Mace Windu takes Larisa on her first mission. Before and after this, she has some interesting close calls with Maul and becomes more deeply involved with Obi-Wan.
Furious with himself for underestimating her yet again, Maul glanced around the room, searching for a way to regain the advantage. He stiffened when she looked over at his probe droid, sending it crashing into the metal door with a small gesture. Maul watched the droid fall to the floor in a shower of sparks, then glared up at the healer, growling in frustration. Amused by his show of defiance, she smiled slightly, then lowered her head and studied him appraisingly. Maul blinked in surprise when the healer suddenly turned off his lightsaber and stepped back.
"You may get up now," she told him, casually tossing the lightsaber down on the floor in front of him.
Confused, Maul stared up into her dark eyes. He could no longer sense any anger in her. In fact he could detect very little emotion at all; just the barest hint of satisfaction. Keeping a wary eye on her, Maul picked up his lightsaber and slowly rose to his feet. He wasn't sure what had just happened here, but the only thing that mattered to him at the moment was that she had probed his mind, and now knew everything about him and his Master. She had to die.
The moment he activated his lightsaber, however, he was slammed against the wall and held there, immobile. Struggling to free himself, Maul watched as she walked over, stopping directly in front of him. According to the report he had been given, she should not be able to do this. Unless, of course, his Master had deliberately misled him.
"No, it's true. She would not have been able to do this. And yes, I do know everything, including the fact that your Master is the Supreme Chancellor," she told him matter-of-factly, sounding oddly pleased about his Master's position. "And as for killing her, I simply cannot allow that."
"Her?" Maul asked, growing more confused as he watched her retrieve the lightsaber he had dropped and clip it back onto his belt.
"I know you're not completely stupid, despite what your Master may think," she said, looking him straight in the eyes. "That was one of my memories that I allowed you to see, not Larisa's, and you reacted exactly the way I predicted." Ignoring his growl, she glanced down at the now-wet bandage, placing a hand on his leg for several seconds as she stopped the bleeding.
Recognizing the temple he had seen, Maul stared down at her, stunned. "You know where Korriban is?" he asked, narrowing his eyes in suspicion.
"Yes, I do. So do the Jedi. One of them, at least." She stepped back, freeing him with a slight gesture.
"The Jedi!" Maul growled angrily as he landed on his feet.
"Yes. I wouldn't be surprised if they're still keeping a close watch over it," she said, her eyes hardening for a moment. "It's unfortunate your ship isn't finished yet, otherwise we could go there now. A cloaked ship would get us on and off the planet without the Jedi suspecting anything."
"Who are you?" Maul asked, still wary of a trick.
"My name is not your concern." She paused, staring at the wall for a moment. "And speaking of the Jedi, they're already looking for Larisa, and will be here soon."
Turning a hard stare on him, she added, "You are going to leave, and take this droid with you. I want no evidence that you were ever here."
Struggling against her command, Maul walked woodenly over to the door, using the Force to open it and carry the damaged droid. Once outside the room he regained control of himself and glared hatefully at the closed door. Common sense told him that, under the circumstances, it would be wiser to let his Master deal with her, whoever she was.
Waiting a full two minutes after Maul left, then finding the nearest fresher room, he stood in front of a large mirror, studying his new body. It was not what he had expected, and might take a little more time getting used accustomed to, but it would do. After cleaning up and healing the bruises, he examined the slender figure again. She was attractive enough, by human standards, to have her choice of mates.
That would definitely prove useful. This Kenobi would do for now, but a Jedi Master would be preferable. Perhaps even a Council Member, depending on how far he could manipulate her. Now that would be a challenge, he thought, amused by the idea. But it would have to wait. Right now he had to make her more presentable before the Jedi arrived.
Returning to the library, he returned everything to its proper place, then used the Force to mend the torn skirt. Making sure that the tiny knots were barely noticeable, he sat down in the chair and contemplated the situation. Now that he had control over this body, he was reluctant to give it up so soon, but it was unavoidable at the moment. All he could do for now was prepare her for the mind probe.
Carefully suppressing all of her memories of Maul, and her visit to the spaceport, he blurred a few others as well before he was satisfied. Letting one arm hang over the side of the chair, he retreated back into the ever-familiar void.
Chancellor Palpatine barely looked up when his Apprentice limped into his quarters. "I've just spoken with one of my scientists at Sienar," he told Maul. "Apparently one of his assistants botched a cloaking device on one of your probe droids. I did, of course, get rid of the fool," he added, having no tolerance for such incompetence.
"Yes, Master," Maul responded sullenly.
Observing the still-angry expression on Maul's face, Palpatine smiled scornfully. "So, Miss Doril has escaped you and has returned to Adarlon? Even with, what was it, seventy probe droids at your disposal?" He shook his head at Maul's excessiveness.
Maul hesitated. It sounded as if his Master had expected him to fail. "She did not escape," he said, bowing his head.
Palpatine studied Maul, glancing down at his wrapped leg.
"And yet she is not dead?" he surmised. "What happened?"
Hesitating again, Maul told his Master about the mind probe.
"I think you had better repeat that, my Apprentice," he said slowly.
Telling his Master a second time, Maul took a step back when the elder Sith stood and approached.
"Stay still!" Palpatine snapped, roughly examining Maul's memories of the probe. He stepped back, a look of astonishment on his face. "Impossible! I never believed..." he muttered as he began to pace the room, considering the possibilities. If true, this so-called healer could be a valuable ally. Or a very dangerous enemy, he added with a frown. Choosing to return to the Jedi Temple was certainly suspicious.
Watching, Maul shook his head angrily. "She must die!" he insisted, earning a scowl for interrupting his Master's thoughts.
Palpatine stood silent for a moment. He knew the rules as well as Maul did. Only two Sith Lords at a time; no exceptions allowed.
"Yes," he answered regretfully. "But not until 'she' tells us exactly where Korriban is."
"You... believe her?" Maul asked skeptically.
"I think you've done enough for one day," Palpatine sneered, annoyed. "Go tend to your injury."
"Yes, Master," Maul replied grimly.
Ignoring Maul's departure, Palpatine walked into his private office and sat down at the desk, reflecting on recent events. His spy, as well as all the other public servants, had been abruptly dismissed from the Jedi Temple. Then there was the matter of the Mandalorians, who now claimed that they did not have enough ships for the planned attack. His last three attempts to contact them had gotten him nowhere, and there was no indication that they were anywhere near Alderaan. The cowards! And now this. The last thing he needed was a possible rival. Maul was right about one thing: she had to die. And they could do nothing as long as she stayed inside the Temple.
Getting up, Palpatine entered his secret office and sat down to meditate. Searching the Force for several minutes, he looked for a glimpse of the future before coming up with a plan. He frowned in contemplation. It would be simple enough to arrange, but the chances of it succeeding seemed nonexistent to him. He was reluctant to send Maul after her again, but from what little he had seen it was the best way of capturing Doril. He couldn't very well go himself, his sudden absence would not go unnoticed, and he wasn't about to trust something this important to an outsider.
After making a short transmission, he thought turned to the possibility of actually visiting Korriban.
Still seething over his failure, Maul stormed into his room, throwing off his robe and tunic and examining the deep bite mark on his shoulder. That, as well as his leg wound, would require bacta. He paused, wondering what his Master intended to do. There had to be a way to defeat her, and Maul was confident that his Master would find it. He only hoped he would be allowed to participate.
Something else that had been mentioned puzzled Maul. He looked over at the probe droids, considering what his Master had said about one of the cloaking devices. Recalling that one of the droids had, quite literally, become invisible, he had assumed at the time that it was merely a more advanced cloaking device. Swiftly examining the cloaking devices on the intact droids, he found that they were all identical. Pulling out his wrist link, he activated the devices, watching as the droids remained visible, two dark red lights slowly blinking on each one.
Maul ordered the droids to shut down, then turned towards the damaged one lying on the floor. The cloaking device on that one, unfortunately, had been damaged, and there was no way of knowing how to repair it. Unless, of course, that assistant was still alive, which was very likely. His Master liked to keep prisoners alive, and suffering, for a certain period of time before killing them. Still resentful of his Master's contempt, Maul resolved to remain silent on the matter.
"You found her where?" asked Depa Billapa, covering Larisa with two blankets.
"At a museum. She was asleep in a chair," a disgruntled Windu told her. "This kind of behavior cannot be allowed to continue."
"I'm well aware of that. At least she's still asleep." Shaking her head, she led Windu out into the public room.
"Yes, but for how long? Give her that sedative you mentioned earlier," Windu ordered as he walked to the door. "I still have to speak with Queen Amidala."
Frowning, Billapa added the sedative to a cup of ganessa juice and walked back into the bedroom. "Larisa, wake up," she said, shaking Larisa's shoulder.
Opening one eye, Larisa peered up at Master Billapa. "Where am I?" she asked, blinking as she looked around the room.
"You're in your room. How do you feel?"
"Mmm. Tired. Hungry. Thirsty. Could I have some water?"
"Drink this first," Billapa instructed.
Dragging her arm out from underneath the blankets, Larisa managed to get her hand around the cup. "What was in that?" she asked, feeling odd after drinking the juice.
Handing her a larger cup of water, Billapa hesitated before answering. "A sedative. Don't try to fight it," she said firmly. "I'll have a meal sent up later."
"Thank you," Larisa mumbled, handing her the empty cup. too tired to give it much thought, she pulled the covers over her head before drifting off.
Lying back with a groan, Larisa closed her eyes, hoping it was just a dream before opening them again. She was still lying in bed, but it was her own room at the Jedi Temple, not the hotel room she had expected. Except, she thought with a frown, the last thing she remembered was leaving the crowded hotel and walking towards a museum.
She got of bed and walked into the public room, then sat down at the table and picked up her comm link. As she put it back in her belt pouch, she looked up at the sound of the door opening.
"I see you're finally awake," Master Billapa commented as she, along with Ki-Adi-Mundi, entered the room.
"How long was I asleep?"
"Nearly fourteen hours."
Grimacing, Larisa looked down at the table.
"How do you feel?" Mundi asked.
"A little hungry," Larisa admitted.
"I've already arranged to have a meal brought up," Billapa told her. "Perhaps you should allow one of our healers to examine you."
"Why?" Larisa asked, looking up when they both sat down across from her at the table.
"Your behavior has been rather... erratic lately."
"I'm sorry about last night," she said wearily.
"I suggest you apologize to Master Windu as well. He found you at a museum, of all places. From now on you must ask permission before attempting to leave the Temple," Billapa said sternly.
"Unless there was another reason you left the Temple," Mundi said, studying her. "Were you trying to avoid the mind probe?"
Confused, Larisa stared at him before remembering what he was talking about.
"Are you ill?" he asked, frowning at her expression.
"No," Larisa sighed. "I'm all right. What is this mind probe for?"
"There is still the matter of Aurra Sing to deal with," Billapa reminded her. "Do you remember anything about what happened?"
"I remember her lungs..." Larisa said, thinking back.
"Which were collapsing," Billapa finished, continuing when Larisa nodded. "Forcing the internal organs to shut down is part of the Morichu technique. It is also very difficult to control, which is why it is forbidden."
"Is she all right?" Larisa asked, dismayed.
"You did reverse most of the damage," Mundi said after a brief pause. "Will you submit to a mind probe?" he asked, eyeing her curiously.
"Yes," she replied, subdued. "Where?"
"Mind probes are usually conducted in the Council Chamber, but Master Windu decided that here would be sufficient, since it won't be an official meeting this time," Billapa told her. "It could wait until tomorrow, if you prefer," she added, still puzzled by Larisa's odd behavior.
"No, now would be fine," Larisa said, trying to show more interest in the conversation.
"Very well. I'll inform Master Koon. He will be performing the mind probe. He'll be here in about an hour. In the meantime, this is yours. It was found in an elevator,"
Billapa explained, handing Larisa her access card.
"Thank you," Larisa answered, looking blankly down at her card. "Could I visit that museum tomorrow?" she asked suddenly.
"You'll have to ask Master Windu for permission," Billapa told her, following Mundi to the door.
Larisa stared dejectedly down at her card, then looked up when the two Jedi stopped in the doorway, talking to someone outside before turning back to her.
"Skywalker is here to see you," Mundi announced.
"Don't you have lightsaber practice to attend today?" Billapa asked when Anakin stepped past her and into the room.
"Yes. In about ten minutes, Master."
"Well, don't forget this time."
"Yes, Master," Anakin replied with a somber bow.
"Feeling better?" he asked the moment the door closed.
"Yes, I'm fine. So, you have a lightsaber practice to go to?"
"Yes, and it usually takes hours," Anakin said, making a face." I don't suppose we could switch assignments?"
"Sorry," she responded sympathetically. "I have a meeting with Master Koon."
"On second thought, never mind," he said quickly.
"Will Obi-Wan be at the practice?" Larisa asked, suppressing a smile.
"Not this time. Master Windu told him to stay in his quarters the rest of the day," he told her, amused that his Master was received a lecture this time. "Well, I'd better be going. See you later." Anakin hurried out the door, somehow managing to avoid crashing into the Padawan carrying her food tray.
Larisa waited until after the Padawan left before sitting down to eat. Well, she told herself, I'm going to have to face Obi-Wan sooner or later. It may as well be sooner. First, though, she had to get through this mind probe, then apologize to Master Windu. Again. He was probably furious with her.
Finishing the meal, Larisa sat there for a minute, feeling a sudden urge to take a shower and get rid of the clothes she was wearing. She grabbed a healer's uniform from the closet and hurried into the fresher, dropping her clothes in the disposal unit and taking a long shower. She quickly dressed afterwards and walked over to the window, looking out as she brushed her hair, grimacing at how tangled it had gotten. She went back to the table and sat down, quickly jumping up again when her door alarm buzzed. She took a deep breath before answering it.
"Hello," Larisa greeted Master Koon, who nodded briefly before looking around the room. Well, she thought, he obviously wants to get this over with quickly. "What do I do?" she asked nervously, turning to Mundi and Tiin, who had accompanied Koon.
"This will do," Koon said, indicating the small table and chairs.
"Sit here," Mundi told her, pulling out one of the chairs. "And try to relax," he added, noticing how tense she was.
"All right." Sitting down, Larisa closed her eyes, concentrating on slowing her breathing. the moment she felt something brush her head, however, she jerked back.
"Is there a problem?" Tiin asked, frowning at her reaction.
"No. I just... I've never done this before," she said, trying to force her body to relax.
"Perhaps meditation would help," Mundi suggested.
"I may require your assistance," Master Koon told Tiin, sounding annoyed.
Closing her eyes again, Larisa was still trying to meditate when she felt two hands on her forehead.
*Relax* Tiin ordered when she started to tense again. That was strange, she thought, hearing his voice inside her head like that. And why did she think this mind probe would hurt anyway? All she felt was a peculiar tingling sensation. Interesting, she thought. Concentrating on it, she brushed against Tiin's mind before she realized what she was doing. Feeling a brief flash of surprise from him, Larisa attempted to withdraw and immediately became confused, accidentally reaching out even further before she felt herself being pushed back.
*Don't do that again,* Tiin admonished.
*I'm sorry,* she meekly replied, hesitating a moment before asking a question. *What's a cloaking device?*
*Something I've recently acquired for my ship,* Tiin answered after a long pause. *It's an older model, but it still works well.*
*What does it do?* Larisa asked curiously.
*It prevents other ships from picking it up on their sensors.*
*If you two don't mind, I would like to complete this mind probe,* Koon remarked dryly.
*Of course,* Tiin replied
Larisa started to apologize again, then decided to just keep quiet during the rest of the probe. She opened her eyes a few minutes later when Koon and Tiin stepped away.
"I've found no source for her knowledge of the Moricho," Koon stated, sounding annoyed. "But I have blocked her from using it again."
"And Master Windu is still waiting for our report," Tiin added, glancing back at Larisa.
"What now?" she wearily asked, avoiding the curious looks on their faces.
"Now you should get more rest. I'll send a Padawan to collect that," Mundi said, indicating the tray on the table as he left with the others.
Larisa waited until the tray was collected, then shoved her access card into her belt pouch and headed out the door.
"What are you doing here?" Mace Windu demanded.
"Hello," Larisa greeted, determined to be polite as he frowned down at her. "May I come in?"
"Very well," Windu grumbled, turning away. "What are you doing here?" he asked again.
"I'm here to apologize for yesterday," she said, following him into his office.
"Really?" Windu remarked, sitting down on a padded bench.
"Well, yes. I also wanted to ask if I could go back to that museum tomorrow."
"You managed to disrupt a Council Meeting, then left the Temple in the middle of the night," Windu stated. "You also seem to think that we were going to kill your pet," he added, insulted.
Mentally steeling herself, Larisa looked right at him before replying. "I did not intend to disrupt your meeting. I do apologize for leaving the Temple last night." She paused, suddenly at a loss for words.
"Are you finished?" Windu asked, regarding her steadily.
"And do you actually believe that we would kill your pet?"
"No," Larisa said, wondering what else she had written in that ridiculous note. "Sorry."
"I will consider your request. Now I think you should return to your room," he told her sternly.
"Yes, Master," she replied, bowing. "I'll go now." She hastily backed out of the door when he frowned at her again.
Well, that could have been worse, Larisa thought as she walked down the hallway. Now she had to talk to Obi-Wan, who was probably angry at her again, considering how moody he usually was. Afterwards, she might as well go back to her room and not come back out for a whole month.
Pressing the button again, Larisa listened to the alarm buzz a third time before the door finally opened.
"Hi," she said, growing impatient when Obi-Wan just stood there. She stared back at him, tired of people looking at her as if she'd just rolled in mud. "Can I come in or is this a bad time?"
"You can come in," he answered hesitantly.
Larisa stood there for a moment, watching him turn and walk back into his quarters before following.
"Are you all right?" Obi-Wan asked as he turned back around, keeping his distance from her.
"Yes. Are you?" she asked, wondering what was the matter with him before noticing that he wasn't wearing his robe or his boots. He must have been meditating, she thought, nearly blushing at the memories that brought back.
"Yes. I... I wanted to apologize for my behavior yesterday," he told her guiltily. "It won't happen again."
"Oh. All right," she said, thinking that the room was starting to get a little too warm for comfort as she looked around for something else to talk about.
Staring at her, Obi-Wan wondered if she had actually sounded disappointed or if he had imagined it. He shook his head at himself, determined not to pressure her into anything again.
"Have you seen Anakin yet?" he asked, switching to a safer subject.
"Yes, a little while ago. He said he had lightsaber practice today," Larisa replied, walking over to a hologram set on top of a table.
She stood still for a moment, thinking of a different table. Stop that! she told herself, concentrating on the hologram. It was of a younger-looking Obi-Wan, standing next to an older man, who was wearing the robe of a Jedi Master. That must have been Obi-Wan's Master, she thought, studying the image. He certainly didn't look like the rebel she'd heard described. "That's Qui-Gon Jinn?" she asked, glancing over at Obi-Wan for confirmation.
"Yes. He was one of the best Jedi Knights in the Temple," Obi-Wan said proudly, walking up behind her and looking down at the hologram.
"I thought you said he had a habit of arguing with the Jedi Council," Larisa reminded, smiling as she turned around and looked up at him.
"He did," Obi-Wan admitted, looking down at her. Before he could stop himself he was leaning down and kissing her.
Larisa froze for an instant before leaning into the kiss. Mmmm. That feels good, she thought, disappointed when he quickly pulled back.
"Sorry," he muttered, chagrined at his lack of control.
Suddenly frustrated, Larisa stared at him, then reached up and kissed him back, moving down to his neck when he started to jerk back in surprise. Feeling her teeth grazing his skin, Obi-Wan lifted her head and kissed her again. Slipping off her robe and tunics, he nearly groaned aloud when she immediately did the same to him, pressing her body against his. Running her hands down his back, Larisa reached down and unfastened his belt, perturbed when he pulled away again. Glancing over at the bedroom door, Obi-Wan decided he couldn't wait another second. Quickly removing her belt and skirt, he tossed them aside, followed by his trousers. Lowering her to the floor, he settled on top, burying himself inside her.
Stifling a gasp at each deep thrust, Larisa dug her nails into his back, biting her lip at the rush of pleasure she felt. Catching his breath when she shuddered, squeezing him tightly, Obi-Wan closed his eyes and thrust harder, groaning as he climaxed. Sighing when he withdrew and rolled onto his back, pulling her on top, Larisa looked down at him, bemused.
"What are you thinking?" Obi-Wan asked, wondering at her expression.
"I was thinking that this seems to happen every time we're alone together," she said, leaning down to kiss him.
"Perhaps it's meant to happen," he replied, smiling as he wrapped his arms around her.
"Hmmm." Sighing again, Larisa rested her head against his chest as they both fell into a light sleep.
"I suppose you've heard the news," Windu remarked, answering his door again.
"No," Billapa replied, puzzled. "What news?"
"Prince Organa has announced his intention to marry a local woman," Windu told her as they walked into his public room.
"This is... unexpected," she said, surprised.
"It also leaves Queen Amidala with only two Consorts," Windu added, knowing full well that Amidala would never consider the more outlandish offers she had received. "Knight Kenobi. And Padawan Skywalker. Are you going to speak with Kenobi about the Queen? Or is there someone else?" he asked, recalling Master Tiin's words at the last Council meeting.
"There may be. Although neither of them seem serious about the relationship."
"Not serious?" Windu asked, disapprovingly.
"You know it's not our place to interfere," Billapa told him firmly.
"What are you going to do then?"
"Wait and see what happens, I suppose. Since Queen Amidala also chose Anakin as a Consort, she has another two years before she must decide. Speaking of Anakin, I've spoken with him today and he doesn't appear to know about his mother yet. When are you planning on telling him?"
"In about a week," Windu told her. "Amidala intends to be here when I do. Apparently she knew the woman."
"Has the Queen agreed to take the droid?"
"Yes, I'm having it sent to her tomorrow.
"Good," Billapa said, relieved. She was positive she had never spoken with a more talkative protocol droid.
"Was there anything else?" Windu asked, feeling tired at the mere mention of Anakin's old droid.
"No, although it looks like you haven't been getting enough sleep."
"Thank you for that observation," Windu grouched, annoyed when she merely smiled before leaving his quarters.
Windu frowned as his thoughts turned to Larisa Doril. The Jedi Order couldn't afford to spend more time and training on a healer as timid as she sometimes appeared to be, regardless of how strong she might be. Perhaps it was time the Council sent her on a mission.
Slowly waking up, Larisa looked around for her beeping comm link. Glancing down at a still sleeping Obi-Wan, she started to pull away, intent on finding and answering the link when his arms tightened around her.
"Don't go," he muttered in his sleep.
"Let me up!" she exclaimed, pulling at his arms.
"What?" he said, blinking as he released her.
"My comm link," Larisa replied. Rising to her knees, she sighed when she heard it stop beeping.
"Whoever it was can call back later," Obi-Wan told her, rolling over and resting his head on his arms. "It may have been Anakin."
"You certainly look comfortable," she remarked, amused.
"Yes," he replied sleepily.
"Although, you still seem a little tense to me," she commented.
"No!" he groaned, burying his face in his arms.
"I'm talking about a massage!" Larisa said, blushing. "I'm very good at it."
"Mmmmm. Yes. I know where every muscle is located." Bending over, she lightly blew against the back of his neck.
"All right," she agreed as she began massaging his back.
"That feels... good," Obi-Wan murmured. Too good, he silently added.
Noticing when he started to squirm, Larisa smiled mischievously. "Do you think we could try a bed next time?" she sighed, moving down to his thighs.
"Yes," Obi-Wan replied, suddenly rolling over and rising to his feet. He grinned, hearing her start to laugh as he picked her up and carried her into the bedroom.
Looking up from her conversation with Saesee Tiin, Depa Billapa spotted Mace Windu entering the Masters dining hall. Looking irate, he immediately walked over to their table.
"What is the matter now?" she asked, glancing around the room.
"She's disappeared again!"
"Sit down. Now, who has disappeared?"
"Larisa Doril. She's not in her room and she didn't answer her comm link."
"Have you checked the garden, or the library?"
"Yes. She hasn't been seen there, and none of our shuttle pilots have seen her either."
"Then she's obviously still in the Temple," Billapa said patiently.
"Have you tried Knight Kenobi's room?" Tiin asked, amused when they both stared at him.
"You're saying she's with Kenobi?" Windu glanced from one to the other.
"It's possible," Billapa said, frowning when Tiin snorted. "I think perhaps you should wait until morning before you speak to her," she added when Windu started to reach for his comm link.
"What do you intend to do about this?" he asked.
"Send up a large meal?" Tiin suggested when Billapa hesitated.
"That is not funny!" Windu told him, annoyed.
"You know as well as I that the Council rarely involves itself in personal matters," Billapa reminded him.
"I also know that a Jedi does not allow personal matters to interfere with duty."
"Which it hasn't," she pointed out.
"Yet!" Windu retorted.
"If you two are going to argue about this, I'll leave," Tiin offered.
"We're not arguing," Billapa told him before turning back to Windu. "We both know that Obi-Wan would never neglect his duties. Exactly what are you referring to?"
"Simply that I think it's time the Council sent Doril on a mission. Most Padawans her age have already been on several," Windu explained.
"What sort of mission did you have in mind?"
"Nothing especially dangerous, but if she's going to continue to study here we have to be sure she can handle the pressure," Windu explained.
"Who will she be assigned to?" Tiin asked.
"I haven't decided yet. I could have her help transport Skywalker's droid," Windu mused, smiling at the look on Billapa's face.
Morning already, Larisa thought, looking over at the chrono before quietly getting up to use the fresher. Walking back to the bed, she looked down at Obi-Wan, thinking of a way to wake him up. Climbing back into the bed, she slid on top and began kissing him.
Feeling him stir, Larisa drew back when he stared up at her. "What's wrong?"
"Nothing," Obi-Wan said, closing his eyes tightly before opening them again. "I just... thought it was a dream," he admitted.
"Really?" she asked, stretching against him.
Narrowing his eyes, he suddenly rolled over, pinning her to the bed as he thrust inside. Enjoying the slow rhythm, Larisa's eyes flew open when she heard a familiar noise coming from the table next to the bed. Not again! she thought, willing the comm link to shut up. Still sliding in and out of her, it took a moment for the beeping to register to Obi-Wan. Before he realized what he was doing, he was reaching out for the comm link.
"No!" Larisa started to protest when he automatically grabbed the link and answered it.
Obi-Wan froze when a voice began speaking.
"Knight Kenobi!" Mace Windu called.
"Yes, Master," Obi-Wan replied, desperately trying to remain still as he felt her tighten around him.
"We have something to discuss. I want you in my office in ten minutes."
"UH! Yes, Master," Obi-Wan replied as he continued thrusting.
"Or perhaps later, if you're not too busy," Windu said sarcastically after a long pause.
"Yesss!" Obi-Wan groaned, turning off the comm link and tossing it onto the floor. "I can't believe I did that!"
"Neither can I. I can just imagine his expression," Larisa mused, smiling at the look Obi-Wan gave her.
"You're incorrigible," Obi-Wan said, leaning down to kiss her before pulling out. Lying on his side, he looked down at the circle of pale skin on her stomach.
Shivering as his finger traced the outline, Larisa jerked when he pressed his lips to the area, grasping her hips to keep her still. He sat up when a voice called from the other room.
"Anakin!" Obi-Wan muttered as he got up, walking over to the bedroom door and making sure it was locked.
"He has a key."
"Our clothes!" Larisa exclaimed, scrambling off the bed and wrapping a blanket around herself.
"Stay here," he told her, grabbing a spare robe from a trunk and putting it on before entering the public room. "Master," Anakin greeted, holding a heavy tray. "Master Tiin ordered this sent up," he told his Master with an innocent expression.
"I'll have to thank him the next time I see him," Obi-Wan said, pretending not to notice the clothes scattered all over the floor.
Setting the tray on a table, Anakin bowed, glancing around the room once more before leaving.
"Hungry?" Obi-Wan asked when Larisa emerged, staring at the amount of food on the tray.
"Yes." She looked thoughtfully down at the food. "But I think I'll take a shower first," she said, glancing up at him before walking back towards the bedroom. Humming to herself, Larisa smiled when he immediately followed her into the fresher room.
"You wished to speak with me, Master?" Obi-Wan calmly asked two hours later, standing in front of Mace Windu's desk.
"Yes, I did," Windu replied, leaning back in his chair
"Do you know what you're doing?"
"What do you mean?"
"I mean Larisa Doril," Windu stated bluntly. "May I remind you that you are Queen Amidala's Consort."
"One of three," Obi-Wan was quick to remind him.
"Not any more. Prince Organa now intends to marry someone else."
"He intends to what?" Obi-Wan stared, surprised.
"Just what I said. Which leaves just you and your Padawan. I believe Amidala might be receptive to an alliance with the Jedi. What is your opinion of a marriage to her?"
Obi-Wan took a deep breath before answering. "I do not wish to marry Amidala, any more than she wishes to marry me. I've already made that clear. And may I remind you that Jedi do not involve themselves in politics."
"I am aware of our tradition, but under the circumstances we may have to make a few exceptions."
"What circumstances?" Obi-Wan asked, starting to feel trapped.
"Master Billapa believes that the remaining Sith Lord may be someone in a position of power. One of the Senators, or perhaps even the Supreme Chancellor."
"Chancellor Palpatine?" Obi-Wan asked, stunned that the Sith could actually be someone they knew. He thought of all the times Amidala had visited Palpatine, usually with Anakin present, and felt a cold chill.
"There is no real evidence against him, or anyone else. But it was apparently enough to convince Master Rancisis. He has returned to Thisspias." Windu paused at the alarmed expression on Obi-Wan's face. "I am aware of the difficult situation you are in," he said sympathetically. "But I strongly suggest that you reconsider. If Amidala agrees to the marriage, will you."
Obi-Wan remained silent, still stubbornly resisting.
"You don't need to decide now," Windu relented. "But I hope you will reconsider. I should warn you that Amidala will be coming here in six days, which brings me to another problem we have. Anakin's mother is dead."
"What? How?" Obi-Wan stopped to collect his thoughts. "Does Anakin know?"
"No, he does not. Amidala wishes to be present when he is told. Apparently she was killed by a single blaster shot. I have to ask you to keep this to yourself until then."
"Of course, Master" Obi-Wan replied with a bow. He quickly left Windu's quarters and returned to his own, sitting down in front of the hologram.
A Sith elected Chancellor? How could this happen right under the noses of the Council? He thought of the deaths of Valorum and Senator Moe of Malastare. Were they truly accidents, or carefully planned assassinations? Of course, Senator Antilles had also been nominated the same time as Palpatine, and he was still alive.
As Windu said, there was nothing substantial, and the Jedi could not move against him without some kind of proof. Even then it would be difficult. The Senators would not be eager for another change in leadership. If it were true, Obi-Wan realized, then the Jedi would need as many political alliances as possible in order to protect the Republic from the threat of the Sith. Which meant that he may have to marry the Queen after all. He stood and paced the room. There had to be another solution. Deciding to wait and speak with Amidala about the dilemma they were now in, Obi-Wan headed to one of the training rooms for some much needed lightsaber practice.
"There you are!"
"Hello," Larisa greeted Ki-Adi-Mundi, keeping a firm grip on a grumpy Rialth. "Did you want something?"
"Master Windu was looking for you yesterday," Mundi said, glancing down as the Ysalir twisted in her hands.
She stood, determined not to let anything spoil her mood. "Why was he looking for me?"
"He intends to assign you to a mission very shortly," Mundi informed her.
"Really? To where?" Larisa asked, setting her pet on the ground. "Rialth!" she warned, her face turning red as the Ysalir scurried over to Mundi and began climbing up his trousers.
Surprised, Mundi stood still as Rialth climbed onto his shoulder.
"I'm really sorry," Larisa apologized as she reached for Rialth. "Get down! I don't care how tall he is, he's not a tree!" Ignoring his defiant hiss, she grabbed him by the neck, exasperated when he dug his claws into Mundi's tunic. "Let go!"
Using the Force, Mundi calmly touched the Ysalir's head, handing the now-limp creature back to Larisa. "Does this sort of thing happen often?"
"No. He usually just ignores me when he's upset about something," she told him, stroking Rialth's head before setting him down under a large bush.
"I see." Mundi looked down at the Ysalir, who glared back at him. As if it were accusing me of cheating, Mundi thought, puzzled by that strange notion.
"Where will I be going?" Larisa asked as they both walked back inside.
"That has not been decided yet."
"Oh." Larisa stepped back when another Jedi Master approached and began speaking with Mundi.
"We've just received a transmission from Master Fey'zon. Ripoblus has attacked Dimok's capitol city again. They've targeted the spaceport this time."
Hesitating, Larisa turned and started to walk away.
"Wait," Mundi ordered, watching her freeze in place before turning back to Piell. "What is he doing on Dimok?" he asked, frowning. It was not like the Bothan to act impulsively.
"Apparently he was forced to stop and refuel before continuing on to Coruscant. We've lost contact with him."
"Has Mace been told?" Mundi asked, concerned. They could hardly afford to lose another Jedi Master, especially one that was currently being considered for a seat on the Council.
"He was the one who received the transmission. He's going to Dimok himself to find Fey'zon."
"Who is he taking with him?" Mundi asked, sensing something odd about the situation.
"A few healers, I assume. Why?"
"There may be something else going on here," Mundi said slowly. "Has Mace left yet?"
"Not yet. His ship will be ready in a few minutes, though. He's in hangar eleven. Do you believe this may be another trap?" Piell asked, recalling how Master Gallia had died.
"I'm not sure, but I think we should take some precautions."
Pulling out his comm link, Mundi contacted Master Koon and explained the situation, relieved when Koon agreed.
"I'll inform the others," Piell said, bowing.
Inclining his head, Mundi watched Piell walk away. Still deep in thought, he turned towards Larisa. "You are going with them," he told her before walking towards the elevators.
"I am?" Surprised, Larisa stared at the empty space, then hurried after him. "Wait a minute. I thought that was supposed to be Master Windu's decision."
"It is. However, I'm sure he'll have no objections to including you," Mundi assured her.
"Right," Larisa muttered under her breath as the elevator door opened.
"I expect a faster response from you." Palpatine glowered at his recalcitrant Apprentice.
"Yes, my Master," Maul ground out.
"Or perhaps you're not interested in challenging another Jedi Master?" he said, looking bored.
"Master?" Maul asked, wondering if he had heard correctly.
"Yes. And not just any Jedi Master. Mace Windu, the head of the Jedi Council."
Palpatine paused, amused by Maul's sudden eagerness. "He's most likely on his way to Dimok as we speak, accompanied by healers. I'm certain that Doril will be one of them. I want you to bring her back here, alive," he stressed. "If you have an opportunity to dispose of Windu, then do so. You'll find them at the spaceport, in the capital city. Since you're not familiar with Dimok, here is all the information you will require."
"And if she resists?" Maul asked, taking the datachip from his Master.
Palpatine frowned, not having considering that possibility. "If she resists, then kill her, if you can. It will not be easy," he warned. "Be very careful, and do not allow yourself to be captured."
"Yes, Master." Bowing as he left, Maul wasted no time in reaching his new Infiltrator.
At last, he thought. A chance to test his skills with his new lightsaber. Mace Windu was reportedly one of the best fighters in the Jedi Order, and Maul was determined to defeat him. Doing so would prove to his Master that he was a worthy Apprentice once and for all. Making sure everything was in place before lifting off, Maul set course for Dimok.
"I did not intend to send her into the middle of a war for her first mission!" Windu stated.
"Nonsense. It's a relatively simple rescue mission; the Dimoks have no grudges against us. Do you have any other objection to including her?" Mundi persisted, raising an eyebrow as he glanced around the hangar.
"I've already selected three healers. They should be sufficient," Windu said, still unconvinced. "And if it's Master Koon you're looking for, he's already on board. I suggest you tell me what is going on."
"Very well. I do sense some danger about this rescue, which is why Master Koon has agreed to accompany you to Dimok."
"What sort of danger?"
"I'm not sure, but it seems to be directed at you."
"All right," Windu finally agreed. "But we must leave immediately." He exchanged bows with Mundi before turning to Larisa. "You are going to do exactly as you're told!"
Grumbling to herself, Larisa followed Windu onto the ship. She had a feeling this was not going to be a pleasant trip for her.
"Why did... whoever it was... attack Domik?" Larisa asked five hours later, looking out the window as they flew over Dimok's capitol city. Several of the buildings had been hit, she noted as she quickly braided her hair.
"Ripoblus," Koon said shortly.
"Ripoblus and Dimok have been at war for years," the other female healer, Knight Ciral, added. "I doubt there's anyone still alive who remembers how it started."
"That's the spaceport?" Larisa asked as they landed near a heavily damaged building.
"Yes," Koon answered grimly.
"He may have sought shelter in another building," another healer said.
"Perhaps," Koon replied, looking even grimmer as Windu emerged from the cockpit. "Has there been any word?"
"None. He's not answering his comm link," Windu replied, looking out the window before giving orders, sending Master Koon and two healers to search the nearby medical bay.
Using electrobinoculars, Maul watched as the Jedi unloaded a speeder before dividing into two groups. One group began walking towards the spaceport while the other boarded the speeder and headed down the street. Easily picking out his two targets, he smiled, recalling his Master's instructions: Bring Doril back alive. There had been nothing said about bringing her back unharmed, and he had a score to settle with her. Maul waited until the other Jedi were out of sight before emerging from the ruins of a nearby building and entering the huge spaceport, followed by one of his probe droids.
Following Windu and the other healer through the heavily damaged building, Larisa glanced around. At least nothing was on fire, she thought, observing the complete mess inside the spaceport as Windu led them to hangar twenty-eight. Many of the ships she saw had been damaged, some severely, she noted as they began the search.
"Have you found his ship yet?" Larisa asked, carefully avoiding broken glass and sharp pieces of metal.
"It's over there," Windu said, leading them over to a partially damaged ship on the far side of the building.
"Wait out here," he told Larisa as he and the healer entered the ship.
