A/N: As always, thanks to those helping me write and plan out this story and checking it for continuality and logic errors.
This chapter was released at least 2 weeks ago to my Pat-re-ons (with them seeing a draft version around 2 months ago) and on the story's Discord server (in GDoc form) about a week ago.
Links for both are at the end of the chapter.

Hopefully, all the little mistakes have been found and removed.

ALSO

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Please remember to go into your account and turn email notifications back on if you wish that to start happening again. and remember to do so every 3 months!

ALSO ALSO

It seems email alerts are broken AGAIN! So for those of you who read this and wonder why there wasn't an email, blame FFN for breaking their system once more.

It also affects writers as we don't see view numbers for a chapter (and haven't for over a month).


Phantom Menace 3

... ...

I turned away from Serra. Whatever was bothering her, whatever event the Force was suggesting was coming soon, was a matter to focus on once the meeting was over.

My focus shifted to the large holographic map which displayed a large section of the planet. At one end of the projection was the Lianorm Swamp, with our current location marked by a pulsing red dot. At the other end, beyond the Gallo Mountain range and the great grass plains, was Theed. Another red pulsing light was there, centred around the royal palace. The sheer size of Theed on the map gave an indication of just how far away we were from the city and had me curious as to how Padmé and the others had reached there so quickly in the other timeline.

Judging by the map, it would take a week to trek to the city, and that was if we walked non-stop without the threat of interception by Vulture droids or any elements of the droid army. Said army had to be larger than in the other timeline, as this time there were three Lucrehulks in orbit. Now, the other two vessels might have been simply to reinforce the planet, but I had my doubts about that.

Ever since discovering there were three Lucrehulks in orbit, I'd been working through why that would be. The only plausible answer that remained was that Sidious wanted to test me. While the main thrust of that would come from Maul – which was a different, and much more concerning issue than the Federation's droid army – the increased droid forces would require me to adapt. He and Plagueis knew of events on Zonama Sekot, and how I'd led a small insurgent group against a larger invading force. While the Vong shouldn't be reappearing in bulk for several decades if the Invaders From the Void quest had indicated, testing me and the forces I'd assembled against a large droid force would allow the Sith to determine if I was powerful and competent enough for them to start taking me seriously as a possible ally…or an enemy that needed removal. Plus, Sidious was aware I'd put out calls for help, and if he was even a tenth as intelligent as I knew he was, then he'd have tracked my Holonet calls to the Lokella and Duke Adonai and quickly worked out where I was gathering my support from.

Once Naboo was free, the Sith would doubtlessly review my actions during the battle for Naboo to learn as much as they could about my style in combat, and willingness to engage in violence. How they'd get the recordings to review my actions I couldn't be sure of, but I knew they would as it's what I'd do in their place. Regardless, by placing three Lucrehulks around Naboo, each with their own independent contingent of droids, it meant the damage done to the Federation would be greater and the embarrassment of failing to hold the planet even higher once the planet was free.

Now, since the jungle wasn't being buzzed by Vulture droids, nor were the sentries detecting the movement of companies of droids, I felt that at least some of the threat the Federation posed had been, if not removed then at least nullified for the time being. Since there'd not been a fireball in the sky signalling the destruction of a vessel, that meant Asta's team had captured and were holding the Lucrehulk they'd boarded. Ideally, that vessel wouldn't be destroyed during the orbital battle, as it would provide a wonderful financial and technological bonus to me and my allies. However, given it would be, even with the support of the gathered fleet of Lokella and Mandalorian vessels, outgunned by the other two Lucrehulks and their Vulture droids, the odds of it being space-worthy afterwards were slim.

"Has there been any word from Lady Asta?"

The question from Padmé drew my attention, and I turned to face her, seeing HK standing behind her. His photoreceptors were scanning everyone, judging who might be a threat to the young queen. While he might not be happy about my choice to assign him to protect her, he would carry out the order with his typical lethal efficiency.

To Padmé's left were Qui-Gon, Obi-Wan, and Captain Panaka. Panaka kept glaring at HK, not liking that a droid was guarding her, but I'd assured him that HK was more than a match for anything either the Federation or our forces might have. I stood opposite Padmé around the map while to my left were Validus and Ferox representing the Lokella ground forces, and then the Mandalorians. Bo and Osto had positions due to their houses being the main backers of my call to arms, but the senior warriors present were Shal Beroya, Vhonte Tervho and Rangemaster Dun Marod.

I knew nothing about the former two, but both came recommended by Asta, Osto, Bo, and others. Marod being here was a surprise, and I'd spoken to him before we'd jumped to Naboo, wondering why he'd come. It seemed that while he enjoyed his work teaching new generations of warriors, he missed battle and glory. When the civil war had ended and he'd survived the various battles he'd fought in, he'd grown despondent, fearing he might never die in battle as a warrior should. When the call for warriors had gone out, he'd answered quickly, and while the credits on offer were a factor, the chance to go into battle once more had been a larger factor in his choice.

"No. Operational procedures mean the only time we'll receive any signal from my mother is if they are forced to evacuate and destroy the target," Osto replied bluntly. "Unless Cameron or one of the other Jetii can add more, we won't know how successful her mission was until the orbital battle begins."

"There was nothing on the sensors when I left Raven," I added. "While they're powerful, I couldn't risk using them actively and giving away her position. Nor alerting the other Federation vessels that something might be amiss."

"While the Force isn't as forthcoming with revelations as many would believe, neither I nor my Padawan have sensed anything amiss regarding the vessels in orbit," Qui-Gon added, though I noted he specifically mentioned space and not the planet, which had me thinking he could sense something was off within the Force, meaning that Maul was waiting for us, for me, in the city.

"Has anything been heard from the local forces?"

Panaka fixed Vhonte with a glare, but the Mandalorian was unfazed by it. I wasn't sure why, but Panaka seemed to dislike the presence of the Mandalorians. Nevertheless, he was still willing to accept fighting alongside them.

"Yes, I have. However, what we have is rudimentary at best as many are working off-grid to avoid detection by Federation forces." Panaka stepped toward the map and accessed the display through a wrist-based interface. Along with the others, I watched as the map zoomed in on Theed, with lines heading toward it from smaller cities while large red blobs appeared in and around Theed. "The Federation have concentrated their forces in Theed and other major cities. Citizens from other smaller cities and towns have been rounded up and herded in or near the major population centres."

"Makes sense," Shal Beroya. "Easier to control the locals and cut down on resistance if you keep civilians in central locations, preferably near critical infrastructure as well."

"I would advise against engaging the Federation's army inside the city limits, Your Highness. The civilian casualties would be impossible to keep down."

Padmé lowered her head in acceptance of Qui-Gon's words. "Agreed, Master Jedi, which is why I feel we need to draw the Federation army, or at least most of it, out of Theed." She paused and turned, looking toward others who were close by but not part of the meeting like Serra. She was currently mingling with the former members of our team from the Institute on Mandalore, all of whom had signed on when word went out that I needed warriors for battle. "Jar Jar Binks!"

I forced down a grimace at hearing Padmé call for the Gungan. I knew she would, but I'd rather not be around him. While I was reserving judgment on the rest of his people, Jar Jar was, in simple terms, a bumbling fool. That said, the Force Potential he had – which was comparable to Mundi's – explained how he seemed to keep lucking out in every event he found himself inexplicably stuck in.

There was a delay as we waited on the Gungan to first realise he'd been summoned, and for him to then walk over. During that time, I noticed that R2-D2 was resting near HK and while he was being quiet, faint beeps and bleeps were coming from the Astromech. HK wasn't responding verbally, but I saw his hand moving. It remained near his blaster, but it was enough that the pair were having a conversation without disrupting the meeting. I'd have to ask HK about that later.

"Mesa?"

The irritating voice of Jar Jar snapped my focus back to the purpose of this meeting and I saw the Gungan had moved over, coming close to Padmé and was now pointing at himself. As if there was any other being in the galaxy with such a name. And Force was that a scary thought.

"I wish for you to return to your people as my official envoy." At Padmé's words, Jar Jar seemed to shrink in on himself, as if anyone could miss his gangly frame. "I understand you were cast out by your people," I sensed the Mandalorians and Lokella tense at hearing this, "however you are the only link we have with the leaders of Otoh Gunga."

"Mesa an envoy?" As he spoke, I saw Vhonte clench her fists, which when combined with the irritation radiating from her in waves, made it clear she disliked Jar Jar. Perhaps not to the level I did – was it bad I kept contemplating how long it would take to turn him to ash with Force Lightning? – but enough that I hoped it wouldn't colour her thoughts about the rest of his people. They did, after all, have the common sense to exile him, though I didn't know why that was beyond clumsiness and would admit to being curious about it.

"Yes, I need you to take an offer of alliance to your people. The Federation threatens both our great cultures and if we cannot unite and stand against them together, they will enslave us separately."

Jar Jar blinked and starched behind one of his long, droopy ears. "Uh, mesa no sure da Bosses will agreen wit yousa planen." I took a deep breath, letting my irritation toward the Gungan slide away. He was still needed, otherwise, the Gungan army wouldn't be around to draw the Federation out of Theed, making things a thousand times more complicated.

"Yes, I'm aware the Bosses won't like it, but we need them as much as they need us," Padmé replied with a genuine smile that proved beyond doubt she had the patience of an angel, perhaps even of Fay.

"Ok," Jar Jar replied with a shrug, "mesa try." With that, the Gungan turned and walked away, heading toward, I assumed, the nearest tributary of Lake Paonga.

"What… abilities do the Gungans possess?" Validus asked, bringing forth a question that had to be addressed.

"We're currently unaware of their exact capabilities, however, the most recent skirmish between our people and the Gungans saw them deploy over ten thousand warriors. They also have the ability to navigate the oceans that run through the planet's core."

"Which will be very useful for, among other things, slipping forces into Theed under the noses of the Federation," I added to Panaka's report. As Validus nodded, accepting the information, I gestured to the map. Panaka nodded and stepped back. "While not from this world, I visited recently to celebrate the Queen's coronation," I smiled at Padmé before highlighting the city. "These rivers run through Theed, coming in from either the Gallo mountains or a lake further away. While I'm uncertain if the Gungan vessels…"

"Bongos," Obi-Wan supplied.

"… bongos, can emerge into the rivers, I suspect they'd be able to arrive in the lake and then travel downstream provided the river is deep enough. Once we have better intel from the local resistance, we should be able to determine insertion points for both primary teams to capture the Federation's leadership and disrupt any droid forces within the city limits."

"You suspect the Federation's leaders are on-planet?"

I turned to Panaka, letting him answer Vhonte's question.

"Reports suggest Viceroy Gunray himself is still present, having taken up residence in the palace."

"What about the Gungan tech? Are we sure it's useable?"

"While Jar Jar is… strange," I began, giving Ferox a smirk to make clear I disliked him as well, "I don't think it's fair to judge his species based on our time around him. He was, after all, exiled when he encountered Master Jinn and Padawan Kenobi."

"Jar Jar Binks is a peculiar creature," Qui-Gon added, drawing a snort of amusement from Ferox. "However, Cameron is correct in saying we shouldn't judge the Gungans on him. From what I and Obi-Wan observed while in their underwater city as well as on our travel through the planet's core to Theed, the Gungans while appearing primitive, have some remarkable technology."

"We'll see," muttered Shal, making his opinion clear.

"Regardless, the issue of the droid army occupying Theed, and detaining civilians means we still have other obstacles to overcome before any attempt to capture the Viceroy," Qui-Gon continued, shifting the topic away from the Gungans. "A method to either disable the droids or draw them out of Theed has to be your main focus."

"Outside of Theed, the only possible battlefields are the Great Grass Plains or the Gallo mountains," Panaka offered as he moved in close to the map again. I stepped back as he adjusted the display. "However, without a force large enough to draw the attention of the Federation's army, neither is a viable option."

"Which is why I suspect the Queen just sent Jar Jar to his people," I said, smiling at Padmé. Padmé nodded, as I sensed Bo's amusement at my antics. "Still, simply engaging them on an open field is, at best, foolish."

"Assuming the Gungan force joins us here, then they would have to move through the mountains," Validus commented as he pointed at the Gallo range. "While we wait for the Gungan response, perhaps we might scout the passages through the range. To both determine which, if any, could support a large force, and where the Federation has deployed advanced units."

