Chapter XLIII: Time Reels Blindly On

It's funny, because the name Anakin Skywalker used to conjure up imagery of heroics and bravery and the adventures that legends are made of, but when Lora Kii passed out, they used to call him Anakin Skywalker reverberating over and over in her head, all she experienced were nightmares – bizarre collages of her worst recollections from before the Jedi Order claimed her.

Monsters in the sand.

Blood.

Strangers.

She's screaming.

She's running and he catches her and she can't run any further and she's so scared, so scared, so scared.

"Did you think you could get away, little girl? Now, let's see –"

When Lora Kii's eyes flew open again, she was on her feet in seconds and she was fumbling for her lightsaber and it wasn't there.

Then Lora Kii blinked, and her eyes moved slowly over the stark white walls and the stark white floor, and she remembered where she was.

You're in the medical wing of a holding facility on Geonosis… This facility is under the jurisdiction of the Galactic Empire…

She'd been moved to another location, obviously. Transferred to a more permanent, private cell, although the only notable difference was the lack of medical equipment and the presence of a single window.

What was she even doing here? She should be dead. She should be dead.

What was it Commander Coast had said?

You are now a subject to the Empire, and a prisoner, I might add…

Prisoner.

That word carried troubling echoes of a past she'd been outrunning for a very long time.

Master Lora Kii had been a prisoner before, many times. A captive of the Sand People. A slave of Saul Kyron. A war prisoner of the Separatist Alliance – twice.

If Lora could have written down one thing that she hated most about her experiences in the Clone Wars, it would have been imprisonment. It just had too many links to darker times of her life. It forced her to stop running and just sit alone in the silence, surrounded by unsettling memories, the same voices of her past playing in endless repetition in her mind.

There was one window, and eventually she went to look – but all she could see through the bars was the endless wasteland of Geonosis' rocky terrain.

She paced the cell, like a caged predator. Tap, tap, tap of her bare feet against the floor. She thought about Kherev, but that only made her think of Sai and Aiya and Seth and the blood and the spear and how it went through her –

How long had she been in here? Minutes? Hours? Days?

There were voices in the hallway, and in desperation she pressed her ear against the door, straining to catch the sound. Any promise of living beings in here somewhere, any flicker of an indication that she wasn't just going to be left here to waste away to skin and bones…

She caught the voices: identical. Clone troopers.

"They captured her Padawan."

"Ra'shah, Kherev – correct?"

"Yes, sir."

Kherev? Lora's head spun. An animal need coursed through her veins. NO! They could not have him, she wouldn't let them, she would never let them break him like that beast Saul had broken her all those years ago –

Lora struggled to catch the conversation in the hall.

"I don't understand. Why not execute her? It's expensive to keep prisoners alive."

"She won't live long. Lord Vader estimates three days before she dies."

Lora couldn't breathe.

Three days.

Three days left for her to live, and then they'd interrogate Kherev or torture him or kill him…

She struggled to catch the clones' voices through the door of her prison cell.

"She didn't recover from her wounds, I presume?"

"No. She made a full recovery. Lord Vader fully expects to see an, ah… alteration in Ra'shah's alliances."

"He will serve the Empire?"

"Yes, sir."

"Then what of the woman?"

"Ra'shah will need to present proof of his conversion, although he is fully expected to join the Empire. He will kill Master Kii himself."

"Can that truly be expected? Ra'shah is a Jedi, sir."

"No Jedi is immune to reason. He will see the truth of what the Galactic Empire has accomplished, and he will do what must be done."

Master Lora Kii staggered back from the door. She tripped over something – the edge of her bunk (the only furniture in her cell,) thin air, her own feet, something – and she hit the floor on her knees and she couldn't think and she couldn't breathe through the silent scream that this cannot be happening.

Anakin Skywalker was Darth Vader, the Republic was a Galactic Empire, the Jedi Order was dead, Sai was dead, Aiya was dead, Seth was dead, Kherev had been captured, Kherev was going to kill her –

NO!

This was not happening. This was not happening.

She'd loved him, she'd trained him, she'd drilled into him every second of every day that he was someone of worth, of potential, of destiny –

He can't kill me.

It was that basic, and that horrible.

He can't. He can't.

