana blamed that trait on Kell. He walked past her soundlessly to look into the bedroom, trying to appear as if checking on his daughter was the farthest thing form his mind. Belana quietly made for the kitchen.
Sitting down on the high-backed chair that had been placed next to the crib Kell regarded the baby's sleeping face attentively. Her tiny head could fit into the palm of his hand easily. She was so delicate that he always felt reluctant to take her in his arms, fearing that he might break her fragile frame. It was strange how her presence could make him feel even more at peace than Belana's did. When she had been born he had had to come to term with the fact that he had been given a great responsibility, one that was hardly comparable to what duties he'd ever had before. He remembered that day well, how nervous he had been, how frightened. In hindsight it seemed ridiculous. Everything had gone well though and Belana had acted as if giving birth was the most natural thing in this galaxy. Still, to him all of this was incredible. Here was something he had no experience with, no knowledge of at all.
"Well, my little one, I am sure you will teach me all that."
Leaning forward he bent over the small bed to run a hand over her soft cheeks tenderly. Touching her head ever so gently he felt a tendril of hair fall down into his face at the same time that the baby opened her startling blue eyes. Kell froze. With a gleeful giggle Enja launched herself at the strand of thick black hair and tugged sharply, leaning all of her weight in the pull.
Belana jerked out of some pleasant daydream at the angry scream that rang through the apartment very suddenly. For a second she was rigid with shock. What had happened? Then, racing into the bedroom, she found her mate standing a little apart from the crib, pulling his long mane together in a ponytail. His pale eyes were flashing furiously, a fact that did not seem to faze his daughter at all. She was sitting in her bed, staring at her father in all innocent, wide-eyed curiosity.
"Another sneak-attack by the hair-grabbing little monster?"
"She surprised me."
Belana laughed. "She will give you a hard time once she's older."
"Maybe I should cut my hair short like you did."
Unconsciously running a hand through her dark brown hair that now barely covered her ears Belana shook her head with some determination. Of course it was more practical, but-
"Don't. Please." Imagine Kell with short hair! She shuddered with dread. He smiled at her discomfort.
"Then I will just have to teach her some manners."
"You can certainly try. But she's as stubborn as her father, so I fear you will fail miserably."
He shrugged. "She's four months old. I think I can handle her."
"I think she already has wrapped you around her little finger. Daughters do that, you know?"
"Not at that age!"
"Especially at that age. And look who's suddenly an expert on children. Come, I have fixed something to eat. You can bring her too."
Taking Enja from the crib gingerly Kell tried to keep her busy hands as far away from his face as he could. It was hardly possible because, admittedly, he wanted her close. So he carried her at waist-height into the kitchen, trying to ignore the amused look in Belana's eyes. Taking a place opposite from her he sat Enja down on his lap, warpping an arm around her to keep her still.
"So, if you say you got to leave as soon as possible, what time-frame are we talking about?"
"A last minute decision? Why is that so important that it cannot wait."
"The political climate on Ordesha is somewhat hostile at the moment. I am also to investigate that particular aspect. But if you ask me the planet is close to a civil war."
"What? You are not going!"
"And who will stop me? You? No way, my dear. I shall be careful, if it eases your worries."
"Why would they send you of all people? You have a baby!"
"If you really must know, the discussion went as follows: Master Diriwa suggested sending you, a proposition that was rejected outright. Then they had the idea of sending me. I told them that I would rather stay here and take care of my daughter."
"Kell, they would be foolish to try anything with a Jedi Master on planet. Especially knowing who she's bonded to," she mumbled almost too low to hear.
"So that's the catch!" Green eyes throwing sparks he looked at her sternly. "So they want me to run off and follow you, scare the hell out of the Ordeshan government and make them think again. But the Council cannot sanction that course of action openly and telling me would only have made me say no."
Belana shrugged. "We know you."
"Too bad. And what tells you that I won't accompany you anyway?"
He groaned softly. Damn, they really had him trapped. "Tarla could take care of her."
"Come on, this is supposed to be a surprise, so stop whining. And you would never trust Tarla to take care of your daughter."
"Our daughter. It is more the fact that is was supposed to be a surprise for me too that makes me so upset."
Early the next morning Belana Jen was watching her little family wistfully through the transparent cockpit of the ship that would take her to Ordesha. Novis had assumed the pilot's duties and was just now goinhg through the last preflight checks. The Jedi Master smiled at her daughter who was waving at her with pudgy little arms. Kell was holding Enja tightly, for once completely unconcerned about the mischievous bundle squirming in his arms. He wore a deep frown on his forehead and Belana could easily see that he was not happy with her leaving. Well, that could not be helped. Waving back at Enja once she turned to nod at her apprentice.
"We are ready."
"Good," Novis replied and smiled faintly. It had been decided by the Jedi Council that each of the surviving Sith be assigned a guide to help them get accomodated to life in the Temple. Kell had practically begged Belana to take Novis because he trusted the Weequay most of all. And he had turned out to be a patient and attentive student, even though his Sith training still showed from time to time. Belana knew she could rely on him. Take-off went smoothly and the Jedi Master was craning her neck to catch a last glimpse of the twosome they had left behind on the landing platform. She sincerely hoped that they would be all right.
Leaning in the doorway Tarla was watching the ship leave. She had not wanted to intrude on this family-goodbye, but now she wanted to offer Kell her help, if he needed it. He remained on the platform until the ship had vanished out of sight, then came striding toward her, unsurprised. Once he came level with her he practically thrust Enja in her arms, his features cold and forbidding
"I have lessons to teach all day, and since I assume you want to help you can watch her until I get a moment."
Tarla stared at him, a bit taken aback, before she accepted the baby and hugged her to her body. The little girl was squealing in delight. "Well," Tarla said, "I guess I am being bought and sold. If you could pick her up early this afternoon I shall be very grateful. Her presence will only upset my own apprentice."
"He'll have to deal with that sooner or later anyway. Best start now."
"What if she wants her Mama?"
"Then I guess she'll have to wait."
Storming past her Kell vanished around a corner and was gone. "Well, if your Daddy thinks he can spoil our day with his foul mood he is badly mistaken, don't you think?" Tapping Enja's stubby nose playfully Tarla smiled at the baby's startled yet curious expression. "Come on, let's have some fun."
It was five hours later that Kell hastened toward the small apartment Tarla shared with her apprentice. Knocking at the door he waited until she called him and went in with a smile on his lips. But that was wiped clean off his face when he saw Tarla's expression.
"Is anything wrong?" he asked, suddenly very worried.
Her tone was icy cold when she said: "You told me you'd have lessons all day. Schedule says you had exactly one. This morning. Why did you lie to me?"
"This is not going to get back to the Council, is it?" he tried hopefully.
"Cut the crap. Why?"
"Mind your words, little one. I do not owe you an explanation."
"You truly think so? Kell, you and I both know that everyone around here is keeping a sharp eye on you. If you do not behave the Council will have to take steps to bring you back in line. So why don't you just tell me the truth?"
A low hissed escaped between his clenched teeth, but he managed to keep his flaring anger in check: "I did some research on Ordesha."
"And? So did Belana."
"Not the way I did. The planet is practically roiling with the Dark Side."
"You can get a read at that distance?" she exclaimed in utter astonishment.
"Can't you?" he shot back nastily. "Where's Enja?"
"In Teeko's room. They have been playing for the past hour or so."
"Did she get something to eat?" Kell asked, all fatherly concern once more as he walked over to the Padawan's bedroom, and Tarla joined him half-way.
"He adores her," Tarla commented as she stopped next to Kell in the open doorway to watch the children play.
"Well, as long as he is careful."
She turned her head to look at Kell who had his arms crossed in front of his chest and was frowning at the little Rodian deeply. Teeko was currently pretending to be a valiant Jedi Knight on a mission to protect a wise queen and her people. The fact that the queen in question was more interested in playing with her toes than pay any attention to Teeko's fierce battles with the imaginary bad guys did not seem to faze the young Padawan at all.
"They'll be all right," Tarla said at last, smiling.
"Are you sure? They are children. And Enja is only four months old."
"I was here all the time. Do you want to bring her by tomorrow?"
"Actually yes. My next progress report is due tomorrow and I suspect it'll take some time."
Tarla nodded gravely. Every three months the Chancellor and the Head of the Council requested a report on how the Sith were adapting to their new environment and Kell had to share his evaluation with the Sith's respective guides. They were not always of one mind though.
"Well, then I guess we should say goodnight."
Carrying the sleepy baby very carefully Kell had a hard time dividing his attention between looking at his daughter and minding his step. But they made it back home all right and Enja was gurgling dreamily, her arms suddenly reaching out to demand to be hugged tighter. Opening the door to the apartment awkwardly Kell complied and raised her higher so she half-lay on his shoulder, her tiny head nestled against his neck. Her breath felt like a sweet caress and he smiled at her touch, feeling a warm sensation wash over his mind like a tidal wave. Finally inside the bedroom he hesitated putting her in her crib. Instead he lay down very slowly on the bed, placing the little girl on his chest so he could look into her startling blue eyes. Baby-blue. Belana had told him that all human babies were born blue-eyed when she had seen his shocked expression. Smiling at him faintly his daughter took a slow look around, her curiosity reawakened. Kell let go of her tiny body and Enja immediately rolled off her perch to land on the soft mattress. Sitting up she glanced straight at the window and the darkness lurking on the other side. It seemed to fascinate her.
"See something you like?" Kell asked and reached out to stroke her head tenderly. "It is interesting, isn't it?"
Giggling happily she turned toward him and toppled over, her eyes going wide in surprise. But she did not cry, only stared at him, startled.
"Brave little girl. Do you miss your mother?" Wrapping her in his arms he hugged her close. "Well," he added in a whisper, "I miss her too."
With the ship locked in hyperspace there was not much to do for both the Jedi Master and her former Sith apprentice. They went through some exercises and studied the data on the planet Ordesha that they had been able to uncover, but the atmosphere was overall tense. And it was Belana's fault.
"Master Jen, what is worrying you?" Novis asked at last, the tender words seeming out of place coming from his grotesque alien face. Looking up Belana sighed deeply.
"This mission. It is just so unpredictable. I have a feeling that we don't know everything yet."
"Well, we should find out in two days, and if they are hiding something we will uncover that too."
"I admire your confidence, Novis."
He inclined his head slightly, embarassed. "Thank you."
"But don't get cocky. This will not be easy. Diplomacy will be called for."
"Ah." Novis gave her a wry smile. "Now that is something where you excel." His features turned serious again. "Master Jen, if I tell you that you have made a grave mistake in leaving Coruscant, would you punish me?"
"Afraid? What mistake is that?" She frowned at him, suddenly suspicious. "And you know I would not punish you - much," she added, deciding to play this his way for once.
"You should not have left Lord Kell alone."
"He will be all right, I think. Everyone will keep an eye on him."
"But they will not be able to interfere the way you do. He is calmer in your presence, less on edge."
Pursing her lips thoughtfully Belana threw Novis a critical glance. "You may be right. But he has changed over the past year."
"Not as much as you might think. And remember, you see him with different eyes."
The next morning Tarla was up very early, preparing for the day ahead. There were a few things she had to do for Zerkan, and then Teeko needed some lessons and Enja would also be there to take care of. In short, it would be a very busy day. Yet she was smiling when someone knocked at the door and she called for him to come in. To her surprise it was Gyro. The smile faded a bit.
"You expected someone else?" he asked coolly.
Tarla bit her lower lip. It had been six months since they had separated, but she still regretted her decision sometimes, missing the old days ."Kell was going to bring Enja so I can keep an eye on her."
"Right, it's time for the next report." He stood in the doorway awkwardly, apparently unsure of whether he was welcome at all.
"And what brings you here so early in the morning?"
He jumped at her sharp tone. "Nothing, I just wanted to ask something..."
"Can you skip by for a moment at noon? I might need your help."
"What about the children?"
Gyro waved a hand dismissively: "They will be asleep. It will take only a few minutes."
Ah, so it was supposed to be a surprise. She gave him a smile and nodded. "All right. I'll see you then."
"Gyro, good morning!" a cheery voice announced from the hallway and Tarla almost choked on her words when Kell strode into the apartment, beaming all over. An unsusual sight.
"Good morning, Lord Kell," the young Jedi Knight returned politely and reached out to touch the baby perched on the Cor'dan's shoulders. Enja made a grab for his hand, startling Gyro. Tarla laughed.
"Watch out, she's a little monster."
"Just like her father," Gyro breathed and flashed the threesome a quick smile. "Gotta go. Have a nice day."
After Kell had left again, leaving a whole set of instructions, Tarla busied herself with the files she had promised to update for Zerkan. Noon was awfully far away yet and she looked at her chrono wistfully from time to time, only to find that just a few minutes had passed. Enja was napping again and Teeko was a good Padawan and sat in his room, studying. What did Gyro want? Was she misinterpreting something? And why was she so excited about it even though she had been the one to break up? Strange, very strange. But, looking into her heart, Tarla found a tiny butterfly batting its wings weakly, wanting to be noticed. Maybe there was something left. Maybe they could get together again.