And what am I supposed to do out here? Larisa asked herself, looking around at the deserted hangar. Anyone still alive had obviously been removed from the ruined building. Master Fey'zon included, she hoped.
Outside hangar twenty-eight, Maul programmed the droid and directed it to the middle of the hangar before continuing on, seeking out the Jedi. Stopping between two large freighters, Maul watched as the Jedi entered one of the ships, leaving Doril outside. Alone. He decided to get her out of the way before dealing Windu and the other healer.
Feeling an odd sensation, Larisa looked up and around, then walked to the front of the ship. Shrugging, she turned around and stopped in her tracks, staring at the figure approaching her.
"Who are you?" Larisa asked, puzzled by the sudden flash of rage she felt. It was gone as quickly as it came and left her feeling weak as she looked back at the ship's ramp.
Surprised by her lack of recognition, Maul stopped a few feet away, watching her eyes start to darken before she glanced at the ship behind her. Taking advantage of her distraction, he reached out with the Force, launching a small chunk of metal at her. Smiling, Maul watched as it struck her forehead and she fell to the floor. Satisfied that she was unconscious, he roughly dragged her back between the two freighters. Discarding his robe, he continued watching the ship, waiting for the Jedi to emerge.
"Master Windu," the healer called, holding up a durasheet as he entered the cockpit. "Master Fey'zon was taken to the medical bay. He was not seriously injured."
"Good," Windu said, relieved. The sooner Plo Koon found the Bothan Master, the sooner they could go home. Pulling out his comm link to contact Koon, he frowned when nothing happened. Perhaps something on board this ship was interfering somehow. Stepping outside the ship, Windu looked around the silent hangar, immediately noticing Larisa's absence.
"Perhaps she's returned to the ship," the healer volunteered.
"There's someone else here," Windu said quietly, reaching out to the Force. Recalling Mundi's warning, he pulled out his comm link and tried to contact Koon again. "Try your link," he told the healer, concerned when his failed as well. "We'll have to warn the others from our ship."
Pulling out their lightsabers and activating them, they walked slowly back towards the entrance, looking in every direction.
Annoyed that the Jedi Master sensed his presence, Maul circled around to the front of the hangar and stepped out into the open, igniting both blades as he stood between them and the door.
Coming to a halt, Windu stared at the figure standing several feet away, taking in the double-bladed lightsaber and the markings on its face. It looked exactly like the Sith Lord Kenobi had described, right down to the horns and the red and yellow eyes. Except that that particular Sith was dead.
Unless, however, one of them, or possibly both, was a clone. The thought of the Sith having the technology to clone Force-sensitives was a disaster waiting to happen. Reaching out with the Force again, Windu sensed no others in the area as he and the healer approached the Sith, swiftly discarding their robes.
As the Jedi advanced towards him, Maul watched intently as they split up, coming at him from both sides. Unlike the two previous Jedi, it was apparent that these two had not fought alongside each other before. Glaring contemptuously at the healer, Maul turned his back on him and attacked Windu. Smiling when the other Jedi charged from behind, Maul whirled, catching the healer solidly in the face with a spinning kick and sending him reeling.
Taking a cautious step forward, Windu carefully studied his opponent. The Sith was younger and faster than he was, but not as strong. Taking the fight to the Sith, Windu forced him back, giving the healer the time he needed to recover. Frustrated when the Jedi closed with him, preventing him from using both blades, Maul growled when the healer sprang to his feet and joined the battle. Blocking both of their blades, Maul landed a kick to the healer's ribs.
Grinning when the healer stumbled, stepping on a piece of pipe and losing his balance, Maul used the Force to push Windu back, then backflipped over the healer's head, driving one blade through his back as he landed. Not bothering to even look over his shoulder as the healer fell, Maul continued his assault on Windu.
Dragged back to consciousness, Larisa wiped at her eyes, lightly pressing her fingertips to her forehead as she slowly rose to her feet. Hearing a strange noise, she staggered out from between the ships and stopped, staring at the flashing lightsabers at the other end of the hangar.
Alarmed that her attacker had a lightsaber with two blades, she gasped when he suddenly leaped over the healer's head, impaling him. Watching as the Jedi healer fell, motionless, to the floor, Larisa threaded her way between ships, determined to help somehow.
Momentarily distracted when the healer collapsed, Windu barely met the Sith's next attack, catching a glancing blow to his left arm. Reaching out with the Force, he shoved the Sith back, quickly setting himself for the next attack. As their lightsaber blades locked, Maul caught a glimpse of movement behind the Jedi. Keeping a wary eye on the duelists, Larisa rushed to the healer's side. She started to concentrate on healing him, then slumped to the floor in defeat. He was already dead. Gritting her teeth as she got up, Larisa walked towards the lightsaber duel.
Furious to see Doril awake and on her feet, Maul began looking for a way to end the battle quickly. Locking sabers again, Maul noticed how close the Jedi was to the ship behind him. Breaking free, he used the Force to push Windu back and spun around, kicking the Jedi squarely in the chest and slamming him up against the ship. Maul immediately kicked out again, smashing the Jedi's right arm against the metal hull of the ship. Hearing the arm break and the lightsaber hit the floor, Maul quickly raised his own lightsaber. Before he could land the blow, though, he was hit in the arm by a small canister. One blade was knocked away from Windu's face, and the other brushed against Maul's side, burning through the thin material of his tunic.
Hissing in pain, Maul turned his head, glaring angrily at Larisa, who used the Force to throw a piece of a droid at him. Snarling, Maul ducked, avoiding the droids foot.
Surprised when the Sith turned away from him, Windu looked in the same direction, shocked by Larisa's appearance. Ignoring the pain in his arm, Windu reached out with the Force and retrieved his lightsaber. Catching it in his left hand, he slashed at the Sith, who leaped back.
Furious at her interference, Maul engaged the Jedi again, easily forcing him back this time and throwing pieces of metal at Larisa, who ducked underneath a ship. Keeping his injured arm close to his side, Windu forced his opponent around in a half-circle, positioning himself between the Sith and Larisa. Glaring in Larisa's direction, Maul noticed that the wing she was now standing under had been badly damaged. It wouldn't take much for it to come crashing down.
He smiled. Attacking with renewed determination, Maul forced the Jedi back again, reaching out with the Force at the same time and flinging a large piece of durasteel at the wing of the ship.
Flinching when the piece of metal fell at her feet, Larisa jerked her head up at the grinding noise she heard. Jumping back, she tripped over the remains of another droid and sprawled on the floor, her eyes widening in shock as part of the wing fell across her back. Fighting back tears of pain, Larisa quickly assessed her injuries. Her back had broken under the weight of the wing, and there was a jagged piece of metal embedded in her side. There was little point in trying to heal herself; the wing was much too heavy for her to even try dislodge. Looking up as the fight continued, Larisa's gaze fell onto another piece of the droid. Reaching out, she attempted to fling it at the Sith and could barely move it two feet. Feeling helpless, she dropped her head onto the floor.
Looking over at Larisa, Maul was amused when Windu looked as well, distracting himself again. Smiling, he waited to see what the Jedi did next. Windu glanced from Larisa to the healer. Both were either dead or dying, and someone had to warn the others. Grim-faced, Windu backed away from the Sith Lord. Keeping his eyes on him, he reached out with the Force, sending dozens of glass shards flying at the Sith's face.
Surprised, Maul barely covered his face in time as the glass hit him, cutting into his skin. Growling as the bombardment ended and the Jedi had disappeared amongst the ships, Maul turned and casually strolled over to Larisa, who raised her head and stared at him. Stopping just out of her reach, Maul looked down, smirking before walking away in search of the Jedi.
There must be something I can do, Larisa thought, watching him saunter away. Coming up with an idea, she hesitated, unsure if it would actually work. Taking deep breaths, Larisa concentrated, reaching out as far as she could.
*Master Koon,* she called, wincing from the strain.
She reached out even farther, ignoring the blood that started to trickle from her nose.
*MASTER KOON!* she called again, getting a reply this time.
*What? How did you...*
*Someone's attacked us,* she interrupted.
*Who?* he demanded, outraged.
*I don't know. He has a lightsaber. A lightsaber with two blades. We're in hangar twenty-eight. Please hurry.*
Holding her breath, Larisa listened for sounds of a fight and heard nothing. He must not have found Windu yet. Exhausted, she dropped her head to the floor again.
Losing sight of Windu once more, Maul jumped up to the top of a one of the ships. Catching a glimpse of Windu, Maul leaped onto another ship, tracking Windu's progress through the large hangar before moving to intercept him. Cautiously stepping out from among a cluster of smaller ships, Windu looked at the hangar doors thirty feet away, then whirled around as the Sith leaped down, landing behind him. Narrowly avoiding both lightsaber blades, Windu stepped forward, locking blades with the Sith and shoving him back several feet.
Recovering immediately, Maul attacked again, aiming for Windu's right side with one blade and scoring his left leg with the other. Pressing forward, Maul struck out with the Force, knocking Windu backwards and onto one knee. Grinning triumphantly, Maul raised his lightsaber and swung down at Windu's head... and was blocked by another lightsaber.
Leaping back, Maul cursed himself for not paying attention and letting the other Jedi catch him off guard. Glaring at the two healers who crouched next to Windu, Maul backed away, growling, when Plo Koon stepped in front of them. Maul hesitated, then slowly retreated He was not ready to face the Kel Dor Master. Not yet. Sparing one more glance at Windu, who was still on one knee, Maul ducked behind a ship, making his way to the back of the building. Deciding to wait until the Jedi were gone to retrieve his probe droid, Maul used his lightsaber to cut a hole through the wall and slipped away.
Still wary, Koon continued to stand guard over them. "How is he?"
"He has a broken arm. A couple of burns. Nothing else," Knight Ciral told him after examining Windu.
"Thank you," Windu said, wincing when the other healer grasped his arm, pulling it out straight for Ciral to heal. Puzzled, he looked up at Koon. "How did you know?"
"Doril called me," Koon replied, tilting his head when Windu stared up at him, then pulled his arm out of the healer's grip.
"That can wait," Windu told them when they started to protest. "Follow me." Rising to his feet, he quickly led them towards the front of the hangar.
Holding her breath at the distant sound of lightsabers clashing, Larisa flinched when it suddenly became quiet again. Hearing someone approaching, she gritted her teeth and raised her head, relieved to see Windu and the others.
"Where is he? she asked, glancing all around.
"He's gone," Windu answered, using the Force to lift the wing and move it out of the way as Knight Ciral knelt and began examining Larisa. He glanced down at them, then quickly turned away, looking over at the other healer, who looked up from the Jedi's body and shook his head.
"My head hurts," Larisa mumbled.
"I imagine it does. Stay still," Ciral instructed, carefully avoiding the large gash as she placed both hands on Larisa's forehead. Looking at the wound in her side, she motioned her partner over to help.
"You should go back to the ship and contact the rest of the Council about this," Koon advised.
"Yes," Windu wearily agreed, keeping a firm grip on his lightsaber as he left the hangar.
"Well?" Koon asked when the healers finished, still watching out for any other possible threat.
"She should be fine," Ciral told him, glancing sadly over at the dead Jedi.
"Get her on board and take care of Master Windu's arm."
"Yes, Master." Well used to his abrupt manner, Ciral turned away and concentrated on getting Larisa back on her feet.
I can do this! Larisa told herself, slowly getting up and leaning against the ship behind her before sliding back down to the floor. Feeling something being pressed against her arm, she turned her head towards Ciral. "What was that?"
"A stim-shot," Ciral told her, waiting a minute before helping a still-wobbly Larisa out of the hangar and onto their ship.
Seething, Maul watched Mace Windu reach the ship and walk up the ramp. To have been so close to killing the Jedi Master, only to be denied at the very last second, was intolerable to him. He looked up minutes later when two more figures appeared, one of which was the healer, Doril. Eyes burning with rage, he watched as she, along with the other Jedi, boarded the ship.
Why didn't I finish her off when I had the chance? Maul asked himself, already knowing the answer. It was the same reason he hadn't even noticed the other Jedi approaching earlier. He was completely focused on killing Windu. A mistake like that had nearly gotten him killed once already. One thing was certain: he was not looking forward to his Master's reaction. Recovering his probe droid, Maul quickly reached his ship, setting the coordinates for Coruscant and spending the entire trip meditating on his latest failure.
Knight Ciral waited until Windu ended his transmission before stepping inside the cockpit. "Hold out your arm," she ordered, waiting patiently when he reluctantly complied.
"How is she?" he asked, closing his eyes and rubbing at his forehead with his free hand.
"Tired, which is to be expected. I've given her a stim shot, but it will wear off soon. She should be fine by morning, but I think it would be best if she didn't have to return to the Temple in the condition she's in. Can I assume there is a fresher room on this ship?" she asked hopefully.
"There's one, but it's small. Too small. This ship was designed for shorter missions," Windu said regretfully. "Hm. Well, I'll think of something."
"I'll take care of it," he said, standing when she finished healing his arm. "What room is she in?"
"The first room on the left," Ciral told him. She followed him into the corridor on her way to check on Master Fey'zon again.
Slumping down on the hard bench, Larisa lurched to her feet when the door opened and Windu walked in, carrying a large container, several small cloths, and a brown robe.
"Are you all right?" she asked, noticing the objects in his hands. "What's that for?"
"What?" Baffled, Windu answered her second question. "These are for you. This ship does not have an adequate fresher room," he explained, setting everything down on the small table. "I'll be back in a little while."
Looking down at herself, Larisa sat back down with a groan. Waiting until the door closed behind him, she pulled the cover over the window and quickly yanked off her clothes. At least the belt is still in one piece, she thought, staring down at the blood-stained holes in her robe and tunics before folding them and putting them aside. Relieved that the skirt had somehow managed to escape damage, Larisa remembered something hitting her in the face as well and silently wished she had a mirror. Grateful for the hot water in the container, she grabbed the cloths and immediately went to work.
"We're leaving for Coruscant now," Windu announced, strolling back in ten minutes later and stopping at the sight of Larisa lying down on the bench, her legs hanging over one end. "That can't be very comfortable," he commented.
"It's not," she replied.
"There is a small sleep area in the next room."
Sighing in relief, Larisa sat up, rubbing at the small of her back as she looked up at him. "We're leaving? Shouldn't we help the injured... Dimoks?"
"They have an adequate supply of bacta," Windu explained, turning to pick up one of the few remaining clean cloths and dampening it.
"Oh," she muttered as she slowly got to her feet.
"You missed a spot," Windu noted as he walked over to her.
Larisa blinked in surprise when he took hold of her chin, but she kept still while he wiped her left cheek with the wet cloth. Windu tossed the cloth back onto the table, then briskly reminded her which room to use before he left. Shrugging, Larisa unfastened her belt and pulled the brown robe tighter around her, folding a section of it so she wouldn't trip over the hem. Gathering up her clothes, she dumped them in the first disposal unit she found, then entered the room Windu had mentioned.
"Go away!" Larisa grumbled, turning over onto her back.
"Wake up. We've reached the Temple," Knight Ciral said, shaking her again.
"Already?" Larisa exclaimed, dragging herself upright and following Ciral off the ship.
"What room are you staying in?" Ciral asked, glancing over at Windu, who was in a discussion with Koon and three other Jedi.
"Um. This one," Larisa replied, pulling out her access card and showing it to the Jedi.
"Ah. Let's go, then," Ciral said. Glancing back at the group, she paused when one backed away from the others and quickly strode in their direction. "And there seems to be someone here to see you," she added, watching the unfamiliar Knight approach.
"What?" Putting her card away, Larisa looked up as Obi-Wan reached them.
"Are you all right?" he asked, pulling her into a tight embrace before she had a chance to answer.
"Excuse me," Ciral interrupted. "I would appreciate it if you didn't crush my patient."
"Sorry," Obi-Wan said, letting go and looking her up and down. "Are you all right?" he repeated.
"Yes," Larisa answered, nearly breathless.
"I'm Knight Ciral, by the way," Ciral mentioned, smiling when he finally looked at her.
"Knight Kenobi," he replied with a small nod.
"Obi-Wan Kenobi?" Ciral asked, recognizing his name. "You fought on Naboo?"
"Well, I have a feeling you two would prefer some time alone," Ciral commented, glancing over her shoulder at the others. Windu was looking their way with a slight frown on his face. "She needs to rest," she warned, turning serious.
"She will," Obi-Wan declared, wrapping an arm around Larisa's waist as they walked over to the elevators.
Still smiling as she followed them, Ciral waited for the next elevator after theirs. Obi-Wan glanced down at Larisa, who leaned against him with her eyes closed, before pressing one of the symbols. After all, he rationalized, my room is closer to this floor than hers. Never mind that he didn't want to let her out of his sight for the rest of the night.
"Mmmm. Where are we?" Larisa asked, straightening up when the elevator door opened and they walked down a long corridor.
"My quarters," Obi-Wan replied, quickly opening the door and leading her inside.
"Hmmm." Walking across the room and stretching out on a narrow couch, she yawned once before falling asleep. Hurrying over when Larisa started to roll off the couch, Obi-Wan caught her before she fell onto the floor. Lifting her in his arms, he carried her into the other room and laid her down on the bed, removing her belt and setting it aside on the table.
Searching for something else to do, he made sure the door was locked and turned down the lights. Covering her with a thick blanket, he quickly made up his mind and slid into bed beside her. Staring up at the darkened ceiling, Obi-Wan thought about the day's events. Most missions, he knew, carried some element of danger despite what Anakin might think. Of course, it didn't usually come in the form of a Sith Lord. Hopefully tomorrow Windu would give him more specific details on the encounter.
He couldn't very well ask her to refuse assignments, any more than he could refuse them himself. Looking down at Larisa when she turned over, nestling against him, Obi-Wan draped one arm around her and closed his eyes, waiting for sleep to come.
Finishing his report, Maul remained on one knee, awaiting his punishment.
"She actually helped the Jedi?" Palpatine asked, his voice a mixture of disbelief and fury. What was she up to?
"Yes, Master," Maul growled.
"I told you that killing her would not be easy!" Palpatine glared at Maul before turning away.
"Yes, Master," Maul replied, bowing his head.
Palpatine stared down at his desk, trying to think of a solution to this dilemma and finding none. "Go back to your room," he ordered Maul.
"Master?" Uncertain, Maul rose to his feet.
"It is unfortunate that you were prevented from finishing off Master Windu," Palpatine said magnanimously. "But perhaps you will have another opportunity in the future.
"And that healer?" Maul inquired.
"She is no longer any concern of yours!" Palpatine snapped, becoming annoyed with Maul's grudge against her.
"Yes, Master." Maul bowed his head again before quietly slipping out the door, leaving his Master deep in thought.
Palpatine glared at the door, knowing that there was very little chance of catching her by surprise again. All he could do now was wait and see what she does next. Something he could do something about was the abundance of overly enthusiastic servants he was cursed with.
"Good morning," Obi-Wan cheerfully greeted when Larisa stopped in the bedroom doorway, staring at the large round object he was cutting into sections.
"What is that?"
"This is a gourdfruit," he told her. "Have you ever tried one?"
"No," she replied, coming closer. "Um. I need to go back to my room to change. And return this robe."
"Brown is not your color," Obi-Wan remarked, taking a bite of a large piece of fruit.
"Really?" she asked, looking down at herself.
"Yes," he replied, sounding depressed. "I'd rather you didn't wear anything at all." He grinned when her mouth dropped open.
Closing her mouth with a snap, Larisa watched him pick up a smaller piece of fruit. Waiting until he'd placed it in his mouth, she marched over, pushing the table back and sitting down on his lap, wiggling until she 'found' a more comfortable position.
"How is it?" Larisa asked, pretending not to notice when he almost choked.
"Uh," he managed after swallowing the fruit.
"Good?" she asked, leaning forward and kissing him. She pulled back a minute later, looking thoughtful. "I'm not sure which tastes better."
Smiling at the slightly glazed look in his eyes, she kissed him again, slipping her tongue into his mouth. Shifting uncomfortably, Obi-Wan grasped her by the waist and pressed her down against his growing erection.
"I really have to go," Larisa sighed as she finally broke away for air. "Well, maybe in a few minutes," she amended when he abruptly stood and carried her back into the bedroom.
Pressing the button one more time before giving up, Larisa finally turned away from Master Windu's door. Walking down the hallway, she came across a senior Padawan. Finding out form him where Windu was this morning, she made her way to the Master's dining hall. Undecided of whether she should dare go in, Larisa paced back and forth in front of the large doors. She stepped back when the door opened and a Firrerreon Jedi Master walked out.
"What are you doing out here?" he asked, frowning at her for skulking about the Masters dining area.
"I was looking for Master Windu. I need to return something to him," she nervously replied, holding up the folded brown robe she carried.
"I'll give it to him. I'm sure you have somewhere else to be," he said, taking it from her and going back inside the dining room.
Shaking her head, Larisa stared at the door for a moment before heading back to the elevators. Pressing every button, she waited impatiently for one of the doors to open.
Nearly jumping out of her skin, Larisa whirled around and staggered back, staring at Windu, who had come up behind her.
"What is the matter?" he asked, frowning at her extreme reaction.
"Nothing. I... didn't hear you coming," she explained, trying to catch her breath.
"Oh. I'm sorry," Windu apologized, looking embarrassed.
"Did you want something?" Larisa asked, glancing to the side when one of the elevator doors opened.
"There's a transport leaving for that museum in one hour, in case you still wish to visit it."
"Oh. Um. Yes, I do," she replied, inching towards the open door and wondering why he was being so nice to her.
"Good. It's in hangar fifteen." He nodded towards her before returning to the dining hall.
Some people are so odd, Larisa thought as she quickly entered the elevator.
Larisa looked around at the over one hundred young Initiates sitting silently in their seats before finding one of her own. This is strange, she thought. Most young children she had known couldn't sit still for more than five minutes at a time. She glanced at the serious-looking Jedi Knight in charge of the large group, then quickly turned away. Leaning back in her seat, Larisa closed her eyes, not opening them again until they had reached the museum. Following the others in, she paused when one of the silver protocol droids approached her.
"Good morning, Jedi," it greeted. "Will you require the same room?"
"The same room?" Larisa asked, puzzled.
"The room you studied in two days ago," it reminded her.
"Yes," she replied, feeling strangely numb.
Following it into a small, windowless room, she stood there looking around. "You can go now," she said, not listening to its reply.
Larisa stared down at a stool, certain she had been here before and something had happened, but she couldn't remember what it was. A vague memory flashed into her consciousness. The more she concentrated on it, it continued to elude her. Settling into a trance, Larisa focused on where she was two nights ago. Gasping at the sudden pain in her head, she slumped to her knees as everything went dark.
"What do you want?" the Jedi Knight asked, growing impatient when Larisa Doril just stood there, looking over at the children.
"I've decided to visit the Candreas Garden Center instead," she finally replied.
"Fine," he said, turning his back on her. "We're leaving in about three hours. If you're not back in time, you'll have to find your own way back to the Temple."
She stared at him for a moment, hatred flashing in her dark eyes before dismissing him from her thoughts and walking out of the museum without a backwards glance. Catching the first air taxi she saw, she directed it to the Senate building.
"Thirty-eight credits," the driver said when they arrived.
"You've been paid," she said, barely sparing him a glance as she got out and walked up to the huge doors.
"Can I help you?" a servant said, rushing over the second she saw her enter.
"You can forget you've seen me," she said, sweeping past the woman on her way to the Chancellor residence.
"Do you have an appointment?" a blue-uniformed guard standing directly in front of Palpatine's apartments demanded when she approached.
"No, I do not. Go visit your mistress," she told him, brushing past him as he immediately left his post, and left the building.
"Still no sign of where those Mandalorians are hiding!" Palpatine fumed as he and Maul approached his apartments.
"Master," Maul interrupted, noticing the guard's absence.
"That imbecile!" Palpatine growled. "I'll have his head for this!" Storming into his rooms, he threw a datapad across the room, watching in satisfaction as it shattered against the wall before turning back to his Apprentice.
"I may have to send you..."
Noticing the look on Maul's face, Palpatine paused in mid-sentence and turned, alarmed to see the door to his secret room wide open. Followed by Maul, he strode to the doorway, staring at the figure seated at his desk.
"Lord Sidious," she said. "You and I need to have a little talk."
The disturbing meeting between Larisa and Palpatine makes the Chancellor uneasy. Obi-Wan seeks help for his obsession with the unconventional healer. Complicating matters, Amidala arrives. Following the directions of an ancient Sith lord's spirit, Palpatine and company leave for Korriban.
"You!" Maul snarled, stepping around his Master and towards Doril, who looked on.
"Maul!" Palpatine snapped as he came forward, determined to gain control over the situation. Maul immediately returned to his proper place, slightly behind and to the right of his Master.
Closing the door, Palpatine kept his eyes on Doril, who continued to sit there watching, an expression of... was it
boredom? on her face. Still trying to gauge her mood, he decided to proceed cautiously.
"I would prefer to be addressed as Supreme Chancellor Palpatine," he said, ignoring the look Maul gave him.
"Then I suggest you continue to call me Miss Doril." She paused, looking him up and down. "You still dress as a Senator."
"And what makes you think you'll leave this room alive?" Maul asked, scowling fiercely at her. How dare she come in here and presume to give orders?
"What makes you think you can stop me?" she asked, standing and, with a wave of her hand, shoving the desk against the wall, out of the way. "Think of all the unwanted attention we would attract."
Growling, Maul stepped forward, reaching for his lightsaber.
"Try it and I'll bring this building down around your head!" Doril threatened.
"That is quite enough!" Palpatine glowered at his Apprentice until he subsided, then turned back to Doril. "I have found that a show of humility serves me well when dealing with certain members of the Senate."
"Certain honest members," she remarked, looking oddly displeased.
Maul stared from one to the other. She had the temerity to enter his Master's sanctum and nothing was being done about it?
"Master..." he began.
"Enough! Leave us!" Palpatine ordered Maul angrily.
Glaring balefully at Doril, Maul stalked out of the office. Once in the outer rooms, he looked around for something to destroy before eventually calming himself.
This has to be a plan of his Master's, he told himself. One that he had not deigned to share with his Apprentice. Pulling his hood back over his head, Maul slowly walked out of Palpatine's quarters and back to his own room.
"I feel I must apologize for my Apprentice's rash behavior," Palpatine said smoothly.
"Are you claiming that he wasn't following your orders yesterday?" Doril asked, her eyes narrowing to slits.
He hesitated, then abruptly abandoned the friendly charade. "No, I am not. You know as well as I that there can only be two Sith Lords."
"Technically, there still are," she replied, glancing sardonically down at herself. "Oh, I have no intention of replacing you, so you needn't worry on that count. I also see no reason for us to be enemies. If you stay out of my way, I'll stay out of yours."
"Then why are you here?" Palpatine asked, warily standing his ground as she approached him, stopping two feet away. "And why have you chosen to remain with the Jedi?"
"I have my reasons for staying at the Temple, one of which is convincing the Jedi to trust her more. Yesterday's little debacle seems to have helped."
"I did order Maul to bring you here," he readily admitted. "His method, however, was a little...extreme." He sighed, shaking his head at his Apprentice's stubbornness. "I'm afraid that when he looks at you, all he sees is that healer."
"Yes... I have noticed that," she remarked with a tiny smile, then looked sharply at Palpatine. "I suppose you still use a lightsaber as well?"
"Yes. Why?" he asked, puzzled.
"And I suppose you also wish to visit Korriban?"
"Of course. As soon as possible."
"A trip to Korriban would take an entire day," she mused.
"An entire day? That could be a problem." He frowned. "That wretched Queen, Amidala, is visiting Coruscant in a few days. She has decided to stay at the Jedi Temple this time."
"Has she? Hmmm. Ask her to bring... What was its name?...Jar Jar with her."
"Jar Jar Binks? That Gungan savage?"
"Yes. I may have some use for that particular Gungan."
"Very well. Where is Korriban?" Palpatine persisted, determined to get something in return for whatever cooperation he chose to give her.
"You convince Amidala to bring Binks with her, and I'll take you to Korriban myself. There you will learn what real power is."
Smiling at the spark of interest on his face, she moved the desk and chair back into place, leaving him to make a hologram transmission.
Startled out of a meditative trance, Maul stared at the door in astonishment. No one ever knocked on his door!
Grabbing his lightsaber, Maul opened the door, finding that healer, Doril, on the other side. He automatically lit the lightsaber and swung at her.
Swiftly touching his arm with her fingertips, Doril watched as the lightsaber stopped in mid-swing. "None of that now," she said, walking past Maul and into his room as he tried to force the muscles in his arm to function.
"Release me!" Maul demanded.
"Of course, but don't do that again." Tapping his arm, she stepped back as he lowered his arm, deactivating the lightsaber.
"What did you do to me?" His eyes widened. "What did you do to my Master?"
"Let's just say that your Master and I have come to an understanding of sorts. He was still alive when I left him. As for what I did to you, it's part of a little trick I learned a very long time ago."
"How did you... What do you want?"
"How did I find this room? You forget, I know everything about you," she told Maul, walking towards him.
Despite his best efforts, Maul found himself backing away from her, and suddenly felt the closed door at his back.
"I know that your Master demanded these tattoos, to mask your Zabrak heritage," Doril continued. "You're lucky he let you keep those horns."
Maul scowled at her.
"As for why I'm here, your Master and I will be traveling to Korriban in the very near future, and I'm certain he intends to leave you behind."
"That is his right," Maul stated, glaring over the top of her head.
"Perhaps, but I do detect a small amount of defiance in you." Tracing one of the patterns on his face with a finger, she pulled back before he had a chance to bite.
Looking up at him, she reached out and caught him by the tunic, yanking him forward and kissing him hard on the mouth before pushing him back.
"Don't do that again," Maul growled, a look of angry confusion on his face.
"You don't like to be touched, do you?" Doril asked, stepping closer. "You've used the women that your Master occasionally sends to you, but you never truly enjoyed it. And I know you desired this body."
Ignoring the temptation, Maul grabbed her by the throat and squeezed.
"Now why did I know you would do something like this?" she whispered, smiling as she grasped his wrist. "Let go."
Growling when his hand went slack, Maul used his other one to push her away, moving away from the door, and from her.
"Ever since you first fought that Jedi on Tatooine, you've thought of little else since," she commented, rubbing at her throat. "You'll get another chance at a Jedi Master soon enough, I promise. In the meantime, think about what I said about Korriban." She gave him a slight bow, then casually walked out.
Disturbed, Maul went in search of his Master.
"What is it now?" Palpatine asked, annoyed to see Maul back so soon.
"That wi...healer claimed that you agreed to accompany her to Korriban."
"Did she? Palpatine asked, looking momentarily surprised. "I have. What of it?"
"Master, I do not believe it would be wise to go with her alone."
Palpatine studied his Apprentice for a moment before answering. "I do not trust her any more than you," he conceded. "I will not, however, tolerate any more of this impulsive behavior from you."
"Yes, my Master," Maul replied, lowering his gaze.
"I will allow you to join us, then. You will not, however, provoke her any further, and you will speak only when spoken to during our trip. Is that understood?"
"Yes, Master," Maul said, bowing his head.
"Good. You may leave now."
"Yes, Master." Bowing again, Maul left his Master's quarters, returning to his own room to finish meditating.
Slipping past the museum droid again, Doril headed straight for one specific room to take care of one small detail.
"You're back already?" the Jedi Knight asked, looking at her curiously before becoming distracted by an overly noisy Initiate. Walking over to him, she grabbed him by the hair and pulled his head back around, forcing him to look at her.
"I never left!" she told him in a low hiss. "I was here the entire time! Understand?"
"Here the entire time," he repeated, his eyes glazing over.
Roughly releasing him, she walked out and entered a different room from before. Grabbing a book off a shelf, she sat down on a sofa and quickly skimmed through the first one hundred pages, then leaned her head back against the cushions and fell asleep.
Striding down a hallway near the Council Chamber, Mace quickly stopped and turned, watching a young female Padawan hurrying towards him.
"Master Windu," she said, stopping to catch her breath.
"There's a hologram transmission coming in from Supreme Chancellor Palpatine."
"Thank you," Windu said, taking the hologram device she held out to him. Nodding, he watched her speed away on another errand, then decided to take it in the Council Chamber.
Setting the device on the floor, Windu activated it and quickly sat in his chair, carefully arranging his robe as he waited for the Chancellor's image to appear.
"Ah! Councilor Windu," Chancellor Palpatine greeted, then looked slightly concerned. "I trust you have recovered from whatever was ailing you the last time we spoke?"
"Thank you for your concern, Chancellor, but as you can see, I am in perfect health," Windu replied, his face inscrutable. "May I ask the reason for this transmission?"
"I've recently spoken with Queen Amidala. She has decided to visit Coruscant sooner than expected. Tomorrow, as a matter of fact. She has also decided to bring her Gungan friend, Binks, with her."
"I see. And will you be here to greet her when she arrives?" Windu asked, looking down at his folded hands. Perhaps this would give them an opportunity to obtain a blood sample from the Chancellor somehow. Going through their records of rejected Initiates was looking more and more like a waste of time.
Hiding his growing suspicion, Palpatine pretended to consider the question. He had learned earlier in the day that Master Rancisis was now ruling Thisspias, and now the Jedi were asking him outright to visit the Temple. "I certainly intend to," he finally replied, following his instincts. "But my schedule may not allow it."
"Thank you for the information," Windu said, looking up. "I will see to it that the Queen's accommodations are prepared at once."
"And the Gungan's as well," Palpatine reminded.
"And the Gungan's," Windu acknowledged. "May the Force be with you," he said suddenly, watching the Chancellor closely for any kind of a reaction. There was none, except, perhaps, a slight narrowing of the eyes, a thinning of the lips, but it was difficult to tell in a hologram. Windu quickly ended the transmission, then sat there for long moments, thinking, before rising and heading the Masters' dining hall.
"Did I mention that Queen Amidala will be visiting the Temple?" Obi-Wan asked, watching the Jedi shuttle land and the young Initiates walk down the ramp.
"Yes, you did," Anakin replied. "Three times. Did I mention that Larisa was only visiting a museum?" He grinned at the disapproving look his Master gave him.
"Yes, you did," Obi-Wan said, his frown turning into a smile.
Following the children down the ramp, Larisa was surprised to see Obi-Wan and Anakin waiting for her. "What are you two doing here?" she asked, curious when Obi-Wan quickly walked over to her, followed by Anakin.
"You haven't hurt yourself again, have you?" Obi-Wan asked at the same time, looking her over.
"What?" Looking over at Anakin, who rolled his eyes, she let her shoulders slump and leaned against Obi-Wan, sniffling. "It was terrible!"
"What? What happened?" he asked, growing alarmed.
"I was attacked by a painting!"
"What?" He stared down at her, bewildered, then shook his head, chuckling. "Very funny!"
"It was just a trip to a museum," she pointed out, smiling up at him.
"I know," Obi-Wan replied, pointedly ignoring Anakin's I-told-you-so expression. "But you have been a little accident-prone lately."
"Thank you so much!" Larisa exclaimed, disgruntled.
"You're welcome," he said, smiling as he kissed her.
Sighing, Larisa kissed back, sliding her arms around his waist.
Rolling his eyes again, Anakin waited a long minute before finally clearing his throat. "It's about time for the noon meal," he told them.
"You know, the time when most people eat food."
"Oh, all right," Larisa conceded, keeping one arm around Obi-Wan as Anakin led the way to one of the senior Apprentice's dining rooms. They'd almost reached the doors when they heard someone calling Obi-Wan's name.
"What's wrong?" Larisa asked when Obi-Wan suddenly pulled away from her and turned around.
"Nothing," he said, watching Master Billapa walk towards him.
"Knight Kenobi. A word with you, please?" Billapa requested, glancing at Larisa.
"You two go on in," Obi-Wan told Anakin and Larisa. "I'll see you later."
Perturbed, Larisa frowned at him before following Anakin into the dining room.
"If it's about Queen Amidala, Master Windu had already spoken to me," Obi-Wan informed Billapa the moment the doors closed.
"He did?" Resolving to speak to Windu about this, Billapa returned to her original subject. "There is a Council meeting after the noon meal, and your presence is requested."
"About Dimok? I'll be there."
"Good." She nodded to him, then walked back towards the Masters dining hall.
Looking back at the dining room doors, Obi-Wan decided to eat in his room again where it was quieter, and perhaps meditate before the Council meeting.
"Do you know what that was about?" Larisa asked Anakin as they collected their food trays.
"No," he replied as he led her over to an empty table in a corner. "I do know that Pad...Amidala will be visiting in a few days." Shrugging, he turned his attention to his lunch.
"She is?" Nervously pushing her food around, she looked back at the closed door. "Isn't he joining us?"
"No. He hardly ever comes in here."
Frowning, Larisa decided to talk to Obi-Wan about that, then looked around at all the other Padawans, most of whom were with their Masters, seated in large groups. "Well, what about the other Apprentices?" she asked, frowning again when Anakin started to look uncomfortable. "You do have some friends among them, don't you?"
"No." Anakin looked down at his tray and took a deep breath. "I was nine years old when Qui-Gon found me on Tatooine," he confessed.
"Nine?" she repeated, surprised.
"Yes. Qui-Gon asked the Council for permission to train me, but they refused. After he died, they decided to let Obi-Wan train me."
Anakin frowned at the memory. "Most of them did, anyway. I'm pretty sure some of them still don't think I belong here."
"Apparently, so do the other Padawans," Larisa commented as she looked around the room again.
"Never mind them," Anakin said, throwing a disgusted look at the other Apprentices. "They don't matter."
"Well, from now on, let's eat all our meals in the garden," she suggested.
"In the garden," he agreed.
Glancing around the room once more, Larisa shrugged and turned back to her meal.
Mace Windu was halfway through his own meal when Depa Billapa entered the Masters dining hall and walked over to him, a determined look on her face.
"Master Windu," she began in a very formal tone. "I've just spoken to Knight Kenobi."
"I see." Windu pushed back his tray and stood. "I think we should discuss this in private."
