Disclaimer: George Lucas owns Star Wars. This story is purely a work of fan fiction, and I am not making any profit from it.

Author's note: I am experimenting with creating different moods through tense changes. The efficacy of this attempt is open to question.

CHAPTER THIRTEEN

She came to him in his dreams, wearing Ryn's face. Obi-Wan wondered idly whether she had stolen Ryn's image, her voice, from his own memories, or if she just knew that much about what happened on the planet's surface.

:Help me, Obi-Wan Kenobi.:

There was something different about her. Obi-Wan reached into the Force, still muddy, and did not trust his eyes.

"You've grown stronger," he said finally.

:They make sacrifice,: she said. The figure ... ripened, before his eyes. Not so much Ryn as what Ryn might look like in a decade or so. Fuller, softer, more desiring. :They ... feed me.: She ran her phantom hands up Obi-Wan's chest. :But it's your devotion I want.:

"I thought you wanted my help."

:They are the same.: She leaned in and kissed him hungrily. :Help me, Obi-Wan Kenobi.: She smiled against his mouth. :I will reward you.:

"What is your name?" Obi-Wan asked. Distantly he reflected that only in a dream could he talk and kiss at the same time.

:My lovers call me Khalî.:

: : :

He surrenders to the dream, letting the Force run through him as Khalî takes his body. Her knowledge of pleasure is timeless, undeniable: she understands his body as though she has already learned all his secrets.

:Love me,: she whispers, and Obi-Wan turns into her and lets instinct take over.

: : :

The Chiss warriors return in a couple of hours with the information that there is a sort of cleft, leading deep into the planet's crust, some ten miles away (though figuring out that it's ten miles takes some work). It is surrounded by what Commander 'Nuruodo calls "animals" but Ryn knows are the creatures of Khalî - not possessed of free will, and therefore not sentient in the usual sense, but terribly intelligent just the same.

"Good," she says, straightening from the readouts 'Nuruodo has handed her with substantially more confidence than she feels. "We move in at once. Evinne, you're with me. Choose your team. Makesh, you will take the remainder of our force and hold the entry at all costs. If things go sideways in there, I want a retreat." If things went sideways in there - and Ryn can't quite make herself believe they won't - they aren't going to live to use any retreat, but saying let's go find new and exciting ways to die would probably not be good for morale. "Any questions?"

"I'm going after Obi-Wan," Anakin says, already spoiling for a fight.

Ryn fixes her stare on him, pretending hard not to worry, comforting herself with the knowledge that at least she won't have to outlive him. "That wasn't a question."

Anakin reddens, but he hangs on stubbornly. "I just wanted to make sure we were clear."

"Fine," says Ryn. "We're clear." She surveys the group with a brook-no-nonsense expression she learned from Kit.

He did it a lot better.

"Anyone else?"

Silence.

"Good," she says, pretending that it is, and this time she feels the energy humming in her blood. "Let's go be heroes."

: : :

:This one,: Khalî says, reaching for him as her manifestation ... shifts, an unnerving display of power and transigence. She wraps Evinne's arms around Obi-Wan's neck, pressing warmly closer. :You like this form better?:

Obi-Wan leans away from her embrace. "I prefer your true self."

:You mean as I would prefer you without these?: She tugs playfully at his Jedi robes.

Obi-wan suppresses a shiver at this demonstration that Khalî's facility with accessing and influencing the physical world is growing at an alarming rate. Not that he senses evil intent in her, exactly - she has done nothing to harm him, after all, despite ample opportunity - but so much power, in a being so steeped in darkness ... he can feel it, permeating the very air in the chamber, moving in and through Khalî until he cannot decide whether she is its source or its victim, and the possibilities of either are terrifying.

"It isn't the same," Obi-Wan tells her repressively.

Khalî draws back to stare at him with Evinne's luminous blue eyes, not blinking quite often enough. :You want all of me?: she whispers, wonderingly, and takes his mouth and his common sense at once.

: : :

The march is conducted in quick, furtive bursts, always with scouts outlying the group. "Stay close," Ryn whispers to Anakin, and he opens his mouth to tell her again that he doesn't need protecting and then thinks, Maybe she does.

He hovers near enough to touch as they pass the first sentries - a nest of dhraghol, practically commonplace, after all this time in the wilderness - and move deeper into the wasteland, fetid with decay.

The Lorethans are grim and silent as they move over the frozen land, stony faces giving nothing away. But the Force is turbulent with an undercurrent of darkness, and its river is stained with their bleeding fear. Anakin fights it, tries to shut it out, but the voices of terror are loud and his own fear is like a cold smoke, winding around his heart.

They have almost reached the second hurdle - a thin ring of ghovhlain camps stretched about a kilometer away from the chink the rock that is their goal - when the ground moves, more rhythmically than the first torn earthquakes, and something washes over them that is neither the Lorethans' own fear nor the sense of darkness that pervades this place.

"Ryn!" Evinne's voice comes out in a hiss. "What - was that -"

Ryn shakes her head; she is crouching close enough that Anakin can feel her shift. "I don't know."

"That felt like the galaxy's biggest orgasm," Evinne says, her voice breathy with uncertainty.

"Then maybe we'll find Khalî in a good mood," Ryn says, straight-faced, and the ripple of hushed, half-hysterical laughter that runs through the group is jangled with nerves. Anakin wonders if this is what Ryn misses: the hard-won camaraderie of soldiers on campaign, fraught with adrenaline and loyalty and desperate need.

She turns to him to share the joke, and it hits him in the chest, sudden and blindingly real: he's part of this, too. Weeks hunting and fighting and almost dying beside Loreth's warrior children have made him belong. He's as much Orun now as he ever will be a Jedi.

Three weeks ago, most of these beings didn't even know him. Now they are risking everything - their lives, their honor, their home planet - to help him save a man they've never met before. Anakin can't breathe around the thought. But when Ryn frowns a question at him: what? he pulls himself together and gives her a shaky smile and a nod: I'm okay.

They start forward again, hugging the foul-smelling ground; but then something gives again, softer this time but still rolling over them, and Anakin draws up short with a startled cry. "Obi-Wan!"

: : :

Ryn jerked her eyes to Anakin's face, ready to panic or to despair, but what she read there was not fear, but joy. "Anakin?" she asked cautiously.

"He's alive!" Anakin reported, tears in his eyes. "I can feel him!"

That might change the game significantly. Ryn crouched on her heels to consider. "Do you have a direction?"

Anakin shook his head. "But I could follow the bond to him."

"Okay," said his warlord, bracing herself. "Take point."