"Our warriors will be capable of doing that," Osto said, drawing nods from Vhonte and Marod. "Though it would be a useful mission to further the cooperation between our men." Validus nodded in agreement while I smiled. Getting the Lokella and Mandalorians used to working and fighting side-by-side was going to be important. While some would remain with the Gungans for the battle on the plains, most would deploy to Theed. The better their understanding of each other was, the less chance there was of friendly fire incidents.

"I'll take an advanced element with jetpacks for a deeper sortie. Ideally, we can determine where, if anywhere, the droids are based within the mountains, and locations for diversionary engagements to allow our forces to slip past the Federation's outposts." That came from Marod, and while I'd rather he didn't die in a simple skirmish, I knew he'd not throw his life away recklessly to gain what he desired of death in battle. There was no honour in such a fate.

"And what of the Jetii?" Bo asked, turning her focus on Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan. "Will you fight for the cause?"

"Obi-Wan and I are here simply to continue our mission to protect Queen Amidala," Qui-Gon replied, drawing a sneer from Bo. "We aren't here to fight in her war." I knew that would be his answer, but I'd hoped he might be more subtle about his motivations for being present.

"Whereas I was the one who asked all of you to come," I jumped in, looking at the Mandalorians and Lokella. "While I shouldn't become involved, it would be dishonourable of me to ask you to risk your lives in freeing this planet if I didn't do likewise." That drew nods of agreement from most, though I sensed some concern from Qui-Gon, along with distaste from Obi-Wan. "That being said, when the time comes, I feel my place is in Theed. I sense a disturbance in the Force there calling to me, and who am I to deny its will?" I asked rhetorically to Qui-Gon. That drew a nod, though there was a frown as well suggesting he could also sense the disturbance that signalled Maul was present. "However, if we can't count on the Gungans, getting to Theed is going to be a kriffing challenge." Well, not for me as I could simply Teleport while Qui-Gon, Obi-Wan, and Serra could move fast enough that they'd be able to clear the distance quickly, though it would leave them winded when they arrived.

"The handful of resistance units I've already managed to contact say they have skimmers. Not enough to get everyone we have to Theed, but enough that if the other cells are similarly equipped, it might be possible."

"I feel that even if the Gungans have an army to rival the Federation, not all of us will be needed in the city." Vhonte stepped toward the map as she spoke. "We'll need ways to counter the overwhelming number of droids, which is where many of the Mando'ade will come in." She finished with a smile that promised chaos, and I had to bite back a chuckle at just what she and the other Mandalorians would come up with to wreck the droid army. "The Gungans need to draw out and then pin down the Federation's forces. For that, they'll need to cause as many diversions and distractions as possible."

"Once the Viceroy is in our hands, the Federation will surrender," Padmé spoke with conviction, and while some might question her certainty, everything I knew of Gunray – both from the other timeline and this one – meant he would. Of course, that left the question of what to do with him afterwards, at least before Palpatine, as the new Chancellor, arrived on the planet.

"It is a bold plan, Your Highness. However, until we learn what forces we have, and better intel on what we face, perhaps we should wait to decide on the critical aims of the battle." I knew Padmé's plan was sound, as it had worked in the other timeline, however with the changes in play here, I couldn't be certain it would work this time. That meant I needed to play it safe for now, and not commit to her seemingly reckless goal, regardless of how logical it actually was.

"Commentary: Based on the files I have reviewed regarding the… battle droids used by this Trade Federation, I believe that unless faced by numbers greater than five-hundred-to-one, then our current force would be more than sufficient, Master." I chuckled at HK's comment, having had to listen to his review of what was publicly available on the droids, and what I 'suspected' was true. While he felt the concept of the droid army was practical – as they were superior to meatbags – he was, to put it mildly, disappointed in the B1s. Now, the Vulture and droideka models he regarded as much more impressive, so much so that he was looking forward to testing himself against a unit of droidekas that might very well be guarding Gunray, but the B1s he considered an insult to what a battledroid should be. Haran, I'd learnt some new curses from his description of their failings, though I doubted I'd ever need to use such vulgar expressions.

"Our initial reports suggest over a hundred thousand battledroids in Theed alone."

HK's optical receptors flickered as he considered Panaka's words. "Observation: That is a substantial number of droids, meatbag. Addendum: I will enjoy facing such a large opposing force."

That drew laughter from the Mandalorians and Lokella even as Qui-Gon turned to face me. "I hope, perhaps, you might explain where exactly you discovered this droid." He spoke softly, but there was a firmness in his tone making clear he wasn't willing to drop the matter.

"I guess there's little point in trying to claim HK is simply a protocol droid, is there?" Given he was carrying a large, high-powered rifle, and many of his hidden features might well be revealed in the upcoming battle, I saw little point in keeping up the charade. "Did you read your copy of the holonovel I sent you?" I asked Padmé while I saw Bo trying and failing to not grin like the proverbial cat that had caught the canary.

"Yes, but I fail to…" Padmé's words trailed off. I watched as the switch flicked in her head and she turned to her newest protector with wide, disbelieving eyes. "By the Force…"

"Your Highness?" Panaka asked, his stance shifting, fearing there was a threat. He stayed still though, not risking a firefight with Padmé so close to HK.

"Observation: If I wished her dead, meatbag, there is little you could do to stop me." HK all but crackled as he spoke. "Query: May I introduce myself formally, Master?"

"Please." I suspected I was struggling as badly as Bo to not enjoy this moment.

"Greetings: I am HK-47, the personal assassin droid of the Jedi and Sith known as Revan." At the mention of an assassin, Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan both drew their lightsabers as the Mandalorians and Lokella tensed. The mention of Revan had everyone turning to me.

"Where did you find this droid?" Qui-Gon asked tensely, his lightsaber still in his hands but his stance relaxing slightly.

"That is a private matter. HK is very much a family heirloom, and while I'm not Revan, I'm not going into battle again without such a legendary droid at my side." I saw Osto struggling to keep his mind focused as his eyes darted between me, HK, and Bo. It seemed he realised where I'd found HK.

"Exclamation: Such kind words, Master. Query: Are you feeling well? I know how you meatbags so often struggle due to faulty construction."

"No, HK, I'm fine. Just amused" I replied with a smile even as Qui-Gon slowly powered down his lightsaber.

"Affirmative: Yes, the reactions of the various meatbags, bar the one with red hair, are most amusing, Master." I glanced at Bo who now had a hand over her mouth as the other Mandalorians stared at her, wondering how long she'd known the truth about HK.

"I will forego many of the questions regarding how, when and why you have this droid," Qui-Gon said slowly as he gestured for Obi-Wan to lower his blade. "However, I need to know if either of your Masters are aware of this."

"Neither have explicitly mentioned HK's name and how it links to my ancestor. However, I feel Master Dooku was aware but accepting of the situation. Until a few weeks ago, HK had only been a head." I spoke calmly, pushing the moment of enjoyment at everyone's reaction to the reveal to the side. "Honestly, I'm surprised many hadn't already connected his name to Revan as it's not exactly a common droid designation."

"Commentary: While there have been imitations, none have lived up to the original, Master."

"And I would hope not," I replied to HK before returning my attention to Qui-Gon. "Until now, only those I trust implicitly were aware of the truth, but given I'd rather not go into battle with those nearby potentially caught out by HK's capabilities, I feel the need for his nature to remain hidden has passed." Once the High Council knew of this, they'd no doubt want to speak at length with me, as would Sidious. However, there was nothing anyone could say that would force me to dismantle HK, and if he played an important role in freeing Naboo, I knew Padmé would go to bat for him as well.

"While I disapprove of your keeping this from us, if, as you say, Master Dooku was aware and permitted it, then I cannot offer judgment on the matter. However, the Council may well wish to speak with you once Naboo is free."

"I'm quite sure they will." However, if all went well, they wouldn't come to Naboo as Qui-Gon would be alive. From there, I'd simply do my best to ignore their calls. That would also give me a reason to avoid Palpatine without it seeming like I was avoiding him. Well, unless he summoned me as Chancellor, in which case I'd have to get in and leave Coruscant before any member of the Order learnt of my presence. Though with Palpatine's connections, that shouldn't be too difficult. "However, that is a matter for the future."

"Yes. Yes, it is, Master Jedi," Padmé said, a wide smile still on her face. "For now, we should wait for Jar Jar Binks to return, and allow our forces to both scout the mountains and arrive with new intelligence on the Federation." There was a spark in her eyes that I took to mean she adored the idea of me granting her HK as a bodyguard. With Knights of the Old Republic: The Dark Times out, and her having read it, I was sure she understood what HK was capable of.

I nodded in agreement and then turned to the Mandalorians and Lokella. "I trust combined command codes have been established?"

"Yes," Osto said while the other Mandalorians looked at me like I'd suddenly grown a second head. "The former Rangemaster has helped the Lokella integrate their systems into the Battlenet. Once the local forces are assembled, channels will be created for them as well."

"What has made it easier is that early training for our people was done with Mandalorian support," Validus added. "While that was before myself and Ferox were freed, the training regimes they put in place are still active today." He tapped his chest, bringing attention to the phrik-laced armour he wore, which bore similarities to beskar'gam. "Though we did have to adapt some of their ideals regarding armour and weaponry to what we had on hand."

"While the Lokella'ade are not Mando'ade, phrik is an acceptable substitute for their warriors," Dun offered with a smile. "It is not Beskar, but it is almost as effective. From what I've seen of their warriors, they fight well and for a noble cause." Ferox had tensed for a moment but relaxed as Dun had continued. That said, I did notice Vhonte seemed displeased about the Lokella, either because they used Mandalorian tactics, or mimicked beskar'gam.

Feeling no need to comment, I nodded, accepting the situation, and then turned to Padmé. "Unless there is anything else to discuss, Your Majesty, perhaps we might reconvene once Jar Jar returns?"

"Agreed."

After giving her a smile, I turned away. I could see Osto and Bo wished to speak with me, but my thoughts were drawn to Serra. She'd not been at the map, but throughout the meeting, I'd sensed her growing apprehension and as I approached, I saw she was looking skyward. "You alright?" I asked as I placed a hand on her shoulder.

She turned slowly and sighed. "Cam, I'm sorry… Master Drallig is coming."

Caught out by that, I blinked and then looked skyward. For a moment I considered suggesting she was wrong, but at the time, I sensed a shift in the Force. Using Enhance Senses on my sight, I saw the faintest streak high in the atmosphere. That was the telltale sign of something entering the planet's air, and since it was alone I realised Serra was right.

"Are you ready for this?" I asked, throwing away the generic 'Are you ok' question as I didn't need the Force to tell me she wasn't. To Serra, Drallig was the closest thing she had to a father, and in coming here without telling him, she had risked damage to their relationship. While Bo saw nothing wrong with that, I knew Serra was conflicted about it, which meant this impending meeting was going to be difficult for her.

"I… I don't know." She turned, keeping my hand on her shoulder even as hers came to rest in the crook of my elbow. "But I know I'm staying. I need to be here."

I smiled at her and squeezed her shoulder gently. "Ok. Whatever happens, I'll be nearby when you're ready."

With a nod, she returned her gaze to the sky. Part of me wanted to interfere in this, as Serra was important to me, but I knew I couldn't. This was a personal matter for her, and I had to trust her to handle it.

… …


… …

(Cin Drallig's POV)

Cin Drallig took careful, measured steps as he moved through the jungle of Naboo, just as he'd done ever since his starship had landed. He wasn't meant to be here. No, this was Qui-Gon Jinn's mission. He should've been in the Temple helping instruct the various Initiates, Padawans, Knights, and even Masters seeking additional help with their style of lightsaber combat. However, his Padawan had displayed her worrying trend of recklessness, and in a move that had taken him time to decipher, travelled here as well.

Yet as he laid eyes upon his Padawan, his rhythmic walk nearly slipped.

While she was wearing the outer robe of a Jedi, what lay underneath was not how she should be attired. Instead of the expected clothing of a Jedi Padawan was armour. Specifically, that of a Mandalorian. As he neared her, he saw that while the armour was well-fitting, it wasn't entirely made of Beskar, with only the sections of armour on her boots – a holdover from her time training on Mandalore many years ago – and gauntlets being of that legendary metal. The rest of the armour appeared to be composed of durasteel, yet it was clear that while Serra was wearing the armour, she seemed ill-at-ease in it. Drallig was pleased that even with all the unnecessary armour to hide what she was, her lightsabers still hung at her side. Of course, the armour simply confirmed to Drallig why his Padawan was here.