"Absolutely, Master Windu," Billapa said, following him out of the dining hall and into an empty conference room.
"Knight Kenobi said you had already spoken to him about Queen Amidala. What exactly did you say?"
"I asked him to reconsider marriage to Amidala."
"You asked Obi-Wan to reconsider?" she repeated in disbelief. "Despite his relationship with Larisa?"
"Believe me, I am well aware of their relationship," Windu said, looking momentarily embarrassed before frowning. "Does the timing of it seem odd to you?"
"Odd?" Billapa stared at him. "Are you suggesting that Obi-Wan may be using her to avoid marrying Amidala?" she asked, appalled.
"Surely he knows we would never order him to marry!"
"I'm not saying he has another motive, other than the obvious one." Holding up one hand at Billapa's indignant expression, Windu continued. "I just think that's there's something not right about it."
"They seemed close when I saw them a few minutes ago."
"I see." Windu frowned, then shook his head. "I suppose it doesn't matter. Obi-Wan was quite stubborn when I spoke with him."
"As are you. It was years before you stopped objecting to Anakin's training," Billapa reminded him.
"Yes, I remember," he said irritably. "As for Amidala, I've learned that she is arriving here tomorrow."
"Yes. It would probably be best if you were the one to tell Kenobi."
"I will. After the Council meeting," Billapa decided as they both returned to the dining hall.
Stunned, Obi-Wan watched the Sith attack that had been recorded from an undamaged security camera inside the spaceport.
"This is impossible!" he insisted, as he finally turned to face the Council. "He's dead!"
"I think it's safe to assume that it is not the same one," Windu assured him. "However, as you saw, the Sith I encountered does look exactly like the one you fought. What concerns me is that it is very likely a clone."
"It certainly acted exactly like the other one," Obi-Wan grudgingly admitted, remembering all too well the Sith's mocking smile while he was trapped behind a wall of lasers. While Qui-Gon lay dying.
Pulling himself back to the present, Obi-Wan turned to a concerned Depa Billapa. "I'm all right," he told her, smiling faintly.
"If it was a clone, there could be countless others," speculated their newest member, a Mon Calamari Jedi Master seated where Adi Gallia's chair once was.
"And yet only one was sent to Dimok after Mace," Saesee Tiin noted.
"It obviously didn't consider the healers to be much of a threat," Piell answered, sounding personally insulted.
"Hmmm. Great darkness approaching, I sense," Yoda said, his gaze shifting to Obi-Wan. "Prepare we all must."
"We will take extreme precautions from now on," Windu stated. "Would you please wait outside?" he asked Obi-Wan.
"Yes, Master," Obi-Wan tersely replied, bowing before quickly leaving the Council Chamber.
Tossing aside a datapad on the Qiraash species, Larisa left her room and went over to Obi-Wan's. Jabbing the button repeatedly, she gave up and leaned against the wall, resigned to wait until he showed up, which took over twenty minutes.
"Don't you have a class to go to?" Obi-Wan asked, startled to see her at this time of day.
"No, I usually study in my room, or in the garden," she told him, answering his question first. "What did Master Billapa talk to you about? Queen Amidala's visit?" She put her hands on her hips, irritated by his surprised look. "Anakin told me about it, since you couldn't be bothered to!"
"I was going to tell you," he objected wearily, scrubbing at his face with one hand.
"I'd also like to know why you don't eat in the dining room with Anakin."
"I do. Sometimes. I just... I don't know what to talk to him about," Obi-Wan said, annoyed by how weak that excuse sounded.
"'How was your day?' would be a start!" she replied tartly. "What did you and your Master talk about when you were sixteen? Or did he ignore you too?"
"He did not!" he snapped, angered by her criticism. "And I am not going to stand here in the hallway and argue with you about my Padawan!"
"Fine!" She glowered at him, then turned and stomped off.
Obi-Wan entered his quarters and flung his access card down onto a table. I do not ignore Anakin! He told himself.
He turned to see Anakin standing in the doorway that connected their rooms. "Doesn't anyone have classes today?"
"Yes, Master," Anakin said stiffly, turning to go back into his room.
"Wait!" Grimacing at how much that had sounded like an order, Obi-Wan tried again. "Wait. I want to talk to you."
"What did I do now?" Anakin asked, puzzled.
"This isn't a lecture," Obi-Wan said, sitting down on the couch.
"Are we going on another mission?" Anakin anxiously sat down next to his Master. "Has Amidala changed her mind about visiting?"
"No, we're not going on another mission. Not yet. And Amidala will be here tomorrow. I just wanted to talk."
"About what?" Anakin asked, looking completely confused now.
This is not that difficult! Obi-Wan told himself as he tried to think of something to ask. "How was your class this morning?"
Storming back into her room, Larisa tossed her robe down on a chair and looked around for something to break, preferably over Obi-Wan's head. Perhaps the datapad, although she would have to explain how she broke it. Taking several deep breaths, snatched up the gervi fruit she'd saved from her lunch and went to the garden.
After finding, and feeding, Rialth, Larisa went back to her room and kicked off her boots, then pulled a mat out from under her bed and sat down to meditate.
She snapped out of her meditative trance an hour later when her door alarm buzzed. Standing and stretching, Larisa walked over and answered it. "What?" she asked, eyeing Obi-Wan suspiciously.
"I... I wanted to apologize," he said uncomfortably.
Larisa looked at him a second longer, then sighed and stepped back. "Come in."
"Thank you." Obi-Wan hesitated before following her into the room.
"What did Master Billapa say to you earlier?" she asked, concerned by his clouded expression.
"She asked me to attend today's Council meeting," he reluctantly explained. "The Sith that attacked Master Windu looked exactly like the one that killed Qui-Gon."
Larisa flushed guiltily. "I'm sorry about what I said. About your Master." Frowning at the distant look in his eyes, she looked up at him a moment longer, her eyes turning a shade darker. There was something else was troubling him. "Come with me," she said, grabbing his hand and tugging.
"What?" Obi-Wan blinked as she pulled him into the bedroom.
"There's a rather nice view out that window." Watching as he looked towards the window, Larisa locked the door behind her and took off her belt, letting it fall to the floor and slipping out of her skirt and underclothes.
Obi-Wan glanced back over at her and froze, staring at her legs as she walked over to him.
"I locked the door," Larisa whispered coaxingly in his ear as she slid off her tunics. "We won't be disturbed." She stood on her toes and kissed him, her tongue darting in and out of his mouth until he responded, pulling her into his arms.
Loosening his hold when she started to squirm, he lifted her up and laid her down on the bed. Sitting up, Larisa watched as he removed his belt, then smiled and laid back. Obi-Wan pulled off his boots and trousers, then knelt on the bed next to her.
"Mmmm. Yes," she murmured, pulling him down on top of her and kissing him.
He shifted his weight when she started to squirm again, and drove inside her.
"There's something... else... you haven't... told me... isn't... there?" she asked in between thrusts.
Obi-Wan stilled, looking down into her eyes. "Amidala's arriving tomorrow."
"Hmmm." She closed her eyes as she began to climax. "Anything else?"
"Master Windu. He asked me to reconsider marrying her." He gasped as she contracted around him and continued thrusting.
Moaning, Larisa wrapped her arms and legs around him as he thrust harder. Shuddering as he finally spent himself, Obi-Wan slowly pulled out and slumped onto his back, breathing heavily.
Lifting herself onto one elbow, Larisa brushed her fingers across his face, watching as his breathing slowed and he fell asleep. So, she reflected, the head of the Jedi Council supported a marriage between Amidala and Obi-Wan, did he?
Larisa frowned, thinking of the regal Queen of Naboo, and how close she and Obi-Wan were the last time they were together. Well, 'Padme' can marry any other man she wishes, but she will never have this one, she swore.
She got up and gathered up her clothes, covering Obi-Wan with his robe before quickly using the fresher room and dressing. She left a short note in case he woke before she returned, then left the room. Walking down the long hallway and rounding a corner, she came across Master Windu, in the middle of a conversation with Ki-Adi-Mundi.
"What happened to you?" Mundi asked, looking over Windu's shoulder at Larisa and raising an eyebrow at her appearance.
"Oh, nothing," she replied, smoothing down her hair.
Windu turned towards her, taking in her slightly disheveled hair and flushed cheeks. "I take it you've... seen... Knight Kenobi recently?" he asked, resigned.
"Kenobi?" Mundi exclaimed, startled.
"Yes, a few minutes ago. He's probably still sleep," Larisa replied, blushing. "Would it be all right if I visited the markets right now?"
"Yes, you may," Windu said wearily. "There's a shuttle in hangar two that's going in that direction in about fifteen minutes."
"Thank you," she said, smiling brightly at them before walking away.
Adjusting the bag under her arm, Larisa opened the door and walked into her room. Stopping at the bedroom door, she smiled at the sight of Obi-Wan stretched out on the bed, his robe hanging over the side of it.
She quietly walked over to the table and set the bag down. Taking out one of the containers and opening it, she speared a piece of meat with a fork and walked over to the bed, waving it under Obi-Wan's nose.
Smiling when he immediately opened his eyes and sat up, Larisa turned away and set the rest of the food out on the table.
What the hell is wrong with me? Obi-Wan wondered, scrubbing at his face. He came here intending to apologize, nothing more, and woke up in her bed. He lifted his head and looked around, sniffing the air. "That smells familiar."
"It's some sort of bird from Alderaan. Gorak, I believe it's called. There's some grotberry sauce to go with it. I also bought some kyrf fruit and a bottle of charde."
Obi-Wan looked away from the table and grabbed his robe, covering himself before looking for the rest of his clothes. He desperately needed someone to talk to. He couldn't very well go to Master Windu or Yoda with this problem and face their inevitable disapproval of his behavior. There was only one person he could think of to go to for advice.
"I've got to go," he muttered.
"What? Where?" she asked as he located his tunics.
"I just... I can't stay here," he said, quickly dressing. He started to brush past Larisa, then suddenly turned around and kissed her before continuing out the door.
Watching him walk away, her eyes darkened as she lifted her hand and wiped her mouth.
"Yes?" Palpatine asked, hiding his annoyance as he was waylaid by an anxious-looking servant.
"Someone left a message for you, sir. She said it was important."
"I see." Taking the durasheet, he dismissed the servant with a wave of his hand and entered his quarters, sitting down on a cushioned sofa to read the message.
Be ready in two days.
His lips twitching in amusement at the signature, Palpatine made a few simple arrangements before destroying the letter.
Glancing up in surprise at the light knocking at her door, Depa Billapa finished watering the last millaflower plant before answering it. "Knight Kenobi. What is the matter?" she asked a troubled-looking Obi-Wan.
"It's Larisa. Well, actually, it's me," he corrected, nervously looking up and down the corridor.
"Would you like to come in and talk about it," she offered.
"Yes. Thank you." He gratefully followed her inside and over to a large sofa.
"Now, what's wrong?" Billapa asked as she sat down beside him.
"It's just... I can't seem to control myself when I'm with her," Obi-Wan confessed, looking extremely embarrassed.
"Can't control..." She stopped, momentarily disconcerted when she caught his meaning, then frowned thoughtfully, thinking back to her conversation with Mace. She did not often involve herself in the private lives of other Jedi when she counseled them, but this was obviously serious enough to bring Kenobi, normally a very private person, to her door, and she had an obligation to help the young Knight. "Perhaps you should tell me what happened."
Billapa listened quietly as Obi-Wan began with the trip to Alderaan. She was frowning by the time he finished. This sounded like one of the most unhealthy relationships she had ever encountered. "A brief separation might be for the best," she said carefully.
"Have you considered requesting another mission? A shorter one?"
"No, I haven't. Not with Amidala arriving tomorrow," he said, getting up to pace the room restlessly.
"Yes, there is that," Billapa said contemplatively. "We weren't planning on sending Larisa on another mission this soon. Not after what happened on Dimok, but perhaps she will agree to it. Have you spoken to her about this?"
"No, not yet. I..."
"Would prefer to have someone with you when you do," she finished, understanding his dilemma.
"Yes," Obi-Wan said, relieved. "Would you mind?"
"Not at all. I've had some experience in mediating difficult circumstances like this. We should speak to her as soon as possible."
"We could go now, if you have the time. Larisa's probably still in her room," he said, his face coloring slightly.
"Of course." Billapa checked on her plants once more before leaving with Obi-Wan.
"Master Billapa." Larisa nodded politely at the Jedi Master before staring resentfully at Obi-Wan. "I'm surprised to see you again so soon; you were in such a hurry to leave earlier!"
"I'm sorry about that," he muttered guiltily.
"Could we continue this discussion inside?" Billapa asked.
"All right." Larisa walked over to the table and sat down. "What did you want to talk about?" she asked once they were seated.
"After speaking with Obi-Wan about this... situation, I believe the two of you would benefit from spending some time away from each other," Billapa explained.
"This situation?" Larisa echoed, her eyes widening as she turned towards Obi-Wan. "You told her about us? What the hell did you say?"
"I didn't tell her everything!" he replied defensively. "I didn't even mention the shower." He quickly shut his mouth.
"I can't believe this!" an incredulous Larisa exclaimed, slumping over in her chair and hiding her face in her hands. How could he?
"I am not here to judge either one of you," Billapa stated firmly, refusing to let herself be distracted.
"Then why are you here?" Larisa moaned, still feeling completely humiliated.
"As I said, I think the two of you should spend some time apart. Would you consider accepting another mission?"
"I don't know," Larisa said with a helpless shrug, although at the moment she wasn't sure if she ever wanted to see Obi-Wan again. "I wasn't much help on the last one."
"What?" Billapa stared at her for a moment before turning back to the problem at hand. "Would you consider another mission?" she repeated.
"I guess so." Larisa suddenly looked up as a thought occurred to her. "When?"
"Today, if that is acceptable to you," Billapa said.
"And you agreed with this?" Larisa asked, looking over at Obi-Wan.
"I see," she said with a short laugh. "I suppose I should have expected this."
"Expected what?" Obi-Wan asked, confused.
"You want to get rid of me before the Queen arrives." Larisa stood and walked to the other side of the room.
"That is not true!" Obi-Wan exclaimed, standing and walking over to her. "This had nothing to do with Amidala."
"Then why do I have to leave Coruscant? Why do I have to even leave the Temple?" she asked, looking desperate as she turned to Obi-Wan.
"I'm sure you won't have to," he said, putting his arms around her and looking at Billapa. "The Temple is large enough for us to avoid each other if we tried, isn't it?"
"The way you are now?" Sighing when he quickly pulled away from Larisa, Billapa stood. "Larisa, may I have a word with you in private?"
"Yes, of course." Larisa immediately headed into the bedroom, closing the door behind the Jedi Master. "Why is he doing this?"
"I'm afraid that Obi-Wan is uncertain of his feelings towards you," Billapa said, glancing from the door to Larisa. "How do you feel about him?"
"Right now I'm not sure!" Larisa angrily replied.
"He is not the first to come to me for advice. Nothing either of you tell me will ever be heard by another," Billapa informed her. "I think you should give Obi-Wan some time to adjust to this relationship."
Larisa dejectedly sat down on the bed. "I just don't understand why he would need time to adjust. Surely there have been others in the past."
"None that I'm aware of. Not since Qui-Gon."
"What?" Larisa stared up at her, astonished. "His... his Master?"
"Yes," Billapa said, instantly regretting sharing that information with someone who had not grown up inside the Temple.
And to think I'd actually accused him of ignoring Obi-Wan, Larisa thought, staring at the door in stunned amazement.
"When...when did this happen?" she asked, swallowing hard as she looked up at the Jedi Master.
"Shortly after Obi-Wan turned twenty, I believe."
"Does... does this sort of thing happen often?"
"Sometimes, though probably more often than is admitted. Some races are more strict about it than others."
"Is it objectionable to you?"
"No... I don't think so. It's just so strange. His own Master!" Confused, she shook her head, then looked up at Billapa again. "You said there hasn't been anyone since?"
"I'm quite certain there haven't been, which is why I'm asking you to give Obi-Wan some time. Two weeks, perhaps."
"All right, but do I have to leave the Temple?"
"No, I suppose you don't," Billapa conceded as she opened the door and they both returned to the public room, and an anxious-looking Obi-Wan. "Will the two of you agree to limit yourselves to public meetings for the next two weeks?"
"Yes," Larisa replied, nodding slightly.
"And is this acceptable to you?" Billapa asked Obi-Wan.
"Yes." He glanced over at Larisa, who looked back at him before quickly turning away.
"Well, then, that's settled," Billapa declared, though she privately doubted their agreement would last longer than two days, let alone two weeks. "After you, Kenobi."
"Yes, Master." Obi-Wan glanced back at Larisa again before proceeding the Jedi Master out the door.
So, this has nothing to do with the Queen, who just happens to be arriving tomorrow, Larisa thought disdainfully. Did they actually think she would believe such a blatant lie?
Public meetings were the agreement, and the Queen's arrival was about as public as you could get. And Larisa was determined to be there.
"I was beginning to think you weren't coming," Anakin remarked when Larisa appeared in the garden that evening, carrying a bag under her arm.
"I... Uh... Hi," Larisa stammered when she saw Obi-Wan seated next to his Apprentice at the wooden bench.
"What's that?" Anakin asked, puzzled when she sat down across from him, carefully avoiding looking at Obi-Wan.
"It's something I saved from earlier today," she replied. "I talked one of the dining room workers into warming some of it up."
"Well, whatever it is, it has to be better than this," Anakin announced, ignoring his Master's disapproving frown as he helped her take the packages out of the bag. "There's some Gorak!" He turned enthusiastically towards Obi-Wan.
"Did you want any? There's plenty here."
"No, thank you," Obi-Wan answered stiffly.
"But I thought you liked Gorak meat," Anakin said, startled by the angry look Larisa gave his Master.
"Not today, Padawan."
"If you will excuse me," Larisa nearly growled, grabbing two of the kyrf fruit. "I think I'll eat in my room."
"What did you do to her?" Anakin asked as Larisa got up and stomped off.
Muttering a curse under his breath, Obi-Wan started to get up to go after her, then changed his mind and sat back down. Concerned, Anakin watched Larisa disappear inside, then looked back at Obi-Wan. It was obvious to him that they'd had another fight, and probably didn't want to argue again in front of him. What they needed, he decided, was some time alone to work this out.
Glancing over at his somber Master, Anakin set himself to peeling one of the kyrf fruit as he worked on a plan to get them back together, hopefully as soon as possible.
Dropping the remains of the fruit into the disposal unit, Larisa glanced out the window at the fading sunset before preparing for bed. I will not think of him, she vowed, willing herself to sleep.
Kicking the covers aside, Obi-Wan got up to take yet another cold shower. The last one! he swore (for the third time), standing under the spray for several minutes before stepping out and drying off.
He lay back down on the bed, staring up at the ceiling for over ten minutes before dropping into a restless sleep, tossing and turning.
"Good morning!" a refreshed-looking Larisa greeted Anakin and Obi-Wan in the garden the next day.
"Good morning," Obi-Wan replied, well aware of the fact that his face looked tired and drawn. 'You look like hell!' had been Anakin's first words to him.
"Um... Would you like to sit down?" Larisa asked, looking up at them uncertainly.
"Sure." Sitting on the grass next to her, Anakin put his tray down in front of him, glancing at his Master, who sat on his other side, away from Larisa. He waited a few minutes after they started eating before 'remembering' something.
"You know what? I forgot to grab some of that barabel fruit. Don't go anywhere. I'll be back in a couple minutes," he added as he stood and rushed off.
Watching Anakin disappear, they both continued to eat in silence for a few more minutes. Catching him looking at her again, Larisa grew annoyed by how uncomfortable he was getting.
"I'd better go," Obi-Wan finally said.
So much for public meetings! "Yes, you should, since you're afraid to be alone with me," Larisa replied caustically.
"I am not afraid!" he insisted, now stubbornly refusing to budge.
"Whatever. At any rate, we're all alone here; Anakin's gone, and the other Jedi hardly ever come here in the morning. So go on, run away."
"I came here to eat!" Obi-Wan retorted, feeling his own temper start to rise as he faced her.
"So did I, and I was here first," Larisa pointed out. She started to say more when he suddenly grabbed her and kissed her.
"Mmmppphhhh," she protested, struggling when she ended up on the ground underneath him.
"Well, this is sooner than I expected," said an amused voice a few feet behind them.
Coming to his senses, Obi-Wan quickly rolled to the side and stood. "Master Billapa," he greeted, straightening his robe.
"Knight Kenobi." Looking curiously down at Larisa, who seemed to breathe a sigh of relief as she sat up, Billapa wondered just what she had interrupted here. "Queen Amidala is due to arrive shortly."
"Thank you for the warning," Obi-Wan said, glancing at Larisa, who kept her gaze on the ground.
"I think you had better come with me," Billapa told Obi-Wan, concerned by the slight tension between them.
"I want to come too." Larisa stood as she spoke up. "That won't be a problem, will it?"
"Hmm. Will that be all right with you, Knight Kenobi?"
Larisa frowned when he hesitated before agreeing. What did he think she was going to do... attack the Queen?
"Very well. Queen Amidala is arriving in about ten minutes, in hangar seventeen," Billapa told them. "We will, of course, be having the traditional banquet for visiting rulers, though Amidala requested a small one. Since you are familiar with Naboo's customs, you may attend that as well. It will be held in the blue dining hall tonight." Nodding at Larisa, she began going over the details of the banquet with Obi-Wan as they both returned to the Temple.
Ignoring the remains of their breakfast, Larisa laid down on the grass and stared up at the sky. She lifted her head and sat up when Anakin finally returned.
"Where's Obi-Wan?" he asked, disappointed.
"He went back inside with Master Billapa," Larisa told him disconsolately.
Anakin sat down next to her again, puzzled. "What's wrong?"
"I'm just... worried that Obi-Wan might actually marry Amidala," she sighed, looking back up at the sky.
"What?" Anakin stared at her, a cold feeling in the pit of his stomach. "But... didn't you say that he doesn't even want to?"
"He doesn't," she said with a sigh. "But if the Council tells him to, he'll obey them. It's what he's been trained to do his entire life." Glancing at Anakin, who was chewing his bottom lip thoughtfully, she quickly stood. "I've got to go. Billapa said I could attend the Amidala's arrival. She should be arriving any time now, in hangar seventeen."
"I'll come with you," Anakin offered, jumping to his feet. As one of the Queen's consorts, he had every right to be there as well, where he could keep an eye on Padme, and his Master.
"Thank you," Larisa said, smiling slightly as they gathered up the food trays and went back in.
Standing by the side door she'd quietly slipped through and waiting impatiently for the hatch of the silver Nubian ship to open, Larisa glanced over at Obi-Wan, who was focused intently on the ship, seemingly unaware of everything else around him.
She looked back when the hatch opened and a young woman, accompanied by only three guards and one handmaiden, walked down the ramp. They were followed by a long-eared alien who, Anakin had told her, was the Gungan, Jar Jar Binks.
So, this is what Amidala looked like without all the makeup and formal attire, Larisa thought, judging by the rapt expression on Anakin's face.
Hanging back, Larisa watched, along with Anakin, as Amidala exchanged warm greetings with Obi-Wan before speaking to the Jedi Councilors who were there to greet her; Masters Windu and Mundi. She frowned, noticing that the group barely spoke to Jar Jar, who stood behind the Queen, looking awkward and out-of-place.
Then Amidala and the other were walking slowly over to the elevators, with Anakin being the one to remember to include Jar Jar in their group. Larisa waited until they were gone before returning to her room, wondering why they seemed to treat the Gungan as an outcast.
Not that it's any of my business, Larisa decided, reminding herself to finish studying the Qiraash datapad.
"Hey, Larisa!" Anakin called the moment she entered the garden, carrying her lunch tray.
"Anakin. And Jar Jar," she said with a slight bow. "Anakin told me that you were there during the Naboo battle."
Setting her tray on the bench, Larisa sat down and began eating, listening to the Gungan's account of the fighting, made a little difficult by its odd speech pattern. They were interrupted several minutes later when Obi-Wan showed up.
"Yes, I'm sure it was frightening," he said, almost condescendingly. "Anakin, there's a Council meeting in five minutes, and your presence is required."
"Okay," Anakin said, picking up his tray and going back inside.
"Perhaps it's time you returned to your room, Jar Jar. The noon hour is nearly over," Obi-Wan said, an expression of amused tolerance on his face when the Gungan wasted no time in taking his 'advice'.
"Can I ask you a question?" Larisa asked Obi-Wan when he turned to go.
"Yes, of course," he replied, calmly tucking his hands inside his robe sleeves as he turned back around.
"How did you first meet Jar Jar?" The answer, of course, revolved around his Master, which was probably why he was so willing to talk to her now. She waited until he was finished before asking another question. "So it was Qui-Gon's idea to bring Jar Jar long?"
"And you didn't approve?"
"It wasn't my place to approve or disapprove, but..." He hesitated.
"But what?" she asked, curious.
"I just didn't see any use for him," Obi-Wan told her, then excused himself, saying he had to attend the Council meeting as well.
Disturbed, Larisa watched him go, thinking about what he had just said. He judges people by how useful they are to him? And he's certainly gotten a lot of use out of you, hasn't he? taunted a tiny voice in her head. Feeling lightheaded and a little ill, Larisa went straight back to her room and flopped down on the bed. Realizing that she was five days late in sending another message to her parents, she groaned and got back up. Sitting down at the table, she stared down at the durasheet before beginning.
Dear Mother and Father,
Well, this has not been a very good week for me. I had a couple of run-ins with a bounty hunter, and with what the Jedi call a Sith Lord. I've also had an affair with a stuck-up pig of a Jedi Knight.
Shaking her head, Larisa erased what she had written. There was no need to send her parents into a panic. She began again.
Dear Mother and Father,
I must tell you that I am getting along better with some of the Jedi here, including the head of the Council, Master Mace Windu. Well, other than that time when I slapped him in the face.
Larisa quickly erased that as well, then decided to mention just her studies, which now looked like the only safe subject. Depressed, she went back into the fresher before walking back over to her bed and lying down. She closed her eyes and laid a cold wet cloth across her forehead, deciding to get a little nap in before the banquet.
Glancing worriedly at Anakin, who'd revealed no discernable emotions since the Council meeting, Obi-Wan started to speak to him... and nearly jumped out of his chair when an equally concerned Amidala, seated next to him, placed her hand on his arm.
"You should give him more time," she advised when he leaned down to hear her words.
Turning in their direction, Anakin stiffened when he saw their heads close together. He was still angry at how the Council had watched him closely as he was told of his mother's death. It was almost as if it had been another damned test, and they were there to judge his reaction to the horrifying news. Not that he gave them the satisfaction of seeing any.
He had already lost his mother. He was not about to lose Padme as well, despite the fact that she, at times, still treated him as if he were still only nine years old, especially when his Master was with them.
I'll make her look at me! Anakin silently promised himself.
Noticing the fierce determination on Anakin's face now, Obi-Wan started to ask him about it when he noticed Larisa entering the room. Stopping just inside the doorway, Larisa looked slowly around the room, her gaze sliding past Obi-Wan, who was staring at her. She winked at Anakin, who looked stunned, then amused when he looked sideways and noticed his Master's reaction.
Larisa watched as the other Jedi started to notice her standing there. She smiled when Master Windu quickly stood and approached her, knowing that the silvery/grey dress she had altered, which now barely reached her knees and was held up by four thin straps, was not exactly suitable attire for a Jedi Knight. Not that she really cared. After all, she wasn't a Jedi, and was determined to enjoy herself tonight.
"What do you think you're doing?" Windu demanded when he reached her.
"Attending a banquet," she said, looking up at him. "Master Billapa did say I could."
"Wearing that?" he asked, looking her up and down disapprovingly.
"Well, it is a formal dinner, isn't it?" Larisa asked, looking around again. "Where do I sit?"
"You are going to sit next to me," Windu said, hoping to curb any other outrageous behavior from her.
"All right," she agreed, slightly disappointed, but still determined to enjoy herself tonight. Suppressing a smile when Windu took her arm and led her over to the table, Larisa nodded to a few of the other Jedi Masters as she sat between Windu and Ki-Adi-Mundi, five spaces away from Obi-Wan, who was seated at the end of the table with Amidala and Anakin.
Thanking the Padawan who quickly served her the first course, Larisa looked down at the multi-colored salad, hesitating before she began eating. Hmmm, it wasn't as bad as she expected. Looking around at the other Jedi, who were in conversations with each other, she glanced at Obi-Wan, who had managed to stop staring at her and was speaking to the Queen, leaning close to her in the process. Too close.
Turning her attention to Master Windu, Larisa waited for a break in his conversation with Master Tiin before putting her hand on his wrist, letting her fingers slide down his hand when she got his attention. "I have a question, if you don't mind."
"Go ahead," he encouraged.
"I was wondering what you did before you were elected to the Council."
Master Piell, seated across from them, snorted, unimpressed with Windu's attempt at a joke.
"That was not one of your best," Mundi interjected, shaking his head sadly.
"What?" Larisa blinked in confusion.
"Nothing," Windu told her. "Most of my career involved rescues."
"Yes. Of hostages, usually."
"It was how he found me," Billapa added.
"Really?" Larisa asked, leaning towards him.
Leaning back in her chair, Billapa listened as Windu told Larisa about it, and about a couple of his more successful missions. She glanced over at Obi-Wan, who watched them for a moment, then looked away when Larisa leaned closer to Windu and turned his full attention to Amidala, who responded with growing interest.
Well, if Larisa's plan was to make him jealous, it certainly was working, Billapa thought unhappily as she finished her salad.
Glancing back at Larisa and Master Windu while Amidala ordered wine for herself, Obi-Wan stopped and stared. She might as well be sitting in his lap, he thought angrily, then chided himself for over-reacting.
"We need to talk," he quietly told Amidala. "After the banquet."
"Yes, we do," she replied, turning to study him and wondering if he might be more receptive to her proposal now.
"In the garden?"
"Yes, I'll meet you there," he said a little louder as he looked at her, and missed the sharp glance Anakin gave them.
Pushing aside her half-eaten dessert, some sort of frozen confection, Larisa waited until after the Queen rose and left, noticing that Obi-Wan followed suit mere seconds later. And she's welcome to him, she thought angrily. Weary by the time she reached her room, Larisa decided to take a quick shower before bed. Running her fingers through her thick curls, she gathered them up and stuffed them inside a head wrap to keep them dry, then stepped inside the fresher room.
Stripping leaves off of a small branch, Obi-Wan quickly tossed it aside and sat up straight when Amidala appeared.
"Obi-Wan," she said, coming over to sit next to him on the stone bench. "You wished to speak with me?"
"Yes," he said, hesitating before plowing ahead. "A certain member of the Council asked me to reconsider a marriage to you."
"I have heard the same from Governor Bibble. 'You must do what is best for your people!'" she mimicked, then turned serious. "I have noticed that Councilor Windu seems suspicious of Chancellor Palpatine."
"There may be a chance that the Chancellor is the other Sith Lord," Obi-Wan explained.
Amidala sat quietly for a moment. "The Viceroy of the Trade Federation once claimed that he had assurances that any treaty they forced me to sign would be approved by the Senate."
"Which implies that their accomplice, Lord Sidious, had, and probably still has, a great deal of political influence." Obi-Wan looked around the garden uneasily. "It was Master Windu who asked me to reconsider."
Amidala watched him reflectively. With the upcoming wedding of Prince Organa, her choices were very limited now. Anakin, despite his convictions, still seemed like a child to her, and Obi-Wan, she had to admit, was very attractive. "And will you reconsider?" she asked quietly.
"I don't know." Obi-Wan wondered how he could continue to refuse this marriage, which felt so wrong to him, without looking completely selfish. Now he knew how Qui-Gon must have felt those times when the Council refused to believe his reports.
Taking a chance when he hesitated, Amidala leaned forward and kissed him lightly on the mouth.
Surprised that he felt absolutely nothing, Obi-Wan gently pushed her away. "I'm sorry. I can't."
"I thought as much," Amidala said wistfully. "It's that woman you were staring at earlier, isn't it? The one with the red hair?"
"Was it that obvious?" he asked wryly.
"To everyone but you, I imagine," she replied with a small smile. "I do hope you find happiness."
"And I hope for the same for you," he replied, bowing as he accompanied her back inside.
Stepping out from behind a tree, from where he listened to their words, Anakin slowly sat down on the bench they had occupied to think. Despite what he had heard, Anakin was not about to leave it up to chance and simply hope his Master doesn't change his mind about marrying Amidala. And yet he did not want to do anything drastic, especially inside the Jedi Temple, unless it was absolutely necessary.
Deciding to wait and see, although he may still be forced to take matters into his own hands, Anakin got up and went back to his room.
Now what? Larisa thought, tying the belt on her robe before answering the door. "What are you doing here?" she asked, annoyed to see Obi-Wan there.
"I didn't come here to fight," he quickly replied.
"Fine, then you can leave," she said tiredly, pointedly turning her back on him.
Looking back out into the hallway, Obi-Wan stepped inside her room, closing and locking the door. Larisa whirled around and stared at him. "What do you think you're doing?"
"I'm sorry about earlier, about speaking to Master Billapa about us, and I wanted to see you again."
"Oh, really?" She stood her ground as he walked over to her.
"Yes," he replied, raising one hand and running his thumb along the thin pale line on her forehead.
Suddenly uneasy, Larisa took a step back. "Why don't you go back to the Queen? You were acting as if you were already married to her."
"I was not!" Obi-Wan took a deep breath, blocking everything else from his mind: Amidala, the Council, and Anakin. He pulled her up against him and kissed her.
Stiffening when she felt him growing hard against her stomach, Larisa pushed at his shoulders, becoming alarmed when her robe came loose and fell to the floor. She gasped when he picked her up and put her down on the table.
"I need you. Now." Yanking off his belt, Obi-Wan kissed her again, pressing her back down when she tried to sit up.
"No!" Larisa tried to yell, but for some reason the words just wouldn't come out. She squeezed her eyes shut when he entered her. Keeping her eyes closed as he thrust in and out, Larisa tried to stay still when he climaxed, but came as well in spite of herself.
Withdrawing, Obi-Wan rested against her for a minute, then lifted her in his arms and carried her to her bed.
Groaning as she turned onto her side, Larisa woke when she felt something pulling her hair. Tensing, she prayed that last night had been just a bad dream before lifting her head and looking straight at Obi-Wan, asleep next to her. She started to leap from the bed in a near panic when she realized that he had his hand fisted around her hair.
Careful not to wake him, Larisa winced as she slowly extricated it from the tight grip. Sliding off the bed, she limped into the fresher room, feeling as if she had pulled nearly half of the muscles in her body.
What does that bastard think I am, anyway, his personal plaything? Larisa asked herself, staring into the mirror. And why wouldn't he, since she'd let him do whatever he wanted, she realized, leaning against the wall and sliding to the floor, disgusted by her behavior. How did this happen, anyway? Did I just wake up one morning and decide to make a complete fool of myself? she wondered, staring down at the floor in a daze.
Never again! Larisa swore, getting up and washing herself off. Thankfully, He was still asleep when she crept back into the bedroom and dressed. Pulling her bag out of the closet and stuffing clothes into it, she felt something hard at the bottom and pulled it out. How the hell did that get there? Larisa wondered, staring down at the vibro-blade in confusion.
Flinching when Obi-Wan stirred, she shoved it back into the bag, along with a few more clothes, gathered up her access card and comm link, and quickly left her room.
Rubbing between his eyes, Mace Windu was half-tempted to ignore his door alarm. If that's another Master needing advice on how to manage a Padawan... he thought as he answered the door.
"What the... Are you all right?" he asked, looking down at Larisa's pale face.
"I'm fine," she said, fighting a sudden urge to laugh. "I need to talk to you."
"Come in." Closing the door behind her, Windu sat down on the sofa while Larisa remained standing, a large bag hanging over her shoulder. "What happened?"
"Nothing," she insisted. "I... I would like to leave the Temple for a few days. I need some time alone," she added when he started to frown.
"Where will you go?"
"I don't know," Larisa said, embarrassed that she hadn't thought this out better. "I don't have very much money."
"I see. And you're still determined to leave?"
"Yes. I have to."
"Very well," he reluctantly agreed, though he was determined to get to the bottom of this. "I'll arrange a room for you at a hotel. The Temple will, of course, pay for your stay there."
"Th... Thank you," she said, blinking in surprise when Windu went over to his desk and opened a drawer.
"I assume five hundred credits will be enough for any other expenses," he said, handing her a small bag of Republic credits.
Staring down at the bag, Larisa felt her head start to ache as she briefly considered refusing it, then tucked it into her belt pouch.
"A shuttle will be ready for you in a few minutes in hangar five," Windu said as he walked her to the door.
"Thanks," she replied, glancing up at him before hurrying away.
Pulling out his comm link, Windu assigned someone to watch her during her stay at the hotel, then left his quarters.
"Hello," Anakin politely greeted Masters Windu and Billapa.
"Anakin. How are you?" Billapa asked.
"Fine, thank you."
"We need to speak to your Master," Windu said.
"He isn't answering his comm link," Billapa added.
"He isn't here," Anakin told them. "I don't think he came back to his rooms last night."
"He didn't?" Billapa exchanged glances with Windu.
"No, and I haven't seen Larisa this morning either."
"Larisa has left the Temple," Windu informed him.
"What?" Anakin stared at them. "Why?"
"That's what we're trying to find out," Billapa said. "When you see your Master again, please tell him that we wish to speak with him."
"I will," Anakin promised, wondering what his Master did this time as he closed the door.
Finally! Larisa thought as the shuttle finally made its way past the accident and arrived at the hotel. And how no one was even injured when those two air taxis collided she would never know.
Slowly walking inside and checking in, she was led to one of the hotels larger rooms. Eyeing the bed appreciatively, Larisa used the fresher room, changed into a silk robe she had purchased on Alderaan, then climbed under the covers and fell asleep.
