The Force's Shepherd
The Ark emerged from hyperspace with an enormous bam, screeching to a halt just as a bright blue orb formed in the blackness of space. It was a planet that Obi-Wan had never truly visited. He had heard of it, and its importance within the galaxy had never been understated. The rulers of this world had always been staunch supporters of the republic for millennia, so it was difficult for him to not know about it.
Alderaan, one of the most peaceful planets in the entire galaxy. It easily rivaled worlds such as Naboo for that coveted title. Many worlds talked about having peace, but very few managed to achieve it in the way Alderaan did. No one threatened them, and they threatened no one in return. A truly neutral system in the Galaxy; until the Clone Wars broke out. Then its Senator and Prince Bail Organa announced their firm support for the Galactic Republic.
Did he make it? Ben wondered as he gently guided the Ark into Alderaan's orbit.
A low whistle came from Cordelia as she sat next to him in the co-pilot's seat.
"I don't think I'll ever get used to seeing that," She said, eyes wide with awe as Alderaan's mountainous, green and blue surface loomed before them.
Ben couldn't help but shake his head and smile. For years, decades even, it had been a sight he had completely taken for granted. But there was an incredible beauty to seeing planets suspended amongst the stars; to seeing an entire world from afar, like gazing upon a precious jewel.
"Do you know what we'll run into on this planet?" Tharja asked behind him as she sat in the navigator's seat. "No more gangs or Imperials?"
Ben shrugged, "I doubt gangs are roaming Alderaan. As for Imperials… we shall see. Ahsoka deemed it safe enough to retreat to, so I have a feeling the Empire doesn't have as much of a presence here as we think."
A dull roar sounded through the cockpit, and at first, Ben panicked. Did the Empire follow them? Did Maul?
Ahsoka's ship twirled above them, spinning through space with careless abandon. As soon as her ship, the Twilight, got ahead of the Ark; Ahoska leveled her ship and wiggled its wings at them. Ben rolled his eyes as Cordelia chuckled.
"Cocky flyer, isn't she?"
"She gets that from her teacher," Ben remarked as he began the ship's landing protocols.
"You?" Tharja chimed in with a teasing grin.
Ben let out a snort, "Hardly, I wasn't her teacher."
Ben's smile wavered a little. For a moment, he thought he would see Mustafar again, and the burning fires that still caused nightmares to come to him every once in a while. Instead, he saw all three of them aboard the Twilight, the first rust bucket to bear that name. A small, dysfunctional Jedi family racing from one star system to the other during the Clone Wars. Snips, Skywalker, and the Negotiator; the terrific trio of the Republic.
"Anakin was." Ben breathed, a ghost of a nostalgic smile on his lips.
The comms to the Ark crackled to life.
"Unknown craft this is Alderaan Spaceport Tower, do you copy?"
Ben cast Tharja an apprehensive look over his shoulder before opening their end of the comm link.
"Alderaan Spaceport this is the- uh- Pegasus," Tharja gave Ben an incredulous look. All Ben could do was give her a sheepish shrug before continuing. "Requesting permission to land alongside the Twilight. General repairs and maintenance may be needed, over."
The comm link crackled, and Ben swore he heard channels changing on the other end of the line. Again, the comm crackled, and a new voice broke through. A voice that froze Ben's heart.
"Pegasus, or should I say Ark, this is Captain Rex of the Alderaan Security Forces. Proceed to landing pad marked Alpha 13 in the Royal City. Myself and a medical crew will be awaiting your arrival."
Ben did not respond. Rex's name, his voice, echoed in his mind; causing memories of the Clone Wars to come racing to the forefront of his thoughts. On top of those memories came the flood of confusion and horror that accompanied Order 66. His hands trembled at the controls.
"Ben?" Tharja whispered, failing to shake him from his stupor.
Cordelia acted instead, bringing her hand to the comm link and pushing the button.
"Okay, um- I hope this works." She muttered, "This is uh… Cordelia of the- er- Ark. We understand you and we're doing as you say."
Tharja gave Cordelia a withering look as the comm shut off.
"What?" Cordelia remarked, a bit defensive. "Have you ever done that before?"
Tharja just rolled her eyes then gave Ben's shoulder a slow rub.
"Ben, are you alright?"
A shaky breath rattled from Ben's lungs. He reached up with one hand and raked his fingers through his hair. Slowly, he came out of whatever stunned state he was in; but the shock he had was replaced with caution. Slowly, his right hand reached down and patted his lightsaber clipped to his belt.
