Roth's bad feeling only increased as they flew their ship to Ruikaia, the town where Radella Olika resided. The ship seemed much smaller with six people traveling in it, but everybody was too tense to complain. The air seemed to cackle with electricity. Lorcan's face had softened considerably since Roth and Beula first met him. They knew he was praying that this would work out, that he would do justice to the oath he made to himself. Palpatine *would* be exposed.
Roth read the downloaded information Lorcan gave him. His eyes were straining after a few hours, but he wouldn't allow himself to quit. He needed to piece everything together. He was grabbing at loose straws though. It seemed logical to assume it was Palpatine who might be involved with the Sith, but at the same time Roth couldn't accept this. Obi-Wan and Anakin only talked highly of the Senator, and he had done so much good for the Republic. How could he be two-sided? Nothing made sense anymore.
Beula entertained herself by trying to get a hold of Obi-Wan or Anakin. She even tried Sabé's place a few times. She grew more depressed each time her comm calls were to no use. She worried that something had happened to them. They had reached the core of it all, of everything they were supposed to find out, but they were at their most dangerous point. One wrong decision could be fatal to them all.
Yrrk took to pacing. She attempted to talk to Lorcan a few times, but it was in vain. He was focused on willing everything to work out. She was full of nervous energy, and she wasn't the type to hide it. However, her sighs and offhand comments made no difference to Lorcan.
The King directed the ship for them. He knew where they were going, even without the help of the computer. The Queen stood behind him with a watchful eye. She was sharp and alert. More than Roth had expected her to be because of her model-perfect looks.
Because of how fast they set out, or, perhaps, because of Lorcan's pleas, they arrived in Ruikaia two hours ahead of the time they set. It was mid-morning, and the sun gleamed brightly in the tainted skies.
Beula and Roth were off first. Roth had memorized directions to Radella's house. He didn't want to bother with the man in charge of the port they'd landed in, so he used the Force. The man quickly understood that he had no problems in their using his port.
"Do you do that often?" Yrrk asked nervously as they all set out in a huddled group.
"Only when I have to," Roth replied. He was about to go into more about the Jedi customs, but his eyes were met with a heinous sight. Two children were on the street attempting to play some local game or other. Their movements were slow, and their skin was covered in boils. Roth quickly averted his eyes.
The Queen made a painful noise in her throat. "It's horrible," she whispered. "But imagine knowing that you tried to save them but couldn't."
Roth didn't want to imagine. He could guess that the guilt was pretty destructive. The group stayed silent. They ignored the blatant looks the town people were giving them. Not only were they boil-free, but they were all drabbed in fancy attire. It wasn't something that happened often to the quiet town of Raikaia.
"We're here," Roth said at last. It hadn't been more than a few minutes, but to him it felt like an eternity. He knocked roughly on the door as everyone stood behind him. He held his breath as he waited for someone to open the door.
Eventually, the door was opened. An elderly woman greeted them suspiciously. Her skin was free of boils, but the way she held herself, and the hacking coughs told Roth that she would soon have many of them. Soon she would be dead. The thought made him want to be sick. He was taking to a bunch of people who would be dead soon. Walking corpses.
"May we come in, Mistress Olika?" Obi-Wan asked in his most polite manner. "We have to speak to you in private as soon as possible."
"About what?" Radella asked sharply.
"About Dymphia, your sister."
Radella's eyes widened. She stepped back to allow the six adults into her house. She looked like she didn't know whether to be terrified or joy-filled. When the door was shut, she showed them into her living room. The house that she lived in was spacious. The result of her inheritance, Roth suspected. Once everyone was settled, Radella spoke. "What about Dymphia?" she asked softly, trying to remain calm and neutral.
"We want to know what took place fifty three years ago," Beula said bluntly.
Radella looked even more shocked than before. A fit of coughing over took her. The raspy sound her lungs made had everyone wincing. "Fifty three years ago?" she asked after she had calmed down.
"We know that Dantius Palpatine is your nephew," Obi-Wan said. "Don't hold anything back because you think you're protecting him."
"Dymphia died years ago," Radella said, seeming as if she hadn't heard him. "She died before she could see Dantius become as powerful as he is today."
"You follow him closely, then?" King Fluharty looked surprised.
"Of course," Radella replied. "He is my only living relative. Dymphia and I kept in touch after she left. Our letters were scarce, but they were letters all the same. It was many years before we felt we could use the comm unit."
"Why was that?" Obi-Wan wanted to know.