Knight Cameron Shan.

Drallig had been, if not concerned, then uncertain of the close bond Serra shared with Knight Shan, one that went back to before either were taken as Padawans. While the story of Serra helping Shan settle into the Order was something that had further assured him that she was the correct choice to take as his Padawan, as the years had passed and their bond had continued to evolve, Drallig had grown wary of Shan. He could sense the Force wished them to remain close, remain friends, yet Drallig suspected that, within the last year, that friendship had potentially developed into something else; something that came perilously close to violating the tenets of the Jedi Order. Something that seemed too often be the case with Knight Shan.

Drallig understood that drifting close to violating the rules of the Jedi wasn't an uncommon failing of younger Jedi. Knights Vos and Kota were also both proven to skirt the rules when they felt the situation called for it, and Knight Kota was another who had come late to the Order – older still than Knight Shan – and struggled at times to find balance. Yet, when all of that was combined with Knight Shan's age, and his proclivity for entering situations that would test even a Jedi Master – to say nothing of the lineage he bore –Drallig had grown concerned about his Padawan's safety.

Yet, the Council had felt Shan was ready for Knighthood, and while his first official assignment as a Knight had almost cost Shan his life, Drallig had seen little in the last year to suggest the Council had erred in their decision. Indeed, if he felt it would be accepted, Drallig would have begun training Knight Shan to one day become the Temple's Battlemaster. The young Knight had an innate ability to make any he taught better, regardless of their age, though Drallig was at a loss to explain what Knight Shan was doing differently from himself or the various lightsaber instructors within the Temple, so much so that he'd spoken with Masters Windu and Yoda, though they too were uncertain how Knight Shan was imparting knowledge so efficiently.

Yet, for all that, Drallig knew Knight Shan wouldn't accept an offer to be anything more than a roaming lightsaber instructor. Primarily for three factors, the first of which was that Knight Shan had yet to form a style of combat that suited him fully. Now, this wasn't an uncommon issue with young Jedi – as an example, Qui-Gon Jinn's Padawan had shifted his base form to Soresu several years ago, and Drallig could see it was a better fit for the Padawan – Knight Shan's issues were less from his understanding of the forms he wished to adapt, but more of a mental concern. Or at least that appeared to be the issue to Drallig. Shan was an exceptionally proficient Jedi, yet seemed unwilling or unable to allow the Force to guide his movements.

The second issue was that like many younger Jedi, Knight Shan felt a pull from the Force to head out into the wider galaxy. Much like Knight Kota and others who had come to the Order later in life – including a certain gifted but outspoken young Initiate that Knight Shan had discovered – Shan was ill-at-ease in the Temple.

The third reason that Drallig had not extended an offer to Knight Shan was because of his Padawan. Drallig knew well that a Jedi must let go of attachments, and the strengthening connection between Serra and Knight Shan certainly was part of this reason. Yet, the larger part was because Drallig cared for Serra, and he was concerned that allowing her closeness to Knight Shan to develop further, or letting her defer to his judgment as she often did, would somehow threaten her status as a Jedi and cost Drallig a skilled if impulsive apprentice.

Since Serra was here on Naboo, as was Knight Shan, the third reason for withholding the offer was reinforced in Drallig's mind. She had once more chosen to walk the path that Knight Shan was taking, and given the continual threats that appeared around Knight Shan, Drallig feared losing his latest - and he felt his last - Padawan.

Yet as he approached, he considered not the fact Serra was here, nor her status in non-Jedi clothing, but that she and the others should never have reached the planet's surface. The Trade Federation was clearly blockading the planet – just as Queen Amidala had stated to the Senate a week ago – and even with the abilities of Knight Shan's unique vessel, deploying any force to the planet should have been improbable. Yet beyond his Padawan, Drallig could sense the familiar presences of Qui-Gon Jinn, his Padawan Obi-Wan Kenobi, Knight Shan, and dozens of others.

Serra had reached out to him through the Force, letting him know where on the planet she was, and with this group that she was a part of gathered in the swamp far from the planetary capital, Drallig was curious as to how the situation had evolved. And what Serra and these others – no doubt summoned by Knight Shan – could do to alleviate the suffering of the local populace which he felt on his approach.

"Master."

Serra's greeting, and the accompanying deep bow, returned Drallig's focus entirely to his Padawan. Gently probing her thoughts through the Force, Drallig saw that while she appeared calm, internally, she was a raging cauldron of emotions. As he taught her, she wasn't drawing upon those emotions, nor displaying them openly, but having been her Master for years, he knew his way around the walls that protected her mind.

He waited until he was barely a metre away from her before replying. "Padawan. I was concerned when you failed to come to our morning spar earlier this week," he said slowly, measuring his words. "When I learnt that your reason for missing our session was because you had not only discovered a method to escape the Temple and evade Temple security my concern grew further." Drallig suspected Initiate Zill might have helped but he hadn't spoken with her since she had departed for Ilum to select her lightsaber crystal. "Discovering that you had then left the planet aboard a vessel arranged by the Mandalorian Senator raised several questions that I needed answers to."

Serra stood from her bow. "I…" She paused and licked her lips as Drallig sensed the swirling, conflicting emotions within her brewing oddly. Doubt, confusion, fear, and relief moved around and with each other in the chamber that was her being, though before any could become worryingly prevalent, Serra brought them under control enough that they no longer shone like a beacon within the Force. "I'm sorry, Master, when I learnt of the true situation on Naboo, and the unwillingness of the Senate to help, I felt I had to do something."

"And somehow this need, this desire to help resulted in you leaving the Temple, boarding a starship and departing Coruscant all without any effort to alert me." Drallig sensed Serra's thoughts drift toward Knight Shan for a second, but she didn't dwell on him. He would allow that for now, but the discussion of Serra's friendship – and perhaps more – with Knight Shan would be a topic they discussed at length.

"An innocent world has been invaded, Master, and the Senate and Jedi chose to do nothing!" As she spoke, Serra thrust out an arm, indicating the planet they were currently standing upon.

Drallig raised a single eyebrow. "Calm yourself Padawan."

Serra stared at him as if he'd suddenly turned into a Hutt, though a moment later she brought her arm back to her body and inhaled deeply several times. He sensed the swirling emotions within her lessen and was relieved to sense her release the strongest part of them into the Force, clearing her mind. However, he did note that she didn't release all her emotions.

"I'm sorry, Master, for my outburst," Serra said slowly, her voice now relaxed and centred. "But what is happening on Naboo is wrong. This is a peaceful planet which placed its faith in the Republic, and the Jedi Order, to defend it. Yet, when they needed that protection from invasion, the Senate chose to debate the matter, letting the very entity that had invaded direct the discussion. And the Council failed to act, feeling that it wasn't the place of the Jedi to protect the citizens of the galaxy!" as she spoke, Serra's tone rose and the remaining brewing emotions within her started to rise into a maelstrom. It never breached externally, but Drallig was concerned at the willingness of his Padawan to draw upon those emotions and the passion it enflamed within her.

"The Council's decision was, no matter how you or I might disagree, the correct one." Drallig's tone stayed calm, devoid of emotional influence in what he hoped was a subtle reminder to Serra. "The Order serves the Force, and guards the Republic from threat."

Drallig had spoken with Qui-Gon before he'd resumed protecting Queen Amidala regarding the situation here on Naboo. Qui-Gon had felt, much like Serra, that the Order should intervene in this matter, though he prefaced it by saying he sensed a disturbance in the Force centred around Naboo and its young monarch. While Drallig did agree that there was a rising darkness in the galaxy – something he felt had been a reason for Master Bondara's recent death – he maintained that the Council should guide the Order, not individual Jedi. Their positions on the Council and its leadership had been a long-running thorn in Drallig's friendship with Qui-Gon and his former Master, Dooku, and other more outspoken members of the Order. It had never threatened their friendships, but it had placed a strain on them, and now, standing on this world, Drallig could sense the darkness was moving here, which made him interested in speaking further with Qui-Gon.

"The Federation is a threat, Master! Not just to Naboo, but other worlds throughout the Republic!" Serra shot back, her arms flailing around her, yet before Drallig could comment on her continuing lack of control, she blinked. As she looked away, taking time to refocus, Drallig gave an almost imperceivable nod. "If the Federation is allowed to directly control Naboo through the use of force, then how long until they do so again?" Serra asked her tone now far more becoming of a Jedi. "The longer the Senate and the Order continue to not act against this unwarranted aggression, the more willing the Federation will be to use these tactics again, arguing that a precedent has now been set. Perhaps reaching a moment where the Senate will simply shrug and accept that 'this is the way of things.' That makes them a clear and present threat to the Republic and by extension the Jedi Order."

Drallig took a moment, though that was more to observe how Serra reacted to his lack of immediate response. That said, as he took his time to respond and monitor Serra's reaction, he saw that Serra's words mirrored those – though with more emotional influence, of Qui-Gon and Dooku. Drallig was certain that the source of this mentality in his Padawan could be linked to Dooku's most recent Padawan, which was something he hadn't realised had taken root so deeply within Serra.

"The Jedi serve the Force, not the Senate or the people of the Republic. There are times when a request from the Senate is accepted by the Council, or when the Jedi feel the Force wishing us to intervene, but the moments where the wishes of the Senate and the will of the Force align are far less common than when they don't. Naboo, sadly for its citizens, is one more example of the latter. Such matters are the purview of the Senate and the Chancellor, and the Jedi will not intervene unless requested, as was the case with Master Jinn being assigned the mission at the request of Chancellor Valorum. The Jedi stand as guardians of the Force and protect it and the wider galaxy against threats by those who seek to corrupt and draw upon the Dark Side."

"The Sith are gone!" Serra shot back, and Drallig's brow creased when he detected some uncertainty in her conviction. While unexpected, it would align with his thoughts on what might have influenced the deaths of Anoon Bondara and his Padawan, Darsha Assant. He had spoken with Masters Windu and Yoda about his concerns, and while they shared his opinion that the Dark Side was growing stronger, they asked that he keep such concerns private. They assured him that the Council would investigate further, but so far he had heard nothing regarding any investigation.

"You feel that, with the Sith gone, the Jedi should move from being protectors of the Force to defenders of law across the Republic? That we should become judge and jury for every criminal moment across the quadrillions of sentients that inhabit the galaxy?" Drallig asked to see how Serra would reply, and if her words, as emotionally influenced as they were, might reveal something she would otherwise prefer to keep hidden.

"No!" Serra's response was swift and firm, which relieved Drallig even as Serra sighed loudly and shook her head. "I mean, we should help protect people and defend the law, but not enforce it. Which is why I had to come here."

"And if you, and those with you, are able to drive the Federation from Naboo, what then?" Drallig watched Serra carefully, seeing this as a moment of education for her. However, before the lesson could begin, he had to determine where her thoughts on what would come after Naboo was free were. "Should the Federation's leadership be arrested and imprisoned for their actions?"

"Yes, but their punishment would be placed in the hands of the Republic."

"And what if the people of Naboo, their emotions strong and disrupting, decide that the Federation's leadership should be imprisoned, or possibly executed for this invasion? Should we, having helped free the planet and arrest those responsible, choose to either allow that to happen, or help ensure its occurrence?"

"No," Serra said firmly. "They should stand trial for their actions, by the laws of the Republic. The Jedi are not judges and never will be executioners. That is not our way."

"Indeed, it is not. However, if the Senate, after considering the Federation's actions, decides to simply release the Federation's leadership with nothing more than a slap on the wrist, would that feel like justice has been served?"

Serra stayed silent, taking her time to consider his words, which Drallig was more than willing to allow. The lesson, it seemed, had begun, and it was one that many Jedi struggled with once they experienced much of the inherent flaws that existed within the Republic. Understanding that correcting those flaws wasn't the role the Jedi should be filling, was something that took time to learn and accept. The line between doing what one knew was right, and protecting the rule of law without forcing their beliefs on others, was a fine one that young Jedi regularly struggled to discover, never mind staying on the correct side of it. The problem existed in all Jedi as they grew, but it was more pronounced by those who spent most of their time either in the Temple or only seeing various major worlds in the Republic from the surface and not examining what might lay underneath.

"I… I don't know, Master," Serra eventually replied, her eyes staying on the ground around them. "I… I feel that I'm not wise or old enough to know how I might react to such an event, or how I might respond to the Senate making such a judgment."

Drallig smiled slightly and moved toward her. He placed a hand on her shoulder – pushing aside his distaste for the armour he felt under her robe – and waited for her to meet his gaze. "That you understand how you would respond in that situation is a wise answer. One I feel many Padawans and Knights in your position would struggle to recognize, to say nothing of answering. That said, it is a thought that you should have considered before acting rashly in leaving the Temple to come here."

"They need help," Serra shot back with conviction.

"If you had spoken to me in the temple, I would have agreed with you. However, it is not a decision for either of us to make, and certainly not one to be rushed into."

As she held his gaze, Drallig sensed a firming of her convictions. For a moment, he hoped she had understood the flaw in her actions and decision-making, yet she stepped back, slipping from his touch. "I know when I return there will be repercussions for my actions, but I'm not going back until I help free the Naboo."

Drallig's smile slipped as Serra spoke. "The Naboo? Or perhaps your motives are toward helping Knight Shan and Queen Amidala?" The question came easily to him, as it had been in his head ever since he'd discovered where Serra had been heading. Normally, he wouldn't mention her friends with those outside the Order, as while uncommon, those often developed as a Jedi matured.

Drallig had long ago accepted the friendship Serra had with Knight Shan, and trusted the pair to maintain decorum in how close they were. He was also aware of the friendship that had struck up between Serra and a young Naboo noble named Padmé Naberrie, and discovering that that girl was the new Queen Amidala had been a surprise, though it did explain much.

As head of Temple security, not to mention Serra's Jedi Master, he was aware of who she was communicating with outside the Temple. Drallig had never felt any reason to examine closely the contents of the various calls – which had grown to include a Bo-Katan Kryze in the last few years – however, with hindsight, he wondered if perhaps he should have. It might well have granted a warning about Serra's intentions.

At the question, Serra's jaw fell slightly, as she hadn't expected the response. There was another flare of her emotions as uncertainty and concern mixed with a spike of anger. A flare of desire from Serra had Drallig narrow his gaze, and his thoughts wondered if perhaps the bond between Serra and Knight Shan had gone further than he'd realised, perhaps violating the rules of the Order. However, he held his tongue, wanting to grant her the chance to respond to his challenging question.

"Emotion, yet peace."

The words muttered by Serra eased some of Drallig's tensions regarding her motives, and he relaxed further as he felt the emotions bubbling away within her seep away, being released into the Force. While her words weren't the currently taught form of the Jedi Code, they were still valid for use, and he knew of several other Jedi who used the older-style Code. Since that wording seemed to resonate with her, he'd never felt a need to insist on the more common wording.

He waited patiently as she worked her way through the mantra of the Jedi, using it to let go of her emotions and help find her centre. When her eyes met his again, he saw the model Jedi he expected.

"I don't deny that I have personal connections to Cam and Padmé, however, their presence wasn't the deciding reason behind my actions, Master. Helping the people of Naboo, seeing their world free of oppression, was the correct action to take. I do though, see that I should have spoken to you before leaving Coruscant."

Drallig was slightly caught out by her saying Coruscant and not the Temple. He assumed that meant she understood that if she'd brought the matter to him within the walls of the Jedi Order, he'd have denied her intention of joining the mission.

"It is good that you understand some of your mistakes, though I would suggest that the pattern of seeking forgiveness after the fact does not replace a need for permission beforehand." Serra tensed, and Drallig suspected she expected a dressing down. However, given their current location, he felt doing so now would be counterproductive. "That discussion shall be tabled for now. In its place, might you be willing to bring me up to speed on the current situation?"

"Master?"

Drallig grinned, enjoying another moment of not acting as his Padawan expected. "While I disagree with you about this being a matter we should intervene in, and we will be discussing – at length – the repercussions of your choices to bring us here, I cannot fault your logic in why you wished to involve the Order. I can sense the suffering of the locals, and while a diplomatic solution would be preferable, I sense that moment has long passed. If we choose to remain here and simply wait for a resolution from the Senate, then the suffering of the local populace will grow. When all that is considered, alongside the fact that I doubt the Federation will allow me to leave as easily as I arrived, then it appears the Force wishes for us to help."

Serra smiled broadly, and as Drallig sensed happiness and relief radiating from her, she moved toward him. She stopped after just a single step though, and he watched in amusement as her hands patted at the side of her robes as if unsure what to do with them. While warmer emotions were always preferable to colder emotions, Drallig was still relieved to sense Serra release those emotions into the Force as she had earlier done with her darker feelings. Still, once the people of Naboo were freed and they had returned to the Temple, Drallig resolved to monitor his Padawan more closely.

"I can catch you up to speed as we move toward the camp," Serra said as she moved to one side. Drallig nodded and they walked forward. He could sense they were heading toward where Qui-Gon and others were gathered, but his eyes drifted from their path to his Padawan as she pulled back her robe. He struggled to keep a frown from his brow as he watched her tap away at the Mandalorian gauntlet she wore. While she seemed ill-at-ease in the armour, she was comfortable with the gauntlets. That would be a holdover from her time training with the Mandalorians several years ago.

If most of the sentients he could sense were from that group – and given that most of the minds he could sense were closed to even surface sensing, Drallig suspected they were – then using their communication interface was logical. However, the fact she was willing to not only use their technology but wear their armour was another thing that he would have to speak with her about once Naboo was free.

Once whatever message she sent generated a reply, she turned to him and smiled. Drallig sensed the Force shift around her before she accelerated away. He smiled as he used the Force to match her pace and opened the connection they shared within the Force, allowing her thoughts to slowly drift against his so she could explain the current situation.

… …

It took barely ten minutes to reach the encampment, which was enough time for Serra to bring Drallig up to date on the current plans. They had passed several sentries though none had moved to intercept them, choosing instead to remain hidden. Or at least hidden from one not trained to work with the Force, as Drallig had sensed every sentient as they neared, though he noted that not all were Mandalorians, with a mixture of others – predominantly human – also filling in those roles.

They slowed to a walk as they reached the centre of the encampment, and Drallig looked at those wandering or standing around. Three groups were clear to pick out: the Mandalorians, another group of fighters that were influenced by the Mandalorians, but appeared to be using something other than beskar for their armour, and a third group that was the smallest and wore very light armour. Based on the files Drallig had reviewed while enroute, these were what remained of the local security force.

Near the centre of the camp, a group was gathered around a skimmer that was displaying a large holomap on its rear. In that group, Drallig spotted Qui-Gon, Knight Shan and Queen Amidala. Serra broke away, not heading toward the map. That Drallig was pleased with as, like Padawan Kenobi, Serra had no place at any table discussing battle plans.

However, when Serra moved toward a pair of female Mandalorians, one of whom Drallig recognized as Bo-Katan Kryze, he wondered if perhaps not keeping Serra by his side was a mistake. That suspicion grew when the other Mandalorian, a blonde, said something to Serra. There was a faint rush of mixed, conflicting emotions from Serra even as Miss Kryze laughed at whatever was said. So long as whatever existed between the trio was not allowed to develop into anything serious, then there was no major issue. While attachment was forbidden, many Jedi, including Drallig, had found pleasure in the company of others. Yet, when coupled with Serra's choice to come to Naboo to help her friend Queen Amidala – and possibly grow her bond with Knight Shan – it was something that Drallig would have to monitor. Serra was at that age where many sentients were impressionable and curious about others.

"Master Drallig, I'm glad to see you here, even if the reason for your arrival wasn't the same as the rest of us." Knight Shan's words had Drallig instantly refocusing on those around the holomap with the Battlemaster's eyes drawn to Shan's attire.

As always – and in what Drallig took as a nod to Master Dooku – Shan wore the long cloak made of the krayt dragon he defeated during a Mandalorian trial. While Drallig didn't approve that both Shan and Serra had completed that trial, he could respect the challenge it presented by denying each access to the Force. However, everything else Shan wore almost had Drallig stop mid-step.

While Serra had seemed ill-at-ease in her armour, Shan not only seemed almost moulded into the armour and the faint ripples of the metal under the black colouring meant all that Drallig could see was composed of beskar. While some Jedi might question the colouring, Drallig was wise enough to know that such dark colours weren't seen by most sentients as a sign of darkness. Yet seeing that it was made entirely of beskar was a shock. That metal was extremely rare for any outside the Mandalorian culture to wear, and while Shan had completed their trial, he was a Jedi first and foremost. For a second the image of Darth Revan flashed through Drallig's mind, as while he hadn't worn beskar, he had favoured armour of black and a Mandalorian helmet.

Drallig's eyes drifted to the gauntlets, as he knew that was where Mandalorians hid various weapons. Serra's gauntlets had blasters attached though the rest were non-lethal. Shan's however, looked to have altered to a more standard Mandalorian warrior, something unbecoming of a Jedi. That impression was further enforced by the blade that hung from the small of his back, a handle made from a large fang and with a spiked knuckle guard barely visible.

Drallig's gaze returned to Shan's face, seeing the younger Jedi smiling at him even as the rest of the group turned to face Drallig. He gave a nod to Qui-Gon before replying. "Yes. I hadn't planned on an excursion from the Temple, however, my Padawan's actions left me with little choice. After speaking with her, I feel that the Force wished me to be here and offer my services in liberating the local populace."

Shan's face twitched, growing his smile which suggested he caught Drallig's hidden meaning regarding Serra. "Regardless of the exact details of why you came, I for one am glad you're here." Oddly, Drallig felt Shan was entirely honest about that, and Drallig wondered if Shan would've preferred if Serra hadn't come. That did call into question why he had allowed her to stay, but that could be discussed after the planet was free.

Shan turned, the clasp of silvery metal that held his hair in its ponytail clinging with the telltale sheen of silver chromium, drawing a small frown at the display of wealth, and looked at a young lady at his side. Even without the armour, Shan would dwarf her, yet a presence and conviction was radiating from the lady that Drallig felt would stand against anyone who opposed her. "Your Majesty, may I present Jedi Master Cin Drallig. Apart from being Serra's Master," Drallig sensed an odd burst of anger from one of the non-Mandalorian off-worlders, "he is also the Order's Battlemaster and head of security for the Temple."

Drallig bowed to the lady, who he understood was Queen Amidala outside of the regalia of office. "Your Majesty."

"Master Drallig, we are grateful for your presence, as unexpected as it is, in this trying time." The Queen looked even younger than she had in the recording of her Senate appearance, but that could easily be put down to the regalia she'd worn during that appearance, and how she appeared now. However, what caught Drallig's attention had been the brief look the Queen had given Shan before speaking to him, almost as if she was checking with Shan about him. That was unexpected, as was the faint sensation in the Force. As if the Queen was in some way important beyond her status as Naboo's leader.

"While my blade is yours, as I'm sure Master Jinn and Knight Shan have already said, a Jedi can only defend those in need. We cannot fight this war for you." That made the Queen smile oddly while the armoured figures – be they Mandalorian or other – chuckled amongst themselves, and Drallig suspected he was missing whatever odd joke was in play.

"And yet, if not for Knight Shan's actions, the force you see gathered here wouldn't be as varied or impressive as it is." Drallig frowned at the Queen's response and turned to Qui-Gon for answers.

"When the Senate failed to offer immediate help to the plight of the Naboo, Cameron reached out to contacts he had among the Mandalorians and Lokella," Qui-Gon explained with that knowing smile he seemed to always wear. "Though I should add that what you see here isn't the entirety of those who answered his request."

"I see." Drallig understood there was more he didn't know, but from how Qui-Gon spoke, it appeared Shan had acted to circumvent the rulings of the Senate and Council to provide help. An ingenious approach for a Knight, particularly a newly recognized one, to make. By reaching out to contacts, Shan had acted in a way that removed any potential questions about direct Jedi involvement, while still allowing him to place himself near the centre of the issue.

"Battlemaster Drallig," Drallig turned as the oldest Mandalorian – one perhaps his age – stepped forward. "I'm Rangemaster Dun Marod of House Kryze." At that, Marod clashed a hand to his chest, which Drallig returned with an inclining of his head. "It is an honour to see one as highly regarded and skilled as yourself join our cause, and once the battles are over, I hope we might share a drink and war stories."