"What's wrong?" Tharja asked.
Ben swallowed hard. "That was a clone. One I know very well."
Tharja froze behind him. "You don't think he will-"
"I don't know," Ben stated as he gave both Tharja and Cordelia a worried look. "I'd tell the others to have their guard up."
Cordelia nodded, transferred herself from the co-pilot's chair to the wheelchair behind her seat, and rolled out of the cockpit towards where the other Shepherds were holed up. Once she was gone, Tharja moved to the co-pilot's chair. Once she sat down, she turned and faced Ben, placing one hand on his cheek.
"It's going to be alright. I doubt your friend would've led you here if it wasn't safe."
Ben snorted. "I got the impression that you didn't trust Ahsoka?"
Tharja's thumb rubbed gentle circles against Ben's temple. "You know me. I don't trust anyone I don't know," Ben chuckled at that. "But, she did help us get off Corellia. So, she's fine… for now. I still have plenty of hexes ready to use on her. I do wonder how they would react to her alien body."
Ben winced. "I wouldn't test that out on her."
Tharja gave him a playful roll of her eyes. "Relax dear," Ben exhaled, then froze when Tharja spoke again. "She hasn't upset me yet."
The Ark entered Alderaan's atmosphere, quickly passing through a layer of white, fluffy clouds that lumbered through an azure sky. Once through the clouds, they descended towards a pristine city nestled in an enormous mountain range. Great granite peaks reached up to the Ark as the ship descended, soon casting long shadows through the cockpit as they went from looking down on the mountains to having the mountains gaze down upon them. The entire time, Tharja looked through the cockpit's viewscreen with awe.
"Bigger than the ones back home, hm?" Ben said with a small smile.
"I had no idea mountains could be this tall." Tharja breathed, gazing up at the mighty peaks around them.
Footsteps stumbled towards the cockpit. A sharp thunk rang out, followed by the sound of Noire hissing out a sharp curse. A few more footsteps later, and Ben sensed Noire enter the cockpit.
"We're landing?" Noire asked.
Ben was tempted to nod, but he quickly corrected himself, "Yes, we are."
Noire felt her way towards the navigator's chair. Once she found it, she sank into the leather seat, letting out a nervous breath in the process.
"Bad things down here too?"
Ben looked towards the row of landing pads that sat within the Alderaan's Royal City. He spotted the Twilight hover over a landing pad marked number 14, then dropped down onto it.
"No sign of worry or alarm from Ahsoka, so I'd say we're okay."
"Then why did Cordelia tell us to be on our guard?" Noire asked.
"A clone hailed us over comms," Ben replied. "One I know well. Clones were programmed to slaughter Jedi on sight."
Noire's brow furrowed behind the cloth wrapped around her blind eyes. "Then why is Ahsoka not nervous?"
"Ahsoka is not technically a Jedi. She left the order before we were wiped out, thus Rex's programming might've not kicked in when it came to her."
Ben sensed worry flash within Noire.
"You don't think she'd lead you to someone who might kill you on sight?"
Ben shook his head. "No, Ahsoka wouldn't do that. However, I do worry she's underestimating Clone programming. Better to be cautious, but I could be acting paranoid."
"Given what's happened to us, I'd say paranoia is a completely valid approach." Tharja hummed.
Ben wanted to protest, but at this point, he couldn't argue against Tharja's mindset. After everything that has happened over the past few years, paranoia was an entirely valid, oftentimes necessary, approach to life. However, there was such a thing as being overly paranoid. Ahsoka would never betray him, and she would never lead him or his friends to a place she didn't think was safe.
Still, he wondered how Alderaan was so safe for her to retreat to?
The Ark settled down on the landing pad beside the Twilight. Once the landing gear touched down, Ben drew in a deep, shaky breath. Tharja's hand rested on his shoulder, giving it a gentle, reassuring squeeze. He briefly laid his hand over hers, then glanced out the cockpit to see a familiar Clone marching towards the ark with several Alderaan guards and a medical droid in tow.
Time to find out if this place is safe.
He drew in one more deep breath then rose from his seat and marched towards the ramp. Waiting for him at the top of the ramp were the rest of the Shepherds, with Chrom standing at the lead. Chrom simply nodded for Ben to step out first, which Ben did not blame him for. This was yet another strange world, with more strange people. Ben at least knew how to handle situations like this.