"Why, because of Thorpe," Radella said as though this was obvious. She sighed. "He was obsessed with finding Dymphia and Dantius. Spent the rest of his life trying to find them."
"Didn't he notice when Palpatine became Chancellor?" Beula asked.
"He was dead by then," Radella said simply. "He never did find them."
"Why didn't you tell him?" Yrrk burst out. "You knew where they were, and you pretended not to. Why?"
"Because Dymphia asked me to," Radella answered. "She had to leave the planet if she wanted Dantius to survive."
"We're getting confused," the Queen said politely. "Could you start from the beginning?"
Radella nodded. "The beginning . . ."
* * * * *
Obi-Wan, Sabé, and Anakin arrived on Lark a few hours after Roth and Beula left. They weren't aware of it at the time though. It was easy enough to get to the castle. Especially when someone was determined as Obi-Wan.
It was at the front gates that they had trouble.
"We're here to see two Jedi who came here this morning," Obi-Wan said matter-of-factly. "We need to speak to them immediately. It's urgent."
The guard raised his eyebrows. "Are you the backup they promised?" he eyed Anakin and Sabé. "Don't look like much to me," he determined.
"That's Anakin Skywalker, and I'm Obi-Wan Kenobi, if those names mean anything to me," Obi-Wan said coolly. He didn't like using his fame most of the time, but in moments of intimidation it was useful.
The guard looked surprised. "Are you now?"
Sabé pushed past Obi-Wan. "Just let us in. We need to speak to them. Unless you overthrew them." Her eyes flashed, informing him that she didn't like that possibility.
The guard got the message loud and clear. "I'd like to help you, miss, but even if I let you in you wouldn't find them."
"Where are they?" Obi-Wan demanded.
"All of them. Your two Jedi friends, Clemens Lorcan, Gemina Yrrk, and the King and Queen. Wouldn't accept any guards either. The Jedi were very firm about this." The guard scratched his head. "A little stupid, in my opinion. Especially after that mean-looking man who just came by asking about them."
Obi-Wan felt his heart skip a beat. "What are you talking about?"
"I don't rightly know. A man came by a little before you all. He was asking after them too. Said Chancellor Palpatine sent him."
"Zoilo," Sabé whispered. "He was here. I know."
Obi-Wan felt like everything was in slow motion. The danger that was lurking in the air finally caught his attention. "Where did they go?" he asked the guard, putting force and threats in his voice.
The guard took a step backwards. "A town several hours away by flight. Raikaia, I think. The man who was here came in to look at the library for a little bit. Seems they left a few documents up that told him where they were going."
"Sith," Obi-Wan cursed. He swept around, his Jedi robes flying with the wind, and marched back to his speeder. Anakin and Sabé were quick to follow. Normally Obi-Wan kept his anger under control. Normally he was a pretty pleasant person most of the time. These were not normal circumstances.
Nobody spoke until they were back in the ship. Obi-Wan typed in the name of the city the guard had given him. A few seconds later directions popped up on screen. He pushed the autopilot button and turned around. "Zoilo is going to do something."
Neither Sabé nor Anakin disagreed. There was a moment of silent waiting. They couldn't do anything yet, they couldn't stop what might happen when they were in the air. It was possible they might even be too late.
"We're all strong in the Force," Obi-Wan said suddenly, proving that he had been trying to come up with a way to turn the cards in their favor. "We need to meditate. Focus all of your energy on this ship. It's imperative that we get to this place before Zoilo does."
* * * * *
". . . Dymphia fell in love with Thorpe with good reason. He was a handsome man, and he was quite the charmer. But he only had eyes for our Dymphia. Father and Mother about had a bantha over it. Thorpe was a farmer from a lowly family, and we were quite well off. They had dreams of marrying Dymphia to someone who would increase their riches. Of course Dymphia didn't listen to them. She was always sneaking out with Thorpe in the middle of the night. I was the only one who knew about it."
Radella paused for a moment, remembering. "Then it happened. She found out that she was with child. Father and Mother were furious! But there was only one way to deal with it. They reluctantly let Thorpe and Dymphia marry. The two were the happiest couple I'd ever seen. Dymphia wasn't suited for the farmer's wife lifestyle though. She loved Thorpe, but she missed living in luxury and society."
"Is that why she left?" Beula asked.
"Hush, child," Radella said softly, putting a finger to her lips. "No, that wasn't why she left. She droned in in that world for the length of her pregnancy. When it was time for her to labor, though, she came back home. We talked a lot those nights. Thorpe was still back on the farm. He was ready to come to the local hospital if the child was to be born." She smiled at Beula. "That's when she started to plan her leaving."
"She told me it one night after Dantius was born. They had checked the baby's midichlorian count, and he had tested positive. Neither of us understood much about it, but we knew that Dantius would be taken from Dymphia. She argued with Thorpe that night. She yelled and yelled, accusing him of doing this to her on purpose. He had no idea that the Jedi gene was in his family."
"Well, Thorpe left that night. He was angry, and he went to the drinks to revive himself. That's when Dymphia started planning. She told me in secrecy that she wanted to keep Dantius, that she would do anything to be able to keep him. We decided that she needed to get off planet. There were many planets where they didn't even check for midichlorians! And there was one in particular. The flight would leave the next day."
"Naboo," Yrrk whispered.
"Yes, Naboo," Radella answered. "They left the next day, and Dymphia resettled with her child. Father and Mother had both taken ill, or they would have protested her leaving. They died before they could see their first grandchild. And Thorpe, he went crazy. I knew how much they loved each other, and I was almost tempted to tell him where she was. But I didn't. I loved my sister more than anything. I love Danty just as much. I'll do anything to keep them safe."
"Do you speak often with your nephew?" Roth asked suspiciously.
Radella nodded slowly. "Yes and no. I gave him his share of the family fortune. That's how he set himself up and became a Senator in the first place. Since then, he's taken care to send me regular money."
"Does he know about the plague? Do you know that he set it on the planet?" Yrrk blurted out.
Radella's eyes were closed off. "He knows of the plague. I do not wish to leave the planet though. He has offered devices with which I can hold the plague off. They have worked thus far."
A sudden thought struck Roth. "Do you know, Mistress Olika . . . did your nephew have any children?"
Radella looked contemplative. "I believe he isn't married," she said uncomfortably. "However, he has had suspicions . . ."
"What do you mean by that?" Roth pressed, even though he already suspected the answer.
"There is a girl that he has met recently. He is strong with the Jedi's Force. You two have it, you should know. He thinks that this girl might be the result of an affair he had many years ago."
"Sabé . . ." Roth whispered to himself.
"Why are you tell us all this?" Lorcan asked. "If you claim to love your nephew so much, and you want to protect him, why are you telling us all of this?"
"Because I asked her to."
All seven occupants turned around slowly. What met their eyes was enough to strike panic in even the Jedi's hearts. Zoilo was standing in the doorway. Instead of the usual blank expression, his face had a malicious smile on it. In his hand he held a blaster. Roth had a feeling that it wasn't set to paralyze.
* * * * *
Obi-Wan's plan worked well, but if it was well enough he didn't know yet. They passed across the planet of Lark in only three hours. From calculations, it would have taken about three times that amount to get there under normal circumstances.
Sabé and Anakin stayed in the hull with Obi-Wan. They kept quiet for most of the first hour, but then Anakin began to get restless.
"Do you think Zoilo is going to kill them?" Anakin inquired in his usual boyish voice.
Obi-Wan glanced at him while keeping his Force powers on the ship. "We don't know."
"But we suspect," Anakin said. "Do you think he's going to kill Roth and Beula?"
Obi-Wan's gaze darkened as he looked away from Anakin. "We can't know yet."
Sabé, who had kept quiet up until now, put a hand on Obi-Wan's. He met her eyes, and they shared a smile. Sabé squeezed Obi-Wan's hand, and he felt a little better.
"Why would Zoilo want to do all of this stuff?" Anakin asked, ignoring the moment his Master and friend had just shared. "A guy's got to have a motive."
"Not necessarily. Maybe he just snapped," Obi-Wan said weakly.
"Everything's going to come together in the end," Sabé said confidently. "We'll find out why Zoilo's doing this, and Roth and Beula can fill us in on the information they've found. It must be important if they left with no guards."
"Unless Lorcan overthrew them and Zoilo is, in fact, trying to save them," Obi-Wan speculated. Nobody commented on that. They all knew that that wasn't they way things had gone.
"How much longer do we have?" Anakin asked after a moment of silence befell them.
"It's hard to tell, but we're not that far from the actual town they're going to," Obi-Wan replied. "Focus on moving this ship. Especially you, Anakin. You have more power than Sabé and I combined."
Anakin smiled smugly at the praise and closed his eyes again. He didn't say anything for the rest of the time they were in the ship. None of them did. They all felt the grim, hazy lines of danger, and they all dealt with it internally.
