Survival

of

The Fittest

Let's pick up where I left off.

(\*/)

Sometimes the harsh words we speak belie the true admiration we feel.

(\*/)

"WHAT?" The Viceroy slammed a fist into his desk. His tea cup shattered on the floor. The remaining tea spilt everywhere. "YOU DID NOT DO AWAY WITH THEM?" He roared at the three Bounty Hunters on the holoprojector. "WHAT AM I PAYING YOU FOR?"

"You're paying us to keep you safe." Aurra stated snobbishly. "You never said anything about killing them." Gunray growled rabidly through gritted teeth.

"And why would we?" Bane snickered, chewing on a toothpick. "De Jedi are proving to be…entertaining."

"Indeed…" Aurra chuckled. "Mace Windu and his friend put up a decent fight." She stroked her fingers down her chin pensively, No wonder Tanya had such trouble with him.

"Speak for yourself." Embo remarked hostilely. "I was most disappointed in the display by the Jedi I faced. The daughter of Jango should have proven herself to be a more formidable opponent."

"PFFT!" Bane spat his toothpick to the ground. "De daughter of Jango. Dat girl has no doubt lost her fire!"

"Don't count her out just yet." Aurra advised cautiously. "Trust me…" She touched a hand to her leg, "She'll take a limb if you don't watch."

"Oh-ho…" Bane draped an arm around Aurra's shoulders, "Do I detect a hint of admiration?"

"ENOUGH PRATTLE!" Gunray boomed. "In what direction were the Jedi heading?"

"East for the facility." Embo reported. "They attained your set landing coordinates from your dismantled ship and began their journey."

"How long ago was it you made contact with the Jedi?"

"About two hours ago." Bane answered. "And before you ask, dey must have traveled for about an hour before we ambushed them."

"Their Speeders have been damaged." Embo added as a little tidbit to ease Gunray's stress. Just a little. "So their travels have only been delayed by several hours."

Gunray leaned away from the projector, taking a moment to think about the situation. Three hours of his duration on Frii-Caah has been exhausted. But that still left him with 32 hours before his aide arrived. On the bright side the Jedi lost their speeders. They will need to walk.

"Where are the Jedi now?"

"Of that we are unsure." Bane admitted nonchalantly. "After our – ahem – tactic retreats, we lost them in the forest." He tilted his hat down over his eyes, "Dose Jedi a quite quick when it comes to hiding."

"Very well…" Gunray muttered in a grumble, sitting in his chair, "I care not what you do with the Jedi. Just make sure they do not reach my location."

"But of course." Bane bowed insincerely.

The Viceroy ended the call. He turned away from his desk and leaned on his elbows with a deeply perturbed expression on his face. "There is no doubt in my mind they will not pull through." He muttered to himself. "Not even the Jedi can withstand Bounty Hunters of their caliber." He interlaced his fingers, growling in the back of his throat. "But still…" He closed his eyes, "I've never felt my death so near."

(\*/)

"GRR!" Tanya winced. Her top was disrobed from her shoulders. "Hm…" A cloth padded the graze on her shoulder. Luckily it wasn't deep. But had she waited any longer, the humidity and particles in the air would have infected it. It had swelled and was becoming discolored as the blood tried to clot and begin healing. "Ow…"

"Stop your wriggling!" Barriss ordered. She dipped the cloth into the spring water they and Anakin had come across during their walk. "I'm almost done." She dabbed the cloth, letting the water trickle into the wound.

"Hrm!" Tanya bit her lip. She breathed out and relaxed her body. "What about you?" She muttered. "You took quite a few blows yourself."

"I have a small headache." She rubbed her head tenderly. "But I'll live." Tanya bobbed her head in understanding. The blows Barriss took were powerful and direct. Devastating to those not adept to hand to hand. And Barriss was barely starting out as a Padawan. Ahsoka's skinnier and younger, but she can take three times to blows.

Barriss pressed on the wound again. "YOW!" Tanya wailed.

"Honestly! You broke your ribs! And this is hurting you?" Anakin smirked from behind a tree, leaning against the trunk facing the opposite direction.

"Correction." Tanya erected an educating finger. "My ribs were bruised! And they were bruised by the Count's stooges!" She clenched a vengeful fist, "How I will love tearing their heads from their shoulders and serving them to Dooku on a silver platter!"

"None of that!" Barriss pressed on the wound.

"OW!" Tanya wailed. Anakin sniggered under his breath.

"If you feed your resentment it will tarnish the wound and I won't be able to heal you!" Barriss proclaimed sternly. "So keep your temper under control for a moment or two." She placed the cloth to the ground and set her hand to Tanya's cleaned wound. "This won't hurt a bit."

"Huh?" Tanya and Anakin both glanced to her.

Barriss took a deep breath. She closed her eyes, shutting out her surrounding in darkness. The stress in her muscles dissipated into thin air. Her unease and tension quelled. She centered her mind, drowning all of her focus onto the wound her hand rested upon. "Hmm…" Barriss exhaled, opening her eyes. An aura as blue as the sky engulfed her hand. Tanya and Anakin's eyes widened in awe. The warm, twinkling glow covered the wound, filling the graze. Tanya felt the muscles in her skin tingle and reverberate. Her muscles prickled as the wound sealed itself up. As the glow died from Barriss's hand, a large bruise was all that remained on Tanya's shoulder.

"Whoa!" Tanya and Anakin gasped. Barriss slumped forward, exhausted. Anakin whirled away from the tree and ran for her. Tanya hurriedly donned her shirt and knelt to Barriss. "You alright?" Anakin asked her.

"I'm fine." Barriss groaned. "Just…a little tired."

"What was that?" Tanya asked excitedly. "That was amazing."

"It's known as Force Healing." Anakin explained, placing Barriss against a boulder near the pond. "It's a technique those training to be Jedi healers develop through harsh training and great study." Force Healing… Tanya repeated in her mind. Handy and convenient. Tanya found her respect for Barriss growing. "And much like Force Lightning," Tanya tensed, "It's a technique only a small few develop, and it can take its toll on the body." Tanya swallowed a nervous lump in her throat. As far as she knew, Barriss was unaware of her ability to use Force Lightning. It wasn't a secret, but it wasn't something she liked to broadcast. What with its dark history.

"Merely proof…that I am …still unfit to use this power." Barriss panted. "What good is something I can't use without becoming winded from a flesh wound?"

"Good enough." Tanya assured her. Barriss glanced to her in confusion. "You're, what, a novice at best? Only been studying this for a while, rarely have to put it into practice?" Barriss nodded her head shamefully. "Then of course you're going to become winded. But in no way are you unfit." Barriss was shocked by Tanya's response. Tanya placed a hand to her shoulder, "The more you use it and realize what your limits truly are, the stronger you can become and the longer you'll last. It's all a matter of pacing yourself."

"Tanya…"

Anakin scoffed in charm under his breath. You'd know, wouldn't you Tanya? Anakin clapped his hands. "Now that that's settled," He helped the two girls to their feet, "Let's keep moving. We need to gain some ground before nightfall. Hopefully we'll catch up with Master Windu and the others." Bee-dee-beep! Bee-dee-beep! Anakin's holoprojector blared.

"Speak of the devil." Barriss giggled.

Anakin answered his projector. Windu, Ahsoka, and Luminara appeared in the hologram. Ahsoka waved happily. "Your ears must be burning, Snips." Anakin chortled. "We were just talking about you three."

"Nothing good, I'm assuming." Ahsoka joked. Anakin raised a brow at her with a mischievous smirk.

"Hey Master," Tanya nudged Anakin aside, "Miss me yet?"

"I am thinking of you each time my migraine strikes up." Tanya's cheeks puffed up angrily.

"Are you well, Barriss?" Luminara asked with a deadpan expression, but with a hint of concern.

"I am Master." She bowed her head. "And yourself."

"You need not worry."

(\*/)

Ahsoka, Luminara, and Windu rested against the rocky side of a hill. The overhanging ledge provided decent cover from any eyes behind them. All they need worry for are the eyes in front or off to the sides. Their previous battles left them more mentally exhausted than physically. The surprise by how skilled the Bounty Hunters they encountered were was overwhelming. They were not only at a disadvantage with their clones being forced to remain in the Highlander, but the Bounty Hunters they encountered – it was a mistake to underestimate them, or anyone the Viceroy hired.

"Is it safe to assume you all fended off your attacker?" Luminara asked.

"Yeah…" Anakin rumbled. "It was a Kyuzo by the name of Embo. Very skilled. But we managed to fight him and his puppy back."

"What about you guys?" Tanya stepped in. "You make any friends?"

"Oh yeah…" Ahsoka groaned, rubbing her face tenderly, "A Bounty Hunter by the name of Cad Bane kicked me into a swamp."

"You alright, Snips?" Anakin asked worriedly.

"I'm fine. A little sore. But fine."

"Master Unduli and I encountered someone who seemed to know you, Tanya." Windu remarked slyly. Tanya raised a curious brow. It was never a good sign when someone knew her. "A woman by the name of Aurra Sing."

(\*/)

Tanya sighed dismally. Her stomach twisted nervously. "Of all the people!" She blared. "The Viceroy hired her!"

"So you do know her." Anakin responded playfully.

"She's my Uncle Hondo's Ex-Wife as well as – until we disbanded – Number III in the Hunter's Creed." This earned her fearful expressions from Luminara, Ahsoka, and Windu. Barriss and Anakin were…made aware – more or less – of this Creed due to Tanya's affiliations. But until now, they've always been lax towards the group. "Aurra's known as The God's Sniper. Amply named. When she has you at the end of her barrel and within her sights, she determines if you live or die and RARELY misses."

(\*/)

"Then it's obvious we were being tested." Windu rumbled ominously.

"What about the other two? Are they part of the Creed?" Luminara asked.

Tanya shrugged her hands. "They could be. The only ones I know personally are three, six, seven, and nine." Ahsoka and Windu arched dubious brows at her. Barriss and Anakin gawked at her as well. They knew Tanya religiously followed the Code of Silence, don't ask don't tell rule. But they found it hard to believe she didn't know. "What?! It's not like we had company picnics. Jango was Number I before he died and even he didn't know everyone. Besides, MACE, I was in jail for two years, remember?" The whole attacking Padme and her numerous charges landed her a nice 3,000 years in prison. "Being in solitary most of the time, the members could have changed and I never would have heard about it. For all I know a new Creed is being formed."

"Weren't there only 20 of you?" Ahsoka questioned with an arched brow.

"The top 20 were the head honchos. The remaining 400 something made up the creed." That was often the misconception. "But after the Geonosis incident everyone went their separate ways. Sure a few remained loyal, but steadily the Creed started to piece apart."

(\*/)

"So what was the point of the Creed?" Barriss asked.

"To keep tabs on the best of the best Bounty Hunters." She clarified with disgust.

"Regardless of their affiliation…" Luminara trailed off, gaining everyone's attention, "It is more than safe to assume The Viceroy is prepared to defend himself to the bitter end." She knit her brow as a secondary theory came to mind, "Or at least until he is rescued."

"That would explain why we were being played with." Tanya stated forbiddingly. "They don't care if we live or die. All that matters is the paycheck they get from Gunray."

"And they won't get that if he dies." Ahsoka finished.

"Well we can't just sit around with our thumbs up our nether regions." Anakin announced strongly. "We have to continue after the Viceroy and get to him before the Separatists show up."

(\*/)

"Agreed…" Windu trailed off, looking up to the sky to judge the position of the suns. "This is General Windu." He contacted the cruiser.

"Pawns and Rex receiving, general." Pawns answered.

"Pawns, Rex – any signs of Separatist reinforcements?"

"Scouts reported seeing separatist ships en route." Rex reported. "Their numbers exceed our own."

"We've requested General Kenobi to standby in case reinforcements are needed."

"What is the estimated time of arrival?"

"We've estimated a day in a half." Rex responded confidently. "Give or take an hour or two."

"Good work. Both of you." Windu congratulated. "Keep us informed."

"Yes sir." The call was ended.

"We've been on the ground for the last three hours." Windu informed his fellow Jedi. "Which means we have 30 or less hours until the separatists arrival."

(\*/)

"Given that we have not been attacked in the last hour or so, we must still be far from the Viceroy." Barriss assessed. "Do we know yet how far from the viceroy's planned landing position we are?"

"As a matter of fact we do." Luminara announced proudly. "I've estimated we still have another 40 to 35 miles to travel." Luminara and others gained some ground when Anakin and the two Padawans fell behind to deal with Embo.

"That's a 12 hour trek." Anakin scoffed. "And that's if we trek all the way through and don't have any hills."

"We can't possibly do that." Ahsoka declared nervously.

"There is no WAY a Neimoidian of the Trade Federation did!" Tanya boomed. "That little worm must have had help somewhere along the way!"

"Regardless," Luminara said once again, "We must make due."

"Why not just get the clones to send us another set of speeders?" Anakin suggested.

"If we do not reach the Viceroy in time, they will need all of the fuel they can muster when the Separatists arrive."

Tanya scratched the side of her cheek pensively, "That does make sense." She looked to Windu, "Master, shouldn't we use this respite as an attempt to set up a meeting place and regroup?"

"Normally yes." He agreed. "But under these circumstances, it would be best if half of us reach the Viceroy in time than none of us." Tanya bobbed her head listlessly. She didn't like it…but she understood. Aurra… "May the force be with you all."

"You as well, Master." Anakin bowed his head. The call was ended.

Tanya's ears sank drearily. Under normal circumstances she wouldn't care if she and Windu were separated. In fact there were times where she begged for it. But knowing Aurra was about and the fact that she went after Windu and Luminara left her feeling uneasy. Boba…Tanya lowered her head. Her hair blocked her eyes. Did you do this? She bit into her lip, growling vengefully. Her fingers closed into a tight fist.

Barriss noticed Tanya's behavior. It was a little…different compared to how she's been acting. "Um…" She placed a hand to Tanya's shoulders, "Tanya-?" Tanya snapped a hand to her wrist. "Ugh…Tanya?!" Anakin gaped at them from a distance. Tanya's hand grew tighter. She peered to Tanya, wanting her to see the discomfort she was in. "That-" Barriss froze. Tanya's eyes…they were grey slits. "Tanya…?"

Tanya's eyes faded back to normal. She blinked dazedly. She saw her hand clamped to Barriss's wrist. "Sorry…" She droned. She released her hand and meandered for the spring. Barriss studied the girl intently. Her arms quaked a little. What was that? "POH!" Tanya stuck her head under water. The cool water washed into her ears, through her sweat filled hair, and rinsed her eyes out. That was close…Her tail wriggled excitedly. Almost like a dog's tail. She marveled at the fish swimming around her head. Too close…

Barriss gawked at her with a confused curiosity. Everything she does…is random…to say the least. And that look in her eye…what was that? "Hm…?" She noticed Tanya's hair clumped together into…tendrils. Her ears seemed to sharpen.

Anakin turned in the general direction he believed they needed to head in. He released a breath of relief. He, like the masters and Ahsoka, knew Tanya had episodes. He was worried she was going to have one. Even more so he was worried she'd have one over…nothing. Or is there something deeper than what was said? "Okay…" Anakin muttered. Barriss glanced to him. He trailed a hand along the direction in which the suns were setting. "On this planet the suns rise in the west and set in the east." Tanya gasped pulling her head from the water. "If we keep going until the second sun sets, we can possibly make it half the way."

"Sounds good." Tanya rang her hair out. She was back to normal. Well…Tanya normal. "Besides," She nudged Barriss gently, "A little nature walk never hurt anyone." She grinned.

"A nature walk?" Barriss scoffed incredulously. "You're comparing the harsh jungle to a peaceful jaunt?"

"Spend a week on Florrum, and you'll understand why." She winked.

Barriss raised a hand, "No thanks. Judging from the gleam in your eye," She started in the easterly direction, "I already have a theory."

"Oh come on…" Tanya stressed pleadingly, "You'll love it!" She ran in front of Barriss, walking backwards with a wide grin, "And it's better to put theories into practice."

"No thanks." She declined again. "Bounty Hunters aren't my cup of tea." Anakin shook his head with a shrug of his hands.

"They're pirates actually." Tanya continued to plead her case.

"Still no."

"OH C'MON!"

"NO!"

"Master Skywalker?"

"Leave me out of this."

(\*/)

Windu tucked his projector into his pocket. He tapped his chin unsurely. "I'll go get a bird's eye view." Ahsoka volunteered. She meandered for one of the large trees, "See if I can't find us a straighter path." Ahsoka climbed up the tree like a jungle cat. She broke through the canopy. Her hand rested like a visor to her forehead. The land was covered in trees. Her scouting wasn't going to be easy.

"Why did you not tell her?" Luminara asked Windu curiously. "About the boy that woman named?" She burned her disappointed orbs into him, piecing apart his stoic disposition. "Why did you not mention him to Tanya?"

"For the last eight months Tanya has spoken of herself and Jango Windu clarified, stating this knowledge as if he were reciting an oath. "She spoke of their ups, their downs, the days they spent on jobs, the months they burned training and prepping weapons and living in solitude, and the years it took before she absolutely trusted Jango without a single thought of doubt." He lowered his head, "She spoke as if there were only two of them." Luminara was awestruck by Windu. It was as if he was telling a tale of old. "And all the times she has told me these tales…all these months she has spent by my side…" He curled his fingers into a tight fist, "Not once has she told me of…Boba…" The name rolled off his tongue in a certain familiarity. "And I think I know why."

"Why?" Luminara replied, wanting to know.

"Tanya burned with vengeance against me. That vengeance was cooled because I extended a saving hand." Windu faced the Miralian Master with an ominous glint in his eye, "I can only imagine the vengeance burning within this boy…if someone like Aurra Sing is carrying out his wishes."

(\*/)

The suns of Frii-Caah coasted across the sky, basking the land in their never ending heat. Despite the thicket of canopy leaves reflecting most of the rays back into the sky, the humidity down seemed to increase unbearably as time went on. Rippling waves of heat flickered from the ground like invisible flames. The soil was sticky and moist. The swamp fumes flooded the land, coating it in an algae sleekness.

Millipedes the length of a Kaminoan female slithered along the length of the tree trunks, disappearing into burrows beneath the leaves on the ground. Tarantulas the size of boulders lunged from their webs suspended above the ground, tackling creatures with the same skin thickness and weight of a triplet horned Rhinoceros.

Anakin, Barriss, and Tanya trekked sluggishly across the land. It was unclear how much time had passed. But it was longer than three hours. Anakin's neck started to grow stiff. Every muscle in his body became sore. He nearly tripped over his own feet several times. His legs were ready to give. His pores secreted sweat like a geyser spouted water. The muscles in his head pounded, making his ears ring.

Beads of sweat streamed down Tanya's forehead, dripping to the ground like a faucet. Her vision was blurring. As an amphibious species, Tanya was great affected by drastic heat temperatures. Deserts and Humid areas were not her best friend.

Barriss's foot sank into a hole, tripping her. Anakin and Tanya helped her to her feet. The trip was understandable. Like everyone else, Barriss was exhausted. Her muscles rang out in white hot pain from Embo's blows to her abdomen and head. But she couldn't stop. Neither one of them could.

The humidity struck them in the face no matter the direction they faced. There was no breeze, no fresh air, no means to cool themselves on their prolonged journey. Heavy pants huffed from their throats. Their mouths inhaled nothing but warm, disgusting air, drying them out. The few fresh water springs they found scattered about were warm. Not too refreshing. But to stop before they traversed their intended hours could possibly jeopardize their mission. Then again dropping dead from exhaustion just as they arrive at their goal – more jeopardizing.

"Let's take a break for now." Anakin decided.

"UGH!" Tanya threw herself to her hands and knees and fell face first into a pile of leaves. Her tail went limp.

"But it is only brief." He forewarned. Barriss collapsed against a boulder. She grunted in discomfort as her body curled into itself. The bruises to her head and stomach pulsated. Looking to the sky he studied the position of the suns. The first sun was just about to set beyond the horizon. Confirming they've been walking for three hours. Give or take a few minutes. "We only have another few hours before the second sun sets."

"You won't mind if I sleep for ten…15 minutes, then?" Tanya mumbled drowsily.

"So long as you…" He groaned pleasingly, sitting himself against a tree. "WAKE UP in ten…15 minutes." Anakin folded his arms behind his head. In a matter of seconds he was out cold.

Barriss massaged her sore muscles. The wounds were hurting more than when she was walking. The movement of muscles numbed the pain. Stopping is allowing it to ring out. "You sure you okay?"

"Huh?" Barriss jumped out of her daze.

Tanya turned her head. She stared at Barriss emotionlessly, but showed hints of worry. "You've been trying to hide it, but you've been in pain the entire time we've been walking."

"How-"

"A curse born from the force." Tanya interjected dismally. "I can sense emotions, and interpret the expressions and body signals with them." She knit her brow angrily at herself, "And it never turns off no matter how many times I flick the damn switch."

Barriss leaned back, nodding her head in understanding. "I admit I feel…a little disoriented. But I'm more concerned for you. Being an amphibian."

"There are hotter and more humid planets than this one. Geonosis for example."

"You've been there?"

"Twice. Once during the incident two years ago, the second when Jar-Jar decided to get poisoned."

"Very traumatic experiences."

Tanya shrugged indifferently, "I guess…" He voice rasped. She bit into her cheek. "Nothing I couldn't handle." She bragged. It was needed. "What about you, Miss Jedi Healing Master?" Tanya flipped onto her back, folding her hands behind her head. "Been to any exciting places?"

Barriss giggled, "Aside from the frigid planet I was sent to, not really. As younglings who have yet to be made Padawans, we're confined to the temple."

"Ooh. Frigid Planet. Which one?"

"Ilum."

"What brought you there?"

"The gathering."

Tanya tilted her head. "The…gathering?" She hummed confusedly. "What's that?"

Barriss was dumbstruck. "Are you being serious?" She sniggered doubtfully. "The gathering…" Barriss stressed. Tanya darted her eyes about pensively. "A ceremony in which a select few of younglings are sent out to get crystals for their lightsa-" She stopped. She gaped in utter disbelief. "You never attended the gathering?" She gasped.

"I never lived at the temple. I avoided it like the plague and stayed with Jango my whole life."

"Then how did you get a lightsaber?"

"Storage closet. I stole it and the masters left it at that." Retaliation for Windu defeating her, and emphasizing her disdain for the Jedi. "And before you ask, it's not from a deceased Jedi. It's actually an unused saber."

"You…literally snaked through the cracks!" Barriss folded her arms, scolding the Cat. "You have completely disregarded tradition!"

Tanya shot up to her knees, gawking at Barriss in disbelief, "I-did-not!" She gritted her teeth.

"Did so! You…you…" She whirled her hands in search of the proper phrasing, "Blew off our laws and traditions to spite the masters!"

"AHEM!" Tanya choked on her guilt. "FIRST OFF," She erected a finger, "YODA knew about me from the get go! He visited me when I was four," Before her parents died, "And while I was with Jango. But he let me continue to stay with Jango due to how unstable I am or was!" If there were a list of things which escaped the sight of Master Yoda…it probably wouldn't exist. "And, on another note," She leaned in on her hands, closing the space between her and Barriss, "The masters never brought up the gathering! In fact they haven't turned a head nor tried to take this lethal nightlight from me since I arrived practically…eight months ago! I had no idea about the gathering until you mentioned it! YOU KNOW…I am actually offended by your assumption!" Anakin bit the inside of his cheek. A laugh was welling up inside of him, ready to explode.

"What assumption?" Barriss scoffed.

Tanya sat on her knees, pouted her lip, and folded her arms. "You think I live for violating sacred traditions and religious practices for fun!"

Barriss leaned in with a dagger filled glare, "Well you walk around with a stoic and maniacal expression, and have voiced a complete and blatant disregard for authority and the chain of command!"

"I'm an impassive sadist! Not a blasphemer! I care very little for a person's title! But I respect their cultures!" She poked a finger into Barriss's forehead, "There-fore-I-do-not-de-se-crate-sa-cred-ARTS!"

Barriss swatted her hand away. "Disrespect! You disrespect arts! You desecrate graves!"

"DO NOT CORRECT ME!"

"THEN USE PROPER VOCOBULARY!"

"VOCABULARY IS FOR CHUMPS!"

"VOCABULARY SEPARATES US FROM THE ANIMALS!"

"I AM AN ANIMAL!"

"WELL AT LEAST YOU CAN ADMIT IT!"

They pressed their foreheads together in a fervent grudge match. Lightning surged between their dagger filled glares. Animalistic growls rumbled past their gritted teeth.

"Pfft…" Barriss placed a hand to her mouth, "Hee-hee-hee…" The stifled laughter pierced through the palm.

Tanya's stomach trembled and she clenched her teeth closed. "Heh-heh-heh…" The laughter was becoming contagious.

"PAH-HA-HA-HA!" The girls erupted into hearty laughter. Barriss wrapped her arms around her stomach, falling forward. Tanya slapped a hand to her forehead and fell backwards. They choked dryly, gasping for air and just laughing even harder. Anakin smiled in adoration. For well over a minute the two laughed to the point of passing out. Their laughter faded in and out, becoming exhausted pants. Barriss wiped the sweat from her brow. Tanya's stomach rose and fell.

"Oh…wow…" Barriss panted. "I don't think I've ever laughed that hard."

"Feels good, doesn't it?" Tanya chuckled.

"Very…"

"Ahsoka and I get into these little matches all the time. They end with us laughing at each other."

"You two sound like sisters."

"In some cases it seems like that." She nudged Barriss with a fist. "Jealous?" She purred.

"Not in the least."

"Liar."

"Force talent?"

"No. Intuition."

"Alright? What am I thinking now?"

"That we need to continue on with our trip before I go mad." Anakin stretched his arms above his head. "Honestly, you two haven't stopped talking for the last 15 minutes."

"It's been 15 minutes?" Barriss and Ahsoka gasped.

"Yes…" Anakin grabbed them by the back of their collars and hoisted them to their feet. "Now hop to it before you two decide to bond any further."

"Scratch that." Tanya pointed mockingly, "He's the jealous one."

"I'm inclined to agree."

"Stop!" He raised a hand. "Enough!" He placed his hands to his ears and walked away, "You both are worse than Padme and Mon-Mothma."

"This is fun indeed." Barriss smirked.

"Oh just wait until you're here for a week." Tanya giggled giddily, "It gets better." Anakin was already dreading the week to come.

(\*/)

"Ew…" Ahsoka winced. Once again she found herself standing on the shore of a bubbling, stinky, and sticky swamp.

The swamp was more of a ravine. Tall cliff sides trapped the bubbling water in a narrow gorge, shaping and guiding the water down an elongated way. Skinny trees protruded from the cliffs. The leaves and vines hung lifelessly. Slabs of rock and tiny islands with plant life were riddled throughout the ravine. Perfect for traversing without having to set foot in the water. But bad due to the fact they were in the open. The forest came to an end at the hill Ahsoka, Windu, and Luminara trudged down in order to come to this point. The open gorge left them vulnerable to attacks.

"So far this mission is a total bust." Ahsoka whined.

"It certainly has taken several unplanned turns," Luminara tried to put a positive spin on the observation, "But that is the price that comes with missions of war. You will do well to remember that."

"Y-Yes master." Ahsoka lowered her head shamefully. Suddenly she found herself missing Tanya and Anakin. Windu and Luminara were too serious. "So…how do we proceed?" She asked cautiously.

"Carefully but swiftly." Windu responded. He looked to the sky. Daylight was fading fast. Night was on the approach. An hour…maybe less. It all depended on how fast they moved from there on in.

"Then I should point out that we should watch our footing." She recalled her tussle in the previous swamp. "Not only can the rocks be slippery, but there aren't pretty creatures beneath the surface."

"Noted." Luminara took the first step onto the slab. Ahsoka and Windu allowed her to skip ahead several yards, then Ahsoka jumped next, and Windu followed. The space between them would allow not only for them to discover spying eyes, but a good counterattack measure.

Luminara analyzed the broken, slippery path. Carefully she mapped out a safe route, encouraging her colleagues to follow. A three tailed scorpion hissed at the Miralian Master from a bush. Luminara, familiar with certain wildlife, ignored the insect and continued on her way. Very little bothered her since the attack. She would proceed to maintain her stoic manner until circumstances deem she behave otherwise.

Ahsoka stalked across the bridge of rocks. Her light saber in her hand she kept an attentive watch on the ridges above and where her feet were touching. The popping bubbles from the swamp splattered to the rocks, coating them in a slick glaze. Ahsoka's foot slipped slightly, but maintained her balance and continued. Her legs and certain parts of her body – face especially – hurt from her fight with Bane. Revenge burned at her core.

Windu lingered behind, stopping to glance back and study the area. The tiniest of pebbles would fall loose from the ridge, gaining Windu's attention in an instant. To say he was paranoid was putting it mildly. Aurra's words burned in his mind. Say hello to my father for me. Aurra's voice faded into that of a young man. Or at least what he expected it to be. Say hello to my father for me. It sounded more malicious than Aurra's. Tanya…who is this boy? He said he understood why Tanya never spoke of this Boba Fett. However he was still hurt. Does she not trust me?

The flow of the swamp water steadily increased into a moderate rapid. A hazy roar echoed from ahead. Fumes and steam rose a ways down the ravine, just beyond several twists and turns. The ravine slopped into a lengthy hill. Luminara, Ahsoka, and Windu utilized large rocks and protruding trees to progress forward with ease.

Ahsoka landed on the top of a boulder. Her foot slipped from under her. "WHOA!" She splashed into the water.

"AHSOKA!" Windu cried. Luminara twisted around. A pair of hands, whisking by Luminara in the rapids, tore at the surface.

"PAH!" Ahsoka coughed on the air. "NOT AGAIN!" She fought against the water, struggling to stay above.

"HOLD ON!" Windu ran past Luminara, trying not to slip himself. Luminara ran after him.

Ahsoka clawed to stay above water. She choked on the swamp water slipping into her throat. Her back collided with rocks. A Coral Weed (Sea Weed that is like coral only hard and wavy) caught her boot. She was dragged under. The current drove a stray log under the water. It crashed into Ahsoka's stomach. Her foot slipped and she was flipped around, and the current dropped her down a sharp dip, dragging her further along.

Windu and Luminara leapt to and from protruding branches. The water did not reach them, therefore the masters were allowed to dash after Ahsoka at top speed. However the trees were becoming fewer and spanned apart. Their speed was slowed. Ahsoka was gaining distance on them each time she surfaced. She was vanishing and reappearing sporadically. The two masters jumped upon one more tree and rocketed up. They landed on the surface of the ridge and picked up the pace.

"PAH-HA-ACK!" Ahsoka gasped for air desperately. She kicked her feet and thrust her hands, guiding herself around the rapid's obstacles. "THE CURRENT'S GROWING FASTER!" She alerted frantically. "STRONGER TOO!"

"MASTER WINDU!" Luminara called to him. "WE MUST RESCUE HER BEFORE SHE IS SUBMERGED!"

"BEFORE THEN!" Windu pointed ahead. "LOOK!" Luminara followed his hand. She gaped in horror. Several yards ahead, just beyond the steam and fumes that were seen a while back, the water dropped off and out of sight. A reverberating roar shook the ridge. "A WATER FALL!" The water fell over the falls into water appeared to be a large lagoon or pond. Spikes waited forebodingly at the bottom.

Ahsoka screamed. She kicked and pulling at the water. She battled desperately against the current. She clawed her fingers into anything and everything she passed. Her elbow was cut of a weed, but she pressed on with trying to stop herself. "HELP!"

"HANG ON, AHSOKA!" Windu urged. He needed a plan and fast. Otherwise he would explain to Tanya and Anakin why Ahsoka perished on his watch.

"AHSOKA! UP AHEAD!" Luminara cried out. Ahsoka shook the gunk from her eyes. There was a rock in the middle, dividing the current into two streams. Ahsoka shifted her weight, tossing herself more into the middle. Using the force she guided herself away from boulders. Again her foot caught on a weed, twirling her about. "OOF!" Her back collided with the dividing boulder. The wind escaped her lungs. The raging rapids washed over her, drowning her under waves. Ahsoka shuffled up. Her mouth poked just three inches above the waves.

"HOLD ON!" Windu slid down the steep ridge, coming to a small patch of land. "Master Unduli!" Luminara slid and clung to the side of the ridge. "Get to the rock and pull her out! I'll guide the water from her!"

"Right!" Luminara dug her heels into the soft dirt of the ridge. With a powerful push she jumped to the rock. She landed perfectly in the center. She dropped to her knees and grasped Ahsoka by her upper arms. Focusing his mind on the water, Windu unleashed a powerful pulse in the center of the water. Like the rock with the waterfall, the water started to part away from Ahsoka, allowing Luminara to pull her out of the rapids with ease. "I've got you." She cooed. Ahsoka coughed up the remaining gunk. Windu let his arms fall. The water returned to its flow. Luminara cradled Ahsoka in her arms and jumped to Windu's side.

Ahsoka threw herself to the ground. She heaved heavily, choking on the air and water. "Thank-COUGH-you!"

"No need." Windu patted her back, helping her bring up the water.

"At least we traveled farther than we planned." Luminara remarked gazing out to the pond the swamp water fed. "We may even be on the right track." Ahsoka gaped in disbelief. Luminara's insensitivity was more astounding than Tanya's. Luminara may embrace death as a part of life, but not even Tanya would be so…apathetic. Least of all when a comrade comes close to dying. "Look…" Luminara brought attention to the forest surrounded pond. It was mixed with fresh and swamp water. A run off of fresh water came from a river just to the left from the forest. It continued to flow to another river just ahead. "Smaller bodies of water like this lead to large bodies of water. Earlier I analyzed the coordinates in which the Viceroy intended to land, and discovered he planned to land near a large body of water."

"When we were…in the air…" Ahsoka spoke slowly between breaths, "I noticed a few…what looked like…lakes."

"As did I." Luminara nodded. She brought up a 3D image of the planet on her holoprojector. There was a dot indicating their position and one for the intended coordinates. "This is the only river system leading eastward and to one of the few lakes this planet has."

"Then, in hindsight, if we were to continue down this way we should reach the Viceroy's general location."

"That is a possibility." Luminara peered around the cliff of the waterfall. There was a narrow walkway sloping along the wall. "We should make our way down and seek shelter. Are you able to walk efficiently, Padawan Tano?"

"I'm fine." Ahsoka leaned on Windu. He helped her up. "A little lightheaded, but fine."

"Then let us proceed." Tapping her foot she tested the durability of the sheer rock. Luminara pressed her back to the wall and warily shuffled along.

Windu urged Ahsoka to go next so he would be able to catch her should she fall. "I'm starting to understand why Tanya didn't like her." Ahsoka grumbled heatedly.

"True." Windu bobbed his head comprehensively. Many Jedi knew how stoic Luminara could be. Stoic to the point of appearing apathetic. "But you can also understand how it is they get along now." Ahsoka arched a confused brow. "Both understand the other's personality and therefore have grown to accept it."

(\*/)

Night had fallen over the land. The heat soaked into the brush flowed into the air, evaporating as it pierced past the canopy. The moon barely peeked over the western horizon and the stars were already lighting up the sky. Fireflies scattered throughout the forest. Night drawn animals came out of hiding. They sang their hymns, calling to the allure of the ebony sky.

A leviathan of a beast trudged along languorously. The long snout on the wide head sniffed the air. Beady yellow eyes stared into the night. Its black skin hid it within the darkness. The creature's massive arms walked lazily in sync with the slightly smaller legs. The talented fingers dug into the ground with each step. Red coloring shaping like scars pulsated in bright pink up and down its arms. The spines on its back did so as well, stopping before the tail.

"OVER HERE!" Barriss motioned a hand. "We can stop here for the night!" There was a cave burrowing into a hill resting at the top of a slope. Tanya, Anakin, and Barriss climbed inside, immersing themselves as far inside the dark hole they could. The foot of a Leviathan Beast with an elongated snout plowed into the dirt. The three Jedi froze. The beast passed them by, not paying them any mind.

"Phew…" The Jedi collapsed in relief.

"This planet is going to drive me mad." Barriss rasped.

"I hear ya." Anakin agreed.

"Master Unduli sent me a message." Barriss announced now that they were resting. "They are following a river system. Apparently the Viceroy intended to land near a large body of water."

"We must have traveled off their trail somewhere." Tanya massaged the back of her head pensively. "We haven't come across a river."

"We are heading east, just on a different path." Barriss clarified. "We should meet them at the same location."

"I hope so." Tanya rested against the rough wall. "This forest is bringing out my inner animal."

"Force help us all." Anakin joked. He rose to his feet, gaining the attention of the Padawan's. "Suffice it to say, it will be dangerous for us to continue traveling at night. But we can't wait for sun up." He earned nods of agreement. "We'll rest here for a few hours, and begin again as light touches the sky."

"Okay/yes sir." Tanya and Barriss answered.

"In the meantime," He ignited his lightsaber, "I'll scope the land and find us some firewood to keep warm."

"I'll find water and some food." Tanya volunteered.

"I shall investigate the cave." Barriss ignited her saber and ventured into the cave. Anakin and Tanya journeyed into the forest, parting ways.

Unbeknownst to them a pair of eyes watched them from above. A dark smile pierced through the darkness. "You dared me, Tanya…" Aurra emerged into the moon like, "Now to see if your blade has dulled."

(\*/)

TO BE CONTINUED! HA!

As for the Force Healing – On Wookiepedia it states Barriss became a Jedi Healer and possessed the technique. (The story that doesn't involve her becoming evil)