Ben did not miss how Chrom gripped Falchion though. The Prince was taking Ben's warning seriously, and he was glad for that. If nothing else, it reassured him that the Shepherds would be by his side no matter what.
With one more deep breath, Ben stepped out of the Ark.
As he marched down the ramp, he locked eyes with Captain Rex. The former Clone Captain's eyes widened and he froze in his steps, causing his retinue to pause alongside him. Ben waited at the base of the Ark's ramp with bated breath, hand hovering near his lightsaber as he waited for the worst.
However, the worst never came. Rex collected his wits after staring at Ben for a moment, then continued his march to him. Once in front of the Jedi Master, Rex offered Ben a wry smirk.
"Another happy landing, I hope?"
For some reason, Rex's question caused a dry laugh to escape Ben's lips. "It's been one of the better ones of late."
Rex's smile widened. "Glad to hear that," He then extended a hand. Ben hesitated a moment, then took it. "It's good to see you again, General."
Relief flooded Ben. Rex, for some reason, wasn't acting how he feared he would. Whatever triggered the Clones in Ben's old legion to attack him was not present in the former Captain of the 501st.
This place may very well be safer than I thought.
Rex nodded, then glanced behind Ben at the Shepherds cautiously making their way down the ramp.
"I see you brought some friends."
"More than a few, yes," Ben replied with a nervous chuckle.
Rex's smile never wavered. Instead, he gave Ben's shoulder a friendly pat then gestured for him and the Shepherds to follow him.
"There's plenty of room on the transport. Although, it might still be a bit of a squeeze."
"Can't be worse than this thing's living quarters." Gaius chirped behind Ben, making the Jedi roll his eyes, and Rex to laugh.
"Those can be cramped, yes, but the palace is not."
Ben blinked. "Palace?"
Rex nodded as the group started away from the Ark. "That's right. Ahsoka didn't tell you? There are a couple of old friends that are anxious to see you, sir."
Ben's heart hammered in his chest as he realized what Rex was saying. Bail made it. He's alive. If Bail is alive, that means Leia survived the attack on the Tantive IV as well. Hope never really died on that fateful day, and it caused a swell of joy to blossom in Ben's heart.
His mind then wandered to the other part of Rex's statement. There were a couple of old friends? He knew of Bail, but who else? Did he mean Yoda was here too?
No, Yoda was firm about going into exile on Dagobah. Ben thought, brow furrowing as he followed Rex to a large transport waiting near the landing pad. If not Yoda though, then who?
Patience, one of the greatest virtues a Jedi could possess. Patience offered peace, clarity, the ability to handle whatever problem arose in a calm and collected manner. In his youth, Mace often felt he possessed it. After all, he could not have risen so high in the ranks of the Jedi Order without it, even if his rise had been meteoric to some.
The downfall of the Jedi, and his mistake in challenging Darth Sidious, proved his folly. The arrogance of perceived patience nearly destroyed him. So, as he stood with Bail Organa in the Palace's main hall, he did not delude himself into thinking he was patient. His thumbs tapped against his hands as they sat folded in front of him. Occasionally, Mace paced back and forth among the tall pillars of the hall, slipping in and out of shadows cast by sunlight that streamed into the bright space. The old masters that taught him would undoubtedly have chastised him for such actions. Then they would have advised him to meditate instead.
He would have meditated if he knew that his mind was secure. After his last attempt thought, he wasn't sure he could even trust the Force. Someone, or something, hijacked his meditations. Mace recalled very well how it goaded him, taunted him, then almost showed him some pity. Then it offered him power, and Mace vehemently denied the opportunity. He did not want power. He did not need power.
But that is a lie. He thought as he paused in his pacing within the shadows of a pillar, some sunlight still brushing over his scarred head.
Yet another virtue he was no longer keeping: honesty. But how could he be patient and honest in times like these? The Empire certainly did not possess those things, and they were winning. The Jedi possessed those things, and they were wiped out. The one thing the Jedi thought they had, but in reality lacked, was power. Power to see the Dark Side, power to combat it, power to destroy it, all missing. That being that spoke to him offered him power. Would it be foolish to refuse it, especially if he needed it to destroy Sidious?
A heavy breath left his lips, causing Bail to glance in his direction.
"I'm sure they'll be along any moment, Master Windu."
