SUMMARY: Prequel of sorts to "Devotion", with references to the events in "Become." (for the links to those 2 stories, please see my homepage in my profile). This story takes place 5 months post-Episode 3. An old friend comes to the aid of Taash and Ryin months after the fall of the Jedi.

AUTHOR: Obi the Kid ()


DISCLAIMER: The characters and venue of Star Wars are copyrighted to Lucas Films Limited. The characters not recognizable from this venue are copyrighted to Tracy C. Knight. The story is the intellectual property of Tracy C. Knight and is copyrighted to her. There is no profit made from the writing or distribution of this story.

June 28, 2008

By all rights we should be dead. My master and I. We'd been discovered. Ratted out actually, by those we thought we could trust. We should have known better than to trust anyone. Since the fall of the Jedi and the rise of the Empire five months ago, there's been no such thing. We have each other. That's all there is. The band of raiders that we'd come to know over the last few weeks, proved to be like so many others. The ransom on our heads was massive. Any Jedi handed over to the Empire alive was worth more than most would ever earn or steal in their lifetime. Yet we trusted them. They betrayed that trust. We never presented ourselves as Jedi, doing all we could to hide our true identities. Obviously, it hadn't been enough against this band of marauders.

Fortunately as is the usual with raiders, money means conflict. Especially when they are determined that their reward should be double, since they were turning two Jedi over to the Empire. It didn't take long before disagreement turned violent. My master and I were caught in the middle. Our sabers already having been taken by the enemy, we had little to fend off attacks. The Force was an ally as always, but there was no mistaking that we were severely outnumbered and overpowered.

I saw Master Taash go down first. A blaster shot in the shoulder knocked him off his feet. His head slammed against the hard sand. I lost track of him. I remember trying to get to him, then feeling an intense burning sensation in the back of my head and neck. Much of what followed was a wave of light and dark, as I faded in and out. I heard shouts. I saw more blaster fire. The unmistakable sound of a light saber igniting horrified me. Master Taash screamed. I heard the sound of approaching ships. Warning sirens. More shouting.

Then nothing.

Now I am here. Wherever that is. All I know is that it's warm. And I'm alive.

New sounds bring me further out of my stupor. Gentle hands touch my arms, legs, neck and face. They aren't soft. I can feel calluses. I can feel webbing between the fingers.

I know this place. But I can't remember why. The scents are familiar. The feelings are familiar. The voice soothing me is familiar. It knows me. Knows my name. If only I could focus better. If only I could see more than a blur of gray when I open my eyes.

The voice continued. And it gave me reason to hope. It gave me comfort.

"It's all right, Ryin. You're safe with us. Taash is here. Safe. We will care for you until you need us no longer. We are friends. You can trust us."

Trust. Hadn't I done that recently only to be rewarded with the intense pain that is now washing through me? I would be even more wary of it now. I was worried for my master, even though the voice told me he was out of harm's way.

If only I could place the voice. Place the sounds and smells that I could feel around me. I tried to speak, but all that came out was a dry croaking sound. My throat burned. But I could feel my arms and legs. That had to be a positive. I couldn't move them without pain, but at least there was sensation there.

I closed my eyes, squeezing them shut. Then opened them again. Still nothing but a grayness existed.

The voice spoke to me again.

"You took blaster fire to the back of the head. It may have affected your sight. We think it's only temporary though. Give it time, Ryin. We were afraid for you when we saw your injuries, especially the head wound. Part of me thought we might lose you before we had a chance. But we were ready this time. The last time you were here, we didn't have any idea how to treat you as a human. And we didn't have the tools to do so either. We've learned a lot since that time. Our doctors learned from your healers. We have become a force in the medical field now. Though I never thought we'd have to use our abilities for something like this."

I knew where I was now. Ventas. And the voice caring for me was no longer strangely familiar. I knew who it belonged to. Vallon Colton. Future Governor Vallon Colton. My friend. My ally.