A few minutes before the chrono reached noon she checked on the children, finding them both asleep, and heaved a deep sigh. Good. Tucking the blanket over Teeko a bit tighter she patted his head and smiled. "Sleep well." Enja seemed to be dreaming something funny, but she also was deep in slumber. Everything was perfect. Sneaking out of the apartment as silently as possible Tarla was smiling all over her face as she made her way to Gyro's quarters.
It was noon and time for a break. They had been discussing back and forth, not coming to any real conclusion, and Roj Kell was annoyed. Excusing himself he darted out of the Council Chamber as dignified as he could and made his way to Tarla's room. Enja would probably be asleep, but it would be good to get out of that stuffy chamber for a while and just sit there and watch the baby sleep. Opening the door he was surprised to hear children's laughter and loud noises from the little Padawan's bedroom. And no sign of Tarla. With a frown he strode toward the other room and froze for precious seconds, his eyes widening in horror at seeing Teeko stand in front of his low desk, on which Enja was perched, watching him carefully. The little Rodian was exploring thr handle of Tarla's lightsaber curiously and as his hands wandered toward the activation button Kell realized that the blade would kill the baby, or at least hurt her seriously. Launching himself forward with a wordless scream Kell watched the laser beam ignite and then Teeko's arms jerked in surprise, sending the weapon flying over his head. The laser beam missed the Sith's face by inches and only because he had the presence of mind to throw himself out of the way in time. Landing hard he watched Teeko turn toward him, his black eyes huge with fear. But what caught his attention was Enja's crying. An angry red wound was slashed across her forehead, but she was too shocked to feel the pain yet. He was at her side in a heart-beat, but when he reached for her her fledgling arms beat him aside. Aghast Kell took a step back, totally confused. Then a small sound from behind made him turn around again. His eyes fixed on Teeko and narrowed into mere slits of green ice.
Tarla could hear the frightened screams from two corridors away, but what was more was the stomach-churning feeling of the Dark Side raging through the temple. Racing ever faster she felt her heart turn to stone. Once she had burst through the door of her apartment though the darkness became almost overwhelming. The screams had ceased and all she could hear now was the horrible sound of a body being repeatedly thrown against a wall amidst a baby's desperate wailing. Then her protectiveness won out over sheer dread and she appeared in the Padawan's bedroom like an avenging angel.
"Kell!" Tarla yelled, too afraid of what she would see to even look at her apprentice's prone form. Throwing her arms apart wide she sent the enraged Sith flying against the far wall. He let go of Teeko immediately, but rounded on her instead. The Jedi Knight swallowed hard. "Kell," she repeated, trying to sound reasonably calm. "leave him be." The little Rodian tried to crawl out of Kell's reach, but that one caught him again with predatory ease and indifference, dragging him back by an already broken leg. Teeko whimpered softly. "Kell, calm down," Tarla tried once more and wedged herself in front of her Padawan. "Everything is all right, see? Enja is okay," she shuddered at the lie, but the baby would heal again, she knew. Enja was still crying, unable to comprehend why her father was so mad. The furious light dancing in the black-haired Sith's pale eyes frightened not only his daughter. Shivering, Tarla reached out to cup Kell's chin in one hand and turn his gaze to his daughter. Recognition flashed across his eyes, but his face remained expressionless.
"What is going on?" a new voice demanded suddenly and Tarla turned her head to throw Gyro a grim look.
"An accident," she said.
"An accident!" Kell roared suddenly. "He nearly killed her!" The focus of his rage changed ever to slightly and the young Jedi Knight found his right hand lock around her own throat. "Where were you?" he hissed dangerously.
"Lord Kell, please," Gyro injected soothingly. "Let her go."
With a low growl the Cor'dan complied and rose to pick up his daughter and hug her tightly. But Enja was far too frightened by his dark mood to be comforted by his touch. She cried only harder.
"Get a medic," Tarla asked Gyro wearily and patted Teeko's head. "It is all right, little one. You will see." Rising slowly she stepped up to Kell and gently took the baby out of his arms. Their eyes met briefly and Tarla was shocked by what she could see in his. She almost jumped back to get out of his reach and the pain in his eyes deepened even more when Enja, secured in Tarla's embarce, stopped crying. Whirling around he left the room without another word.
Belana gasped in shock, trying in vain to shake off that eerie sensation. She pushed Novis away gently and rose from where she had fallen to her knees. "Please, I need some time alone," she whispered and made her way to her cabin. Dropping down on her bunk she leaned her back against the bulkhead and closed her eyes. She was searching for Kell's presence, seeking to make contact, but it seemed as if he was shielding himself against any intrusions on her part deliberately. The Jedi Master frowned. Something had happened, she knew it. Reaching out once more she sought that weaker presence, so bright and yet so fragile. Enja was asleep, but there was a hint of fear lingering in the baby's mind. Belana swallowed once. If something had happened to her little girl... Too bad that they could send no message from hyperspace. She would have to wait another day until they had landed on Ordesha until she could find out what exactly had occured. Even thinking about the unknown possibilities made her stomach turn. Another day of not knowing! It would be hell, she knew.
Slinking along the corridor tiredly Tarla blinked her eyes at the light of the early morning sun. She had spent all night with Teeko and Enja in the infirmary. The healers had done a terrific job on both and the little Rodian was asleep in a bacta tank, healing. The baby's burned skin would regenerate completely in time too, but the young Jedi Knight knew that Teeko for one would be traumatized once he woke again and even with the greatest care scars might still prevail in his soul. She felt terribly guilty over having been so careless and she feared her friend's wrath even more. Belana would be furious.
"Tarla!" someone called her softly and then Gyro joined her side. He squeezed her hand reassuringly, but she could not stand any comfort right now. She did not deserve it. Taking her hand away she stopped and closed her eyes, fighting back tears of shame. "Where is Kell?" she whispered at last.
"I do not know. But I don't think he should be around Enja right now. It would only upset her again."
"I wish Belana were here."
"We all do," he said softly and Tarla opened her eyes again to look at the other people milling about. There weren't many, but those she could see seemed concerned, almost sad. But the most worried expressions could be seen on the former Sith's faces. How could he have been so stupid?
"I just hope that the Council will treat this matter rationally," she whispered.
"I am sure they will."
Pacing the length of the living-room Kell tried to ignore both Master Jeldo and the Supreme Chancellor. But it was not much use. He had not been able to sleep at all and now he was even more on edge than yesterday. But he had known that trying to be with Enja would have been the most foolish thing to do. Cursing his own temper he was struggling with himself, his mind tumbling. He had acted like such a fool. No, even a fool would not have done what he had done. Shaking his head he heaved a deep sigh and dropped to his knees in front of the waiting pair, inclining his head slightly.
"Lord Kell," the Jedi Master began softly, "we have tried hard to atone for what was done to you four years ago. We have called an amnesty for you and ever since then every one has tried to adapt to the new circumstances. Every one except yourself. You repay us with your ignorance and bad temper and you are making no effort at all at hiding your unwillingness to fit in. I speak for the entire Council and, I daresay, for the entire Order, when I say that we are more than just disappointed." The Ho'Din paused, waiting for an answer. It did not come. "What is more though, you attacked and almost killed a child."
Kell raised his head and opened his mouth to protest that the boy had nearly skewered his daughter when he noticed the challenge in the other's eyes. Gritting his teeth he lowered his head again, keeping silent. The objection was obsolete and it would be foolish to bring it up. "So?" he snapped instead.
"I admit that Tarla also acted incredibly irresponsible. What was it you once said? Never trust a fool in love. I am not saying that she is a fool, just very young. Too young perhaps for the responsibility her rank demands."
"You will demote her?"
"Lord Kell, maybe you should worry more about what we will do with you," the Supreme Chancellor injected, a slight edge to her otherwise calm voice. "You are lucky that we will not let your actions influence our judgement on your brethren."
That did it. "And why should you ever do that? They are not me!"
"Very true. But they still look to you as an example."
Master Jeldo harrumphed once: "As I recall the Supreme Chancellor made a promise and she is not someone to break a promise once it is given. Still, it is obvious that Enja is not safe around you, as no one seems to be."
Kell's eyes widened in understanding. "No," he breathed hurriedly, "please don't."
"Until Master Jen gets back from her mission you are not allowed to leave your quarters. You will not see your daughter, nor anyone else."
Fighting down his rising despair and fury Kell closed his eyes and took a deep breath. "A harsh sentence."
"It could have been worse."
The Supreme Chancellor rose from her seat and folded her hands on her back. Brushing past Kell she walked over to look out of the window. "Lord Kell, you have proven yet again that you still are a danger to those around you. I have promised Master Jen your life, but I am seriously thinking about whether I can keep that promise under these circumstances. But killing you would be the easy way out, and easy is not for Jedi." Her low sigh rang through the eerily silent room. "But understand this: we have given you a chance to find your place in this society. So far you have only been playing, toying with the possibilities. I had hoped, and I know Master Jen did too, that your being a father would make your decision easier and that you would commit yourself fully to adapting to your new surroundings. You have rejected everything we have offered. I wonder if we should even continue making all these sacrifices."
"All I can say is that I am sorry." Kell watched Master Jeldo and the Chancellor exchange a meaningfuly glance, but before they could voice their doubts in his sincerity he continued. "You may believe that or not, but know this: I love my daughter more than you can imagine. I would never hurt her or her mother willingly."
"But anyone else who might pose a threat to them. What frightens me is the fact that it would have been totally acceptable for you to kill Teeko to protect your child. Is that not so?"
Nodding slowly he swallowed hard. But he knew that telling the truth was the only thing that could save him now.
"Very well," Jeldo said at last. "This is the very last chance we can and will give you. If you should ever trespass the boundaries again we will not be so patient. The very least you could hope for then is a quick death, but I suppose that this would be too lenient by far. So I suggest that if you do not want to spend the rest of your life in exile, without your family, you should behave yourself. Think about it. It is that or else you will not see your daughter grow up, either way."
Closing his eyes in dismay Roj Kell completely forgot to breathe. Imagine life without Belana or Enja... Impossible. It hurt even to think about it. It hurt worse than anything he had ever experienced before. Gasping for air he nodded once more. "That is a deal," he whispered weakly, seeing Jeldo's face twitch in remembrance of their very first encounter. "I will not cross you again."
Striding down the short and steep landing ramp of their ship Belana tried hard to keep a friendly expression, reminding herself that she should not blurt out at her hosts asking for time to make a call. But she needed to know that her little one was all right. Forcing a smile on her lips she tensed even more at the sight greeting them. Soldiers were crowding the landing field, surrounded their welcome committee and eyed everything sharply. At her back Belana heard Novis give a soft hiss. This was not good, not at all.
"Master Jen! Welcome to Ordesha," a middle-aged woman told her warmly. "I am Elder Harane."
"Thank you, Elder. You have problems?"
"No problems. Why?"
Belana smiled tightly. She had made a mistake. Chiding herself for her foolish comment she put it down to her anxiety over Enja. Damn, she needed to concentrate!
"The presence of military is a bit unusual."
"Not at all. But I imagine for a Jedi Master it might seem so. Please, follow me."
Hurrying to keep up with the older woman Belana smiled: "Ah, Elder Harane, would it be possible for me to contact Coruscant?"
"To check back in? Of course. We will meet for the negotiations only tomorrow morning, so you will have enough time to familiarize yourself with the subject."
"That is very thoughtful of you, but I would like to remain unbiased."
They took their seats in an open landspeeder and Belana frowned a bit when she was separated from Novis, who was asked to ride in a second vehicle. He gave her a cool glance and a smirk. Apparently he wanted to tell her that he would be all right. Great.
"Elder Harane, if you permit the question," the Jedi Master tried once more as they rode past the streets of the small capital. "Those trade negotiations have not affected the people?"
The woman's face darkened. "Indeed they have. Which is why we have requested a mediator. We have tried everything short of open combat to bring this conflict to a conclusion, but our suppliers are somewhat persistent."
"And you could not contract other suppliers?"
"We cannot afford much."
"I see. Thank you."
They completed the ride in silence and Belana was awfully relieved when she was shown to her room and found a comm installed there too. Her hands were trembling when she made that call she had been waiting to make for the past two days. But to her great surprise it was answered by Zerkan instead of Kell.
"Hello?" he said a bit testily.
"Zerkan! It's Belana. Why did you answer the call? Where is Kell?"
There was a sharp intake of breath. "It is a bit complicated."
"Her too." Dropping down on the edge of the soft bed Belana closed her eyes in dread. "Are you still there?"
"Yes! What has happened?" she blurted out, her hands nearly crushing the comm link in her grasp.
"Your daughter was in Tarla's care for the day, since Kell was busy. There was an accident. No, she was not hurt badly, thank the Force, but Kell almost killed Teeko in the process."
"Teeko? Tarla's apprentice? No!"