Some relief sparked in Mace at that. Bail misinterpreted his despondent demeanor, and that was good. He did not want the Prince, and de facto leader of the budding Rebellion, to believe him broken or incapable. As soon as he was able, Mace wanted to rejoin the fight. Wanted to take the battle to the Sith.
And now, I won't have to do it alone.
The doors to the palace groaned open, causing Bail to stiffen and Mace to glance warily towards the sunlight flowing in from the outside.
Ahsoka Tano entered first, a gray hood drawn over her montrails. She needed to maintain her anonymity to continue her role as Bail's galactic operative, so Mace understood her caution. She gave Bail a nod then stepped to the side, slipping through a door to the side to avoid prying eyes.
The next people to come through did not show such caution. Captain Rex strode in first, making Mace tense. Even though Bail swore that the Clone was not an enemy; Mace did not trust him. However, he did trust the man that strode in behind Captain Rex.
Obi-Wan Kenobi… he hadn't aged a day. For someone who was supposedly in hiding on a backwater world, he looked remarkably well. Although, he had lost the beard that he sported during his time as a member of the high council. Despite that, he looked exactly as Mace remembered, and that comforted him.
The group with him though looked more outlandish than a Coruscant oligarch drinking brandy in a pirate bar on Nar Shaddaa. Walking alongside Obi-Wan was a lithe woman with midnight hair, equally dark eyes, and an outfit consisting of thin black robes, gold jewelry, and a cape. A woman that would fit in quite nicely in some of the seedier parts of the galaxy.
Beside her was a young girl with brown hair and bandages over her eyes. A young man with blonde hair and a staff was helping walk without bumping into anything. Trailing behind those two was a blue-haired man that strode with the confidence of a born leader. A strange blade rested on his hip, and he wore clothes that had a few scuffs and tears in them, suggesting major wear and tear.
Three red-haired girls trailed in next, with the youngest of the trio pushing another in a rather archaic wheelchair. The third redhead was glancing around at the palace in awe, one finger on her chin as she observed everything. A red-haired man and a furry, humanoid creature lingered near the rear of the pack. Neither paid Bail or Mace much attention as they seemed as engrossed in the palace as the curious redhead.
Next, a blue hair woman that was heavily pregnant strode in with a young man in black. The young man did not observe his surroundings with as much curiosity or wonder, but instead seemed much more focused on the path ahead. For a split second, his yellow… eyes…
Mace immediately sank into the force, his suspicions of the boy flaring to life, only for a blinding presence to completely drown him out. Instantly, he sought out the source of the light and found it came from the rear of Kenobi's group.
At the rear were a young girl carrying a swaddled infant in her arms, another woman wearing black robes similar to the ones the dark-haired woman wore, and finally bringing up the end of the group was a green-haired woman with pointy ears, wearing a red dress. Her emerald eyes shot towards Mace upon entering the palace, and her brow furrowed, pointy ears twitching as she saw him lingering in the shadows of a pillar. Despite her standoffish demeanor, Mace noticed enormous similarities between her and Nah.
Are they part of the same species?
His curiosity nearly got the better of him, but Mace restrained himself. For now, he slipped further back into the pillar's shadows, even as Bail moved to greet Obi-Wan and his companions. Mace had not expected Obi-Wan to even have followers, much less ones that appeared so wildly different. After sensing the woman and the boy, he needed to gather more information before entertaining the notion of getting to know these people.
What better way than to speak to Kenobi in private?
He lingered long enough to hear Bail and Kenobi exchange greetings, as well as words of relief that they were both alive and safe. However, he did not stay to hear Kenobi introduce his companions to the Prince. If he stayed for that, then he would be noticed, and there would be many questions he did not want to answer unless he was alone with Kenobi.
For now, he would follow Ahsoka's lead and wait for a more opportune moment.
Tonight. Mace nodded as he retreated through an open door down a corridor that led to his quarters, I will speak with him tonight.
It took Luke a few minutes to figure it out. Then another few minutes to figure the other thing out. Finally, after more than ten minutes of wracking his brain, he poked his head out from the bathroom.
"Cynthia, how does-" He closed his eyes, still struggling to believe he was about to ask this question. "How does bathing work here?"
Cynthia snorted from her spot on their bed. When they were both led to this private room, away from the other Shepherds due to Cynthia's pregnancy; Cynthia immediately flopped back onto the mattress and sank into the soft material. She had not moved since.