Closing my eyes I allowed myself to drift back those many years ago to when I was ten years old. Master Taash and I had been dispatched to Ventas for trade negotiations. I immediately befriended the Governor's son, Vallon. Or more appropriately, we befriended each other. I'd become violently ill while on the planet after being stung by a native jelly worm. Vallon spent many hours and many days worrying for me and feeling guilty that some of it had been his fault. At 

the time, Ventas was a planet that forbade their people from being Force sensitive. It was taken from them upon birth. Vallon, because of his importance to the future of the planet was not disturbed with the procedure to block Force ability. But he was not permitted to access or use it as he got older. Thus he held that great secret for the first ten years of his life. Our visit to the planet helped to change all of that. And Vallon and his parents engaged in their own mission to show the citizens that the Force could be a valuable ally. It could help them learn about other races and other beings. It could help them to learn how to medically treat those who fell outside of their own. It could help them prepare for the next time. Vallon had changed Ventas. Today was proof of that change. I felt my face smile through the pain.

"I can sense that you know where you are now, Ryin. Remember I told you that if you ever needed me, I would be there for you. This time, I didn't know it was you needing my help, but it's obvious now why the Force was insisting that I go to Charkus when I did. That's a planet that has become extremely unstable in the last two months. I've heard about its deterioration. The Empire chose it because of the high volume of criminals in the population. I don't know why you and Taash where there. Or why you were with those raiders. But my security team is one of the best there is. We outnumbered them and were able to pull you both to safety. They took heavy damage to their landing ships as well, courtesy of my marksman Adesh. You remember him, don't you? He was our driver when you were here long ago. Turns out he has many more talents then just being a good driver. His skill with weapons is extraordinary. We got you out and guarded as quickly as we could. You'll always be safe under my protection, Ryin. Always. I promise you."

I felt myself taking several shaky breaths. More sobs than anything. I think my body was reacting to the relief of being in the safe hands of a friend. A truly trusted friend.

I wished to see him. To look at his face again. The dark brown skin. The white hair. I'd missed him so. Although we'd kept in touch until the fall of the Jedi, I'd never gotten a chance to visit him again. I had tried several times. Master Taash tried for me too. But there was always something to obscure our path. Now, five months after the destruction of peace in the galaxy, and almost twelve years since we'd met as children, we finally meet again. He would be the same age as me. Twenty-two in standard years. When we last were together, we were only boys of ten. That didn't matter now. Our friendship had effortlessly transcended those years apart.

He placed a webbed hand on my head. "I need to go check on Taash, okay? I won't be a moment. If you need anything, press this button. Here, I'll place it in your hand. A nurse is only a step away. I'll return shortly."

A small device was pressed into my grasp. Vallon's hand held mine for a count. Then he was gone. I felt myself drifting off. So tired. I fought it though. I needed to hear about Taash. I needed to make sure my master was well. Then I could sleep.

As promised, my friend returned. Although I wasn't sure of how much time had passed. My head was spinning so badly, just keeping my thoughts straight was difficult. His hand lay on the side of my face.

"I'm here, Ryin. All is well. Taash was awake. He asked about you. He recognized me immediately."

A relief. That meant that he hadn't lost his vision as I had.

"He said I am starting to look like my father. I let him know that you were awake, but having some difficulty. But that you would be fine under our care. We'll try to move him tomorrow, get him to sit up. If he can, we'll bring him in to see you. I know it's unsettling being separated after what you've been through since…"

He didn't have to say it. He knew the friends we'd lost. The comfort we'd lost. Those of us that remained were in a constant race for our lives to stay hidden. Being discovered meant certain death. And if not for Vallon's interference today, that would have been the ultimate fate of Taash and myself once the Empire had us in its possession. We were fortunate.

I remember another friend telling me how important it was to maintain my friendships. Qui-Gon Jinn expressed that to me when we'd returned home after that first trip to Ventas years ago. He told me that I might never know when one of those friendships would come back to me when it was most needed.

Thinking back, I realized how much I missed my Jedi friends. It hurt to think about them. Qui-Gon had died years before the purge. Obi-Wan had watched the suffering as I did. I was only fifteen at the time, but I remember it so well. He watched his own apprentice bring pain and death to the Jedi. Then Obi-Wan disappeared. We never knew if he had been killed or not. Master Taash though has never believed him to be dead. There was something in the Force that told him Obi-Wan was alive. It was part of what we'd been spending the past five months doing. Avoiding capture. Trying to make a life for ourselves. And never giving up the search for our friend.