Drallig smiled at the old warrior's words. "As do I, Rangemaster Marod." The others present, be they Mandalorian or Lokella – which, if Drallig recalled, was the group of slaves freed by the actions of Master Dooku and Knight Shan several years prior – were closer in age to Shan and Padawan Kenobi. Since Mandalorians placed importance on combat from birth, the young age of some of them was of no concern to Drallig.

Drallig offered nods to the others around the map and then turned back to Queen Amidala. "Forgive me if I arrived at an inopportune time, Your Majesty."

Amidala smiled. "You didn't, Master Jedi, we wer…"

"Mesa back!"

Drallig turned towards the oddly accented Basic to see an unusual sentient approaching. Thanks to its large ears, which appeared slightly too large for the skull, the being was taller than most present. The way it moved suggested it was not a species evolved to purely live upon the land, but the way the tongue half-hung out of the sentient's mouth had Drallig momentarily wondering about the overall intelligence of the sentient. This being generated an odd ripple in the Force, suggesting that it, like with Queen Amidala, was somehow important to events beyond the here and now.

"Dalee's nosa una dalee. Da city's deserted. Some sort of fighten mesa think." The sentient continued as it walked toward the map, drawing a brief burst of irritation from both Knight Shan and Padawan Kenobi.

"I assume the Gungans aren't dead, and the Federation cleared the city up afterwards," Shan said after letting go of his irritation.

"Mesa no think so. When in trouble, Gungans go to Sacred Place."

"Where?"

The alien stepped closer to the map. "Mesa show you."

Drallig watched with the others as the sentient stared at the map, its tongue hanging lopsidedly from its mouth. While Drallig knew it was often inaccurate to judge a new species based on appearance, with this sentient it was hard to not question the level of intelligence it possessed. However, this sentient appeared important to the current situation, and Drallig had to assume that it was from another race that inhabited the planet beyond the Naboo themselves.

"Jar Jar," Shan said after nearly a minute had passed of the sentient staring at the map, "can you read the map?" The irritation had returned for Shan and Kenobi as the seconds ticked away, and Drallig suspected the pair didn't enjoy the presence of this apparently slow-minded alien.

"Um, no. Mesa not understand this. Sorry." Jar Jar's shoulders slumped, which somehow made him look even less sentient, which had Drallig offering a few words of hope to the Force that this sentient wasn't in any way critical toward the plans to free the planet.

"Could you lead us there instead?" Queen Amidala asked in a tone Drallig recognized of one being polite while perhaps not feeling so. While there was no irritation coming from her, Qui-Gon, or Rangemaster Marod, it was growing in the others around the table.

Jar Jar seemed to suddenly come alive. "Oh! Yes! Mesa can do dat." He turned, his ears flying out and Shan leaned back to avoid being smacked in the face. "Come on, come on." Drallig glanced at Qui-Gon, wondering if this behaviour was common for Jar Jar, and when his fellow Jedi Master shrugged in acceptance, Drallig suspected it was.

Queen Amidala turned to follow, with her guard at her side when Shan spoke. "Perhaps it would be best if we didn't take everyone to meet the Gungan leaders," he said softly. "While I admit that I know little about their society, Your Majesty, turning up with so many armed warriors might be taken as an aggressive action."

Queen Amidala paused and after considering Shan's words, offered him a small smile. "Wise words, Master Jedi. Might I ask your opinion on who, other than yourself, should accompany me, Captain Panaka, and Master Jinn?"

As Shan lowered his head in acceptance of her request, Drallig felt a sprinkle of concern. Queen Amidala had deferred to his judgment so easily. None of the others gathered, be they Master Jinn, Captain Panaka, the Mandalorians nor the Lokella had any issue with the youngest among them having such a position of importance in Queen Amidala's leadership.

Shan turned to the warriors he'd assembled. "Osto, Marod, Validus, if you would." The three all moved toward Queen Amidala, again accepting the words of one far younger than them. Now, there was no hint of pride or arrogance from Shan at issuing the orders, but it was something Drallig would keep a close eye upon, and then once Naboo was free, speak with Qui-Gon about. "Master Drallig, we would be grateful for your counsel during this meeting."

Drallig inclined his head. "Then you shall have it." Shan nodded in thanks and then turned to Queen Amidala, offering her a smile. When she smiled back, Drallig perceived a short burst of delight and desire aimed toward Shan. While that wasn't unexpected as Shan had come to her aid with support, and was probably nothing more than a passing interest in Shan because of this, Drallig made note of it. He didn't expect it to develop into anything concerning, but it was yet another little point that would need discussing later.

Jedi often developed friendships with people of importance throughout the galaxy. Grandmaster Yoda had accumulated hundreds of such connections in his time within the Order while Master Gallia was close with the current Chancellor. However, most Jedi learnt to keep those friendships at a distance to avoid any hint of impropriety and seemingly inserting themselves into moments of importance for those friends that might question the Order's neutrality.

Knight Shan, it seemed, had yet to learn that lesson. While understandable since he was young, his apparent vested interest in the fates of Queen Amidala – and Senator Palpatine – the Mandalorians and Lokella was something the Order would need to be made aware of. Perhaps it might need a deeper investigation by the Council to ensure he wasn't acting in ways that might concern the Order.

… …


… …

(Cam's POV)

As I walked behind Padmé and many of the others, my gaze drifted to those watching us. Many Gungans had come out to see us, which made sense as the Gungans and the Naboo generally avoided each other. However, this was far from a normal time for the two peoples, so those conventions were placed to one side.

On either side rows of Gungans watched as we were escorted toward their Sacred Place, and it was easy to tell which were warriors and which weren't by the way they stood and glared – or didn't – and if they held any weapon. While their staff weapons would be little threat to us, their energy balls could be an issue. Thankfully, none of the Gungan warriors seemed intent on attacking, not when in front and behind our party were two dozen warriors, with their leaders – including Captain Tarpals – riding mounts.

Osto, Marod and Validus were behind me and before we'd been escorted in, I'd asked that they remained calm. While I doubted any of the trio would cause problems, they were variables to this meeting that I had to account for. All three kept their blasters and blades holstered, but I could sense their unease at entering potential enemy territory. Still, they were the calmer members of their groups that I could trust to not act rashly, which was why Ferox for one was left behind.

Hate, fear and distrust flooded the Force as we moved deeper into the swamp around the Gungan's Sacred Place, and I watched the behaviour of those in front of me. Drallig and Qui-Gon were just ahead, they were quiet, but I suspected they'd been discussing a multitude of subjects telepathically. Some of that would be linked to me as, apart from Drallig's problems with Serra's coming, I'd caught the slight tightening around his eyes at certain moments when we'd spoken around the holomap.

In front of them walked HK, Padmé, and Panaka. HK's optical receptors would be analysing every Gungan and assigning them a threat potential for when – he hoped – things went sideways. Panaka was probably doing something similar, though his focus would be on ensuring no Gungan hurt Padmé if things went sour while Padmé was playing her role as a humble servant to the Queen.

At the front of our little group walked Sabé, in disguise as Queen Amidala, with Jar Jar at her side.

"You Honour," Captain Tarpals began as we arrived at our destination, "Queen Amidala of the Naboo." He swept out an arm to indicate her and our group.

My eyes moved to Boss Nass and the other Gungan leaders who stood on top of statues. Each statue reminded me of ones I'd seen in my previous life, but here they would either be tributes to the Gungan deities or to another tribe of beings that might have lived on the planet before the Human colonists arrived millennia ago. Though since they were standing on the giant heads, I doubted these were the Gungan gods, as that would be highly disrespectful.

"Eh, hello there, you Big Boss Nass, Your Honour," Jar Jar said slowly with a nervous wave, the feelings of worry from him now slipping into his tone. Since he was banished, it made sense that Jar Jar wouldn't feel comfortable being in Boss Nass' presence, to say nothing of the fact he'd brought the ruler of the Naboo with him.

Boss Nass reminded me slightly of a Hutt. Oh, he wasn't as large as a Hutt, but the disdain on his face brought back memories of meeting Gardulla the Hutt several years ago. "Jar Jar Binks," he began, his disdain for Jar Jar easy to pick up on, "Who's da uss-en others?"

"I'm Queen Amidala of the Naboo," Sabé responded as she took a step forward, though as Tarpals and others tensed, she stopped. "I come before you in peace."

While this should play out as I expected, I wasn't sure. Yet, as Sabé spoke, I sensed a faint flicker in the Force. Turning my head, I tried to find the source.

"Ah, Naboo biggen. Yousa bringen da Mackineeks. Yousa all bombad."

Boss Nass' butchering of Basic was hard to not react to, but I kept my face calm as I scanned the crowd of Gungans looking for whoever had caused the flicker in the Force. My eyes soon settled on a young Gungan, though it was impossible to tell gender.

"We have searched you out as we wish to form an alliance…" as Sabé began speaking I used Observe and blinked in surprise at what it revealed.

Fle Kedta
Race: Gungan
Level: 7
Health: 100%
Age: 6
Force Potential: High
Threat Potential: Low
Reputation: Disliked
Affiliation Loyalty: Gungan people (65%)
Emotional State: Confused/Curious
le is uncertain as to why you and the other Humans are here, though his father says it's your fault they have to hide at the Sacred Place.
However, he feels something odd about the three dressed more plainly and is curious about why.

I blinked, shocked to discover a Force Sensitive here and now, but movement from Padmé forced me to push aside questions about the young Gungan.

"Your honour," Padmé said as she slipped past her guards and moved to stand in front of Sabé.

Boss Nass reared back, as if insulted to have such a plainly dressed Human speak to him. "Whosa dis?" he asked, confusion mixed with disgust in his tone.

"I am Queen Amidala." As Padmé spoke, Jar Jar's head snapped to her so fast, I almost wished he had broken it. "This is my decoy," Padmé turned to Sabé, "my protection, my loyal bodyguard." As she continued I sensed amusement from Qui-Gon signifying he'd long since seen through the ruse, perhaps even before I met them on Tatooine.

Padmé turned back to Boss Nass and took another step forward. "I am sorry for the deception, but it was necessary to protect myself." I wondered how useful that protection was given we were outnumbered by – according to my Detection-boosted minimap – ten thousand to eleven. "Although we do not always agree, your Honour, our two great societies have always lived in peace." Boss Nass grunted off what sounded like laughter, suggesting he wasn't buying Padmé's words, which made sense. While there had generally been a peaceful avoidance between the Naboo and the Gungans, they had fought each other several times since Humans came to the planet, the most recent of those being less than a century ago at the behest of King Veruna.

"The Trade Federation has destroyed all that both our peoples have worked so hard to build," Padmé continued. "If we don't act quickly, and together, then all we have will be lost forever. I ask you," Padmé paused for a second before dropping to her knees. "No, I beg you to help us." There were murmurs from the Gungans as the entire area was engulfed in shock at her action. I looked at Panaka as his hand moved to his blaster, yet after Sabé joined her queen in kneeling, the Captain followed suit. As did Qui-Gon and Drallig. "Our fate is in your hands."

I stayed standing, as did HK and the trio behind me. Since I wasn't dressed as a Jedi, I saw no need to follow Qui-Gon and Drallig's choice. Plus, I knew the Mandalorians would question why I felt the need to submit to the Gungan leader.

"Yousa no follow yousa Queen?" Nass asked when he saw we'd not also kneeled.

"We aren't from Naboo. Queen Amidala is my friend, yes, but we're not here to concern ourselves with local politics." I spoke slowly, keeping my hands away from my waist to avoid any rash actions from the Gungan warriors around us. "We're here to fight to free your people because it is the right thing to do and, well, we enjoy a good fight." I heard the trio behind me chuckle in response. "If she asked, I would kneel for her because I know she wouldn't betray that trust. But until you and your warriors prove themselves in battle, I refuse to do so to you."

I knew there was a risk in taking this approach, but with Osto, Marod and Validus present, I knew I'd need to confront the issue head-on. While I could have left the trio behind, there needed to be representatives of their forces at this meeting. Thus, while we'd walked here, I'd gone over possible ways to handle the issue, and falling on what little I knew of Gungan culture, I'd gone for the slightly challenging approach of 'prove yourself.'

If the trio had been ordered to kneel, they would've resisted. Validus had sworn like many former slaves to never do so to another again, while for the Mandalorians, that would only come if ordered to by their Mand'alor. A position that, at least without contention, had been unclaimed for centuries.

"Yousa tinken yousa greater than us?" Nass asked, his tone hardening.

"No. I simply reserve judgment on you and your warriors until I see them in battle." I could sense trepidation from Padmé along with disapproval from Drallig. However, this wasn't the same timeline as before, so I had to adapt to the changes. "While we could easily fight right now to prove the worth of our warriors, that would only serve our mutual enemy. Instead, we should work together and focus that aggression toward the Federation's droid army."

Nass frowned, or at least I took it as a frown given how often Jar Jar did it when thinking. Around us, the Gungans shifted. Warriors tensed, expecting a battle while they moved to shield civilians, while parents tried to pull younglings back in an attempt to avoid losing them in any crossfire. Through it all, I held Nass' gaze, making clear I wasn't backing down.

A sudden deep, booming laugh from Nass punctured the air, catching everyone off-guard. "Yousa thinken Gungans great warriors?" I nodded slowly, not wanting to correct his assumption. He laughed again and then shifted his gaze to Padmé, who along with her people, Jar Jar and the two Jedi Masters, was still kneeling. "And yousa no tinken yousa greater den da Gungans. Mesa like this, wesa bein friends."

As cheers erupted from the Gungans, the others stood. Qui-Gon and Drallig turned, and while there was no hint of annoyance on their faces, I knew what they were thinking. "Yes, that was a risk, but I knew it would come up the moment this lot," I jerked a hand at the trio behind me, "came along. They were never going to kneel to the Gungans, and thinking any former slave would do so ever again is, perhaps, a flawed approach to take. Thus, I made the call to speak for them and soothe any misunderstanding that might occur."

"Normally, I would have suggested them not coming to this meeting," Drallig began, his eyes drifting past me. "However, as they are here as allies of Queen Amidala, not bringing them would risk insulting their forces." I nodded, pleased that he understood my logic. "That said, I do wish you had informed us and Queen Amidala of this plan beforehand, and perhaps not stood with them when presented to the Gungan leader."

"Padmé knew the Mandalorians and Lokella wouldn't kneel, Master Drallig, however, she wasn't aware of my choice to speak for them. That allowed her reaction to be genuine and not be construed as some elaborate trick to get warriors close to the Gungan Bosses."

Drallig stared at me intently, as if searching for some deception in my words. He wouldn't find anything though as I was being entirely honest with him. Still, it was another little moment since his arrival where I could tell he was silently judging me and my choices and would, once Naboo was free, report it to the Council. Of course, I now had an unexpected trump card to play.

I turned, as if to speak to the trio behind me, only to stop and snap my fingers. "Oh, before I forget. I believe I've found a potential Jedi recruit among the Gungans."

I grinned wildly at the shocked expressions that flashed across the faces of the two older men. They might have schooled their features quickly, but I'd enjoy reminding them about finding a potential Jedi during this situation.

… …


… …

A few days later I was standing at the edge of the forest that separated the Gallo Mountain Range from the grass plains that stretched all the way to Theed. Boss Nass had sent out word to other Gungan groups scattered throughout the swamp and around Lake Paonga and while many were gathered with us, almost as many were still to arrive.

Our journey here had been uneventful, mainly because Vhonte and Shal had taken a unit of Mandalorians and Lokella through another, wider pass. That one had been patrolled by droids, with several lookout points set up through it. However, the combined force had taken out the hundred or so droids stationed there without loss. That had distracted any droid forces patrolling this side of the mountains and brought a large cache of blasters and replacement gas packs for our force. While none of those who had answered my call needed them, they allowed us to fully arm those Naboo who were making do with either simple hunting rifles or pistols that lacked range. Or it would if they had arrived.

The call had gone out for the local resistance groups to arrive here around lunchtime, yet as the sun slowly set over the plains, only one group had arrived. That wasn't a major issue as the Gungans still had several other forces filtering in from camps further away from their Sacred Place, still, I hoped many more groups would arrive in time for the battles.

I had used the time waiting to go over plans for Theed, with a heavy focus on Maul. In my former life, there'd been a group of people who felt Maul was not a skilled fighter since he'd lost to Obi-Wan. However, I put that down to arrogance, and Maul all but playing with his prey before killing them. With the increased number of Jedi on Naboo, and with the high probability that Maul was targeting me over anyone or anything else, I knew that moment of luck wasn't something I could count on.

Engaging him in a pure lightsaber duel was a non-starter. While I had no idea of his level, he had defeated Qui-Gon with almost contemptuous ease in the other timeline, whereas in this one I'd yet to even score a point against him in a training spar. Regardless of what exactly was blocking my advancement with a lightsaber, it wouldn't be resolved until after facing Maul, though that was part of the reason why I'd gotten my beskar'gam, and HK had been rebuilt with a phrik chassis, in the weeks before Naboo was blockaded and then invaded.

While the armour didn't cover every part of my body – a flaw that I suspected came about due to a rarity of beskar as in Revan's time they'd worn full suits of armour – the beskar underweave I wore would protect against most glancing blows from a lightsaber. The gauntlets had been outfitted, with suggestions from Bo and HK, with weaponry designed to counter a Force user along with a few ideas that, I hoped, would turn the tide of the duel in my favour. At least long enough for me to either take Maul down or get significant help from someone like Drallig.

The unexpected arrival of Serra's Master had removed a lot of my concern about her being present, at least until I'd remembered the vision I'd had of two Jedi duelling a Sith. The blade configurations and colours from that perfectly matched those used by Maul, Drallig and Serra, which had sent my mind into a tailspin for a few hours. At least until I'd resolved on a method to counter that event coming to pass. All I had to do was ensure that the pair remained as far from the hangar and palace as possible, as those were the locations Maul was most likely to be if he wanted to intercept me and Sidious had given him intelligence that I preferred to lead for the front.

While I had been fine with Serra staying close to her Master, Bo and Naz hadn't been. On several occasions, they'd come to speak with me about it, sometimes at length. They'd made clear they disliked Drallig pulling them away as she was here as a Mandalorian. I had reminded them that while that was true, Serra was uncertain of her path, and in many ways, Drallig was someone she regarded as a parental figure. Until Serra left the Order – something that Bo was excited about even if I felt it was unlikely to happen – or she was knighted, she would continue having to balance the two worlds she was a part of. Haran, even once she was knighted it would be a balancing act. However, that was a far easier situation to be in than as a Padawan.

Neither of them had liked my responses, but as I'd explained several times, so long as there was no Mand'alor, or clash between the Clans and the Republic, then Serra – and I – could walk a fine line between our choices. Or Serra could once she was a Knight, until then, she had to listen to Drallig, or do as she did here and sneak out of the Temple without permission.

That wasn't to say that I disapproved of her being here, only that I would rather she'd not come because of that vision. However, I couldn't deny how her choosing me over the Order made me feel. Nor if the situations were reversed, how I would've fought half the galaxy to reach her side.

"Master Jedi." I opened my eyes and looked down from my current location – sitting comfortably on a high branch in a tree- to see Sabé nearby. She'd not come right to the bottom of the tree as Fenrir was currently there, and while she had no reason to fear the tuk'ata, his size naturally made many wary. "The Queen requests your presence."

I smiled. "Then who am I to deny her?" I pushed off from the branch and used the Force to both guide me away from Fenrir and cushion my fall as the branch I'd settled into was a good six metres above the ground. My descent was slower than it should have been as I used Levitation to all but float down, which had Sabé looking on in awe. "I do hope this isn't some attempt to move me closer to Padmé," I teased as I approached the handmaiden.

I hadn't brought it up before, but even without using the Force or Observe I knew Sabé was still amused by what had happened at Padmé's coronation. The subtle looks and smirks she gave whenever I caught her watching Padmé while we were close, made clear her feelings on the matter. "Or an effort to convince me to somehow allow you to join us," I added as I walked past her.

While I didn't need Observe to read her, I still used it and discovered that like Padmé she was curious about me, in more than a professional way. Though again like with Padmé, I wasn't going to start anything due to a myriad of reasons. Not least that I was already balancing something with three others, we were about to go into battle, and both the queen and her handmaiden were fourteen. Still, that didn't prevent me from taking the chance to turn the tables on Sabé for what happened in Padmé's antechamber several months ago.

Fenrir had risen and reached my side before Sabé recovered, and while she petted the tuk'ata – or more accurately, he leaned toward her demanding attention – she chose not to respond to my tease. Thus, we walked the short distance to where Padmé and others were gathered in silence.

Once closer, I saw a quartet of skimmers just inside the tree line. At one of those skimmers, as was common for planning sessions, was a holomap of the area for here, Theed, and the surrounding area with the senior figures in our forces. However, there were about a dozen people gathered nearby that I didn't recognize. Since most of them wore similar attire to Panaka, I assumed they were members of the Naboo resistance, though to be sure, I used Observe on about half as we approached.

Several of the newcomers tensed as they saw me – in full armour sans the helmet – and Fenrir approach. As Padmé turned to see what had drawn their attention, I saw Jar Jar place a hand on Boss Nass' shoulder before fainting. While I'd have preferred he not be made a Bombad General, I knew it was something I'd struggle to change. All I'd have to ensure is that whoever led the non-Gungans during the battle of the plains spoke with Captain Tarpals to find the true leader of the Gungan army.

"Your Majesty," I said with a deep bow once Padmé saw me.

"Master Jedi, welcome." I stood fully and returned the smile she wore. She turned quickly to those with her and Panaka – and HK, who was watching the group like he expected every one of them to attack Padmé. "This is Jedi Knight Cameron Shan," her hand pointed toward us. "Many of you might remember him, or more likely Fenrir, his tuk'ata, from my coronation." A few of the newcomers chuckled nervously, tensing when Fenrir strode forward and brushed against Padmé's outstretched hand. "It is because of him that we have so much off-world support."

As Drallig, Qui-Gon, and the Mandalorian and Lokella leaders watched on without comment, many of the newcomers nodded in recognition. Though some seemed confused, either because I was wearing Mandalorian armour, or because Padmé was so relaxed around a beast that dwarfed her.

I'd found his behaviour a little strange around Padmé and Sabé since we'd landed on the planet as, baring Serra, Bo, and Naz, he didn't seek attention from others. Well, there was me and Simvyl, though the Cathar generally only petted Fenrir for as short a time as possible before finding something else to do. However, since we'd landed, Fenrir had made sure to brush up against, and on occasion, almost knock the two local ladies over. I put that down to him sensing my need to keep Padmé safe, and that Sabé was almost always at her side.

"Your Majesty is too kind," I replied as I moved to join the group. "I assume that we're here to determine how the battle, or battles, will go?" Apart from time thinking on Maul, I'd also gone over the plans for the three main battles that would take place simultaneously.

Without Anakin present – and the Force deus ex machina he'd had on his side then – a new plan for the orbital battle had been needed. Especially once we'd discovered three Lucrehulks in orbit. Thankfully, with Asta and her squad seemingly having taken one Lucrehulk, and the fleet waiting less than an hour away by hyperspace, then that part should be taken care of. The other battles wouldn't require too much reordering, though for the plains, I wanted to hand that over to one of the Mandalorians. They'd have ways to engage such a large force and limit Gungan casualties.

"We are, though a new matter has been brought to us by our forces." She turned back to the map, making Fenrir whine – which I always found amusing – as she used that hand to indicate one of the newcomers.

"Master Jedi," he said to me and then gave nods to Drallig and Qui-Gon with the former's face stoic even if I knew he was getting perturbed at people referring to me as Master. "The Federation has moved most of our people out of Theed and other major cities into camps nearby. They've begun looting the cities with transports leaving for orbit regularly full of anything they feel has potential value."

"I hadn't expected the Federation to resort to robbery," murmured Drallig thoughtfully.

"Assembling the fleet to blockade Naboo would have taken considerable time, and cost them credits from work those vessels would normally do," I said to Drallig. "The invasion and leaving three vessels in orbit add to a continual outlay, which they'd want to seek compensation for. To be clear, what they're doing is wrong, but to them, the logic is sound."

"Regardless of why they're doing so, that isn't the most concerning element," Padmé said as I felt a surge of anger from her and the other Naboo.

"In the last few days, the Federation have begun ferrying people into the cities, and then placing them onto their transports."

"Slaves?" Ferox growled, doing a fair impression of Fenrir.

"Yes," the man responded even as Validus placed a hand on Ferox's shoulder.

