"I've renounced the dark side," Jacen responded nervously, reaching for the lightsaber on his belt.
"Is that why you intend to attack me?"
Jacen quickly pointed the dangerous part of the hilt toward Mara and attempted to turn the weapon on, but there was no response. Startled, Jacen shook the weapon, and pressed the button a second time. Mara laughed, and held out her hand. Jacen could only watch as his lightsaber soared through the air and into Mara's waiting hand.
"Weapons don't work here, Jacen. But that action proves to me you haven't changed."
"I… I only was trying to protect myself," Jacen protested. "You're the one that attacked me before. Unprovoked, I'd like to add."
Mara's eyes narrowed in disgust. "Unprovoked? You were trying to turn my child into a Sith! You were toying with the idea of killing him as some type of sick sacrifice!"
"How.. do you know that?"
"Becoming One with the Force gives a person a lot of insight," Mara replied.
"Are you planning on killing me?" Jacen asked worriedly, then decided to try and distract Mara. "Uncle Luke is here. Somewhere."
"Yes, I know that. Jaina is here, too. Luke still believes there is good in you. I guess once a naïve farmboy, always a naïve farmboy. I won't kill you because I can't kill you. Not here, Jacen, and not now. But once we get back to the living, breathing world, all bets are off." She tilted her head, listening to a sound Jacen couldn't hear. "The gateway through the Mists is open, and Luke is waiting for me." She turned on her heel, and still holding Jacen's lightsaber, took off down the path without looking back.
"Tell me," Merlin said to Leia, his voice silky. "From whence dost thou truly hail?"
"Far, far away," Leia replied, her gaze flickering toward the opening in the rock, and then down to Allana, who was busy stacking up a small pile of rocks into a pyramid shape.
"Thy powers be impressive. Perchance thee whilst takest me as thy apprentice?"
Ben snorted. "You're way too old to become Aunt Leia's padawan."
"Not to mention you're crazy," Han added.
"Old and crazy, thou sayest?" Merlin asked, waving his hand slightly. The rocks in the pile by Allana flew upward, striking the young girl in her face.
Allana let loose with a screech, and quickly attempted to use her hands to block further blows. Han and Leia both rushed toward their distressed grandchild, and Merlin used the distraction to jump to his feet and snatch up his staff.
"Take heart, brave Knights of the Roundtable!" Merlin cried out. "I shall returneth with King Arthur's entire army at my side to rescue thee!" He waved his wand, and disappeared into a puff of hazy red smoke.
Han twisted around, pointing his blaster at the befuddled knights and Guinevere. "Where did he go?"
"Back to Camelot," Lancelot replied. "Thy hours art few in number, Han Solo of Corellia."
Leia wiped the dirt off Allana's face, and gently dried the tears from her cheeks. Thankfully, the child only had a few minor cuts from the rocks on her forehead. "You just had to go and insult the Wizard, didn't you, Han?"
"Hey! Ben was the one that called the crazy guy 'old,'" Han protested. "That's what made him mad."
"And you'd rather be called crazy than old any day, right?"
"If he's really coming back with an entire army, I hope Dad hurries up," Ben said worriedly.
When Mara got close to the canyon, she could see two men standing near the edge. The younger one was Anakin Solo, but her eyes could not tear away from the older man. "LUKE!"
The Jedi Master broke into a run, and caught up his wife in a crushing hug. "Mara… my Mara…" he mumbled over and over into her hair. "My love… " Luke's words choked off into a sob. "I can't believe I'm holding you in my arms again."
"I knew if there was a way to find me, you'd do it," Mara whispered. "We'll never be apart, ever again."
As he watched his aunt and uncle reunite, Anakin smiled in relief. Neither one was complete without the other. His gaze moved away, and toward the man walking in his direction. He waited until Jacen got closer before he spoke, "Hello, Brother. It's been a long time."
"Yeah," Jacen could only manage to say. His vocal chords didn't seem to be cooperating.