Stretching contentedly, Obi-Wan reached out and grasped thin air. Puzzled, he looked around the empty bedroom before getting up and checking the others. Reaching out with the Force, he could not sense her presence anywhere in the Temple. Dressing quickly, he went looking for Master Billapa. Perhaps she knew where Larisa was.
How typically paranoid of them, he thought as he approached the Jedi's spy, coming up behind him and waiting for him to turn back around. The moment he did, he caught the man by the throat and pushed him back against the wall. Placing one hand on his forehead, he carefully planted false memories of Larisa ordering meals and not leaving her hotel room the rest of the day. Smiling at the glazed look in the man's eyes, he released him, then left the hotel through one of the side doors.
Looking out over the city from the balcony, Billapa turned slightly when the doors opened and Obi-Wan walked through them.
"Where is she?" he immediately asked.
"She's left the Temple," Billapa replied, looking back over the city. "Mace said that she looked rather upset, and I could ask you the same question: Where were you last night? Anakin said you did not return to your quarters. Were you with Amidala?"
"No, I wasn't. I was with Larisa," he admitted.
"That was the reason you came to me for advice in the first place," Billapa said, exasperated. "Did the two of you fight?"
"No. Well, we did argue a little. About Amidala."
"What about this morning?"
"No. She was gone by the time I woke up."
Billapa frowned in concentration. She was obviously missing something here. A disturbing thought occurred to her. "Did you force her?" she asked quietly, turning to face Obi-Wan.
"What? I would never!" he vehemently denied.
"Are you absolutely certain? You did say that you couldn't control yourself around her," Billapa reminded him. "Think carefully about your answer."
"I didn't..." Obi-Wan began, then stopped and looked away, his shoulders slumping in defeat. "I need to talk to her," he said, a blend of guilt and shame in his voice.
"That is out of the question! Larisa made it quite clear that she wishes to be left alone! Don't you realize that if she makes a formal complaint to the Council, you will be dismissed from the Jedi Order!"
"She won't do that!" Obi-Wan said, half to himself.
"Perhaps not," Billapa replied, extremely disappointed in him. "In the meantime, I will have Anakin assigned to extra classes for the next few days. I suggest you spend that time meditating on what you've done! And if Larisa does decide to come back, you are not to go near her!"
"Yes, Master," Obi-Wan said, feeling miserable as he bowed low.
"Good. Now return to your quarters." Billapa turned and walked away, not looking back as Obi-Wan dejectedly followed her back inside.
Glancing down at his chrono, Palpatine cursed under his breath. Only ten minutes, though it seemed as if he had already waited several hours. Pacing the length of the abandoned warehouse again, his thoughts turned to the Mandalorians, and how he was going to punish them for their betrayal.
Whirling around, Palpatine looked around the building before realizing that he had heard her voice inside his head.
*Miss Doril* he replied.
*It's time. I'll be waiting for you by Maul's ship*
*How did you...* But of course she would know where the Infiltrator was kept, because of that mind probe. Well, he was just going to have to make some changes. Palpatine thought as he pulled out a comm link and pressed a button.
"Yes, Master," came the quick reply.
"Meet me at your ship. Now."
"I am already on my way, Master. She spoke to me as well," Maul explained.
Turning off the comm link, Palpatine smiled at how furious Maul sounded by that brief contact with Doril. He was not, of course, used to anyone but his Master communicating with him in that fashion, and this added to his resentment of her. Perhaps I should arrange for them to spend more time together, he thought, chuckling as he left the warehouse.
Stepping inside the small hidden hangar, Palpatine looked around for Doril and Maul, then noticed that the Infiltrator's landing ramp was already open. He cautiously boarded the ship, finding Maul in the cockpit, looking very tense and angry. Doril was seated in one of the passenger chairs, wearing, of all things, a white dress under her healer's robe.
"I see you finally made it," she said casually. "So, you have formed an alliance of sorts with the Mandalorians?"
"'Of sorts' is one way to describe it," he said, annoyed at being reminded of his current difficulty. "Those idiots don't even have the courage to attack Alderaan, of all worlds!"
"That is odd. If they're anything like their ancestors, they're neither idiotic nor cowardly. Tell me more about this 'alliance'."
Palpatine hesitated before telling her about his bargain with the Mandalorians. "And what did you mean about their ancestors?"
"The Mandalorians have prided themselves as a race of warriors. And they have the same goal as you: control over the galaxy."
"Do they?" he almost snarled. Doril seemed to take a peculiar delight in telling him this.
"Oh, yes. And you have provided them with the means to do so. Clones."
Palpatine stared at her, stunned by his miscalculation. All that he had worked for, for so many years, was about to come crashing down around him.
"On the contrary," Doril said in a near purr. "This will be a perfect opportunity. For both of us."
"You have bought yourself some time when you warned the Senate about them. The Mandalorians will undoubtedly wait until the panic fades before they make their move. Until then I suggest you get rid of the corrupt Senators, and replace them with people loyal to you. Assuming, of course, you want there to be a galaxy left to rule. The Mandalorians will not be so easy to defeat as the Neimoidians."
Palaptine scowled. That was exactly what he'd told Amidala he would do. The thought of actually keeping his promise to that troublesome Queen was galling. "It's Senators like Bail Antilles that keep challenging my authority."
"I'm sure you'll deal with them when the time comes, but they're not the ones you need to worry about hiring an assassin to kill you. And if you can find a legal way to get rid of them, you can also seize their fortunes."
"I will consider that, later perhaps. Right now I want the coordinates to Korriban."
"Very well." Doril gave him the coordinates, then sat back, watching him as the ship took off, as if waiting to see if he intended to try anything foolish.
She stood several minutes later and sat down, cross-legged, in the middle of the room and began what looked like meditation, although Palpatine had a feeling that she was still aware of his, and Maul's every move.
Ordering Maul to remain in the cockpit, and to stay alert, Palpatine walked into a back room and locked it before settling down on a mat to meditate as well for the duration of the trip. And, hopefully, catch more glimpses of the future through the Force.
Frustrated at finding nothing useful to him, Palpatine came out of his trance hours later when Maul informed him that they had arrived. Walking over to the window, he looked down at a dark, shrouded planet, orbiting a blood-red sun.
At last, he thought. Korriban.
The ancient Sith Lord introduces Sidious and Maul to Korriban, then they return to Coruscant. Larisa goes back to the Jedi Temple and gets her first blaster lesson.
Assuring himself that all outside lights were turned off and that the cloaking device was activated, Maul jerked his head around when Doril walked into the cockpit, sparing him a single glance before looking out the window. Following her gaze, Maul stared hard at the larger spacecraft stationed close to the planet as the Infiltrator silently passed by, unnoticed.
"Yes. And they will be taken care of later," she replied, watching as they entered Korriban's atmosphere and directing him to land near a trio of jagged mountains.
Turning away from the window, Maul rose and followed Doril and his Master down the landing ramp. Looking around at the eerie landscape, with the sun casting a red hue on the bare ground, Palpatine found it a little difficult to breathe at first. The air was a bit denser than what he was used to.
And there was something else. Upon concentrating, he could feel Dark Side energy swirling all around him, so strong he imagined he could almost touch it. And judging from the look on Maul's face he was feeling it too. Palpatine stood still for a moment, breathing deeply as it washed over him.
"This way," Doril said, interrupting their reverie and leading them through a stand of dark, twisted trees. "I suppose I should warn you: If you try to give any of them orders, as you do your Apprentice, they'll most likely kill you."
"Give who orders?" Palpatine asked as he and Maul kept their robes close to their bodies and away from the tree branches. The damned things seemed to be actively trying to catch hold of them.
"The other Sith Lords," she replied as they entered a large clearing with stone buildings scattered throughout.
"I was under the impression that we were the only ones left," Palpatine said tightly, feeling as if there were dozens of pairs of eyes watching him as they made their was further into the maze of buildings, though he could sense no others in their vicinity.
"We are. The only living ones, that is," Doril told him as they approached a low, almost crown-shaped building ornately carved from shiny black rock.
"You said there was something to be learned here!" he impatiently reminded her. "Are there writings of some sort in these buildings? Ones that the Jedi missed somehow?"
"No. Though the Jedi did know of these tombs. They just didn't dare go near them."
"Tombs?" He glowered. None of this was making any sense to him.
"Master," Maul spoke up, slightly unnerved as he brought to his Master's attention the strange shadowy figures that were appearing and disappearing among the other buildings.
"What are those... things?" Palpatine asked, wondering if Doril had led them into a trap after all.
"You really don't know much of our history, do you?" she asked, annoyed. "One more thing the Jedi must answer for. This is more than just a burial ground. There is nothing recorded on paper or holodisc. Anything you learn here, you will learn from the Sith Lords themselves."
"What are you talking about? Are you saying that those are Sith Lords?" Palpatine demanded in astonishment. He backed away when a larger, oddly shaped figure emerged from the building behind her. It appeared to walk, if that was the correct word for what it was doing, on more than two legs.
"Yes. Their spirits, to be exact," Doril answered before turning to look up at the long dead Sith Lord. *You used to keep people waiting longer*
Disregarding her remark, the Sith seized hold of her mind, probing thoroughly before he was satisfied. *So, you have returned after all, though perhaps not in the way you preferred. And not alone,* he said after releasing her, fixing his dark red eyes on her companions.
*Of course. This body does carry certain advantages with it, however. And I must say, I am starting to enjoy it. I have with me Lord Sidious, and his Apprentice, Lord Maul*
"What is going on?" Palpatine muttered, wondering at the silent conversation between Doril and that creature.
Doril watched as the Sith advanced on Palpatine and Maul, who looked decidedly nervous as he loomed over them. *Of course, the Sith training has suffered since the Jedi's betrayal, but these two have potential,* she commented.
*And you have brought them here to remedy that.* The Sith swung back towards her. *Only one.*
*The Master then, but I do not completely trust him. You may want to consider not showing him everything.*
He looked Palpatine over critically before turning to the others Sith, some of whom started to come closer. *Agreed.*
"What just happened here?" Palpatine asked as the Sith abruptly faded away.
"He, and a few of the others, have agreed to share some of their knowledge with you."
"'He'?" Palpatine almost sneered. "That didn't even look human."
"Not many of the Sith Lords were. I suggest you use some of that humility you've been practicing and show them some respect."
He started to reply, then jumped when one of the Sith spirits suddenly materialized in front of him and forced its way into his mind. Taken by surprise, Maul barely caught his Master in time when he suddenly toppled over backwards.
"What have you done?" he snarled as he lowered Palpatine to the ground.
"I have done nothing. Some of the Sith are a little rougher than others, that's all. You needn't worry. He'll survive. He's very ambitious," she told him, then turned and walked away.
Glaring at her suspiciously, Maul crouched next to his Master, who was, at least, still breathing. *Master* he called, but received no answer. He could not sense Palpatine's presence, either. It was as if he was no longer there.
Watching Doril enter the trees on the opposite side of the clearing, Maul looked around, but the spirits they had seen had vanished. Struggling between his curiosity and his loyalty to his Master, Maul finally stood and followed her.
He strolled past the crumbled remains of several buildings with a glance at the nearby hill before he continued on to the temple ruins, remembering clearly the last time he was here... Standing at the edge of the forest, he watched as the Jedi charged up the hill towards him, too smugly confident in his own skills to realize the danger he was in.
Blocking the Jedi's almost wild swing was pathetically easy. A simple touch to the knee and tendons and ligaments stretched, then snapped. A single thrust to the throat silenced his scream of agony. He smiled, pleased at the chance of using his Master's lightsaber to kill one more Jedi before making his escape. All that was left to do now was move the body back to the site of the slaughter, letting the other Jedi assume that he had been killed by one of the other Sith Lords...
He turned slightly, aware of someone approaching. Tearing his robe free from yet another branch, Maul stepped past the last tree and stopped, staring at the sight before him. It was the same as what he had seen in that vision. Small buildings, or what was now left of them, on both sides of a large temple. And there was something else that he had not seen before. A few yards past the temple were rows of thick, round columns made of a reddish-black rock. Spaced five feet apart, the columns stood over seven feet tall, and were arranged in an almost maze-like pattern. Wondering what possible purpose they served, Maul walked over to them.
"I wouldn't do that if I were you," Doril said from behind him when he started to reach out to touch one of the columns.
Ruthlessly concealing his start of surprise, Maul stared at the column, sensing traces of the Force surrounding it. "What purpose did these serve?"
"This is where many of the Sith Apprentices used to train with their lightsabers. Of course, it was not meant for humans, who have such soft skin."
"What do you mean?" Maul asked, puzzled.
"Each one of these is filled with lava, pulled from those volcanoes," she said, gesturing to the nearby mountains.
"Lava?" Looking doubtful, Maul stripped off his glove and held his hand close to the column, drawing back from the intense heat radiating from it. "The Sith practiced here?"
"This was where they lived, the ones that had escaped the last war," Doril told him, walking back towards the temple.
"What?" Maul pulled on his glove as he followed her, his full attention caught by her words. "There were others that survived?"
"Not all the Sith were power mad, as the Jedi claimed afterwards. There were a number who realized that the galaxy was too large for just one to rule over. They had all agreed to divide it amongst themselves."
"How many were there?" Maul asked, looking around.
"At least eighty. And over three times that many followers," she said, sitting down on a broken block of stone.
"Others that believed as the Sith did, that they were meant to rule, rather than serve, others. Many of them were Force-sensitive as well. They had hoped that their children would be chosen as Sith Apprentices, though some of the Sith preferred to train their own offspring," she told him, using the toe of one boot to dig at the ground.
Maul paused as he absorbed that information. "How did the Jedi find out about Korriban?"
"One of the Sith followers was a traitor and led them here."
"Who then killed the last of the Sith," Maul stated, an expression of rage and hate on his face.
"Actually, they didn't."
"What do you mean, they didn't. You showed it to me yourself," he angrily pointed out.
"The Jedi Council, after several lengthy meetings, had decided to be 'merciful'." Her lip curled in derision at that word. "They decided to simply destroy the Sith's ships and exile them."
"The Sith, of course, had only pretended to agree to their proposal, but the Council's decision did not sit well with a group of younger Knights. They went to Korriban, without the Council's knowledge, and killed the remaining Sith Lords and their followers.
"They disobeyed their own Council?"
"And went unpunished," Doril told him, leaning down to pick something up out of the dirt. "The Jedi Council could not afford to have so many of their order exposed as murderers. They were the ones who started the rumor that the Sith had all but exterminated themselves during the war.
Maul stared at her, astonished at the depth of the Jedi's crimes. "Oh, there's more," she said, studying what looked like a small leg bone. "Those same Knights considered the Force-sensitive children, four months or younger, to be 'salvageable', and took them back to the Temple for training."
"How dare they!" Maul growled, pacing back and forth in front of her.
"The Jedi dared a great deal, with no one to oppose them. The Council worked with the Supreme Chancellor to have Korriban's system removed from every single star chart. Of course, they did not tell him what really happened. He was a fair man, and would not have hesitated to put those Jedi Knights on trial."
Pondering what she had told him, Maul's eyes widened as a realization dawned on him. "Then that would mean..."
"Yes, it does. Some of the Jedi today are descended from Sith Lords, though they don't know it."
"Do any of the Jedi know, after a thousand years?"
"One of them does. I'm sure that his parents, who were members of the Council themselves at the time, told him everything."
"His parents? You mean..."
"They must pay!" Maul growled.
"They will, when the time comes. For now, perhaps we should check on your Master," she said, tossing the bone aside as she stood.
Maul started, realizing that he had, temporarily, completely forgotten about Palpatine. He whirled around and strode swiftly back through the trees, using the Force to push the branches out of his way. Finding his Master still lying on the ground, Maul looked everywhere, but the Sith he had seen earlier had apparently vanished. He crouched next to Palpatine, who showed no signs of waking, then turned as Doril finally emerged from the trees and walked over to them.
"How long will this take?" he demanded, glaring up at her.
"That depends on how much they choose to teach him, and on how cooperative he is," she replied.
Frustrated that there was nothing he could do, Maul glanced around at the tombs. So, no one had been here in a thousand years. No one but the Jedi, that is, he thought. Puzzled about something, he looked back at Doril. "Where was your body buried?"
She stared down at him with a stony expression. "That is not your concern. You are tired and need to sleep."
Furiously trying to resist the suggestion, Maul felt his limbs growing heavy and he slumped onto his back. Doril waited until his eyes were completely closed before doing the same, letting her body rest.
Standing in the doorway that connected their quarters and seeing that his Master was still meditating, or rather trying to, Anakin decided against interrupting him. He hoped Larisa would return soon, though he still had no idea why she left in the first place. Obi-Wan refused to talk about it, and had looked unhappy each time Anakin asked.
Well, he had at least twenty minutes before his next class. Enough time for a brief visit with Padmé, Anakin thought as he quietly slipped out of his room. He hadn't gotten very far when he came across Ki-Adi-Mundi on his daily walk through the Temple.
"Padawan Skywalker," Mundi politely greeted.
"Master Mundi," Anakin replied. "I was on my way to visit Amidala."
"Without your Master?"
"He's been in his room all day trying to meditate, but I don't think it's helping," he told Mundi.
"All day? Why?"
"I don't know. He won't tell me what's wrong, or why Larisa left this morning, either. I think Master Billapa might know, though."
"That is strange," Mundi said thoughtfully. "I will speak with them both." Distracted, he took a step in the direction Anakin had come, then decided to speak with Billapa first and went the other way.
"Thank you, Master." Anakin bowed low as Mundi passed him before continuing on to the Queen's rooms. He had to wait outside while the handmaiden went to tell the Queen he was there.
"You may come in," she told him when she came back.
"Thank you," he replied as the handmaiden led him into a large antechamber.
"Anakin," Amidala greeted as she entered the room to receive him. "Did Obi-Wan not come with you?"
"No," Anakin told her, concealing the brief flash of annoyance he felt when she immediately asked about his Master. "I think he and Larisa had a fight. She left the Temple this morning, and he stayed in his room to meditate."
"Do you happen to know what their fight was about?" Amidala asked, though she already had her suspicions.
"I'm not sure," he hedged before changing the subject "How have you been?"
"I'm fine. Governor Bibble has assured me that there are no serious challengers in the next elections. If I do decide to remain Queen, that is."
"I don't think anyone could do better," Anakin declared.
"Thank you," she replied with a smile, though she was still thinking of Obi-Wan. Being her Consort was obviously disrupting his private life. Wishing she had given the proposal further thought before presenting it to him, she resolved to speak with Master Windu tomorrow. One thing was certain, her presence at the Temple was not helping matters. Hopefully it was not too late to reverse any damage it had caused.
"I will be dining with the Chandrilan Senator this evening," she told Anakin. "Will you join me?"
"I'd like that," he responded with a small grin.
"Good." She smiled back at him.
"You're not serious!" Mundi exclaimed in disbelief. "Obi-Wan is one of out finest Knights. You can't possibly believe that of him."
"I know that Knight Kenobi is one of our best. That is the only reason I've not brought this to the Council's attention yet. But it was obvious when I spoke with Knight Kenobi this morning that he believes it," Billapa adamantly told him as they both strolled through the garden, reaching out with the Force to make sure there was no one around to possibly overhear them.
"And Larisa? What has she said about this?"
"I've not had an opportunity to go see her yet."
Mundi was quiet for a moment as he tried to come up with some sort of a solution. Had the whole galaxy gone mad overnight? "Perhaps we should wait a day or two before we approach Larisa to hear her side of this."
"All right," Billapa said, nodding. "According to Master Windu, she has not set foot outside her room since she arrived."
Mundi grimaced. That did not sound encouraging. "For now, we should try to help Obi-Wan. Anakin said that he was having difficulty even meditating."
"He is?" Billapa asked, sounding troubled by that. "We had better go see him now, then."
"I'd better clear my schedule then," Mundi said, pulling out his comm link as they walked back towards the Temple entrance. "This may take a while."
"Could he have left his room?" Billapa asked as Mundi pressed the small button again.
"No. He's in there," Mundi replied right before the door opened, revealing a haggard looking Obi-Wan.
"Would you stop... Oh! Mundi. Billapa," Obi-Wan greeted, glancing from one Jedi Master to the other.
"Kenobi," Mundi replied cautiously. "How are you?"
"I'm fine," Obi-Wan said with a small snort. "I'm just trying to find my center in the Force, but it doesn't seem to want to cooperate."
"Which is why we are here. To help you," Billapa quickly told him.
"A mind-link may be the best option," Mundi suggested.
"Is that really necessary?" Obi-Wan questioned, not liking the idea of sharing his every thought with someone.
"It is your decision, Obi-Wan," Billapa told him. "I hope you will make the right one."
"All right," Obi-Wan reluctantly agreed, unsure if it would actually help. He and Mundi knelt across from each other on a meditation mat while Billapa sat in a chair nearby to monitor the mind link.
Mundi entered a meditative trance and expertly slipped inside Obi-Wan's mind, waiting for him to become accustomed to the intrusion before beginning his search. This was even worse than I expected, he thought, troubled by the confused tangle of emotions he found buried deep. The death of his Master, combined with taking on a Padawan so soon after attaining the rank of Knight, had put enormous pressure on him.
Resisting his first instinct to push Mundi away, Obi-Wan forced himself to examine his feelings: Grief - and guilt - over Qui-Gon's death, a deep-rooted sense of being abandoned, fear of loss, and on. Feelings that he had been suppressing for years, even going so far as to use Larisa to avoid dealing with them, Obi-Wan realized, recoiling with a wave of self-loathing.
*Obi-Wan!* Mundi quickly intervened. *If you do not confront these feelings, they will destroy you.*
*Yes, Master,* came Obi-Wan's strained reply.
Strengthening their link, he guided Obi-Wan in examining his negative emotions, beginning with the anger he had felt since Qui-Gon first announced his intention to train Anakin. Waited patiently as Obi-Wan focused on all the resentment and envy he felt towards his own Padawan and let it slowly dissipate into the Force, Mundi then focused on the turmoil of Qui-Gon's death, helping Obi-Wan finally come to terms with the loss.
*That's enough for now,* he decided when Obi-Wan started to falter.
Opening his eyes, Mundi stood and, along with Billapa, helped Kenobi to his feet and into his bedroom. "We will continue this after the evening meal."
"I'm sorry," Obi-Wan told Billapa, feeling emotionally drained and exhausted as he nearly fell onto his bed.
"I know you are," she said sadly. Placing a hand on his forehead, she gave him a little push with the Force, sending him into a deep sleep. "He's been alone for too long."
"It was his decision to take on all those missions," Mundi reminded her as they left Kenobi's quarters.
"And now we know the real reason why." she answered, still thinking of how close they had come to losing him. "Obi-Wan will need some food as well. I don't think he's eaten anything all day."
"I'll take care of that. He will recover from this," Mundi assured her.
"I hope so." They parted company and Billapa returned to her own quarters. Thinking it over as she watered her plants again, she decided to visit Larisa first thing in the morning. Hopefully she could convince her to return, and, with any luck, work things out with Obi-Wan.
Using the Force to override the door lock, Mundi took the tray of food from his young Padawan and dismissed him, smiling slightly at the boy's obvious disappointment in not getting a glimpse of the somewhat famous Knight Kenobi. Perhaps another time, Mundi thought as he proceeded to the bedroom where Obi-Wan was just starting to wake and setting the tray down on the nearby table.
"I gather you're hungry," he remarked at Obi-Wan's expression the moment he noticed the tray of food.
"Yes, Master," Obi-Wan said, getting up and hurrying to the table. It felt as if his stomach was about to start eating itself. Sitting down, he had to remind himself more than once to eat more slowly.
"And how are you feeling?" Mundi asked when Obi-Wan paused halfway through his meal.
"Better," he replied with a grateful smile.
"Then perhaps you can finish this yourself."
Obi-Wan finished his dinner and knelt on the mat. 'There is no passion,' he recited as he began meditating. Or at least not the near-blind passion he had been experiencing lately. He meticulously gathered every shred of it and, along with the guilt he felt over last night, released it into the Force. What remained was a little puzzling, and would have to be examined later. He only hoped Larisa would come back so he could at least apologize for his behavior. Pleased with Kenobi's progress, Mundi called an end to the session.
Breathing a sigh of relief, Obi-Wan stood and bowed to the Jedi Master. "Thank you, Master Mundi."
"You're welcome," Mundi replied, though he was starting to wonder why he was always being addressed as Master these days. Was everyone that certain that his Padawan would pass the trials, which were still years away? Smiling at the thought of that future event, Mundi bowed to Obi-Wan before leaving to see what the boy was up to this time. Sometimes it seemed that children were incapable of keeping out of trouble.
Obi-Wan felt as if the weight of half the galaxy had been lifted from his shoulders. A glance at the chrono surprised him that nearly thirty minutes had passed. He stood in front of the window and watched the sun set, at peace with himself for the first time in years. He was still uncertain of his feelings towards Larisa, and wasn't sure he could trust them anyway. Perhaps he should reconsider marrying Amidala.
Turning away when the sky grew dark, Obi-Wan used the fresher before laying back down, falling into a quiet, restful sleep.
Ignoring his pounding headache, Palpatine opened his eyes and staggered to his feet, then noticed his Apprentice lying on the ground. His first thought was that Doril had killed Maul and, leaving him for dead, had returned to Coruscant.
"Don't be ridiculous. I'm right here," came her voice from immediately behind him.
Whirling around to face her, Palpatine felt as if his head had tried to leave his shoulders.
"You don't look well at all," she remarked, lifting one hand and lightly touching his temple.
Concealing his relief when the pain immediately abated, Palpatine glared at her. "You could have warned me!"
"I could have," she agreed. "But you know you wouldn't have believed me."
"I suppose not," he grudgingly conceded, his thoughts still dwelling on what he had seen: the Sith ruling an empire.
"Yes, they did. She eyed him knowingly. "I think you were already beginning to realize that being Chancellor was not enough."
"Having to consult that ridiculous Senate before making any kind of decision is intolerable."
"Which was your doing when Valorum was still the Chancellor," Doril pointed out, amused by the irony.
Palpatine scowled at the reminder. Perhaps it was time to test his newfound knowledge. He couldn't think of a better way to wake his Apprentice. He turned towards Maul and raised both hands.
"No!" Doril said sharply, disrupting his concentration. "The Jedi would sense it and come to investigate. No one must know that we were here."
"Very well," he snapped, looking irritably up at the sky. Sooner or later something was going to have to be done about those interfering fools. He looked back down at Maul. *WAKE UP*
Eyes flying open, Maul sprang to his feet, landing in a defensive crouch and activating his lightsaber before remembering where he was, and what had happened. "Master?
You are well?" he asked, glancing warily at Doril before putting the weapon away.
Palpatine brushed aside his Apprentice's concern. There was much to be done, and he had no time for such foolishness.
"We are leaving. Now."
They remained silent as they walked back to the ship. Maul went immediately to the cockpit and the Infiltrator quickly lifted off. He watched as they left Korriban, and the Jedi ship, far behind. Deciding to spend the rest of the trip meditating on what he had learned, Maul activated the autopilot and went back to the passenger section.
"He's in one of the back rooms, and doesn't want to be disturbed," Doril said, not even bothering to look at him as she knelt on the floor.
"I was not looking for my Master," Maul angrily insisted before entering a different room.
Glancing up as the door closed and locked, Doril lowered her head again and continued meditating, smiling faintly as she looked into the future.
Sensing that they had arrived at Coruscant, Maul came out of the light trance and returned to the cockpit, turning off the autopilot. He used one of the less crowded ship lanes, maneuvering in and around dozens of buildings before he headed back to his secret hangar. Carefully setting the Infiltrator down and lowering the landing ramp, Maul shut down the ship and stood up to leave the cockpit.
"Master?" he asked, stopping instantly and watching his Master enter the cockpit.
"We need to make some changes, starting with where to store your ship," Palpatine told him, turning to look out the window as he continued. "I also have another task for you. You are to leave immediately. I want you to find out everything about Senator Toora Tonbuck, particularly her 'business' dealings."
Larisa reached out with one hand, fumbling around on the table next to the bed for a few seconds before finally finding the chrono. Only morning? she thought, feeling as if she hadn't eaten in days. Well, considering the planet she was on, odds were that the hotel's kitchen never closed.
She got up and stumbled into the public room, grabbing the menu from the table. Relieved that the food listed was intended for humans, well, mostly, she picked up the guest's comm link and ordered breakfast Setting the link back down on the table, Larisa stood there for a moment, then decided to take a shower while she was waiting.
Unsure of the kind of welcome she would receive, Master Billapa pressed the engraved button on Larisa's door. She took a step back, startled, when it immediately opened.
"Oh! It's you," Larisa said, looking surprised and disappointed.
"You were expecting someone else?" Billapa asked cautiously.
"Yes. Him," she replied, looking past the Jedi.
Looking to the left, Billapa moved out of the way of a hotel employee carrying a large tray.
"Set it on the table," Larisa instructed, leaving the door open as she followed him over to the table and sat down. Lifting the lids off of the dishes, she looked up as Master Billapa hesitantly entered the room, closing the door behind her. "Why did you come here?"
"I wanted to see if you were all right, for one thing," Billapa replied, watching her devour four of the small fruit pastries.
"Hungry," Larisa told her, picking up a small shellava fruit and quickly eating it.
"So I see," she said speculatively. "I'm also here about Obi-Wan. He's very sorry about his actions yesterday."
"Really? Then why isn't he here to apologize himself?"
"I did not tell him where you were staying. Did you want to see him?"
"What for? I doubt he'd come even if you did tell him. He's probably decided to marry that Queen by now." And I wouldn't be surprised if he's been sleeping with her, too! Larisa silently added.
"Why would you think such a thing?" Billapa asked, surprised by her sudden display of jealousy.
"Why not?" she replied defensively. "It's not like he really cares about me. He didn't even like me until I was on my back."
"That... That is not true!" the Jedi Master sputtered, shocked.
"Isn't it? Why don't you go ask him? He doesn't like Jar Jar because he thinks he's useless. He told me that himself."
"I'm sure he didn't mean it that way," Billapa protested, then took a deep breath to calm herself. "I didn't come here to upset you, and I hope, in time, you will forgive Obi-Wan. These last few years have not been easy for him."
"Because his Master died?" Larisa asked skeptically. "That was years ago!"
"I'm aware of that, but Obi-Wan has never had a chance to properly grieve since Qui-Gon's death. He was given the rank of Knight, and took Anakin as a Padawan, immediately afterwards. Before he was even ready for an Apprentice of his own, perhaps."
Because no one else wanted to, Larisa thought, trying to ignore the sympathy she was starting to feel. "Do you think I overreacted?" she asked hesitantly.
"Overreacted? Of course not," Billapa exclaimed, baffled. "All I'm asking is that you will at least consider what I've said."
"I'll think about it," Larisa said, staring down at the fruit bowl.
Well, that's a start, at least, Billapa thought. "Thank you. I must return to the Temple now. Perhaps today you'll feel like leaving this room."
Confused, Larisa watched her leave. Just what did I do all day yesterday? Sleep? What she did remember was a little fuzzy, and she felt a headache starting to come on when she tried to concentrate on it. Giving up on that for now, she turned her attention to a more immediate need: Food.
"Knight Kenobi," Mace Windu greeted as Obi-Wan caught up with him outside the Council Chamber. "I was just about to contact you."
"I need to talk to you as well," Obi-Wan told him. "I've given it a lot of thought and if Amidala agrees to the marriage then so do I. What?" he asked when Windu started shaking his head.
"What I was going to tell you was that I just spoke with Queen Amidala a short while ago. You are no longer her Consort."
"What?" he exclaimed, though he wasn't really surprised that she took this action without speaking to him first.
"She has absolved you of all responsibilities to her and has decided to stay elsewhere during the rest of her visit to Coruscant."
"She has?" Obi-Wan asked, numbly thinking that she had somehow discovered what had happened between him and Larisa. But how? Who could have told her? Surely not Billapa or Mundi. There was only one other possibility: Anakin.
Wondering what Anakin knew, and how, Obi-Wan decided to have a little talk with his Apprentice. "Was she upset, or angry?" he asked, looking back at Windu.
"Not that I was aware of." Windu frowned. For someone who was determined against the marriage, Kenobi now looked unhappy at this turn of events. "Amidala did say that she was sorry for the difficulty this arrangement has caused you. May I ask what is going on?" he asked, curious. Perhaps this had something to do with Larisa, though Depa still refused to say why she had left the Temple.
"I'd rather not say," Obi-Wan said, not sure himself of what was going on at the moment.
"Very well. Amidala informed me that she is now staying at the Chandrilan Embassy, if you would like to visit her," Windu told him.
"Thank you, Master." Obi-Wan bowed, then strode quickly back to his quarters. Finding that Anakin had not returned from the dining hall yet, he decided to wait in his Apprentice's room.
Still perplexed by her conversation with Larisa, Depa Billapa was not surprised to find Ki-Adi-Mundi waiting for her in the Temple hangar. He must have found out from Mace where she had gone.
"So, how did it go?"
"Not the way I expected," she told him, making sure the elevator they entered was empty.
"To be honest, I'm not sure what I expected," Billapa admitted. "She is so strange!"
"I see," he commented, barely keeping a straight face.
"Oh, stop it! You know what I mean. She somehow taught herself how to heal. She healed Master Rancisis without knowing anything about the Thisspian race, and Force knows how she ever learned the Moricho. She has shown absolutely no regard for her own safety, and now she's convinced herself that Obi-Wan is having an affair with Amidala."
"I see," Mundi repeated thoughtfully. "Assuming Larisa does return, she should learn how to defend herself before her next mission. Since she cannot be allowed a lightsaber, a blaster will have to do. As for Queen Amidala, I think we should let Obi-Wan handle it."
"I suppose you're right," Billapa replied as they left the elevator and walked down a large hallway. "He created this situation, he should deal with it himself, though he hasn't done very well so far."
"Indeed," Mundi agreed. "Perhaps I should speak to her tomorrow."
"I hope you have better luck than I did. And if she does agree to come back, could you try to convince her to see the healers?"
"The healers? Whatever for?"
"I just want to be sure she's recovered from her ordeal on Dimok, and I'm curious about something."
"All right. Where is she staying?"
Watching from the middle of a side corridor as the two Councilors walked by, Anakin listened a moment longer before getting the information he needed. He tried to think of how he was going to approach Obi-Wan about this as he returned to his rooms. To his surprise, Anakin found his Master already there waiting for him.
"Master!" he exclaimed, a little nervous at Obi-Wan's stern expression. "I, uh, I heard Masters Billapa and Mundi talking, and..."
"You mean you were eavesdropping again," Obi-Wan angrily interrupted.
"I was not!" Anakin objected. "I was standing right there. It's not my fault they were too busy talking to even notice me."
"All right," Obi-Wan relented after studying his Apprentice a moment longer. "What I want to know is what you told Amidala about Larisa and me."
"Just that the two of you had a fight," he told his Master.
"Why? Did something else happen?"
Obi-Wan hesitated before answering. "Amidala has decided to stay at the Chandrilan Embassy, and has released me from my duties as her Consort."
"Oh! Well, at least you don't have to attend those boring political functions anymore," Anakin commented, reminding his Master of past complaints.
"Thank you for pointing that out," Obi-Wan said dryly. "So, what were Billapa and Mundi talking about?"
"Mundi said he was going to visit Larisa tomorrow. Did you want to go see her?"
"No!" Obi-Wan immediately replied. "Besides, I doubt she would want to see me anyway."
"I guess you're right," Anakin said, sitting down on the sofa and resting his feet on the table. "Master Billapa said you'd probably mess it up, anyway." He looked away when his Master frowned at him.
"That is not going to work, Padawan."
"What?" Anakin looked up at him with an innocent expression. "I was just hoping that you and Larisa would both come to my wedding."
"My wedding to Padmé, of course," Anakin declared confidently. "I'm going to marry her."
"Anakin," Obi-Wan began, exacerbated. "You're too young to know what you want for the rest of your life."
His pride stung, Anakin glared at him. "I'm old enough to know what I don't want. I don't want to end up a lonely old man the way you do," he quietly retorted, before getting up to leave.
Obi-Wan turned and stared, shocked by his statement. Is that really what I'm doing? he wondered, appalled by the prospect. "Anakin."
"I'm sorry I insulted you."
Accepting the apology with a small nod, Anakin stood by the door, waiting patiently.
"Where is she?"
"Who is it this time?" Larisa grumbled, putting the rest of her clothes away in the closet and dropping her bag on the table on the way to the door.
She opened it and found Obi-Wan standing there. "What? Who told you I was here? Billapa?" she demanded.
"It wasn't Master Billapa," he said, holding up his hands in a conciliatory gesture. "It was Anakin. He overheard her talking with Master Mundi."
"Mundi!" she exclaimed, trying to look over his shoulder. "Is he here too? Does everyone know?"
"No. No one. I came here alone." Obi-Wan tensed when two other hotel guests walked by, looking at him suspiciously. "Could I possibly come in?"
Larisa waited until the other guests were out of earshot before answering. There was little sense in making a scene.
"All right!" She flounced back into her room and over to the table, looking back at Obi-Wan and narrowing her eyes. "You are going to marry that Queen, aren't you?" she accused, her right hand slipping inside the bag. "I should tell her how much you like tables, as a wedding night tip!"
"I suppose I deserved that," he said, blanching. "I'm not going to marry Amidala. In fact, I am no longer her Consort."
"Oh, really?" Larisa scoffed, blinking as her vision blurred. Feeling something cold and hard, she looked down. What the hell am I doing? she wondered, horrified to see the vibro-blade clenched tightly in her hand.
"Yes, really," Obi-Wan replied in a pained voice before turning to leave. "I'm sorry. I never meant to hurt you."
"Wait!" She forced herself to drop the knife back into the bag and walked over to him. "I'm sorry, too."
"You're sorry?" he asked, confused. "About what?"
"I don't know. Everything." Larisa clutched his robe as she leaned against him. "I don't want you to go," she admitted, shivering as a cold chill swept through her.
"Are you sure?" he asked, gently lifting her head up.
"Yes," she replied, looking into his eyes.
Struggling with himself for what seemed an eternity before making a choice, Obi-Wan leaned down and kissed her, holding her close as they slowly backed into the next room, leaving a trail of clothes along the way, and sinking down on the large bed.
"Thank you for your report," Mace Windu said for the second time in less than ten minutes. "I will take care of it." Ending the transmission, he pulled out his comm link to contact Depa Billapa.
"Depa, it's Mace. Did you happen to tell Obi-Wan where Larisa was staying?"
"No, I did not," she replied, immediately suspicious. "Why?"
"He's there now."
"What did you just say?"
"Obi-Wan requested an unscheduled shuttle a short while ago and is at the Millavi Hotel."
"What? What is that man thinking? A bantha has more common sense than he does! I swear he must be possessed by a..."
"Yes, I'm sure," Windu said, cutting off her tirade. "I suppose I'd better go over there, but it would help if I knew what was going on."
"No! I mean, I'll go over there. I'm sure you have more important matters to attend to," Billapa quickly said, sounding almost frantic.
"Perhaps, but I believe you're the one that has a meeting in a few minutes," he pointed out, blinking when he thought he heard her actually curse.
"I'll ask Eeth to take over for me."
"Eeth is still off planet," Mace reminded her.
"Oh. Well, then I'll ask Even. And I'll make him promise to control his temper with the Correllians."
"Good luck," Windu remarked. "I'll make sure there's a shuttle ready for you in hangar one."
"You're welcome." Windu ended the transmission and leaned back in his chair. He did not envy Kenobi the scolding he was about to receive.
Mmmmm. That was wonderful, Larisa thought as she rolled onto her stomach, stretching languidly. It also felt different, somehow, from the other times. Puzzling over that, she felt something tugging on her hair. Or rather someone. "What are you doing?"
"Nothing." Obi-Wan quickly finished unbraiding her hair before lying back and looking up at the ceiling.
"What are you thinking about?" she asked, turning to face him and glancing down when some of her hair fell over her shoulder.
"Something Anakin said to me this morning. And my Master."
Terrific! she thought peevishly. "Could you be a little more specific?"
"I was thinking about how I'd always wanted to be just like Qui-Gon Jinn. Even before I became his Padawan."
"Not to mention his lover."
Obi-Wan looked at her in surprise. "How did you know?"
"Master Billapa told me."
That does make sense, Obi-Wan realized. Many Jedi, himself included, go to the Chalactan Master for advice. He was wondering what Qui-Gon and Billapa had talked about when he realized how incredibly inappropriate this conversation was.
"I'm sorry. I shouldn't have mentioned it," he said, his face turning scarlet.
"It certainly explains how devoted you are to his memory after all these years," Larisa said, lifting up on one elbow.
"Sometimes it's as if I'm the only one who remembers him," he mused.
"That can't be true!"
"Oh, I know it's not. It's just that no one else knew Qui-Gon the way I did."
"And what way was that?"
"Qui-Gon let his feelings guide his actions. Too much so in the eyes of the Council. They considered his convictions to be stubborn defiance."
"That doesn't seem very fair," Larisa observed. "Surely he had a right to disagree with them."
"Yes, but unfortunately that disagreement came close to outright disobedience at times."
"And you wanted to be like that?" She could just picture him telling the Council what they could do with their orders.
"Well, not exactly like that, but I used to."
"But not now?"
"I'm not sure anymore. I do know I don't want to die the way he did, with no one but an Apprentice to mourn me," Obi-Wan said pensively.
"That sounds dreadful," she murmured, reaching out and smoothing a line on his forehead.
Grabbing hold of her hand, he suddenly sat up and stared down at her, a look of intense determination on his face. "You will return to the Temple with me, won't you?"
"I..." Larisa hesitated before nervously retrieving her hand, tearing her gaze away from his and lying back against the pillow. "I don't know."
Glancing around the room, Obi-Wan thought hard of a way to persuade her.
Looking over at the bag on the table as she considered it, Larisa jerked in surprise when he abruptly rolled on top.
"Will you come back with me?" he asked again, pressing against her.
"Well... Ahhh. Yes!" she moaned when he pushed inside.
He smiled in relieved satisfaction, then closed his eyes and began thrusting. Larisa slid her arms around his neck and ran her nails down his back as she climaxed. Obi-Wan held still while she clenched around him. When she finished, Obi-Wan continued the slow thrusts. Her eyes widened as the sensations started to build again and she gasped as she came a second time. Clinging to him as he thrust four more times before climaxing, she went limp afterwards, letting her head drop against the pillow. With a deep breath, she looked over at Obi-Wan, lying next to her with an irritatingly smug expression on his face. He leaned forward and kissed her before getting up and walking towards the fresher room.
Larisa watched him go, looking entirely too pleased with himself in her opinion. Sighing happily as she stretched, her mood darkened when she looked over at the bag on the table. The first thing to do was dump that damned knife in the first disposal unit she found, hopefully before reaching the hotel lobby. She got up and went to the fresher door, making sure he was in the shower before quietly going in and snatching one of the spare cloths. Quickly wrapping the vibroblade in the cloth and putting it back in the bag, Larisa then concentrated on packing her clothes.
Pacing fretfully as the shuttle finally landed in front of the hotel's entrance, Depa Billapa lowered the landing ramp and opened the door herself before marching into the hotel. She stopped short when she spotted Larisa at the hotel desk, practically leaning against Obi-Wan, who stood behind her with both arms around her waist. Looking a little confused about something, Larisa counted out credits and paid the hotel clerk before picking up the bag at her feet and walking away. Billapa watched them come within two feet before noticing her standing there.
"Oh! Master Billapa!" Larisa exclaimed, finally looking away from Obi-Wan when she was about to walk into the Jedi Master.
"Larisa," Billapa greeted, trying to discern the situation. "How are you?"
"Hmmm. I'm fine," Larisa said with a smile. "In fact, I've decided to come back."
"So I gathered." Looking from one to the other, she had an idea of just how Larisa had been convinced. Frowning disapprovingly at Obi-Wan, who looked completely unrepentant, Billapa shook her head in despair before directing them to the shuttle waiting outside.
Pointedly overlooking how close they were sitting together, Billapa looked out the window as their shuttle approached the Jedi Temple. A fully trained Knight like Kenobi would have known better, she thought. Unless, of course, they were still as emotionally vulnerable as he was. Depressed, she wished, not for the first time, that Qui-Gon had not died.
She did not need to see into the future the way Saesee could to realize that, sooner or later, this was going to end badly. Larisa was young, and would undoubtedly recover quickly, but Billapa dreaded seeing Obi-Wan hurt again. She also had to arrange for someone else to take charge of Larisa. Billapa had her eye on one of the more difficult Initiates, who had a great deal of potential, and would no longer have the time to spare.
Perhaps Saesee or Eeth would agree. She turned away from the window as they landed. "Larisa, would you object to visiting the healers? Right now?"
"No. No, I wouldn't," she replied, her expression clouding.
"Is there something wrong?" Obi-Wan asked Billapa as they left the ship.
"No, I'm sure there's not," she assured him. "I just think Larisa should let one of our healers examine her once in a while."
"All right," Larisa quickly agreed as she and Obi-Wan followed Billapa through the Temple to one of the healing rooms.
Master Ulizr, talking to a group of five other healers, including Knight Ciral, immediately broke off the conversation to greet Master Billapa.
"May I ask the reason for this visit?" he asked, glancing at the two standing behind her.
"A simple examination is all," Billapa told him. "For Larisa."
"Well then, I think that Knight Ciral can handle your request, since she's already acquainted with Miss Doril, and Knight Kenobi," he said, smiling when Ciral started to fidget self-consciously.
"Thank you," Billapa replied, watching serenely as Master Ulizr herded the other healers out of the room before turning to Knight Ciral.
"So, he is still set on finding you a husband?"
"Yes," Ciral said, sighing dramatically when Obi-Wan gave her a sympathetic look. "Sometimes he forgets that I'm not his Padawan anymore." She shook her head in dismay before getting down to business. "Could you lie down here?" she asked Larisa, pointing to one of the padded tables.
Setting her bag on the floor, Larisa glanced in mock alarm at Obi-Wan, who quickly smothered a grin, before hopping up and lying down. Knight Ciral stood next to the table, clearing her mind of everything else before beginning.
Billapa waited patiently until the examination ended before speaking again. "Well?"
"She is in very good health," Ciral told her.
"Anything else?" Billapa asked.
"Like what?" Ciral looked puzzled for a second before glancing at Knight Kenobi. "Oh! No."
Billapa watched as Obi-Wan's expression changed from surprised comprehension to thoughtful deliberation.
"Obi-Wan..." she began.
"What's going on?" Larisa asked, sitting up and starting to look suspicious.
"Nothing," Billapa said quickly, giving Obi-Wan a warning glance. "In fact, you may return to your quarters now. Shall I have the noon meal sent there?"
"Yes, please. Thank you," she replied as Obi-Wan helped her back down.
Picking up her bag and leaving the healing room, Larisa stole brief glances at Obi-Wan, wondering what he was thinking as they walked quietly through the corridors. She stopped and turned around when they reached her room.
"Well, you probably have other things to do right now. Like check on Anakin," she said, pulling out her access card.
"Actually, I don't. Anakin has classes for the next three hours," Obi-Wan told her, a smile slowly spreading across his face.
Larisa looked up at him in astonishment. Three hours? He has got to be kidding! she told herself as her mouth went dry.
"I... Um... I really should finish studying the Qiraash," she said as he stepped closer, taking the card from her slack fingers and opening the door for them. "Well, maybe it can wait a little longer."
Dragging his attention from the array of datapads in front of him, Mace Windu looked up as two doors, one on each side of the currently empty Master's dining hall, opened almost simultaneously. He watched, amused, as Depa Billapa and Ki-Adi-Mundi entered, looking across the room at each other in surprise before continuing on towards him.
"I hope there's not another problem," he stated when they reached him.
"No, there's not," Mundi assured him.
"What are you doing?" Billapa inquired, looking down at the datapads.
"I've been searching for bonded Jedi Knights and Masters. Male and female pairings, preferably younger ones, that we can assign to neutral worlds, as you suggested."
"Any luck so far?" Mundi asked.
"As a matter of fact, yes. So far there are eighty-three pairs that are willing to leave Coruscant and settle elsewhere, and I've only gone through half of the ones on my list. After that, I'll start on the unattached Jedi."
"Wonderful!" Billapa exclaimed with a pleased smile. "By next year, we should be doubling the number of Initiates found."
"Perhaps," Windu said, putting down the datapad he was holding. "I've instructed them to watch for any sign of the Mandalorians, and I also have to contact certain members of the Senate to request transportation for them, hopefully without the Chancellor's knowledge. Now what brings the two of you here?"
"Larisa," they both said at the same time.
"Why does that not surprise me," Windu remarked. "One at a time, please."
Mundi politely nodded for Billapa to go first.
"I've decided to take Zyrid T'mir as my Padawan, and I'll need someone else to oversee Larisa's training. Perhaps Councilor Tiin, or Koth."
"I'm glad to hear that, since I was going to ask you to take T'mil this afternoon. I hope you can provide the calming influence that girl needs."
"I certainly intend to," Billapa stated determinedly. "Now, what about Larisa?"
"I doubt Saesee has the time to spare, and I believe Eeth may be looking for another Padawan as well," Windu told her.
"You could ask some of the other Masters, or perhaps one of the Knights," Mundi added.
"Except that they either have their own Padawan, too, or are constantly requesting missions in order to find more Initiates. Besides, I would have preferred it to be someone Larisa's already familiar with," Billapa said, sighing in disappointment as she sat back in the chair.
"Then I will," Windu volunteered. "For a while at least, until we find someone else."
"Do you have a problem with that?" Windu asked, frowning.
"No, of course not. I was under the impression, though, that you and Larisa do not usually get along."
"That is besides the point," Windu stated. "There shouldn't be a problem, so long as she continues to obey orders."
"If you say so," Billapa said hesitantly.
"Then it's settled. Your turn," Windu said to Mundi.
"As I'm sure you've already realized, Larisa should be trained in self-defense. Master Tiin has agreed to show her how to use a blaster this morning."
"Is that all?"
"Fine. Contact Tiin and make the arrangements."
"Thank you." Mundi bowed his head, then left to see what mischief his Padawan might have gotten into now.
Windu picked out another datapad, then looked up at Billapa, who was still sitting there. "Is there anything else?"
"It was not my intention to insult you," she quietly pointed out. "It was just an observation."
"I know," Windu replied, finding it impossible, as always, to stay angry with his former Apprentice.
"Good," Billapa said, standing. "Have you thought of taking a Padawan again?"
"Yes, I have, but none of the ones I've looked at seem right."
"I'm sure you'll find the right one in time."
"If it's the Force's will," he replied, though he had the oddest feeling that he had already missed an opportunity somehow.
Billapa smiled encouragingly before leaving him to his task.
"Lord Maul, you have something to report?" Palpatine asked, addressing a hologram of his Apprentice.
"Yes, my Master. I am returning to Coruscant."
"Yes, Master. Toora is not as clever as she thinks. I have all the information you will require."
"Senator Toora has over sixty million Republic credits hidden in several accounts on her own homeworld. All are from illegal activities and are completely untraceable."
"Yessss. That will be very useful to me. You have done well," Palpatine praised. "Come to my office immediately after you arrive."
Ending the transmission when Maul made no reply, Palpatine contacted Sienar and waited impatiently for his hologram to appear. He was in no mood to talk with one of the man's idiot assistants.
"Lord Sidious," Sienar said with a respectful nod. "I trust there are no problems with the new ship."
"No, but ships are what I wanted to discuss with you. A great many more ships. Bigger ships."
"That would require a great deal more money," Sienar said cautiously.
"I assure you that will not be a problem," Palpatine replied, pushing the hood back to reveal his face.
The briefest flicker of surprise crossed his face before he smiled. "What can I do for you, Chancellor?"
"It's quite simple. I want the largest fleet of ships this galaxy has ever seen."
"Huhhh? Who's there?" Larisa groaned, slowly coming to and raising her head. Oh! The door alarm. Obi-Wan, of course, was still asleep. Doesn't anything wake him up? she wondered, looking around for something to put on. She rose and slipped on the first article of clothing she saw, one of Obi-Wan's tunics. Quickly, she hunted down her skirt and put that on as well before answering the door.
"Master Mundi," Larisa greeted with a forced smile. "How are you today?"
"I am well, but I must say you look rather tired."
"Well, a little maybe," she admitted, looking over her shoulder.
"Do you feel ready for some blaster practice right now?"
"A blaster?" Larisa asked doubtfully.
"Yes. I've spoken with Master Windu and he agrees that you should be trained to defend yourself before you're assigned to another mission. You'll be taking lessons this morning with Master Tiin in one of the training halls. I'll show you which one."
"Oh. Okay," she said, nodding. "I'll be out in a minute."
"You may want to change first," Mundi suggested, raising an eyebrow at her attire.
"Um. Yes. Thank you." Larisa barely kept herself from blushing and quickly closed the door. She stopped in the fresher room to throw cold water on her face before entering the bedroom. Walking over to the bed, she leaned over and shook Obi-Wan's shoulder. "Wake up!"
"What? What time is it?" he asked, blinking and glancing at the chrono.
"I have to leave right now, and you should go back to your own room."
"Hmmm. Come here." Obi-Wan reached out and caught her by the waist, pulling her onto the bed and underneath him.
"Would you stop!" Larisa said, pushing at his chest. "Master Mundi is waiting outside!"
"Really? Why?" he asked, sliding her skirt up past her hips.
"Master Tiin is going to show me how to use a blaster. I told Mundi I'd be out in a minute."
"Sixty seconds can last a long time," he told her, grinning.
"Unnn. You're impossible!" Larisa exclaimed when he entered her. And if you had your way, I'd be locked in your bedroom, wouldn't I? she thought. Smiling at a sudden idea, she turned her face towards the chrono and timed him.
"Okay, time's up!"
"What?" Obi-Wan paused and stared down at her.
"It's been sixty seconds. Now let me up," she said, keeping absolutely still as he moved inside her.
"I'm not finished!" He gritted his teeth and thrust harder.
"Yes, I noticed, but you did say sixty seconds," Larisa persisted. "I really can't keep Master Mundi waiting.
"Do you need a little help?" she teased as the pressure built to an almost unbearable level.
Groaning, his dropped his head next to hers. "Don't do this to me!"
"Oh, all right," she said, wrapping her arms around him as she came.
Gasping when she squeezed him tightly, he climaxed, feeling as if he had exploded inside her. When Obi-Wan slumped against her, Larisa lay still then slowly pushed him off and onto his back.
"By the Force... That was incredible!" he managed, taking large gulps of air.
"It certainly was." She leaned over and kissed him before sliding off the bed. "I really have to be going now."
"Ummm. Yes," Obi-Wan responded before falling back asleep.
Smiling, Larisa grabbed another set of clothes from her closet and went into the fresher room.
Stopping in the middle of a large hallway, Larisa waited quietly while Mundi answered his comm link. "Is there a problem?" she asked after he put the link away.
"Just the usual. My Padawan was found somewhere he shouldn't have been."
"Oh. Is he a Cerean too?"
"No. He's a Gorezh. Some days he's a normal twelve year old, and others he runs around the Temple at light speed," Mundi said with fond amusement. "It's right through there," he directed her towards a pair of large doors at the end of a small corridor.
"Thank you." Larisa bowed before cautiously entering the huge workroom. She backed up against the closed doors and looked around at a huge room full of tables.
There must have been at least two hundred Padawans working on a variety of metal objects, with dozens of Masters and Knights patrolling the room, keeping an eye on everything. Spotting Master Tiin standing near one corner of the room with Plo Koon and Yaddle, she slowly made her way over to them, keeping well away from the tables.
Waiting patiently while they just stood there, Larisa noticed that their mouths weren't moving. Well, Tiin's and Yaddle's weren't. It was impossible to tell with Koon, but they must be using telepathy to communicate, which was understandable. It was pretty noisy in here.
*Ready?* she heard Tiin's voice say in her head.
*Yes,* she tried to answer, but he apparently couldn't hear her. "YES," Larisa shouted over the din, wondering why it worked the other time but not now.
*Because during the probe I was inside your mind* Tiin explained. *Telepathy is not easy for most species*
*OH* Well, he heard me that time, she thought when Tiin jerked his head towards her.
*Do not strain yourself again,* Koon reprimanded.
*Impulsive you are,* she heard Yaddle add.
"SORRY!" Larisa yelled.
*Let's continue this in another room*, Tiin led her back through the doors. "Much better," he continued in his own voice once he found an empty workroom. "We'll begin with how to clean a blaster."
Sitting down at one of the tables, Larisa watched carefully as Tiin picked up a large, complicated-looking blaster, removed sections of it for cleaning, then put it back together. He demonstrated it two more times before handing her the blaster and standing.
"I'll return in a few minutes. Keep practicing while I'm gone."
"All right," Larisa replied, waiting until after he had left before beginning.
Biting her lip in concentration, she began pulling out the same pieces he did, cleaning each one thoroughly with a cloth before setting it aside. It was very different from healing: each part of the blaster was made of either a black or gray metal, and some of them were very similar in shape and size. Now it was time to put them back.
Okay, that piece goes back in there, this one goes here, and this piece... doesn't fit now for some reason. Maybe I put one of the others in the wrong spot, she thought, trying to figure out which one it might be. Taking her best guess, she grabbed hold of one of the circular pieces and pulled. Oh, damn! Larisa flinched as the blaster literally fell apart in her hands, some pieces spinning off the table and falling to the floor. Staring down at the scattered parts, she sighed before pushing the chair back, getting down on her hands and knees and gathering up the rest of the pieces.
Freezing when she heard the door open, Larisa slowly backed out from under the table, looking up to see Master Koon standing there, expressionless as always. "Uh. Hi."
Tilting his head, Koon looked from the table to the pile in her hands. "I do not believe Master Tiin asked you to dismantle the blaster."
"I.. Uh.. I had a little accident."
"Perhaps the cleaning of weapons should be left to someone else."
"I didn't mean to!" she said under her breath, setting the stray pieces back down on the table. "Where is Master Tiin anyway?"
"He was delayed. You are to practice your aim next. Follow me."
Glancing back at the table, Larisa sighed and followed him into an elevator. They went three floors up and stepped off into another hallway, one that was different from all the others. There were no connecting corridors to be seen, and only one set of six doors, at least on this side of the Temple. Koon led her through the doors and into what looked like a huge arena where more Initiates were practicing with lightsabers. There were quite a few Knights and Masters here as well, watching, she noted as they walked around the edge of the arena.
"Over here." Walking over to a clearer area where Master Tiin was already waiting, Koon exchanged a few silent words with him before walking off.
"So, the cleaning did not go well," Tiin remarked, removing a small blaster from its case and handing it to her.
"No, not exactly," Larisa muttered, examining the blaster in her hand.
"We'll see if this goes better," Tiin said, swiftly pushing her hand aside when she started to accidentally point it at him. "Aim it at the target over there."
Turning the direction he had indicated, Larisa looked at a round droid hovering roughly a hundred feet away. "You want me to shoot a droid? Why?" she asked, aghast.
"That is a practice droid," he patiently explained. "We use them all the time in lightsaber practice. They are quite expendable."
"Well, all right," Larisa said, still uncomfortable. It just didn't seem right. She looked around, nervously noticing that a few of the Masters on the other side of the arena, including Yaddle, were now looking over at them, curious.
"Keep the arms straight," Tiin said, reaching around to correct her. Turning his head a fraction when someone called his name, he caught Larisa in the neck with his left horn.
Yelping at the sudden pain, she jumped, her finger accidentally squeezing the trigger. Dropping the blaster on the floor, Larisa watched, horrified, as one of the robed figures fell over.
Tossing a gervi fruit from one hand to another, Obi-Wan stopped and turned when the door opened and Larisa walked in, looking utterly miserable. "What happened?" he asked, dropping the fruit on the table and rushing over to her.
"It was awful! I shot Master Yaddle in the foot!"
"What? You didn't!" he exclaimed, shocked.
"I hope she doesn't lose that toe," Larisa said, practically wringing her hands in worry.
"You need to sit down," Obi-Wan stated, leading her over to the couch. Shaking his head, he pulled out his comm link to find out what he could about Master Yaddle. "The healers say she'll be fine."
"What?" Larisa raised her head and stared up at him.
"The healers say she'll be fine," he repeated, sitting down next to her.
She turned and flung her arms around him. "Thank you!"
"You're welcome," Obi-Wan replied, holding her for a moment before pulling away. "How did it happen?"
"Something poked me in the neck."
"What was it?" he asked, pushing her hair aside and examining the deep puncture wound.
Larisa sighed before answering. "It was one of Master Tiin's horns."
"Ouch." Obi-Wan winced. "Didn't anyone look at this?"
"No. They were busy with Master Yaddle, so I decided to come back here. How bad is it?" she asked, prodding at it with one finger.
He quickly pulled her hand away. "Well, there wasn't much bleeding, but there's always the chance of an infection."
Pulling her hand free, Larisa pressed her fingertips next to the injury. Obi-Wan watched as the wound in her neck closed up and disappeared in a matter of seconds. "Better?"
"Better," she answered, looking away.
"It wasn't your fault."
"That's what Master Tiin said," Larisa said, though she still felt guilty.
Obi-Wan looked regretfully at the chrono. "I have to meet Anakin right now for lightsaber practice," he told her as he stood. "Will you be all right?"
"Yes, thank you," she replied, leaning back against the cushion.
"I had some fruit brought up while you were gone."
Pausing by the door, Obi-Wan looked as if he were going to say more, but changed his mind and left. Wondering what that was all about, Larisa looked over at the small bowl of fruit for a few seconds, then got up to shower and change her clothes again before leaving as well.
Moving the datapads he was finished with into a separate stack, Windu looked up when the door opened again and Larisa walked into the dining hall, looking extremely nervous.
"What's happened now?" he asked, sitting back.
Hesitating, Larisa decided to put it off a few seconds longer. "I came here to give you the rest of the credits," she said, handing him the small bag.
"And?" he asked, sensing that she was holding something back.
"I also wanted to apologize to Master Yaddle, but my access card won't let me into that part of the Temple."
"Apologize for what?"
"Oh. You haven't heard."
"Heard what?" he asked sharply.
Larisa took a breath before replying. "I shot Master Yaddle in the foot with a blaster." She stopped when he stared at her in disbelief.
"You what? Just how did this happen?" he asked in a hard voice.
"It was an accident, you see," she said in a rush. "One of Master Tiin's horns jabbed me in the neck, and I didn't expect that, you see, and..."
"Yes, I see," he interrupted. "And I don't suppose you were expecting that. I'm glad to hear that it wasn't deliberate. Master Yaddle wasn't seriously injured, was she?"
"No, not really. I shot her in the foot, but Obi-Wan checked with the healers and they said she'll be fine."
"Good. I'll tell Yaddle for you, though I'm sure Saesee has already explained what happened to her by now. I also think you had better practice in an empty room from now on."
"Yes, thank you," Larisa said, letting out the breath she had been holding.
Windu looked thoughtfully down at the datapads before speaking again. "Meet me here after the noon meal. I'm sending you on an errand to the Senate Building."
"Oh, okay," she said, surprised. Bowing, she left the dining hall and returned to her own rooms, determined to get a little more sleep before the noon meal.
"If not hungry you are, picked up a tray you should not have," Yoda pointed out when Billapa continued to move her salad around the plate.
"I'll eat it," she replied, making another circle before lifting a forkful into her mouth.
Nearly choking in surprise, she looked up at Obi-Wan Kenobi. "Knight Kenobi," she replied after forcing herself to swallow the mouthful. "What brings you here?"
"I was hoping to speak with Master Windu about Larisa," he said, glancing at the empty chair next to her.
"He'll be back in a few minutes," she told him, suddenly apprehensive. "What about Larisa?"
"I'm going to ask him to allow her to move into another room," Obi-Wan declared.
"Yours?" she asked with a sinking feeling.
Setting her elbow down on the table with a thud, Billapa lowered her head into her hand. "Obi-Wan," she began, her voice muffled. "You know that we only allow that sort of arrangement between bonded Jedi."
"Yes, but what if..."
"Absolutely not!" She lifted her head and stared at him fiercely before continuing in a quieter voice. "I seriously doubt that Larisa even knows what a life-bond is."
"I'm sure she'll agree after I explain it," he told her confidently.
Stymied, Billapa glanced down at her plate, then jumped when Yoda, after listening to their exchange, banged his cup on the table.
"Thoughtless you are," he admonished Obi-Wan. "Duty you have to your Padawan. Come first that must, before everything else."
"Has it interfered with other bonded Knights who have Padawans?" he asked, looking down at Yoda, who stared back, intractable.
"Not just any Apprentice is Skywalker. Know that you do. Difficult time this is for him."
"We'll wait until after he passes his Trials then, but you can't forbid me from discussing it with her now."
"Hmmpphhh," Yoda grumped, turning back to his plate of food.
"Thank you, Master," Obi-Wan said, smiling as he bowed and left the room.
"This is getting completely out of hand," Billapa complained to Yoda, trying to think of a way to prevent what now looked like a disaster waiting to happen.
"Interfere we cannot."
"Do you think there's a chance this will work out for them?" she asked as Windu came back in.
"Hmmm." Yoda looked thoughtfully around the room, his gaze resting momentarily on a fellow Councilor before answering. "Difficult to say."
"What did I miss?" Windu asked, noticing the stressed look on her face.
Shaking her head, Billapa picked up her fork and stabbed at her salad.
Scrutinizing the report Maul had brought back, Palpatine jerked his head up when his office door opened and Doril walked in. "Why are you here? I had expected you to keep your distance, in case the Jedi began to suspect something."
"No one saw me come in. As for why I'm here, I need to 'borrow' your Apprentice."
"For one thing, Larisa has been a trifle difficult of late," she told him. "And I need to eliminate the only reason she has to leave the Temple."
"I must say I am surprised she did not return home when she had the chance."
"She would have, if the foolish creature had not given most of those credits to the Jedi. I also plan on putting an end to an entanglement she is currently in."
"I assume you're referring to Knight Kenobi. I have heard that Queen Amidala has rejected him as a consort. Was that your doing?"
"Somewhat, yes. I suppose you will want a favor in return for Maul's services."
"Of course. Later," Palpatine replied before summoning Maul.
"Master, what is she doing here?" Maul asked the moment he stepped into the room.
"She has a mission for you," Palpatine told him. "You are to follow her exact instructions."
"Her instructions?" Maul stared, surprised to find himself taking orders from someone other than his Master.
"Yes, and after you return you'll receive a reward."
"What reward?" he asked, puzzled.
"After you return," she repeated.
Listening reluctantly, Maul glanced over at Palpatine, who waved him off dismissively and continued reading the report on Senator Toora. Annoyed by this turn of events, he quickly left his Master's office and returned to the Infiltrator.
Taking the ship out for refueling, he counted the number of fully armed probe droids on board before programming in the coordinates for Adarlon.
Larisa plays musical quarters and has some distressing news. Maul completes a mission and Palpatine makes his move.
Happy to have done at least one thing right today, Larisa checked back with Master Windu before returning to her room, picking upthe datapad and going to the garden to finish studying the Quiraash. Looking for a more secluded spot in the garden, she came across a tiny glade amidst several different species of bushes. Wow! This is beautiful, she thought, admiring the huge colorful flowers before sitting down on a patch of grass and continuing where she had left off on the datapad.
Damn it! Larisa grouched a half hour later when she heard someone approaching. Can't I ever have any time to myself? I'm never going to finish this! And of course it had to be Him. She kept her attention on the datapad until Obi-Wan reached her. "How did you find me here?" she asked, curious.
"Oh, it wasn't difficult. I can sense your presence anywhere in the Temple," he told her casually.
Great! "I came here to study," she said, showing him the datapad in her hand.
"That's all right. I only have a few minutes." Obi-Wan sat down next to her and began telling her about his talk with Billapa and Yoda.
"Wait a minute," she interrupted, dropping the datapad on the ground. "You asked them if I could move into your quarters?"
"Yes, but they won't allow it until Anakin passes his Trials," he said, disappointed.
"And when will that be?"
"Only another four or five years."
Larisa stared at him. Four or five years? Like I even know what I'll be doing a year from now, she thought, barely listening when he started to tell her more of his conversation with the Councilors. Then he suddenly stopped.
"How often do you come here to study?" he asked, looking around.
"Huh? Oh! Almost every day. Why?"
"If you spend every day here, there's no way you'd interfere with Anakin's training," Obi-Wan declared, a note of triumph in his voice.
"We'll talk more about this later," he said, giving her a quick kiss before getting to his feet. "I'm going to go see Master Windu about this right now."
Talk? she thought, watching him walk away. You were the one doing most of the talking. It certainly sounded as if he had everything planned. The thought of spending every night with Obi-Wan was, she had to admit, very tempting, but what was that other thing he'd mentioned? A life bond? What the hell was that anyway, a bond for life? This coming from someone who didn't even want to marry?
Confused, Larisa stood and went back in to ask Master Billapa for advice, leaving the datapad on the ground behind her. Pressing the button a second time, Larisa took a step back in surprise when a tall female Padawan she'd never seen before answered Billapa's door. A Hrakian, judging by her appearance. "Who are you?" she asked, curious.
"I am Councillor Billapa's Apprentice," the Hrakian replied haughtily. "What do you want?" she asked in a stop-wasting-my-time tone of voice.
"I'm here to see Master Billapa," Larisa explained, bristling.
"She's in a meeting with Master Koon." Looking down her nose, she closed the door in Larisa's face.
Of all the... Larisa angrily pressed the button again.
"Didn't you hear me the first time?" Billapa's Padawan demanded after opening the door again.
"Yes!" Larisa snapped back. "Could you at least tell Master Billapa that Larisa Doril would like to speak with her as soon as it's convenient. Or is that too difficult for you?"
"Doril? I've heard the other Padawans talk about you," the Hrakian sniffed disdainfully.
"Really? What do they say?" she asked warily.
"That you know things you shouldn't, and that you're the Council's pet. They call you The Freak."
"Why, you..." Infuriated, Larisa launched herself at the Padawan, determined to wipe that sneer off her face.
Surprised by the attack, the Hrakian stumbled back and tripped, sending them both crashing to the floor.
"What is going on here?" Billapa shouted, drawn into the room by the noise of their fight. "Zyrid! Larisa! Stop it this instant!"
Screeching when the Hrakian punched her in the face, Larisa kicked the Padawan off and jumped to her feet.
"Stop it! Both of you!" Billapa said as she and Plo Koon stepped between them, alarmed by the green glow at Larisa's fingertips.
"Larisa! Calm down!"
"I am not a freak!" Larisa yelled, trying to get at Zyrid again and twisting about when Koon restrained her.
"Master, she attacked me!" Zyrid accused indignantly.
"Zyrid, you have the manners of a Hutt! Go back to your room! Now!" Billapa ordered.
Wiping at the scratches on her face, Zyrid glared at Larisa before obeying her Master's command.
Breathing hard, Larisa relaxed once Billapa's Apprentice was out of her sight. "You can let go of me now!" she said, craning her neck around and looking back at Koon. She looked away, fuming when he ignored her.
"I apologize for my Padawan's behavior," Billapa said, locking the connecting door and nodding at Koon to release her. "Sit down and take ten deep breaths," she instructed, pouring a cup of jeru tea that she luckily had on hand.
"Is that bitch really your Padawan?" Larisa bluntly asked, putting a hand over her right eye as she sat down on the sofa.
"Yes," Billapa replied, wincing a little at her choice of words. "I admit she does have some rough edges, but hopefully, with time and training, she can overcome them. Now drink some of this tea. It will help calm you."
Taking the cup from her, Larisa swallow a large mouthful, grimacing at the sweet taste.
"Try to drink it all." Billapa turned to Koon. "I think we'd better continue our discussion later."
"Will you be all right alone?" he asked, glancing pointedly at Larisa.
"Yes, I'm sure I will," she assured him, sounding more confident than she felt.
Grateful that the fight hadn't attracted a crowd outside, Billapa locked the door after Koon and sat down on the other end of the sofa. "Now, what was that all about?"
Larisa jerked her head around, her eyes flashing angrily as she told Billapa what was said.
"This is unfortunate, but I'm afraid rumors such as these do tend to spread among the Padawans. They hear parts of the Masters' conversations and often come to the wrong conclusions."
"I don't like it when people talk about me behind my back!"
"No, of course you don't. I'll speak with the others about this problem, but I doubt there is much that can be done to prevent it from occurring again. And speaking of problems, you must never lose your temper like that again!"
"I know," Larisa said, bowing her head. "I'm sorry. It won't happen again."
"It had better not!" Billapa warned her. "Now, what did you want to see me about?"
"Oh, Obi-Wan wants me to move in with him."
"He's already discussed it with you?" He didn't waste any time, did he, Billapa thought to herself.
"Sort of. He went to talk to Master Windu about it, but I wanted to ask you about..."
"He went to Master Windu? Why?"
"Well, he said that since I spend most of my time in the garden, I wouldn't interfere with Anakin's training." Larisa paused when Billapa's comm link beeped.
"I suppose that's Mace now," Billapa said, picking up the link and answering it. Wretched, headstrong man! He'd agreed to wait!
"Depa, I've just spoken with Obi-Wan," Windu replied.
"About Larisa. I know. What did you tell him?"
"I told him that I was late for a meeting, but I expect he'll be back again. I take it you're against this arrangement?"
"Yes, and so is Master Yoda. Can I assume you will refuse as well?"
"I could, but I must say he seemed very determined. What if he decides to bring this before the Council? The others will likely agree with him, if only to resolve this and move on to more important matters."
"So you're saying we should allow this?" Billapa asked, sounding defeated.
"I'm saying that we may not have a choice."
And I'm so glad they're asking me what I want, Larisa thought sullenly.
"Very well. Thank you anyway." Putting the comm link away, she turned back to Larisa. "It is your decision to make, of course, but please give it a great deal of thought first."
"I intend to," Larisa replied, setting the cup down and getting up. "Thank you."
"You're welcome," Billapa said, pouring herself a cup of tea before going to talk to her Padawan.
Setting her access card on the table, Larisa sat down on the edge of her bed with a weary sigh. What should I do? she wondered, lying back and closing her eyes. Suppose she did move into Obi-Wan's quarters. What if, two years from now, he's killed during a mission?
She sat up and looked around the room. Except for the bag she had left, unpacked, on the floor, it looked depressingly barren and empty. Is this really the way I want to live? she asked herself. No. There was no use in trying to guess the future, either, was there? Determined not to dwell on it any further, she got up and began packing the rest of her clothes, smiling as she imagined the surprise on Obi-Wan's face when she showed up at his door.
Are they deliberately avoiding me? Obi-Wan wondered as he again tried to contact first Master Windu, then Master Billapa, with no success. They can't both be too busy to answer their comm links, and... Maybe that's one of them now, he thought, quickly answering his door when the alarm buzzed.
"Hi!" Larisa greeted, smiling up at him.
"Uh, hi. What..." He stopped when he noticed the bag slung over her shoulder. "Did they change their minds?"
"Well, I was with Master Billapa when Windu talked to her. He seemed to think you were ready to go before the Council for permission."
"The Council? I didn't think of that. But they did change their minds?"
"Yes, they did. Well, Billapa did. I don't know about… what was his name? Master Yofa?"
"Master Yoda," Obi-Wan corrected with a grin. "Come in!"
"Thank you." Larisa walked in and looked around the holographic decorations set on small tables. Except for an occasional ship model, most of them were of people Obi-Wan knew."
"Would you mind?" she asked, holding her bag out to him. "I did a lot of walking earlier, and I'm a little tired."
"Not at all," Obi-Wan said, quickly taking the bag from her. "What did you do today?"
"Master Windu had me deliver some messages to the Senate building. I hadn't realized just how big it is," she told him as they walked into the bedroom. "My feet are killing me!"