"You must forgive my friend," Validus said softly even as Ferox continued to stew. "We, like all our people, were once enslaved."

"I'm not sure we can do much for those in other cities currently, but where in Theed are your people being gathered before they board the transports?"

The man looked at Padmé, who nodded, before indicating a point on the map. One that was highlighted in red. "Here, near Jafan's Spire."

I looked at the location, noting that while it was on the same island as the hangar, it was at the point where two parts of the Solleu River Delta met.

"How many guards?" Ferox asked, his confrontational tone indicating he'd not calmed down much, which was understandable given his background.

"At last report, nearly two hundred plus some droidekas and a pair of tanks."

I tapped my chin, considering the situation. "I suspect most of those forces will deploy to meet the Gungan army, but we can't run the chance the Federation might try and rush those prisoners off-world if they feel the battle is turning against them." I looked over at Drallig. "Master Drallig, would you and Serra be able to free them?"

Drallig fixed me with a gaze as if searching for a reason why I was asking him to do this. "Yes," he said after a moment. "I believe we can free them without any loss of life. Even if the Federation forces don't decrease."

I nodded in thanks, doing my best to keep my relief at getting Serra away from where Maul would likely be from echoing into the Force. If either Jedi Master sensed that, they might wonder why I was so concerned about the situation, and if questioned, why I'd allowed Serra to accompany the combined force to Naboo. As much as I felt Drallig's blade against Maul would be useful, with the vision of them engaging Maul in battle stuck in my head, there was no way I was chancing it. If either Drallig or I confronted Maul near Serra, she'd rush in to help, and I couldn't face losing her.

Perhaps it was arrogant to think Maul would be seeking me out, as the longer the situation on Naboo dragged on, the more sympathy Palpatine would have in the first few months of his Chancellorship. However, I felt Sidious and Plagueis would want to test me, and with Maul being potentially disposable – at least to Plagueis as I'd always wondered if Sidious saw true potential in Maul or not – then throwing him at me and seeing who emerged from the battle was a fair test for both of us.

Assuming my plans allowed me to defeat Maul, then Sidious would consider me the same way he had Anakin in the other timeline, as his true apprentice for when the new Sith Empire rose from the ashes of the Republic. Of course, there was always the chance that Plagueis might not be killed before the Clone Wars broke out, but I wasn't focusing on that happening as I had little information to work off.

"I'll accompany you, Jedi," Ferox all but spat out, drawing me from my moment of introspection. His tone left no room for argument, and after a glance at me – to which I gave a fractional nod – Drallig sighed.

"Very well, however, I will be in command of our unit."

"Might I suggest a few more warriors join you, Master Drallig? The Lokella will happily agree to help, and taking a handful of Naboo will ensure the civilians are more likely to listen to your orders once you reach them. Plus, I wouldn't put it past the Federation to execute the prisoners if they feel the battle is turning against them."

Drallig rubbed his chin in that way all Jedi seemed to. "While I don't believe the Federation would do something so underhanded, your caution is warranted."

I gave Drallig another nod before returning the map. Various spots outside Theed were marked with locations where the Federation had at least a significant presence. "How many droids are there in Theed?" There'd undoubtedly be more spread across the planet, but the army that would face the Gungans would come mainly from the forces in and near the capital.

"We don't have a full count, but our estimates place their numbers, not counting their transports, tanks or aerial support, at over half a million droids."

That reply drew a lot of concern from those around the map, and I let out a low, slow whistle. "That's a lot of droids."

"Good. Means more targets for our blasters." I looked at Vhonte with a wolfish grin. It was just like a Mandalorian to enjoy facing seemingly insane odds.

Turning back to the map, I considered ways to draw more droids away from Theed without them being in the main army. That was going to be much larger than it had been in the other timeline, and as the Gungan forces would only be supported by a dozen or so others, I needed ways to limit the size of that army without too many remaining in Theed.

"These markers, they're camps where your people are being held?" Marod asked, indicating the various spots near Theed. Most were on the other side of the city from us, but some were between us and the capital.

"Yes, sir," the older Naboo guardsman who'd reported the Federation numbers replied. He gestured at the ones nearest us. "These three hold the city's population." He then pointed directly at another. "This one, Your Highness, holds many of your council including Governor Bibble." The man paused and then looked at me, Drallig and Qui-Gon. "There are also two more Jedi on the planet," he said, and I blinked in shock, not having sensed anyone. Though given I'd refused to truly push out with Detection for fear of alerting Maul of my position, that I'd missed a Jedi wasn't as surprising as the fact there were others on the planet.

"I don't recall meeting any when we first arrived," Qui-Gon commented, doing a better job of hiding his surprise than I had.

"They and others, including the son of the Ambassador from Kashyyyk, were studying at the Royal House of Learning. They and other students that escaped during the invasion are working with the Underground."

I let the entirely unoriginal name for the resistance go, instead wondering how the Padawans – which they had to be based on where they were when the invasion happened – had avoided Maul. He had to be in Theed now, so unless he considered them beneath him, which was a distinct possibility, then he'd run through them like a vibroblade through butter.

"Do you have a way to contact them from here?" Drallig asked, suggesting he wanted to either get the Padawans to safety or bring them into our forces.

"Technically yes, but any signal from here would give away Her Highness' location," Panaka responded just as the Naboo guardsman moved a hand toward his belt. "I'm sure that once we have determined a plan of attack, they can be informed when our men return to the city."

"Makes sense since we'll need the resistance cells to know the plans before we begin," I said, pulling the conversation back to the main topic. While another pair of Jedi, even Padawans, wouldn't go amiss, they were minor players in the grand scheme of things. I moved closer, examining the map carefully. "Even if every Gungan and warrior here marched onto the plains, the Federation wouldn't commit their entire force to wipe us out." I looked at the various camps as an idea took shape. "We need to draw more forces out of the city and increase the size of our force."

"You're thinking of attacking the camps?" Marod offered and I nodded. "Aye, a wise play. While many might not be willing to fight, even a false attempt on various camps would force the Federation to divert droids to them, weakening their overall number in Theed and the plains."

"What about these camps?" I asked the Naboo, pointing at two that were nearer us than Theed but hadn't been mentioned earlier. "What's being held there?"

"From what we can tell, they're being used as pens for animals. Bursas, falumpasets, gualamas, kaadus, Fambaas and the like." The names meant nothing to me, but as they were listed Boss Nass grew agitated.

"How daren daysa to da Fambaas!" Nass spat out, his temper rising rapidly. "Wesa must free thems!"

"What exactly are Fambaas?" Qui-Gon asked, which was a valid question. I knew what they were as I'd studied up on Naboo for this battle, but most people wouldn't.

"Daysa important tada gungans. Wesa usen themsa in battlen," Nass replied, and I ground my teeth, not enjoying the variant of Basic the Gungans used.

"From what records we have, the Gungans use several of those species in their army," Panaka explained.

"So, it would serve us to free these beasts for our allies?" Shal added, drawing a furious nod from Nass.

"Yes! Wesa must free themsa!" Spittle flew from Nass' mouth as he spoke and behind him I saw several Gungans who'd come closer at Nass' shift in emotions – since Tarpals was there, I assumed they were leaders of the army – nod in agreement.

"Even ignoring that the Gungans use the creatures in battle, freeing them would create chaos for the Federation and force them to divert attention to rounding them up again." The comment came from Drallig, and I found myself agreeing with it.

"That it would, Master Drallig." I turned and looked at the Mandalorians. "If a force worked with the Gungans to strike those camps first, and then once as our allies worked to take the beasts away, others moved to free the civilian camps, we could inflict several strikes against the Federation without diverting a large portion of our force."

"It would. And it would strengthen the Gungan forces for their battle," Marod agreed as he moved forward. "They will need all the support they can get."

"Wesa no scared to fight the Mackineeks."

"We know you aren't, Boss Nass," I cut in, not wanting Nass' anger toward the Federation to be misdirected, "but you said the Fambaas, and I assume others, are used by your army?"

"Wesa do."

"Then freeing them first makes sense. While Her Majesty and the Naboo understand that a great many Gungans will die in battle, I won't sanction a plan that doesn't give your warriors at least a fighting chance," I said slowly but clearly. "Simply charging onto the plains and daring the Federation to turn up will only result in the needless deaths of thousands of your warriors. With your war beasts, and some advice from your allies," I held an arm toward the Mandalorians, expecting them to have ideas to change the Battle of the Great Grass Plains into something less of a rout. "Then we can ensure your warriors not only fight with honour but live to tell the tale of their part in freeing your planet!"

I paused, taking a breath. I'd grown more passionate as I'd spoken, almost as if I'd drawn on Nass' anger for myself. I then shook my head. "Sorry, not quite the time for a rallying cry." There were some chuckles from those around the table, including Nass. Though I noticed that Drallig wasn't one of those who seemed amused. "To be clear, Boss Nass, I, and those with me, respect your people's desire to fight. However, I cannot advise Her Majesty to accept any battle plan that throws away lives needlessly."

"On this, I agree with Knight Shan," Padmé said as I felt her move to stand next to me. "We need to fight smart. Mandalorians are renowned for their experience in war. I'm sure they can offer advice that would help with planning your battle to not only save lives but ensure we defeat the Federation and drive them from our world."

"Aye, I'm sure we can come up with something," Osto added.

"Wesa have many warriors, but without da fambaas, our army has nosa coveren. Daysa carryen da shield generators." As Nass spoke I watched at the Mandalorians. While Shal, Osto and Marod seemed accepting of the Gungans, Vhonte had appeared less than happy about them. However, when shield generators were mentioned, I saw Vhonte's expression change. Haran, the troubling – for the Federation – smirk that came quickly to her lips had me curious about what she was cooking up.

"Then freeing the fambaas has to be done. Can you and your most experienced warriors work with these warriors," I gestured to the Mandalorians, "to develop battle plans?"

"Wesa can do tis," Nass said with a smile. "Yousa young, but yousa wise general. Da Naboo lucky to have yousa."

"We are all fortunate Knight Shan is here, Boss Nass," Padmé responded while giving me a soft smile.

"Let's save any thanks until after we win, huh?" I suggested with a chuckle. I then turned and looked at the group. "Perhaps it might be wise to break into teams now? Those attacking the camps or involved in the diversionary battle should head with Boss Nass. Those staying to fight in Theed should remain with Queen Amidala."

There were nods around the group and I waited, wanting to see how the divide went.

Shal, Marod, Vhonte, Ferox and about half the Naboo resistance went with Boss Nass. The rest stayed, making things a lot easier to manage.

"If I may, Your Majesty?" I asked, indicating the holomap. Padmé nodded and gestured for me to approach the controls. Quickly I focused it on Theed. "Queen Amidala has already said that Viceroy Gunray is the key to winning this war, and I'm inclined to agree. We capture him, and not only can we convince him to surrender, but he can be brought before the courts for justice."

I knew that the Republic, with Palpatine at its head, wouldn't do anything that Gunray couldn't weasel his way out of, but the others didn't, which was why I said it. Of course, handing him over to the Republic for trial only applied if he was alive by the time Palpatine would arrive to celebrate the freedom of his homeworld. Apart from justice being served for Gunray's actions, his removal might well delay the Sith plan by a few years. It wouldn't be much, but every minor delay was something I could use to prepare. Of course, so could Sidious and he'd been playing this game far longer than I had and the deck was stacked in his favour by a millennium of work done by the Sith that came before him.

"Our reports place him and his entourage in the Royal Palace." That came from the same older local as before. "Apologies, Your Highness, but it appears he has taken over your residence as his base."

Padmé tensed, and her jaw tightened for a moment before she nodded. "Then we can use that to our advantage." She indicated the controls of the map, and I stepped back, letting her take control once more. "There are hidden tunnels leading into Theed and others that allow quick access to the Palace from various locations around the city."

Five red marks appeared on the map, and from each, a line moved around with all converging on the palace, though they emerged at differing points.

"That we can certainly use," Osto commented, a grin spreading across his face. "These tunnels can be used along with the Gungan vessels to insert warriors throughout the city. Teams sent in to distract the defence forces and allow a clearer path along this route," I watched as he indicated the path that led through the hangar and near the plasma refinery, "for your forces to enter the palace unopposed."

"At least if no one has sold out to the Federation," I suggested slowly. "Or the droids didn't discover them when securing the city. Even if they haven't, then each of those locations," I pointed at the areas where the tunnels that led out Theed emerged into the city, "will be swarming with droids. The moment we emerge they'll know we're there. whatever forces that remain in the city will swarm us."