So why did something in the very back of her mind whisper that yes, he could, and did you think you could get away, little girl?

Lora threw herself upon the lonely bunk of her cell, and she sobbed – like she really was that little girl all over again, alone on Tatooine, not a friend in the galaxy. Lora sobbed, awful choking sobs that wouldn't stop, and she wept until she thought she'd never cry again.

Because she had poured her everything into her Padawan, and somehow even after years and years of there is no emotion she was terrified.

There is peace but her head spun, there is no ignorance but nothing made sense, there is knowledge but she never knew enough to make it matter, there is no passion but she was furious now, she hated the Sand People and Saul and this whole blasted Empire, there is serenity but not here, not now, there is no death but she was going to die and Kherev was going to die and the Jedi were dead and the Republic was dead, there is the Force but what difference did it make when they were going to die, for crying out loud?

She sobbed, and she wept, and then she closed her eyes like that could block out the world. Instead, she slept.

They say that before you die, your life flashes before your eyes. If that was true, Lora suddenly knew with a paralyzing certainty that death was close. She didn't remember the past. She all but relived it.

Others would call them nightmares. For a Jedi, they are often visions – or worse, a sign that the Dark Side is gathering thicker than before.

In any case, the dreams of Lora Kii were of things that she had long ago tried to forget…

Seven years old.
It was a dream.
It was weapons and shouts, blood and sand, and when she woke up in a cold sweat, she could have sworn it was real.
But it wasn't. Not yet.
Visions come before things happen.

...

Seven years old. And a half, she always reminds them. Seven and a half.
They come with weapons.
"Shh..." her mother whispers, and the little girl huddles close to the warmth of her parent, hiding herself in the rough, weathered robes of the moisture farmer's wife.
Outside, the others are screaming. Men scatter. The ones called Sand People howl inhumanly, waving their gaffi sticks as though they are declaring war.
Her eyes stream live, warm tears. "Father..."
Her mother's voice quavers, but she whispers, "He'll be fine, sweetie. He'll be fine."
"Danyl..."
"Father will find your brother. Don't be afraid."
Outside, her father's voice calls out above the din of the fight. "Danyl... Danyl!"
Then her father cries out in fear. Dead? Wounded? Knocked out cold? He groans. Then his voice cuts off.
"Fa–" Her mother's hand clamps over her mouth to swallow her shriek, but it's too late.
The metal point of a gaffi sticks crashes their door down. A Sand Person – what was it the farmers called them, Tusken Raiders? – a Tusken Raider slips inside, weapon raised in a thinly veiled threat.
She screams, terrified out of her mind, and tries to run. The Raider catches her by the ankle.
"No!" her mother cries. "Not my daughter –"
With a furious growl, the Raider raises his gaffi over the little girl's head. She screams again. She stumbles back into the corner of their little house, but there's nowhere to run. The gaffi slices down –
– into her mother's back.
The moisture farmer's wife gasps.
Her daughter looks, and it's the biggest mistake she'll ever make. She'll never forget what this looks like.
The gaffi went into her mother's back... and it's coming back out her chest... And her clothes are red, the weapon is red, everything is turning red... Blood, blood, blood on the dry, desert sand...
The little girl stares at the Raider, eyes wide with terror. "Please..."
The Tusken Raider looks at her for a long minute. Then he lowers his gaffi.
"Come."
The little girl takes one last look at her dead mother, alone in the blood. Then she follows the Raider away.

...

Seven and a half, and a day. Or has it only been a few hours?
Night. The clouds glow pink against Tatooine's twin suns as they sink below the horizon.
The Raider fastens chains around her wrists. She looks at her father, the young brave moisture farmer, for reassurance, but his visage is grave and solemn. When the Raider is done chaining his daughter, he moves on to him. Neither of them dare to resist.
There are many weapons in this camp.
When the Raider leaves, she turns to her father. "Will we be okay, daddy?"
He can't look at her. "I don't know," he says.
Tears sting her eyes. "Is Danyl okay?"
"I don't know."
"What do you know, daddy?"
Then he doesn't answer.
"I'm sorry, Lora," he whispers.
She wants to huddle close to him in the hot, sweaty tent, but the chains are too short. She curls into a ball and sleeps on the sand.
That night, she dreams of a blue-skinned man with a gun.

...

