Here is the sixteenth chapter! Sorry it's late - college is killing me. Not literally. Don't forget to review at the end!
Disclaimer: Not mine, not mine, not mine... need anymore proof?
Sneaking around the Temple is so much fun, Ani thought. If I do it right, I won't meet anyone. Of course, with the way my luck's going, I'll get found out by Windu himself.
The Force gathered around the padawan as she checked the adjacent room. If it wasn't for the hidden door she had found over a year ago, not to mention the ancient hallways and rooms she had found through said door, she wouldn't be waiting for the younglings to finish their lightsaber lesson with Jedi Master Cin Drallig. She looked at the wall chrono. 16h30.
They should be done by now, Ani thought, slightly panicked. Why would Master Drallig keep them in there for this long?
"Now remember the forms for next week's test," she heard him say. "There will be masters watching, so do your best. There's a good chance you will be selected as padawans as long as you focus. Feel the Force flow through you. Channel it into your lightsaber forms and – possibly – dueling matches." A smile slid its way across her face as she heard the younglings begin chattering with excitement. Silence quickly cut into their talking, courtesy of Drallig's raised hand. "Practice hard. Perform well." She sensed his nod. "Dismissed." The younglings filed out, talking subdued but not erased.
"Great. The picking of Padawans has come."
"Good to see you too, Ani Laminara. Giving Master Unduli trouble again, are you?"
"What else would I be doing?" He shot her a look.
"Well, for instance, you could be helping me teach my lightsaber form classes instead of sneaking around the Temple with a nearly impenetrable Force shield – which, by the way, I'm wondering how you do it." Ani grinned.
"A mixture of concentration and strong paranoia. Besides, I'm no good with younglings," she stated. "They have no sense of personal bubble space. They get on my nerves and make my skin crawl. They chatter incessantly, spill things constantly, and did I mention they have no concept of personal bubble space?"
"I wonder why you'd be annoyed by these attributes," Drallig smirked. "After all, I remember a certain youngling who did all of the above and more." The padawan flushed.
"So I happened to be unconventional." The Jedi Master snorted.
"Any more 'unconventional' and you would have tied with Knight Skywalker." He shook his head. "I swear you two should have never crossed paths. Are you both attracted to people whose life goal is to break all the rules into as many pieces as they can?" Ani shrugged.
"Can I help it if Anakin and I happened to do more mischief right here than anywhere else?" she retorted. Drallig kept shaking his head.
"How about you both go on the battlefields? Wreak havoc everywhere else with your troops instead of the Temple?" he suggested. Ani shook her head.
"We tried. We got done fighting the droids in less than 8 hours, captured the Separatist leader, and were bored out of our skulls waiting for our ride to come!"
"Couldn't you contact your pilot?"
"The communications teams were still trying to scavenge what they could out of the molten mess when we finally got picked up."
"I see." The ticking of the chrono captured Master Drallig's attention. "I better go prepare for my next class." He looked at the padawan.
"Behave now, would you?" Her brow furrowed.
"Since when do I not try?" she questioned, raising her arms in an I-don't-know-how-you-could-accuse-ME-of-doing-such-a-thing gesture. He just sighed.
"At least consider helping me teach," Drallig urged. "I think you underestimate your lesser known qualities. You are gifted, young Laminara."
"Not like Skywalker," she quickly pointed out.
"No. Not like Skywalker." He looked her straight in the eye. "But you're pretty damn close." The Jedi started towards the door, calling a data-sheet to his hand. "Think about it." After he had walked through the doorway, the girl crept to the doorway and stuck her head out.
Drallig had disappeared.
Breathing a sigh of relief, Ani ran her fingers around her padawan braid. She turned around and, with her six senses at the ready, quickened her pace towards an unused corner of the training salle.
Running her fingers over the cracks on the wall and tracing them back to the corner took her back to the memory of first discovering the place. Being a curious youngling in her third year at the Temple, watching the kids do the same form over and over again when she had already mastered it boring her out of her mind, she did what any normal, Force-sensitive being would do.
She had sauntered around, pretending to be doing what everyone else was doing while sneaking peeks at the walls and corners at the back of the room. Everything was odd. The walls seemed too thick, as did the ceiling. The lines were crooked and the corners didn't seem to meet up. The back right corner of the room was the sloppiest part of a building she had seen, and she had seen sloppy. Nothing matched at all. Of course, she reflected that if it didn't fit over there, it would mess everything up.
Why didn't the builders make everything just right?
Ani had trouble taking her mind off something when she was deep in thought over it – especially back at that age. Peeking over her shoulder, she had seen Master Drallig focused on his class. He probably wouldn't even miss her.
She slid towards the corner, running her fingers along the cracks. The girl traced them back to the corner, silent and efficient. As soon as all seven cracks were traced back to their origin, they glowed. A portion of the wall disappeared with a slight squeak.
Ani had opened up a long-forgotten passageway.
Looking back, she checked the status of her teacher and peers. No one had heard, so she went in. Suffice it to say, she got into a lot of trouble for skipping class that day.
That was then, though. Now if I get into trouble I at least make the effort. Tracing the cracks made the insignia glow, causing the wall to squeak back, slightly louder than usual. A reminder to oil the door, Ani winced. Eventually.
She leaped inside and slid the door shut.
Luminara glanced at the clock. 17h45. Fifteen minutes to their meeting with the council, and her padawan was nowhere in sight.
The Jedi Master leaned against the wall and sighed. She bet her padawan would be late – again. I have allowed her to be late far too often, she thought, pinching the bridge of her nose. Perhaps I should institute some form of punishment. An hour of meditation for this time on the importance of being on time, and add an extra hour each time afterwards. Or maybe a paper would do it. Force her to instruct the younglings? She allowed a full smirk since no one was in view. Better than my last idea. I should never have thought to punish her with leading a clone battalion inside the enemy's city to capture the Separatist leader. That hadn't been a punishment. That had been fun. Not to mention that, ever since I gave my padawan a whole special squad of hers to command, it has led to … other issues.
"Stop moaning already." Luminara looked up to see Ani dangling inches from her face. "You thought I could use the responsibility. You should blame yourself."
"At least you're on time," she replied wryly, poking her padawan's nose. "It's now 17h50. Where have you been?"
"Long story. Tell you later."
"At least make proper sentences please." The girl scrunched up her face.
"Since when?" As her master moved forward, she swung up and hopped down. They stood together, side by side, in front of the doors that would open to reveal the Council awaiting them.
"Ready, Padawan?" The girl took a deep breath and nodded.
"Ready, Master." The chrono hit 18h00. Dull gray doors slid open.
The two glided inside.
Master Windu watched the two as they made their way across the floor to stand in the inner circle. The young padawan had grown; her head was just past her master's shoulder. She wore an air of calm assurance, dangerously close to arrogance, but underneath he sensed nervousness, a touch of anger, and fear.
The time for answers is at hand.
"Master Unduli, Padawan Laminara," he began, "You have been made aware of the mission on Alderaan?"
"Yes, Master Windu," Luminara replied, dipping her head in acknowledgement, her padawan following in perfect sync.
"And you understand what the purpose of the mission is?" His eyes met the girl's. She swallowed hard.
"We understand," Luminara spoke again. Her padawan nodded as she spoke.
What about you, Padawan?" Master Yoda asked. "Do you understand?"
"I… I understand, Master."
"Know why we chose you specifically, do you?"
"Logically I do. Emotionally I do not." The corners of her mouth turned slightly up. "I trust your judgment." Master Yoda harrumphed.
"Clear in time, things will become." He pointed a claw towards her. "Do not be afraid of opening up to your Master. Closer to her, you need to become, if to survive this, you are. Experience hurt you will, but worth it a strong bond is."
"I will remember that, Master Yoda," she said, bowing her head. Master Windu cleared his throat.
"For the sake of the rules of this Council, I will go over the details. Your shuttle will leave at 06h00 tomorrow morning. A small squad of clones will go with you. Master Luminara will have the choice to pick them herself or have assigned to her a fresh unit."
"I will take some of the men from my unit," Luminara interjected. Windu nodded and continued.
"Once you arrive on Alderaan, you will meet with Madam Kiln. Discover the truth behind her request, and decide whether or not she is truly a Separatist spy. Report back your findings and we will then decide how to proceed." He paused, wanting to add something and yet unable to find the words. "May the Force be with you both."
"And with you," the females chorused, bowing from the waist. The door swished open, then closed.
"Well, that's done." Shaak Ti remarked. "Since we're done for the day, the masters accompanying the two should get ready as well."
"I can't go," Adi said shortly. "There's concern that something will happen soon, something big, and I'll be needed."
"I'll go in your place," Shaak told her. Adi gave her a grateful look.
"I'll accompany Master Ti," Agen Kolar stated. "That way, the rest of you will be free for this future event."
"Sounds good," Mace concluded. "Be ready to leave at 06h00 tomorrow. Ideally this should not take longer than two weeks. Be mindful that we may pull either or both of you out if the something larger happens sooner."
"Of course, Master Windu," both chorused, inclining their heads. Mace nodded back, looking around to meet all the Council masters' gazes.
"The Council is adjourned for today. We meet back tomorrow at the usual time." One by one, the Council members got up and left. Masters Windu and Yoda remained behind to discuss the details.
"Well, this should be easy," Agen remarked as he walked next to Shaak. "Our purpose in coming is to stand there and let the master-padawan team do all the work." The Togruta nodded.
"It seems that way, yes." Her brow crinkled in thought. "My senses tell me otherwise. We must be extremely careful, take every precaution. What Marana Kiln had tried to pull off over a decade ago, she might try again."
The rest of their walk was spent in silent pondering.