"I fear so."
The icy claws of fear dug harder into her heart. "What did you do to him?"
"He is under house arrest right now. Enja is with Master Diriwa."
"She is currently busy with some exercises."
"Yes. She is my apprentice again."
Belana felt ready to cry. There she was, leaving just for a tiny mission and everything she had worked so hard to build up was gone. Remembering Novis' warning about Kell she bit her lower lip in self-disgust. My fault, she thought. "Can I talk to her?"
There was a soft exchange on the other end of the line and then Tarla was there. Her voice betrayed her emotions instantly. "Belana? I am so sorry. I didn't mean-"
"I would be lying if I said I were not mad at you, but rest assured that Kell has deserved my wrath much more. Is Teeko all right?"
"He is recovering."
"House arrest, is it? Master Jeldo should have banished him from Coruscant," Belana said heatedly, unable to contain her anger any longer. But then she sighed and shook her head. "No, that would only have sparked more trouble. How is he?"
"I ... don't know. No one is allowed to see him."
"Foolish, foolish. I will try to finish this mission as soon as possible. Is there any chance I could speak to Kell?"
"I will make inquiries and call you back, all right?"
"Yes, thank you."
Disconnecting the call she just sat there, eyes staring unseeing at the wall opposite from the bed. Her little girl, hurt. It could not be true! She had trusted him! Glowering at the comm still held firmly in her hands Belana wished that Tarla would hurry. She could hardly wait to tell her lover just what she thought of his carelessness.
When the comm beeped again she felt her heart thump in her ears. His voice, that she had been deprived of for far too long, made her shiver and cry at the same time.
"How could you?" she sobbed, desperate. "How? You are such a fool!"
"I told you this would only bring us trouble, do you remember?"
"It did not have to be that way! Why must you be so stubborn?"
"Belana, I did not mean to hurt you..."
"But you did," she sighed. "I gave so much for this, so much. Oh, Kell. What are we going to do now?"
"I am coming to Ordesha."
"No!" Belana screamed, horrified. "If you do that...," her voice gained strength once more. "If you do that I will kill you personally." Had the man no sense at all? To defy the Council once more would spell death for him.
"I have to come. You are in danger."
"Novis is with me."
The comm link was shaking in her trembling hands. "Kell, what did you mean with this bringing us trouble?"
"You know me better than anyone else. You cannot lock me away and expect me to surrender. I never will."
"If you were banished..."
"I would not let myself be barred from my family. Even if it meant war again."
"Please, Belana, I know you will not understand. But I do know what I must do. And I regret it. I regret it so much. For your sake. I am going to hurt you again and it is tearing me apart. I am so sorry. So sorry." Closing her eyes Belana listened to his quiet sobs. "I love you."
The call disconnected, leaving the Jedi Master shivering with despair. Curling up on the bed Belana cried herself to sleep, her thoughts focused on just one thing: he would die, one way or the other. And this time she would not be able to hold him back.
The next morning saw her up early to meditate with Novis. But the Weequay had a hard time concentrating.
"Master Jen, please, what is wrong?" he asked at last. Belana sighed deeply.
"You were right. He won't change. Now he says he'll come here to talk. If he does, the Chancellor and the Council will have no choice anymore. Why is he taking that risk? I do not understand it." She shook her head in exasperation.
"Perhaps he knows something that we don't?"
That brought a smile on her lips: "Was that an actual question? I am certain he does, but what is it?"
The door bell chiming interrupted them. "Master Jen!" It was Elder Harane. Bounding to her feet the Jedi Master went to let her in. The elderly woman nodded solemnly. "It is time."
In an instance Novis was by Belana's side and then they followed their guide to the meeting hall. It was a rounded dome in the middle of the governmental complex, set in a beautiful, but serene park. Now, with the sun barely grazing the distant mountains, a light breeze was blowing through the trees, soothing Belana immensely. Unbidden her memories drifted to that one time on Alderaan, where she had first seen the true face of the Force in a park like this. It had been incredible. Just as incredible as her relationship to Kell. They both knew it could not work and yet they also knew that they were right for each other. It was frustrating. And Belana had so much to take into consideration now that she had a child. Kell did not seem to care for those things at all. He just did what he thought was the right thing to do. But he had to be aware of the consequences...
"Please welcome Jedi Master Belana Jen. Her apprentice, Novis."
Focusing on the situation at hand Belana managed a small smile as she nodded toward the assembly. Elder Harane showed her to her place and introduced the rest of the attendants to her. As expected Novis declined a seat and stood to silent attention at Belana's back, watching her like a faithful bodyguard. She could feel his uneasiness plainly. This was politics, diplomacy, a field he was not very comfortable with. But he was here to learn and learn he would. Setting herself Belana folded her hands on the table in front of her.
"Please, let me hear your points."
At the end of the first day Novis was showering her with questions about motivation and reaction. It was amusing to see his fierce alien features turned up in a look of wide-eyed wonder and curiosity. And yet he retained that air of calm deadly menace he seemed to carry like a shield. A shield that he was not even aware of. But Belana knew that a Jedi Knight needed to exude trustworthiness more than anything else. You could always show your teeth and claws later, if it became necessary. People who did not know the alien warrior would never take him for what he was, a Jedi apprentice. Maybe he even knew what kind of impression he was making and simply accepted it. Still, he was Belana's student and she vowed to herself that she would show him the subtlety of diplomacy yet.
"So, why do you think Elder Harane objected to their claim concerning right of passage, but accepted the request for higher payment?"
"A compromise," Novis explained. "I think she does not want to grant them access to the planet without observation."
"Yes, I think so too. But she also told me that the people cannot afford much. Why then the higher payment?"
"I have no idea."
"Neither do I. The question is, do we follow this lead or do we mediate the trade agreement first?"
They were seated on the veranda of Belana's quarters which led onto a perfectly kept lawn and down to an artificial pond that was gleaming in the moonlight. It was a peaceful evening with hardly a sound interrupting the Jedi Master's thoughts. All the more startled was she when Novis rose suddenly, his eyes fixed on the distant hedge and screening their surroundings carefully. Belana opened her mouth to ask what was wrong when she felt it too. There was someone close by, eavesdropping on their conversation, if she was any judge of the nervosity she could sense from that person.
"You might as well come out!" she called aloud and got to her feet to stand closer to her apprentice. A rustle of leaves broke the silence and then the presence flickered with uncertainty before it vanished rapidly in the undergrowth.
"Master, do you want me to hunt him down?"
"No. He will be back."
Curled up in a high-backed chair Tarla was looking straight ahead into nothingness. She was bone-weary, since Zerkan piled lesson upon lesson on her head, expecting her to work even harder than she had before. And she did. The results pleased her teacher, but she never saw why. It was humiliating, in a way, to be reduced to this level again, but she felt she had deserved it. Teeko was still not the same again and since his conviction she had heard nothing of Kell. Sometimes she would sneak by his apartment to pick up on his emotions, which, if Master Zerkan knew about, would get her into big trouble, but the Sith kept himself shielded tightly. Still, she knew he must be suffering, with both his daughter and his beloved separated from him. When Belana had called the Jedi had gotten a brief glimpse of his emotions, a flash of despair and sorrow raking across the temple with unbridled force. It had lasted only for a heart-beat, but Tarla had seen the others' faces and knew they mirrored her own pain. Did he know that they were suffering with him? Probably not. And even if he did, he would not care.
Finally she could not stand the silence any longer. Slipping out of her room she snuck down the corridor and took the lift up to where the full Knights and Master had their living quarters. As apprentice she was not allowed up there without explicit permission, but Tarla did not care. She was lucky, for the guard on duty was someone she knew very well.
"Tarla!" Gyro whispered, catching her arm. "What are you doing here?"
She made a face. "What do you think? I want to see him. He needs someone to talk to."
"Even if he did...."
"All right. But not a word to anyone. If I did not feel the same-"
"Thanks!" Hugging him fiercely Tarla placed a kiss on his cheeks and went to unlock the door. The apartment was plunged in total darkness, the shutters closed with no light permeating the gloom at all.
"Kell?" she asked in a hushed whisper, searching for his presence and finding nothing. Suddenly a cold shiver ran down her spine. What if he was gone, had left somehow without anyone noticing? When the lights came on, blinding her, she stifled a startled yelp before she spun around to face him.
"What are you doing here?" he grated out, an angry frown on his forehead. The palor of his skin seemed to have deepened over the past few days and his eyes were darker than she remembered.
"I just wanted to check on you."
Lifting his eyebrows questioningly he bade her to sit down. "Really. No selfish reasons for your visit?"
There was no way fooling him. Dropping down on the indicated chair she waited for him to take a seat opposite from her. "I never got a chance to tell you how sorry I am for what happened to Enja. I should have been more careful."
"We learn from our mistakes."
Her heart-beat faltered at the sadness in his tone. "You must have been awfully mad at me. And Teeko."
"Yes," he said softly. "But I have forgiven you."
She stared at him for a long time, then managed a wry smile. "And what do you want in exchange for easing my conscience?"
"I also made a mistake. One that is haunting me now."
"Teeko will be all right, I am sure."
"Who said I was talking about him?"
Leaning back in his chair he closed his eyes tightly. And when he spoke she could hardly hear him. "Back on Deyer I was dying. Novis told you that I was injured, I am sure. And there was only one way for me to survive and I wanted to live badly."
"What did you do?"
"I - bonded with the Force," he winced at his own words," by killing a girl who tried to help me. But I could not muster enough strength to perform the bonding without the help of the Dark Side. Hence the sacrifice she had to make for me."
Tarla hissed under her breath, suddenly understanding. "Does Belana know?"
"She knows, but she does not realize what it means."
"What does it mean?"
"That I have broken a promise. And I believe that this is the reason for what is happening right now. Remember what I told you about Ordesha?"
"You said it is clouded by the Dark Side."
"Yes. That is true. It is the past that comes back to be remembered. Which is why Belana is in danger. If I do not go to Ordesha she will die."
"Novis can protect her."
"No one can do that save myself. I am Cor'dan."
"Then tell Master Jeldo. He will let you go."
"No way. This is politics. If I ask him to give me permission to leave I will have undermined his authority. That he cannot allow. Especially not now."
"But if you go without any notice we will have no choice but to kill you."
His eyes snapped open and an amused smile appeared on his lips. "We, is it? Good, very good. Master Zerkan is teaching you well. Then I must assume that now, knowing what you do, you will give alarm and betray me?"
Shaking her head was the hardest thing to do for Tarla right at that moment. She swallowed hard before she rose quietly. "I was not here tonight. I did not hear anything. And I trust you, despite everything."
Following her lead he got up too. "Thank you. You are a true friend, Tarla."
"May the Force be with you, Lord Kell."
"And with you."
Getting past Gyro was not a problem. Not that he had anticipated it to be so. The two young people were truly committed to Belana, he could sense that clearly. They trusted her judgement, even if they did not trust his. But that was all right as long as it got him where he wanted. Keeping to the shadows he stalked along the passageways soundlessly toward where he could feel Enja's presence. So delicate, like a tiny flame that might be snuffed out by the lightest breeze. Thinking of her made him smile deeply, but then reality caught up again. What he was about to do would seal his fate, either way. Still, it had been his choice and he knew exactly what was at stake. As he had known from the beginning. The door to Master Diriwa's quarters was unlocked. Which was not alarming in any way. He could hear the Chadra'Fan's silent breathing as he stepped into the apartment. The windows where wide open and for a moment Kell just stood there, looking at the stars outside. With a sigh he shook himself out of his reverie and turned away to find his baby girl. She was asleep in her crib that unfortunately stood next to the Jedi Master's small bed. Moving softly Kell was careful to make no noise at all. And still, when he reached out to take his daughter in his arms she came awake with a start, blue eyes widening in fear. As she opened her mouth to scream he quickly intercepted her, laying a hand on her cheek to calm her again. But the fear would not go away. Slightly hurt he took a step back again. Enja was making small, frightened noises, her eyes bewildered. She still had not forgiven him his outburst it would seem.
Kell shot a suspicious glance at Diriwa's still form before he dropped to his knees next to the crib. Gently reaching for her again he started humming quietly, letting the magic of his voice lull the little girl into a soothing slumber. When she started smiling he touched her again, this time tickling her belly playfully. Almost instantly she started giggling, her small, round face screwed up in disbelieving joy. "Ssh, don't," he told her pleadingly. If she kept on like this Diriwa would wake up for sure. But Enja only squeaked, crowing joyfully at her father, with no concern in the world anymore. He shook his head at her, but there was no anger at her disobedience, not at all. "Come now, little one. Let's get you back to you Mama." He wrapped her in his arms to lift her clear of the crib when the lights came on quite suddenly.
"Lord Kell?" the Chadra'Fan asked muzzily. "What are you doing here?"
For a second he froze, unsure of what to do. If he attacked her... "I have to leave."
She stared at him. "You are risking your life."
"Don't I always? And you are always quick to remind me too." Taking a step back he tried to make for the door, but her knowing expression held her back.