Pain brought me from my memories. It shot through my head so intensely that I felt my entire body tense. I moaned. My eyes watered. Hands on my own sought to calm me.

"Shhh. Easy, Ryin. Try and relax. Focus on my voice. Think about the ocean. The salty breeze. The sand on your feet. Remember when we were ten and playing on the beach. How soft and warm it was. Remember the dolph fish playing in the waves."

Whatever Vallon was doing, it was working. His voice guided me away from the distress. The pain eased as my thoughts shifted to pleasant memories of the past. The next thing I knew, there was a gentle something being pressed into my left arm. My thoughts blurred.

"Let the drugs help you, Ryin. You need to sleep for a bit. This will help the pain as well. I'll be here when you wake. I promise."

Feeling safe in the secure comfort of a trusted friend, and knowing that my master was being cared for, I stopped fighting and surrendered to the darkness.

I panicked the next time I woke. I'd forgotten where I was. Then the grayness of my sight brought me back. Injured, but safe.

Vallon's voice hovered next to me. His hand grasping mine to let me know he was there. Relief once again.

I offered several weak attempts to clear my throat and speak, but it just burned.

"You inhaled a lot of dust and sand, Ryin. We've flushed your throat, but it's quite inflammed. Dr. Nyri, you remember him. He's still with me. He's been keeping tabs on everything. He thinks another couple days before you'll be able to talk, drink or eat anything. We'll keep you hydrated with IV's until then. Can you see anything this morning?"

I shook my head and blinked my blank eyes.

"You're very lucky the blaster was long range and didn't hit you a few inches to the right. You also took some minor nerve damage in your legs. Temporary, yes, but uncomfortable I'm sure.

I nodded, wishing I could speak to him. Wishing I could do more than just lie here in sightless agony.

"Taash woke early this morning, Ryin. He's much improved from yesterday. A minor concussion and some damage caused by a blaster wound in his left shoulder. Someone used a light saber on him. Sliced that same shoulder and arm. It'll take some therapy to get it back in working order. That arm is wrapped tight and somewhat useless right now. The pain medication seems to be working. But he's already on the path to healing. Would you like to see him?"

I heard Vallon's voice flinch a touch when he said the word 'see'. He immediately regretted it, but didn't let on. I nodded. I was eager to feel my master's presence near me again. For five months we've been on the run. Relying only on each other as we remained in a continuous battle of being captured and killed. We were all we had. Our already powerful bond had grown in these past months. We relied on 

each other for our very lives. The destruction of the temple and our friends, swas still a steady thought in our minds. If Master Taash had been killed…

My thoughts died as I heard him being assisted into my room. He must have been in some type of chair, because when his voice came to me it was almost level with my pillowed head. A familiar touch to my forehead, something he'd done with me since I was a boy to settle me when I was troubled. This time it brought tears to my eyes. The burning in my throat intensified as I struggled to maintain control. If I had lost my master, I would have lost everything. And although Vallon had told me several times that he was all right, a part of me had to feel it to truly believe it.

He spoke softly to me as if I were a young apprentice again.

"I'm here, Padawan. Not in the best of shape of my life, but I am here. We're safe. Looks like we survived another impossible situation, thanks to our long ago friends here on Ventas. I won't stay long. Dr. Nyri says you need rest. Your body is overtaxed and needs to begin to heal."

I pushed my head against his hand, wishing for the continued contact. He was my family. My home. And I needed that feeling of comfort right now. I think he picked up on it as well, because he said nothing else about leaving the room. The contact never wavered.

"Wait until you see what they've done here, Ryin. The medical ward is incredible. What they've learned, what they've built…it's something to be proud of. The planet is still one of pure beauty. There is very little evidence of any imperial presence. Although Vallon says some have been here and left. Scouting the planet it would seem. Looking for people like us. I only wish we could stay here. But you know as soon as we are both well, we must leave. It's much too dangerous for us and for the citizens here. We cannot put lives in jeopardy simply to house ourselves. Our life is one of constant motion now. Always running. Always wary. But we'll be okay. We've managed this far, haven't we?"