"Perhaps diversionary strikes would be helpful?" Drallig offered as he moved closer and pointed at various points on the map. Padmé marked each with a dot. "If we could have teams, perhaps no more than four to a group, emerge at these locations, it would divert attention from most of the secret passages." The idea had occurred to me, but like some other ideas, I'd waited for others to mention them. I couldn't be seen to provide every detail of the attack, as even as the nominal leader – at Padmé's insistence – I shouldn't, at my current age, be that skilled in warfare.

"I can easily assign my warriors to such actions," Osto said before turning to Validus, "would yours be able to join us?"

"They can."

Osto smiled and turned back to the map. "Then we can use the Gungan vessels to enter these teams with orders to engage Federation forces as soon as encountered. That would divert their reserves to us, not that I expect them to be able to contain us," he added as his grin turned almost feral. "Meanwhile, others can enter the palace and capture their commander."

"We'll need to see how many bongos the Gungans have, and how easily they can slip through the river, but that should work for getting boots on the ground," I said with a nod to Osto, trusting him and Validus to divide up their men as needed. "Ideally, with most of the army outside the city, and what remains inside diverted, the assault teams can move toward the palace." I paused, knowing I had to ensure my place in all this and that some wouldn't like it. "I'll lead a team to the hangar. Ideally, there will be pilots either with us from the resistance or the camps, and if so, they need to launch. We need to relay a signal to the fleet so it can engage the Lucrehulks and keep the Vulture droids occupied. Otherwise, the Gungan army will be obliterated."

"And if we have no pilots among the freed Naboo?"

I shrugged. "We'll cross that bridge when we come to it, but I'm not going to do anything stupid like fly up by myself and engage that many Vulture droids." That, as expected, drew a round of tight smiles.

"Even if there are pilots for the Naboo starfighters, they will be seriously outgunned," Drallig remarked, though there was no hint of confusion from him. As if he expected there to be more to the orbital battle than suicidal odds.

"They would be if they were alone," I replied, glancing at Osto, "however we've already got pieces in place for that battle."

"My mother led a large team aboard on Lucrehulk as we landed, which might be why your vessel approached unopposed. Since there has been no word from them, nor the sight of such a vessel exploding from ruptured power cores, we believe the ship has been secured. When the battle commences, they will use that ship against the others while other vessels will jump into the system."

"Ignoring the dangers from assuming, then the plan is sound. However, even with a Lucrehulk on your side, you are likely to be outgunned."

Osto continued to smile at Drallig. "The forces the Clans have assembled will be more than a match for the Federations vessels." I frowned, wondering what he was on about. While the Getala'kara was well-armed, it was no match for a single Lucrehulk, even with the support vessels in the fleet. "Even if my mother has, unlikely though I feel it is, fallen in battle without completing her mission, there is a vessel at the very edge of the system monitoring the planet. Once it detects fighters from combat in orbit, it will signal the fleet to jump in with precise hyperspace coordinates to allow our vessels to deploy directly on top of the Lucrehulks."

Drallig stared at Osto for a moment, judging the plan, before offering a nod. "I will bow to your understanding of that element of the plan." He turned and looked at me and Padmé. "However, it will all depend on the quick capture of the Viceroy and convincing him to stand down his forces."

"Which is why everything else, in every location, is a diversion and distraction. Queen Amidala and the teams she'll take into the palace, are all that matters." Which was why I'd assigned HK and Simvyl to guard her. I'd have sent Fenrir, but in the close quarters of the palace, and with that much blaster fire streaking around, I wasn't comfortable letting him go. Though the same was true of the other theatres, save mine and I didn't want him anywhere near Maul.

Hopefully, by the time we deployed, I would know where he would go. If he didn't go with me, then He'd head with Bo as she was the only one besides myself that he'd obey. Even if that, when it happened, was a matter of choice and not respect.

… …


… …

Later that evening, the plans for battle were set and the various units were determined.

Shal, Ferox, Captain Tarpals, and several teams from the Naboo resistance would command the units targeting the camps, with the Gungan and those under his direct command breaking off after the first camps, which housed the various beasts the Gungan army needed, were kept. At the same time, the others would target the nearby camps, with those there brought back to the base camp by the Naboo. Shal and Ferox would move onto other camps, with the intent of not so much taking them, than on diverting more droids away from Theed.

Once the Gungans and Naboo were back here, the group heading to Theed would break away. The Gungans had provided a dozen bongos to slip units into Theed through the caverns beneath the surface, though some teams would still move over land via skimmers to avoid placing all our eggs in one basket. Padmé, Qui-Gon, Obi-Wan, I, and others would travel in skimmers while Sabé – who would be in the full regalia of Queen Amidala– Drallig, Serra, Bo, and most of the Mandalorians and Lokella assigned to the city-assault, would travel in a bongo.

Vhonte, Marod, and a dozen Mandalorians would remain with the Gungan army. I didn't know what they had planned to change how that battle went, but given I'd seen those warriors borrowing every piece of heavy firepower anyone could spare, I suspected it would be impressive. I didn't mind if they turned the grass plains into a crater just so long as the droid army was bogged down, and Gungan casualties were kept to a minimum.

Something that had caught my eye was the way the Mandalorians and Lokella seemed interested in some of the Gungan weaponry. Of particular interest were their energy balls – called boombas – which I knew would work well against droids, even if they were a little impractical in their larger form. Though it seemed the Gungans had them at grenade-sized, which if they shorted out all electrics, could make them very interesting to adapt. Haran, they might well be more effective than more common ion weaponry used across the galaxy. Though I doubted they'd be as effective as Ionize. While I didn't plan to use the power much, I had trained the power regularly when I could, and had it up to Master:25. Still, I'd added a handful of the smallest boombas to my Inventory for future research, or the possibility I could use them in Theed once we were deployed.

The diversion teams, led by Osto and Gar, would deploy first, doing exactly what their name implied while Padmé, Sabé's, and my teams would meet just outside the royal hangar. While they would push on toward the palace, I'd move with my team to the hangar. Amusingly, three of the seven warriors with me were Andeeld Krhul, Ginia Aran, and Huzu Cadora who had been on my team when I'd trained on Mandalore. The only other one I knew was Thun Dur, heir to Clan Dur and another warrior I remembered from the Institute. Normally we'd have two more members to our team, but numbers didn't allow it, and while we could've taken Fenrir with us, I'd decided against that. Instead, he would deploy with Bo in a distraction team – and Force he would be a distraction for the Federation – simply because it was the best place to deploy him.

While tuk'ata when matured developed skin all but immune to blaster bolts – and even glancing strikes from a lightsaber – Fenrir was years away from that. Oh, he was fully grown in height, and I hoped bulk as he was a monster when he wanted attention, his skin could barely stop my beskad from cutting it.

When I'd told Bo this and explained why I was doing so, she asked why I'd not had a beskarweave skin made for him. I'd not know such things were common, but she and Osto had explained that his father Torrhen's Raqour'daan had a weave for combat, as did other beast companions that Mando'ade considered family. While full beskar wasn't doable for many of the beasts, a beskarweave skinsuit was. Obviously, I'd facepalmed hard at discovering that, and once the battle was over, promised Fenrir we'd go to Mandalore and get him one. Since he was close to full size, there wouldn't be much need to resize it later, though I'd make sure to get at least three such suits made as they weren't as invulnerable as proper armour. For now though, he'd have to do without, and Bo promised me she'd keep an eye out for him.

My team would move to secure the refinery once the hangar was taken and any pilots available launched. We were to do that to ensure the Federation didn't attempt anything stupid like rigging it, and by extension most of Theed, to explode. Though as my team did that, I was going to break away and start hunting Maul.

Of course, before any of the plans could be initiated, the assaults on the camps had to depart. Which they would do soon, however, Padmé had insisted that everyone – at least not on sentry or otherwise indisposed – gather. That was why I was standing near her with the other leaders of our combined force. When she looked at me, I moved to her side and helped her stand upon the bonnet of a skimmer, letting everyone present see her.

What little chatter had been coming from the group of warriors fell away as they saw her watching them.

"To those who aren't aware, I am Padmé Amidala, Queen of the Naboo, and before the first teams head out to begin the liberation of the world we share with the Gungans, I wish to thank all of you for your actions. I stand before you with a heart overflowing with gratitude. Because of you, be you Naboo, Gungan, friends, or unexpected allies, we stand on a precipice of history. A moment that will show the Trade Federation and the Republic that the voices of worlds far from their corridors of power matter, that we will be heard!"

"As I look out upon the sea of faces before me, I find myself humbled by the courage, determination, and force of will that you have, and in awe of the strength of unity you represent." Padmé paused and looked to where the members of the local resistance were gathered. "To my fellow Naboo, I cannot begin to express my gratitude to you for your bravery. Faced with a threat none of us could've imagined, you have risen to the challenge and faced an unspeakable evil that has captured our world, stolen our history, and even I'm told, sold our people into slavery." Her focus then drifted to the Gungans, with Boss Nass and, Force help me, Jar Jar Binks standing at the forefront. "To our esteemed Gungan allies, I offer my heartfelt promise that every life lost in the freeing of our world, every one of your warriors that falls in the greatest battle in our planet's history, will be remembered by all the sentients of Naboo as heroes of freedom. From what we do today, a new era of peace and cooperation between our two great peoples will bloom, bringing light to our darkest hour."

As she turned to the Mandalorians and Lokella, I marvelled at her ability to hold attention. She didn't have a team of speech writers with her, so at best, she had worked on this with only Sabé for help, and was crafting a speech that, thanks to the recordings of the Mandalorians, would spread across the galaxy. "To our new, and unexpected, friends and allies from across the stars, know that whatever it was that brought you to our world, you and your descendants will always be welcome in our halls and at our feasts. With you at our side, along with our Jedi friends," she swept out an arm to where the four other Jedi were standing, "we demonstrate the power, strength, and conviction that can be brought about by alliances of like-minded individuals."

"The path we find ourselves about to embark upon is a dangerous and arduous one, but, by working shoulder to shoulder and fighting as brothers and sisters in arms, I know we have the strength of arms and will to emerge victorious. Many have already given their lives in defending this world and their ideals. However, their deaths don't, as our enemy wishes, make us cower in fear. No, their sacrifices fuel the flames of liberty, justice, and the ideals that all should be free!"

I could feel the shift in the crowd through the Force. While most had been set in their paths, many had been concerned, even fearful of what lay ahead. While that remained, it was slowly being consumed by a spark of something powerful, something that was hard to extinguish. Hope.

"We stand now on the precipice of history, of a turning point of the Republic. For centuries, the Core and those in the Senate have seen those in the Rim, be it Inner, Mid, or Outer, as irrelevant. As unimportant. Over the next day, we will show them that their disinterest, their inaction, will no longer be tolerated. That we matter!"

"We did not ask for this battle to come here, but it has. And now, a battle for freedom awaits us. Let the bonds we have forged here shine as a beacon to all throughout the galaxy who yearn for liberation, for freedom!"

A cheer erupted from the crowd, her words resonating with everyone in a way that I'd seen very few able to manage. Yet, as the cheer echoed through the forest – hopefully not enough to alert any Federation forces – Padmé remained standing on the skimmer as if she had more to say.

"To every one of you, words fail me to express how much your actions, your sacrifices, inspire me. Not as the leader of an invaded world, but one who very recently questioned the motives and priorities of those who should lead us, those who should rule for us. They chose instead to rule over us, as if our planets, our lives, are but toys to be played with. Yet from all of you, I see that the flaws I saw within the highest halls of the Republic are not a sentiment shared by the peoples of the galaxy. We stand now, together, regardless of species, creed, or belief, united together under the ideals that all hold dear. That oppression, that tyranny will never rule us!"

"Our courage in the coming hours will remind everyone, from those born with their basic liberties already taken, to those at the highest echelons of power who consider us beneath them, that our spirits cannot be broken! That, with warriors of a just and noble cause at our side, and the Force to guide us, freedom cannot, will not be denied! Tonight, the flame of hope, the fires of freedom burn brightly on Naboo, and the galaxy shall see that we, that freedom, shall not fall!"

… …


… …

A/N: To those who disliked reading Gungan-Basic, it's worse to write it.

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