To Luke's surprise, sleek fighters quickly took up escort positions on either side of the Millennium Falcon, and escorted the freighter down to the southern hemisphere, fending off half-hearted attacks by the tired orb-shaped fighters. Swooping low of verdant hills, Luke was directed to land the Falcon in a field near a small village. He wasn't surprised to see dozens of armed guards, all women, surround the ship.
Taking a deep, calming breath, Luke left the cockpit, and then stood in the curved corridor having second thoughts. Maybe Wedge was right, and this was a huge mistake. He reached out with the Force, and sensed the impatience of the women, but not any overwhelming hatred or fear. Moving his sense further out, he caught the glimmer of both his sister and Han. Leia was still in pain, and Han was nervous, but not terrified. Appropriate emotions if he were witnessing the birth of his child. The last thought made Luke clench his fists, fighting down anger. If Han had used this strange planet and its stranger customs to seduce Leia, he'd answer to her Jedi brother.
Then Luke caught the distinct impression of strong Force-sensitives. They were few in number, he could sense some felt like darksiders, and some did not. Odder still, both types felt a resigned acceptance toward the other, and Luke struggled to made sense of it all.
A jarring rap on the outer hull pulled Luke out of his trance, and he cycled open the hatch. A pretty woman with dark hair stood below him. "My name is Luke Skywalker," he said, hoping she'd understand. "I'm here to speak to the Council of Twelve."
"They have already agreed to see you, Zevger Luke," the woman replied in accented Basic. "You cannot walk our streets clothed."
Grimly, Luke nodded, and shed his robe, then his shirt, boots and slacks. He hesitated with his fingers poised at the waistband of his shorts.
"Everything, please," the woman requested politely.
Sighing, Luke pulled down the shorts, leaving them in a pile right inside the door, and resolutely walked down the ramp, his face burning as the guards gazed at him.
"You are pleasant to look upon, too," the woman said, handing him sandals. "Just like the last off-worlder, Zevger Han."
"You know Han?" Luke asked, slipping on the shoes.
"Yes," she nodded. "My name is Lizger Ette, and I was assigned as Lizger Leia's escort upon their arrival. Lizger Leia ... now Priestess Leia, and her bond-Zevger Han, have adapted well to our society. I hope you are not here to disrupt their lives."
"I'm here to bring them home," Luke replied honestly as he walked beside Ette. "They've been sending a distress signal for months."
Ette arched her eyebrow at Luke. "I do not believe you. Lizger Leia has trained as a Priestess, and the Council has accepted her as one of the six Priestesses in the Southland. There is no greater calling than to be a Gifted One. She would not have accepted this calling if she intended to leave us."
"I'd like to hear this directly from Leia, if you don't mind," Luke responded.
"That will be up to the Council," Ette said. "Priestess Leia can only be reached through them. All appointments and bonding Ceremonies are given appointments through Council Lizgers."
"What you would call weddings," Ette answered. "Only a Priestess can perform Ceremonies."
She lead him through the town, and Luke openly gaped at the naked men and the well-dressed women. He was also keenly aware of the admiring stares from the women as he walked past, and frequently repressed the urge to hold his hands in front of his crotch. The happy men were completely oblivious to their state of undress, and quite of few walked around fully aroused. "How, um, long has your culture been like this?"
"You refer to our Zevgers, of course," she stated. "It has been like this for nearly two thousand years. A thousand less than the horrible culture of the Northland." She pointed toward a large building. "This is the Council Chambers. They are waiting for you."
Luke followed her inside, and entered a huge room. The twelve older women sat in a row, facing one chair seated in middle of the room. Hoping he understood the rules, Luke walked up to the single chair, bowing respectfully to the women. "Thank you for allowing me to speak to you."
"Be seated," the first woman ordered. Luke sat.
"State your case," said the second woman.
"I've come to take my ... um, my friends home. They've been stranded here nearly a year now - "
"They have no desire to leave," the third woman interrupted. "Return to your ship, and leave us."
"I don't mean to be disrespectful, but I need to hear that from Han and Leia."
"Priestess Leia is busy," the fourth woman snapped out. "She is bearing her off-spring as we speak."
Luke swallowed hard upon hearing this verbal confirmation of what he'd already believed. "Is Han the baby's father?"
"Zevger Han is the Seed-Zevger," stated the fifth woman. "He is happy with his life as the Priestess Leia's bond Zevger. He does not desire to leave."
"Still, I'd like to ask them, if you don't mind."
"We mind," the woman on the opposite end snapped out. "Priestess Leia has chosen to become our Priestess. Why can't you understand that? Even the dimmest of males can understand such simplicity."
Luke felt uncomfortable using the Force to influence minds, but he no longer felt any options were left open. Reaching out, he spoke carefully and slowly, "I need to see Priestess Leia and Zevger Han. It is imperative."
"It is imperative," several of the woman responded.
"You will take me to them," Luke continued, nudging harder with the Force at a different Council member.
"We will take you to them," another replied, while the others looked on in confusion.
"You're welcome," the first woman said, looking puzzled.
The off-worlder had insisted on making a fast stop at the strange ship, and retrieved his brown robe and a silver tube, although he agreed not to actually put on the cloak.
Ette drove the hovercar rapidly through the green hills. "I am surprised the Council of Twelve agreed to this."
"I pointed out it was in there best interests," Luke said. "My people have a large Star Cruiser in orbit, and it has a lot of fire-power."
"So I have heard."
The urgency to reach Leia was growing. "Can we hurry?"
He slammed back against the seat as Ette accelerated.
Leia shuddered, her body soaked with perspiration. "They're coming for me, Han... don't let them hurt our baby."
"It's okay," he soothed, thinking she was delirious. "No one is here but me and the medic droid."
"Don't let them hurt our baby," she repeated. "As long as I know that... nothing else matters."
"It's time for you to leave, Zevger Han," a young voice said from the doorway of the bedroom. "Zevgers should not witness this event."
Han twisted his head, and saw the woman-child Minva standing with someone he'd never seen before - a tall, sharp-faced woman with pale blue eyes, wild orange-hued hair, and wearing purple robes. "Who the hell are you?"
"Impertinent, isn't he?" the newcomer responded toward Minva.
"Yes, unfortunately," Minva said. "But not for long."
Stepping closer, the willowy Lizger said, "My name is Priestess Volux, and I am here to assist in Priestess Leia's birthing."
"Han," Leia whimpered. "Don't let them near me."
"You heard my Lizger," Han snapped. "Get lost."
"It is you that must 'get lost' Seed-Zevger," Minva said, pulling out Han's blaster. "I do hope I have figured out the setting of what you call 'stun,' or once I reclaim a Gifted form, I may need to find another Zevger to fill my needs."
"What in the nine hells of Corellia are you talking about," Han groused, standing up and slowly easing himself between the women and Leia.
"This form is unacceptable," the woman-child said, sighing. "I thought I could deal with not having the Gift of Power, but I cannot." She looked past Han at Leia. "You are both young and Gifted, Lizger Leia. Too bad you kept rejecting the Vesperal Power. You might have stood a chance against Volux."
"Vesperal Power?" Han asked, trying to stall for time. Leia had said Luke was nearby... then where the hell was he?
"Yes, the Vesper. It has more strength than the others."
Volux sighed. "There are always six Priestesses, two hold the Power of Vesperal, two hold the Power of Luminance, and two hold the Power of Intermediacy. Priestess Minva and myself held the Power of Vesperal, and Priestess Leia was to take Minva's place. But she kept resisting, and the Balance must be maintained. Minva will transfer into the body of the off-worlder Gifted One, and keep the Balance."
"I don't think Leia's willing to give up her body," Han muttered.
"That is no longer her choice," Minva replied, aiming Han's blaster at the Corellian.
Han tried to tackle the girl, and managed to avoid the first bolt. He wasn't as lucky the second time around, as the shot hit between his shoulder blades, and he let out a whoosh of air before falling unconscious.
"Han!" Leia yelled, trying to lever her pain-racked body into a seated position.
"Do not concern yourself with Zevger Han," Volux said firmly. "The security droids will restrain him, and when I have finished with you, then I will see to eliminating future problems with his strong will. An injection of mele-concentrate directly into his bloodstream will ensure a permanent state of bliss."
"Leave him alone or... I'll..."
"You'll what, Priestess? Kill me?" She laughed. "I think not. You do not have the strength in your current state to strike me down."
"But I do," a voice said from behind Volux. Luke Skywalker stepped into the room, with Ette standing nervously behind him, interpreting the Lizgers conversation.
"Luke!" cried Leia, watching as he ignited his lightsaber. "Be careful!"
The thin woman spun around, her pale eyes blazing with fury. She raised her hands, and lightning shot from her fingers, but Luke deflected the bolts with confidence and skill.
"A Shaman! The Northlands will pay for this outrage."
"Luke's not a Shaman," Leia said, her face contorting with the pain of another contraction.
Seeing Han lying on the floor, Luke quickly reached out with the Force, sensing his friend was only stunned. Then he shifted his mental probe toward his sister. She was afraid and confused, her emotions unnaturally agitated. But to Luke's overwhelming relief, he couldn't sense that Leia had given her spirit over to the darkside. She'd been standing on the edge - she'd been pushed and come close to the brink - but her inner goodness had held fast against the Forces of the darkside.
Neither Luke nor Leia anticipated Minva's next move. The woman-child moved over the fallen Corellian, and calmly pointed the blaster at his head. "Put down your weapon, Shaman, or Zevger Han will die."
Luke looked deeply into the girl's eyes, and saw a hate-filled old soul. Unlike the tall woman, the 'child' did not possess the Force, and Luke gave the girl a soft smile. "Hey, little girl... you shouldn't play with weapons. You could hurt yourself."
The girl laughed, and looked at Leia. "The Shaman thinks I'm a child."
Leia tried warning the young Jedi. "This is Minva," she said carefully. "She's not as innocent as she looks."
"No? She looks pretty innocent to me," Luke responded, then held out his hand toward the girl. "Maybe you should go outside and play, and let us adults discuss adult things."
This comment enraged Minva. "How dare you - " she started to say, right before the blaster was torn from her grip, flying across the room into the male's hand.
"And you say he is not a Shaman?" Volux screeched out. Again she tried to use her Power to send lightning toward the interloper, and again the young Shaman used his glowing blue wand to turn back the crackling energy... this time into the torso of the Vesperal Priestess.
Volux flew backwards, crashing into the far wall, and Minva's eyes grew wide. "Kill him!" the girl screamed at Volux, not caring the woman was gasping in pain at the burns on her flesh. Volux tried another tactic, sending loose objects sailing at the Shaman, watching in growing awe as the Zevder sent them careening away before they could touch him.
Minva had enough, and she rushed past the Shaman toward the doorway. A strong and nimble hand grasped her arm as she tried to make her escape.
"You have caused enough problems, Minva," a refined female voice intoned.
"Thedda," the girl gasped in surprise.
Luke turned in time to see a short, slightly plump woman with pitch black hair and bronze-toned skin enter the bedroom, followed by a slightly taller, younger woman with flaxen hair and a stubby, freckled nose. These woman radiated calm, and their gentle expressions reminded Luke of Obi-Wan Kenobi. "Who are you?"
"My name is Priestess Thedda," the darker skinned woman replied. "And this is Priestess Phsiolyn. We of the Luminance have been summoned by the Power. The future has become clouded."
"Yes," Minva snapped out. "This Shaman is throwing off the Balance. The Northlanders are planning an invasion."
"I'm not a Northlander," Luke replied. "I'm an off-worlder, and I'm here to rescue my si... my friends."
Leia gasped as another contraction built up, and Han moaned as the stun blast started to wear off. Woozy, Han sat up, looking around the room at Luke, Ette, Minva and her nasty friend, as well as two new arrivals. "This room is gettin' crowded." He looked up at Luke, grinning. "Nice outfit, kid."
"You should talk," Luke rejoined. "You're lucky you were unconscious when I got here, or I would have knocked your teeth loose."
"Luke!" Leia looked shocked. "Why would you do that?"
"Let's see," the younger man said, pursing his lips. "You go missing, and the first thing that happens is Han gets you pregnant?"
The Corellian staggered to his feet. "For your information, Leia an' me are legally hitched." He glanced over toward the bed. "Right, sweetheart?"
"I want everyone out of this room," Leia demanded. "Except the medic droid and my Zev.. um, my husband."
Priestess Thedda nodded. "Phsiolyn, please remove Volux and accompany Minva and the Shaman into the main chamber room." Her dark eyes turned toward Leia. "I am very accomplished at assisting the arrival of off-spring. Please allow me to stay, Priestess Leia. I will tell you what Minva has not, and Phsiolyn will do the same with the Shaman."
Volux had stood and despite the pain, tried to look unfazed. "Priestess Phsiolyn will need more than the Shaman's help to prevent me from informing the Council of Twelve of your treachery, Thedda."
"The Council is being told what is occurring by Priestess Stagmi and Keppat as we speak," Thedda said, her voice brittle. "Now leave this birth-chamber."
"So let me get this straight," Luke said, pacing the large and opulent living room, and now wearing his brown Jedi robe. "The Northland has six Shamans, and the Southland has six Priestesses."
"At all times," Phsiolyn said, nodding, waiting until Ette translated.
"And on either side, two are considered dark, err, Vesperal, and two are considered Luminance."
"Yes," she agreed. "Both Thedda and myself are Luminance. Priestesses Minva and Volux are Vesperal."
"And two are neither," Luke finished.
"Priestess Keppat and Stagmi," the woman-child muttered, glaring as she sat on the sofa next to Volux.
"This Power is what I would call the Force," Luke informed them. "Vesperal is the darkside, Luminance is the lightside. But the Force isn't supposed to have a middle-ground... this Intermediacy, as you call it."
"Balance," Volux muttered unhappily. "These three types of Powers make up the Balance. That is why Priestess Leia must be Vesperal, or it will throw off the Balance."
"And that is why I need her form," Minva pointed out smugly. "The off-worlder refused to completely embrace the Vesperal. She is throwing off the Balance. Only I can restore it."
"It is you, Minva, who has thrown off the Balance," Phsiolyn admonished. "You have taken the form of an innocent child rather than accept what the Ancients said was forbidden. Transference is wrong, even for a Vesperal. It must be undone."
"It cannot be undone," Minva said, smirking. "It is my body now, not Chinet's."
"I think, perhaps, between the Shaman's abilities and my own, it can be undone," Phsiolyn responded.
"You are a fool," Minva hissed. "It is Priestess Leia throwing off the Balance, not I. The Zevder Shamans will advise the Ruling House of Over-Lords to attack the Southlands, and without the full Power of Priestesses, we will be defeated! We Lizgers will all become beaten slaves... downtrodden and crushed Lizders. And it will be all because you refused to see the truth, and were blinded by this Shaman who pretends to be a Zevger."
"We won't let that happen," Luke said calmly as he listened to Ette interpret.
"Who is this 'we' you refer to?" Volux spat out. "More Shamans? More Zevders pretending to be on our side?"
"The people I'm referring to are the New Republic," Luke explained. "They won't stand idly by while half a population enslaves the other half. It's time for this planet to work together toward change."
"The Zevders won't change," Volux said bitterly. "Not while they live and breath."
An infant's wail could be heard up the staircase. "Lizger Leia's and Seed-Zevger's off-spring has arrived," Ette said, smiling.
A few moments later, Priestess Thedda came down the stairs, and approached the group. "Priestess Leia has given birth to a healthy Zevger, who will grow up to become a powerful Shaman someday."
"That's not possible!" Minva yelled leaping up from the sofa. "She was supposed to bear a Lizger... a future Priestess. My vision told me this."
"Perhaps your vision was not quite accurate," Phsiolyn stated serenely.
"I have undone the spell you cast on Priestess Leia's emotions with your potion, Minva," Thedda told the woman-child. "She is no longer under its sway, nor will she be under yours... or Volux's influence."
"You are all fools," Volux growled in disgust. "We are witnessing our own end... by our own hands."
Phsiolyn ignored Volux, and eyed the wary woman-girl. "It is now time to depart this existence, Minva, like you should have done months ago."
"You can't... I don't want you to..." Minva trailed off, the exact words of the young Chinet ringing in her ears.
"I will ensure that Volux does not interfere," Thedda said, looking at Luke. "Will you help Priestess Phsiolyn return the soul of Chinet to its rightful home?"
"I'll try... no, never mind..." Luke said firmly. "I'll do it."
Minva tried to flee, and she tried to twist out of Phsiolyn's Power-hold; it did no good. Drawing his strength from the Force and combining it with Phsiolyn's Power of Luminance, Minva was drawn out of the body of Chinet, screaming and protesting. With nothing to hold onto, Luke felt the twisted soul dissipate and fade away, just as Palpatine's spirit had done months before over Endor. For a while, however, the screams continued... the abruptly stopped.
The innocent eyes of a child looked up at Luke, confused. "Who are you?" she asked, her voice young and frightened.
"I'm Luke Skywalker," the Jedi said, trying to project calm. The child gazed around the room at the strangers in a daze, trying to remember how she'd gotten here.
Priestess Phsiloyn knelt down, and hugged the child tightly. "You have had a bad dream, little Lizger. But it's over now."
Leia held the swaddled baby in her arms, her heart bursting with love and pride... and grief. "A baby boy," she whispered. "Minva was wrong."
"Yeah," Han agreed, sitting on the edge of the bed, smiling proudly. "According to Thedda, she was wrong about a lot of things, huh?"
"Not about everything," the Princess said softly. "I won't leave Zevliz until I negotiate a peace between the North and the South, and convince both sides to stop mistreating the opposite sex." She looked up, her eyes watering. With the potion and Minva's influence finally gone, Leia could see the past nine months through very clear hindsight. "I ... I won't ever be able to make things up to you, Han."
"What are you talking about?"
"The mele-berries... the insane demands... the cruelty." The tears were flowing freely now. "You put up with my demented behavior, and still managed to get us rescued by sending out a distress signal. I can only imagine how much you hate me..."
"Wait a second, sweetheart," Han protested. "Hate you? I don't hate you. I'll admit there were times I started to wonder about your sanity, but I ain't exactly been playin' with a full sabacc deck myself these past months."
"Because of me!" Forcing you to eat those damned berries! You tried to stop, and I forced you anyway."
"Like you just said... it was Minva..."
"No," Leia said bitterly. "It wasn't just Minva, and it wasn't just the potion. There was a part of me that wanted to be a Priestess. I wanted to be important again, to feel like a princess again and live in a palace, and I hate myself for that."
"But some of what we had was good, right?" Han asked, his face hopeful. "I mean... we got along pretty good, considering how much we argued before we crashed on Zevliz. And you gotta admit the sex was damned good, too."
"Life is more than sex, Han. We didn't get bonded because we love each other, we got bonded because we were forced into it."
"What are you saying? That you don't want to stay together anymore? That you don't want me?"
Swallowing hard, Leia looked out the window. She couldn't speak and look into his hazel eyes at the same time. "We have a beautiful baby boy together, Han. Nothing can alter or change that, and I certainly won't keep you from seeing him whenever you want to. But we're not a real couple, and I don't want you to think we are." Inside, she was screaming, Tell me I'm wrong... tell me you love me. Kiss me until I can't think straight... please!
Instead, Han stood up, glaring down at the tired Princess. "So that's how it's gonna be? We're going back to the real world, and you wouldn't be caught dead with a low-life, worthless smuggler like me? Make sure you take out a holo-ad, and tell the galaxy how I seduced you, Your Holiness," Han said tightly. "Make sure everyone knows you were drugged up, and you never would have screwed with a no-account rodder like me otherwise."
That's not true..."I'm sorry, Han. Truly," Leia said, shutting her eyes to prevent the hot tears from falling. I love you...
"Not half as sorry as I am," Han returned bitterly, leaving the bedroom.
Luke watched in surprise as Han pushed past him, his face hard and angry. "Han? What's the matter?"
"Ask her Holiness," was the Corellian's reply as he kept walking, not allowing Luke the opportunity to even congratulate him on becoming a father. "She likes to be in charge of everything."
The Jedi knocked softly before entering Leia's bedroom, noting her red-rimmed eyes as she held her infant. "Congratulations."
"Thank you," she said, her voice dull.
"Did you and Han have another fight? Do you want me to go lecture him about his bad timing?"
"He left because I asked him to," Leia said. "Han was right when he said we were prisoners here, just doing what we had to in order to stay alive. We made a baby together without being in our normal mind-frame, but I can't expect him to continue this charade of being my husband once we leave Zevliz."
"This marriage isn't illegal. All types of marriage ceremonies are considered legal from one system to the next," Luke pointed out.
"I know that," Leia snapped, then flushed. "We'll have to get a divorce, I guess."
Luke didn't know quite what to say, sitting down next to Leia's bed. "I have a lot of things I need to tell you. I know you're tired, but this can't wait."
The Princess hear the slight tremble in Luke's voice, and sensed the unease in his soul. "I'm listening."
Later that night
For the first time in months Han was sleeping alone, and he didn't like the feeling. Unable to sleep, he threw back the blanket, and rose from the bed. Padding softly down the hallway, he hesitated in front of Leia's bedroom, the room that had been his until today. The need to talk to her, to hold her in his arms and tell her how much he loved her, who thrilled he was that he was a father, was overwhelming. Determined to put things right between them, he'd started to reach for the handle when he heard Leia crying, and then Luke's soft voice, but the words were too indistinct to make out. Luke? What was he still doing with Leia? Furious, he started to turn the handle when Leia spoke loud enough for him to hear.
"I hate him, Luke. This is like my worst nightmare come true. I just can't believe I'm related to that monster."
Then Luke's voice. "You can't hate, Leia. It's the path to the darkside... it's what you've been resisting for all these long months. I know it's hard to accept, but you have to find it in your heart to forgive him."
"Forgive him?" she cried out. "I can't forgive him. It's impossible for me to even imagine he was capable of fathering children."
Han drew away from the door, shocked. Leia thinks I'm a monster? Being married to me, and having my child is her worst nightmare? It felt like all the blood drained from his body, and with shoulders slumped in grief, Han headed back to his room unable to listen to another word.
The next morning
Dressed in his usual spacer-garb with his trusty DL-44 strapped to his thigh, Han said goodbye to Ette and TuTo, and gave the woman a hug. "It was nice knowing you, Ette. I'm sorry I never met your bond Zevger or your off-spring."
"You may still have the opportunity," Ette said, looking past Han at the robed Jedi and Lizger Leia as they stood next to the lowered ramp of the odd ship. "Now that Minva is dead and Volux has been neutralized, the remaining Priestesses have convinced the Council of Twelve to sit down and negotiate with the Ruling Over-Lords. I only hope the Zevders agree, since they are more stubborn than us Lizgers."
"They'll agree," Leia told the woman. "We're not leaving orbit until they do."
Ette nodded and was happy to hear this, since there was a possibility the Shamans would do exactly what Volux and Minva feared - use the un-Balanced Powers to attack the Southland. She grinned at Luke. "I still think you and Zevger Han look much better without clothing."
"Thank you," the Jedi mumbled. "I guess."
Han gave a half-hearted smile at Luke. "Take it as a compliment, kid." Then he mused, "After almost a year, I actually hate the feel of clothes. They chafe the parts of me that used to be private."
The baby started whimpering, and Leia gratefully used that as an excuse to disappear inside the ship. Ette waved goodbye, and TuTo followed her toward the landspeeder. Mentally steeling himself against the short flight up to Home One, Han started up the ramp, but was stopped when Luke put out his hand. "What now?" Han said, his tone brittle.
"Leia needs you."
The statement almost made Han laugh. "Sure, she does. Everyone needs a nightmarish monster in their life."
"What are you talking about?" Luke asked, puzzled.
"We don't love each other," Han hissed out, nearly choking on the words. "We were forced to bond, and drugged into messin' around. Just ask Her Frostiness - she'll tell you. As soon as I get the two of you inside that Star Cruiser, me an' Chewie are history. You can inform her Royal Holiness she'll never have to worry about seeing me again. I won't even ask bother her to see the kid, since I'm sure she'll poison his mind against me."
"What the kest kind of talk is that?" Luke spluttered out, barely able to believe his ears. "You can't abandon your own son!"
"Oh, yeah?" Han said, sneering. "You just watch me."
Luke never could quite remember exactly what happened next but in the brief moment that followed, Han flew across the lowered ramp, and Luke was left holding his hand, his knuckles throbbing. He watched as his Corellian friend staggered to his feet, rubbing his bloodied lip. "I won't let you walk away from this situation, Han," Luke warned. "You need to grow up and start taking responsibility for your actions."
"What do you care?" Han growled, his right hand dropping to his blaster. "With me outta the picture, she can put the baby up for adoption, and you can go back to romancing her again. Unless you're such an uptight prude you won't take her back because I've already taken her innocent virtue."
"Take her back?"
"Yeah. You an' her always were the Base sweethearts... the couple everyone was rooting for. I was just the bastard that kept getting in the way of true love. The monster."
"You're crazy, Han," Luke said. The absurdity of the situation made him want to laugh, despite Han's threatening posture. "In the first place, the Rebels had ongoing bets with each other when you and Leia would finally stop fighting and start kissing." Luke shook his head in mock dismay. "There were times I was so jealous, I wanted to throttle all of them, including you. Probably because I knew in my heart they were right. And in the second place..." The Jedi trailed off, unable to stop his wide grin. "In the second place..."
"In the second place, what?"
"I'm her brother," Luke replied.
"You're her what?"
"Not her what," Luke said, exasperated. "I'm Leia's twin brother."
Han blinked, trying to comprehend. "Why didn't you ever tell me?"
"Because I didn't know myself until the Jedi Master that finished my training told me. And last night I told Leia," Luke explained. "Leia loves me, Han... just like I love her. Somehow, deep inside, we both felt this connection. We both knew."
The Corellian felt his chest ache with renewed loss. "Congratulations. You have a family again."
"Yes, I do," Luke agreed. "A sister, a nephew... and a brother-in-law."
"That last part ain't gonna be for very long," Han murmured. "She wants a divorce."
"She's confused right now," Luke said, putting his hand on the Corellian's shoulder. "Leia loves you, Han. I can feel it."
Han shrugged off Luke's hand. "Sure she does. That's why she called me a monster."
"Why do you keep saying that?" Luke asked, confused. "Leia never called you a monster."
"I heard you an' her talkin' last night about me," Han shouted, his face flushed with anger. "She called me a monster... her worst nightmare come true. She said she can't even imagine how I was able to father her child!"
Suddenly, it made sense. "She wasn't talking about you," Luke protested.
"Really?" Han said sarcastically. "Then who? Who was she talking about?"
"I... " Luke paused, knowing this was something Leia would need to reveal herself, even to her own husband. "I can't tell you."
"You're a krethin' bad liar, Skywalker," Han said, his face bitter. He turned and stalked up the ramp.
Onboard Home One
Chewbacca the Wookiee caught Han up in such a strong hug, the Corellian knew he'd have sore ribs for a week afterwards. *I have missed you,* the Wookiee barked, his blue eyes shining with joy. He looked over Han's head, watching as Leia emerged from the Falcon, holding her baby. *You have a cub. I am so proud.*
"Don't be too proud," Han said tightly. "I ain't invited to stay around and help raise him."
Before Chewie could question this, Leia approached. "Han is welcome to visit his son anytime, Chewie. If he chooses to stay away, that will be his decision." She paused, and gave a small smile. "It's wonderful to see you again." Then she hurried away, her head bowed down to prevent eye contact with the other crew members.
*What is this all about?*
"Long story," Han replied, attempting to keep his tone light. "I heard you got yourself caught by the Imps. And my ship got half gutted while you played in the spice mines."
*Played?* Chewie roared out, making Han back up.
"Things just went to hell while you were showing off your assets on Zevliz, Solo," Wedge said with a laugh, walking up to the small group. "And I put the emphasis on the 'ass' part of that word." Wedge turned to a quiet Luke. "Did you enjoy putting your wares on display, too?"
"No," Luke responded sullenly. "It was humiliating, but I think that's the intent."
"I think the Lizgers intent is to do the exact opposite to native males as the Zevders do to females," Han told them. "To be honest, after a while, you forget you're not wearing clothes. Of course, the mele-berries help that forgetfulness."
"I hear those berries pack quite the punch," agreed Wedge.
"So does Luke's fist," Han said, rubbing his split lip.
"That's what you get for messing around with the sister of a Jedi," Wedge said.
Han opened his mouth, and almost informed the group that the 'messing around' was far more Leia's fault than his, then shook his head. "I might have been more of a gentlemen if I'd known."
*You will put this right with the Princess,* Chewie woofed quietly. *I will not allow you to have your fun and walk away just because you don't want to take respon - *
"Don't say it," Han warned, sticking his finger in Chewie's face. "Don't you dare start lecturing me on responsibility, pal." He spun on his heel, and walked away before he said something he would forever regret.
The next day
Han was busy working at fixing all the things he found still wrong with the Falcon. It infuriated him to think of scavengers tearing his precious ship to pieces, and even madder to know that many of his expensive modifications were forever gone. Mentally, he sighed, knowing that he'd be spending months - if not years - tracking down replacement parts again. Still, Chewie, Wedge and Luke had done a decent job getting his pride and joy space-worthy again in a short amount of time. As soon as the Wookiee returned from wherever he'd wandered off to, they'd be blasting out of the Home One's hanger. Han swore he'd never get involved with a 'cause', ever again. It brought too much heartache.
The sound of an infant whimpering drifted down the curved corridor, and Han jumped to his feet, then followed the noise. Near the entrance stood Chewie, cradling a baby. My baby... Han amended, feeling a strange sense of ... protectiveness?
"What did you bring him here for?" Han demanded harshly, trying to hide the love he was feeling for his son. "I want to leave as soon as possible, and we don't have time to babysit."
*Babysit? This is your cub. It is not considered babysitting when he belongs to you.*
"I thought we went over this," Han said wearily. "That kid belongs to Her Holiness. I don't even have a clue what she named him."
*His name is your decision.*
*The Princess informed me that you are to name your son.*
"She said that?"
The Wookiee rolled his blue eyes, nodding.
"Well," Han said, his face getting stubborn. "I ain't naming the kid. Take him back to her. We gotta leave."
*Princess Leia and Luke have gone back down to Zevliz to start negotiations with the Council and the Lords. I promised we'd take good care of him during the day until they return back to Home One each night. Hopefully, it won't take more than a week.*
"A WEEK?" Han yelled, throwing down his spanner with a loud crash, which caused the baby to start crying. "There's no way I'm staying here a week! I don't know a damn thing about taking care of babies!"
*I do, and there are plenty of parents on the Home One we can ask if there is a problem. Besides, the Falcon needs plenty of work, so it's not like there will be nothing to do besides changing diapers and giving the baby bottles.*
"This is krethin' rich, Chewie," Han snapped out, frustrated beyond words. "Let some of those other parents take care of him. I want to leave."
*Do not swear in front of your child,* Chewie admonished. *I promised Leia we'd take care of her... and your precious child, and we are not leaving.*
"Maybe I'll just go without you, then," Han said sullenly.
Chewie walked over, pressing the wailing baby in Han's arms. *If you go, then you must take your cub with you. Is that what you'd prefer? Handling this child all alone?*
"You're bluffing. Leia won't let me kidnap her kid."
*You are correct. She'd hunt you down and kill you... slowly. Of course, if you leave him alone, she'll do the same thing.*
Han gazed down at the red-faced infant. "This is blackmail."
The fourteen garishly dressed Over-Lords sat across the shiny wooden table from the twelve members of the Council, who were all wearing their finest silk dresses. Neither side spoke, and both glared daggers at the other. The only reason the Over-Lords had agreed to this meeting was under the threat of military intervention by the Home One by General Antilles. The Council of Twelve had agreed under more stressful circumstances - they now had less Priestesses than the Over-Lords had Shamans, and feared an attack would take place by either the Northland or the off-worlders. Neither one sounded good.
Leia cleared her throat to draw their attention. "Over-Lord Zevders... Council Member Lizgers... maybe we could start with introductions. My name is Leia Organa and I - "
"We do not give our names," one of the oldest Lords spat out, interrupting Leia's opening speech. "Even to other Zevders, and especially to whorish, shameful Lizgers."
"I would die rather than tell you my name," a Lizger shot back hotly. "You self-righteous, pompous rodder."
"You know a great deal about rodders, don't you?" another Zevder said, sniffing. "Even your own so-called clothing is nearly see-through."
"Does that raise your Interest, Zevder?" a younger Lizger said, grinning. "Perhaps the males of the Northlands cover up with your gaudy garb because they are ashamed of their insignificance."
"We cover up because we have self-esteem!"
"Okay," Luke quickly said, listening as a nervous Threepio whispered the translations to Basic. He felt out of place in these political negotiations, but the Zevders had insisted that if the off-worlder 'Priestess' was allowed to attend, so must the off-worlder 'Shaman'. "Maybe we don't need names. Let's just get to the root of the problem. Ladies... err.. Lizgers first."
"Free the enslaved Lizders. Allow them to leave their evil Masters, and wear what they please... go where they want, when they want, " a Council Lizger answered. "That is your bitter root."
"Freed females create anarchy, crime and unrestrained lust," another Lord responded. "The Northlands have no crime because we have eliminated the root of all evil - flaunting, over-sexed females running amok, and luring innocent males into their wicked dens of deviant behavior."
"The Southlands have no crime because our males are happy and content," a Lizger sniffed.
An Over-Lord stood up, roaring, "They are happy and content because they are constantly drugged!"
"Which proves the crime problems of any society lie with males, not females," a Lizger replied snidely. "Those so-called 'over-sexed' females would not be the ones committing the crimes... it would be the evil, small-minded males, as they are unable to restrain their basic vile, and violent natural instincts."
"My cousin's Lizder ran away to escape her trial, and our sources indicated she reached her Promised Southland," a dark-haired Zevder said, his voice brittle. "But the Southland proved to be fatal for Lizder Amani. Tell me...where was her safety? You know perfectly well a Zevger did not kill her. What did she accomplish by fleeing?"
"Your sources?" screeched a light-haired Lizger. "What spies do you have in the Southland?"
"We listen to your holo-transmissions, just like you listen to ours," a Northlander replied defensively. "What kind of Zevder would agree to spy in the wickedness of degradation of the Southland?"
"The Lizger responsible for Amani's death has been punished," Leia said, trying to stop this argument.
"And as least Lizger Amani had some freedom and self-pride in the end," Council Lizger Three stated firmly.
"Self-pride?" a Zevder said, snickering. "Walking around, displaying her body... looking at naked males, participating in sexual free-for-alls. Is that what you call pride?"
"Free-for-alls?" snickered a Lizger. "You have wild fantasies about the Southland, but I guess that's not too surprising... considering your own rigid rules of conduct."
Luke and Leia exchanged worried looks as all the Council Lizgers and Zevder Lords started shouting at each other from across the table. These negotiations were getting off to a very bad beginning.
On board Home One
The first day of negotiations had been a disaster, and Leia had a splitting headache. She looked up the lowered ramp of the Falcon, wondering how Han and Chewie had handled their own day. Why did I agree with Luke to allow Han to take care of my baby? She had no doubts that Chewie would be a responsible care-giver, so that eased her mind. Part of her was surprised Han had agreed to remain on the Home One for the time being, while another portion was relieved he'd stayed on. She suspected both Luke and Chewie were conniving to keep Han from leaving by allowing him time to bond with his son. What they hoped to gain by this, she couldn't imagine.
Leia walked up the ramp, and entered the hold. She swallowed the lump in her throat as she watched Han in the dim light, slowly rocking his child and softly singing a Corellian lullaby. Love for both her child and her husband - and yes, she told herself, Han was still her husband - filled her chest to the point of pain.
"Hello," she said softly.
Han looked up, appearing to be embarrassed at being caught singing. "How'd the negotiations go?" he asked, deciding to keep the conversation neutral.
"Terrible," Leia admitted. "They both think their side is the right side. The Zevders seem to be basing their views on some ancient writings from a Shaman, and the Lizgers firmly believe the only way to fight the discrimination against the Lizders is to turn the tables and treat their Zevgers like sex-objects." She sighed. "It's been this way for thousands of years, and I'm not sure, short of a military occupation, it's ever going to change."
"Military occupations don't seem to work in the long haul," Han pointed out. "Too much local resentment builds up."
There was a lengthy silence, then Han stood up and handed the baby back to Leia. "He's a great kid, Princess."
"Yes, he is," she said, smiling. "He's got a pretty great father."
"Is that a compliment?" Han put his palm on Leia's forehead. "Are you feeling okay?"
"I'm fine. Thank you for taking care of him. I know Luke and Chewie forced you into it, but I appreciate it, anyway."
"That's okay," Han said, looking away in discomfort. "You going back down there tomorrow?"
"Yes. I can't give up."
"No. You never do.'
"Will you stay until..."
"Until this is resolved?" She didn't specify what 'this' was, exactly.
"Um, sure. If you want me to."
"I want you to."
Han grinned. "You want my name suggestion? I've been thinkin' about it all day."
"You've been thinking all day? Did it hurt?"
"What name have you come up with?"
"Vail, spelled, V.A.I.L. I figured it sounded nice with the last name 'Organa', and it was a little bit like your father's name, Bail."
Again, Leia felt tears threatening. She wanted to tell him about Anakin Skywalker... but kept holding back. "Vail sounds nice with 'Solo', too. Vail Solo."
"You're gonna let him use my last name?" Han asked, truly stunned. "But then... everyone will know."
"They'll know anyway, Han. And despite what you may think, I'm not ashamed you're the father."
It took all of Han's willpower not to take the Princess in his arms, and tell her how much he loved her. She had already made her view crystal clear - she didn't want him in her life. He wouldn't complicate things, or hurt himself further, by saying words she'd never return. "Thanks, Princess," he said, keeping a teasing tone in his voice through great effort. "I'm not ashamed you're the kid's mother, either."
Leia gave Han an odd look before turning and leaving the Falcon.
Five days later
"The Vesperal Shamans do not wish us to change," an Over-Lord stated firmly as the fifth day of negotiations started. "Change will bring about our destruction."
Leia clenched her fists, trying not to loose her patience. "What do your Luminance Shamans say about change?"
The Over-Lords eyed each other before one replied. "They have not stated an opinion."
"That's a lie," Luke responded flatly, much to Leia's chagrin.
"The off-worlder Shaman is a shame to the male society," the youngest Over-Lord snapped out. "You are probably a eunuch. That is what the Lizgers do to males born with the Gift."
"It is better than drowning them at birth, which is what you do to Lizders born with the Gift," a Council Lizger said hotly.
"Lizders with the Gift are an abomination," a Zevder sniffed.
One of the Council Lizgers smirked. "I told you this would be a waste of time. The Northlanders will stall until you leave, then they will attack us. You have left us weakened by removing yourself from the role of Priestess."
"The funny thing is," Luke said, "we have no intentions of leaving until this matter is resolved."
"Both sides need to see this truth," Leia added. "Your planet's total population is quite small, and your weapons and ships are no match for ours. You need to ask your Shamans this question - 'Do you have enough Power to prevent the New Republic from forcibly freeing your Lizders?'"
"So it comes down to threats," an Over-Lord huffed out. "Do as we say, or you will kill us."
"If there is a confrontation, it will happen because of you, not us," Leia said. "We wish no one to come to harm."
The comlink buzzed on Leia's waistband, and she excused herself from the conference room. A minute later, she returned, her face pale. "The Northlands have launched an assault on the Southland."
The oldest Council Lizger stood up, her face red with rage, pointing across the table. "We knew such a thing would happen! They are taking advantage of the loss of Balance!"
"Then they have badly misjudged," Leia said, glaring at the smug-looking Over-Lords. "Admiral Ackbar is sending X-Wings to assist the Southland as we speak."
"Then the New Republic has picked the side of the profane Southland, and we are now at war," the same Over-Lord said, smirking. "The Council Lizgers and the evil off-worlders are now our prisoners."
"You are making a mistake, Over-Lords. I'm asking you to reconsider," Luke said, trying to project calm into the room.
The outer door cycled open, and two Shamans with red-tinged eyes entered, followed by twenty armed Northland troopers. Beyond the door stood the bound and gagged personal body-guards of the Council Lizgers. Both Luke and Leia knew instantly these were the Vesperal Shamans.
One of the Over-Lords nodded. "Please meet Shaman Xiac and Shaman Milqum."
"I knew this was a bad idea," Han muttered, his fingers flying deftly over the controls of the Falcon. "These people are too set in their ways to change, but no one ever listens to me."
*Sometimes stubborn people change,* Chewie barked out.
"Yeah?" responded Han tightly. "I hope we're not too late to rescue them."
*The way you are behaving, I could almost swear you love the Princess.*
Han gave a snort, trying to sound like the idea was amusing. He wasn't too sure he was fooling the Wookiee. "I don't love her... but she is the mother of Vail, so I gotta rescue her for his sake. And besides, I gotta rescue the kid. He can't stay out of trouble."
*And you can?*
"Who's rescuing who here?" Han asked, his eyes wide.
*You needed Luke to rescue you less than a week ago,* Chewie pointed out.
"No, I didn't. I had everything under control."
*Sure you did.* Chewie paused, then added, *I would think the Princess might be upset you left Vail in the care of Lieutenant Bast.*
"It's not like I had a choice," Han said defensively. "Sides, Bast knows how to take care of a baby better than me, anyway."
*Why do you think that?*
"She's a woman," Han said, as if that was a sure-fire qualification.
*Leia should have given you a big glass of mele-berry juice before she went down to Zevliz. Maybe that way you would have be a better care-giver.*
"You know, you can sure be annoying sometimes, Chewie."
Luke stood, wishing he'd hadn't been convinced in leaving his lightsaber on the shuttle, but Leia had insisted there would be no weapons on anyone's person. It had seemed reasonable at the time. "I'm kind of new at this, but I don't think this is considered negotiating in good faith."
The eldest Over-Lord laughed. "You are in the Northlands, and our laws apply - not yours. You are now our hostages, and will order your ships not to interfere with our attack."
"Without the Ruling Council to give orders, the Southland will fall quickly," another Over-Lord told the stunned group.
"Priestess Volux told us this was a mistake!" Council Lizger Number Five yelled in outrage. "It is the Northlanders that are evil. All Lizgers will soon be enslaved because of your interference, off-worlders!"
"I wouldn't worry too much, Lizger," a pale-faced Zevder said, barely able to contain his glee. "Once our Shamans execute all of the Council Lizgers, there will be no further resistance from the Southlanders. We will be able to destroy all of them... Lizgers and Zevgers, young and old, alike."
Leia was shocked. "You intend to kill all the Southlanders? Everyone?"
"The females are depraved, and the males have been corrupted beyond any hope of redemption. We will be doing them a favor."
"Come with us, off-worlders," Shaman Milqum ordered, pointing a blaster at Luke. "Perhaps, if you obey us, we will not be forced to kill you."
"You fully intend to kill us after we've served your purpose," Leia stated.
"Perhaps, but if you resist us right now, we will start killing the Lizger body-guards. Their deaths will be on your hands, off-worlders."
Left without options, Luke and Leia reluctantly allowed themselves to be removed from the conference room by the two Shamans, leaving behind the frightened Council Lizgers surrounded by Northland guards.
The Millennium Falcon weaved its way past the space battle, avoiding the Northland ships firing at the Southland ships and the New Republic X-Wings defending the Southland.
*"What is your plan?"*
"Um... what plan?"
Chewie sighed. *Why am I not surprised?*
"Okay... this is the plan. We land as close to the conference building as possible, blast our way inside, rescue Luke and the Princess, and blast our way out again."
*What about the Council Lizgers?*
"Not my problem."
"What?" Han asked, annoyed. "I don't like any of those people. Let them battle it out... I don't care."
*What about Ette?*
"I like her, so if she's there, we'll rescue her."
*What about Chinet? Even though she's in the Southland, she'll be in danger of the Northlanders killing her.*
"We can't rescue them all," Han weakly protested, upset that Chewie was once again bringing up annoying details like honor. Fortunately, Han was spared from having to further defend his position when the communication panel started beeping.
"Zevger Han? This is Priestess Thedda."
"What do you want?" Han muttered, glad he now understood their language. "Me an' Chewie are sorta busy."
"Priestess Phsiolyn and myself would like to lend our assistance in rescuing the Council members, your Lizger, and Shaman Luke."
"Won't that upset the wicked witch?"
"Who's gonna keep an eye on Volux?" clarified Han.
"Priestesses Keppat and Priestess Stagmi will be able to prevent her from causing us difficulties."
Han rubbed his jaw. "Okay, fine. Send us your coordinates and we'll pick you up."
Luke and Leia were ushered into a small cell, and ordered to sit on the lumpy cot. "We have heard your Power is quite impressive, off-world Shaman," Xiac stated. The man was immensely obese, with large folds of flesh hanging off his jowls. "If you embrace the Power of Vesperal, we will be able to finally defeat not only the Southland, but the Shamans of Luminance, as well."
"What about the other two?" Luke questioned. "The Shamans of Intermediacy?"
Milqum gave a feral grin, his brown teeth appeared to have been sharpened to points. "Those two were worthless. Their only purpose was to act as a buffer between the Vesperal and the Luminance, and since that is no longer necessary, Xiac and I have disposed of them."
"You've killed them?" Leia asked in surprise. "Won't that throw off your precious Balance?"
The Shaman regarded Leia as if she had something infectious, then finally deigned to speak to her. "Since you refused to embrace the Vesperal, our part of the Balance is now unnecessary. The Vesperal is where the true Power lies, and the Southland Priestesses were foolish for thinking they could stand against us."
"You're underestimating the Power of the Luminance Shamans," Luke said, thinking about Palpatine's arrogance. "If the Luminance Priestesses could see the need for defeating the Vesperal, then they will, too."
"Shaman Gozler and Shaman Rooc will attempt to turn these apocalyptic events to their favor, but they will fail. Xiac and I will destroy all the Priestesses and we will be the only two Zevders with the Gift. The Over-Lords will no longer be allowed to have independent thought, and they will bend to our command. Zevliz will be ours to rule as we see fit."
"Delusions of grandeur," Leia mumbled under her breath.
"Not a delusion," Milqum replied haughtily. "We are grand, indeed."
Thedda and Phsiolyn were waiting when the Millennium Falcon landed and quickly hurried up the ramp and into the cockpit, sitting behind Han and Chewbacca.
"Strap in, ladies," Han ordered. "Next stop, the Northlands."
Phsiolyn reached forward, gently touching Chewie's fur. "I have never seen an alien off-worlder before."
"No... our planet is very segregated."
"In more ways than one. That's my co-pilot, Chewbacca. He's a Wookiee from the planet Kashyyyk."
Thedda nodded. "Zevger Han?"
Han kept his eyes focused on flying, but answered, "Yeah?"
"Are you still Lizger Leia's bond-Zevger?"
"We haven't had time to get a divorce, if that's what you're askin'."
"So you have no feelings for her... or her for you?"
"No," Han grumbled, feeling his face flush. "Leia made it perfectly clear she doesn't love me. We got married 'cuz you Lizgers didn't give us a choice, and then we were drugged into a physical relationship."
"Lizger Leia never professed love for you?"
"Yes, she did, but it was the drugs," Han repeated grimly.
"The sessil seed potion would not have made her say she loved you if she did not, nor would it have made her desire you without an underlying true desire. The potion only enhanced emotions that were already present."
Phsiolyn nodded her agreement. "If Lizger Leia said she loved you, she meant it."
"Did you ever tell Lizger Leia you loved her?" Thedda prodded.
"Yeah, but it was - "
"No," Thedda cut him off. "It was not the mele-berries. Mele-berries make males happy and content."
"And Interested," Phsiolyn added, smiling.
"They do not cause a Zevger to love. If you did that, it was your own emotion coming through. The mele-berries only eased your inhibitions to do so," Thedda said.
*See? You love the Princess, and she loves you,* Chewie barked out happily. *I knew it.*
"That is why Zevgers need mele-berries," Phsiolyn said firmly. "They have a difficult time verbally expressing love otherwise." After a pause, she added, "Zevger Han, you look much better without clothing. It is a true crime against nature to cover up such a lovely male body."
Chewie read the monitor, and woofed in laughter. *That is why Wookiees are better adjusted than uptight humans.*
"Why is everyone ganging up on me?" Han moaned.
"Land over there," Thedda instructed Han as she pointed off in the distance. "On the roof of the tallest building. It is the Over-Lords main headquarters."
The turret on the building swung in the direction of the Falcon, and their shields took a shuddering hit. "Won't there be a lot of guards greeting us once we land?"
"You must allow me and Phsiolyn to handle the guards," the older woman stated. "This ship will be fairly safe here, since the Northland Air Patrols will strongly protect this building from the Southland's counterattack."
Those words had barely left her mouth when another barrage of fire from the defensive cannons mounted on the building fired at the Millennium Falcon. Chewie let out a loud howl of distress as he viewed the readouts on the panel.
"What did your Wookiee say?" Phsiolyn asked, her fingers digging into the armrests.
"He said our shields are down to fifty percent," Han responded, grimacing. "Damn these replacement parts, anyway. Our old shields wouldn't have been fazed by this." He spared a glance over his shoulder. "We can only take about two more direct hits, and we'll have to pull back and find somewhere else to put down."
"Then perhaps you should avoid any more direct hits," Thedda said calmly.
Han opened his mouth to shoot back a sarcastic comeback, but was distracted when the incoming fire suddenly stopped. "Now what? Are we flying into a trap?" He looked at his partner. "Should we bank away?"
*It is likely Luke and Leia are in this building, or very close.*
"Land," Thedda said firmly. "My Power-vision is telling me things will work out."
"Power-vision. Force-sense. In my opinion, it's all nonsense," Han grumbled. But he headed toward the landing pad on the roof, anyway.
Leia watched her brother pace the small cell, occasionally pausing to 'listen' through the Force. "A lot of people are dying on this planet," she said, feeling the small tremors through the Force every time a fighter was lost, or lives on the surface ended due to air-to-surface bombings. "What are we doing just sitting here?"
"Help is coming," Luke said. "Trying to take out Xiac and Milqum by ourselves will put the Council Lizgers at greater risk."
"I should have left things alone," Leia said, bitter. "I allowed myself to believe Minva's prediction that I'd bring justice to Zevliz, and all that's happened is that I caused a huge inter-planetary war."
"It would have happened eventually, anyway," Luke told her. "Both sides have too much resentment for each other to continue to live in peace."
"That sounds like the same argument General Rieekan used on me after Alderaan," Leia said in disgust. "'It would have happened eventually.'"
Luke sighed, knowing that his sister still blamed herself for Alderaan, despite everyone's assurances that it wasn't her fault. Sometimes he wondered if she would ever absolve herself of the self-blame. "I think that Xiac and Milqum are a lot like Palpatine, and they are seriously underestimated both us and their light-side counterparts."
"Don't forget, they have the strength of numbers, Luke," she pointed out. "Even if we escape from this cell, we're still in Northland territory, and the Over-Lords are holding the Council Lizgers. This was a big stick of rizza-powder just waiting to go off, and we... I lit the fuse."
"Have faith, Leia," Luke said calmly. "Help is on the way."
Following the two Priestesses down the ramp, Han and Chewie held their weapons up, waiting for the trap to be sprung. No one greeted them as they headed toward the door while Thedda led the way, her head held high.
"Where is everybody?" Han questioned nervously. "I don't like this."
*You would not like it if we were being shot at, either,* Chewie pointed out.
"I prefer a straight fight to sneaking around."
*We are not sneaking.*
"You don't have to tell me that."
Phsiolyn smiled at Han. "You must trust the Power, Zevger Han. It will guide us."
"Right into a big pile of trouble," Han grumbled back. "Where are your weapons, anyway?"
"We have no need for weapons," Thedda said. "The Power will protect us."
"Do I have a big sign on my back that says, 'if you're a nut-case, hook-up with me?'" Han asked Chewie.
*You have no need for such a sign,* the Wookiee responded. *It is your natural ability to attract such types.*
"You know what that says about you, doesn't it?"
Several yards away from the door, it suddenly opened and two robed men stepped out on the landing dock. "Welcome to the Northlands, Priestesses of the Luminance," a bald, ruddy-faced man said, smiling. "We have anticipated your arrival."
"Yeah?" Han shot back, pointing his blaster at the man's chest. "I don't like it when people 'anticipate' my arrival. It makes me real jittery, especially on my trigger-finger."
"Please forgive the off-worlders, Shaman Rooc," Thedda said. "He is not a Gifted One."
"I understand," Rooc replied. "The Gifted off-worlders are being held by Xiac and Milqum. They believe these events will lead them to become the supreme rulers of Zevliz. They have even taken it upon themselves to murder Portil and Tav."
"Are they fools?" Thedda questioned. "How could they believe that is in their best interests?"
"They intend to murder all Gifted Ones," Rooc replied. "We must stop them."
"Who were Portil and Tav?" Han questioned as the two Northland men ushered them inside the building.
"They were our Shamans of Intermediacy, the two that acted as the bridge between the Vesperal Shamans and us... the Shamans of Luminance."
Han frowned in confusion. "How come you just couldn't talk directly to each other?"
Phsiolyn laughed. "That would never work. The Luminance and the Vesperal do not get along, as I'm sure you became aware when you witnessed our disagreement in Minva's palace."
"We do not see eye-to-eye," said a very young Shaman with curly, shoulder-length brown hair.
"What's your name?"
"Shaman Gozler. And you are...?"
"Han Solo, and this is my partner, Chewbacca."
"Welcome to the Northlands, Han Solo and partner Chewbacca," Gozler said. "We probably should hurry, if we wish to rescue your off-worlder friends. Shaman Xiac and Milqum may not desire to keep them alive very long."
"Why are you so interested in helping us?" Han questioned. "Aren't we the enemy?"
"You are not our enemies," Gozler responded. "Our enemies are blindness and greed, two qualities that Xiac and Milqum have in great abundance. If we do not stop them, Zevliz will descend into a permanent state of civil war, and all life will be destroyed."
"Then I suggest we cut the chatting, and move it," Han snapped. "Which way?"
"We will guide you, but please take care to stay out of the way once we meet up with the Vesperal Shamans. You must allow us four Gifted Ones to handle this situation."
"Sure," Han muttered, not intending to keep his word for one second.
General Wedge Antilles clenched his jaw, trying to reason with the Over-Lords. "You can't be serious," the Corellian said, frustrated. "The New Republic won't be blackmailed. Call off your attack, and release the Council Lizgers and our people immediately. Failure to do so will lead to yourdestruction."
The Over-Lord known only as Number Eight grinned. "You will not get the best of this situation, Zevger Antilles. You will call back your alien fighters to your main vessel, and once we have gained the advantage over the wicked Southland, your people will be allowed to leave. If you do not call off your fighters, we will kill Lizger Leia within the hour. If that fails to move you, we will kill Zevger Luke, too."
"Threats won't work, Over-Lord," Wedge hissed. "All you're doing is creating a huge civil war, when you could have had peace."
"We wish no peace with the whores of the Southland." The Zevder looked over his shoulder, and several guards came into view, pushing a Council Lizger forward. "This is Council Lizger Number Two. Call off your fighters, Zevger. They are defending the depravity of the Southland."
"I can't do that," Wedge said.
The Over-Lord raised a blaster, pointing it at the Lizger's head. "I will kill this deviant while you watch."
"Do not listen to him, General," the woman shouted, her eyes wide with fear. "They are attacking us without provocation. They will kill us all if you withdraw!"
"You can't expect to fight the entire New Republic military," Wedge said, desperately trying to reason with the man. "This is folly, Over-Lord."
The Zevder smiled, and fired the blaster at the Council Lizger's temple, and the bridge on Home One watched in horror as the woman fell. "You are the folly, Antilles."
The screen went dark.
Thedda staggered, putting her hand to her forehead. "The Over-Lords have killed one of our Council Lizgers."
"We must find where they are holding them, and free our Lizgers," Phsiolyn said, her voice raw with grief. "Before they kill them all."
"Wait," Han protested. "We have to find Leia and Luke first. You said yourself that the Vesperal Shamans are behind all this, and that's where they are. Right?"
"Zevger Han is correct," Shaman Gozler agreed. "If we stop Xiac and Milqum, the Over-Lords will have no one telling them what to do, and they will be in disarray."
"But... we can't let more Council Lizgers perish!" Phsiolyn turned to Han. "Perhaps you could free the Council members while the Gifted Ones help your Lizger and friend."
"That might work," Gozler said thoughtfully. "We won't require your assistance in dealing with the Vesperal Shamans."
Han shook his head negatively. "No. Me an' Chewie are coming with you. After we get rid of the bad Power two-some, we can all go rescue the Council Lizgers. Once we take them out, handling the Over-Lords will be a piece of ryshk-cake."
Thedda sighed. "It's amazing Lizger Leia is capable of controlling you at all."
"No one controls Han Solo," the Corellian bragged, pointing at his chest.
*Keep telling yourself that, Han,* Chewie barked.
The group encountered no opposition as they made their way to the prison area, and Han was getting increasingly nervous. "Where is everyone? Why aren't they trying to stop us?"
"Milqum and Xiac want us to come," Gozler told him. "They are using your friends as bait."
"Yeah, the bad guys always like to do that. Don't you think they'll have a huge number of troops waiting for us when we get there?" questioned Han.
"Their egos will not allow that," Rooc said as he guided them into a lift. "They believe they can defeat us alone. In fact, they must prove to the Over-Lords that their Power is superior."
Han turned to Thedda, waving his hand at Rooc and Gozler. "What makes you think we can trust these two? Maybe they're in on it, and they're herding us right into a prison cell."
"You are a very suspicious male, Zevger Han," Thedda said, smiling. "You must learn to put faith in the Power."
"That'll be the day."
Luke stopped pacing, looking at the cell door. "They're here."
"Thedda and Phsiolyn," Luke said. "Use the Force, Leia. You have the talent and you've been trained, although not in a way Yoda would have approved of."
The Princess shut her eyes, reaching out as Luke requested, easily able to sense the two Luminance Priestesses. "I can sense two more Force-sensitives besides the Priestesses and the dark Shamans... and Han and Chewie!" She opened her eyes, frantic. "Why is Han here at all? What makes him think he can help take out Milqum and Xiac? Is he crazy?"
"He's crazy in love with you, sister."
She swallowed the lump in her throat. "I'm not sure that's true."
There were times Luke felt like screaming in frustration, and this was one of them. "How many times does he have to risk his life for you? What proof of his love and commitment are you waiting for?"
Leia didn't have time to reply, since the Force suddenly erupted in a huge battle outside their cell door.
"I think it's time to go help," Luke suggested.
Shaman Milqum and Xiac were standing in the entryway, patiently waiting for the new arrivals. When Shamans Gozler and Rooc entered with Priestesses Thedda and Phsiolyn, the Vesperal Shamans wasted no time. They combined their strength, throwing powerful bolts of Force-lightning at their enemies. Phsiolyn was struck and thrown backwards, hitting the wall with a sickening crunch and lay unmoving. A moment later, Gozler took a bolt in his chest, sending him reeling to the ground in agony at the deep burn.
While Chewie used his bowcaster to give cover, Han tried to move the injured Phsiolyn and Gozler out of the line of fire.
Thedda looked back at her friend, and Rooc shouted, "Do not become distracted, Priestess! We need all our Powers!"
Shaman Xiac laughed. "You have no way to defeat us. Already the numbers have become even, with two against two. We are the true Powers!"
"You're forgetting about us," another male voice said from the corridor behind the Vesperal Shamans.
Xiac spun around to face this new threat. "Off-worlders! How can you have escaped your cell?"
"You underestimated our abilities," Luke said calmly. "We were never really your prisoners."
The Vesperal Shaman fired his lightning toward Luke and Leia, forcing them to dive to the floor. Han took the opportunity of this distraction, aimed and fired his blaster at Xiac's back. With supernatural speed, Xiac spun around, barely avoiding Han's shot, ripping both the blaster and Chewie's bowcaster from the shocked off-worlders' grasps. Furious, Milqum renewed his efforts, this time sending the lightning bolts at the Luminance Shamans and Priestesses, while Xiac turned his fury on Luke and Leia.
Han was astounded as Rooc and Thedda calmly 'caught' the lightning, twisting it into a ball of energy and sending it sailing back toward Milqum. The Vesperal Shaman was forced to duck around the exploding fireballs, while continuing to send more lightning out of his fingers. It appeared that Milqum was having a harder time than he had anticipated, so Han looked past him, toward Xiac. That was the situation that concerned the ex-smuggler. The lightning bolts thrown by Xiac at the Jedi and Leia were getting closer and closer to reaching their mark.
Looking at Chewie, Han ordered, "Keep taking care of Phsiolyn and Gozler. I'm going down that corridor and stopping Xiac."
Chewie glanced up, his blue eyes wide with surprise and a bit of concern. *How?*
"Xiac is busy... he won't be expecting me to jump him from behind."
*Are you nuts?*
The Corellian wasn't listening to his partner. He crouched low and ran across the room, trying to stay under the lightning bolts and the fire-balls. He headed past down the prison corridor, and threw himself at Xiac's ankles, tackling the insane Shaman. Xiac turned his body, his glowing red eyes boring into Han's very soul.
"You are doomed, off-worlder," he said calmly, raising his hand to Han's neck.
The Shaman's fingers dug painfully into his throat, while Han brought his knee up to Xiac's groin in an attempt to break the man's deathly hold. The Corellian heard someone - Leia? - screaming his name just as Xiac shot a lightning bolt directly into his chest. The pain was so intense it felt as though someone hit him in the chest with a sledge hammer, and he was only dimly aware of his vision fading to black.
Leia watched in horror as Han was thrown back by Xiac, the Force-lightning slamming at close range directly into her husband's chest. Luke rushed past the two men, retrieving Chewie's bowcaster, and used the Force to hoist the heavy weapon up on his shoulder, firing the powerful weapon at Xiac just as Han's body hit the floor.
Shaman Xiac looked down in shock at the gaping hole in his chest, then fell face forward - dead.
Shaman Milqum made his last mistake. He spun around just in time to see his comrade die, and then raised his hands to fire at Luke, but by turning his back on Rooc and Thedda's, a powerful fire-ball burned into Milqum's torso, and the last Vesperal Shaman went up into an inferno.
The battle was over, and Leia rushed over to Han's side. His eyes were shut, his face slack. Desperately, Leia felt for a pulse, and could not find one. "HAN!" In the background, she could hear Chewie's roar of fear and grief. "Han Solo! You can't die! Do you hear me? Wake up, damn you... you... nerfherder!"
"The bolt stopped his heart," Thedda commented sadly. "He was too close to the origin."
"He can't be dead," Leia sobbed, dropping her head against the burned material of Han's shirt. "I love him."
"Of course you love him," Thedda said. "And only love can save him."
Leia looked up, her eyes brimming with unshed tears. "How can I save him? I'm not a medic."
Luke knelt beside her. "You have what they call the Power, and what we call the Force. Priestess Thedda is telling you to use your Gift."
"Just use the Force."
Leia shut her eyes, pressing her hand to the burn on Han's body. Mentally, she reached out... moving inside him. She pictured her fingers insidehis chest... massaging his motionless heart. She pictured the ebb and flow of the Force surrounding the muscle, sending small jolts into the organ.
As she was doing this, Luke and Chewie watched in complete awe as Leia's hand shimmered and became transparent, then disappeared inside the Corellian's chest cavity. When she pulled her hand out she left behind no evidence of what had just transpired.
Han's heart began pulsating... beating... and he opened his eyes and coughed.
Crying out with joy, Leia threw her arms around him. "Han... you're alive."
"She is a powerful Priestess," Shaman Rooc said, approvingly.
"Yes, and Minva was correct about her bringing Zevliz into both change and peace," Thedda said.
"Leia...?" Han mumbled, blinking hard. "Are you okay?"
"Me? You were dead, and you're asking me if I'm okay?" Leia asked, trying not to sound like she was scolding him. "What were you thinking? Oh, don't answer that... you never think."
"I do so," he muttered, sounding a bit offended. "I was thinking about saving your neck."
Leia smiled. "Han?"
"Yeah?" he asked, struggling into a seated position.
"I love you."
Han grinned. "I know."
"What kind of thing is that to say to the woman you love?" Luke yelled, while Chewie roared in agreement. "You don't say 'I know', you're supposed to say 'I love you, too!'"
"Is that how that goes?" Han asked, giving them his best innocent expression.
It took very little time or effort for the group to make its way to the conference room where the Council Lizgers were being held hostage. Shaman Rooc and Priestess Thedda simply used their Power to push aside the guards, and the guards with their regular blasters could not compete. Luke and Leia helped the injured Phsiolyn and Gozler along, while Han and Chewie followed, bringing up the rear with blasters at the ready.
Shaman Rooc used his Power to force open the conference room door, and entered first. The Over-Lords appeared shocked as Priestess Thedda and the others followed.
"Shaman!" Over-Lord Seven shouted, holding a blaster at one of the Lizgers. "Have you lost your mind? What are you doing with these evil witches and off-worlders?"
"I am informing you of the deaths' of the Intermediacy Shamans Portal and Tav by the hands of Shaman Xiac and Shaman Milqum," Rooc replied. "You attacked the Southland because Xiac and Milqum told you the time was right - that the Balance was in the favor of the Northland due to the death of Priestess Minva. I am here to inform you that only Shaman Gozler and myself remain as trained Gifted Ones in the Northland. The Balance is now overwhelming in the Lizgers favor, and the off-worlders are serving to increase those odds. If you do not call off the attack, it will be the Northlands that lose today, and you will be the last Over-Lords."
The Over-Lords were stunned at this news, and finally one asked, "All but two Shamans are gone?"
"Yes," Rooc said.
Leia stepped forward into the room, much to Han's dismay. "Put your blasters down, and free the Council Lizgers. Then call off your attack. You cannot win, especially since your remaining Shamans are now on our side."
"What about Council Lizger Two?" demanded one of the Lizgers as she pointed at Over-Lord Number Eight. "He cannot murder one of our Lizgers and remain unpunished."
Rooc nodded in agreement. "Over-Lords, what is your decree?"
The Over-Lords looked back and forth, not quite knowing what to say or do now that the Vesperal Shamans were no longer guiding them. "We shall... take away his Lizder?"
"What?" Over-Lord Eight shouted. "You have no right! These are the unholy Lizgers of the Southland. Their deaths are irrelevant."
"Not anymore," Leia said firmly. "The Northlands must change, starting today."
Over-Lord Eight spun around, aiming his blaster at Leia. He never got his charge off. A far more powerful blast from a DL-44 came from behind Luke and Leia, firing past them and striking the Zevder in the abdomen, leaving a gaping hole. The man's eyes widened at the fatal wound, and he fell dead without a sound.
"Any more takers?" Han asked conversationally. "I'm pretty damn good with a fast draw, ya know."
The thirteen Over-Lords' blasters suddenly began crumbling in their fists, sparking and crackling as Priestess Thedda and Shaman Rooc destroyed them, one by one. Everyone in the room, including Luke, was impressed and astounded by their Powers. Finally the Over-Lords raised their hands above their heads. "We are at your mercy, Lizgers of the Southland."
Home One, three days later
"Congratulations, Princess Leia," Admiral Ackbar's gravely voice said as he nodded. "The treaty between the Southland and the Northland is a work of art."
Smiling, Leia said, "Thank you, but I don't think I could have done it without the assistance of the Luminance Priestesses and Shamans." She looked toward Luke. "And Jedi Skywalker."
"Don't underestimate your own role, Leia," her brother told her. "Having the Zevders give the Lizders full freedom, and the Lizgers agree to no longer give Zevgers mele-berries, and allowing them to wear clothing was exactly what everyone needed. You really were the Gifted One that brought about change to Zevliz."
"Except most of the Lizders want to continue wearing those crummy head-to-foot robes," Wedge said with a sigh. "And a lot of the Zevgers still want to walk around butt-naked."
Leia laughed. "There are generations of brainwashing involved in this situation, Wedge. It will probably be at least a generation until Lizders and Zevgers fully alter their behavior, too."
"Speaking of altering behavior," Wedge said, looking around. "Where's Han?"
"He's on the Falcon with Vail," Leia told him. "It's past time I had a long talk with my Zevger."
"Is he your Zevger?" Luke asked gently.
"Yes. He is."
Onboard the Millennium Falcon
"Han?" Leia called out as she entered the old freighter. Instead, Chewie came around the curved corridor, holding the baby. "Is he behaving?"
*Han or Vail?* Chewie asked, pointing at the infant and back toward the cockpit.
Understanding, Leia laughed. "Both, I guess. I need to talk to Han in private, if you don't mind."
*It is about time,* Chewie woofed, heading down the ramp with Han and Leia's cub.
The Princess walked into the cockpit where Han was sitting quietly facing the viewport. She took Chewie's seat, and cleared her throat. "I should never have said those terrible things after Vail was born. I'm sorry."
"I'm not mad at you."
"Han... you might still want to leave, after I tell you what's been upsetting me so much since Luke showed up on Zevliz."
The Corellian spun around in his seat, facing her. "I love you, Leia. I'm not going anywhere." He reached forward, taking her hand and pulling her onto his lap. "Whatever you have to say, I think I can take it."
"I love you, nerfherder," Leia said, resting her face into the curve of his neck and wrapping her arms around his waist. Then she took a deep breath, and told him everything.
And afterwards, Han Solo still loved his Princess.