"You are going to Ordesha?"
Kell nodded. "Yes. I have to be there."
Hugging the baby closer to his chest he frowned at her. "And what is it you think you know?"
The Jedi Master hopped off her bed and put on a night-gown to cover her tiny frame. Then, her large eyes calm, she turned back to look straight at him. "The planet Ordesha was colonized just over a hundred years ago. But its history goes far back. Another people lived there over nine hundred years ago. They had moved in after the previous settlers had been wiped out. But they did not last either."
"Loata told you, didn't he?"
"Ordesha is my home. It was his too, before he chose to join the Sith."
"Then you know-"
"That you killed them. And now the past is coming back to haunt you."
Shaking his head Kell stood up straighter. "Not the past, Master Diriwa. For how long have you planned this?"
"A very long time." She shrugged. "You should leave now. It is too late for anything else."
He nodded at her in understanding. Although he was fairly certain that the Jedi Master in turn did not understand what was going on at all. "I need a sling to put the baby into."
"Here," she grabbed a scarf and threw it at him. Catching it expertly Kell smiled.
"We will meet again."
"Yes. And I am looking forward to that too."
Elder Harane was practically sparkling with joy as she hugged Belana tightly. "Thank you, Master Jen!"
"I am happy for you, Elder," Belana stated gravely, but she wanted nothing more than to be off this planet and get back to Coruscant. Her family needed her.
"Oh, you are such a wonderful negotiator. But I am certain that you would want to return as soon as possible. You must have an awful lot to do."
"It is a big galaxy," the Jedi Master conceded quietly.
The older woman seemed to hesitate and the sparkle in her eyes vanished. "Yes," she replied, her voice strangely muted, as if something were preying on her mind. Suddenly Belana thought again of their nightly visitor who, against her forecast, had not returned.
"I have to leave. Thank you for your hospitality and may you live in peace. You and your people." Turning to walk out of the meeting house's door Belana suddenly found herself face to face with a tall Ithorian. The alien's strangely formed head swung gently from side to side as if he were trying to get a better view at her from his three-meter tall height. She smiled up at him. The natives of Ithor were gentle creatures, who loved nature above everything else. She was a goddess to them and taking care of her their religion. And then her thoughts drifted into darker territory again as she thought of her predatory lover, who loved nature as fiercely as he loved his freedom. "Greetings. May I help you?" Belana said at last.
The huge head lowered ever so slightly. "Judgement, Master Jedi. I ask you to speak judgement this day."
Taken aback by his harsh words Belana cocked her head to one side questioningly. "You want me to judge you?"
"Hardly that," Elder Harane injected icily. "Master Jen, this is Emphasa Lona. He heads the Environmentalist Party."
"Ah." Nodding gravely Belana kept her face closed tightly. The Environmentalists had been in fierce disagreement with the government party's efforts in getting this trade agreement settled. They wanted the merchants out of their territory. And yet again she remembered the town she had seen only briefly, the emotions and the moods she had been able to pick up there. "I will hear your request, Emphasa Lona. Now, please." That way she would be able to read Harane's reactions to the other's words.
The Ithorian waved her toward the conversation circle at the far end of the house. They took their places gracefully, all of them knowing that another diplomatic dance was about to begin. "The Time of Healing has arrived in this year," he started, his hands making an expansive gesture that was meant to encompass the entire planet. And to Belana it did. She shot Novis, who was still standing by the door, a disapproving frown, but he did not stirr from his place. Instead he was watching the small group attentively. "It is a tradition that dates back to the time when the first settlers came to this world. Twice doom came to destroy them, but some always survived and they prayed to the goddess that the demons would spare them the next year. At this time we, their descendants, offer the goddess ourselves by speaking judgement on the demons and speaking true."
It was hard for Belana to follow his reasoning, but she got the drift. So she had arrived at a time where there were either mass pardons or mass executions meant to soothe the anger of whatever god they believed had taken the lives of their ancestors before. Understandable, but still... "Then, if I am allowed, I will preside over the court, but I will not interfere with your customs. It is not my place," she told him softly, sensing that this was sore spot between Harane and Lona. He shook his head slowly.
"I do not ask you to interfere. I ask for judgement."
"I call for judgement for Pudere Sache."
The sharp intake of breath she heard from Harane was all Belana needed to identify this as a Bad Idea. But she was a Jedi Master. When called for help she had to at least consider offering her services. "Who is that?"
"A terrorist!" the older woman snapped, her eyes shooting angry sparks at the Ithorian. "The lowest scum and he will die for what he did. If there ever was one demon it is him."
An image of Kell rising in her mind Belana stopped herself from disagreeing. Instead she ignored the Elder and rose. "Take me to him then. I will see if my judgement is needed in this."
Following the bristling Harane and the righteously triumphant Lona she almost jumped when Novis joined her soundlessly. "The watcher is back," he whispered softly.
"No. He left."
"Definitely. If you are asking me, there is something very wrong with this planet."
"Kell claimed the same," she breathed thoughtfully.
"Then we must be careful. Very much so."
Belana grabbed his sleeve and stopped him short. Locking her eyes with his she was again amazed at his calm bearing. "I want you to make some inquiries. Ask around. Keep your eyes open. I know you are good at watching and noticing things. I am going to see this Sache and we'll meet tonight and see if we can catch our nameless observer somehow."
"As you wish."
Os'jenthana, the Home of the Jen-people. Leaning back in the pilot's chair Roj Kell closed his eyes against the starlines streaming past the viewport on the ship's journey through hyperspace. For a thousand years he had avoided thinking of the place or even passing anywhere close by. The memories had been tucked away safely out of his sight, hidden somwhere in the back of his mind, not forgotten, but dormant. When he had last visited that world it had already been renamed. Ordesha. The world of the doomed. His anger was reawakened as he remembered his grief, remembered standing alone at the grave of his people, the villages of the new settlers burning great holes into the blackness of the night. His Jer'fra had been interrupted by the death of his mother's clan, the last of the Sith. He had buried his people alone too, as he had avenged them much later, after he had abandoned his master on Yavin 4 and left him to die.
The killing had been sweet then and the pain a little less. But it had not lasted. Desperate, he had sought out the cave where he had once aquired Wisdom, where he had been marked to become Cor'dan. The glowing light had refused to acknowledge him then, and he had been afraid to touch the golden sphere he knew to be the face of the Force when it decided to show itself on a more substantial level. He had pledged himself to the Force again then, but had failed to relive that awesome storm of light and fire and shadows that had dragged him into death and back again so long ago. But he had broken his promises. He had defied the Force. And now it wanted him to choose, the incident on Ordesha nothing but a ruse to force him to come back, with Belana's life hanging in the balance. How could he not have come? Five days more. And then he would have to decide. For or against. But secretly he already knew the answer.
Tarla was desperate as she faced the Council in the early hours of the Coruscant day. "But this is exactly what you wanted!" she protested. "You said he should go to Ordesha to settle this!" Throwing a suspicious glance at Master Diriwa she waited for the Chadra'fan to acknowledge her. After all it had been the Jedi Master's idea.
"Tarla, things are a little bit different from what we anticipated. Roj Kell has become unpredictable," the small alien told her calmly.
"Not more so than usual," Tarla snapped under her breath, but apparently Master Jeldo had heard her. He leaned toward her, his eyes boring into her mercilessly.
"I need not remind you of what happened the last time because of your rash actions." His voice rumbled over her head like a landslide.
"No," she breathed, casting her eyes down in shame.
"Very well. Roj Kell has been warned, as have you, Tarla. I do not know what will come of this, but I do know that it will be nothing good. For any of us."
"Master Jeldo, with all respect, Lord Kell is not the monster you make him."
"I am well aware of that. And yet he is worse than you can imagine, Tarla. Our patience is at an end."
"No! Please! It would break Belana's heart!" the young woman whispered quietly, her voice thick with fear and sadness.
"You should leave now," the Ho'Din told her coldly. Hanging her head she turned around on her heels, like a sullen child, to wander out of the great hall and down the corridor. She did not really care where she was going. She just wanted to run away.
"Tarla." The voice was gentle, yet firm and as she raised her head she was more than surprised to see the Supreme Chancellor standing there just inside the shadows. "Walk with me," the Forshan said gently and nodded once.
"The Council has sentenced him already," Tarla sighed, breaking the uncomfortable silence that had settled between them.
"This is not their business."
"No?" A tiny spark of hope was returned to Tarla's aching heart.
"It is not the creed of the Jedi to take lives so senselessly. I have made that decision for reasons Lord Kell understands perfectly well. He knew what he was doing. And by doing what he did he accepted the consequences." Stopping suddenly the Chancellor turned to lay her hands on the younger woman's shoulders. "I know that you have grown through this, that the past four years have yielded hard lessons for all of us. But these are trying times. And someone has to pay the prize."
"What if they do not come back?"
"I pray that they won't. But I have a feeling that they will not have a choice in the matter."
The moment Belana walked through the door and set her eyes upon the man sitting slumped on a chair in a barren cell, his hands bound behind him, she knew he was trouble. Pudere Sache was a small man, wiry, with thin arms and legs, a thin chest and a narrow face. His dark, lanky hair hung into his face like a small curtain, but it could not hide the fire burning in his eyes. Belana almost took a step back. She had seen that expression before, the despair mixed with resignation and acceptance, a fierce flame that refused to be strangled by the storm that assaulted it with brute force. Silencing her escort with an impatient wave of her hand she closed her eyes and reached out with her mind to touch his. Almost immediately she recoiled, as if seared by the fire burning the man's eyes, a fire that filled his presence to bursting. The glowing, golden light seemed to turn toward her, holding her tight in its terrible grasp. Release me, it said and Belana shivered with silent awe and fear. Did they know what resided inside that shell? Did they know what this man was? What he held secret? Most certainly they did not. Shaking herself out of her trance the Jedi Master turned to regard both Harane and Lona very sternly.
"What crimes has this man committed?"
"He lay fire to the Chutana of Kulan."
"He burned down the meeting house?"
"Yes. Twenty people were killed."
"Did he say why?"
"No. He has not spoken a word."
Of course not. How could he? Whoever this man had been before was wiped away by what he carried under his skin. I cannot handle this! Panicking, Belana wondered fleetingly if Kell had suspected something and if this was the reason for his coming here. It was not really a question though. She knew he had. He always did. But what was this about?
"I will need to question him nevertheless." They complied without another word and left.
Finally alone with Sache Belana walked around him cautiously, her eyes boring into the back of his head, alive with a million questions. Why had this happened? How? Reaching out to his mind again she touched the golden light very carefully, as she had been taught. Diving into the glow she was just a bit disappointed that this time there was no dark shadow gliding through its depths with her. She was all on her own. Alone with the Force.
He had been watching her for the past few moments as she had neared their small bungalow, but had waited for her to acknowledge him first. Such patience was at the same time highly impressive and annoying to Belana. She was too excited to cope with either. Her blood was still singing with awe and wonder.
"Master Jen," he answered calmly and rose from his place. "I have found our quarry."
That brought her up short and her mind out of some fuzzy realm far from reality. "You did?"
Nodding slowly he cast a casual glance around and turned away to walk into the small living-room. Belana half expected to find some visitors waiting there for her but found only silence. A small gesture cautioned her to keep quiet and then her apprentice dropped down to the floor, sitting there cross-legged, the perfect picture of serenity. For a moment Belana just stood there, entranced by the sight, and for a split-second a strange desire flew across her mind, startling her. It was not passion or anything remotedly close. Not even love, but something much closer to greed. She shuddered quietly, hoping against hope that the night's darkness would hide her feelings. A bit unsteadily she joined Novis on the floor and looked up to see that his expression had remained unwaveringly calm. If he had noticed something he did not show it. A bit embarrassed Belana wiped a stray strand of hair from her forehead. She understood what he wanted. A conversation beyond human perception. Closing her eyes she concentrated and reached out to him, feeling the connection between them slide into place and hold.
‚What did you find?'
‚The planet is close to a civil war. People have been starving. There is a resistance movement. Apparently Emphasa Lona is part of that movement. Most Environmentalists seem to be.'
‚You found all that out in one afternoon? I am impressed.' And a bit confused, Belana added to herself. The strange sensation was back and this time there was something decidedly odd about it. She felt a little warm, just the tiniest bit flushed, as if ... Abandoning that train of thought she blushed hotly. Novis was not really her type and besides, she had the most wonderful lover in Kell. Hadn't she?
‚I was using my charms,' Novis explained, slightly amused.
And Belana realized that he really was attractive in his own way, that he was all Kell was, and more, so much calmer and less unpredictable. Suddenly he seemed perfect to her, as if her eyes had just been opened to the truth. Swallowing slowly to regain her focus the Jedi Master smiled: ‚I also found some very interesting facts. And it fits in well with what you told me. So who are the bad guys? The government?'
‚I am not certain, Master. Maybe them and maybe their suppliers.'
‚You are right. We need to get in touch with the resistance.'
‚I want you to free Pudere Sache. It is vital that he reaches them. I can sense it.'
He seemed surprised, but then conceded: ‚If you say so.'
‚You do not believe me?' The sharpness of her tone shocked even her.
‚No, it is not that, Master Jen. What did you find out about him?'
‚He must be part of that resistance movement and that is the reason why Lona wants him to be released. By having me look at him he tried to get me to notice.'
‚Why not talk to Elder Harane first?'
Belana frowned. ‚I did ... talk to her," she answered a bit hesitantly. She had, hadn't she? Suddenly everything seemed so strange, her memory blurred.
‚Are you feeling well, Master Jen?'
‚Yes. Please, you must go now. Someone will meet you at the Northern edge of the town.'
‚I - Master, this is a bit - odd.... Are you certain that you are all right?'
Novis stared at her, completely taken aback by her outburst. He rose without another word, nodded at her and vanished. Remaining all alone Belana let out a shivering sigh. What was happening to her? The warmth she had felt rising inside her had turned into a roaring fire by now and while she was successfully holding it back she was still aware of it lurking in the back of her mind. She shook her head in determination and took a deep breath. Then, focusing on the noises surrounding the small bungalow, she began a soothing series of exercises and meditation. Which was brutally interrupted by an entire squad of security personnel storming the room.
Loneliness had driven Tarla to see Gyro more often. Since Master Zerkan was keeping their relationship strictly between student and teacher, refusing her his friendship as a sort of punishment for her misbehaviour, she had increasingly kept to herself until she could stand it no longer. On the surface everything seemed back to normal, but that was just a disguise for what was going on in reality. The entire temple was in a quiet uproar that noone could understand fully. It was just that everyone was feeling on edge, sensing a disaster to come. And they had heard nothing of Belana in two days.
"I am really worried," she whispered into the silent room, the words aimed towards the chair Gyro was currently occupying.
"Maybe you should. If she doesn't report back in the next few hours Master Jeldo will call this Elder Harane personally.
"Do you think that maybe something has happened to her?"
"I do not know. But there is definitely something going on."
It was exactly two hours later that the Jedi Council broke the news and one more before Tarla and Gyro were allowed to watch a recording of the message that had reached Coruscant just four hours earlier. The Supreme Chancellor had managed to postpone its broadcasting for now, but tomorrow at least snippets of the little speech would appear on the news everywhere around the galaxy. The two young Jedi sat in glum silence as they followed the words being spoken by Elder Ghonid of Ordesha in a very solemn tone:
"Exactly one year ago one bloody war was ended and now another one has started. A year ago the government on Coruscant announced an amnesty for the survivors of the war against the Sith. Since then the Jedi have been guarding their former enemies closely. Too closely, as it would seem. Ordesha had only recently requested a mediator to settle a simple trade agreement. Now we are at war with our own people. And, as I am very sad having to tell you, this bloodshed was initiated by a Jedi Master. This woman has murdered our elected leader, Musa Harane, and allowed a convicted terrorist to escape custody. Her accomplices are still at large and we were shocked to learn that one of them is indeed a former Sith warrior. I therefore call on the government of the Republic to investigate this and bring the Jedi to heel." Tarla hissed under her breath in righteous anger. But Gyro was seemingly transfixed by the Elder's words. She nudged him in the side to get his attention and got an angry glare for her trouble. Meanwhile the recording went on. "We hope dearly that the Supreme Chancellor will stand with us in this struggle and that those responsible will be convicted for the wrong they have committed."
Blinking against the garish light Belana opened her eyes very slowly. She felt awful and her head was pounding like mad. Gradually recollection returned to her and she groaned softly as the past events hit her with full force. Sitting bolt upright she almost screamed as the headache reached unbearable levels. Novis was squatting next to her, his expression as earnest and concerned as she remebered seeing it last on him. Next to him Emphasa Lona was hovering like a protective cloud, shielding her against the sunlight.
"You freed me?"she asked at last even though it was obvious. When she had been accused of murdering Harane, locked up and screamed at she had not understood even half of what had happened. Nor did she now. It all was so confusing and her thoughts kept trying to flee in all directions at once.
"Master Jen, what has happened?"
She giggled foolishly. "How should I know?"
"I have no idea," Novis bit out and threw a look over his shoulder at the Ithorian looming over them.
"Master Jen," the alien rumbled calmly, "we are not sure ourselves what has occured, but fact is that Ordesha has been put in a state of emergency. We do not have an army though. The government has hired mercenaries to track us so-called terrorists down. In short, we are in deep trouble. To put it nicely."
"Novis," Belana sighed and wrapped an arm around his neck. "I have missed you so much!" He stared at her, at a loss of what t reply. "You are such a good apprentice! So good! And so obedient. Where is Sache?"
"Gone," the Weequay growled. He rose, breaking her half-hearted embrace, and the look in his eyes was more than suspicious.
"What is wrong with her?" Lona asked, aghast.
"I have seen something like this before. And it was not pretty." Belana watched through a happy haze as his head came up abruptly. "They are coming here. We had better leave."
Having landed the ship in one of the mountain swamps Roj Kell stepped into the dank air gingerly. He had wrapped the sling around his neck and one arm supported the baby sleeping in it gently. She had been such a good girl. And maybe she had sensed that they were going to see Belana. It felt so strange to be back here though. For centuries he had avoided this place, such were his memories. And now they were coming back to haunt him. A broken promise, a girl's death, and he was here again. Roj Kell truly dreaded what was awaiting him here. Even though he believed he had already made his choices he felt uncertainty gnaw at his resolve with sharp, acid teeth. Shaking himself to regain his focus he held the baby closer and nodded at the sky. First he would find Belana and explain everything to her. And hope that he was not too late already.
The swamp had a familiar feel, the sound of young voices filling it with laughter and screams, memories creating images that he had thought long forgotten. The sucking noises the moist ground made underneath his feet made him smile though and he woke up Enja to let her enjoy their surroundings too. She opened her blue eyes suddenly, staring at her father wide-eyed, before she tried to sit up and grab a dragon fly that was buzzing past them. Belana had remarked that for her age Enja was very well-developed, especially her eyesight and hearing. And her curiosity. Stroking her head gently Kell moved her up to position her on her favourite perch. She grabbed a tiny fistful of his hair in each of her pudgy hands, hanging on expertly.
"Okay then, my princess, let's go."
He had landed the ship so far from any settlements on purporse. For who could know what was going on there? And he did not want to announce his presence too early. It was a futile gesture toward his opponent, that he knew. Yet his independence had to be maintained for as long as he could. That was very important to him. Maybe too important, he told himself ruefully. His quest for freedom had sparked so much trouble already, and things could only get worse from here on. Shaking with sudden fear he stopped, unable to go on.
I am not ready for this!
But you are. Come to me. Come and you will see for yourself.
"A convergence of the Force you say?"
Zerkan nodded calmly. "Yes. We checked twice, just to be on the safe side. There definitely is something about Ordesha."
"Kell said it was the Dark Side," Tarla, standing next to her master, piped up, still determined on saving the Sith Lord, if she could. The Council ignored her, but Master Jeldo nodded at Zerkan questioningly.
"Was it the Dark Side, Master Zerkan?"
"No, most definitely not."
"And the reasons for this convergence?" Diriwa asked.
"There is just one," the Ho'Din explained.
"You don't mean Kell, do you? That is impossible. The Force is no sentient being that could recognize a threat and act against it."
"I did not say it was a fact," Jeldo told the tiny Chadra'Fan calmly. "But Lord Kell believes in the Force as an entity. I wonder if there might not be some truth to that belief."
Another councilor snorted softly: "You cannot seriously consider such a barbarian belief valid."
"No? Lord Kell is no barbarian. And he has a great insight into the Force. He has taught us that it requires balance, if you recall, Master Zusha, and if Lord Kell noticed the Dark Side at Ordesha and we now find that the Force is converging there, it might mean that balance is being achieved."
"You may be right, Master Jeldo. I still think we should interfere and send someone there."
"The Ordeshan government has made it very clear that they do not want more Jedi on their planet. And the Supreme Chancellor has already taken steps to solve this diplomatically."
"Still," Diriwa cut in, "public sentiments are somewhat hostile since the news has broken."
"I have noticed, thank you, councilor. And yet, we need to prove that we are neither conspiring with our former enemies nor trying to destroy the peace for selfish reasons. I hear some say we are trying to redeem our reputation after Lord Kell nearly destroyed it a year ago."
Tarla jerked in surprise. Hadn't it been Master Diriwa who had suggested last year that this was exactly what the Sith were doing? Why was she trying now to help exactly that to happen? Frowning at the Chadra'Fan the young Jedi resolved to keep a very close eye on her. Of course, Diriwa had allowed Kell to escape, but that could have had many reasons. One of them.... one of them could be that she had wanted him to go to Ordesha and by his actions justify the government's accusations. Her eyes widened as realization dawned. Diriwa had first suggested Kell to negotiate the trade agreement on Ordesha! What if she had known beforehand what was going to happen there? Tarla started fidgeting around, suddenly awfully excited. She needed to talk to Master Zerkan in private. Then he could bring it up with Master Jeldo.
A few hours later she was sitting quietly in a chair in the Supreme Chancellor's spacious office and listened to Zerkan repeat her theory. Seated in another chair Jeldo was also following the story closely. After the Jedi Master had finished three pair's of eyes fixed on Tarla.
"It is very laudable that you are trying to save your friend's life, Tarla," the Supreme Chancellor began, "but this is far more complicated than you can fathom. Even if what you suggest is the truth Lord Kell has still broken a promise. You may think this cold, but your way would be far too complicated to explain too."
"So you are choosing the easy way out? Tarla asked, incredulous.
"You think this easy?" the Forshan snapped. Growling softly she was visibly calming herself down again. "No, my dear, this is far from easy. But I have a duty to the people in this Republic and what they want to see is justice. They do not care for political intrigue, just for security and protection from evil. I do not want Lord Kell to die, but I know that there will be a lot of trouble if I let him live. It would convey the wrong image, one that would have the wrong-doers get away just because they have influential and honored friends. Justice cannot stop at the Jedi Temple, Tarla. Your friend knows all that and for whatever reasons thinks it is worth even that. Maybe it is injust, in a sense, but it is the only way, politically."
"Are you telling me that compassion is just another word when it comes to polictics?"
"No. Compassion can be very painful, and it is much harder to handle than politics. If I were acting compassionate in this matter Lord Kell would not have survived Alderaan."
Her mind still felt a bit fuzzy as Novis dragged her after him, deeper into the mountains. Soon forested swamps embraced the small group of refugees and slowed down their flight. Novis had taken the lead and was finding them a path through the morass expertly. Still, Belana had the feeling that their hunters were gaining on them. Very suddenly the swamp opened before them and allowed them a breath-taking view into the plains down at the foot of the mountains. Without a word Novis darted to the edge of the cliff they stood at and crouched down low. He let his eyes wander along the rim of the gorge, searching. Finally he gave the others who had stayed behind in the protection of the forest a sign to come out.
"Quick now," he growled. " Run along and try not to fall. Get back into the swamp as fast as you can, but mind your steps. Go!"
Belana was brutally shoved forward and stumbled after the Ithorian Emphasa blindly, her mind still too dazed to grasp what was going on. Theoretically she knew that their position was far too exposed right now, which was why the Weequay urged the fugitives on to run even faster. Had she been in full possession of her senses she would have known that danger was lurking nearby. But as it was Novis was too busy keeping track on the mercenaries hunting them and on getting everyone back into safety to notice. Very suddenly an assault shuttle dropped out of the sky, stopping its fall gracefully in midair.
"Duck!" Belana heard her apprentice yell and she did, just a second before she was nearly run down by a slender figure that shot past her at lightning speed. Turning around to follow its path she felt time slow down as the events unfolded. The gunners on the assault shuttle were the first thing she noticed and in an instance her mind was completely clear again. All around her the refugees were scrambling for safety, but her eyes were solely fixed on Novis, who had whipped out his lightsaber and prepared to deflect any laser bolts aimed at the fleeing mass. When he finally became aware of the small man charging at him he whirled around, but oh-so-slowly, his alien face showing a slightly surprised look. And then recognition flashed across his features. He brought the blade of his weapon around in an elegant arc, but at the same time a blue blaster bolt streaked toward him from the shuttle. Belana screamed when it hit him, her senses so keen and crystal clear that she thoughts he could hear his flesh burn and sizzle.
His eyes met hers grimly when his arms fell down to his sides and the lightsaber landed on the soft, moist grass in front of him. The attacker followed his gaze, an evil smile on his features and Belana knew for certain that she was looking the Dark Side in the face. But Pudere Sache held her gaze only for a heart-beat before he threw himself at the already weakened Weequay. The impact sent them both over the edge and Belana felt her hand fly up to cover her mouth in shock. Only the awful sound of blaster fire could bring her back again.
"No," she whispered, still too numb to react to the screams around her. But then she caught herself again and took a hard look around. The mercenaries had stormed onto the ledge in hot pursuit of their prey and Belana was one of the last fugitives who were still in this exposed position. Above her the roar of the assault shuttle rang like thunder. And it exploded in a glorious flash of light as suddenly as it had appeared, sending sharp shrapnel and hot metal flying across the attackers.
"Master Jen!" She turned around to see Emphasa wave at her urgently. But something caused her to look back again, toward the swamp.
The two words had enough power behind them to let her legs buckle and make her fall to her knees, and when all fire ceased only to be replaced by confused babbling, she closed her eyes with a mirthless smile.
The silence rang across the assembly louder than anything else. Belana raised her head slowly, labouriously, to see her lover standing there against the backdrop of the swamp, the air around him hot and metallic with fresh blood. She shivered, for a moment remembering something she had thought long forgotten. His eyes sought hers and then he frowned. Belana almost laughed in relief at the miffed look on his face, but then she saw Enja cradled on his left arm, her tiny hands holding on to his cloak desperately, her eyes wide with fear.
Belana stumbled to her feet, suddenly cold with dread. Making her way toward the pair she moved clumsily, and her exhaustion made itself felt almost overwhelmingly. Still, as she reached out to her daughter her happiness knew no bounds.
"Stay where you are," Kell snapped suddenly, his eyes narrowed into slits of cold, green ice.
She stopped out of sheer surprise. "What?"
"You dare," he hissed, taking a step toward her.
"Kell, it is me, Belana!"
For a second uncertainty flashed across his features and then his face fell. "Belana? Are you all right?"
"I guess so. What about you?"
"No! Don't touch her!" he almost screamed when she reached for Enja again.
"What is it with you?" she shouted right back in his face. This was ridiculous! To her great horror he carefully placed the little baby on the ground next to him and made a strange gesture above her tiny head that Belana hoped was for protection. If there were any poisonous insects or amphibians...!
"On your knees," he ordered, then added with a helpless smile, "Please." She complied, still unsure what to make of this. "Thank you," he mumbled as he touched her forehead. "You are a little too tall to do this any other way." After a while she could feel his breathing deepen and when he spoke again his voice was very hypnotic, soothing her immensely. "Just as I thought. A deep bond, but not too deep. I should have known. But I will not allow this, not that way. To think I would tolerate all this and then come crawling back and groveling... You are okay now," he said at last and helped her up. She stared at him, trying in vain to understand his ramblings.
"Kell, would you please tell me what is going on?"
He gave her along look before he bent forward to kiss her. "Not yet. But soon, I promise. Go back to the capital and wait for me there."
When he turned away again, seemingly oblivious of the little girl playing at his feet Belana felt tears in her eyes. Picking up her daughter she watched him leave with a heavy heart.
"What is it, Emphasa?"
The Ithorian was staring at the carnage spread out before him looking slightly sick. "What are we supposed to do now?"
"We go back."
"No but. This nightmare is over."
With every step he took Roj Kell felt his anxiety rise, and he was torn between the need for Belana's presence and bringing all this to a conclusion. In the end though his determination won out over uncertainty, as it always did. It was a long march through the swamp and when the light dimmed with the approaching evening he found himself remembering his initiation as Cor'dan. He had been so excited, a seven year old careful not to show his emotions, fighting down his pride and joy valiantly to appear calm and composed, as was expected of him. Today, over a millennium later, he had returned quite unwillingly, and instead of pride and joy he felt nothing but anger and betrayal. Still, when finally he had reached the canyon that would lead up to what his people had called the Mountain of Enlightenment, he did not hesitate at all. The shadows were creeping along the steep walls crowding him in, whispering in a million voices that he ignored completely. To Kell the rocky ground underneath the soles of his boots felt familiar, and of course, nothing had been changed since his initiation. He had been the last to walk that path before his people had been annihilated.
The cave's entrance looked like the jagged maw of some giant creature. Kell gave it a contemptuous glance before he strode into the darkness. He did not need any light to illuminate his path and strangely enough the dry air and cool silence of the cave managed to soothe him at once. It was as if all of his dark emotions had been wiped away to be replaced by nothing but calm. Once he had reached the end of the long chamber he dropped to his knees and raised his left hand to touch what looked like a pool of liquid silver. Immediately the metallic gray turned a sheen of gold that continued to build in intensity until the light blinded his eyes mercilessly. Still he refused to look away.
"You called me," was all he said.
The answer was prompt and full of scorn. Listening carefully he kept his mental shields stable, even though he knew that this was a complete waste of energy. When the voice that was no more than a feeling turned more pleading he shook his head slowly.
"I cannot," he whispered, his tone flat with sorrow.
The golden surface shifted again and he felt amusement, tinged with impatience emanating from the glowing sphere. This time Kell averted his gaze from the light.
"I understand. But I abandoned her once already."
The response nearly blew his mind apart. He barely managed to catch himself on his hands as he flew backwards. Gasping for air he saw tears blur his vision.
"So I did abandon you too! Is that why you are punishing me now?"Growling softly he pushed himself upright again. "I know you cannot change me and that what you are to me now is the result of my own making. But I have made my choices, always, on my own. I do not need you. Not anymore." The words were tearing his own heart apart, but he had to be hard on himself to make it understand. "Please. Let me go. I asked you once before and you did, for a time, knowing that I would come back in the end. But this time I cannot. All I can ask is that we part as friends, not enemies."
The challenge was unmistakable. Roj Kell raised his head proudly, pale eyes clear and calm.
"So be it."
But as the light withdrew he could not help himself and reached out to touch it one last time. It did not evade him, as he had anticipated, but as his fingertips brushed over the cool surface he knew that he was being manipulated again.
"Sh sei rega Cor'dan ne sootha. Mileio jeh'ko dena. Ar'deno."
His voice was soft, barely audible in the thick silence filling the cave. And yet its power reached down into the deepest core of the planet and beyond, bidding farewell to the past and setting a new course for the future.
Belana found that her prediction had been right on target. Somehow noone seemed to remember the conflict anymore. It had been nothing but a nightmare. But Novis was still dead. Holding her little girl close she walked back toward her little bungalow after having met with the Ordeshan government representatives. They had been even grateful for her assistance in mediateing the trade agreements, but she could not forget what Elder Ghonid had said when she had told him that her apprentice had died. It is a time of healing, and the demons that haunt us are banished into darkness. He had still been convinced that as a former Sith Novis had deserved anything that he had had coming at him. Even death. So the battle was not over yet.
"There she is!"
Raising her head Belana gaped at the young woman waving at her joyfully.
"Tarla! What are you doing here?"
"Checking on you. Oooooh! There you are, little one! Can I take her?" Belana smiled warmly as she let her friend take Enja. "And Kell? Isn't he with you?"
"He says he'll be back and I am to wait for him here."
"If he returns to Coruscant his fate is sealed."
"I know." Biting her lower lip nervously the Jedi Master grabbed Tarla's shoulders gently. "What does the Council say?"
"Nothing, really. The Supreme Chancellor decided."
"And Master Jeldo?"
"Says it is Kell's affair."
"He is right. Unfortunately."
"Belana, you need to convince him to go into hiding."
"If I can," she sighed. "Can I have her back?"
Tarla wrinkled her nose. "You need a bath first. Relax. I will take care of her." She frowned suddenly. "Where is Novis?"
"I lost him."
"No!" Shaking her black curls wildly Tarla stared at her wide-eyed. "I am sorry," she added quietly.
Somehow Belana felt very cold all of a sudden. Shivering slightly she looked down at her muddy clothes and felt tears flow down her dirt-smeared cheeks. "You are right, Tarla. I need to recover first. And then talk to Kell. Are you sure you'll be all right with Enja?"
"Certainly. By the way, Gyro is here too, in case you were wondering."
"The usual suspects," Belana countered with a small smile. "Thank you, Tarla." Hugging her carefully she tried to find her resolve again. But she was shaking inside.
An hour later, with dusk already settling over the city, Belana had slipped into a hot tub in the bungalow's own bath-house. The tub was set into the wooden floor of the small room that was now filled with steam and a very soothing warmth. Tarla had prepared the bath expertly, adding herbs and oils that gave off a faint, fragrant smell. It was a small island of peace and relaxation in the middle of a very personal crisis and Belana tried hard to hang on to that small spark of hope. A small noise made her look up from her broodings and the cold gust of wind told her that someone had just opened the door. But she could not sense anyone. A movement in the white steam caught her attention and she quietly prepared to defend herself. When Kell emerged from the gloom though she relaxed immediately. He sat down on his haunches next to the tub, a tired smile on his face. They just looked at each other for a while before Belana broke the silence.
"What happened back there?" she asked quietly. Instead of answering he wiped a strand of hair from her forehead. Belana resolved to wait.
"I grew up in the swamps," he said at last, surprising her. She hesitated, but realized that maybe this matter might best be approached from a different angle.
"Really? But the settlements are down in the plains."
"Now, yes," he answered with a smile. "But we were not civilized. And the best game could be found in the swamps."
"Do you have fond memories of that time?" He so seldomnly talked about his past. Maybe she should seize this opportunity. It might be the last one she got.
His face twisted into a wry grimace. "Mostly. But," and here he looked her straight in the eye, "I have never been as happy as during the time I have spent with you and Enja. You taught me so much, Belana."
Belana could not fight her impatience any longer. "Kell, please! What is going on?"
"I had to put a few things clear."
He sighed. "I have broken a promise, Belana, a very important one. Do you remember Alderaan? I gave up the Force back then for two reasons. One was you." He smiled at her. "As for the other.... I realized that if I continued the way I had been going then I would always be hunted, a most exclusive prey. But nothing more."
"So you took the risk of being executed by the Jedi. You trusted me with your life." Saying it so openly now intimidated Belana with the graveness of his decision. She looked at him, perched above her gracefully, and there was something about him that had her awed even.
"You know that I do not give up easily. Therefore all these games I played with the Council."
"But now you know better?"
"Yes. When I first bonded with the Force I gave myself up to fulfill my duties as Cor'dan, to protect and to mediate, but, as you know, I never finished my training. Back on Alderaan I chose to give up the Force, and with it my responsibility. It could not last. Then, when I lay dying on Deyer I selfishly decided that my life was more important than my bond to the Force. I used the Dark Side to reestablish it, acting incredibly selfish. That was wrong. So I was summoned here to state my case."
"Who summoned you?"
"Part of it. The part I gave up when joining the flow. I explained it to you before that I was, am part of the Force in a sense the Jedi are not. Unfortunately that means that it does respond to changes in my personality."
Belana stared. "You can influence the Force?"
"Only the part that is me."
"Then that part must be awfully powerful, if it managed to stage this whole farce on Ordesha."
He smiled at her and suddenly Belana found her heart clenched in cold dread. Touching her face again Kell shook his head slowly. "Call it precaution. But once you pledge yourself to knowledge and balance you are being disarmed. This way the tool that is created cannot turn deadly."
"You mean the Force creates the Cor'dan as a tool, but at the same time takes his greatest power from him?"
"Not all Cor'dan were Force-sensitive. In fact, this only changed when the Jedi began conquering the Sith."
"Then what happens now?"
He sighed deeply. "Belana, I cannot change my destiny, but I do not want to lose you either."
"Then what do we do?" she whispered, her voice broken.
Kell lowered his head to press a kiss on her forehead, "What we must. I am sorry, Belana."
"So you are going to leave?" They both knew that she did not mean that he should hide.
"I have no other choice. That way I can at least put things straight for the Jedi."
"You would sacrifice yourself for them?" The tears were flowing freely now. "What about me? What about Enja?"
"Belana, I must consider the consequences of my actions."
"But what about Enja? She needs her father!"
"I know. I will not abandon you again."
"Are you serious?"
"I am Cor'dan, Belana, I am always serious," he told her with a smile.
"Lord Kell, I would advise you not to return to Coruscant."
Looking at Gyro blankly Kell tried to get his mind back in the here and now. The young Jedi Knight was watching him anxiously. "And why is that so?"
"If you return you will die."
"You think I do not know that?" Putting on his boots he sighed. "Gyro, this is politics. If I want to redeem the reputation of both Jedi and Sith I will have to make that sacrifice. As Master Jeldo has told me often enough, the former Sith look to me as an example. And unfortunately the public looks to the Jedi for justice. The Council has indeed been very lenient so far, but this time they cannot afford it."
"You accept that?"
"I have no other choice but to accept it."
"But you have a family now!"
"I can just hear the answer to that argument in the court, you know? 'Your victims also had families. You did not care. You killed them all.' See? Apart from breaking my promise and attacking Teeko they can now add genocide to the charges. Devastating, don't you think?"
"How can you stay so calm?"
"You think I should panic? I won't, Gyro. I can handle this."
Straightening from his seat Kell gave the young man a warm smile. "I appreciate your concern, Gyro, but it will not change my decision. Now, if you would excuse me? I want to talk to Belana."