Sitting down on the side of his bed, Larisa pulled off her boots and looked up at him. "In fact, I don't think I can stand on them a minute longer," she declared, keeping her eyes on him as she slid to the middle of the bed.
Smiling when Obi-Wan dropped the bag on the table and walked over to her, she reached out and grabbed him by the tunic, pulling him down beside her.
It was exactly as Doril had said, Maul thought, ignoring the light snow that flew in his face as he watched through electrobinoculars. A winter festival, attended by nearly everyone from the surrounding towns, set in a large field next to a mountain that had, in recent days, received a substantial amount of snowfall.
Staying hidden at one end of the field, he watched for the several minutes, amazed at how naive and trusting they were, every last one of them. So secure in their own lives, with no idea what was about to happen. And there were his primary targets: Tevar and Jocyla Doril, exchanging friendly greetings with their many friends as they strolled through the crowd.
Enough of this, Maul thought, tiring of the cold. Stepping out from behind the large boulder he had been using for cover, he looked over at the snow-laden mountain and pressed a button on his wristlink. There was a faint popping noise, barely audible even to his ears, as the thermo-detonators on the droids he had dispatched to the mountain exploded. A dead silence followed for a few seconds, then a low rumbling sound, slowly building in volume.
Maul stood there a few seconds longer, watching as the townspeople realized what was happening and began to panic. Running in every direction, they desperately tried to find shelter as the avalanche bore down on them.
Turning away when it overtook and buried them, Maul went back inside the Infiltrator and the ship lifted off. Curiously enough, he derived no satisfaction in wiping out so many defenseless people. There was none of the pleasure he had felt when fighting the Jedi.
It was just one more mission he had completed, and now it was time to return to Coruscant.
"Delegates of the Senate," Chancellor Palpatine began in a grave voice. "It is my sad duty to report that we have a traitor in our midst." He paused, watching as many of the remaining Senators misinterpreted his words and immediately began accusing each other of conspiring with the Mandalorians.
"There is someone here who has betrayed the ideals we all strive to uphold," he continued when the uproar finally died down.
"Senator Toora, you stand accused of a multitude of crimes, including, but certainly not limited to: Bribery, extortion, blackmail, and even murder."
Palpatine winced when Toora jumped up from her seat with a squeal of outrage. "That is a lie!" she stated in a high-pitched voice.
"What proof do you have of these allegations?" Senator Mot-Not-Rab quickly jumped into the fray.
Keeping his expression serious, Palpatine pressed one of the buttons on a hologram device and the first of several lengthy recorded conversations began to play before the ensemble.
"Mmm. Did you want to answer that or shall I?" Larisa asked when the door alarm buzzed, though she felt too comfortable lying half on top of him to want to move.
"I suppose I should," Obi-Wan said, making no attempt to get up himself. "Well, maybe not," he added when the buzzes suddenly ceased.
Looking in that direction, she started to laugh when she felt a sharp tug. "Ow! You really don't like braids, do you?" she asked, glancing over at him.
He paused, then continued unplaiting her hair. "I suppose I do prefer it loose."
"Hmm." Watching him out of the corner of her eye, Larisa quickly grabbed her hair back and sat up when someone knocked on the bedroom door. "Who...?"
"Master? Master Windu is here. He says he's here to see Larisa," Anakin called from the other side of the door. "Is she in there?" he asked, sounding dubious.
Obi-Wan muttered something under his breath before answering. "Tell him we'll be out in a minute." Wondering what the senior Councilor wanted, he looked over at Larisa when she snorted. "What?"
"I was just remembering the last time I was going to be out in a minute," she said, watching an embarrassed smile appear on his face.
"Somehow I doubt Master Windu will be as patient as Master Mundi was."
"No, I don't think he will," he agreed as they both got up, quickly dressed and entered the public room.
"Doril," Windu said, obviously annoyed about something. "So you've moved in here already? I'd thought as much when I went to your old room and found it empty."
"Yes, I have," she replied, looking away from the surprised grin on Anakin's face. "You could have called me on my comm link."
"Except that you don't seem to want to answer it anymore," he pointed out, then lifted the object he was holding in his left hand.
"My datapad!" Larisa exclaimed. "I left it..."
"In the garden, where Master Koth found it."
"Oh. He visits that part of the garden?"
"Sometimes, to meditate. I suggest you keep better care of our equipment."
"Yes, Master," she said, bowing. "I apologize."
"Don't let it happen again. You'll also need this," he said, handing her a new access card. Taking the old card from her, he nodded to Obi-Wan and Anakin before taking his leave.
"You're really going to live here?" Anakin asked the second the door closed.
"Yes, she is." Obi-Wan smiled as he put his arms around her waist, his hands resting over her stomach.
"Great! It's almost time for our next lightsaber practice. Did you want to come watch?" Anakin asked Larisa.
"I wish I could, but I have to finish studying this datapad. I should have been done with it by now."
"Maybe tomorrow then. Just be sure to cheer for me," Obi-Wan added in her ear.
"Absolutely!" she declared, turning around to look up at him. "I'll see you tonight."
Smiling, she kissed him on the chin before leaving the room. Humming to herself as she went back to the garden and found a different spot to study in, she couldn't imagine anything that could ever spoil this.
"Master, you'll need your lightsaber," Anakin pointed out when Obi-Wan started to follow him out the door without it.
"Of course I will," Obi-Wan staunchly replied. "You go on ahead. I'll be there shortly."
On the way to the bedroom, Obi-Wan stopped in front of the hologram of himself and Qui-Gon and looked down at it for a long moment. Reaching out and turning the device off, he picked it up and placed it in his trunk with the other mementos, then grabbed his lightsaber from the bedroom table and left his quarters.
"There is, of course, substantial evidence to support what you've just seen," Palpatine told the now-silent Senators four hours later.
"Senator Toora, you are forbidden to leave Coruscant for the duration of your trial," he proclaimed. "The eighteen million credits you have gained from your illegal activities will be held by the Courts until after the verdict, after which, assuming you are found guilty, it will be permanently confiscated. Do you understand?"
"Yes!" Toora responded gratingly, trying to think of who might have betrayed her. Not that it made a difference.
The trial, thanks to all the procedures that had to be observed, wouldn't even begin for another five days. Escaping Coruscant would be no problem for her. Unbeknownst to the Chancellor, not to mention the other Senators, she had a great deal more than eighteen millions credits to rely on. Fortunately for her, she had learned years ago that the right amount of money could buy anything. Even transport for an accused criminal.
Holding her head high when the Senate meeting ended, Toora ignored her armed escort as she returned to her offices. Closing the door on them as they positioned themselves on either side of the door, standing guard, Toora went into one of the back rooms, made several coded transmissions, then sank down into an overstuffed chair and waited.
Growing increasingly nervous when an hour passed, she decided to contact the banks herself and found that there were no existing accounts under the names she had provided. Toora sat in stunned silence. People she had trusted for years, who had given her no doubts whatsoever of their loyalty, had vanished with her fortune. With the trial looming ahead, there were no resources available for her to even begin searching for them, and there was enough evidence gathered to warrant her execution.
There was also the prospect of spending the next few weeks as a public spectacle. The very thought of enduring such complete humiliation was unbearable to her. Heaving herself back to her feet, Toora walked over to the desk, opened a secret compartment and removed a small, dark-colored bottle.
"So, you're back from your mission already," Palpatine said, finding Maul waiting for him inside his office. "I suppose this quick return is because of that reward Doril had mentioned."
"Yes, Master," Maul reluctantly admitted.
"I expect it will take one day, possibly two, for the news of this disaster to reach the Jedi. The we will arrange a diversion to draw Doril out of the Temple." At which time I will rid us of her once and for all, Palpatine thought before continuing. "For now, I have a meeting with Sienar and you are to come with me. He says he has a new ship design to show me."
Interested, Maul pulled his hood, keeping his face hidden as as they left through the back of the Senate building and took a public air taxi to the Sienar building.
"Supreme Chancellor. Lord Maul," Sienar greeted them at the entrance. "This way."
"This had better be worth the trip," Palpatine told him.
"I think you will be very pleased with what we've come up with," he answered as they walked through a set of double doors, into a room full of holographic images of ships and over to a round table near the front. "Here is our latest design. Because of its size, it will be developed by one of our subsidiary companies on a planet far from here."
Palpatine studied the triangular-shaped image intently. It certainly looked solid enough, with more than its fair share of weaponry. "What exactly are its measurements?"
Sienar, who had been waiting for that question, quickly answered. "When completed, it will measure well over eight hundred meters."
"Eight hundred!" Palpatine breathed.
"With a possible crew of over five thousand," Sienar said proudly. "It will also provide transportation for approximately two thousand Republic troops, if there is ever a need for them."
"How much will it cost to build?" Palpatine asked, imagining a veritable armada of these ships.
"And how long will it take to build it?" Maul added, his eyes on the hologram.
"The cost of one of these ships would be about two hundred million credits. With the number of workers we have available right now, it would take at least three years to complete."
"You will receive fifty million credits to begin with; more will come later. I will also provide as many workers as you require. I want this ship completed as soon as possible."
"Two thousand workers," Sienar said after a moment's consideration. "And it will be finished in about seven months."
"Good. I will contact you tomorrow to make the arrangements."
"I look forward to it, Supreme Chancellor," Sienar replied with a deferential nod.
"So, how was lightsaber practice today?" Larisa asked as she, Obi-Wan and Anakin sat down to eat dinner together in Obi-Wan's quarters.
Looking from one to the other when they started to tell her about it at the same time, she managed to get some questions in each time they stopped to take a bite. She listened quietly when they began a debate on which lightsaber technique was better, unsure of exactly what they were talking about.
"Lots of the Masters practice it one-handed," Anakin concluded.
"They're also at great risk of losing their grip during a genuine battle," Obi-Wan declared, determined to win this argument.
"Only if they have weak wrists. In that case they shouldn't even be allowed to carry a lightsaber!"
"There are other reasons why they could become disarmed, Padawan." Obi-Wan glanced over at Larisa when she tried to hide a yawn. "We'll continue this discussion tomorrow."
"All right," Anakin readily agreed, though his expression warned his Master that, by morning, he intended to have many more examples with which to prove his case.
Standing and stretching, Larisa used the fresher room first, and was already half-asleep in bed by the time Obi-Wan came out. "Tired?" he asked, slipping under the covers beside her.
"A little," she replied, moving over to lie against him.
"So am I. Tomorrow's going to be a busy day," he said, smiling as he draped one arm around her.
"Hm?" Getting no reply, she closed her eyes and fell asleep.
Mmmm. Nice, Larisa thought what seemed like mere minutes later as she kissed Obi-Wan back, feeling him moving on top, then inside her. What? Hey, wait a minute! Fully awake now, she opened her eyes, noticing that it was still dark in the room.
"Obi-Wan!" she protested, looking over at the lighted chrono on the table. "It's too early!"
"No, it's not," he said, kissing her again as he continued.
"It's the perfect time."
"What are you...? Oooohhh," Larisa exclaimed, clutching at his arms as he came. What is the matter with him? she wondered, lying still afterwards. And what did he mean by the perfect time?
Waiting until he was asleep again, she wriggled out from underneath him and sat up, thinking hard about what he had said. Following a hunch, she pressed one hand against her stomach, concentrated, then stared down at him, confused.
Was this the reason he wanted me to move in with him? He wouldn't have actually planned this and not said a word to me about it, would he? Larisa asked herself.
She thought back to that odd visit to the healers yesterday. So that was why Master Billapa came to see me at the hotel! Narrowing her eyes, Larisa glared down at Obi-Wan. Well, she thought with a burst of resentment, if it were true, we'll just see how he reacts when he doesn't get his way!
Conception was easy enough to prevent, but did she really want to?
Hesitating a moment to consider it, she decided that there
was plenty of time to think about whether she did want children someday and watched as the familiar glow appeared under her fingertips. Lying back down, she scooted closer to the edge of the bed, and away from him, before going back to sleep.
"Good morning!" Larisa greeted Obi-Wan the next morning with forced cheerfulness. And just who the hell do you think you are? Shaking her head at that thought, she concentrated on the fruit in her hands. Don't jump to conclusions! she told herself. If he doesn't mention it, then neither will I.
"Good morning," he replied, smiling as he sat down at the table across from her.
Clenching her teeth at what, to her eyes, looked like a self-satisfied smirk, she continued peeling the fruit she was holding. "So, what will you and Anakin be doing today?"
"Anakin will be attending some sort of political function with Amidala this morning, then there's our lightsaber practice later today. What will you be doing?"
"I have to return this datapad to Master Miruche and pick out another one to start on."
"Will you come with us to the lightsaber practice? It's been scheduled for right after the noon meal."
"Yes, I will," Larisa said, putting the fruit back down and standing. "I'd better get going."
"Shouldn't you eat something first?" he asked, looking up at her.
"Oh, I'm not really hungry right now," she replied nonchalantly, watching him closely.
Obi-Wan looked as if he might object, then simply nodded. "All right. I'll see you later."
"Sure." Uncertain, she glanced back at him before leaving their... no, his quarters.
Looking over the report of the latest development at the Senate building, Windu decided against calling a Council meeting. There was little point in debating any possible implications without knowing all the facts, and in light of Senator Toora's suicide, there was very little chance of that now.
That was, of course, assuming there was more to this than what was obvious: Toora was, or rather had been, obviously guilty of each and every charge against her. Windu did wonder, though, who was going to be elected to replace her in the Senate. He glanced up when Ki-Adi-Mundi entered the dining hall and walked over to his table.
"I hope you have good news to tell me," Windu remarked, setting aside the holopad before looking up and noticing Mundi's grave expression.
"I'm afraid it isn't," Mundi replied. "I've found out that there was a report of a large avalanche yesterday on Adarlon."
Thinking over who in the Temple came from that planet, Windu leaned back in his chair. "Exactly where on Adarlon?"
"Near the town of Pevallo. Apparently there was some sort of seasonal event going on in that area when it occurred," Mundi informed him. "There is very little chance of any survivors."
First Anakin's mother, and now this! Windu thought, rubbing at his temple. "It's entirely possible that Larisa's parents do not attend these kind of gatherings."
"Perhaps," Mundi said, doubtfully. "But only she would know for sure. I think it would be best to tell her now, rather than later."
"Yes, of course." Windu pulled a square-shaped object from his belt pouch and pressed a few buttons. "She's in one of the practice rooms. I gave her an access card with a tracking device inside it," he explained.
"Shall I contact Master Billapa? I can't imagine this will be easy."
"I think Depa has enough to deal with. She's taken Zyrid T'mil as her Apprentice."
"Ah." Mundi looked thoughtfully down at the tracker. "With your permission, I'd like to assign one of those access cards to my Padawan."
Well, Obi-Wan was certainly very nice to look at, Larisa admitted as she watched he and Anakin practice their lightsaber skills. He also had a lot of stamina, but then I knew that already, she thought, her face coloring slightly. At times it seemed as if Anakin could barely keep up with his Master.
Or perhaps that's what he wants everyone to think, Larisa guessed when he nearly knocked Obi-Wan down with a powerful overhand swing. Recovering quickly, Obi-Wan somersaulted over Anakin and struck at his back. Anakin, however, had anticipated that move and blocked it behind his head.
Engrossed as the fight continued at a faster pace, Larisa didn't even hear her name being called. Nearly jumping out of her seat when someone tapped her on the shoulder, she looked up at Master Windu's decidedly unfriendly expression.
"What did I do now?"
Blinking, Windu looked puzzled for a second, then cleared his throat before speaking again. "I must speak with you. In private."
"Now?" she asked, looking back at the lightsaber duel.
"Yes, now." He glanced over at Obi-Wan, who immediately ended the practice.
"All right." Avoiding the curious glances from some of the other spectators, she quickly stood and followed Windu. "Are you familiar with the town Pellavo?" Windu finally asked after they stepped out into the empty hallway.
"Yes. There's a festival held there every year." Larisa smiled at some of the memories that brought back before looking back up at him. "What about it?"
"I take it, then, that you and your family regularly attended this festival?"
"Well, yes. Why?" she asked, curious. Windu looked oddly uncomfortable for some reason.
"There has been an accident," Windu said awkwardly, thinking that he should have asked Ki-Adi to handle this. He was not good at delivering bad news.
"What do you mean, an accident?" she asked uneasily.
"There was an avalanche there yesterday."
Larisa stared up at him, eyes widening in shock. "What?"
"There was a report of an avalanche in that area yesterday," he repeated.
"What report?" Alarmed, she grabbed hold of the front of his tunics. "How could this happen?"
"I don't know," Windu said, trying to free the tunics from her grasp. He looked behind him as Obi-Wan and Anakin finally came out of the training room.
"What's going on?" Anakin asked as he followed Obi-Wan over to them.
"There was an avalanche on Adarlon yesterday," Windu explained.
"How bad was it?" Obi-Wan asked, grim-faced.
"The report didn't give very many details, but they don't expect to find any survivors."
"They? Who's they?" Larisa demanded, tightening her grip on his clothing.
"The rescue teams that have been sent to that area."
"No! They can't be all dead!" she denied vehemently. "I don't believe this! I want to see that report myself!"
"Please, try to stay calm," Obi-Wan quietly urged, putting his arms around her and working the tunics out of her clenched fists.
"I don't want to stay calm!" Larisa exclaimed, trying to shrug him off. "How could this happen? There's never been an avalanche there before. Not that I've ever heard of. Was there an earthquake."
"I think you'd better take her back to your quarters. I'll have a full report sent up later," Windu said, smoothing the creases in the material. "Perhaps a sedative as well."
"Like hell! You are not drugging me!" she snapped at both of them, affronted.
"I'm sure that won't be necessary," Obi-Wan quickly replied, leading a recalcitrant Larisa away from him.
Scowling at Windu's back, Anakin quickly cleared his expression and stepped forward, bowing to the Councillor before following them.
Staying silent on the way back to Obi-Wan's rooms, Larisa sank down on the couch and stared down at the floor. I can't believe they're all gone. My parents, Milori and her family, and all the others, she thought numbly. And Windu wanted to sedate me to keep me quiet! Damn him! She looked back up when she realized Obi-Wan had spoken. "What?"
"Is there anything I can get you?" he repeated, unable to think of anything else to say.
"No. Well, maybe a drink." Staring back down at the floor when Obi-Wan went into the other room, Larisa glanced up when Anakin sat down beside her.
"Did you want to talk about it?" he asked hesitantly.
"All right. I know how you feel."
Distracted, Larisa sat up and turned his way. "How could you possibly know how I feel?"
"My mother died just a few days ago." Anakin's mouth twisted slightly at the memory. "You're lucky it was only Master Windu. I was dragged in front of the whole Council when I was told."
Larisa sat up and turned his way. "You're joking!"
"No, I'm not." Anakin leaned back against the cushions.
"That must have been awful for you!" she exclaimed. "What happened?"
"They said that someone had killed her with a blaster. Watto insisted he had no idea who could have done it."
"Watto? The one who owned you?" She stared at him in disbelief. "Your mother was still a slave?"
"She was the main reason I came here in the first place," Anakin said, looking down at the lightsaber on his belt. "I just knew that once I became a Jedi I would go back there and free her. Now I wonder why I even bother to stay," he added quietly.
"Where would you go? If they did let you leave, that is. You are still a Padawan." Larisa paused, thinking it over. "Did you have any friends on Tatooine? Any that might need help too?"
"Yes, I do. I..."
"Here, try this," Obi-Wan said as he came back in and handed her a glass filled with a pale green liquid, interrupting the conversation he had started to listen to. Relieved that Anakin was finally talking about his mother's death, he was also well aware that the Council strongly disapproved of his Padawan's determination to return to Tatooine.
"Thank you," she said, taking a sip.
Anakin glanced over at a chrono and hastily stood. "I have to go now, or I'll be late for class," he said apologetically.
"You could take the rest of the day off. I'll talk to your instructor and explain," Obi-Wan offered.
"No," Larisa said, shaking her head. "You shouldn't start skipping classes."
"It wouldn't be the first time. All right, I'll go," Anakin quickly added when she started to frown at him.
"Don't you have anything stronger?" she asked once Anakin had left.
"I don't think that getting drunk will help," he said, sitting next to her.
What would? Larisa took a few more swallows, her thoughts spinning around in her mind. All she had left from home was her pet, Rialth, and there was no chance of him dying, not as long as he stayed with her. What Windu didn't know, and she had no intention of telling him, was that Rialth was already fourteen years old, well past the average lifespan of his species, thanks to her skills.
The only friend she had in the Temple was Anakin. If that Zyrid person was an example of how the other Padawans acted, then they could go straight to hell as far as she was concerned. So could a few of the Councilors. Well, one at least.
Most of them were pleasant enough, like Mundi and Tiin, though she wasn't sure if she could trust Billapa any more. As for Koon, maybe he was just naturally rude; some sort of trait he shared with others of his race. And there was, of course, Obi-Wan, but how did he really feel about her? It was about time I found out, Larisa decided, finishing the rest of the drink in one swallow.
"Perhaps you'd like to lie down," he suggested, taking the empty glass from her and setting it down on the table.
"Yes," she replied, swaying a little as she rose to her feet. "Would you help me, please?"
"Of course." Obi-Wan quickly placed one arm around her shoulders and helped her into the bedroom. "Is there anything else you need?" he asked once they'd reached the bed, wondering what more he could possibly do.
"Yes. This," she replied, pulling his head down and kissing him.
"No." Breaking it off, Obi-Wan inadvertently backed into the end of the bed, losing his balance and falling backwards. Before he had a chance to even sit up, Larisa was on top, straddling him.
"Yes," she said, kissing him again.
He quickly rolled to the side, then on top, pinning her. "You don't really want to do this."
"Yes, I do." Larisa pulled him down for another kiss. "So do you," she determined, feeling him start to grow hard against her. "Because you love me, don't you?"
"This won't make it any easier," he told her, trying to control his physical reaction as he drew back.
"Yes, it will!" she insisted, wrapping her legs around his hips. "You always feel good inside me!"
Feeling his resistance waver, Obi-Wan tried one more time. "Larisa, listen to me. You don't know what you're doing."
Instead of replying, she concentrated on taking off his belt. Starting to protest when he pushed her hands away, she relaxed and lay back, watching him remove the belt before working on his trousers.
You shouldn't do this, Obi-Wan told himself as he slid off her skirt and underclothes. Moving back on top, he heard Larisa sigh with relief when he pushed inside her.
"Uhn. Yes," she moaned. "Tell me that you love me. Say it."
"I..." Obi-Wan stared down at her, then abruptly withdrew and rolled off. "No," he muttered.
"What? Why?" Larisa asked, sitting up and staring at his back, bewildered.
"I know you think it will make you feel better, but it won't," he said, standing and rearranging his clothes.
"That's not why I... Where are you going?" she asked, growing more desperate.
"I'll be back shortly," he assured her, laying one hand against her cheek. "You must be exhausted."
He's actually going to leave! she realized, too shocked to resist the Force-push that sent her to sleep.
Pulling a blanket from his trunk, Obi-Wan paused and looked down at her, brow furrowed. There was something not right here. Or rather he hadn't sensed anything different about her since early this morning. He put a hand on her stomach, confirming his suspicion before covering her with the blanket. Disappointed and perplexed, he turned off the lights and went to the outer room, closing the bedroom door before pulling out his comm link and pressing one of the buttons.
"Master Billapa, it's Obi-Wan," he said, grateful for the quick response. "I need to talk to you, as soon as it's convenient."
"It may as well be now, then," she replied. "Meet me in the garden, by the green benches."
"Thank you. I'll be right there." Obi-Wan put the comm link away and quickly left his quarters.
Waking up minutes after the door had closed, Larisa slowly sat up. I can't believe he just got up and left! she thought as she looked around the empty, dimly-lit room. Feeling cold, she wrapped the blanket around herself before going to the door and opening it, revealing an equally empty public room.
No longer caring where Obi-Wan might have gone, she threw the blanket on the floor, dressed, and left the room, intending to walk off this sudden restlessness she was feeling. Perhaps she should go to the garden to visit Rialth.
Enjoying an afternoon breeze, Billapa braced herself when the door opened and Obi-Wan entered the garden, looking as tense as he had sounded.
"Sit down, please," she said, moving over to make room for him on the small bench. "Ki-Adi told me about what happened to Larisa's parents. How is she?"
"All right, I hope. She's asleep right now." Obi-Wan sat down next to her on the bench, suddenly at a loss for words.
"You wanted to speak with me," Billapa prompted.
"Yes. About Larisa, since you know her better than anyone else in the Temple."
"Whatever made you think that?"
"Well, she does talk to you, doesn't she?" he asked hopefully.
"No, not very often, but I will try to help if I can, of course. What is this about?"
"I think I may have made a mistake," Obi-Wan admitted.
"Yes," he said uncomfortably, then plowed ahead. "Has she ever mentioned whether or not she wants children?"
"No. She did not often speak of herself. I hope you haven't done anything rash."
Obi-Wan started to respond, then paused when another Master entered the garden. "Could we talk about this inside?" he asked her quietly.
"Certainly." Rising and accompanying Obi-Wan back inside the Temple, Billapa listened to his latest dilemma as they strolled through the hallway. "I must say, I've rarely counseled someone who's mismanaged a relationship the way you have," she mused after he finished.
"In other words, I've completely ruined it!"
"There does seem to be a definite lack of communication here, I will say that much."
"I don't know what to do," Obi-Wan admitted, feeling hopeless. "If I give you some advice, will you actually follow it this time?" Billapa asked, though she was reluctant to involve herself in this again.
"Yes, I will," he promised fervently.
"All right. As I'm sure you've realized by now, this is quite different from the relationship you shared with Qui-Gon. It would not be wise to assume Larisa wants the same things you do. In fact, I don't think you should assume anything without talking to her first. She cannot read your mind."
"Of course not. I understand."
"I hope you also understand that this is a difficult time for her, and Anakin."
"Yes, but I can't help but think that this would be less difficult for them if they had been found when they were born."
"Undoubtedly, but the fact remains that they weren't. Larisa and Anakin will need our support. You should be there when she wakes up."
"It's a little late for that!"
Startled, they both whirled around to see Larisa standing in front of one of the smaller corridors they had passed.
"Larisa!" Obi-Wan exclaimed. "You're awake!"
"Yes I am!" she retorted. "Surprised?"
"Well... yes," he said, alarmed by the anger on her face. "I didn't sense you there."
"Really? Well, maybe that's because you were too wrapped up in yourself," Larisa replied scathingly.
Billapa quickly tried to intervene. "I don't know how much you heard of our conversation, but it wasn't how it sounded."
"I heard enough! Anakin's mother is dead. My parents, and everyone I knew back home, are dead and it's nothing but an inconvenience to you!"
"That is not true!" Obi-Wan denied, taking a couple steps towards her and stopping when she backed away from him.
"Isn't it? Anakin told me that his mother was still a slave when she died. Why didn't you go back there and rescue her?" Larisa demanded.
"Tatooine is not part of the Republic," Billapa explained. "We have no authority there."
"That didn't stop him from freeing Anakin!"
"That was Qui-Gon's decision, not mine," Obi-Wan said defensively.
"You..." Larisa stopped and stared at him, revolted. "So if it had been up to you, Anakin would still be a slave on Tatooine as well."
"You don't understand."
"I understand perfectly! You both think I'm a complete idiot, don't you?"
"I do not!"
"Could we please talk this over in private?" Billapa added.
"No!" Larisa glared at Billapa, then back at Obi-Wan. "Did you think I wouldn't figure out what you were trying to do when you woke me up at three in the morning?"
"Look, I'm sorry about that."
"So am I! I'm sorry I ever tried to forget what you're really like. You're disgusting! You want children? Then go find someone else to breed with. Don't ever touch me again!" she spat at him before turning and walking away.
"Larisa!" Billapa called after her and was ignored.
Disturbed, she turned to Obi-Wan, who was leaning against the wall, his face pale.
"Are you all right?"
"No. I feel as if I've been trampled by a herd of banthas," Obi-Wan said, letting himself slide down to the floor.
Billapa glanced around, then sat down next to him. "I'm sure Larisa didn't truly mean what she said."
"Even if it's true? About Anakin?"
"Obi-Wan, we both know that Qui-Gon often allowed himself to become distracted," she reminded him. "You remained focused on the mission."
"That's what I used to think. That he was just wasting time when he showed sympathy for someone we weren't assigned to help. I wish that had been the real reason."
"What do you mean?"
"I suppose I was convinced that we could do everything ourselves, and that we didn't need help from anyone." Obi-Wan paused, astounded by his colossal arrogance.
"Go on," Billapa encouraged.
"If it had been my decision we wouldn't have had Anakin or Jar Jar with us when we returned to Naboo. A lot of people would have died because of me."
"There is no way of knowing that for certain, but what about now? Would you have made those same decisions now?"
"No, I wouldn't," Obi-Wan answered without hesitating. "The Code says we should respect all forms of life. That must have been what Qui-Gon was trying to teach me every time he picked up what I'd call a stray. Sometimes I wonder how he ever put up with me."
"You're being too hard on yourself. Many young Jedi go through that same learning experience. If I told you some of the stories I've heard about Master Piell..."
"What in the name of the Force is going on?" Ki-Adi-Mundi interrupted, surprised to find both of them sitting on the floor. "I sensed a great deal of anger."
"Larisa overheard part of our conversation and misunderstood," Billapa told him, then explained what occurred. "I'm afraid it wasn't very pleasant," she finished.
"That's an understatement," Obi-Wan muttered.
Mundi frowned at the two of them. "You haven't gone after her to explain?"
"I don't think she's ready to listen to anyone right now," Billapa told both of them.
"Hmm. Do you know where she might have gone?"
"She's in the garden," Obi-Wan answered after a moment's concentration. He slowly got up and bowed to the two Councilors. "I'm going back to my quarters to wait."
"I'll see you later, then," Billapa said, nodding in return.
"What do you intend to do about this?" Mundi asked.
"Leave her to herself for now, and let Mace know what's happened. I've also decided to resign from the Council."
"I have heard that you've taken T'mil as your Padawan," Mundi commented.
"Yes, and she's quite a handful," Billapa said with a slight frown. "I may have to take her on a mission sooner than I'd planned."
"Nothing too dangerous, I trust."
"No. What she needs most right now are lessons in simple courtesy," she replied, standing and brushing off her robe. "Perhaps I should take her to Kashyyyk."
"That would certainly teach her to mind her tongue," Mundi said mildly.
"Yes, it certainly would," Billapa said, her mood lightening a little as she walked to Windu's quarters.
Frustrated when Rialth still didn't appear, Larisa gave up looking for him. He'll show up eventually, she told herself.
I am not going back in there, she thought, glancing back at the Temple once before going deeper into the garden, determined to avoid any unwanted company. Pausing near the glade she had been in earlier, Larisa briefly considered it before continuing on. Obi-Wan had found her there once already, so she had better find a better hiding place, just in case. Besides, she had a feeling there was someone already in there.
He doesn't love me. He never did, Larisa thought bitterly. Sitting down in front of a large tree and leaning against the trunk with a weary sigh, she looked up at the sky traffic. Wishing she was on one of them right now, she began counting each ship that passed overhead until she fell asleep.
"So, you're telling me that Obi-Wan and Larisa have had an argument, again, but you won't say what it was about." Windu fixed a stern eye on Billapa. "I suggest you tell me exactly what is going on."
"Oh, very well," she finally conceded, telling him most of what happened.
"This is ridiculous," he declared. "They should have been separated days ago. This cannot be allowed to continue."
"I hope you'll give them a chance to at least try to work this out themselves," Billapa reasoned.
Windu snorted. "From what you've told me, that is easier said than done, but I'll consider it."
"Thank you. I've also come here to tell you that I have decided to step down from the Council."
"I can't say I wasn't expecting this. Has Zyrid been giving you very much trouble?"
"Not especially. Nothing that I can't handle, though I may take her off planet soon," Billapa told him.
"Might I suggest a world with a very cold climate?"
"Actually, I was thinking of Kashyyyk."
"Now that could be interesting," Windu commented.
"I'm sure it would," she said, standing. "And I must say that Master Piell dealt admirably with the Corellians. He has another meeting with them tomorrow."
"I'm pleased to hear it. I'll see you at the evening meal."
"Of course. Goodbye."
Nodding in response, Windu pulled the tracker out of his desk. Still in the garden, he noted, deciding to wait until Larisa came back inside before speaking to her.
"Huh?" Larisa mumbled, waking to find it raining. Raining? Don't be stupid, she told herself, they're just watering the garden. It was also getting dark out here. Not that it mattered anyway. She had no intention of going back inside, despite the fact that she was thoroughly soaked by the time the downpour ended.
Leaning back up, Larisa continued to watch the ships fly by. Soon all that was visible was their lights, so she started counting how many each ship had. Some of them must be pretty big.
"Are you trying to make yourself sick?"
Snapping her head around, Larisa looked up at Master Windu.
"How the hell did you find me? Did he come with you?"
Taking exception to her tone of voice, Windu folded his arms across his chest and frowned at her. "If it's Obi-Wan you are referring to, no, he did not."
"Oh," she muttered, looking away. "Why are you here?"
"Depa told me..." he began.
"Master Billapa told me what happened."
"She would! Is it your job to know everyone's business?" she demanded.
"As head of the Council, yes, it is," he told her firmly. "Especially if it could possibly disrupt the Temple."
"I do not!"
"I didn't say you did," Windu said impatiently. "Now get up. It's time you came back inside."
"No! And I don't want to see Obi-Wan ever again. Did he tell you I was here? He did say that he could sense where I was." Larisa jumped to her feet, eyes widening as a thought occurred to her. "He mentioned something about a lifebond. Is that how he found me earlier?"
"Would you calm down!" Windu ordered when she started looking in every direction. "This tends to happen when two Jedi become intimate. It does not necessarily mean there is a lifebond."
"It doesn't mean there isn't one, either!" she exclaimed, working herself into a panic.
"Stand still!" Placing one hand on her forehead, he concentrated for a few seconds before stepping back. "There is no bond. Obi-Wan would not have formed one without your consent anyway. That is expressly forbidden."
Uncertain, Larisa hesitated a moment, then flung her arms around his waist and hugged him. "Thank you!"
"What? Why are you thanking me?" he asked, prying her arms loose and stepping back.
"Because you're honest. You don't pretend you like me."
What is the matter with her, Windu wondered, baffled by that bizarre statement. She hadn't felt feverish. "I think you had better go back inside and change into some dry clothes."
"Yes, of course. Oh, but I left my clothes in Obi-Wan's rooms. I'm not going back there!"
"I doubt you'll be able to avoid Obi-Wan forever. Sooner or later you're going to have to speak to him."
"Later then," Larisa stubbornly replied.
"Fine. I'll have your old room prepared," Windu said, turning and walking away. He stopped when he realized she hadn't moved from where she stood. "Now what?"
"What if he shows up there?" she asked, still nervous. "Could I stay in your quarters? I'm sure he wouldn't come looking for me there. I could sleep on the sofa."
"Absolutely not! I'll find another room for you, and if, by chance, you hear someone at the door, ignore him," he told her, turning and walking back in the direction of the Temple.
Muttering to herself, Larisa followed for a few feet, then stopped when she lost sight of him in the dark. "Um. Where are you?" she called, taking a few more steps and walking straight into a bush.
"What are you doing?" Windu asked testily, reappearing while she was still struggling to get free.
"Nothing. I just enjoy walking into things at night," she answered back, trying not to break any of the branches.
Exasperated, Windu grabbed Larisa by one arm and pulled her out. "This way," he said, keeping a firm grip on her elbow as he led her through the garden and back to the Temple. "And next time don't stay out so late."
Letting go once they were inside, he pulled out his comm link to check on a room for her and was told that it would be at least twenty minutes before one of the vacant Initiate rooms was ready. In the morning he would have to see about hiring more public servants, ones that could be trusted, in order to avoid this kind of delay.
Noticing a small puddle of water forming on the floor at her feet, Windu made a quick arrangement, then put the link away. "Follow me," he said, resigned.
Larisa started to speak, then decided it would be better to just keep quiet as she followed him to his rooms. He really did not look happy about this.
"You can stay in this room for tonight," Windu told her, sounding downright surly as they entered his quarters and he unlocked the door to the adjoining room. "I'll assign you to a new room in the morning."
"Thank you," Larisa said uncertainly before going in, glancing back when the door immediately closed behind her.
Shrugging, she peeled off her wet clothes and hung them up before using the fresher. Wrapping one of the large towels around her hair, she used the other one to dry off, then looked around for a robe to wear. Not finding one, she wrapped the towel around herself, then walked into the other room to check the closet and found it empty.
Oh, well. The towel would have to do, Larisa thought as she entered the bedroom. At least the bed had already been made, she noticed, wondering what material the thick blanket was made of. Wool, perhaps. Whatever it was, it was certainly soft. Walking back into the public room, she sat down on the small couch and took the towel off her head. Using her fingers to comb out her hair, Larisa froze and looked up when the door opened and Windu entered the room, carrying a tan-colored robe.
"Hi," she said, praying that the towel didn't suddenly decide to slip.
Windu glanced at her briefly before looking away. "Here," he said, holding out the robe. "You'll need something to wear tonight. I've ordered some food since you refused to come in for the evening meal."
"Thanks." Taking the robe, Larisa watched him turn around and return to his quarters.
One minute he's grumpy, and the next he's acting nice. I wish he'd make up his mind, she thought, putting on the robe and taking the towels back to the fresher room. Sitting back down on the couch, she waited for the food to arrive, then contemplated what to do tomorrow as she ate.
One thing she had to do was get the rest of her clothes back, which meant going back to Obi-Wan's rooms. Losing her appetite at that thought, Larisa forced down a few more bites before giving up and going to bed. Tomorrow will come soon enough, she told herself as she snuggled under the blanket.
Rolling over, Larisa looked over at the chrono. Oh, damn! she thought, sitting up and kicking off the blanket. Getting up and heading towards the fresher to dress, she paused, then walked over to the adjoining door and listened. There were no sounds of movements coming from the other side, so Master Windu must have left already. Unless he'd overslept too.
