The Passion of Maul
Twilight: Chapters 1-2


Dark Passions: The Journey Begins | Dark Passions: Exodus | Dark Passions Revisted: The Amber | Bouquet of Deflowers: The Thistle | Seeds of Darkness: Chapters 1-5 | Seeds of Darkness: Chapters 6-10 | Twilight: Chapters 1-2 | Twilight Chapters 3-4 | Twilight Chapter 5

Chapter 1

Sex content: PG-15

Language content: Mild

Disclaimer: Lucas owns everything; all I have is my imagination, which can get a little strange sometimes.

Description: Lord Bane puts his plan into motion; Larisa gets a shock.


Leaving his quarters, Mace Windu had taken only three steps down the corridor when his comm link beeped for the fifth time. Wanting nothing more than his daily cup of charde, he grudgingly answered it. "What is it?"

"Mace, we've just received an urgent message from Knight Leouvim," Saesee Tiin replied. "The Mandalorians have attacked M'Haeli."

"M'Haeli?" Windu frowned as he recalled its location. "They couldn't have traveled that far undetected."

"Not unless someone in that sector has been helping them," Tiin finished. "This puts them close to several other systems."

"Too close. Has the Chancellor been told?"

"Yes, and he has dispatched two ships to investigate, but if the Mandalorians follow the same strategy as before, they'll be long gone by the time those ships arrive."

"Was Knight Leovim able to get off the planet?"

"I don't know. We've been unable to contact him."

"Send a team of Knights to find him," Windu ordered. "He may have some new Initiates with him."

"I'll take them there in my ship."

"All right, and keep me informed of any further developments."

"I will."

Concerned, Windu put the link away and continued on to the dining hall. If the Mandalorians were indeed finding allies, the very structure of the Republic could be threatened.


Sitting in the shade of a large tree, Larisa glanced up to see Master Billapa coming her way, accompanied by a Jedi Knight.

That's the third one in the past week, she thought, wishing Billapa would stop introducing them to her. Although there was something familiar about this one. Not that it mattered, really. In one year, two at the most, she was going to leave the Jedi Temple and never come back. In the meantime, though, she was going to have to find out what planets did not have a steady supply of that bacta she's heard about.

"Larisa, you remember Knight Giron, don't you?" Billapa asked.

Larisa looked back at him and quickly stood. Other than a few small lines around his eyes, he looked much the same as the last time she had seen him. "Oh. Of course. How have you been?"

"Fine," Giron answered with a friendly smile. "And you?"

"Still studying," she told him, tapping the datapad in her hand.

"You two must have quite a bit of catching up to do," Billapa declared and excused herself, relieved to have finally seen some interest from Larisa, who had been entirely too withdrawn of late.

She still had no idea what had happened between Larisa and Obi-Wan, other than the distinct impression that it had been something Obi-Wan had done. Yet again. Mace would say very little about the matter, and Larisa refused to even discuss it. When Knight Kenobi does return, which he would have to do sooner or later, she intended to have a few words with him.

"So, you've adjusted to life here at the Temple?" Giron asked.

"Pretty much." Never in a million years, Larisa thought, glancing at the departing Jedi Master. "How is Master Ciari?"

"He was well the last time I spoke with him. I've spent the last six months visiting other worlds looking for Initiates."

"Well, I'd better go. I don't want to be late for my fitness class."

"I'll go with you. It's been a long time since I've visited the training rooms."

"All right," she agreed, letting him lead the way. "It's in room six."

"And here we are," Giron announced as they reached room six after taking only one wrong turn.

"Thank you." Opening the door and going inside, Larisa stopped and looked around. The exercise room was full of both Padawans and young Initiates, supervised by two pairs of Jedi Knights.

"Is it usually this crowded?" Giron asked, following her in.

"No, it's not," she answered, searching the room for Master Koth. There he was, standing next to Knight Ciral, who was tending a Padawan's injured knee. Keeping close to the wall, she worked her way over to them. "Master Koth."

"Doril." Koth glanced around the room. "I don't think there will be any spots available for you."

"Where did they all come from?"

"Room nine is being refurbished, so they moved some of the students here," he answered, looking behind her.

"Oh. This is Giron," Larisa introduced.

"Councillor Koth," Giron said, bowing.

"Knight Giron," Koth responded, inclining his head.

Ciral finished with the Padawan and stood. "Hello, I'm Knight Meylii Ciral," she said, shaking Giron's hand.

"Giron's spent the last few months traveling around the galaxy," Larisa told her, looking after Eeth Koth when he moved off.

"Had you by any chance stopped on Delaya during your travels?" Ciral asked interestedly.

"As a matter of fact, I have. About five weeks ago," he said, smiling.

I guess he likes tall blondes, Larisa thought, listening to their conversation a few seconds longer before backing away and walking over to Master Koth.

"You are free to return to your quarters," Koth reminded, glancing curiously down at her.

"I know, but I'd like to stay awhile, if you don't mind. I could use a break from datapads," she told him.