I felt myself trying to smile as I managed a slight nod against his hand. We had come so far. Encountered so much. Our endurance has been tested more than enough. Being on the run isn't something I would recommend to anyone. Yet it's shown us many faces of war. All over the galaxy, everyday people fight against the Empire. They risk their homes. Their freedom. Their lives in order to struggle for what they believe in. It's given Taash and I hope that one day that will be enough to bring the current evil to its knees. Perhaps that's a long way off. Perhaps just wishful thinking. But we've seen the strength of a few and the power it creates. There is hope for better.

My head is pounding again. My master has moved his hand from my head to clasp his fingers around mine. I can feel the Force flowing between us. Stronger than it's ever been. In this time of confusion and uncertainty, we've both been grateful that the Force has never deserted us. It's our greatest source of strength, next to each other.

The pain is easing some.

On the other side of me, another hand. Vallon. The Force moves around him like a whirlwind, but gentle at the same time. It's an odd sensation, feeling the Force so strongly from a non-Jedi. It brings with it a different power than what surrounds Taash. It feels nice. Calming. Reassuring.

I knew then that Taash wasn't the only one I could call family.

Evidently I slept for the next two days, because when I woke, I saw worried faces. I saw them. They were a little blurry. A little grayer than I would have guessed they should be. But I could see them. They must have noticed it too, because worries turned to smiles.

"Welcome back, Padawan."

I squinted at my blurry master.

"It seems that being unconscious for two days is just what you needed. Your eyes look less clouded."

I played with my throat for a moment, testing it to see if it was workable and less painful. I surprised myself by being able to form a few scratchy words. "Blurry though."

Vallon moved a step closer to me. "Dr. Nyri is on his way. He'll be pleased to see your progress. How is your head?"

"Hurts." I managed to get out. "Feels heavy. Dizzy"

"Don't push yourself, Ryin," Taash instructed me. "The shot to your head was severe. You may feel lingering effects for some time. Remember that mission when you were thirteen and you whacked your head on the rocks as we descended that mountain? Talk about an odd mission. But you ended it nicely with a solid concussion. You were miserable for a week. This is worse than that, although I'm sure you can feel the similarities."

I nodded. I remembered that mission all too well. It was disastrous from start to finish. I helped add to it when I hurried too quickly down the slope, slipped in the mud and hit my head. I was young and foolish at the time. I learned my lesson though and I survived that well enough. I could manage this.

I turned my head towards my friend, trying to focus on the face that I'd not seen in twelve years. Vallon looked so much different than when I last saw him. Of course he, like myself, was older. His striking white hair was longer, falling just past his 

shoulders. His skin had darkened several shades. A trait of the Ventas people. As they aged, skin would darken to show maturity. There was still an air of confidence about him. I have no doubt he'd become strong in the Force, learning from it and working with it to bring change to his planet. I saw his clothing. He wore the symbol of the governor on his jacket. A frown crossed my lips. Had he become the leader of Ventas already? From what I had known of his people, there had never been a leader younger than fifty standard years to hold the highest ranking office. It was unheard of in the long history of Ventas.

I managed to croak out a surprised and stumbled, "You…governor?"

His black eyes smiled at me as he nodded proudly. "I am. Father fell ill two years ago, to the point there he could not maintain his duties. The governing board decided that I should temporarily take the office until he was able to return, with them watching me closely of course. Father never recovered to the point where he could handle the day to day obligations any longer. He is officially retired and spends his days lounging on the beaches and playing games with his ah, older friends. Although he still offers me guidance and support. I was officially named governor last year. The youngest in our history. Not bad, huh?"

"Brought change. Ventas is…fortunate to have you. It's good to see you again."

He pulled a small chair to the bedside and sat close. "You look weary, Ryin. You and Taash both. And not because of the injuries. I sense you've had a difficult life since the Jedi fell."

I gave a side-long glance at my master. He offered a slow approving blink telling me that it was okay to confide in Vallon. Okay to trust.

"Been hard." The more I spoke, the better my throat began to feel. I sat partially upright now, sipping slowly on a cup of water that Taash had given me. The cool liquid sliding down my throat felt wonderful, a feeling that clashed with my distressing words. "Lost everyone. Friends. Teachers. Initiates."

"But you escaped the temple when this was happening?"

I shook my head. "No. On a mission at the time. Helped by the leader of the planet we were on. Good man. Hid us until we could flee."

"Did any other Jedi survive?"

My heart ached to think about so many lost. So many that I'd come to know and respect as friends and mentors. I only wish I knew that some had survived. "Don't know. If so, they're in hiding too." Another sip of water then I laid my head back against the pillow. Exhaustion wasn't word enough to demonstrate what was slamming into me. As my vision cleared a bit more, my head swam with surging arrows of pain. Too much excursion I suppose.

My eyes were heavy. I closed them.

My master's hand stroked my face again. A whisper. A touch. I felt the Force gathering around me as I faded into sleep.

The next thing I remember was hearing an awful growling, rumbling noise. It was close and getting louder. After a few minutes I realized that the noise was coming from me. More specifically, from my stomach. I was hungry.

My vision was almost normal now. Just a small amount of blurring in the corners. I could see the room was empty. And it was quiet. Too quiet.

Even though my head still hurt, I reached for the Force sending a tendril out in search of Taash. He was near and coming closer. I hoped he had food.

He didn't. But he walked into my room under his own power. Left arm still wrapped. In his right, was a large mug of a steaming something. It smelled like fresh pala berries. He held it out to me. I inhaled the magical aroma of my favorite drink, sweet pala berry tea. Vallon had done it again. His amazing talent for researching the exact type of food one would need in each and every circumstance was uncanny. Not only were pala berries the sweetest tasting fruit in the galaxy, but mixed with tea, they held a great healing power…for scratchy throats.

"Thank you, Master. Smells wonderful. You?"

"I had some a while ago. I've been up most of the night."

Immediately I was concerned. It wasn't like Master Taash to not be able to sleep. I was the one always suffering with insomnia. Taash could sleep anywhere, any time. "You all right?"

I relaxed when he gave me that 'stop worrying so much' look. "A lot of pain in my arm last night. The meds didn't help much this time. So it wasn't a fun evening. That and I was worried about you. I don't like seeing my apprentice hurting, you know that. Dr. Nyri did another head scan while you were sleeping. Everything looks okay. Swelling in the contusion area has gone down. Just some after affects of the concussion. So, you have a bit more suffering to do yet. Better news than that though, you are getting out of bed today to test your legs. The doctor wants to see how much strength you have in them. He had injected you with a serum that aids nerve regeneration. The damage wasn't as bad as he first thought, so he thinks it'll only be a few days until you're moving around well enough."

The tea had cooled slightly and I took a long satisfying drink then looked back to Taash. "How long before we have to leave here?"

"I think we're safe for the time being. Adesh is keeping eyes and ears out for anything suspicious. No sign right now of any imperial forces returning. If it stays that way, we can remain here until we're both completely healed. It'll be good for us to have a chance to settle for a while. We're both tired, Ryin."

He'd get no disagreement from me on that one. Running was difficult, but necessary for survival. Staying in one place too long raised flags and caused problems for us and for those around us. Innocents who had done nothing to deserve the Empire coming after them because suspected Jedi were near. We didn't dare endanger any lives other than our own. So a nomadic life had become us. It wasn't all bad. Many of the people we'd met were those we had protected for so many centuries. They had no idea we were Jedi, but it always made Taash and I proud to see some of these people succeed, even in the shadow of the Emperor.

But the thing that touched us most, were the families that we met along the way. Families brought closer together by the threat of darkness. Families that had struggled all their lives for something better, only to realize that what they had with each other was all they ever needed. Those experiences brought my master and I closer together. Often we could get away with pretending to be brothers. At times, some thought us father and son. Others just saw us as two friends with a troubled past, now trying to make amends and hide from those who sought to have us pay for it. It didn't really matter how we were perceived, as long as we continued on together.

"Maybe one day Master, we'll be able to stop running. But if there are other Jedi out there, we need to try and find them. It's the only hope of ever allowing light back into the galaxy." I sighed and watched Taash carefully. I'd been worried about him before this most recent incident. It was a heavy burden to carry, being perhaps the last of the Jedi. The pressure on us to survive was intense beyond belief at times. Taash, always the teacher, often concerned himself too much with my well being instead of his own. If we were to continue to live the life of nomads, we needed to revaluate things. We needed to find rest once in a while. If we didn't, our days on the run would be few.

I noticed his hair. Much shorter than it had been only days before. Trimmed to lay on his shoulders. The sun had bleached it in places, so it fell with less brown than it used to have. His eyes were still circled with darkness, and his tanned face had aged from the constant sun exposure. Even with the blue robes we now wore, the intensity of the suns on some of these planets was overwhelming and had aged us. But right now, he looked…clean?

"You've been pampered a bit I see," I said to him as I reached up and fiddled with a longer strand of my own hair. Mine too has grown longer. I had still been a padawan at the time the Jedi fell. But I'd had no choice but to neglect my hair since that time. It had grown out some, but at odd angles. It could use some help. I wondered if I might enjoy some of the same pampering as my master.

"Vallon offered. How could I resist? One of his staff is known for her hairstyling abilities, so he says. And I figured it might be the last chance we get for a while. You'll see her tomorrow afternoon. How long has it been since our hair and our entire bodies really have been completely clean. No dirt. No sand. No sweat. There's a therapy tub there too that you'll want live in for the rest of your life. Trust me when I say that you will not want to get out. Too bad we can't take it with us when we leave."

I laughed. Felt good. And it was nice to hear Taash's sense of humor returning. We'd made the best of what we had since being on the run. But it was more than either of us were ready to handle. Between the constant threat of death or capture and the inability to stay in one place too long, we'd both lost the ability to laugh at the situations we encountered. It was just too taxing. But this felt nice. We needed this.

I'd already been out of bed once. Talk about painful. My legs still ache from those excruciating thirty minutes. This time, I had Taash on one side of me. Dr. Nyri on the other as I wobbled and hobbled my way slowly to the end of the medical ward hall. Okay, so the short journey that should have taken about forty seconds to navigate, took me ten minutes, but I got there. The room we entered was enormous. And bright. The windows had been set intentionally to take full advantage of the sun. And of course, as I remembered from our first trip here year ago, most rooms had an extraordinary view of the ocean. No exception here.

I noticed a short round woman standing near a sink. Her skin was almost black. Her smooth wavy hair was as white as Hoth snow. And long. Very long. Pulled back, it draped almost to her knees. She waved me over, her friendly and warm face welcoming me. I was reminded of stories I'd heard about cherished grandmothers. She fit the part to perfection.

"Come young Ryin. Come. My name is Ginny. Dr. Nyri tells me that you are in desperate need of a haircut and a therapy bath. I will provide both."

I frowned momentarily and looked at my master. He blinked at me and smiled. "We'll don't look at me. I'm certainly not giving you a bath, Padawan."


"Trust me, you will feel like a different person after the therapy bath. And like I mentioned before, you'll want to take it with you when you leave."

He squeezed my shoulder, helped me sit in the chair near a large sink, and then left the room. Dr. Nyri followed suit. It was just Ginny and me now. Funny thing though, I felt not a worry. Not an uncomfortable thought at all. Her aura was that relaxing.

Gently she pushed my head back onto a padded air-filled pillow. The running water was soft and warm as it cascaded through my hair.

"Sand and dirt. Just like your friend, Taash. So very dirty. You boys should clean up once in a while."

Her voice was a little crotchety, but it felt right. She spent a good forty minutes washing, rinsing, cutting, and then massaging my scalp. Careful to avoid too much pressure in the area where I'd been shot. Her ancient hands worked magic though, and every ounce of my constant headache had disappeared by the time she was finished.

"Let me help you up. We're going over to that chair there next to the tub. The water is ready. Do you need any help with your clothes?"

I looked down at myself as I shuffled to the other chair. I had on soft pants and a shirt, standard Ventas hospital garb from what I could tell. Hopefully I could maintain a tiny drop of dignity and get my own self undressed. Maybe.

Or maybe not. I couldn't lean over. I felt a rushing in my head as I did and my headache remerged. "Ginny, I think I do need your help. It's difficult to lean very far. Makes me feel light-headed."

With a motherly smile and a physical strength that belied her stature, she helped me with the clothes and assisted me into the large tub. A temperate flow of water under the soap bubbles began pulsing around my legs immediately as I lowered myself in.

"Don't fall in to far now, young Ryin. Keep your head above the water. Let the kneading action work its magic. It will help the aches and the pains. Trust an old woman when she says this. This tub is the reason I am still walking around at my age."

Yes, I had to ask. "Ginny, may I ask how old you are?"

"By your human years, I would be one hundred and twenty-five."

I blinked up at her, and I know she felt my surprise.

"Don't look a day over eighty, do I?"

I laughed again. I don't know if it was proper to laugh while speaking with a lady about her age, but it seemed right. "I was going to say fifty."

"Oh, you flatter an old lady like that. You and that handsome teacher of yours. I didn't meet you at the time, but I remember hearing about your first trip here to Ventas. How difficult it was, but how your visit was the catalyst for change unlike we've ever seen. In all my years, I've not seen or heard of a leader like Vallon 

Colton. Never will again, I suppose. He's done good things here, Ryin. He's a good boy too. Respects his parents. Helps his father. Accepts advice when he should. I'm glad he's gotten to see you again. He spoke of you often in years gone by. Always hoping to see you again. Your messages to him always brought a smile. He would tell me all about what you were up to. You are important to him, Ryin. Always will be. Which is why I don't think him finding you was an accident."

I lifted a wet eyebrow at her. Not sure exactly what she meant.

"The Force, Ryin. The Force. He's told me all about that as well. He felt something a few days before he found you and Taash on Charkus. Said the Force was pulling him there. He even postponed important meetings with neighboring leaders to go to Charkus."

Leaning my head back again, I closed my eyes. Content. The temperate water continued to sooth my aches. "I think perhaps the Force has bonded us in a way. Not unlike my master and I, to a lesser extent. But it's there."

"He will be your friend always, Ryin. Never forget that. Now, no more talking. I promise to quiet down myself. Relax into the water. No tension. Lower your shoulders. Release the stress in them. I will get some new clothes for you and be back shortly."

I must have fallen asleep in the water because when I opened my eyes, Taash was staring at me. "It's about time you woke up, Ryin."

"Master! What are you doing in here? Get out. Please. I'm in the tub in case you haven't noticed." I made sure the plentiful bubbles were covering the correct areas." My master was evidently in good humor.

"Would you relax? There are enough bubbles in there to hide an imperial battle cruiser. I just wanted to check on you. Ginny said you were sleeping very hard, snoring even. She didn't have the heart to wake you."

"So you volunteered?"

"What are masters for, right? Even when their apprentices aren't apprentices any more. Actually I brought clothes that Ginny found for you. Vallon has also given us new travel clothes and new packs as well. He saw our old dusty ones. And, he is returning this."

Taash held up a long silver cylindrical object. It looked just like…the hilt of my light saber. I couldn't stop the extra wide smile that came over me then. "How did he get these back? I thought the imperials took them for certain. Yours too?"

"Yes, he was able to get both of them back. He won't say how or when it happened; only that it did."

A wave of relief came over me. My saber was one of the few remaining things that I had left from my life as a Jedi. It held memories of sparring with my friends. Of teachings from my master. Memories that I feared lost when we'd come under attack this last time. Somehow having this back made me feel whole again.

"I'll hang on to it for now. Vallon has offered me a lock box for them until we're ready to leave. Are you done shriveling? Your fingers are so wrinkled you're starting to look like Master Yoda."

I glanced at my fingers. They'd been in the water so long they no longer resembled my own skin. But they didn't ache anymore. "I guess I should get out now. But you'll have to leave."

"But you can't get out of the tub on your own. Especially after being in there for a week."

He had a point. But I was still intent on maintaining my adult dignity. And besides, he only had one good arm right now. So I told him that. "Master, you only have one good arm right now. You can't help me even if I wanted you to."

"Rejecting your own master. I'd never thought I'd see the day."

I just shook my head. He winked at me, smirking the entire time.

"Ginny and Dr. Nyri are right outside the door. I'll send them in. You're headed back to your bed though. Vallon is bringing dinner after his meeting is over."