Larisa hesitated before opening the door and entering Windu's quarters, finding the lights still off. Wondering if she should risk it, she went over to the bedroom door and pressed the button, almost jumping back when it opened.
Peeking her head through the doorway, she found him still asleep, lying on his back with only a sheet covering him to his waist. There were numerous datapads on the table next to the bed, so he must have been up late last night. Still, she doubted he would want to miss the morning meal. Biting her lip in trepidation, she reached down and shook his shoulder.
Waking instantly, he grabbed her wrist and yanked, throwing her down onto the bed and trapping her underneath him.
"Aghh!! Stop it!!" she yelled, pushing at his chest.
"What are you doing in here?" Windu demanded, scowling down at her.
"Get off me!"
"What are you doing here?" he repeated.
"I was only trying to wake you up. We're both going to be late for breakfast," Larisa quickly explained. She suddenly sucked in a breath, eyes bulging. "You're not wearing anything!"
Windu glanced over at the chrono before moving to the side and covering himself with the sheet. Larisa bolted from the bed, not stopping until she was halfway across the room.
"Go back to your room, and don't ever try to come in here again!" he told her in a hard voice, reminding himself to keep his door locked from now on.
"I'm sorry," Larisa said in a small voice, backing up through the doorway. She paused and sneaked a glance back at Windu. He's even bigger than Obi-Wan! she thought, feeling her face overheat when he stood up. She ran back to her room and into the fresher to splash cold water on her face.
Stupid! she told herself. What the hell were you thinking? Who cares if he misses a meal? This day could not have gotten off to a worse start! Might as well forget about breakfast; she didn't think she could eat anything now.
Deciding that now was as good a time as any to retrieve her clothes, Larisa quickly dressed and left her room, walking purposefully over to Obi-Wan's quarters. Jabbing the access card into the small slot, she opened the door and went inside. Good. He and Anakin must have already left, she thought, looking around before going into the bedroom to pack her clothes.
When the bedroom door opened three minutes later, she stiffened and turned to find an angry-looking Obi-Wan standing in the doorway. What the hell did he have to be angry about?
"Just what were you doing in Master Windu's quarters last night?" he asked almost accusingly.
Larisa stared at him, outraged by the implication. How dare he! "What do you think I was doing?" she answered, lifting her chin.
He started to take a step towards her, then stopped and shook his head. "No. Mace is too honorable for that."
"But I'm not? Thank you for clearing that up!" Glaring at him, Larisa shoved the rest of her clothes into the bag and closed it.
"That's not what I meant!"
"Of course not. You always say things you don't mean," she said, slinging the bag over her shoulder before walking over to him. "Would you please move?"
"I know you're still upset about what happened..." Obi-Wan began in a calmer voice.
"Yes, I am, and I will not live with someone who has so little respect for others! Now would you please stand aside?"
"No. Not until you hear me out," he said decisively, taking her by the shoulder and steering her back into the bedroom.
He's doing it again! Larisa thought resentfully, dropping her bag on the floor and plopping down onto the bed.
Trying to think of how to begin, Obi-Wan sat down next to her. "I admit that that was the way I behaved when Qui-Gon found Anakin, but I have changed since then, even if it doesn't show sometimes."
"It doesn't!" she stated, throwing him a glance full of mistrust before staring at the wall in stony silence.
"I'm not the same man I was seven years ago," he reiterated.
Larisa turned and looked at Obi-Wan, wanting to believe him. "Tell me why."
"Tell me why I should stay," Larisa elaborated, waiting for the answer she was hoping for.
Confused, he hesitated, unsure of what to say.
Disappointed by his uncomprehending expression, she pushed him away and stood up. "This won't work."
"Yes, it can," he persisted, standing as well. Taking a chance, he circled his arms around her, holding her close when she didn't try to pull away. "I don't want you to leave."
"Yes, I know what you want!" Larisa shot back, whirling around in a sudden fit of rage. "You want me to lie down and spread my legs every time you snap your fingers!"
"What?" Obi-Wan stared at her in appalled disbelief. "How could you think that?"
Larisa stared back for a moment, then felt the anger abruptly fade away. "I'm sorry," she whispered, bowing her head. "I don't know why I said that."
Idiot! Stop pressuring her, Obi-Wan castigated himself, feeling a sudden urge to bang his head against the wall. Keeping Billapa's advice firmly in mind, he tried again.
"All I'm asking as that you take some time to consider giving me, us, another chance. I expect that Anakin and I will be assigned to a new mission very soon, since Amidala's returning to Naboo tomorrow. I don't know how long we'll be gone. It could be weeks."
Larisa looked down at her hands as she thought it over. Maybe some time away from each other would be best right now. "All right. As long as you promise to send me a message every day."
"I will," Obi-Wan said, relieved to have come to some kind of compromise. That was obviously something he was going to have to get used to doing.
"By the way, I wasn't staying with Master Windu last night. I was in the room next to his," she informed him.
"I know. I was just..."
"Yes, jealous," Obi-Wan confessed with a lopsided grin.
Why can't I ever stay angry at him? Larisa wondered, smiling back. "I'll meet you and Anakin for lunch in the garden," she told him, still smiling as she picked her bag up and headed for the door.
"We'll be waiting."
"Goodbye." Closing the door behind her, Larisa wondered if Obi-Wan's Master had been as stubborn as he was. On second thought, that was probably who he learned it from.
On the way to her room, she realized she didn't have an access card to open the door. Well, it was only going to be temporary, but she didn't want to carry her bag of clothes around all day. Walking over to Windu's door, Larisa pressed the button several times but got no answer. Maybe he's still eating breakfast, she thought, turning back around and going to the Masters dining hall. This is important, she reminded herself as she stared at the doors. You need a room. Taking a deep breath, she went inside.
Looking around at the half-empty room, she spotted Windu seated at a small table with Master Tiin and Master Yaddle and quickly walked over to them.
"Master Windu, I need a ..." Larisa began when he looked her way. Starting to blush when she suddenly remembered what had happened that very morning, she averted her gaze to the other two Jedi seated at the table.
"Hmm. Not armed are you?" Yaddle questioned, giving her an overly suspicious look.
"No, I'm not," Larisa responded, her face turning even redder. "I'm really sorry about that."
"We know you are," Tiin said, glancing pointedly at Yaddle. "Why are you here instead of the Padawans' hall?"
"I came here to see about a new room, but the old one will do just as well."
"I haven't had time to make any new arrangements yet. I have a busy schedule today," Windu told her, noticing that she still refused to look directly at him. "It may have to wait until tomorrow."
"Tomorrow?" she gasped. "But... I..."
"Since you haven't eaten yet, you can do so now," he continued, suddenly amused by her discomfort.
"No, I'd better go."
"Nonsense. Sit down," he contradicted, then called out to a nearby Padawan. "You, bring Larisa a tray."
"I can't eat in here!" Larisa protested, turning to the others for help. Tiin was concentrating on eating his own meal while Yaddle looked as if she were falling asleep at the table.
"As head of the Council I'm ordering you to sit," Windu announced, looking very serious.
Mortified, she sank down onto the chair next to his, staring down at the tray set down on front of her. There was, among other things, the usual small bowl of fruit, which included a large slice of gourdfruit. That must be only available to Knights and Masters, since she'd never seen it served in to the Padawans.
"You will, of course, need an access card." Pushing his chair back, he pulled a spare card out of a belt pouch and handed it to her.
"Thanks," Larisa mumbled, looking surreptitiously around the room. It wasn't her imagination; a few of the other Masters were glancing their way curiously. Turning back toward Windu, she noticed his mouth twitch slightly. Was this his idea of a joke? Well, there was one way to get even, Larisa thought, feeling wicked as she looked around once more before standing.
"I'm going to eat this in my room, if that's all right," she said, sounding embarrassed as she picked up the bowl of fruit.
Mentally reviewing his morning schedule, Windu glanced up at her and nodded. "Fine."
"Thank you." Smiling, Larisa quickly leaned down and kissed him on the mouth before walking away.
Staring after her, Windu noticed that the other Jedi were now openly staring at him. He immediately turned back to his own table only to hear a chuckle coming from Saesee Tiin.
"I take it you weren't expecting that," Tiin guessed.
"No, I wasn't," Windu admitted, shaking his head.
"Known better, you should have," Yaddle lectured him.
"I think he's learned his lesson," remarked Tiin.
"All right, you two. Enough," Windu grouched.
Exchanging glances, Tiin and Yaddle decided to leave him to his meal.
Closing the door behind her, Larisa laughed softly to herself as she walked down the hall. The look on his face had been priceless! Grinning, she ducked into a smaller hallway to inspect the bowls contents. There were, among other things, two shellava fruit, as well as several odd-looking nuts, which practically melted in her mouth when she tried one.
This is going to be good, Larisa thought as she reached her room and went inside. Setting the bowl on the table, she sat down and made short work of the gourdfruit. Then her comm link started to beep.
She stifled a groan before answering it. "Yes?"
"Doril, it's Master Ulizr. Are you familiar with the Twi'lek species?" he asked, sounding harried.
"Yes, I've studied them. Why?"
"We've just received word of some sort of explosion at the Rutian embassy. Meet us in hangar nine immediately."
"All right." Putting the comm link away, Larisa looked down at the bowl, started to turn away from it, then grabbed one of the shellava fruits and picked out the nuts before leaving her room, eating them on the way to the hangar.
Quickly finishing the last of the nuts when the elevator door opened, Larisa stepped out into hangar nine. Looking around, she spotted Master Ulizr standing near a small shuttle that had its engines turned on, and went over to him.
"There you are. We almost left without you," he stated, hurrying her up the landing ramp.
"Have you heard anything new yet?" she` asked as they entered a small passenger room, glancing at the other three healers and Master Piell, who was also on board.
"Nothing substantial, I'm afraid. It's still rather chaotic at the embassy. There are even rumors of thermal detonators."
"What are those?" Larisa asked, quickly sitting down when the ship took off.
"Very powerful bombs," Piell answered, scowling fiercely.
"Oh." Leaning back in her seat, Larisa half-listened to them talk about some meeting Piell was on his way to with the Corellians, whose embassy happened to be very close to the Rutians. I hope they're not pirates, she thought. Pirates are such disgusting people.
"It certainly looks like the work of a thermal detonator," Master Ulizr commented when they reached the Rutian embassy.
Turning and looking out the window as the shuttle landed, Larisa saw that a large part the front wall had been reduced to rubble. Fortunately, the building itself did not look to be in danger of collapsing.
"Be very careful. And remember, the Rutians have a supply of bacta on hand, so heal only the seriously wounded," Ulizr instructed as they left the ship and entered the embassy. Once inside, he assigned them to sections of the main hall where many of the victims had been carried to.
Starting at her end of the room, Larisa started with the ones with head injuries, not all of whom were Twi'leks, then moved on to the others. She sneaked in the occasional broken arm or leg when the other healers weren't looking. There was no sense in letting them lie there and suffer waiting for the bacta to arrive. Finished with the last patient, Larisa noticed that the other healers were still working on theirs. She stood up and stretched before walking over to Master Ulizr.
"Done already?" he asked, momentarily surprised.
"Yes. What else can I do?"
Ulizr glanced around the room, then looked up. "Check the next floor for any more victims. You'd better use the stairs."
"All right." Larisa nodded before heading up the steps and looking around. Except for a few servants who had already begun the task of cleaning up, the damaged rooms were empty. She was about to ask if all the wounded had been taken downstairs when she noticed a trail of blood starting at the stairway, going up.
Glancing back down at the other Jedi healers, who were still busy with their patients, Larisa followed the trail up the stairs. She paused at the third floor, puzzled when the trail continued on. Whoever it was had to have lost too much blood to have gone much further.
Unless someone else was dragging them.
That doesn't make any sense, Larisa chided herself. Ignoring the cold chill she felt, she continued following the blood trail. Hesitating when it led from the fourth floor steps to the nearest room, she looked inside and gasped, seeing Senator Free-Taa lying on the floor.
She hurried over and knelt next to him, noticing right away that he was very dead. And it couldn't have been a result of the explosion, Larisa thought, staring down at the circle burned cleanly through his chest. There was only one weapon she knew of that could do that. But then were did the blood come from?
Frowning, she checked both wrists, then pulled down the collar of his Senator's robe, exposing a sliced throat. So, if someone cut his throat, then dragged him up here, that trail of blood must have been deliberate, she realized.
Sensing when someone walked into the room from the far door, she looked up to see Chancellor Palpatine standing there, wearing a dark-colored robe.
"Chancellor..." Larisa began in surprise, stopping when someone entered the room behind him. It was that Sith that had tried to kill Master Windu! Eyes widening as she stared at the two of them, Larisa stood and took one step back, feeling as if she were about to faint.
Pausing to enjoy the fear he felt in her, Palpatine noticed when her eyes started to darken. Wasting no more time, he lashed out, streams of pure Force energy flowing from his hands and striking Doril. He smiled in grim satisfaction as she was thrown against the wall.
Maul receives his reward. The Jedi hold a funeral for a fallen comrade, then Obi-Wan leaves on a mission leaving Larisa to her troubles.
Palpatine watched her hit the wall and fall to the floor in a heap, then stopped his assault and turned towards Maul.
"Perhaps you'd like to finish her off, my Apprentice," he suggested, gloating. When Maul hesitated and instead glanced warily past him, Palptine turned back to Doril, startled to find her on her feet again.
"You dare?" she asked coldly.
The Chancellor scowled in concentration and attacked again, his surprise turning to shock when she just stood there, this time seemingly unaffected by the Force lightning. How was this possible?
"How? It's Larisa who's feeling the pain, not me. That's how," she informed him.
He took a step back, then felt himself thrown forward. Landing heavily on his knees, he fought against the invisible force that held him in place.
Doril glanced sharply at Maul. "Come any closer and he dies now!"
Maul immediately halted and she looked down at Palpatine again.
"You do have him well trained, don't you?" she commented.
"You'll pay for this!" he swore, furious at his humiliating position. Doubling his efforts, Palpatine reached out to the Force and a metal chair crashed into her back. Taking advantage of the distraction, he stood, Maul quickly moving to stand behind him.
Staggered by the impact, Doril straightened, angered now. "I see you're as insolent as your Apprentice! Do you really think that after one visit to Korriban, you can defeat me?"
Black eyes blazing, she raised one hand and tossed the other three chairs at their heads.
Using the Force to deflect them, Palpatine glanced at the door behind her. This had not gone the way he had expected and time was running out. He could not allow the Jedi to find him here.
"The Jedi are the least of your concerns right now. Perhaps I should send you to them in pieces, like that other traitor I took care of," Doril taunted, sending the table skidding across the room.
Maul ignited lightsaber and stepped in front of his Master, intent on providing him with an opportunity to escape. Somehow.
"Out of my way!" she ordered, throwing Maul across the room and slamming Palpatine against the window.
The older man winced when his head bounced off the transparisteel. He forced himself to focus his attention on the table as he felt his arms stretched away from his body. Clenching his teeth when they started to be slowly pulled from their sockets, he lifted the table a foot off the floor, then dropped it in surprise when the pressure suddenly ceased.
Leaning heavily against the window, he looked at Doril, who was looking down at the red lightsaber blade that now protruded from her chest. Glancing behind her, she reached back and the blade disappeared.
Maul stared from his lightsaber to the hole burned through her back, then backed away and looked towards his Master, seeking direction.
"Damn you, Doril! Why won't you die?" Palpatine snarled, resisting the urge to rub at his aching shoulders.
She glared back at him, impatient. "As I've said, you cannot harm me, and I cannot permit you to damage this body any further. And I will hear no more of this Doril nonsense. As long as I am in control, you will address me as Lord Bane. Understand?"
"Yes!" he replied with another curse, returning her hateful look in full measure.
Bane paused to heal the worst of her injuries, then glanced over at the door in annoyance. "We'll have to continue this some other time. Meet me at the Corellian embassy in ten minutes, both of you. And I do hope you've made arrangements to clean up the mess you made here."
At a loss of what to do, Maul looked over at his Master as she walked out of the room.
"Not... One... Word!" Palpatine growled, furious with his Apprentice for creating this impossible dilemma. "And get rid of that before someone sees it," he said, kicking Free-Taa's foot before storming from the room.
Bowing his head, Maul silently watched him go, then looked down at the dead Senator, deciding how to dispose of his body. He turned on his lightsaber and stabbed at the wound, enlarging it to make it appear the result of a shot from a blaster. After pulling his hood up to hide his face, he went over to the door Doril-Bane had left by and checked the hallway. He could sense no one lingered nearby, so he used the Force to carry the Senator to one of the larger disposal units, dropped him in and pushed him down the chute.
That task completed, Maul returned to the room to replace the table and chairs in their original positions. He wondered what his Master intended to do now. Sidious was not one to accept defeat, but could not take another risk like this again. Being the Supreme Chancellor had made him more vulnerable than either one of them could have predicted.
Maul looked down at his lightsaber, contemplating his Master's method of attack. Had he not been taken by surprise, he might have been able to deduce how such a thing was accomplished. Perhaps that was what Palpatine had wanted to avoid when he refused to share his plan, something he had rarely done in the past. Also puzzling was Bane's demand that they meet at the Corellian embassy of all places.
With a final look around, Maul left the room to join his Master.
Bane spared a brief glance at the small black droid spraying the steps with an odorless, transparent substance which eliminated all traces of blood. He stopped on the third floor to remove her belt, pull the robe close, then rebelt it to conceal the hole Maul's lightsaber had made in the front. As for the other hole, he simply took apart Larisa's braid. Her hair was long enough to cover it, he decided, and continued on to the second floor.
"There you are," Master Ulizr called out from one of the rooms on the right. "What were you doing up there?"
"Looking for more victims."
"Did you find anyone?" Ulizr asked, frowning a little at Larisa's stiff posture. Perhaps she was tired, though that seemed unlikely to him, from what he knew of her.
"No. No one that needed my help," she stated, stopping at the top of the steps and turning halfway towards the Jedi.
"Good. Would you like to return to the shuttle now?" he offered. "We'll be leaving shortly."
"I would prefer to visit the marketplace, if that is permissible. I will not be gone longer than one hour."
"All right. I'll inform the Temple you'll be arriving by a public transport," Ulizr agreed after a moment's hesitation. She nodded before walking down to the bottom floor, the Jedi Master three steps behind her.
Striding through the damaged front hall and out onto the street, Bane took the first available air taxi towards the marketplace, directing the pilot to stop at the nearest shop. Lord Maul had a rather inconvenient habit of ruining clothes.
Bane used the Force to ensure that the shopkeeper used the exact same quality of material as the Jedi, and that the garments would be done immediately. Once finished, Bane took Larisa's access card out of her belt, examined it, then deposited it in a potted plant before he left the shop and took another taxi to the Corellian embassy.
Pausing to erase the pilot's memory, he then circled the building to where Palpatine and Maul were waiting. The Chancellor was looking extremely angry.
"I see you are capable of following orders, even though you detest it," Bane remarked to Palpatine. "You killed your own Master at a very young age, didn't you?"
"I did not come here to discuss my Master," he angrily retorted, ignoring the questioning look on Maul's face. "And might I point out that you cannot afford to be exposed any more than I can!"
"True," she mused, looking up at the Corellian building. "This way."
Furious, Palpatine followed her into the embassy through a side entrance. Maul silently trailed behind them, glancing around the empty corridor before joining them in one of the elevators.
"Why are we here?" Palpatine finally asked once they reached the top floor, where the Corellian hangars were located.
"We're here because I promised Lord Maul a reward," Bane answered, walking over to one of the large doors and opening it. "In here."
Following his Master as they both cautiously entered the hangar, Maul tensed, staring at a group of men standing near a cargo ship, the only one in the hangar. There were seven altogether, debating on the best way to capture a notorious smuggler. One of them was a Jedi Master, Councilor Evan Piell.
"What are you doing?!" Palpatine hissed when the Corellians and the Jedi immediately noticed the new arrivals. "Don't worry. None of them will live to tell about this," Bane assured him, walking straight towards the Jedi Master.
Evan Piell looked questioningly from her to Palpatine. "Chancellor?"
"Surprised?" she asked with a hard smile. "I know you Jedi have been searching for the Sith. Now you've found three."
"What..." Piell stopped when he caught sight of Maul standing behind them.
"What is going on?" the leader of the Corellians, a dark-skinned human, demanded when Piell immediately moved in front of them, drawing his lightsaber. "What the hell is a Sith?"
"Get out of here now!" Piell ordered. "Go to the Jedi Temple and warn Councilor Windu!"
They hesitated a split-second before running up the ship's ramp. Eagerly shedding his robe, Maul drew his lightsaber, then hesitated, glancing back at his Master.
"Oh, very well," Palpatine said with a wave of his hand, irate at being put in this position. He looked over at the Corellian ship as its engines roared to life. "I assume you intend to stop them," he remarked to Bane as the ship rose in the air.
"Of course." Lifting one hand, she reached out with the Force and stopped the ship in mid-flight. Keeping an eye on Palpatine, she slowly closed her fist.
Puzzled, Palpatine looked back at the ship just as it began collapsing in on itself. Distracted by the sound of grinding metal, Maul and Piell both stopped and stared back at the Corellian ship.
"No!" Piell shouted, forcing Maul back and trying to reach Larisa.
Maul quickly intercepted the Jedi, keeping him away from his Master and Bane. Ignoring the nearby duel, Bane continued to crush the ship until it was a third of its original size, then let it fall to the floor with a dull thud.
"Well, this has been entertaining," Palpatine observed. "But I really must get back to my office before I'm missed."
"Certainly." Walking over to the ship, Bane sat down on what remained of its nose to watch the duel between Maul and Piell.
Evan Piell looked back at the destroyed ship and the departing Chancellor and realized the futility of his situation. I will not make this easy for them, he swore grimly. Renewing the fight with increased ferocity, he landed a blow across Maul's upper arm, searing him to the bone.
Grimacing, Maul blocked out the pain. He slashed at the Jedi's head, then went lower, cutting through his sword arm just below the elbow. Clutching his arm, Evan Piell stood up straight and waited for the next blow. Quickly dispatching him with a stab through the heart, Maul stepped back as the Jedi fell.
Frustrated at how quickly it had ended, he looked around the hangar, searching for another outlet for his fury. His gaze settled on Bane before he looked away, turning off his lightsaber and clipping it back onto his belt.
"Ah," she commented with a faint smile, getting up and approaching him. "Go ahead then. I won't stop you, so long as you do not get too carried away."
"No!" Maul growled, angry at how easily his thoughts had been read.
"No? Do you need your Master's permission?"
Glaring, Maul turned away from her.
"Or perhaps you'd prefer to fight first," she suggested, aiming a sharp kick to the back of his knee.
Enraged, Maul managed to stay on his feet and whirled around, back-handing her and knocking her down. Growling, he pinned her to the floor and ripped her skirt out of the way.
Bane looking down at one hand, studying the long fingernails, then slowly raked them down the side of Maul's face to spur him on. Drawing back with an angry hiss, Maul wrenched her arm down, yanked open his trousers and rammed inside. She lay motionless beneath him as he thrust hard for several moments before climaxing.
Vaguely dissatisfied, Maul withdrew and stood, jerking his clothes back into place. Scowling, he flexed his knee. No real damage there, but his arm and face would need some bacta. He had no intention of asking her to heal them.
Glancing over at the Corellian ship, his eyes were drawn to the blood that was dripping from the vicinity of the cockpit. Turning away from that, he looked down at the dead Jedi Master.
"Honoring your fallen enemy?" Bane inquired from behind.
"He died well," Maul grudgingly admitted.
"Indeed. He would have made an admirable Sith Lord."
"What?" Maul turned around and stared at her. "He was one? And you let me kill him?"
"Did you think he would be spared because of his ancestry? He was a Jedi. None of them should be spared," Bane stated, looking down at the torn skirt before pulling the robe closed to hide it. That would be easy enough for that shopkeeper to mend. "Now I must go before she's missed. Leave him there. Let them find him."
Making no reply, Maul looked down at Piell a moment longer before leaving the hangar.
This entire morning has been a complete failure! Palpatine thought savagely, slamming his fist against the button to close the door to his apartments. All he had gotten from that Rutian Senator, and he had been right in deciding that Free-Taa did not merit a trial, was twelve million credits. That fat fool had squandered most of his fortune on material possessions.
Also aggravating was the Nubian Queen, who was getting a little too influential of late to suit him. She was also getting too close to the Jedi, even choosing to stay at their Temple, most likely to plot against him.
If Amidala does attempt to move against me, I'll simply arrange for the Senate to learn where that cloning technology the Mandalorians had so mysteriously gotten hold of came from, with a certain amount of embellishment, of course, Palpatine decided. That would take care of that problem.
There was also the matter of the Mandalorians themselves, who by now must know that the cloaking devices he had provided them were useless. That may lead them to act sooner rather than later.
If that were to happen, well, the members of the Republic would simply have to fend for themselves. Unless, by some stroke of luck, the Jedi somehow does manage to convince them to work together. Either way, once his army was ready, he would step in and put down the Mandalorians. They may have the same cloning process, but he had a great many more resources at his disposal. His biggest problem, however, was Lord Bane. Short of blowing up the Jedi Temple, tempting but completely impractical, there was little more he could do at this time.
I will see her dead, Palpatine vowed, then turned his attention to more official business.
Fourteen credits! Larisa thought, looking down again at the bag of weeliu nuts in her hand. They were a bit more expensive than she'd expected, but she just had to have them. Starting when her comm link started beeping, she quickly paid for the nuts and moved back from the counter before answering it.
"Return to the Temple immediately. Use hangar twenty," ordered Ki-Adi-Mundi.
"Do not ask questions, just get back here now!"
"All right!" Larisa said with a wince. What was his problem? She put the link away, then went outside to catch another air taxi.
Larisa looked out the window as the taxi reached the Temple and hovered outside hangar twenty, waiting as a few of the larger Jedi transports left the Temple before landing. There goes my money, she thought as she paid the pilot. Maybe I can get some decent bread with the last nine credits.
Closing her belt pouch, she walked down the ramp and looked around. There were a number of Jedi waiting for transports, many with luggage on the floor by their feet. Hmm. I wonder where they're going, Larisa thought as she walked over to the elevators. Pressing all the buttons, she headed towards the first one to open and almost walked right into Plo Koon, stepping out of the elevator.
"Oh! I'm sorry," she exclaimed, backing up a step.
"Why didn't you return with the others?" Koon immediately demanded.
"I went to the marketplace."
"So Master Ulizr said. You are not to wander off like that again," Koon said sternly. "Now report to Master Windu. He's assigning you to new quarters today."
"Oh. Okay." Scooting past him and into the elevator, Larisa quickly pressed the button to close the door. Great! Now I can't even go anywhere without getting yelled at.
Frustrated, she got off the elevator and went to her room. I'm glad I didn't bother to unpack, Larisa thought as she entered her quarters, picking up her bag of clothes and going over to the adjoining door. Do NOT think of this morning, she told herself before knocking on the door.
She started to knock again when the door opened. Mace Windu stood there, looking grimmer than ever. "What took so long?"
"I went over to the marketplace to buy some weeliu nuts," Larisa explained, holding up the bag.
"You were buying nuts?" Windu repeated, his expression making it clear that that was one of the most absurd explanations he had ever heard.
"I like those nuts!" she stated defensively.
"Oh, let her be, Mace," Depa Billapa, sounding weary and aggrieved, broke in from somewhere behind Windu when he started to speak again. "She couldn't have known."
"Couldn't have known what?" Larisa asked, peeking over Windu's shoulder. Master Billapa definitely looked upset about something, sitting at one end of a table along with three fellow Councilors: Saesee Tiin, Yarael Poof, and that Bothan Jedi Master from Dimok. There may have been a few others, though she couldn't be sure from her angle. None of them looked very happy.
"That is Council business," Windu replied impatiently, turning to press the door button.
"Wait!" Larisa reached out to stop the door from closing. "Master Mundi said you were going to assign me to another room."
"Later. I'm sure you have some studies to catch up on in the meantime," he said, then stepped back and closed the door.
Well, that was odd, Larisa thought as she used the fresher, then began looking around for her datapad.
Windu put away his comm link and turned back to the others. "Plo is returning with Evan's body."
"I still can't believe it," Billapa said, shaking her head sadly. "He was only seven months away from completing his term on the Council."
"I know. He was very proud of being selected, but he died fighting. I think he would have wanted it that way," Windu told her.
"Yes, he probably did," she said with a wan smile, then turned back to the problem facing them. "You're sure there's no record of the attack? Visual or audio?"
"The Corellians had been very specific. They wanted no one else to know of the meeting," Fey'Zon replied.
"Which, as it turns out, was a very bad decision," Windu remarked.
"Those poor men," Billapa said with a small shudder.
"Hmmm. Powerful, this Sith is," Yoda commented with a clouded expression.
"That's assuming there was only one there," Ki-Adi said.
"What?" Billapa looked up in surprise.
"We know that this Sith is strong enough to destroy a ship, but that would have taken all of its concentration," he pointed out. "It would have had to have fought and killed Evan first."
"But if that were the case, the Corellians would have had time to escape," Windu added thoughtfully.
*Which means that both Sith Lords were present* Yarael Poof spoke to all of them.
"I'll have to make some discreet inquiries to see where Chancellor Palpatine was this morning," Windu decided, ending the impromptu meeting.
"I'm going to meet Plo and see if he's learned anything new," Mundi decided as the other Councilors stood to leave.
"Let me know if he's found out anything," Billapa requested, remaining in her seat.
"Of course," Mundi assured her before following the others out.
"Don't tell me there's another problem!" Windu objected.
"It might be. A message that Larisa sent to Adarlon has been returned. Has she mentioned whether or not she intends to go back there?"
"No, and I haven't asked. She was behaving rather strangely yesterday," he explained.
"I can imagine. I'll speak to her then, since you have enough to deal with right now," Billapa said, standing and walking over to the adjoining door.
"Thank you," Windu replied on the way to his office to check up on the Supreme Chancellor.
Billapa opened the door and looked around in surprise. There was a small pile of clothes on the table, and a few more draped over the couch. "What are you doing?" she asked Larisa, who was sitting on the floor turning her bag inside out.
"Looking for my datapad. Did you want something?"
"May I come in?" Billapa asked, unsure of Larisa's mood.
"I suppose. Where is it?!"
"Perhaps it was left in Obi-Wan's quarters."
"Oh." Larisa looked down at her bag with a frown.
"I could send someone over there to retrieve it," Billapa offered.
"No, that's all right. I'll go get it," Larisa said, getting up and dropping the bag on one of the chairs. "What do you want?"
"I gather you're still angry about yesterday?"
"Yes, a little. I don't understand why you Jedi act as if my knowing my parents is some kind of handicap I need to overcome!"
Billapa walked over to the couch, moving a blue dress aside before sitting down. "The Jedi Order takes Initiates at a very young age, before they are exposed to negative emotions such as fear and anger."
"That's why the Council refused Anakin the first time?" Larisa asked, turning around.
"Those kind of feelings often lead to the Dark Side. Anakin had a great deal of fear in him, mostly for his mother."
"What was so wrong about him being worried about his mother? That poor woman was still a slave, after all. What kind of person would he have been if he didn't worry about her?"
Billapa hesitated, unsure of how to properly answer that. Ki-Adi would probably have done better in explaining it to Larisa. She didn't think quoting Master Yoda would help at this point. "I think we should continue this discussion later."
"Fine," Larisa replied, then began picking her clothes up off the table and putting them back in the bag.
"The reason I came here was to ask if you wish to return to Adarlon, to settle accounts."
"There's not much to settle; just the house, and a little bit of land," Larisa said, looking down at her bag. "They always used to tell me that I should be more practical."
"Sound advice," Billapa observed.
"I suppose the practical thing to do would be to sell them."
"We could make the arrangements for you, if you prefer."
"Well, all right. If it's not too much trouble."
"Not at all. We'll let you know when it's done."
"Okay." Larisa paused when Billapa returned to Windu's quarters, then continued packing her clothes, thinking. Practical. Something she hadn't been of late. Anakin was certainly more practical, considering he was two years younger than she, but then that was probably due to his growing up as a slave. And that led her to think of his Master.
She couldn't really blame Obi-Wan for wanting a family. Most people do. She just overreacted. He was, of course, insufferably overbearing at times, but he hadn't given up, even though she had given him plenty of reason to. Larisa sighed, regretting the things she had said to him yesterday. She finished packing and left her room, going over to Obi-Wan's to talk to him.
"Hi," she greeted Anakin when he answered the door.
"Hi. How have you been?" he responded.
"I'm all right, but I think I left a datapad here."
"I'll go look," Anakin said, glancing behind him. "Maybe you'd better wait out here."
"Actually I came here to talk to Obi-Wan, too," Larisa told him.
"Oh. Okay," he said, stepping back to let her in.
"Anakin, who is it?" Obi-Wan asked from the sofa, looking intently down at a datacube.
"It's Larisa. She's looking for her datapad."
"It's with Anakin's," Obi-Wan said apologetically. "I assumed it was his."
"I'll go find it. It won't take long, I hope," Anakin said, going into his room and closing the door behind him.
Larisa watched Anakin go, then looked around the room, her gaze settling on one of the tables. "What happened to your hologram?"
"It's in my trunk." Obi-Wan glanced up at her, then continued studying the datacube.
Larisa looked back at the table for a long moment, then walked over and sat down next to him. "What are you reading?" she asked quietly.
"Anakin and I are studying Kuat. We're being sent there in two days."
"How long will you be gone?"
"I have no idea."
Out with it, Larisa told herself. "I'm sorry about yesterday morning," she began, continuing when she had his attention again. "And I just want you to know that it won't happen again. Any of it."
Obi-Wan looked back down at the datacube, then set it on a table next to two others and leaned back against the cushion. "If I didn't know better I'd swear you were trying to drive me crazy," he said, rubbing between his eyes.
Larisa flushed and looked down at her hands. "You haven't made it very easy either," she reminded him.
"I know," Obi-Wan agreed. "Most of this is my fault."
"Well, I wouldn't say that."
"No, it's true," he insisted.
"Now we're arguing about who's to blame," she said with a small smile.
"All right, we're both to blame," he conceded, slipping an arm around her waist and pulling her close. "But it was mostly my fault."
"If you insist," she replied, laying her head against his shoulder.
"Here it is," Anakin announced from the doorway, then stopped in surprise. "Should I come back later?"
"Mmm. If you don't mind," Larisa said without looking up.
"Here," Obi-Wan said, using the Force to toss one of the other datacubes to Anakin, who caught it in one hand. "You can start on their social structure."
"That'll be fun," Anakin remarked, still a little confused at seeing them together. It seemed as if they were breaking up every two days. Might as well not even try to keep up with them, since they'll probably be fighting again tomorrow, he decided, putting Larisa's datapad on the closest table and returning to his room.
"So, you don't know how long you'll be gone?" Larisa asked.
"No, I don't."
"Well, I hope you'll be able to make it back in about four weeks."
"Four?" Obi-Wan repeated, looking puzzled for a second before breaking into a grin. "If I can't I'll persuade the Council to let you visit."
"Somehow I don't think they'll agree," she commented.
"Oh, you'd be surprised at some of the things Qui-Gon had talked them into."
"Really?" Larisa lifted her head and looked at him questioningly.
"Yes, really," he said with another grin.
"Hmm. Since you are leaving in two days, maybe we should... practice," she suggested, smiling when his grin widened.
"Anything?" Billapa asked the moment Windu stepped out of his office.
"No. The Chancellor apparently spent the entire morning in his apartments. No one saw him leave."
"So there's still no proof either way," she said, disappointed. "I've just heard from Ki-Adi. The Rutian ambassador has been found dead. Murdered."
"Free-Taa?" Windu frowned. "Have they found out who's responsible?"
"No yet, but they believe his assistant may have been involved. She has disappeared."
"A red Twi'lek shouldn't be too hard to find."
"Assuming she's still on Coruscant," Billapa pointed out.
"At any rate, I will be stepping down from the Council this afternoon, after I inform my Padawan. I realize that this is a very bad time..."
"They'll understand. Your first duty is to your Apprentice."
"Thank you. I've already arranged a transport to Kashyyyk. Zyrid and I will be leaving shortly after Evan's funeral."
"I hope it works out for you," Windu said, and walked over to the adjoining door. "Now, I'd better move Larisa to her new room."
"Oh, she went over to Obi-Wan's to get her datapad. She should be back soon."
"Then I'll wait in there for her," he replied, retrieving one of his own datapads from a shelf and going into Larisa's room.
Relaxing against the pillow, Obi-Wan glanced down at Larisa, noticing the curious expression on her face. "What are you thinking?"
"Hm?" She blinked, then turned and began examining the muscles covering his ribs. "I was thinking that you're going to go after my braid again."
"Besides that," he said with a chuckle, grabbing hold of her hand and moving it away from his side.
"I was also thinking of the Council."
"Yes. I was wondering what they were talking about in Master Windu's room. Master Billapa looked upset. Do you know what's going on?"
"It must have been about Master Piell," Obi-Wan told her, sobering. "He's dead. I was with Master Tiin when he sensed it."
"He's dead? How?" Larisa asked, frowning at the odd sensation in the back of her mind.
Obi-Wan hesitated, thinking of the Councilor's orders to keep it quiet. "Master Tiin didn't give me very many details."
"Huh. Are you going to attend his burial, or whatever they do here?"
"They'll probably burn his body tomorrow."
Larisa paused, puzzling over a sudden flash of memory. "His arm too, I expect."
Obi-Wan looked at her in surprise. "What did you just say?"
"You said something about his arm."
"I did?" Larisa frowned again. Something wasn't right.
"Yes." Obi-Wan sat up. "How did you know his arm had been cut off?"
"I... I don't know," she said, sitting up.
"I know you left the Temple this morning. Where did you go?"
"I went to the Rutian embassy with a few others... and then I went to the marketplace."
"Did you go anywhere else?"