"Our grandfather, Anakin Skywalker, has been watching you," Anakin continued. "You've been breaking his heart. You've been breaking a lot of hearts, Jacen."
"But I'm here," Jacen whispered. "I'm here to put things right. Back the way they're supposed to be."
"Nothing you can do will ever put things right," Anakin said. "It's too late for the vast majority of people you've killed, and the lives you've destroyed." He turned when two more people approached down the path. "Jaina and Tenel Ka have arrived." He ran to hug his sister, and left Jacen to face Tenel Ka alone.
The Hapan walked slowly and deliberately up to the man she'd once loved. "Jacen. I'm surprised to see you."
"I will be happy when I see Allana, and not a moment before."
Jacen looked accusingly at Luke. "You picked the wrong paths for us to take."
"No, he didn't," Anakin replied. "Uncle Luke has spent years feeling guilt over my death. He needed to be the one to find me, to bring an end to his grief and remorse. That's why the Force sent him down that particular path."
"And I would not have been pleased to see you, Jacen," Tenel Ka said. "Meeting Jaina before I saw you gave me time to compose myself. Our reunion would not have been the pleasant vision you had in mind, and that is a fact."
"It also goes without saying that you and Mara had issues to resolve," Jaina said.
Jacen pointed his finger accusingly at Mara. "She intends to kill me when we get back to the real world."
"Your behavior will dictate my actions," Mara replied calmly.
"We still need to get back through the Mists," Luke told the group. "We have to figure out the gifts the Lady of the Lake wants."
"That's right," Jacen said. "Maybe this was all a waste of time. We don't have a clue what this Lady wants. We might not be able to take them back with us at all."
"The Lady is merely a visual representation of the Force," Tenel Ka told him as she smiled sadly. "The gifts must come from you, Jacen."
"I… I don't understand."
Mara broke away from Luke's tight hold. "Then I'll explain the rules, Jacen. It's your turn to make the sacrifices that truly matter. If you want to show the galaxy and the Force you deserve a second chance, this is your one and only opportunity. In order for me to cross the bridge and go through the portal, you have to stay here, on this planet, until the end of your natural life. The price the Lady demands for my life is a home in the sky. Your home in the sky. Never again will you travel through the stars. It's the gift you need to give up for me."
"And as for me," Anakin said, stepping toward Jacen, "The gift will be your ability to access the Force. Even when you get back through the Mists, your connection will remain severed until your final journey back here. And even then, the only way it will return is if you live a life of penitence, helping others whenever you have the chance, and never putting your own needs before others."
Tenel Ka nodded, and took Jacen's trembling hands in her own. "My way back is your heart, Jacen. You've built up a wall around your heart, making it like stone. That heart of stone must soften. You will always remember me, and the daughter we had together. But you will never see us again, or know what becomes of us. And that will break your heart for the rest of your life, and cause you deep pain. Am I worth endless heartache, Jacen?"
"It's not fair," Jacen said softly. "Why do I have to be the one to give up everything?"
"Because you took everything," Luke replied. "And now it's time to give back, even if it costs you everything you care about."
Jacen stepped away from the group, and looked across the wooden bridge, to the far side where the Mists and Cecil waited.
"What's your answer?" Jaina asked quietly as she came up behind her twin. "Are you still a Sith, or not?"
Jacen dropped to his knees, and hung his head. "What choice do I have?"
"You can always refuse," Anakin replied. "Things will just remain the way they were before you took the journey through the portal. Of course, Uncle Luke and Jaina will have to stay here, too, so you might want to take that into consideration."
"I wouldn't care for that a bit," Mara put in. "Ben needs one of his parents."
"What about me?" Jacen questioned. "Could I go back?"
"You can't stay in this place," Anakin answered. "You haven't earned the right to stay. You'd have to journey back across the bridge, and hope it holds up. Uncle Luke wouldn't be able to rescue you again if you fell."