"Yes, Master Taash." I was always a good, obedient apprentice.

"Don't get smart with your master, young man."

Taash laughed as he left the room. I returned the gesture. Something about this place made us both feel at peace. Made us both feel happy. I knew that it wasn't coincidence that brought us here. Destiny did. The Force made certain of it. We'd needed this time badly. Even if meant being wounded to find it. Our bodies, our minds, our souls ached for this time to mend and to find ourselves again. This visit had possibly saved our lives in more ways than one.

It was time to leave. As much as Taash and I hated to do it. We'd been here almost three weeks now. Already too long. We'd been pressing our luck. Two teams of imperial troops had been seen several cities to the west. They would eventually make their way here to the capital. We had time, but only enough to say our goodbyes.

We both were recovered well enough. Taash was still having some weakness in his right arm, but he'd gotten over half of its use back. Vallon had provided us with 

extra clothes, new packs and food to start us on our journey to wherever. He was even providing us transport to any planet we chose. Adesh would be our pilot to drop us at our destination. We'd decided on Tatooine. Taash had a feeling about it. The Force was hinting to him that it might offer temporary safety and…something else. Something that was unclear.

Seemed a good a place as any. It's so filled with criminal and other seedy activity; we might slide right under any imperial trouble. It was hot there though. Really hot. And dusty. And sandy. All the things that the wonderful therapy tub had removed from my body. They would be put right back on. I suppose it could be worse though. I still had my master with me. We'd manage.

Vallon stood at the foot of the ship's ramp waiting for us. He looked confident. Strong. But at the same time, sad. Once again we were saying goodbye. I would have loved nothing more than to spend the rest of my days here on Ventas. It was that beautiful. It just wasn't meant to be.

His black eyes held waiting tears and he smiled sorrowfully at us. "If you ever need a place to hide, you come here. Don't even hesitate. Understand me?"

Taash and I nodded. My throat was tight. I've always hated goodbyes. But given the circumstances surrounding the underlying reason for our visit here this time, this goodbye was one of the most difficult of my life. Taash found it easier to speak than I. He reached out and drew Vallon to him in a warm embrace. "Thank you for everything, Vallon. We owe you our lives."

"You owe me nothing. Just promise me that you will be careful and safe. And that if you ever need to stop running, you find me. I will be there." My master nodded and stepped back. He took a deep breath then boarded the ship.

I looked at Vallon Colton. Governor. Leader. Friend. Brother. I never imagined our paths would have crossed under circumstances like this. I just hoped this would not be the last time.

My eyes closed. An action that did little to prevent the tears. Vallon pulled me to him and held tightly. "If you go and get yourself killed, Ryin, I will never forgive you."

I laughed through my tears. "I'll do my best, Vallon. Thank you for being there for us. You've done wonderful things here. I'm proud of you."

"And I you. You've come through the most difficult of times. More are ahead, I know. But you're strong, Ryin. If the Jedi are to survive, you will play a role in it."

"I hope so."

We held each other away at arm's length. He placed a hand on the side of my face. "You hand on to Taash. Take care of each other. You know my private call 

number. I am the only one who can access it. There are many layers of security on it to prevent outside interference. Call me when you can, just to let me know you are well. I worry. And you know how much I hate to worry. Especially about my close friends."

I nodded in promise. "Until the Force brings us together again, my friend."

"Be well, Ryin. Know that you will always have safe passage and safe residence here if needed. Always."

I didn't trust myself to say anything else. I just reached up and touched his face for a moment as he did mine. Blue eyes to black shared a final emotional farewell.

I turned and walked halfway up the ramp. As we did twelve years ago, our final gesture to the other was a ten-year-old wave goodbye.

I hurried up the ramp and saw it close behind me. As we lifted off, the lone figure of Governor Vallon Colton stood alone offering a final wave.

I wiped the remaining tears from my eyes and got control of myself. I whispered to him as he became smaller in the window. "Until we meet again, Vallon."

Taash's hand found my shoulder and he led me to the cockpit. It was time to refocus. Time to learn as much about the current state of Tatooine as we could. That was our destination. The Force was leading us there. Pushing us there.

Something awaited us. Or someone…