"I..." Larisa stopped, confused by the gap in her memory.
"Try to remember," Obi-Wan urged. "Were you at the Corellian embassy?"
Concentrating, she caught a glimpse of a robed figure, two of them actually, then a flash of light, followed by an explosion of pain. She fell back with a strangled gasp.
Startled, Obi-Wan caught her by the shoulders. "What's wrong?"
"I don't know!" Larisa moaned. "It hurts everywhere!" She twisted in his grasp, then went limp.
Alarmed, he lowered her to the bed and quickly located his belt, using the Force to retrieve it. He pulled his comm link out, then jerked in surprise when it was knocked out of his hand.
"What the..." Obi-Wan turned, relieved to see Larisa sitting up again, looking calm, as if nothing had happened. "Are you all right? What happened? And why did you do that?"
"I did that because I don't want any interruptions."
"Look, I'm going to call a healer," he said, moving to get up. Larisa made a small gesture and he was shoved onto his back.
"How did..." He struggled for a moment, then stared up at her in astonishment. "Let me up!"
"Not just yet, I think," she replied.
"This isn't funny!"
"It's not meant to be."
"I'm trying to help you," he reasoned. "Now let me up."
"I'm not the one that needs help right now," she told him, smiling contemptuously.
Bewildered by Larisa's behavior, Obi-Wan looked around the room, then realized that he couldn't sense her presence. Shocked, he stared back up at her, seeing cold malice in her black eyes. Black? "You're not Larisa."
"Clever, Jedi. It only took you one minute to figure it out," she mocked. "No, I am not Larisa."
"Who are you?"
"I suppose I might as well tell you, since you won't remember any of this. I am Darth Bane. Your persistence, and hers, has forced me to take a more direct approach."
"What are you talking about?" Obi-Wan demanded, still unsure if this was actually happening.
"I'm talking about this little dalliance between the two of you. It was amusing in the beginning, but it has become a nuisance to me. Unfortunately, I can't kill you now without drawing suspicion to her. Pity." Bane paused, locking eyes with him. "You will forget her."
"No!" Obi-Wan immediately threw up a mental barrier, resisting the Force-suggestion.
"So, you really do love her," Bane remarked, amused by his resistance. "Well, you can't have her."
Strengthening his shield, Obi-Wan considered taking a risk and calling out to Anakin.
Breaking off the brief contact, Bane looked over at the door thoughtfully. As much as he would have enjoyed a battle of wills, this had to be ended quickly before Kenobi's Apprentice sensed anything amiss. His gaze lowered to the trunk set against the wall.
"I've found that it's easier to manipulate her through her memories, rather than her emotions. Is it the same with you?"
Ignoring that question, Obi-Wan concentrated on reaching out to Anakin.
Smiling, Bane leaned closer. "That Sith Lord that fought Jedi Windu, and killed Piell, I might add, is not a clone. He is the same one that killed your precious Master."
"What?" Shocked by that statement, Obi-Wan felt his shield start to slip. Before he could prevent it, something slipped past it, slammed into his mind and everything went black.
Satisfied, Bane moved the comm link from the floor to the table, then roused the Jedi before retreating.
Blinking, Obi-Wan focused his eyes on Larisa. "What did you say?"
"I asked if you were going to Master Piell's burial."
"Oh. Yes. They'll probably be burning his body tomorrow."
Larisa glanced over at the chrono. "I'd better go. It's almost time for lunch."
"In the garden," Obi-Wan reminded, then suddenly sat up and wrapped his arms around her tightly. "You will be there, won't you?"
"Yes, I'll be there." She leaned back against him, then turned around when he released her. "What's the matter?"
"Nothing." He shrugged and lay back down. "I just wanted to be sure."
"Oh." Puzzled, Larisa glanced back at Obi-Wan, who looked pensively out the window, then gathered up her clothes and dressed. "I'll see you at lunch," she said, leaning down to kiss him before picking up her datapad and leaving.
Thinking ahead, four weeks ahead, Larisa smiled to herself as she reached her room and went inside.
"It's about time!" came an irate voice.
Gasping, she whirled around and stared at Windu, seated on her couch with a datapad in his hands. "What are you doing here?"
"There is that small matter of your new quarters."
"Oh! Well, actually I was thinking of moving back in with Obi-Wan," Larisa told him, getting nervous when he just sat there, looking even more annoyed.
"You requested a new room," he finally said, standing and walking towards her. "It has been prepared. Now I suggest you move into it now."
"Yes." She looked down at the floor, embarrassed.
"Here's your access card. Your room is eighteen floors down, in the green section," Windu instructed, handing her the card.
"All right," Larisa said, putting the card away and giving him back the other one. "And I'm sorry about Master Piell."
"You know about that?" he asked with a dark frown.
"Well, yes. Obi-Wan told me. Why?"
"What else did he tell you?"
"Just that the funeral was probably tomorrow." Larisa frowned back at him. "I really don't think you can keep something like this a secret."
"We don't intend to. Nor do we want it spread throughout the Temple before we're ready to make any kind of official announcement."
"I didn't tell anyone!" she protested.
"Good. Keep it that way," he said curtly, then went back to his quarters.
He's angry with me again. Larisa sighed and picked up her bag. On second thought, he's probably been angry since this morning. That really had been a dumb idea. From now on just walk away when he has these weird mood swings, she told herself, putting the bag of nuts in her bag.
She started to turn away, then picked up the fruit bowl and emptied the rest of its contents into the bag as well before leaving. There was just enough time to stop at her new room before the lunch hour.
Taking the food tray handed to her, Larisa left the dining hall and headed for the garden. Back to the same old thing, she thought, feeling even more depressed as she looked down at her lunch.
"'The food served is nutritionally beneficial to the wide variety of species that reside here in the Jedi Temple'," Anakin recited from memory, walking down the hallway towards her.
"But they just can't make it taste good," she replied, smiling back at him.
"Well, not all of it's that bad," he allowed as they turned down the corridor leading to the garden. "Did you really get into a fight with that Zyrid T'mil?"
Larisa turned toward him in surprise. "How did you know about that?"
"I heard Zyrid talking. She mentioned it while she was bragging about being chosen by one of the Councilors." Anakin grinned. "I told her that no one else wanted to bother with her, and that she had better be careful she doesn't get left behind on some alien planet one day."
"That was not very nice, Anakin," she admonished.
"Then I'm glad I didn't say it to a nice person," he replied, unrepentant.
Larisa shook her head at that. "What else did she say?"
"Just the usual: That we don't belong here and should never have been let in. Although," he added thoughtfully. "You do spend a lot of time with the Councilors."
"That's probably because they don't know what else to do with me." She hesitated and looked up at him. "Have you ever thought that maybe they're right about not belonging here?"
"No. Never," Anakin asserted. "And don't let it bother you. They're just jealous because we're better than them."
Larisa glanced up at him, wondering if he were serious as they entered the garden and walked over to Obi-Wan, who was sitting on a patch of grass talking to someone on his comm link. He ended the conversation and turned it off when they reached him.
"Amidala will be stopping here at the Temple before she returns home," he told Anakin as they both sat down beside him. "What time?" Anakin asked.
"About the tenth hour, but she won't be staying very long."
"So, why are you being sent to Kuat?" Larisa asked, eager to change the subject.
"There's some old mining claim that needs to be settled and they want a neutral party to oversee the negotiations," Obi-Wan told her. "Which is where we come in," Anakin added.
"That sounds... interesting."
"You mean boring. We're also to keep an eye out for the Mandalorians."
"Something the Council told us not to discuss with others," Obi-Wan interjected with a stern look at his Padawan.
What else was there to talk about? Larisa wondered as they began eating. A funeral certainly wasn't a good lunch topic. Neither were the type of things she studied. And why was he being so rude again? Frowning, she looked down at her tray and began moving the food around.
"I spoke to Master Windu and I'm afraid he's not going to let me move back into your quarters."
"We'll be gone for at least two weeks, so it's probably better this way," Obi-Wan told her.
"Oh. All right." Puzzled, she glanced over at him. He wasn't as bothered by that as she had expected. In fact, he didn't seem very upset at all, which was odd considering how he had acted earlier. She picked at her food, listening to him tell his Apprentice to hurry, saying that they had much more preparation to make before their assignment.
"I guess this means you're going to be busy the rest of the day."
"Yes. Very busy," he replied.
Well, this is part of Anakin's training, Larisa told herself when they both finished their meal and left the garden, so don't complain. She ate a few more bites, then got up and went looking for Rialth.
"And just where have you been hiding?" she asked when she found him stretched across a large rock. He stared up at her, unblinking, while she examined him. Two of his teeth were broken, plus the left hind leg was getting a little stiff again, but that was easily fixed.
She fed him what she'd saved from lunch (at least he liked the stuff, whatever it was), set him back down on the rock and went back to her room. It was a bit larger than her other one, Larisa noted, stopping to look around this time. She picked up her datapad, and a couple of fruit from the bag, and settled down on the couch to continue studying.
Turning over, Larisa woke in time to stop herself from falling. She sat up, rubbed at her eyes and looked around, trying to recall the dream she'd just had, but it quickly faded away. Wondering what time it was, she got up and stretched before going into the bedroom and staring down at the chrono in surprise. It's morning?
I can't believe I slept on the couch, Larisa thought as she looked out the window. And not only did she miss dinner last night, she was missing breakfast, too. She went back into the public room, finding her datapad and a few pieces of fruit peel on the floor next to the couch.
One night here and I make a mess, she chastised herself, shaking her head in disgust as she picked up the peelings and dropped them into the disposal unit. But now that she thought about it, that leftover fruit would make a perfectly good breakfast.
Larisa showered and put on clean clothes before setting her bag on the table and digging out the fruit. Much better, she sighed, taking a bite of a kyrf fruit when she heard the door alarm. Sighing again, she put the fruit back down and went to see who it was.
"Ah. I'm glad I caught you. Mace said you were still in your room."
"Master Mundi," Larisa greeted, a little puzzled by that statement. "Did you want something?"
"You can address me as Knight Mundi to start with, since I am still just a Knight," he said testily.
"Oh. I'm sorry. I must have heard someone else call you Master and just assumed..."
"Yes, I know," he interrupted, exasperated. "The others have been getting ahead of themselves. I won't earn the rank of Master until my Padawan passed his Trials."
"I'm sure he'll do fine," she volunteered, not knowing what else to say.
"I'm sure he will as well," Mundi said, smiling now. "But that is still years away."
"Was there something you wanted, Knight Mundi?" Larisa asked, quietly thinking that he's been spending too much time around Master Windu lately.
"Have you had any experience in healing diseases?"
"A little, but it wasn't very hard. Why?"
"There are reports of an outbreak of some sort of plague on Andala. They've moved quickly to isolate the infected, and we have sent several healers there, but we need to be prepared in case it starts to spread among the Andalese here on Coruscant. You are to study these," he told her, handing her two datapads. "One is on the Andalese, and the other contains all the symptoms of the plague that we know of. Fortunately, it doesn't appear contagious to other species."
"All right. I'll get started after breakfast, but I was going to visit Anakin and Obi-Wan first."
"You'll have to be quick about it. He and Anakin are leaving for Kuat today."
"Today?" She looked up at him in surprise. "I thought he wasn't going to leave until tomorrow."
"He wasn't, but there has been an attack on one of the mining companies on Kuat, so he and Skywalker are going there after Amidala's visit," Mundi explained.
"He never said it was a dangerous mission!" Larisa exclaimed.
"Obi-Wan will be fine," he assured her. "He's dealt with this kind of situation many times."
"I hope so," she said, still worried. "Thank you."
"You're welcome. Now I'll leave you to your studies. The Queen will be arriving in less than an hour," Mundi told her, then left to prepare for Evan's funeral.
Closing the door, Larisa placed the datapads on the table and began pacing the room. Since when does something as simple as negotiating involve violence? She paced a few more seconds, then left to go talk to Obi-Wan. Pressing the button for the fourth time, she was about to try Anakin's room when the door finally opened.
"Hi. Can I come in?" she asked a harried-looking Obi-Wan.
He hesitated briefly before replying. "Yes, of course."
"Ma... Knight Mundi said that you were leaving today," she told him as they both walked into the public room.
"Yes, we are. We'll be leaving right after Amidala's visit." He looked down at her a moment, then roughly pulled her into his embrace. "I missed you last night."
"Obi... You're squishing me," she squeaked out, feeling her ribs creak.
He immediately let go and stepped back. "Sorry."
"Is there something wrong?" Larisa asked, concerned by his troubled expression. "Mundi said there'd been an attack on Kuat."
"Oh, there's always a group of people who aren't happy about something. It's nothing Anakin and I can't handle."
"Are you sure?"
"I'm sure. I just have a headache. Probably from too much reading."
"Well, I can take care of that. Come sit down." Larisa pulled him over to the sofa and sat down beside him. "Close your eyes and relax," she instructed, placing one hand on his forehead. There was a small amount of eyestrain, but nothing serious.
Removing her hand afterwards, she leaned forward and kissed him, blinking in surprise when he jerked away. "What's the matter?"
"Nothing." Obi-Wan quickly stood and walked over to a table where a few datachips lay. "There's just a lot more to do before we leave. Anakin's arranging a few last-minute supplies for us," he said, motioning to the adjoining door.
Larisa hesitated, studying him.
"Are you sure there's nothing wrong?"
"Yes, I'm sure," he replied irritably, scooping up the chips and dropping them into one of his belt pouches.
"All right," she said uncertainly, standing up. "I'll just get out of your way then."
Trying to ignore the dull ache that started up again, Obi-Wan looked down at the pouch for a second, then walked over to her and pulled her back into his arms. "You are not in the way."
Puzzled by his contrary behavior, Larisa leaned back and looked up at him. "I think I'd better go."
"No. I don't want you to leave." He slid his hands down her back, pressing her against him.
"Oh!" She stared up at him, then shook her head. "Amidala will be arriving soon."
"Not for another thirty minutes, at least." Bending down to kiss her before she could protest further, he slowly backed her towards the bedroom door, reaching out and opening it before she bumped into it.
And now he's acting strangely. Larisa shrugged it off and wrapped her arms around his neck. Mmm. This was more like it, she thought as he laid her down on the bed. Sitting up when he turned away to close and lock the door, she kicked off her boots and removed her belt, dropping it on the floor. She glanced up when he walked over to the bed and frowned at his expression. "What is it?"
"Nothing." Obi-Wan looked down at her a moment longer, then grasped her by the waist and pulled her to the edge of the bed. Pushing her down onto her back, he stripped off her skirt and underclothes.
"Obi-Wan..." Larisa began uneasily, sitting up.
"Shhh." He placed two fingers against her lips and pulled off his belt.
"I don't think... Mmpphh," she broke off when he covered her mouth with one hand, using the other to work open his trousers. Not liking the look on his face now, Larisa knocked his hand away and scooted back. Something was obviously bothering him. Her eyes widened when he suddenly moved onto the bed and pushed her back down, clapping both hands over her mouth as he settled on top.
Using his knee to push her legs apart, Obi-Wan shoved inside, groaning when she quickly stretched to fit around him. Pulling one hand away from Larisa's mouth, he slid his arm under her back, keeping her in place as he thrust into her.
Struggling to dislodge his hand, Larisa clawed at his back, wincing when he thrust even harder in response. Writhing underneath him, she gave a muffled cry as they both came. The next thing she knew she was lying next to him, her head resting against his shoulder.
"What just happened?"
"I don't know," Obi-Wan said, disgusted with himself. "Are you all right? Did I hurt you?"
"No, you didn't." Larisa looked away and bit her lip, thinking that a small part of her had actually enjoyed it.
"This isn't going to happen every time you go on a mission, is it?" she asked, attempting to lighten the mood.
"I hope not."
She lay there for a few more seconds, then pulled away and sat up. "Turn over."
"Turn over. I want to see your back."
"Oh. Right," Obi-Wan muttered, remembering. He pulled off his tunics and rolled onto his stomach.
Larisa looked down in dismay at the bloody scratches on his back. There was some blood on the sheet as well. "Does it hurt much?"
"Wait here." Getting up, she walked stiffly into the fresher for a wet cloth. Returning to the bed, she healed him before wiping off the blood. Setting the cloth aside, she ran her fingers over his smooth skin, watching the muscles twitch before he rolled over.
Avoiding her gaze, Obi-Wan looked down at the shredded tunics, then threw them on top of the trunk.
"There is a problem with that mission, isn't there?"
"No, there isn't," he said, closing his eyes and rubbing at his forehead.
"Then why are you acting as if you won't be coming back?" Larisa asked when he still refused to look at her.
Obi-Wan finally turned around and faced her. "I am coming back. And even if I weren't, that doesn't excuse what I've done."
"No, it doesn't. Why did you do it then?"
"I don't know."
She looked at him contemplatively, then glanced over at the chrono. Still over twenty minutes left. "Well, you're just going to have to make it up to me."
"I don't see how," he stated, looking away guiltily.
"I do. Lie back and close your eyes."
"I said lie back and close your eyes," she repeated in a sharper tone.
Baffled, Obi-Wan obeyed, wondering what she was up to.
Making sure his eyes were closed, Larisa retrieved both of their belts and proceeded to tie his wrists to the bed posts.
Waiting for Amidala's transport to arrive, Anakin glanced over his shoulder when one of the elevators opened and Obi-Wan stepped out.
"I was starting to wonder if you were going to show up," he remarked when his Master reached him.
"Yes. Fine," Obi-Wan answered, looking a little dazed.
Anakin turned around, raising an eyebrow at his Master. "What happened to you?"
"What?" Obi-Wan looked down at himself. Three of his bootstraps were loose, his belt was on sideways, and his outer tunic was hanging over it. He hurriedly straightened his clothes as the Queen's ship appeared and landed.
Checking his appearance one more time, he smoothed back his hair as the landing ramp lowered and Amidala walked down it.
"Knight Kenobi," Amidala formally greeted. "Padawan Skywalker."
"Your Highness," they both responded.
"I hope your visit was a pleasant one," Obi-Wan added, leading her into one of the elevators.
"It was. Thank you," she replied, signaling two of her handmaidens to follow her. Exchanging small talk with both of them, Amidala waited until the door opened and Anakin went ahead of them to speak to Obi-Wan. "Chancellor Palpatine asked me to extend his condolences. He claims his schedule will not allow him to attend Master Piell's funeral."
"Perhaps that's just as well."
"Perhaps. Has the Council found any proof of their suspicions?"
"No. Nothing substantial." Obi-Wan paused, thinking. "You have some influence with certain members of the Senate."
"Master Windu has spoken to me about that," she told him. "I'm already responsible for the removal of one Supreme Chancellor. I cannot do the same to Palpatine. Especially since he so publicly supported me during the Trade Federation's invasion."
"An invasion he may have orchestrated."
"But you have no proof of that. Until you do, there is very little that I can do."
"Of course. I understand," he replied as they caught up with Anakin and went inside the funeral hall.
Taking their places in front of the bier, Obi-Wan watched as the pyre was lit, remembering another burning as Piell's body was slowly reduced to ash. Turning away, he looked over at Mace Windu, standing on the other side of the room. He excused himself to Amidala and approached the Councilors.
"Knight Kenobi," Windu somberly answered. "I trust you are prepared for your assignment."
"Yes. In fact, that's what I wanted to speak to you about. I'd like your permission for Larisa to accompany me to Kuat."
"No?" Obi-Wan repeated, taken aback by the quick refusal.
"Is there a specific reason you're asking?" Windu questioned.
"No," Obi-Wan admitted. "But surely she can study there as well as on Coruscant."
"Most likely, but the answer is still no." Windu fixed a stern eye on him. "You have a mission to concern yourself with."
"Yes, Master." Obi-Wan bowed, frustrated, then turned around to join Anakin and Amidala by the door.
"What did he want?" Billapa asked curiously, coming up to Windu.
"He asked if Larisa could go with him to Kuat. I said no, of course," Windu told her.
"Of course," she concurred, observing the annoyed frown on his face. "Zyrid and I will be leaving within the hour."
"So you've told her about this trip?"
"Yes, and I must say she reacted rather strangely."
"How so?" Windu's frown deepened. "Does she have some sort of bias against the Wookiee race?"
"No. Not that I'm aware of. She's just been more subdued than usual. I'm sure it's nothing serious," she decided.
"It had better not be. If this continues she may have to be put out of the Temple," he warned her.
"It won't come to that," Billapa said determinedly, bowing to Windu before walking towards the exit. She nodded to Obi-Wan in passing, who didn't notice as he stared at the bier.
"Obi-Wan, are you well?" Amidala asked, concerned.
"Yes, I'm fine," he assured her as they turned to leave the funeral hall and return to the hangar. "It's just been a tiring day."
"And it's not even noon yet," she remarked, then glanced back at the bier. "I know this must have been difficult for you. I hope you'll be able to get some rest during your trip."
"I intend to," Obi-Wan said as they entered an elevator. "Is everything ready, Anakin?"
"Yes, Master. Our transport is waiting for us."
"How long do you expect to be gone?" Amidala asked.
"Two weeks, at least. We're negotiating an old mining claim."
"I'm sorry to hear that," she commented, having had too much experience with such things herself. "Perhaps when it's finished, you could take some time to visit Naboo and relax."
"A real vacation does sound tempting right now," Obi-Wan confessed as they walked Amidala to her ship. "Goodbye, your Highness."
"Goodbye, Obi-Wan. Anakin." She nodded to them before walking up the ramp, followed by her two handmaidens.
"Well, we'd better not keep our pilot waiting too long," Obi-Wan told Anakin after the Queen's ship departed.
"Yes, Master," Anakin replied, looking forward to visiting Naboo again.
Returning to their quarters, Obi-Wan and Anakin gathered up a few personal belongings they were taking with them and hurried to hangar twenty-nine.
Making sure his belt was on securely as he left the elevator, Obi-Wan took a couple more steps and stopped, staring across the hangar at Larisa, who was there waiting for them.
"Hi." Anakin walked over to her, followed by his Master.
"Hi," she said, looking past him at Obi-Wan. "I didn't have a chance to say goodbye earlier."
Anakin glanced knowingly back at his Master. "I'll meet you on board," he told Obi-Wan, giving Larisa a brief hug before heading up the shuttle's landing ramp.
Larisa stood there for a few seconds before breaking the awkward silence. "So, you're all ready to go?"
"Yes. We have everything we need," Obi-Wan told her.
She looked up at him, then quickly stepped into his embrace when he reached for her. "Don't forget to write," she said, holding him tightly.
"I won't," Obi-Wan replied, resting his chin on top of her head before pulling away and kissing her. "Goodbye."
"Goodbye." Larisa stepped back as he turned and walked up the ramp. Watching the shuttle lift off, she shivered from a sudden chill as it slowly disappeared from sight. Pulling her robe closed, she looked back once more before going inside.
It was a little strange, Larisa thought the next morning. Not even twenty-four hours had gone by and she was missing him already. She showered and changed, then collected a food tray from the dining hall and went to the garden to eat. She'd just finished and got up to go back in when Master Tiin appeared and ordered her to come with him.
"You are going to learn how to use a blaster."
"Oh." She hesitated, looking down at the tray in her hands.
"Leave it on the bench," Tiin said.
Larisa quickly set the tray down and followed him to one of the smaller practice rooms.
"Here." He handed her a blaster and motioned to a practice droid that hovered on the other side of the room.
A little embarrassed to notice that Master Tiin stayed well behind her, she pointed the blaster at the droid and fired, hitting the wall four feet to the left of it.
"Try again, and this time aim at the droid," Tiin said dryly, leaning against the wall and folding his arms across his chest.
Feeling her face flush, Larisa stared straight at the droid and squeezed the trigger, missing again but coming closer to it this time. She hit it on her fourth attempt and another one immediately took its place. After going through five droids Tiin called a halt to the practice and asked for her access card.
Glancing around the room, she set the blaster down on the floor before digging out her card and handing it to him. He placed it in the slot next to the door, pressed a few buttons, then took it out and gave it back to her.
"From now on come to this room after the morning meal and practice," Tiin instructed. "The blasters are stored here."
Leading her over to a small compartment built into the wall, he showed her how to open it then left her to continue practicing.
Healing the strained muscles in her arms, Larisa put the blaster away and left the practice room. She went back to her quarters and found a message from Obi-Wan waiting for her on the table. Taking the durasheet out of the package, she sat down on the couch and began reading. Obi-Wan described in great detail how monumentally boring the trip to Kuat had been, and how the representatives that greeted him had bickered with each other. He even mentioned the weather.
Smiling, Larisa put the note back on the table and went over to her small desk to write a reply. Later she would find Knight Mundi and ask him to send it to Obi-Wan for her. She was sure he wouldn't mind. Finishing her letter, she decided to take a little nap before going over the symptoms of the Andalesian plague.
Waking fifteen minutes later, Larisa reached out and turned off the chrono alarm. She started to pull the blanket over her head, then realized that someone was at her door. Grumbling to herself, she got up and answered it, surprised to find Knight Ciral there with Master Eeth Koth.
"May we come in?" Ciral asked when she just stood there.
"Yes," Larisa said, suppressing a yawn as she led them into the public room.
"Yes, I see what you mean," Koth said, eyeing her slight frame critically.
"See what?" she asked, glancing from one to the other.
"What he means is that a certain amount of physical strength is required in our Healers," Ciral explained. "I've spoken to Master Windu about this and he's scheduled an afternoon session for you with Master Koth."
"He has?" Is he trying to kill me? Larisa wondered as she stared apprehensively up at the much larger Jedi Master, imagining the kind of workout that was in store for her.
"It won't be anything too strenuous to begin with," he said, a flicker of amusement crossing his face. "This should have been done when you first came to the Temple. You do know where the training rooms are?"
"Yes," she said, still apprehensive.
"Good. You're scheduled for the fourth hour in room six."
"All right." Locking the door behind them, Larisa checked the time and went back to bed.
The next ten days passed quickly for her as she settled into a routine: Blaster practice after breakfast, followed by studying. The Andalesian plague, it turned out, was just a case of widespread food poisoning. Then there was the dreaded exercise session which, she had to admit, wasn't as bad as she had expected. The other Padawans were generally too busy to take much notice of her. She did manage to break her left wrist on the third day though, which earned her a stern lecture from Master Koth about trying lifting too much too soon.
The only thing she really looked forward to were the messages from Obi-Wan, though she noticed that the last few had been getting shorter and shorter. Five days later, they stopped coming. Pacing her room, Larisa fretted for several minutes, then decided to wait before bothering anyone about it. Obi-Wan just didn't have the time to spare to write yesterday, she told herself. Nothing's happened to him.
She went to see Master Windu two days later.
"You want me to what?" Windu asked, a frown already forming on his face when Larisa approached him outside a conference room.
"I don't mean actually going to Kuat, I just want you to find out if Obi-Wan's all right. He promised to write every day and I haven't gotten anything the last three days."
"I would imagine he's been rather busy."
"Well, maybe, but Knight Mundi did say that there had been an attack there a couple weeks ago," she reminded him. "And besides, shouldn't he be done by now?"
"No. Negotiations involving large corporations such as these always take longer than expected. Very well," he relented at the anxious look on her face. "I'll contact Kenobi for a progress report."
"Thank you." Larisa bowed and returned to her room. All she could do now was wait, and continue sending her own messages to Obi-Wan.
Larisa was in the middle of blaster practice the next morning when Windu came to see her. "Did you talk to Obi-Wan?" she immediately asked.
"Yes. He said that the negotiations will take at least another week," he told her.
"Oh. Well, thank you," she said, disappointed.
"You're welcome." Windu glanced at the droids behind her. "So you're practicing with moving targets now?"
"Yes. Trying to, anyway."
"It does take some getting used to. I'll leave you to it then."
"Okay, and thanks again." She watched him go out the door, then reluctantly turned back to the practice droid.
The next day she got another, very short message from Obi-Wan. There was a brief description of what he and Anakin had been doing the last few days, which didn't sound like much, but no explanation of why he'd stopped writing.
Looking down at the note, she wondered if he was deliberately leaving anything out. The Jedi did like to keep secrets. But if there was a problem, Windu would have said something, if only to tell her that it was none of her business, as he usually did. Putting the durasheet away with the others, she went to lie down for a while before her exercise class.
Pacing her room again, Larisa sat down on her mat to meditate before going to see Master Windu again. It had been nine days since she'd spoken with him and she'd only received two more messages from Obi-Wan, neither of which had been very informative. The last one had come four days ago.
Finally managing to clear her mind, she got up and went straight to the Masters dining hall, hesitating briefly before going inside. Stopping in front of the doors, Larisa looked around, spotted Windu seated at a table with Plo Koon and hurried over to them.
"Hm?" He glanced over his shoulder at her. "What?"
"I was wondering if you've heard from Obi-Wan lately," she said, nodding politely to Koon.
"As a matter of fact, I have. An agreement has been reached and will be signed tomorrow. Kenobi will be back the following day."
"That's just in time!" Larisa blurted out, then started to blush when they both looked up at her.
"Just in time for what?" Koon asked.
"Oh. Nothing. Thank you," she said, bowing before hurrying off.
Shaking his head, Windu turned back to his cup of charde.
Rushing back to her room, Larisa sat down and wrote a quick note to Obi-Wan, adding at the end that she hoped to see him in three days. She placed it in a package and went to give it to Knight Mundi.
Rummaging through her closet again, Larisa pulled out one dress after another, trying to decide what to wear tomorrow when Obi-Wan arrives. Maybe I should show up in just a robe and a pair of boots, she thought with a smile.
Hearing the door alarm, she finally settled on the blue dress, moving it to the end of the rack before going to see who was at her door.
"Master Windu! I was just about to go see you. Do you know when Obi-Wan will be back tomorrow, and what hangar?"
"Perhaps you should sit down," Windu suggested.
Suddenly uneasy, Larisa walked over to the couch and sat.
"Obi-Wan contacted me this morning." He hesitated, then sat down beside her. "He asked permission to travel to Naboo, and since it was at the Queen's invitation I granted it."
"He's going to Naboo?"
"Yes. For a week."
"Did he say anything else? Did he ask if I could join him?"
"No, he did not."
"I don't understand!" Larisa exclaimed, confused. "He said he was coming back. Why is he with her?"
"I suppose it's because his Padawan is still her Consort," he replied.
"I know, but a whole week? Why would he do this?"
Windu started to answer, then stopped and looked away uncomfortably.
Larisa stared hard at him. "What are you not telling me?"
"I suppose you should know. The day Obi-Wan visited you at the hotel, he approached me about marrying Amidala," he reluctantly told her.
"He agreed to marry her?" she asked numbly.
"Yes. That was just after Amidala had ended their arrangement."
"I see." She looked down at her hands, feeling sick. "If you don't mind, I'd like to be alone."
"Of course. I am sorry about this," Windu said sympathetically.
"You're sorry? Why? I know you never approved." Her eyes narrowed. "Or maybe you were jealous."
"I realize you're upset..." he began when she suddenly lunged forward and kissed him, knocking him backwards. He immediately pushed her off. "That's enough! You are not going to use me to punish Obi-Wan."
"Are you sure that's what I'm doing?" she challenged, looking up at him from the floor.
"Yes. And it's going to stop right now."
Larisa stared at him a second longer, then looked down. What the hell is wrong with me? "I'm sorry," she said, humiliated.
"Come on. Get up," he ordered gruffly, standing and pulling her to her feet. She took a step back and sank down onto the couch.
"You're obviously not up to a class right now, so I'll let Eeth know you won't be attending today."
Nodding absently, Larisa waited a few minutes after he left, then got up and went to the garden.
Why didn't I see this coming? she wondered, slumping down on a bench. Had he been lying the whole time? And why wouldn't he want to marry Amidala, anyway? She was, after all, a Queen: Beautiful, powerful, the ruler of an entire planet. What did I have to offer?
Hearing someone coming, she jumped to her feet and wiped at her eyes.
"Ah, Larisa. Just the person I was looking for,"
Ki-Adi-Mundi declared, carrying a stack of datapads in his hands. He stopped and frowned at her appearance. The girl looked positively miserable. "Are you ill?"
"No. Not really."
"Here, sit down," he ordered, placing the datapads on the bench and sitting next to her. "Now, what's the matter?"
"Nothing. It's just... have you ever made the same mistake over and over?" Larisa asked, turning towards him.
"No, I can't say that I have."
"Oh," she said, then fell silent, depressed.
"It might help to talk about it," Mundi prompted.
"It's Obi-Wan. He always said he wasn't going to marry that Queen, but Master Windu told me that he had actually agreed to a few weeks ago. He also said he'd come back after the mission to Kuat, but now he's gone to Naboo!"
"That is odd," he said thoughtfully. "I must say, I've never known Kenobi to lie. I think you should give him a chance to explain when he returns, instead of making any kind of rash decision."
"I suppose," Larisa muttered resentfully. How many chances was she supposed to give the man? "Why were you looking for me?"
"It's about your land on Adarlon," Mundi told her, picking out one of the datapads and handing it to her. "There have been four inquiries, but with so many of the other victim's relatives selling as well, the value has lowered considerably. As you see, the highest offer is only seven thousand credits."
"Three of them are from companies?"
Larisa grimaced. They probably intended to cut down all the trees and build factories or something. She looked at the fourth entry. Four thousand, eight hundred and sixty-three credits? "Who's this Cyliv Mywel?"
"A farmer. Apparently he recently lost his own house in a fire and has been using his life savings to try to purchase another one in that same area for his wife and three children. Unfortunately, these companies have outbid him every time."
So much for practical, she thought. "I'll sell it to Mr. Mywel for three thousand credits."
"I'll see to the arrangements," Mundi said with a nod of approval.
"And could you have the money sent directly to me?" she asked when he stood and gathered up all the datapads.
"That won't be a problem," he told her, nodding again before going back inside.
Larisa sighed and looked up at the sky. She might as well wait and hear what Obi-Wan had to say for himself. But his explanation had better be a good one.
Studying a datapad on Aefans, Larisa pulled out her comm link and answered it. "Yes?"
"Larisa, would you come to my quarters, please?" Windu said, somehow making the request sound more like an order.
"All right." Setting the datapad aside, she put the link away and left her room. Whatever he had to tell her, she was sure she wasn't going to like it.
Pressing the button, she didn't have long to wait before his door opened.
"Come into my office," Windu said, closing the door behind her.
"Why did you call me here?" Larisa asked when he sat down at his desk.
"Sit down," he instructed, gesturing to the chair in front of her.
"What is this about?"
"I've heard from Obi-Wan again."
"He's not coming back, is he?" Larisa asked, resigned.
"He has requested another assignment," Windu admitted. "I've decided to speak to you before giving him an answer. I could order him to return to Coruscant."
"That won't be necessary," she declared, lifting her chin. "I'm not interested in what he does anymore."
"I see." He hesitated. "Are you sure?"
"Yes. Besides, I'm sure you already have a mission in mind for him."
"I did, but it could have waited a day or two." He continued when she made no reply. "Perhaps you'd like a few hours away the Temple. I've noticed you haven't been outside in weeks."
"Could I? I'd really like to see more of the marketplace," she said eagerly.
"Yes, so long as you stay around other people, and come back before it starts to get dark. It should be safe enough with the Supreme Chancellor off-planet."
"Safe?" Larisa frowned. "What does Chancellor Palpatine have to do with it?
"Nothing," Windu abruptly said. "A transport will be ready in ten minutes in hangar nine.
"Okay. Thank you." She quickly stood and left his quarters.
Back in her own room, Larisa pulled out two hundred credits from her hiding place in the fresher room. Firmly putting Obi-Wan out of her mind, she resolved never to think of him again and headed to hangar nine.
Listening to brief snatches of conversation as she worked her way through the crowd, Larisa's head jerked around when she heard Obi-Wan's name mentioned. She moved closer where two women, visitors from Naboo judging by their style of clothing, were seated at a table outside a cafe. She listened for a few seconds as they talked about how Knight Kenobi and Queen Amidala had purportedly quarreled a few weeks ago, but were now reconciled and planning their wedding.
It's just gossip! Larisa told herself as she ducked into an alley. And I don't care anyway! Feeling her head start to pound, she leaned against the wall and out her hand to her forehead. Trying to find the source of the pain, she stiffened, then passed out.
Leaving the alley, Bane quickly located the closest restaurant and went inside. Making a reservation for one hour from now, he left her access card there with strict instructions that it be kept locked up until he returned. Catching an air taxi, Bane considered his future plans. He would bide his time, then, when the war began, he would arrange another lover for Larisa, one of his choosing this time.
Windu, as Head of the Jedi Council, was tempting, but there were other possibilities. He mentally reviewed the twelve Council members before picking one.
Deflecting multiple laser shots with his lightsaber, Maul drew on the Force and focused it on the training droid. It suddenly burst apart, metal components flying in every direction. Sensing that the practice room's door was open, he whirled around and stared at Lord Bane.
"Very impressive," she complimented.
"I have been practicing," Maul said sullenly.
"But only when your Master's away, I'd wager."
"What do you want?" he demanded.
She looked at him a moment, then turned and walked away. Growling a curse, Maul went after her. He caught up three hallways later and pushed her against the wall.
"What do you want?" he repeated, noticing that her body was not as soft as before.
"What I've always wanted," Bane answered, deciding to overlook his transgression this time. "The question is, what do you want? Beside killing more Jedi."
Amused by the thoughtful scowl on Maul's face, she walked through the nearest room and stepped out onto the small balcony. Maul followed.
"I want her dead!" he snarled.
"Undoubtedly, but I'm afraid you're simply going to have to wait awhile for that. Don't answer now. I want you to think about it." Turning away from him, she looked out over the sea of buildings, her eyes glittering with anticipation as they fixed on the Jedi Temple.
"Soon, very soon, we will take back Korriban. And everything else they stole from us."
(Original note from post on DMEB1:) Well, that's it for Seeds of Darkness. For whoever's interested, the story continues two weeks later in Twilight.
Special thanks to my beta, Anne.
Coming soon! The sequel to 'Seeds of Darkness'! Look for 'Twilight'!