"You think I know how it works. I mean," She gestured to the soft, white light shimmering from a fancy disc hanging from the ceiling. "I don't even know how that thing works. What even is that thing? A torch? A mage light?"
Luke chuckled as he turned back to the confusing bathtub with a screen and a faucet high up on the wall instead of near the base of the tub. For that matter, there wasn't a tub, just a flat floor. Did water simply float in place on other planets? Was there some sort of invisible wall he was unaware of?
He stuck his toe over the threshold and frowned.
"Nothing there." He mumbled.
"Do you still need help in there?" Cynthia called.
"I'll figure it out!" Luke shouted back before returning his apprehensive gaze to the strange bathing spot in the bathroom, "I think?"
A knock sounded on the door, causing a relieved sigh to leave Luke's lips. Maybe Prince Organa sent someone to check in on them. If that was the case, then maybe they could tell him how to take a bath. Naga knows he could use a nice, soothing, warm one right now. He could feel the muscles in his neck and shoulders twisted into tight knots from all of the stress all of the Shepherds endured the past few weeks.
So, even though he was shirtless, with a towel wrapped around his waist; Luke went to the door and threw it open. However, a palace servant was not waiting on the other side. No, instead, a girl in a black tank top and baggy gray pants stood on the other side. A girl that Luke recognized immediately, and that caused his cheeks to turn scarlet.
"Naga above!" Kjelle bellowed, smacking her face. "Do you always answer the door naked?"
"I didn't- wait- huh?" Luke replied, "Kjelle?"
"Kjelle!?" Cynthia cried, shooting upright from the bed.
"Cynthia!?" Kjelle exclaimed.
"What's with all of the shouting?" A smaller, quiet voice asked.
Luke's eyes zipped past Kjelle to the short, green-haired girl standing in her shadow.
Nah frowned at Luke. "Strange. I didn't think you were still alive, Kage. I suppose that means I've lost the bet."
"What bet?" Luke gawked.
"Don't worry about it," Nah quickly replied before bowing her head to both Kage and Cynthia. "I'm still happy to see both of you alive and… and…" Her eyes narrowed on Cynthia. Nah then tapped on Kjelle's arm, got on her tiptoes, and whispered into Kjelle's ear.
Whatever she whispered caused Kjelle to choke, cough hard, then bellow out a laugh.
"No, Nah! Cynthia did not do that, she is simply pregna-" Kjelle's words caught in her throat. "She's… pregnant… huh?"
Cynthia gave both Kjelle and Nah a sheepish look as she nudged Luke out of the way. Once he was off to the side, Cynthia took Kjelle by the hand and pulled her into the room along with Nah.
"Yeah, there's a lot we have to tell you. Some great and- and some not so great. Luke, mind shutting the door?"
"Sure," Luke sighed, tapped the button that closed the door as the girls moved to sit on the bed. As they sat, Luke moved to the bathroom. He froze as he entered and spun on his heel. "Do either of you know how to take a bath?"
Nah arched an eyebrow while Kjelle snorted.
"Well, yeah. You get water, sud up, then-"
"I mean," Luke sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose. "How does the thingy work?"
Nah sighed and rose to her feet. "I'll be right back."
Luke and Nah disappeared into the bathroom, and soon the sound of running water followed by a cheerful whoop from Luke, came from the bathroom. Cynthia snickered while Kjelle whipped her head back and forth between her and the bathroom.
"So, you and Luke..."
Cynthia covered her mouth and nodded.
Cynthia drew in a deep breath even as some giggle continued to spill from her lips.
"Well, it started with me thinking my father was a bandit."
"Are you sure this room is fine, Master Kenobi?" Bail asked Ben as they lingered in the doorway of a small guest room hidden just one floor below the Prince's chambers. "There are plenty of more comfortable spaces for you and Miss Tharja."
Ben uttered a good-natured chuckle as he shook his head.
"Senator you have been more than gracious to myself and my friends. I only wish we had more time to catch up."
Bail ran a hand through his graying hair, a long breath sputtering from his lips. "As do I. Unfortunately, I put off a lot of work today and it's gonna cause me to get a little sleep this evening. I'm sure we'll be able to talk more tomorrow. There's… there is a lot."
Ben nodded. "That might be one of the greatest understatements I've heard in a long time."
"Yeah, probably," Bail nodded before drawing in a deep breath. "I better go handle some things before I fall asleep standing up. Rest well tonight, Master Kenobi. I'll make sure you're fetched for breakfast in the morning."
"Thank you. Rest well, Senator."
With that, the door to Ben and Tharja's room closed, allowing Ben to utter a weary sigh. Behind him, Tharja sat on the double bed in the room, a light laugh slipping from her lips as Ben turned around.
"Reuniting with old friends tiring?" She asked, a teasing smile on her lips.
"Exhausting," Ben replied as he moved towards her, leaning down to kiss her. "But, it's worth it."
"Clearly," Tharja replied as she ran a hand through his hair. "This will be the most comfortable bed I've slept in since Ylisstol. Why didn't you tell me you had rich friends?"
Ben guffawed as he fell back onto the bed beside her, the soft sheets practically demanding to wrap around his weary body as he sank into the mattress.
"Didn't think I'd see those friends again."
Tharja lay down on her said, curling in close to Ben as his arm drew her close. As they drew closer, Tharja craned her head and placed a soft kiss on his chin, before frowning a little.
"What?" Ben asked.
Tharja gave him a sheepish look.
"I miss the beard."
Ben raised his brow, amused. "Oh do you? Well, I guess I'll have to grow that back, now won't I?"
Tharja snickered as she ran a hand along his bare cheek. "You better. When you-" A small breeze cut her off, making her brow furrow and eyes narrow. Ben looked at her puzzled until he sensed someone standing in their doorway, which he thought was closed.
Tharja drew her spellbook, only for it to be wrenched from her grasp by the force. It soared across the small room to a scarred, bald, dark-skinned man in the doorway. Once he snatched the book, he held it up to his eyes, a long scowl resting over his face. For a moment, Ben did not recognize him. But when he spoke, his eyes widened in stunned realization.
"I did not realize you had forsaken some of your oaths, Master Kenobi."
Ben's words were stuck in his throat as the man stepped into the room, dark eyes glaring at Tharja. Tharja, to her credit, did not back down from the man's stern glare, but Ben wished she had. This was certainly not someone she should pick a fight with. After another moment of stunned silence, Ben managed to find his words.
Tharja blinked beside him. "Who?"
Mace let out a long breath. "It has been some time, Obi-Wan. We have much to discuss," He glanced at Tharja. "In private."
Tharja's dark eyes narrowed dangerously. She opened her mouth to protest, only for Ben to grasp her hand, trying to calm her. The younger Master drew in a deep breath and returned his attention to Mace.
"Whatever I know, she knows," Mace's frown deepened as Ben spoke. "Tharja and I hold no secrets from each other."
"You will have to this time, Master Kenobi," Mace snarled, arms folding over his chest. As they folded, Ben noticed the dull gleam of metal coming from his right wrist. "These are sensitive matters we need to discuss, and frankly, I don't know her. And I don't trust her."
"We don't trust you either, but you don't see us being so hostile," A fourth voice interjected, causing the three of them to whip their gazes to the door.
Tiki leaned against the doorframe, arms folded over her chest, her emerald eyes fixated on Mace Windu, and an equally displeased look on her face. Unlike with Ben and Tharja, Mace did not voice his displeasure, causing Tiki's frown to curl into a knowing smirk.
"This one pays attention, Ben."
"I've made it a habit to keep an eye on anomalies, but you are hardly the strangest thing I've run into in my life," Mace replied, his scowl not wavering. When Tiki did not back down, again, Mace let shook his head. "If you must they must be present then I hope you trust them, Obi-Wan."
Ben nodded. "I trust them with my life."
Mace gave him a grim nod as Tiki stepped further into the room, shutting the door behind her. As she shut the door her ears twitched and she hummed to herself.
"No one appears to be listening in on us. Although, I would suspect one of the others to grow curious about what's going on at some point."
Ben nodded. "I'm sure if Master Windu and I don't sense them first, you'll smell them second."
Mace raised an eyebrow. "Smell them?" Tiki flashed him a grin that had a bit too many sharp teeth in them, causing the Jedi Master's brow to furrow. "Nevermind. Master Kenobi, how aware are you of events in the galaxy?"
Ben scoffed. "Not very. Ahsoka has filled me in a little bit, but we were rather busy avoiding the Empire and reeling from our own losses."
