Yes, I am back. This is a real update. Your eyes are not deceiving you.
After two long years, I am finally on the track to better health. My migraine headaches are more controlled for the time being, and I will be able to have health insurance starting in October, so hopefully things will continue to improve with my other stuff.
I am not going to be able to update as frequently as I used to-I'm wearing wrist braces on both arms and have to be careful of how much I type. This chapter took about a month to finish and another couple of weeks to get beta'd. So you can probably expect updates every six weeks or so. No more chapters every week like I did with One Path.
I've been out of fandom so long I'm not sure who's still active. I'm looking for a few people familiar with One Path to act as pre-publication readers. Basically, you get the chapters a week in advance of anyone else in exchange for answering a few questions and generally telling me what you think. You don't have to do detailed beta edits, but I'd be thrilled if one or two people might volunteer for that.
A general note about my Star Wars writing and the One Path universe.
My creative partner for this universe/storyline has left livejournal and pared back her involvements in fandom due to other commitments and needs in her life. She's still involved but may not be able to contribute as much to the content of the stories. I'm not as familiar with the EU as she is (and don't like a lot of it) so I'm changing my approach to this story and future content in this 'verse. Since we're not covering the film saga and this is an alternate universe storyline, I'm going to have details that may not match the EU. I don't have the time or interest to research every EU character and plotline. Apologies to anyone who is a fan of the EU; you're just not going to find much of it in my verse. I'll be including a handful of characters who've already been mentioned in One Path (like Mara Jade and Talon Karrde) but in other cases, the characters' backgrounds may be pretty different or they just won't appear.
Now on to notes regarding this story specific chapter.
1. It's been a few years since I wrote in this verse, so if you notice any drastic changes in my writing style, that's why. I'm doing my best to keep it consistent.
2. We briefly mention in One Path that the Kenobi family built a house on the Lars' property. The house is not underground the way the main homestead living space is. The Kenobis and the Lars' didn't have the resources to do that. Most of what I write about the layout of the farm and how it's set up are conjecture based on a few references from the films, what little I could find on Wookiepedia and things I've picked up from reading about desert ecology in Frank Herbert's Dune novels. I have no idea if the EU ever explains moisture farming in detail, so I'm making stuff up and doing my best to make sure it's plausible.
3. What the boys do in this chapter is based on a combination of Dune elements and a Force technique I once read about in an early EU novel. Extra points if you spot the refs.
Before anyone asks: I'm sorry, I don't know when I'll be getting back to Land and Sky or my Stargate stories. I WILL. I promise. Thanks for your continued patience.
Ani watched as Luke slipped off into the 'fresher. The door slid closed, and Ani turned away. He closed his eyes and tried to turn the problem of the Tuskens over in his mind. Luke was right. There had to be another way. It seemed wrong to him to just leave things alone and let people continue to get killed on both sides.
What can I do? he asked himself.
If Obi Wan and Padme couldn't mediate for the Tuskens and the settlers, he certainly couldn't—or could he? He didn't have either of his parents' skill or experience, but maybe that would help. Nobody would connect old Ben Kenobi's son with a famous negotiator from the Clone Wars. Then again, would anyone listen either?
They were all so angry. How could he get them to stop shouting long enough? He thought for another couple of minutes, then got up and walked into his parents' bedroom. There wasn't much in there. Just a low bed, a couple of end-tables, a chest of drawers and a small writing desk in the corner. There was a patchwork blanket on the end of the bed. Aunt Beru had given it to the Kenobis when they first came to the desert. The nights were cold here, and the young family hadn't brought much with them from Alderaan. They didn't want to raise suspicions about where they'd come from and why.
Somewhere in here, Padme kept old holorecordings and reports from the senate. Ani knew that she had them because she'd used them in some of the children's lessons. She and Bail Organa had both thought it was important to make sure the children knew as much about what had really happened during the Clone Wars as possible. Everything available on the holonet now was censored—more Imperial propaganda than history.