Seven and a half, and a week. A week of beatings. A week without enough food and water.
They come with weapons.
It's a
snap-hiss and a series of howls and the heat of flames starting near their little tent, but eventually the men find them.
Their leader is big and gruff, muscular, with pallid eyes like a lonely reptile's. He leans down beside her, lowering his blaster pistol, and he unchains her wrists. Another man – a man with deep blue skin, bright blue eyes, and tails that come out of his head – a Twi'lek, she remembers – releases her father.
Her father only glares at the Twi'lek, and she doesn't know why.
They give her food. They give her water. They bandage her scratches and treat her bruises. She even gets a medpac, and only lucky people can afford medpacs.
"What's wrong, daddy?"
He stares at the clouds. "Slavers," he spits with contempt.
Only later does she learn what that means.

...

Almost eight years old now, she's sure of it.
The man and the Twi'lek talk about her like she isn't here.
The Twi'lek's eyes burn with frustration. "We'll never get a good price for her."
"She's young. Healthy." The man shrugs. "Why not?"
"Did you look at her skin? Dark. Filthy. She's farm-girl scum."
Father used to tell her that her skin was coffee-color. Warm and rich, not filthy. She doesn't like that word. Filthy. Is she filthy?
The Twi'lek fingers his blaster. "Why not just kill her now?"
"She ought to be worth something, dang it," the man growls.
"Fine. We'll try."

...

Eight years old. Almost.
It was a dream.
She lost him. They took him away. She couldn't stop them.
When she wakes up, she slips outside the slavers' tent and cries.

...

Eight years old.
The auction is over very quickly, and it's a lot of screaming from the little girl and a tortured silence from the father as his new owner leads him away to a new life. But then he finds his voice, calls out over the din.
"Remember who you are."
And then he vanishes into the crowd.

...

Eight years old.
Next auction, they notice her.
"Sold! To Saul Kyron."
The Rodian auctioneer motions to her, but she doesn't understand.
"Go on!" he instructs in his nasally monotone. "Go on!"
The Twi'lek shoves her down the stairs, and a man catches her at the bottom.
He has stern grey eyes, a hard face, broad shoulders, callous hands, thick limbs, and a strange mixture of cloth and armor for clothes.
Her head reels. "You bought me?"
He nods.
"You... own me?"
Another nod.
"I'm a slave."
He grips her shoulder like he might have gripped the collar of a dog. "First name?"
Her mouth feels like it's full of sand. "Lora," she coughs.
"Last name?"
She swallows. "Kii."
"Age?"
"Eight."
He smiles, but there is no compassion in it. "My friends call me Saul."
"Hello, Saul."
His voice drops an octave. "Be careful with your words. You will call me Master."
"Master..." she tries again.
"That's better. Now come along, slave girl."
Her eyes burn indignantly. She crosses her arms. "My name is Lora."
"Your name is irrelevant," he snarls, and he seizes her arm so tightly, it hurts. "Now come along before I regret wasting my credits on a farm girl."
She wants to protest, but her arm is already certain to be black-and-blue, and she decides that she really doesn't want to see Saul when he's angry.
No, not Saul, she corrects herself. Master. Get used to it. He's your master. You're a slave.
Her cheeks burn, but a small voice nudges her mind.
Remember who you are.

...

Eight years old.
She tried to run. Once.
"Did you think you could get away, little girl? Now, let's see what happens when you try a stunt like that."
Snap-hiss. Snap. Snap.
That was the day she learned what blasterfire felt like.
She could barely feel her left shoulder for days, but she did whatever Saul instructed. Wouldn't want to get killed, little girl. Wouldn't want to find out how blasterfire through the heart feels. Wouldn't want to get hurt, would you, little girl?

...

Eight years old. And a half.
She just wanted to know how it worked. She didn't mean to shoot out a window with his blaster pistol.
His hand smacks her face so hard, his knuckles are wet with crimson when he pulls away. She can't help it. She cries out. Again, his fist swings in – a sharp crack that shoots through her cheekbones. She winces. Blood stains her dry, cracked lips.
He grips her jaw between his fingers, forces her face up so that they're eye-to-eye.
"Do you understand me? You do as I say. You do as you're told. Or believe me, girl, there are much worse things I could do to you. Are we clear?"
Her eyes glisten with tears. "I-I-I'm... sorry..."
He leans in closer, his face inches from hers, and his eyes look almost black. His breath smells like tough meat. "I said," he growls, "are we clear?"
She nods stiffly. "Yes."
His grip on her jaw tightens.
"Y-Yes... Master."
He smiles, releasing his hold on her. She instinctively stumbles away, one hand raised to protect her face, but no further blows come.
"Good," he says.

...

Eight years old. And a half.
She dreams of a blaster, of red-hot bolts ripping through the cool, night air.

...

Eight years old. And three quarters, she thinks. She's not entirely sure.
He leads her outside by the hand. For a moment, she thinks he must never have found out about the food she stole – she was starving, she had to – but when she pauses, uncertain, he seizes her arm and swears at her, and then she knows she's in trouble.
"Back up." He shoves her hard, and she stumbles in the shifting sand. "Further. A few more yards."
She slowly makes a space between them, her warm brown eyes wide and uncertain.
Saul nods his approval. "Now, I see you think you can trick me. You think you're stronger than me. Well, let's see how you fare."
Cold disbelief shudders through her as he nonchalantly raises his blaster pistol. He pulls the trigger. A burning
snap-hiss sounds off, and blasterfire rockets at her head.
She screams, staggering on the uneven sand. The bolts barely miss. Her hair smells like it's burning.
Snap-hiss.
She hits the ground face-first. Just manages to evade the shots. Sand fills her mouth and nose, and she coughs fiercely. She can't breathe.
Snap. Snap. Snap.
This time she screams.
When it's over, he puts the pistol back in its holster at his hip. Then he all but drags her back to the house, swearing all the way. "Walk, girl!"
But her leg burns where one of the bolts broke the skin, and it's all she can do not to cry.

...

Nine years old. Almost.
When she dreams that night, she dreams that he doesn't come back.

Sleep for a Jedi is often unpleasant. When Master Lora Kii awoke, it was all she could do not to scream.

A/N: Lora Kii is actually named after myself, (my real name is Laura,) so treating her like this isn't exactly on my list of Top 10 Fun Things to Do. I really feel bad for her, but such is the story. It ran away from me.

I'm having a blast revealing more of Lora's backstory, though. I've had the gist of it written since last summer, or at least summarized in my writing notebook. Only now did it become full-blown narrative. Expect another dream sequence with more flashbacks in a later chapter.

Not counting this chapter or A/Ns, WIB has reached 246 pages in my backup copy. Holy. Crap. I didn't even know that was possible. I'm totally in shock. When I searched the document, there were over 500 quotation marks (") alone. Yikes.

Now, on to some more technical things:

ANNOUNCEMENTS –

I noticed in reading the intro to one of my reviewers, Matt Guthrie's, OC fic that he warned people not to copy his characters. I probably should have mentioned that a while ago, but here's the belated statement. Don't steal my characters. I'm not saying that you would (I love you guys and I doubt it) but I just thought I should clear that up.

On the other hand, if for some wild reason (and I highly doubt this would happen in a million years) you actually WANT to write something about my characters, I wouldn't prevent it. Do as you please, but the fic has to go through me. "Offshoot of Why I Breathe by Shadows of a Dream" would have to go in the summary of the fic and in an author's note at the end. My story would need to receive credit for any OCs used from it, and expect a review from me detailing whether you have the OCs IC in my offshoot of the SW universe. I'd be honored if someone wanted to write about my characters, although I doubt that would ever actually happen.

Also, it saddens me that I have so few images of my characters. If any of you happen to be artists, and you ever want to draw my OCs, be my guest. Just link to my fic in the description of the image, and tell me if/when you post it. Again, I doubt that would ever happen, but it would be crazy cool so you have my permission IF you follow these guidelines I've explained.

Also, I created a wiki for this fic on the Star Wars fanon wiki, officially. There's some additional content on the bottom of that article regarding the potential sequel if anyone wants to check it out. Just search Why I Breathe on the fanon wiki if you're interested.

Finally… *deep breath* Yikes, this author's note is long.

Thanks a million times to my amazing reviewers! I love you all! *HUGGLEGLOMPS* And, er, please review again. Not that I'm checking for reviews every five minutes or anything, you know. XD