Mace nodded. "Then I feel I should inform you about some news that will upset you, but… Anakin Skywalker is the Emperor's apprentice and-"
"I'm aware, Master Windu," Ben interrupted, his gaze turning distant and weary in an instant. He leaned forward in his seat, hands rubbing together as his jaw tightened a little. "I saw it happen."
Mace stared hard at Ben, stunned. "You're aware?"
A heavy sigh left Ben's lips. "I fought Anakin on Mustafar."
Mace drew back, realization dawning on him. At the same time, some anger flickering in his dark eyes. Anger that escaped Ben's notice, but did not avoid the scrutiny of both Tiki and Tharja.
"And…" Mace's jaw worked back and forth, hands tightening into fists by his sides, "you didn't finish him off?"
Ben's gaze whipped to meet Mace's. "I thought I had but-"
"You clearly did not consider the impact he would have on the galaxy if he survived," Mace fumed as he paced towards the large windows in the room. He drew in a deep breath as he peered through the open shades out to the twinkling lights of the Royal City. "How in the force did you manage to not kill him? Did you have to flee? Did you-"
"I left him burning alive on the banks of a lava river," Ben groaned.
Mace glanced at Ben. "You couldn't have just… I don't know, pushed him further into the lava?"
"Master Windu, I think we've pushed this subject far enough." Tiki hummed, a sharp canine flashing behind her lips as she spoke. "What has happened in the past is over and done with. Darth Vader is alive, and we are all well aware of him."
"Who do you think caused us to flee our home?" Tharja added in as she gave Mace a dark glare. "And, I want my spellbook back."
Mace tossed her spellbook onto the bed. Tharja quickly snatched it, pulling it close to her chest as she glared at the Jedi Master. Ben placed a hand on her shoulder and shook his head, silently warning her against any swift retribution against his old comrade. Tharja simply rolled her eyes in reply, but still kept a wary glare fixated on the scarred Jedi Master.
"Despite that failure," Mace continued. "You at least crippled him significantly. Together, you and I should be able to dispatch him without much trouble, Obi-Wan. The bigger problem I feel lies with the Emperor himself."
"Yoda couldn't even defeat him," Ben murmured. "I doubt we would stand much of a chance."
Mace grimaced. "Still, we will have to try at some point. However, we must weaken the Sith first and foremost. That means we need to eliminate his followers, and possibly cripple the Empire at the same time."
"I get the feeling you're suggesting we should goad Darth Vader and whoever else is apprenticed to the Emperor into open battle?" Tiki guessed, her brow furrowing as she studied Mace's face. When Mace didn't say anything and instead nodded; Tiki pursed her lips. "Ben, you've told me that you feel Sidious could be the most powerful enemy you have ever faced, including Deadlords and Vader himself, correct?"
Ben nodded while Mace gave Tiki a puzzled look.
"Then I don't think it would be wise to goad the Sith into a fight. Especially given both of your status as high ranking Jedi. At least, I am assuming you are one Mister-"
"Oh, right!" Ben cleared his throat and gestured to Mace and Tiki. "Master Windu, Tiki. Tiki, Master Windu."
"A pleasure," Mace grumbled, earning a frown from Tiki. "I would like to know why you think you have any say in the matter?"
Tiki tilted her head. Tharja scooted around Ben in order to have him as a buffer between her and the powerful Manakete. A dangerous aura emanated from Tiki as she scowled in Mace's direction.
"Contrary to my appearance, Master Windu, I have plenty of wisdom when it comes to the subject of dark lords and how to combat them. Three thousand years is plenty of time to learn about the subject," Mace's eyes widened in surprise. "You would be wise to at least consider my advice."
"And while your input may be appreciated by some, this is not your fight," Mace replied.
"It became our fight when the Empire decimated our home," Tharja interjected. Tiki nodded as she spoke. "Chrom has already agreed to assist the Rebellion. Besides, Ben has always been firm in the belief that he is no match for the Emperor."
"I still believe that," Ben snorted. "I barely bested Vader, and that was only because I knew exactly what buttons to push to knock him off balance. Given a second chance, Vader would likely defeat me. If the apprentice is still that powerful; I'm not keen on fighting the master."
"But it is our duty to-"
"Survive," Ben interrupted Mace. "Our duty is to first and foremost survive. Our second duty is to make sure the Jedi Order lives on. That is impossible if we are dead."
Mace ran a hand over his mouth as he paced back and forth in front of the window. "So you're saying we let them get away with it?"