* * * * *
"Why would you tell her to explain everything to us?" Gem asked haughtily, hands on her hips suspiciously. "Maybe you're as stupid as you look."
Zoilo's blaster spun to her. Clem stepped in between the weapon and Gem. His eyes were cold and hard as he settled them on Zoilo.
Roth saw the opportunity. Zoilo was focused on Gem and Clem. He and Beula exchanged a silent look. Then Roth lunged forward at Zoilo.
A hand wrapped around his wrist, yanking him backwards. He felt the stiff poking of a blaster in his back. "Don't even think about it."
"Olika," Beula whispered. Her eyes were wide when they met Roth's. He felt suddenly hopeless. He didn't know how they were going to get out of this one.
"To answer your question, Yrrk," Zoilo said carefully, keeping a steady aim. "Radella's actions were simply to stall you until I could arrive. I felt safe having you know everything because I don't plan on letting any of you out of here alive."
"Wow, Zoilo," Roth bit out, "you sound like you have an awful lot of self-respect. I'll bet it was all in large part to you, huh? No Palpatine telling you exactly what he wanted?"
Zoilo didn't even look at Roth. "Sagiv, your petty attempts at distraction are useless. Whatever you might have thought of me is about to change." He pulled the trigger. Clem dropped to the ground, and Gem let out a piercing scream.
* * * * *
Obi-Wan, Sabé, and Anakin had finally landed. They jumped off of the dock they'd settled their ship in and got onto the main street. All of them looked around themselves.
"Where do we go?" Sabé whispered. "Do either of you sense them?"
Obi-Wan closed his eyes. "I sense . . . fear."
Anakin stiffened suddenly, his eyes closing.
"What do you sense, Ani?" Obi-Wan asked softly.
"Beula," Anakin choked out. With that, he ripped off down the street. Obi-Wan and Sabé had no choice but to follow them.
Their run wasn't far. Anakin had his light saber in his hand. He sliced the door of a house open with it, too impatient for door knobs. Passerby were beginning to stare at them, shocked at what was unfolding in front of them.
Anakin leaped into the house, Obi-Wan and Sabé not far behind them. They heard a scream in the air, and they ran to the sound.
Everything seemed to happen quickly. Their eyes met the sight of Roth in the clutches of an elderly woman. Two figures who looked like Royalty were standing off to the side, eyes wide with fear. Two crumpled bodies were on the ground.
"Beula," Anakin whispered again, knowing that the small one next to Zoilo was his friend.
Gemina Yrrk lunged at Zoilo, deathly eyes attached to him, hands outstretched as if to claw.
Anakin, Obi-Wan, and Sabé joined the struggle without a moment's notice. Zoilo hit Gem with his blaster before Obi-Wan could get to him. Sabé knelt down by Beula, quickly feeling the small girl's body for any sign of life. One more blaster shot could be heard. Sabé couldn't feel a pulse. Beula's eyes were glassy, but filled with fierce determination. Death seemed to capture her last emotion.
Sabé began to shake. She looked up again. Roth had managed to get free of the elderly woman with Anakin's help. He was standing in front of Zoilo's body with Obi-Wan. Both of them had grim looks on their faces. Everything seemed to be over. Anakin had taken the blaster away from the woman, and he had his light saber to her neck. Apparently he seemed to sense that her death was unnecessary.
Roth looked down to were Sabé knelt. His mouth opened as if in shock. He dropped to the floor by Beula's body. "Beula," he said softly, putting her small hands in his own. His face was that of anguished torture.
Sabé watched as if in slow motion. Anakin had gone slack in holding the woman, full of grief. She'd sensed this and managed to get an upper hand. She had his light saber in her hand in an instant. Before anyone could react, she swung it with deadly accuracy across Roth's neck.
Blood splattered on Sabé. She screamed and jumped up, unable to take her eyes off of Roth's decapitated body. "Oh, my Force," she whimpered. Those words were released from her lips as if in a chant.
Obi-Wan's light saber had connected with the woman, but he wasn't fast enough. The woman fell to the ground, and he looked at the ground in pain.
"Are they all dead?" Anakin whispered after a moment. His cheeks were covered in tears.
There was quiet weeping in the corner. The Queen had the King's lifeless body in her lap, and she was rocking him back and forth, crying so hard she was unable to speak.
Obi-Wan began crying himself. As if his legs had gone out suddenly, he fell to the ground and buried his face in his hands.