He thought there might have been something in there that could help him. There had to be mention somewhere of negotiations like this. The Separatists had certainly believed themselves justified in trying to cede from the Old Republic. There was a different argument there, but the problem couldn't—
A surge in the force—hot and powerful, full of aggression. It was too strong, too controlled to be Tuskens. There were others with it, less disciplined, just flares of anger and bloodthirst. Ani followed the current, felt it moving toward them, building momentum and getting hotter as it came on. He ran out of his parents' room, glanced at the 'fresher door, and kept moving.
Uncle Owen had insisted that he keep a blaster rifle in his bedroom. Obi Wan never liked it, but Ani was a farmer and he had to know how to use one. He had Qui-Gon's lightsaber, but as soon as he used it, the Kenobis' cover would be blown. He hoped it wouldn't come to that. He pulled the rifle down off the wall and checked the power pack with a practiced motion and a sweep of his eyes. Then he moved to station himself in the living room, between Luke and whatever was outside.
"Stay in there!"
"What is it?" asked Luke. The door to the 'fresher slid open again and Luke's footsteps raced through the short hallway to the living room.
"Anakin, what are you doing with a blaster?."
"I told you to stay in there!"
"What are you doing with that?" Luke repeated.
He was standing in the doorway, bare-chested and with nothing on his feet. He hadn't finished his shower, just jumped back out and pulled his pants on. His hair was sticking up, and his eyes were as big around as a couple of melons. Ani would've laughed if the situation hadn't been so serious.
"There's someone outside," he said.
"I know. It's just the Sand People…isn't it?"
Ani shook his head.
Luke moved to crouch by the window with his brother. The younger boy's skin had gone white, and the fine hairs all over his body were standing up. He looked at the door, then at Ani.
"Is it…Jedi hunters?"
"Someone who knows the Ways of the Force," Ani said. "I can't tell."
"Do you think they have Mom and Dad…?"
Ani rested a hand lightly on Luke's arm and shook his head. "Mos Eisley's the other way."
"Then it can't be Jedi hunters. They'd have to come from the spaceport," Luke said.
"I don't know who it is, Luke. I don't know if the shields will hold against Imperial blasters. They're not as powerful as the ones at Uncle Owen's. He's got all the equipment and the vehicles over there and no ridge to hide the dome, so he needs better ones. We may have to fight. Listen, if we get separated, remember what Dad told us. Try to make it to Alderaan. We'll meet there."
"We're not going to…all right, Ani."
Ani wanted to tell his brother that it would be okay, but he couldn't. What if it wasn't okay? Luke would never forgive him for something like that—or if Luke would, Ani still didn't know if he could forgive himself. Since there was nothing else he could say, he focused his attention on the presence outside.
It wasn't Vader. He was sure of that, and he was sure that there was only one being with Force training. The other presences were too erratic and undisciplined. Could a Jedi hunter have brought stormtroopers along? No…stormtroopers didn't feel like that. Their feelings were rigorously controlled, cold, their minds rigid and tight with military discipline.
The wave of anger and hostility moved closer. It was huge—an army? The house shields definitely wouldn't withstand that—but it couldn't be. The Emperor wouldn't send an army for the Kenobis. He gestured for Luke to go and get dressed. If they had to run, he didn't want his brother to be out in the desert with barely anything on. Luke obeyed, and while he was gone, Ani decided it would be a good idea to move the couch. He pushed into the doorway between the kitchen and living room. A barricade would have been better, but the intruders were coming on fast. At least this way it would be another obstacle between them and the boys.
Luke returned with Ani's travel cloak in his hand and took the rifle while Ani pulled the cloak over his head. When Ani was dressed, the boys checked all the windows and then positioned themselves to wait.
Ani made sure that he stayed between the door and his brother. Luke fidgeted at first, then he tried to move closer, but Ani shook his head. If anyone got through the shields and came in, he wanted clearance between himself and Luke—enough time for Luke to run.
"Stay—there," he whispered.
The intruders kept coming, and the sounds of their feet and their battle cries reached the little house. Ani knew those sounds. He frowned. Then he blinked, and his eyebrows rose.
"You were right," he said. "It is the Sand People."
"But there's someone else?" Luke asked. He pressed his lips together in concentration and then tilted his head. "Ani, I think there's a man with them."
Ani opened himself wider to the force, tested the presences around them, and searched his own feelings. After a few moments, he gave a slow nod.
"You're right, I think. And…I don't think they're coming for us. I don't think they're stopping."
"What do you mean? If it's not us…?" Luke's questioned trailed off, and both brothers looked meaningfully toward the window on the north side of the living room.
"They don't know there's a house here," Ani explained. His heart began to pound, and his mouth went dry. "They can't see it from the ridge. They're headed to the main house. Aunt Beru and Uncle Owen."
"Come on, we have to help them!" Luke sprang up from where he was hidden and started shoving the couch out of the way.
Ani slung the rifle over his shoulder and moved to help, but he didn't rush, and he kept his voice calm. "We can't just rush off."
"Do you hear them, Anakin?! There's a whole army out there and—who knows what—someone leading them who knows how to use the Force. The shields won't hold!"
"We need a plan. If we run into the middle of a fight, we're just going to get ourselves killed," Ani said.
"What kind of a plan?" asked Luke as they heaved the couch out of the way.
"There's too many," said Ani as he strode through the kitchen and moved to lower the shields. "Maybe there's a way we can trick them off. Get them to go somewhere else."
"Uncle Owen says the only thing that ever puts the Sand People off are krayt dragons and sandstorms," said Luke.
"With the mood they're in and a Force using war leader, I don't think a few krayt dragon calls will do it. Probably just enrage them further. A sandstorm would do it, though. They can't go where they can't see," Ani replied. His hands moved quickly and decisively over the shield controls, and he ducked out of the house into the night.
"How are we going to make a sandstorm?" Luke demanded, racing after him.
"If we can pick up rocks and each other with the Force, we ought to be able to move sand. Just have to move enough, fast enough to scare of the Sand People," Ani told him. "We'll have to Force run to make it up there ahead of them, though. Can you make it?"
"It's not that far. I can do it—but Anakin, what if the adept isn't scared off? What if he senses us?" Luke asked.
"We'll deal with that when it happens. Just—if I tell you to run, Luke, you do it. Understand me?"
"I'm not going to leave you alone!"
"We don't have time to argue. Somebody has to get to Mom and Dad if there's trouble with a Force adept. I need you to do what I say," Ani insisted.
Before Luke could protest any further, Ani drew the Force into himself and ran. Life surged through him, bright and hot, exhilarating even in the midst of the danger they were facing. It fed his muscles and nerves, propelling him over the desert floor. The wind of his passage sprayed sand all around him, and he had to lower his head to keep the particles from stinging his nose and eyes. At first he could hear and feel Luke behind him. He felt a twinge of guilt about the sand he must have been kicking up in his wake. Then he pulled ahead and Luke became a distant rhythm in the desert floor.
The Lars farm had three ranges, wide desert basins surrounded by thick ridges of stone and sand. Vaporators were scattered over basins in deeper, man-made pits, where the lower altitude and the shade provided by the ridges helped cool the desert air and allow them to collect more trace moisture. The Kenobis lived at the far end of the south range. Beru and Owen's home was on the other end of the property, and the Sand People were coming up from the southwest. The boys knew all the shortest routes to the main house and circled around the advancing army to cut them off just beyond the rim of the Lars' living pit.
Ani reached it first, and open to the Force as he was, he could see the advancing cloud of dust and sand that the Tusken army was kicking up. He felt his body begin to shake and drew in a deep breath. Luke wasn't far behind him, but he couldn't wait. They would only have a few minutes.
With the Lars' house shields up, they wouldn't be able to move any closer or hide in the pit. They'd need shelter from the storm and he could only think of one thing to do. He dropped down to the sand, set his rifle down, and began to dig, using the Force to augment his strength and speed as he scooped out a shallow ditch.
Luke caught up with him and paused for a second, but he didn't waste time asking for an explanation. Once he caught his breath, he dropped to his knees and helped. They worked until they had a trench just deep enough for them to kneel in side by side. Then they crawled into it, and Ani tore a couple of strips from the end of his cloak. He gave one to Luke, then covered his mouth and nose with the other and gestured for Luke to crouch low with his face toward the sand.
"What are we doing?" Luke finally asked in a muffled whisper.
"If they see anything, they'll just think we're a couple of rocks sticking up. We can try to keep the storm in front of us, but if we get buried, we should have enough air here to dig ourselves back out. If anything goes wrong, slow your breathing and heart rate, and don't panic.."
"Oh, that sounds easy, Anakin…"
"You can do it, Luke. We've done harder things in survival practice. I promise I'll get us out of this. Help me now," Ani said as he reached for his brother's hand.
Ani's Force talents centered on emotion and awareness of the Living Force. He had strong empathic gifts, but he had trouble with physical tasks like moving or lifting things for more than a few moments. If they'd had to Force run through the open desert, he would have had to move in short spurts too. Luke could manipulate objects for longer spans of time, but he usually lacked the concentration and focus to do it. If they were going to make this work, they would have to do it together.
Their minds touched in the same instant as their fingers locked together, and Ani felt Luke open himself up to the Force. Fear pumped through him with each beat of his heart, but it quieted when he felt the touch of his brother's mind. The drew in deep breaths and let them out again, conscious of, but trying not to focus on the Tusken war party closing its distance.
First they reached for the piles of sand that they'd just dug up. They'd already touched it, so it was easier to find in the Force and get it moving. Luke swirled the sand into the air, calling it into a funnel, which Ani tightened and helped steer in front of them as the Tusken Raiders came on. They let the sandswirl build and pull more debris into itself until the air around them was thick with grit and they were coughing heavily even through the coverings on their faces.
The rage and bloodlust Ani felt from the Tuskens shattered into surprise and then snapped back at them as fear and awe that quickly spread into panic. They scattered, but the strange Force adept wasn't so easily deterred. Ani felt his mind calling out like a clear, sharp note from a bronze instrument, drawing them back and calming them all without uttering a word. They didn't seem sensitive enough to hear his voice in the Force, but his will was enough to hold them. He knew this was no sandswirl, and he reached into the Force with far more power than either of the brothers, willing the storm to pass.
Ani, I can't keep going… Luke warned.
Hang on, just a few more minutes, Ani urged.
He pressed forward with his own mind, trying to escalate the Sand People's fear and make them afraid enough to scatter. The stranger pushed back against him, and although Ani could feel a terrible tension rising in the Tuskens, he couldn't break through the influence that the man had on them. The sandstorm started to break apart.
Desperate, Ani reached back into his own heart and grasped at the fear there—the old terror, sunset, the screams and the blood and the echoes of his own feet pounding through ancient hallways full of death, away from one darkness and into another. He dredged up the Dark Man and the red blade from his nightmares and let death slice through the desert night. He flung the image and the raw, bleeding emotion into the Force and pushed them forward, sending them into the whirlwind that Luke was still holding together. The two horrors merged and grew in the group-mind of the Tusken war party, and the Kenobi brothers pushed harder. Their sandstorm grew again, and it came alive for the Tuskens—a terrible desert spirit that inhabited the sands and guarded the place they were trying to enter. Finally, Ani felt their ranks break apart and they scattered into the night.
He began to shiver, trying to force the old memories back where he kept them. He didn't have time to fall apart now. He released Luke's hand, and the storm died away. Sand rained down over them, and he felt Luke move backward. A hand grasped the back of his cloak and pulled him out of the ditch. He knew it was Luke, but he could barely see or sense anything.
The dust slowly settled, and a tall figure strode out of it. He looked more like a desert spirit than Ani could imagine their sandstorm being. He fumbled for Qui-Gon's lightsaber, still coughing, but Luke stepped in front of him. He was so shaken that he didn't notice the blaster rifle in Luke's hands until a red beam lit up the night. It barely missed the stranger's right ear.
"Take another step, and I won't miss," Luke said.