Tenel Ka knelt down beside Jacen. "Think about this. If you return to our galaxy, you will surely be held accountable for everything you've done. Will a life spent in prison, or a death sentence imposed by either a government or the Mandalorians be better?" When Jacen didn't reply, Tenel Ka continued, "The life you make here can be a good one, Jacen, although it won't be easy. Many people live on this planet. You can find love among the humans here and build a home and have a family."
Jacen looked up at Tenel Ka. "You and Allana are my family."
"Either way, you won't have us, Jacen."
"I, I guess you're right," Jacen said dully as he stood up. "I'll agree to these so-called gifts."
Luke smiled, and helped his nephew to his feet. "Come on. I'll lead the way across the bridge this time. Mara will follow me, then Jacen, Tenel Ka, Anakin, and Jaina can bring up the rear." He looked at his solemn-faced family. "Are we ready?"
They nodded in agreement, and carefully walked the bridge, one at a time. This time there were no incidents, and everyone breathed a sigh of relief when Jaina's last foot reached solid ground. Cecil woofed, and bobbed her long neck.
"We have to hurry," Luke said. "There's trouble beyond the Mists."
Han glanced at his chrono, then frowned toward the passageway. "What's taking them so long?"
"They haven't been gone all that long," Leia pointed out.
"That crazy old wizard has been gone for over two hours now."
Ben bit his lower lip. "Aunt Leia? I'm sensing trouble."
"Hey, kid," Han said. "I can sense trouble, and I'm not even a Jedi."
"He's right," Leia told Han. "I can feel a large group of angry people headed this way, and Merlin's in the lead."
"Verily," Lancelot said, tilting up his chin and smirking. "We shall see if three of thee canst standeth against all of Arthur's vast army."
"King Arthur may yet show mercy, if thou see fit to alloweth us our freedom," Guinevere stated. "I promise to speaketh in thy favor."
Leia considered the Queen's words. "Alright. I can't see any reason why not."
"What?" Han protested. "She's our insurance against a full scale assault!"
"I have to agree with Uncle Han this time," Ben said. "They'll be less likely to attack us if they're afraid of harming their Queen."
"I'd prefer it if they decided not to attack us at all," Leia said. "If we show them we mean them no harm by returning their Queen, it seems there might be a good possibility they'll just turn around and go back to their village."
"You need to stop seeing the sunny side of every situation, sweetheart."
Leia laughed, and waved at the two knights and the Queen. "Get up, and go meet up with King Arthur's army. Tell them we're leaving as soon as our family gets back, and we won't be causing any more problems."
Lancelot hurriedly pulled Guinevere to her feet. "Surely we shall endeavor to convince the King's army of thy kindhearted generosity." He took the Queen's hand and started to rush away, then paused and turned to Lanval, who hadn't budged. "Why dost thou linger?"
"Stayeth behind I shall, and ensure they keepeth their word and art truly removed from Camelot," Lanval declared.
"Tis naught thy true reason!" Lancelot cried out. "Thou stayeth behind to continue thy vain quest to woo fair Jaina!"
"I say naught of thy ill-conceived affair of the heart," Lanval shot back hotly. "Now departeth, or surely I shall find the King's ear."
Lancelot glared at his former friend. "Tis thy dirge." With that last threat, he hustled away with Queen Guinevere.
"Jaina is not gonna marry you," Han said with a tired sigh. "You should've gone with your buddy."
"Know not I what this 'buddy' tis that thou speaketh, only knowest that I must lay mine eyes upon the vision that be sweet Jaina once more."
"Poor Jaina," Ben muttered under his breath.
No sooner had Lancelot and Guinevere disappeared into the woods, when Cecil appeared through the misty corridor, followed by Luke and Mara.
"MOM!" Ben screamed, throwing himself at his mother.
Leia wrapped her arms around her stomach, watching with wide eyes as Jacen emerged. Tenel Ka was right behind him, and she wasted no time locating her child, covering her daughter with kisses. Anakin Solo came through next, with Jaina on his heels.
"Anakin…" Leia gasped. Her head was spinning and she was barely aware of Han's arm tightening around her. "Anakin…"
"My boy," Han croaked out.
The long-lost son embraced his parents, trying to soothe their broken sobs. "It's okay," he said softly.
"No, it's not," Han said, wiping his eyes. "I never had the chance to make up for my behavior .."
"Dad, I knew you loved me," Anakin interrupted. "It's time to stop beating yourself up for the mistakes of the past."
Han nodded. "We're all together again. That's all that matters."
"What about the gifts?" Leia questioned. "Has anyone figured out what we need to take to the Lady of the Lake?"
"That's been all taken care of," Mara answered. "Right, Jacen?"
"What does that mean?" Han demanded to know.
"We'll explain, but not right now," Luke said. "I can sense a great many people coming our way, and they feel pretty determined."
Cecil barked, and nuzzled Jacen's arm. His twin sister smiled. "Cecil is willing to take care of you, Jacen. She'll protect you and keep you safe until you can adjust to this life."
"This life?" Han repeated, blinking in confusion. "You'd better explain, and right now!"
"The gifts for returning everyone back to the living were from Jacen," Luke said. "He needed to give up the Force, his family, and the means to travel among the stars."
"He can't stay here, all alone," Leia protested. "This is a violent society!"
"Is it any more violent than our galaxy, with its endless wars?" Tenel Ka asked Leia. "I believe Jacen will actually be safer here, far away from those that hate him and seek revenge."
Jacen nodded, kissing Allana's head. "You'd better get going. I'll make a noise to distract the army, and give you a good head start to your ships."
"I guess I was wrong," Mara said, holding out her hand to the man that had killed her. "You've proven that you're no longer a Sith."
He took her hand in gratitude. "I still have a way to go to atone for my life, and have the Force returned to me."
"You'll do it," Mara said, truly believing her words.
"Thank you for not killing me when we got back through the portal."
Mara laughed, and held out his lightsaber as she returned the weapon. "Consider it my gift to you - an act of mercy, Jacen."
"Even I don't hate you anymore, Jacen," Ben added. "I truly hope your life turns out good on this planet."
"Hate is of the darkside, Ben," Jacen said, ruffling the younger boy's hair. "Listen to your father. He's a wise Jedi, and someday you'll be just as great as he is now."
Han stepped toward his older son. "I didn't mean to exchange one son for the other when I came here."
"You believed in me, Dad," Jacen said, swallowing to keep the lump down. "When no one else believed, you did."
"My faith in you was justified."
The Princess gave Jacen a tight hug, tears coursing down her cheeks. "I love you. Be safe."
"We'd better go," Luke warned. "We don't have much time to get to our ships before they arrive."
Mara nodded her agreement, and watched as Luke gave Jacen one last hug. Then the three Skywalkers headed toward the Jade Shadow, and the Solo family started toward the hiding place of the Millennium Falcon.
"Jaina!" Lanval shouted as they started to leave. "I shan't imagine life without thee!"
The young woman smiled and stepped toward the love-sick knight. "I'll miss you, too, Lanval. If you want to make me happy, I'd appreciate it if you hung around my brother, and helped keep him safe."
"Jaina…" Jacen warned, his face growing concerned.
Lanval's face, however, lit up. "Truly? Then I shall follow Jacen of Coruscant to the ends of Earth, all the rest of my days to protect him from all evil!"
"Swell," Jacen muttered, watching as Jaina hurried to catch up to the rest of the family. Then the people he loved disappeared from his sight over a hilltop.
"Depart we shall, before yon army draweth nigh," Lanval told Jacen. "If thou trusteth me, I shall taketh thee to safe and far off lands to the south."
"What's the name of this land?" Jacen asked as the armored knight thunked noisily after him and Cecil.
"They calleth yon country Greece," Lanval replied. "Many tell strange tales about these parts."
"Sounds like my kind of place," Jacen said, as they headed south.