"Very well." Koth looked in Ciral's direction. *Knight Ciral, you may go now. Doril will finish your duties here*

Ciral looked at him and nodded before turning back to Giron. "Knight Giron, why don't we go find a quieter place to talk? Say, the dining hall?"

"Well . . ." Giron glanced over at Larisa, standing next to Eeth Koth, before answering. "All right," he agreed, taking her by the arm and walking her out.

Larisa watched the two of them leave, then spent the next hour healing a variety of minor injuries. She paused, checking the chrono when the four Knights began herding the other Padawans out the door, before examining her last patient, a young boy with a fractured ankle. A very talkative young boy, she corrected, nodding occasionally as he jumped from one topic to another.

"Are you a Knight? You look a little young," the boy said, looking directly at her for the first time.

"No, I'm not."

"You don't have the braid, so you're not a Padawan," he observed. "Are you a Master? Are you one that lives forever, like Master Yoda?"

"No. I'm not a Jedi," she told him with a small smile.

The boy fell silent as he puzzled it out. "You shouldn't be here then," he stated.

Pressing her lips together, Larisa focused on healing his ankle.

"Larisa was accepted into the Temple because she is a very strong healer, B'rexl," Koth spoke up, standing behind them. "And I'm afraid that Master Yoda is not going to live forever. Now go join the others."

"Thank you," Larisa said, slowly climbing to her feet as the boy ran to catch up with his friends.

"I was merely speaking the truth, but you're welcome."

"Hmm. Where are you going now?" she asked, following him out into the hallway, suddenly loath to return to her room.

"I'm going to my quarters for some light meditation before the next class," he told her.

"Oh. Well, I'll see you tomorrow then." Larisa bowed and went the other way.

Sorting through the holocrons on his desk, Windu quickly pushed them aside and answered his comm link. "Yes?"

"Mace . . . it's Saes . . ." came the garbled reply.

"Saesee? What's happening?" Windu asked, hearing what sounded like distant explosions over the link.

". . .dalorians . . . ontrol of M'Hae l. . . public ships... destroyed . . "

"Get out of there now!"

". . . Mace . . . y way . . ."

"Saesee!" Getting only dead silence, Windu attempted to reestablish the connection then contacted the Supreme Chancellor.

"Chancellor, there's a transmission from the Jedi Temple," an aide announced from the office doorway.

"You may leave," Palpatine ordered, turning off the small holographic map he had been studying. It was most likely Councilor Windu, and he had to present the image of a beleaguered Chancellor.

Leaning back in his chair, he centered his thoughts, recalling a favored pet he'd once killed due to disobedience before activating the hologram. "Councilor Windu," he greeted somberly. "I assume you've already heard the terrible news?"

"I have. Saesee told me that the Mandalorians had invaded M'Haeli before I lost contact with him."

"Councilor Tiin was there? I do hope he's all right," Palpatine said, outwardly sympathetic. "I have, of course, ordered all travel to M'Haeli blocked, and will call for a meeting of the Senate to discuss what further measures should be taken.

"I see." It could be weeks before something was done! Windu thought. Cooperation among the Senators had not much improved since Valorum's tenure. There was also the probability that one of them, not to mention the Chancellor himself, was a traitor to the Republic. "These Mandalorians must be stopped."

"Indeed they must. I'm sure that the report of them having hundreds of ships was a gross exaggeration." Palpatine paused, a thoughtful expression on his face. "Perhaps the quickest way to stop them would be to find their base, wherever it might be, and prevent them from creating more clones."

Windu hesitated before answering. Not knowing who could be trusted was making this doubly difficult. "We will continue to monitor the situation," he said cautiously. "And I will consult with the Council."

"Of course." Palpatine nodded, not allowing a smile to cross his face until after the transmission had ended. The Mandalorians were proving useful after all. He did wonder, though, which planet they would target next. If that report on the size of their army was true, a blockade would not hold them for even a minute.

This was what Lord Bane had alluded to: the perfect opportunity. With the Jedi distracted (and the longer this dragged on, the better), he could begin to work more openly. Now if he could just arrange more contact with young Skywalker. That one has a great deal of potential, and had proven to be more easily swayed than he had anticipated. It would not take much to turn him.

Putting on a grave face, Palpatine began the tedious task of sending messages to the Senators.

Turning off the hologram device, Windu left his quarters and went to the Temple's map room. His first concern was finding Saesee and the other Knights. He knew that the Jedi Master was not dead; he would have sensed his passing through the Force otherwise.

Entering the enormous room, he walked through a hologram of the entire galaxy, passing dozens of planets, besides each of which was the name of its ruler and whichever Jedi might be assigned to it at the moment.

Stopping next to M'Haeli, Windu studied the nearby worlds, taking note of how many Jedi were stationed on them. There were not many, and they were needed to provide warning in case of another attack. He was just about to contact the other Council members when his comm link beeped again. "Yes?"

"Mace, its Saesee."

"Where are you?" Windu asked, relieved.

"I'm not sure. Somewhere in the Joralla system, I think. My ship was damaged and has lost most of its fuel," Tiin explained. "It doesn't look like a very hospitable planet, but there is sufficient oxygen in its atmosphere."

"Keep transmitting so we can locate you and I'll send someone to bring you back," Windu told him, judging the distance between Coruscant and Joralla. "Was anyone injured?"

"No, but I wasn't able to reach Knight Leouvim. I don't think he made it."

"I see." Windu was silent for a moment, aggrieved by the loss. "I expect you'll have a full report ready by the time you return."

"There's not much else to do here. And Mace, could you send one of our larger transports? I don't want to leave my ship behind."

"Consider it done. I'll see you in a few hours." Windu put his link away and went to organize a rescue team.

". . . didn't have time to make an exact count, but there was a large number of ships. Dozens, I'd say," Saesee Tiin told the other Council Members.

"So these ships had been picked up by scanners just before the attack?" Windu asked.

"Yes, they were. Those rumors of cloaking devices must have been false, and I haven't heard of any substantial destruction like there was on Arkania."

*By now they could have enough fuel to reach halfway across the galaxy* Yarael Poof stated.

"Yet according to the latest report, they have not left M'Haeli," Ki-Adi-Mundi said.

"Not yet, anyway," Windu said. "When I spoke with the Chancellor, he suggested that we find their base and destroy it. I did not tell him that we're already searching for it, and whoever has been helping them. I'd rather he didn't know where our Knights are looking."

"Has there been any word from the Senate?" Eeth Koth asked.

"No. Most of the Senators that attended today's meeting were accusing each other of collaborating with the Mandalorians." Windu glanced over at Yoda, who had been uncharacteristically silent ever since Evan Piell's death. "A few of them have even demanded the right to produce a clone army of their own."

"That cannot be allowed!" Mundi exclaimed.

"No, it cannot," Windu agreed. "But that decision lies with the Chancellor, who has refused so far."

"Watch and wait, we must," Yoda asserted.

"There has to be more that we can do," Plo Koon said, dissatisfied with that solution.

"Unfortunately there isn't, unless the Chancellor specifically requests our help." Windu replied. "I will be sending more Knights to look for the Mandalorian base, and try to find out who's been helping them tomorrow. It must be a system near M'Haeli."

"That still leaves a lot of worlds to cover," Koth said. "I will join the search."

"I though you were looking for an Apprentice."

"I was, but I haven't found one that suits me. I'll try again in six months."

"As will I," Koon announced.

Windu looked at him in surprise. "I wasn't aware that you were looking too."

"I didn't want it spread around the Temple, and I will join the search as well."

"So will I," added Fey'Zon.

"All right, but just you three," Windu decided when Tiin looked as if he were going to volunteer too. "I don't want half the Council scattered throughout the galaxy at a time like this." He looked around at the other Council members before signaling an end to the meeting.

Hurrying out of an elevator the following morning, Larisa immediately slowed her pace when she saw Master Windu standing in the middle of the hallway with Masters Fey'Zon and Koth. "Excuse me," she said, trying to get past them.

Koth stepped back. "Knight Qiraj will be overseeing your class while I'm away."

Larisa stopped and turned back around. "Where are you going?"

"To Oseon," he told her, looking decidedly unhappy about it.

"Could I go too?"

"What?" Windu turned towards Larisa, who looked surprised herself. He frowned when the Bothan Master looked at her speculatively.

Well, I can't exactly ask them if they know of a planet that could use a healer, she realized. "Could I go with him?"

"He would be less conspicuous if he arrived with a companion," Fey'Zon pointed out when Windu shook his head. "A human?" Koth asked, dubious.

"Yes," the Bothan affirmed. "It won't take long to prepare some appropriate clothing for her."

"Oh, very well," Windu said, looking annoyed. "Be in hangar twelve in thirty minutes," he told her. "And don't be late."

"Thank you." Larisa continued down the hallway. First she had to let Master Tiin know that she was going to miss practice the next few days, and ask Mundi to make sure Rialth was fed every day. Then she had to pack.

Stopping to watch a ship take off, Larisa looked over at the shuttles, trying to figure out which one they were taking when another elevator door opened and Koth and Fey'zon walked out. They were followed by a protocol droid and several pieces of floating luggage, similar to what she had used on Alderaan.

"How long will it take to get to that planet?" she asked.

"About nine hours," Fey'Zon answered. "And there is no actual planet there. That system is made up of one star surrounded by asteroids. You two are going to Oseon 6845."

"The wealthiest people in the galaxy vacation there," Koth pointedly added, still perturbed. The other Councilors were well aware of how much he disliked these kinds of missions.

Why didn't I ask first when I opened my mouth? Larisa wondered, feeling a sudden urge to kick herself. Hanging around a bunch of snobs was not going to help her find a planet she could eventually move to, and she couldn't change her mind now. Not without them wanting to know the reason why. Damn!

"There won't be any problems," Fey'Zon said easily. "Those people rarely look beyond appearances. As long as you show that you have plenty of money, they won't give you a second thought."

"That's comforting," replied Koth, a touch of sarcasm in his voice.

"Just don't spend all the credits we've given you." The Bothan smiled, glancing over at the wall chrono. "You'd better go now. These type of cruisers are very strict about leaving on time." He gave a small bow and stepped back into the elevator.

"Let's go," a resigned Koth told Larisa and the droid and walked over to a small unmarked shuttle.

"We're not taking a Jedi ship to Oseon?" she asked as they boarded the ship.

"No, and do not tell anyone that you reside in the Temple. As far as they're concerned, we are from Berchest," he told her as they walked by the cockpit and entered a passenger room. "You're to use the name Tenneil S'Dyn, and call me Jevihr. And we both need to change our clothes before we reach the ship."

"Oh. Of course."

Koth sent the droid to the back of the ship, then opened one of the large trunks and began picking out some clothes. "I did bring some of my clothes," she told him, putting her bag down and opening it.

"They won't do," Koth said, giving the bag's contents a brief glance. "Here." He handed her a short, emerald green sleeveless dress with matching shoes and a pair of mesh gloves made of a bronze-colored metal. "You'll have to change in here," he added as the shuttle lifted off.

"In here?" she asked, hesitating.

"Yes, and be quick. We don't have much time." Closing the window shade, he politely kept his back to her and pulled out a tunic and trousers, all the same rich bronze shade.

Same color as my gloves, Larisa noticed before turning around to face the wall. I can't believe I'm doing this, she thought, dropping the shoes and gloves down on a chair and shedding her clothes. Stepping into the dress, she struggled with the back of it for a few seconds before giving up and strapping on her shoes.

"Finished?" Koth asked, pulling on his boots as their shuttle came to a stop.

"Almost, but I need a little help," she answered, carefully putting on the gloves.

He hid his lightsaber inside the trunk and walked over to her. "Stay still," he said when she started to turn around. "The droid will help you during our stay on Oseon."

"We're taking it with us?" she asked, shivering a little when his fingers brushed against her skin.

"Yes. As a servant." He fastened the last strap and went to collect the droid.

Larisa tugged at the high collar, then looked down at herself. The dress was a little tight, perhaps, but not too bad. And it was a pretty color.

Rummaging through her bag, she pulled out her curler and put it in the trunk, closing it and stepping back as Koth returned with the droid. "What about our clothes?"

"Leave them here. They'll be returned to our rooms," Koth told her.

"Oh." Following them outside onto a landing platform several miles away from the Jedi Temple, Larisa stared up at the huge ship in front of her. "We're going there in this?" she asked in a near whisper as they started up the long ramp.

"Yes, and don't worry. You look fine," he assured her.

"Thank you. So do you," she replied, still nervous.

Koth glanced at her, then handed two datacards to the uniformed woman who met them at the entrance. She inserted it into a square-shaped device, waited a few seconds for verification, and handed them back to him.

"This way, please." She led them down a wide corridor to room fifty-seven. "If there is anything you need, just press the button by the door and someone will be by directly."

"We will." He gave her a credit chip and dismissed her, then pulled a small datapad out of one of the smaller cases and handed it to Larisa. "You'll need to familiarize yourself with Calius saj Leeloo. It's a city on Berchest."

Larisa looked around the ornately furnished quarters they were shown to. "Just what am I supposed to do while I'm there?"

"We're to mingle with the other guests and listen for any mention of clones." He ordered the droid to stand against the wall and deactivated it, then sat down in one of the chairs.

"Mingle how? I won't know what to say to those people."

"From my experience, they're usually content just to hear themselves talk."

"Was your family wealthy?" she asked, curious.

"Hardly. I was born on Nar Shaddaa, in a very poor section," he said with a grimace of distaste.

Better stay away from that subject, Larisa thought, sitting down on the large sofa as the ship lifted off. She studied the data on Calius, then glanced at the chrono. Still over eight hours to go. What were they supposed to do in the meantime?

She looked over at Master Koth, who appeared to be meditating, then lay back against the cushions and gazed out the window, listening to the faint hum of the ship's engines as she watched the stars go by.

Picking up her food tray, Depa Billapa turned and scanned the room for Windu, spotting him near the back of the dining hall, seated at a table all by himself. And no wonder, she thought, walking over and sitting across from him. His expression was as foreboding as she'd ever seen it. "Hello, Mace."

"Hm?" Windu glanced up, surprised. "Depa. I didn't see you there."

"Yes, you do seem rather preoccupied. Has there been any more word on the Mandalorians?"

"Not since this morning. They're still at M'Haeli, but I doubt they'll stay there much longer," he told her. "The good news is that some of the surrounding systems have agreed to come to each others' aid if one is attacked.

"That's very good news. Perhaps the rest of them can be convinced to cooperate as well."


Taking the cover off her tray, Billapa switched to a lighter subject. "I've heard from Knight Dmo'orl. He's returning to the Temple tomorrow, and he has forty-two new Initiates with him."

"Good." Windu nodded approvingly. "Did you know that Plo had been looking for a new Apprentice?"

Billapa looked up in surprise. "No, I didn't. Has he taken a Padawan, then?"

"No, unfortunately, but he intends to look again in six months. So will Eeth."

"I'm sure they'll find one then," she said with a pleased smile.

"We'll see." Windu pushed the tray aside and stood. "Well, I have some business to take care of. I'll see you later."

"Goodbye." Billapa picked up her fork and began eating her customary salad.

"No." Larisa turned over, resisting the hand that shook her shoulder.

"Wake up," Koth repeated, shaking her a little harder.

"What?" She blinked at him, then looked around. "Are we there yet?"

"No, not for another six hours. It's time for the noon meal."

"Couldn't we just eat in here?" she asked, sitting up and rubbing the back of her neck.

"No. We're eating with the other passengers. Now let's go."

"Fine," Larisa muttered, following him out the door and down the hall to the dining room where they were shown to a table. She looked through the menu twice before finally ordering. "And what will you be having, Jehvir?" she asked when Koth continued to study his menu.

"Hmm. I'll have the bhillen, and a glass of kyrf."

"That sounds good. I'll have a glass of that, too."

"No, you will not," Koth said, frowning.

Larisa blinked, then nodded. "All right. Just water, then."

The waiter entered both their orders into a commpad and moved on to another table.

Waiting patiently, Koth glanced over at Larisa, who was twisting her napkin into a ball. *Relax* he told her.

"Sorry." Taking a deep breath, she smoothed out the cloth and placed it on her lap.

*That's all right, but you must not let the other guests know how nervous you are around them* He sat back when the waiter returned with their meals.

"I'll meditate every morning," she decided, buttering a slice of purplish bread before starting on the small stuffed bird.

"Good." Cutting the bhillen steak into pieces, he noted with satisfaction that it was still very pink on the inside.

"So, what are we going to do the rest of the way there?" she asked after the waiter removed their plates and came back with dessert.

Koth thought it over. "There are casinos there. Do you know how to play sabacc?"

"No, I don't."

"I could show you how, if you want," he offered.

"I'd like that," she said, taking a small bite of the glaze cake. Wrinkling her nose at the sugary taste, she ate a couple more bites, then pushed her plate away.

Koth finished his, leaving a creditchip on the table as they stood and returned to their room. "Sit there," he instructed, gesturing to the table.

Larisa sat down, watching intently as he produced a deck of thin, decorated metal cards and spread them out on the table. "These are the Commander cards," he began.

Keeping her face as expressionless as possible, Larisa looked from the cards in her hand to Master Koth and waited. She held her breath when he picked up another card, then laid all of them on the table. Twenty-six. Yes!

Third game in a row, she thought, smiling as she put her own cards down, which added up to only nineteen.

"Very good," he said, pouring each of them another glass of pawei juice.

"Thank you." Larisa picked up the cards and started to shuffle them when a voice came out of a small speaker built into the ceiling, announcing their arrival at Oseon 6845. Putting the cards down, she dashed into the fresher room while he turned the droid on, coming back out three minutes later and joining them outside in the hallway.

"Ready, Tenneil?" Koth asked as they followed the other passengers off the cruiser.

She nodded. "As ready as I'll ever be."

"Just remember, let them do the talking." He located the transport Fey'Zon had arranged for them and walked over to it. "The Hotel Profo," he told the pilot once they were aboard.

Sitting back in the leather seat, Larisa looked out the window, up at the transparent dome that covered the spaceport. She watched as they entered one of several enclosed tunnels, speeding past a rocky landscape towards a small city about a mile away.

Slowing its speed once it entered the city, the shuttle threaded its way through traffic and stopped in front of the hotel. Larisa glanced up at the tall building, made entirely of steel and blue-tinted glass, as they went inside. She looked around at the statues that decorated the lobby while Master Koth spoke with the hotel clerk.

Taking their room access cards, Koth glanced around for Larisa, finding her several feet away, standing in front of a seven-foot-tall statue. "Our room's ready," he said, walking over to her.

"Hm? Oh, right. What rooms are we in?" she asked, following him into the elevator.

"Room 7189."

She looked up at him with a puzzled frown. "Don't we have separate rooms?"

"No. Fey'Zon only reserved one room."

"Oh." Well, I'll just sleep on the sofa, Larisa decided as the elevator door opened.

"Here." Handing her the second key once they reached their room, Koth opened the door and went inside. He stopped in the middle of the room and concentrated, using the Force to search for any listening devices that may have been planted.

"What were you doing?" she asked once he opened his eyes.

"Making sure the room is clean," he replied, walking over to a large holovid set in the wall, turning it on and setting it to a news channel.

"... the fighting rages on as the Mandalorians continue their attack on these two systems. There's been no official confirmation, but it is rumored that the Supreme Chancellor may order Republic battleships to the area himself. We'll have more information as soon as it's available."

"Maybe we should go back to Coruscant," Larisa suggested when Koth turned off the holovid.

"No. Hopefully we or one of the others will find out what we need and this will be over with quickly. We'll need to change before we go back out. We have a reservation at a nearby club in twenty-five minutes."

"What's wrong with what we have on now?"

"To keep up appearances, we can't be seen wearing the same clothes twice," he explained. "We'll have to change each time we leave this room."

"That sounds ridiculous!"

"It is, but that's how the higher class works." Koth walked over to the closet, where the droid was hanging up their clothes.

"Are you looking for something particular, Sir?" it asked.

"Yes. The shimmersilk for her, and that blue satyn for me."

Walking over and taking the dress the droid took out of the trunk, Larisa held it up to herself. Reaching her ankles, it was cut quite a bit lower in front then the one she was wearing now, and most of her back would be exposed. "Are you sure about this?"

"Yes. Use the fresher room to change." Koth gestured to the door to her left and took his clothes into the bedroom.

That looks nice, Larisa thought upon entering the fresher room. The bathing pool looked to be about seven feet long, and there was a separate area for showering. She put on the new dress, relieved to have not needed the droids help, and looked down at it, fascinated. Each time she turned it changed from a maroon color to dark grey, then back again.

Taking her braid apart as she left the fresher, Larisa found her brush and gold clasp on a table next to the curler. Brushing out her hair, she lifted it up and clipped the clasp around it.

"Are you ready?" Koth asked, coming out of the bedroom dressed in a blueish-green tunic and trousers.

"Yes," she answered, putting on her shoes and gloves.

"Let's go then." He walked over to the door and opened it.

Following him out, Larisa looked down at her gloves, which were again the same color as what he was wearing. Puzzled by that, she asked him about it.

"It's just a custom among Zabraks. One of many," he told her. A strange one, she thought, putting it out of her mind as they stepped into one of the elevators.

Nearly bursting with the news she just received, Baeris Urdoma walked sedately back to her table. "Waiter!" she called. "A glass of Bespin port for myself and my friends."

"Celebrating again, Baeris? What's the occasion this time?" Layniv asked snidely.

Smiling secretively, Baeris waited until the waiter returned with three full glasses before answering. "Kiro is now the Governor of Balmorra," she announced, delighting in the envy on their faces.

Taking a small sip of the wine, she glanced around the room, putting her glass down when she saw an unfamiliar face. Eyeing the expensive dress the young woman was wearing, Baeris' expression turned to disgust when she noticed her companion. "Do you see that?" she demanded of her friends.

Dejia looked in their direction. "What?"

"What do you mean, 'what?' What is she doing with that . . . that . . ." Baeris sputtered in outrage.

"He's a Zabrak, and remember what Kiro said about taking matters into your own hands the last time you were here," Layniv said when Baeris started to rise.

"Yes, and besides, she might not welcome your... advice," Dejia added, hoping to avoid a scene.

"Nonsense! No sensible human would want to be seen with such a hideous thing. Her parents must have been poor," Baeris surmised. "I've heard of such things happening. Waiter!"

"Yes, Lady Urdoma," a waiter immediately responded.

Here we go again, thought Layniv.

"Who is that?"

He looked in the direction she was pointing. "I'm afraid I don't know. I've never seen them here before."

"Find out." She handed him a large creditchip. "I want to know where they are staying by morning."

Bowing, he pocketed the chip and moved on to another table.

Picking up her drink, Baeris watched as those two were seated at a table halfway across the room, then turned to Layniv. "What do you know about Zabraks?"

Trying to concentrate on the menu in her hands, Larisa looked around the room again and started when a waiter suddenly spoke from behind. "Are you ready to order?"

"Um. Yes." Looking over the menu items again, she picked something called a korba while Koth ordered the poached icefish.

"Is there a problem?" Koth asked after the man moved on to another table.

"I just feel like we're being watched."

"We probably are. The regular guests are usually very curious about newcomers."

"How long will we be staying here?"

"A week, perhaps longer. Tomorrow we'll visit the Esplanade."

"What's that?" she asked as the waiter returned with their plates.

"It's where most visitors shop, and will give us a better opportunity to meet some of them."

"Ah." She leaned over, inhaling the aroma before digging in, having to force herself to eat slowly. "I didn't know Zabraks ate fish," she said after a few minutes of silence.

"Once in a while we do."

The waiter immediately reappeared when they put their forks down, clearing away the empty plates and returning with dessert.

"The service here is pretty fast," Larisa observed, tasting the spiced cake first before taking a bigger piece.

"It would have to be, if they want their customers to keep coming back. The wealthy don't like to be kept waiting; when they want something, they want it now."

"Spoiled rotten, you mean."

"Spoiled. Yes," he agreed, smiling at her description.

"Well, I can't eat any more," she said, pushing her plate away.

Koth finished the last three bites of his and signaled the waiter, who quickly came over.

"Would you like that charged to your hotel room, sir?" he asked.

"Yes. Room 7189, at the Hotel Profo," Koth said, showing the man his room key.

"Yes, sir." Nodding, the man made a note of it and hurried away as more customers arrived.

"Finally," Larisa sighed once they'd reached their room, removing her hair clasp and dropping it on the table. "I was starting to think this day would never end."

"Tomorrow will be just as busy," Koth told her, taking the loose tunic and trousers the droid brought him.

Making a face at his back, she took the sleep gown the droid pulled out for her and went to use the fresher first. Cleaning her teeth afterwards, she changed into the gown, leaving her clothes on the bench for the droids to take care of later.

She went to the bedroom and grabbed one of the pillows off of the bed. Looking in the closet again, she spotted an extra blanket on a shelf, pulled it down, and headed back to the public room.

"What are you doing?" Koth asked as he shut the droid down for the night.

"Sleeping out here, of course," she explained, putting the pillow down at one end of the sofa.

"Absolutely not!" he said, looking insulted.

"But this was your room first," she pointed out.

"That is irrelevant. You are not sleeping on the sofa."

"Yes, I am," Larisa insisted, taking a step back when he folded his arms over his chest. He really looked much too imposing when he did that. "Look, this is your mission, not mine, so you should get the bed."

"That also means that I am in charge of this mission and it is my decision," he said, walking over and taking the blanket from her.

"Well, how about a compromise, then? I'll take the sofa one night, and you can have it the next," she suggested. "Fair enough?"

He hesitated briefly before agreeing, "All right, but I'm sleeping on it tonight."

"Okay, but don't tell me it's uncomfortable when it isn't."

"I won't," he replied, amused by her stubbornness.

"Good." She walked past him and into the bedroom, closing the door behind her.

"So much for cooperation," Mace Windu remarked acidly, tossing the report down on the table.

"Two systems attacked at the same time had to have been confusing to them," Billapa said as Ki-Adi-Mundi entered the small conference room.

"That hardly excuses the fact that they did nothing. Now both systems have been lost, and I don't suppose there's been any kind of decision from the Senate?"

"Not yet," Mundi answered, sitting down at the table. "But apparently some of them want to try to negotiate."

"Negotiate how?"

"In exchange for no further invasions, they propose that the Mandalorians be allowed to keep the three systems they're currently occupying."

"They can't be serious," Billapa exclaimed, shocked.

"I'm afraid they are. Chancellor Palpatine won't hear of it, but other Senators are starting to agree."

"They consider those worlds to be expendable," Tiin said, scowling.

"Find out which one of them suggested it first," Windu ordered. "He may have had another motive."

"You think he might be the one who's been helping the Mandalorians?" Mundi asked. "I doubt he would want to draw attention to himself."

"Probably, but at least we'll be able to discount him."

"I'm going to check on my ship," Tiin said as he and Mundi both stood. "The repairs should be finished by now."

"All right, but stay close to Coruscant for now," Windu told him.

"I will." Tiin stood and followed Mundi out the door.

"I haven't seen Master Yoda lately. Is he off-planet again?"

"Yes, and as usual he wouldn't say where he was going," Windu said sourly.

"Well, if anyone's earned the right to keep a secret now and then it's him. What do you intend to do now?" Billapa asked when he rose to his feet and turned on the holocomm.

"I'm going to contact Thisspias and ask Oppo to consider resuming his seat on the Council."

"Do you really think that's necessary?" she asked, troubled. "It's been years since any of our Order has had to fight in a war."

"I know. I hope it won't come to that, but we must be prepared in case it does.

""You're going to talk to him now?"

"Yes. Why?"

"Because it's early morning on Thisspias," Billapa informed him.

"So it is. I'll talk to him tomorrow, then."

"You should get some rest in the meantime," she advised. "You look tired."

"Why are you always the one to point that out to me?"

Smiling, Billapa stood and bowed to him before leaving.

Covering a yawn, Windu looked over at the chrono, surprised at just how late it was. Wishing humans needed as little sleep as some of the other races, he picked up the report and returned to his quarters.

"Good morning," Master Koth greeted when Larisa emerged from the bedroom.

"Good morning," she responded. "Who was at the door?"

"Hotel service. I had breakfast brought to our room."

"Thank you!" Hurrying over to the table, she sat down in front of a platter of food, grabbed one of the small yellow fruit from the bowl and took a bite. "Mmm. Wonderful! What is it?"

"A geldan sun-apple, according to the menu," Koth said, sitting across from her and taking the plate of uncooked pashkin sausages.

"How was the sofa?" she asked, finishing the fruit and picking up a berry-filled pastry.

"It was tolerable," he admitted, polishing off a third sausage. "I've ordered a taxi to take us to the Esplanade at the ninth hour."

That's only thirty-two minutes away, Larisa realized, looking over at the chrono. She ate another of the apples, then used the fresher and took a quick shower.

Making sure the robe was secure, she wrapped a towel around her head and left the fresher room. "Your turn," she told Koth.

"About time," he said with mock impatience.

"I only took eight minutes," she haughtily retorted.

"Hmph. There'd better be some hot water left," Koth growled before closing the door.

Turning away with a grin, Larisa took the curler into the bedroom. It was time to see just how it works. She read the directions carefully, then pulled the towel off and worked all the tangles out of her hair. Separating one section from the rest, she picked up one of the curlers and wrapped the end around it.

Pressing the tiny button at one end of the curler, she let go of it when it automatically rolled itself up in her hair, stopping when it reached her head. Hmm. They must be computerized or something. Well, it certainly saves time, Larisa thought, repeating the process with the other curlers. And according to the package, they dry the hair too. She could feel them getting warm already.

Retrieving the plate of cooled pastries, she ate three of them while waiting the required four minutes, wiping her hands on a napkin before removing the curlers. Putting the plate back on the table, she gave her hair a light brushing and went to look over her clothes.

"Excuse me, Miss Tenneil. Might I be of service?" the droid asked when she started looking in the closet.

"No, that's all right. I'm just trying to decide what to wear."

"But Master Jehvir has already selected the clothing," it said, directing her attention to the sofa where they were already laid out.

"Really?" Larisa frowned as the droid brought the black dress, shoes, and pair of ivory gloves to her. Next time I'm picking out my clothes, she promised herself, thanking the droid and going into the bedroom to dress.

Smoothing the skirt of her dress, which ended just above the knee, she pulled on her gloves and noticed a small pouch attached to the left one. Opening it, she counted the chips that were inside. Two thousand credits. Well, people do shop at the Esplanade, even if she didn't have a clue what to buy.

"It's time to go," Koth called from the other side of the door.

"Coming!" Putting the credits back, she closed the pouch and headed back out to the public room, not surprised to see Master Koth in an ivory-colored tunic and trousers, although this time he had on a short black cape made of the same shiny material as her dress.

Remembering to take her hotel key, Larisa put it in the glove pouch before leaving the room.

"This is big," Larisa commented, looking down the main street of the Esplanade. Under the dome there were buildings as far as she could see.

"Indeed." Koth glanced around. "We'll go here first," he said, walking towards a store that had caught his eyes.

"I'm going to look around," she told Koth a few minutes later, who was examining some kind of transmitter the store had just gotten in.

"Fine, but don't go too far. I'll meet you at the front of this store."

"Okay." Heading out the door and down the walkway, Larisa detoured into a men's clothing shop. Hmm. This would look really good on him, she thought, looking over the dark blue jacket she'd spotted through the front window. She picked out one that looked like it was Master Koth's size and bought it, having it delivered to her hotel room so she wouldn't have to carry it around. Leaving the shop, she went into the one next door.

She stopped in front of the door, looking all the eyewear, ranging from simple lenses to large protective goggles. Walking over to a counter, she looked down at all the colored eye lenses.

"Are you looking for anything in particular?" the salesman asked.

"No. Well, I'd like those green ones," she told him, pointing to the shade of green she wanted. Perhaps one of these days she'll change her hair color.

"I'll have to check your eyes first," he told her, pulling an odd-looking device from a drawer. "We need to know the exact size and shape of each customer's eyes, to make sure their lenses fit perfectly."

"Okay." Larisa stood still while he held the device up to her eyes and pressed a button. He looked at the results and pulled out one of the lower trays. "Will this be all?" he asked, pulling out the green pair.

"Um . . . that one too."

"All right." Wondering why she would want a pair the same color as her own eyes, he relegated it to the eccentricities of the rich and added it to the other pair.

Paying for the lenses, she placed the tiny package in her belt pouch, crossed the street and entered jewelers.

"If you're looking for something special, you should try Nokyl's. They have the finest collection in this part of the galaxy," a voice said as Larisa looked at bracelets.

Turning around, Larisa found a brown-haired woman standing two feet behind her. She looked to be in her mid-thirties, and was wearing a bright red dress embroidered with large gold flowers. "Is it nearby? I've never been here before," Larisa explained.

"I though as much. No one I know has ever seen you before. I was at the Piraex last night when you walked in. With that Zabrak," the woman added, her mouth twisting as she glanced at Larisa's gloves. "I am Lady Urdoma, but please, call me Baeris."

"Hello." Larisa shook her hand. "I'm Tenneil S'Dyn, and the man I was with is Jehvir. He's just across the street, if you'd like to meet him.

Man indeed! "That won't be necessary," Baeris quickly assured her. "So, this is your first visit to Oseon?"

"Yes, it is. Do you come here often?"

"At least three times a year," Baeris answered. "Have you been here long?"

"We arrived yesterday evening."

"Then you simply must go see the Voumant today. It's their last performance here. It begins at two. Just tell the doorman that I invited you and he'll let you in."

Larisa hesitated before replying. "I'd better talk to Jehvir about it first."

"If you insist," Baeris said, keeping the polite smile on her face. "Well, I'll see you there then, assuming he lets you go."

"Oh, I'm sure he will. I just want him to know where I'll be," Larisa told her before leaving the shop.

Well, that went very well, Baeris thought smugly. And as she predicted to her friends, Tenneil wasn't at all troubled at the thought of spending time away from it.

She would find out more about the girl first, and then decide what needed to be done.

"Are you sure I should go?" