Disclaimer: George Lucas owns Star Wars. I am not making any profit from this work of fan fiction.
Author's note: This chapter dedicated to pronker, for the wonderfully encouraging review she left at the end of Hunters.
Soundtrack: Stand My Ground, Within Temptation.
"Please tell me you have a plan," Evinne said, keeping pace beside Ryn with a deep sense of unease.
"I have a plan," Ryn said.
"You just heard it."
"We need to get in touch with the High King," Ryn went on, ignoring her. "Or at least Sarta."
"Well, yeah ..."
They had lapsed into their native language, and now Anakin looked confused. "Sarta?" he said dubiously.
"However this goes down, it's going to affect all of Loreth," Ryn said, in Basic this time.
"Loreth?" Evinne snorted. "Try the whole system. Hell, if Omega is smart, he could maybe screw up the entire galaxy."
"He's smart," Anakin said.
"So we'll have to be smarter," Ryn said. "Or something."
"Way to inspire the troops," Evinne said.
"You're not the troops." Ryn scowled at the gates as they approached the fortress. "How fast can you raise an army?"
"Say two days to get everyone here, three to march?"
Ryn grimaced. "That's not good. We need to move quickly, before Omega decides to take Obi-Wan and go."
"How do you know he hasn't done that already?" Evinne demanded.
"I don't. But if he's gone, I can't explain the bolg."
Evinne wasn't sure she could explain the bolg anyway, but now seemed like a bad time to bring that up. "What are you going to do with the hedge-witches?" she wanted to know. "Do you even know how to raise the land?"
"Not so much." They waved to the gate guards and passed in. "The only thing I know for sure is that it won't work if I don't try."
"Do not start speaking in aphorisms," Evinne said.
Anakin kept staring at her, watching Ryn as she paced up and down the hall, consumed with thought.
It should have been unnerving, but Ryn had too much else on her mind at the moment.
His voice drew her up short anyway. "What do you know about this Khalî?"
Ryn almost flinched. "It's bad luck to say her name, for one thing."
"You said it," Anakin pointed out.
"I was trying to explain the situation." Aware she was being defensive, Ryn took a slow breath and deliberately adjusted her stance. "Sorry. What did you want to know?"
"Who is she? What does she want? How do we stop her?"
"An ancient goddess," Ryn said. "She feeds on death, so probably she wants that. And I don't know."
"But you ... you know about her from stories, right?" Anakin made a gesture of frustration. "How did the Lorethans stop her the first time?"
"The ylfe," Ryn corrected him. "And they didn't so much stop the Dark Goddess as contain her."
"So just how powerful is she?" Anakin asked, looking nervous but determined "And where does she get her power?"
Ryn sighed. "I'm not sure," she admitted. "The cave drawings at Dunhara suggest that during the last great war she found a way to make herself the focal point for all the - the - I don't know, the rage and antipathy and will to destroy -"
"That sounds like the Dark Side," Anakin put in.
"I'm not sure," Ryn answered. "The legends I know don't mention the Force. But whatever it was, she made herself the focal point for it on this planet. All that energy funneled through her, and gave her strength."
"How?" asked Anakin, and Ryn threw up her hands.
"I don't know!" she exclaimed, goaded. "This all happened millennia before I was born!" She stopped, her breath ragged with nerves, and dragged her hands through her filthy hair. I want a bath, she thought dazedly. I want a bath and a hot meal and to wake up and find out all this was a dream.
She wanted all that, and some other things she was afraid to think about.
He jerked as he felt her inadvertent touch at the edges of his perception, and Ryn cringed, caught.
"Sorry," she whispered.
But Anakin stepped closer, shifting the intensity of his focus to her, now, instead of the mission. "What was that, back there?" he asked her, his voice low and humming with power. "You threatened to kill me. What was that?"
Ryn swallowed hard, struggling to hold his gaze. "I can't betray Loreth," she told him, and felt proud that her voice only shook a little. "And it's dangerous for everyone."
"You, me, Loreth ... maybe the whole galaxy."
He frowned at her. "Now you're being hyper - hyperble - hyperbolic."
That had to be a word he learned from Obi-Wan. "I am not given to poetic exaggeration," Ryn countered evenly, because fortunately she had learned it from Obi-Wan, too. "The truth is more than enough."
Anakin's exasperation was clear. "But why wouldn't you trust me?"
"You're a Jedi," Ryn reminded him. "And the secret was not mine to share."
"But you didn't share it!" Anakin fumed for a minute, stomping back and forth. "What else aren't you telling me?"
"A lot of things," Ryn answered. She eyed him closely. "But you knew that, Anakin. I never pretended I wasn't keeping secrets."
"You never said you would kill me for them!" Anakin shouted - and then added, as an afterthought: "As if you could."
"It would be a close thing," Ryn agreed. It flashed through her mind, automatically, that she could beat him more easily if he kept underestimating her, and she had to fight down bile. What kind of person am I? What kind of friend? She cleared her throat and tried again: "Anakin ... with the freedom of thousands and the safety of trillions at stake, I can't put you first. I don't have the right." She hesitated. "Would you love me if I did?"
"I don't love you anyway!" Anakin's words hit her like the lashes of a whip.
Ryn swayed, clutching the edge of the table and then slowly righting herself. "You - you don't mean that."
"Yes I do! And you obviously don't care about me at all! Friends don't -" He kept talking - yelling - but Ryn couldn't make sense of what he was saying. It hurt too much.
"I have to go," she whispered numbly, into the middle of his tirade, and walked away.
She realized, as she stepped out of the hall into the golden sunlight, that she must be having what was called a dissociative episode. She didn't know who she was, and nothing felt real.
Thank the Saints for that, she thought, quite distinctly, and kept moving.
Somewhere she was aware that she felt so destroyed because she hadn't just lost Anakin, her best friend, the boy she'd laughed with and fought beside and longed for with all her battered heart. She'd lost the only person in her life who had ever said that he loved her. And he had taken it back.
She kept hearing the echo of her foster-father's words: you were never made for love, my daughter.
Fine, Ryn thought recklessly. So you said I'd never make love? Watch me make war.