Ben frowned. "Vengeance is not the Jedi way, Master."
A snarl rushed over Master Windu's scarred visage. "Neither are attachments, but you seem to have tossed that part of the code aside."
A pulse of force energy shot through the room, ruffling the sheets on the bed. The pulse also knocked Mace a little off balance. Instantly, he sought the source of the pulse and was surprised to see Tiki glaring at him with menacing intent.
"I think we are all a bit tired and stressed," She said, her voice even and measured. As if she was barely restraining her temper. "We can discuss this more tomorrow morning when everyone can be present. Master Windu, I'm sure Master Kenobi and Tharja would like some time alone."
Mace flicked his eyes back and forth between Ben and Tiki. After a moment, he uttered a resigned sigh and nodded. He strode to the door with Tiki following close behind him.
At the door, Mace turned back to Ben.
"Master Kenobi, in the morning-"
"I will find you, Master Windu," Ben said. "And we will discuss all of this with the Shepherds, Ahsoka, and Senator Organa present. There's no sense keeping them in the dark."
Mace frowned. "Very well. You have a good evening."
Without another word, he exited the room with Tiki in tow. Once outside, Mace started his swift march to his quarters, only to falter as he sensed Tiki still trailing after him. At first, he paid her no mind, assuming that she was simply going to her quarters as well. But when he made several turns into different corridors nowhere near the other Shepherds, and she was still following him closely; Mace snarled and twirled around, palm splayed open as he prepared to shove her with the force.
Only for one of Tiki's strong, slender hands to snatch his wrist and squeezed, causing his hand to spasm.
"I have spoken quite a bit with Ben about the Jedi and their ways," Tiki began, her grip like a vice around Mace's wrist. "One of the things he told me was that Jedi should not be prone to anger or hatred. Yet, here you are, ready to have a childish outburst."
Mace growled as Tiki's grip loosened, allowing him to yank his hand free. He massaged his wrist with his other, gloved hand as he glowered at her.
"Why are you following me?"
Tiki shrugged. "At first I was simply suspicious of you. Watching us from the shadows as we arrived, then later claiming to be a friend of Ben's, would be grounds for caution. After all, why would a friend act so inconspicuous? But after speaking with you, I've found that I simply do not like you."
"And that's a reason to follow me?"
"No, but it is a reason to tell you this: do not, under any circumstances, put the Shepherds in danger. Doing so will have consequences."
"Are you threatening me?" Mace snarled.
"No. I'm making you a promise. Pray that I don't end up keeping."
Before Mace could reply, Tiki spun her heel and walked away, not even bothering to glance back at the fuming Jedi Master. As she marched away, Mace drew in a deep breath in an attempt to calm himself down.
These people, the Shepherds, were not something he had anticipated. Sure, he learned from Kjelle and Nah that Obi-Wan had allied himself with a group of strange individuals, even going so far as to have a child with one of them. But, Mace never suspected that he would be so attached to them, and vice versa.
He could forgive Master Kenobi for having a child with some woman in a moment of weakness. After all, he had plenty of his own weak moments in the aftermath of the Jedi's fall. None as egregious as that, but plenty of moments of righteous anger that would have earned him a rebuke from other members of the High Council. But this attachment could prove a liability. If it came down to saving his friends versus destroying the Sith: what would Master Kenobi choose?
If Mace asked himself that question a few hours ago, the answer would have been obvious. Obi-Wan would do his duty and rid the galaxy of the dark blight that was Sidious, Vader, and Ragana. But now… now he was not sure.
Mace marched to his quarters and opened the door. As the door closed behind him, he bowed his head, fists clenching tight beside him.
How can I do this myself if I do not have the power to do so? He closed his eyes and thought back to the vision of the man in the coat. The one that offered him power. For the first time, the offer was enticing.
Perhaps it is time to consider alternatives.
And chapter! Whew, this chapter was some work. We've hit a bit of a lull in the story, but I plan on having it pick up again soon, hopefully. We'll see what happens, becomes sometimes these characters like to think on their own. Still, we're get more reuniting stuff next chapter, some more meetings next chapter (gotta get the Alderaan and Ylissean royalty chatting after all). Then the Rebellion can start to grow, and we can get more stuff rolling. That'll be fun!
Anyways, let me know what you all think of this chapter! As always, I hope you all enjoyed it! Have a nice day!
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