She sat on the veranda, holding Enja in her lap and watching the clouds pass overhead. It was so peaceful now, so different from yesterday's events. Turning her head Belana smiled at her lover when he stepped out into the open and bent down to pat the baby-girl's tiny head with a smile. The Jedi Master lifted her eyebrows at his new attire though. Instead of the usual black he wore dark brown pants and a high-colored coat the color of dark-green moss. Surprisingly enough it did not look like a disguise on him. Not at all. Belana also noticed that he had shed the armor.
"Are you getting respectable now?" she quibbed and reached out to hold his hand. Kell laughed and squeezed her hand affectionately.
"You wish! No, this is just a symbolic gesture. To show that I am merely mortal and that I am not better than the common people." He shrugged. "Politics."
"Clever, that. But I still don't like your decision." She drew him closer and kissed his lips tenderly. "Please, think about it once more. I do not want to watch you die," she told him quietly.
"Then stay away," he replied coldly and straightened again, Turning his back on her he folded his arms across his chest. "Belana, from what I know Master Diriwa had this planned for quite some time. She has me pegged down neatly."
"What if we tell the Council?"
"They would only have my word as proof and we both know for how much that counts."
"Kell, we cannot let her get away with it."
"Of course not. And she won't, I promise. We are going to leave for Coruscant tomorrow. That leaves us another day together."
"How thoughtful of you." Belana frowned at his back. Was he really going to follow through with this? If so, he had changed more than she had anticipated. What had happened to his never giving up? Rising from her seat she held the baby close to her body and stepped over to join his side. She leaned her head against his shoulder tiredly. "I am missing you already," she admitted.
"Well, we have some time. Let's make the most of it."
It was two hours later. Returning from the bathhouse Belana stopped to lean in the doorway. She looked down at the man lying asleep on the bed, his long hair under attack from Enja again. The little girl was burying into the black mane gleefully, tugging here and there, but careful not to wake her father up. Belana walked over and lowered herself on the bed, trying not to disturb either of them. But Enja turned her head abruptly and gave her a startled look. She shone so brightly in the Force, a star next to her father's darkness. Belana bent down to kiss the baby's forehead tenderly.
"Hello, little one," she whispered. Enja answered with a giggle and extended her small arms toward her. Taking her cue Belana held her up and rubbed her nose against hers, smiling. Moving across the bed carefully she snuggled up to Kell, hugging Enja to her bosom gently. The baby's blue eyes were turning green already. She would be a mixture of her parents, with Belana's dark brown hair and her father's pale complexion. She would be beautiful. Tapping her nose playfully Belana made Enja laugh again. Suddenly an arm slipped around her waist and she smiled at the low sigh that rose from behind her.
"Are you awake?" she asked quietly.
"Not quite," came the muzzy answer.
"I fear that Enja is not as tired as you are."
"You think she'll be a bad girl and keep us awake?"
"I fear so."
A shiver ran down her spine when Kell kissed the nape of her neck. "Then we'll have to change that, won't we?" he said, his voice chiming with laughter. Propping himself up on one elbow he reached out over Belana's flank to stroke the baby's head with his free hand. "All right then, Enja. Let's see how you like this."
When he started to hum a silent tune Belana felt tears fill her eyes all of a sudden. The lullaby made her think of many things, good and bad times, but mostly it simply took her heart and breath away. She could not understand the words, but that did not matter at all. There were so many layers to the melody that were enhanced by Kell's magical voice, wrapping her in harmony and peace. It was not long before Enja closed her eyes and fell asleep, but Belana fought hard to keep awake. When the last note had died away in a whisper the silence that followed filled with a light so strong that it made her gasp with joy.
"Sleep now, my love," she heard him say softly. But Belana shook her head.
So they just lay there awake, letting time run by. Outside the light was fading already as dusk fell over Ordesha.
Tarla was carrying Enja in her arms, but not even the baby's presence could make her dark mood go away. Upon their arrival at the Jedi Temple Belana had asked her to take care of Enja while they met with the Jedi Council. Now Tarla was glumly stalking toward her quarters, unsure of whether she should be angry at Belana for not having been included in their little group or being happy that she would not have to be there with them. One thing was for sure. It would not be a pretty discussion. Tarla felt tears brim her eyes. She had done everythoing in her power to save Kell, even though she did not even like him that much. But Belana had always been a friend to her, like a sister even.
Turning her head she smiled at Master Zerkan shyly. Why was he not with the Council?
"Master, what happened? I would have expected you to be part of the meeting."
He shrugged. "I am not on the Council, Tarla. So why should I attend?" Smiling at the baby Zerkan nodded. "No, I will have to wait ,just as you do. And while we do, I want you to tell me everything that has happened on Ordesha."
"Novis is dead," was the first thing that came to her mind.
"Oh." Zerkan frowned. "That is indeed a loss."
Twenty minutes later Tarla, seated in one of the small chairs in her apartment with Zerkan occupying the other, was finishing her tale, and Enja had fallen asleep in her lap. The Jedi Master was staring at his hands pensively.
"Then you share Belana's suspicion concerning Master Diriwa?" he asked at last.
"Yes," she answered, but she knew that he expected more of her. "But it does not change a thing, does it?"
He sighed deeply. "We should be forgiving and Master Diriwa has been blinded by righteousness. This is exacly what Lord Kell has been fighting against. To just see one point of view."
"The Chancellor said this is a political move."
"She tries to take the responsibility from us. She means well, I know, but she is making this too easy for us. You have seen it, Tarla, despite what Kell did to Teeko, most of the Jedi here felt with him. And that is the dilemma. In our hearts we have forgiven him, but reason dictates our actions."
"Isn't that a good thing?"
"Reason is very necessary to survive in a community. And especially in cases such as this one."
"Then why are you telling me all this?" Tarla frowned angrily. If he had been trying to soothe her he had failed miserably.
"So that you learn, Tarla. Always keep in mind that there is more than you can see at first glance. You cannot trust your senses alone, or your heart, or reason. Weigh them against each other to find a solution. I do not believe that Lord Kell would have survived if he had not followed this rule from the beginning."
"But he'll die now."
Zerkan gave her a quick smile. "Nothing is spoken yet."
Standing before the Council again Roj Kell felt strangely calm. Belana had taken her place among the twelve beings assembled here to decide his fate. He could see that it had cost her, but now determination was returning to her spirit once more. She tried not to look at him too pleadingly, kept her features cool and composed instead. But her dark eyes mirrored her feelings undisguised. Finally Master Jeldo rose from his seat slowly, his giant head bent with sorrow. He heaved a deep, rumbling sigh before he spoke.
"I must admit that I had hoped you would not return. This was perhaps one of the hardest discussions this assembly had to hold, but it was very necessary. Now, let us hear your point."
"My point?" Kell replied, slightly taken aback. "You will not tell me what you have spoken of first?"
"That is not customary."
"And the Council was not complete," Belana explained quietly.
"Yes, that too," the Ho'Din conceded. "We are all aware of the charges. First, what started all this was your attack on an apprentice and subsequently inflicting grave injuries on that child. We are all agreed that you could have taken other measures to protect your daughter than an outright attack. What you seemed to lack there was self-control. Second, you promised not to act against our wishes again, but you broke that promise within two days of giving it. We recognize that the situation required quick action though, still the fact remains, and is another evidence to said lack of control. The third charge, of which we have learned only now, dates back so far that I hesitate to accept it. Maybe you could explain to us what happened back then?
Holding his breath for a heart-beat Kell let his mind wander back in time to recapture his feelings when he had learned of his people's destruction. He closed his eyes briefly, then answered with a slight edge to his voice that he did not care to hide. "It was the second year of my Jer'fra when I was informed of what I had known would happen. My mother's clan was attacked and annihilated by the Jedi. I suspect that they thought them some sort of enclave of Dark Jedi. What remains though is the fact that they killed innocent people. My mother had had a premonition of things to come, but she did nothing to prevent it."
"Why do you think that was so?"
He swallowed hard, for this was a question he had been asking himself over and over again, and the answer had not pleased him at all. "She knew that they could not survive in the long run, not without adopting technology like the worlds around us had. If they remained as untouched by progress as they had for millennia, they would perish for sure if their neighbors decided to expand their territory. My people would become slaves or else would die out due to mixing with other peoples. It was a naturally plotted course. That they would die at the hands of the Jedi was included in that calculation, even though it was just one of many options."
"Then your people's demise was seen as inevitable?"
"Yes. Still, I did not understand how that excuses this sort of genocide, especially if it was exectuted by the supposedly compassionate Jedi."
"It does not excuse it. But I notice that you did not exact your revenge on the Jedi," Jeldo commented quietly.
"No. I started training under my master shortly after I had buried my clan. There was no time for tracking down those who had destroyed them."
"So you did not make any real effort at finding the guilty party. Instead you decided to annihilate Ordesha's population much later," Belana concluded, her voice sounding very calm. Turning his head Kell gave her a long look, then nodded.
"Yes. I decided that this sort of revenge would be much sweeter and would hurt the Jedi more than if I had gone up against them on my own and died trying to avenge my people."
Belana winced visibly. "Sith training," she spat. "Kell, you had been guided by the rules of survival previously. Is vengeance part of survival?"
"It is not. I understood that my mother had been given no choice in the matter."
"We are agreed that the Jedi acted irresponsibly, but we must also consider that they were at war," Master Diriwa explained. "There might have been some confusion, and when you tell me that your father was a Dark Jedi, and if your mother was anything like you, I suspect that their mistaking your people for Sith, I mean Dark Jedi, is plausible."
Again it was Belana who took the lead. "It is out of question that the Jedi were wrong, but Kell's reaction is still inexcusable. How were the Jedi supposed to know that they were being punished and for what?"
Kell stared at her, unblinking. Her dark eyes were hard and cold, returning his gaze unflinching. "It was wrong," he said at last.
"Master Jen, what you are saying then is that this was not an act of vengeance, but in fact calculated evil?" Master Jeldo asked. "Is that it?"
"Yes, that is exactly what I think. We know from our own experiences that Kell is a master at this sort of cruelty." She sighed. "Was, I should say. After all, he prevented a renewed disaster on Ordesha, and the last time he played his games with us he managed to end the war with the Sith. So we have proof that he has changed. The problem is, that this change does not affect his methods. That is what makes this discussion so difficult."
"But we need to come to a conclusion," Diriwa put in. "We owe it to the people."
Master Jeldo, who had taken his seat again throughout the exchange, rose again. "Very well. We know the facts, all of them, from past and present. We cannot predict the future, but we can use our insight to plot a course. I ask every one of you to meditate on this. We will meet again tonight to come to a decision."
The assembly straightened from their seats and most gave Kell sad or critical glances. Belana stepped over to wrap her arms around him. "That was hard," she whispered.
"But good. I am very pleased by your insight."
"Are you? Even if it condemns you?"
"Especially then. You are such an exceptional woman, do you know that? How you handle this is magnificent."
"Shut up," she told him, but he could sense her pride. Smiling, he pressed her closer and kissed her forehead.
"You are doing well, Belana," he said quietly. "You are a good councillor."
"I wish I weren't."
Belana turned her head suddenly and disengaged from his embrace quickly. "Supreme Chancellor,"
she breathed. "This is indeed a surprise."
"Is it?" the Forshan asked. "I could hardly stand back in this matter. Lord Kell, could I speak to you?"
Belana watched them go with a heavy heart. What would she tell him? She could sense Jeldo come up from behind her. Whirling around Belana shook her head vehemently. "Don't. Please. I do not want to talk just now." With that she made for the door as fast as she could manage. She met Tarla half-way to her quarters.
"How did it go?" the young woman asked anxiously.
"Bad. As expected. The Supreme Chancellor is talking to Kell right now. Do you have any idea what that might be about?"
Tarla shook her head. "No. Sorry."
"Is Enja asleep?" Belana asked, suddenly feeling very tired.
"Yes. I'll leave you two alone for a while, right? See you later."
The Jedi Master smiled at her friend's back solemnly. Tarla was growing up, no doubt about that. Walking up to her apartment she paused in front of the door, remembering all the times she had stood there, exhausted, elated, excited, worried or simply desperate. But she had managed to push that door open every time and carried on with her life. She would manage this too. Opening the door she went inside and closed it behind her once more. It was quiet and the air was cool, with just a hint of dust motes and the fragrant smell of fresh flowers. Outside the afternoon sun was painting everything in a warm light. Belana walked over to the bedroom, where Enja was deep in slumber. Dropping down next to the baby's crib the Jedi Master found the strength to smile again. "You are such a sweet thing," she said and pressed a kiss on each of Enja's rosy cheeks. Then, laying her head on the edge of the crib, she started to cry. It took her a few moments to realize that Enja had woken up. Staring at her mother out of big eyes the little girl reached out clumsily to touch her face. Belana laughed at her daughter's attempt at consoling her and took her out of her bed to hold her in her arms. "Promise you will never leave me," Belana whispered, but the certain knowledge that this was far too much to ask made her heart clench with deep loneliness. One day her daughter would be grown, would have her own life, her own worries. But that was a long way to go yet.
Suddenly the feeling of utter betrayal and pain tore through her mind and she almost fainted at the strength of the emotion. Enja started crying pitifully. Hugging her daughter closer Belana rose quickly, unsure of what to do. She had no idea what had happened, but she could be certain that Kell had been involved. Her worry rose to a storm of bleak despair. What was going on? "Kell!" she screamed. Anyone, she added to herself, sensing the tears return once more. Finally her mind flooded with resignation and she sat down on her bed, her shoulders slumped in defeat. It was some time later that she heard the door open and close. Raising her head she met Kell's gaze. He was leaning in the doorway regarding her calmly, but she was not sure if he was aware of her looking back at him. Walking over to her slowly, as if in a dream, he bent down to kiss her lips.
"What is it?" she managed at last.
He gave her a wry smile. "A little argument."
"A little? It felt more like a disaster to me."
Kell patted Enja's head absent-mindedly. "Yes, it is that too."
Taking a seat at her side he reclined to lie on his back. "Well. Before I left for Ordesha the Chancellor told me that if I ever crossed her again the least I could hope for was a quick death. The worst, exile."
"Exile? But she knows you would not tolerate that."
"Yes. Apparently Master Jeldo has made a request to her, one she even considered."
"What request?" In the pit of her stomach Belana could feel hope struggle with despair.
"He asked her to have me exiled. That way, he reasoned, everyone would be content, but if they did it well, you would have been able to visit. We could have been together."
"And now she has rejected that proposition?"
He huffed a mirthless laugh. "Can you imagine me when she told me about that clever little plan, how grateful I was, that we might be able to combine my penance with your being close to me?"
"But that wouldn't have been any punishment, would it?" Belana said quietly.
"As it is she might have agreed. But she is under a lot of pressure from various groups. They want to forget about the amnesty and return to the old times."
"No, strangely not. Fact is though that a sacrifice is needed. I had included that possibility in my calculation, as you know, but I was hoping for something less final."
"So you already have been convicted?"
"Yes, I guess."
"But the Council hasn't decided yet!"
He turned his head to squint up at her. "How would you decide?"
Belana closed her eyes and sighed. With everything she knew, with all that was at stake she still knew her answer perfectly well, although everything in her rebelled against it. In the eyes of the law he was certainly guilty, even though Belana would probably forgive him absolutely anything. Her heart cried out in pain at her own resolve, but the Jedi Master knew that it was inevitable, if she wanted the Jedi to survive the way they were now. They could still be compassionate, but sometimes compassion was very hard to deal with. It would not be injustice, not even to the Force, and certainly not to Kell. He was a survivor, but he had done anything in his power to ensure that Belana could live her life unmolested without accusations, without discrimination. For if he did not make that sacrifice, the people would be quick to point to the Jedi if anything went wrong. And in the deepest depths of her heart Belana knew that the Order was not up to that. It needed someone far stronger, far more ruthless to weather such a situation. If they had to walk that path the Jedi would be forced to take full responsibility. They would rise from guardians to leaders, to rulers, even. That was exactly what people were afraid of, especially now that some former Sith were among the Jedi. Belana was certain that the Supreme Chancellor knew all that. Therefore her decision. That way the Jedi would be able to rebuild their reputation, could start anew, without Kell's cold logic tearing them apart. They all recognized his wisdom. But apparently this galaxy had moved beyond wisdom. Belana hoped dearly that it would regain that knowledge and understanding someday. Hopefully soon.
Tarla felt her heart sink when she heard the verdict the same evening. Although she had expected it, she had still clung to her own hopes of forgiveness and compassion. Standing at her side Gyro wore an earnest expression. The most devastating thing, Tarla thought, was the fact that the decision had been unanimous. Which meant that Belana had voted guilty for her lover. In a way the young Jedi was deeply disappointed in her friend, even though she also understood her move. This was all so damn complicated! She clenched her hands into tight fists.
"Relax," Gyro whispered and lay a hand over her shoulders.
"Are you mad? How could I?"
"Do you have another choice?" he shot back coldly.
That sobered her up immediately. "No," came her reply. "I guess I don't. But that does not mean that I am happy about this. There have to be changes, don't you see? This is so unfair!"
"Tarla," he exclaimed, surprised, "a year ago you would have gladly seen him die. You have really grown. I am impressed."
Elbowing him in the side Tarla smiled grimly. "There will be changes," she whispered. "Any way I can make them."
"Not any way," Gyro admonished her softly.
She sighed. "You are right. I will become a Jedi Knight first. Then I will see about making changes."
He felt his throat tighten with deepest regret as his eyes locked with hers. Belana was standing tall, determination painted across her face like a mask to hide the pain he was feeling so clearly. Their bond was still strong, maybe it had grown even deeper now. At his side Zerkan nodded slowly and lay a hand on his shoulder. Kell gave the Jedi a startled look, but then he again became aware of the all too quiet crowd, the mutual feeling of sadness and resignation that filled the Council Chamber to bursting. Nodding once Roj Kell went down on one knee to bow toward the Council in acceptance of the sentence. A hushed whisper ran through the assembly at his unusual move. He did not hear it. Concentrating, he closed his eyes and turned his thoughts inward, focusing on the task ahead. But in the back of his mind Belana was a roaring fire of desperate loving and hurt. Suddenly her presence vanished and Kell's eyes snapped open to see her rush out of the room and vanish. Unable to breathe the Sith swallowed down his disappointment. But then, he could not really have excpected her to watch his execution, could he?
Raising his head again he sought Zerkan's gaze. It was not the creed of the Jedi to take life. On the contrary. And it was not Kell's creed to kill senselessly either. And even though he was a survivor he knew when to make a sacrifice too. He had done so before, hadn't he? Turning around he followed Zerkan slowly. Why the Council had chosen the Jedi Master to escort him to the gate of the Temple was beyond Kell. Of course, Zerkan had been one of the Jedi who had assisted in his capture four years ago on Dantooine, and he was a confidant of Belana. But he was also a friend, for Force's sake! His despair must have shown on his face, since Zerkan bent over slightly to murmur some reassuring words he did not feel himself. The sentence was spoken, but the execution of said sentence would not fall to the Jedi. Since this was a very serious verdict the Supreme Chancellor would have to validify it too. Taking a deep breath he pressed his lips together tightly. For whatever might be awaiting him he was ready....
"We understand your decision, of course," Master Jeldo told her wrily and Belana nodded once.
"Thank you. I do not harbor any hard feelings against you, as you know. But I cannot stay any longer."
"You are always welcome to the Jedi Temple, Master Jen."
She felt tears in her eyes again, but fought them down valiantly. She still could not believe that Kell was gone, even though two days had passed already. Two days she had spent in a trance, not wanting to let her grief come too close. She had not even had had a chance to say good-bye properly. The body had been cremated, she had been told. There would be no funeral. Just thinking about it brought the pain back like a roaring fire.
"Thank you," she said again and bowed slightly. Turning around she started walking away when she heard the Ho'Din say:
"Master Diriwa, there is something we need to discuss..."
The door closed behind her and she smiled faintly. Diriwa would be asked to retire from the Council and if she was any judge Zerkan would take her place. Maybe there truly was some hope left. Belana returned to her quarters slowly, taking each step acutely aware of the fact that tomorrow all of this would be no more than a memory. As she passed the corridor leading up to the turbo lift that would take her up to the Masters' quarters, Belana stopped at one of the windows. Leaning her forehead against the transparisteel she looked out over the park, letting her gaze wander toward the mountains.
It was such a breath-taking vista, full of hidden mysteries and undisguised beauty. Her smile deepened. Life went on. And if she had learned one thing it was how to survive.
Returning from the village Belana paused in the doorway. She turned around with a sigh and watched the sky darken. In the distance a thunderstorm was approaching, and the wind was racing through the tall grass of the plains, burying into the long, slender stalks like a predator on the hunt. Night was falling quickly at this time of the year and already she could hear the far-away calls of the avians populating the swamps. To the North the mountains rose into the clouds proud and unafraid. When the first raindrops started to fall she retreated into the small house she called her own and closed the door against the advancing storm. Belana had not told anyone where she was going, but she suspected that her friends could guess easily where she had vanished to. Emphasa Lona had welcomed her warmly, even though he could not understand, but Belana felt that Ordesha was were Enja should grow up, just like her father had.
As if wakened by her thoughts the baby started stirring in the sling Belana had wrapped around her torso. Smacking her lips in half-conscious slumber the little girl tried to wriggle free of the cloth. It had been a week since they had arrived on the planet and already people seemed to have forgotten about the resentments they had harbored against the Jedi not so long ago. Belana saw this as some sort of atonement for what had happened here. She carried the baby into her bedroom and placed her in her crib gently. Enja heaved a deep sigh. Smiling down at her daughter Belana felt more at ease. She would not be alone and she had something to do to keep her mind off the more unpleasant memories. And yet, everything seemed to remind her of her lover. Stepping out of the room and to the window next to the main door she looked out over the plains once more. The house was perched on a hillside and it boasted a huge garden and a hidden pathway into the swamps. But the plains reminded her of Dantooine, where she had first met Roj Kell. She could see him standing on the top of the hill again, a challenge in his eyes that went out to life itself. Back then she had not been able to see beyond his arrogance and cruelty. Well, that had definitely changed over time.
Sudden laughter startled her out of her reverie.
She could hear her little girl squeal in delight. Hurrying over to the bedroom Belana felt her heart stop. Enja was spinning through thin air, giggling even harder as she tried to catch her father's hands that always seemed out of reach. Seated on the bed he was smiling up at her, his pale eyes sparkling with joy. When he caught Belana's shocked expression he laughed and let the baby drop into his waiting arms. Their eyes met for what seemed to be an eternity. Shaking her head in disbelief Belana crossed her arms in front of her chest and leaned her right shoulder against the door-frame.
"Bastard," she hissed, at the same time furious and relieved. Kell laughed again.
"I thought you'd be happy to see me, but apparently you are not. So I am just going to leave again..."
"Don't you dare!" Crossing the distance between them she grabbed his head in both hands and shook it. "Are you mad? To scare me like that! I thought you were dead!"
"Well. Some people might argue that I never really was alive," he answered with a shrug.
"They are wrong." Belana sighed and closed her eyes. She could feel the soft strands of black hair wrapped around her wrists and when she leaned her forehead against his she reveled in the cool touch of his skin against hers. "What happened?"
He could feel her relax, felt her grief evaporate in the heat of her love and he knew that there was nothing that could ever drive him away from her again. Wrapping an arm around her waist he drew her next to him on the bed and kissed her deeply, ignoring Enja's busy little hands trying to tear his hair out.
"They said the body was burned," she said breathlessly. "Who-?"
"Noone important," he mumbled inbetween kissing her once more. But then Belana pushed him away, her expression very serious.
"Why did you not tell me what you had planned?"
"I did not have a plan, that was the problem. I simply took my chances."
"Do you think the Council knows."
"They might suspect something...," he answered with a smile.
"What about your punishment?"
He shrugged. "I guess that will have to wait."
"You always get away, don't you? Not that I mind."
"Are you sure you don't mind?"
She hesitated a bit. "Well, theoretically I know that you are not a very good person, but I guess we can work on that."
"You are a real guardian, Belana," he teased her.
"Am I? Then I guess I get to pick your punishment for being such an unbelievable prankster."
"I am at your mercy."
Belana smiled and raised her eyebrows meaningfully. "Good," she purred, making him shiver with a sudden feeling of desire and delicious anticipation. "Then I declare that you will never leave my side again. That you will teach your daughter how to be a seeker of truth."
She stubbed his nose playfully. "That's what you are, isn't it? I am the one to guard and defend against evil and you are the one who sees the things the way they truly are. And you tell others, whether they want to hear it or not."
"Sounds difficult," he mused.
"It is. That's why you always get into trouble."
His eyes widened in mock surprise. "You know, you may be right! I have never thought about it that way. Seriously," he caressed her left cheek tenderly, "don't you like that sort of trouble?"
"Seriously? No, I would prefer something less heart-breaking."
A deafening thunder-clap rattled the small house. Kell laughed. "See? I knew that was a lie!" he exclaimed and barely managed to get out of Belana's reach before she threw herself at him. Unfortunately that move also dropped him from the bed. Lying on her stomach she smiled down at him, her dark eyes full of light and warmth. At her side Enja seemed slightly startled by the thunder and on the verge of crying. Belana gave her a mournful look, then wrapped her little baby in her arms. Looking at them Kell felt his heart sing with joy. Both his, and that forever. What more did he need? Smiling deeply he sat on the floor, watching Belana murmur soothing words into her daughter's ears and lulling her back into sleep again. She was so beautiful, with her dark hair and liquid eyes. Suddenly she looked up, her gaze meeting his again and her luminous smile took his breath away.
"I love you," he whispered.
"And don't you forget that again," Belana laughed softly and leaned forward to meet his lips.