Chapter Twenty-Three

In which visions become reality...

The first thing that Anakin had noticed upon reaching the valley was that Perun and the children had not, as he'd anticipated, arrived before he had. The second thing he noticed was the stone plaque, and the writing around it. Settling himself on the ground in front of it, he noticed that it was written in an ancient but legible form of Aurebesh; it seemed to have been set down by a Jedi from the Old Republic who had studied this valley, and claimed that…

Anakin blinked, and reread the passage. "I have long suspected that the Force was infinite not only in terms of space, but in terms of time. To hold the Force is to hold infinity in your hands. To see the Force is to see all of time. Here on this planet, in this valley, where the Force is stronger than I have ever known it, if one is pure-hearted enough, the Force may show the dead to the living."

Even as he was reading, Anakin thought he saw the image of a woman in the robes traditionally worn by the Jedi historians. She turned, smiled at him, and resumed her writing on the stone. There were more figures appearing around her, some almost clear enough to be solid, some mere shadows. Last to appear was a hooded figure wearing an instantly recognizable mask; Revan removed it slowly, and gazed silently and sadly at Anakin before fading away again.

He continued to sit there, fixated on the stone, as the visions became voices, whispered murmurs that he couldn't quite make out, until one became clear above the rest and his heart skipped a beat.

"Follow," it said, in a resonate alto tinged with the accent of the Outer Rim. "Follow us. We have to tell you. You have to know. Follow us."

"Mother," he murmured. He rose without thinking, the last remnants of his vision swirling around him as he raced them back to the cave.

Luke was vaguely aware of Master Skywalker racing back toward the caves, but his attention was mostly riveted by the stone plaque before him and the symbol painted on it. There was writing too, but he didn't pause to puzzle over it. He only stared intently at the infinity symbol, until his eyes watered and the image blurred into new shapes.

There was a woman with long dark hair sitting in a window ledge, looking sadly out toward the horizon where the spires of the Jedi Temple were visible. She was crying, and every once in a while she would absentmindedly rock the empty cradle in front of her. He didn't know who she was, not by name anyway, but he knew that it was he that she was missing, and he wanted to crawl up into her lap and press his cheek against hers and cry with her…

Then Perun grabbed him by the hand and started running back into the caves, and Luke only just managed to get his feet working under him again as they raced after Master Skywalker.

"Now really, Anakin, you haven't been this rash since the Clone Wars. Look, you've left your Padawan behind."

Anakin stared dumbly as the vision kept speaking.

"Come to think of it," it said, "the last time you went chasing a vision of me, you left him behind then too."

"I wasn't… not you…" Anakin stumbled over his words as he attempted to comprehend what he was seeing. "You are definitely not my mother."

The blue-tinted spirit of Obi-Wan Kenobi merely cocked an eyebrow at him. "Whatever would have you given you the idea that I was?"

At that moment, just as Anakin was beginning to feel very foolish, Perun, Luke and Cy rounded the corner into the cavern he was standing in. And if he'd thought he was confused before, it was nothing compared to how he felt when Luke looked at Obi-Wan's ghost, and cried out, "Ben!"

Anakin's head whipped around so sharply that it hurt. "This is Ben?"

The boy nodded.

"Luke, do you know what-- who this is?"

"That's Ben," Luke replied, looking at Anakin with an odd expression, as if he couldn't understand why Anakin didn't understand him.

"That is how he knows me." Obi-Wan smiled down at him. "I've been protecting him."

Now Luke looked affronted. "I don't need protecting. And if you're not Ben, who are you really, then?"

Anakin answered for him. "My old Master. Obi-Wan Kenobi."

"Obi-Wan." He smiled again. "Now there is a name I haven't heard for a long time." Then he turned a more serious expression back to Anakin. "But we don't have time to explain that now; there are more important things to discuss. This is not a chance meeting, Anakin, nor was your meeting Luke again."

"Oh no," Perun murmured.

"What do you mean, 'Oh no?'" Anakin glanced between his apprentice and his former Master. "And what do you mean, 'Again?'" When Obi-Wan did not answer immediately, he finally fixated on Perun. "Why do I get the feeling that you know something I don't?"

Perun flushed and looked away. "I don't know anything, exactly. I only suspected, really, just an idea…" The last few words ran together as his sentence trailed away, and Anakin glared at him.

"Tell me what it is that you suspect then, Padawan."

"I can't."

"Why not?"

Perun muttered something indistinguishable, but Anakin though he caught the words 'Council' and 'Masters.'

"Perun, have the other Council members asked you to keep something from me?"

There was a long pause, and then Perun nodded tightly.

"Well that certainly explains a lot."

Obi-Wan suddenly cleared his throat rather loudly, causing them both to look around again. "Not to interrupt, but perhaps I should point out again that time here is limited? You and Luke, you're--"

Something like a rockslide sounded from the front of the cave network, and Cy squeaked in alarm and flung herself at Perun's leg. He picked her up, and, still not looking at Anakin, said, "I'll go investigate." And he fled the cavern, taking Cy with him.

"Wait!" Anakin watched them go. "I should help them. Say what you need to say!"

Obi-Wan sighed quietly.

"Luke is your son."

The cave guardians had turned away millenniums' worth of possible invaders, letting through only those who wished to study -- but not misuse -- the Force. But never had they encountered anything like General Grievous. Their ancient weapons could not pierce the dura-steel exoskeleton, and he pressed on with such ferocity that eventually they relented and melted back into the stone walls. They were, after all, part of the caves, and the rock could take only so much before it collapsed.

Echoes of fighting at the cave entrance shook the walls even as far deep as as the tunnel that Perun and Cy had disappeared down. She pressed her face against his shoulder, and tried to focus on the sound of his voice instead of the rumblings around her.

"I should have told him. I should have told him years ago. No Jedi keep secrets from each other, especially not Master and Padawan. Stars, I can only imagine what he must think of me…"

They made random turns while Perun continued to talk to himself, either unaware or uncaring that Cy was listening. But eventually his words became unintelligible to Cy, and she finally placed a hand firmly over his mouth to silence him. She stared determinately up at him, daring him to argue with her. Only when he reached up to draw her hand away did she pull it back herself.

"Fine, fine." At least now there was a hint of a smile in his voice. "You're right, of course. Not your problem anyway." He took another step forward, and then stopped, completely frozen; he'd brushed something with his foot that definitely didn't feel like rock. Moving as slowly and silently as he could, Perun reached for the portable glow-torch that was clipped to his belt. The light that suddenly blossomed from it illuminated the armored figure of Boba Fett, leaning against the wall, presumably unconscious, hands still bound behind him.

And just as Perun thought that the situation couldn't get any worse, the bounty hunter moved.

Author's Note: Many apologies for the delay in getting this chapter posted. After a long bout of writers block in how best to organize this and coming chapters, I went abroad to school and haven't been able to log in to until today. I suppose something was reset on the router.

Chapter 24 is in progress, and hopefully won't be long in coming. Until then--

--Argenteus Draco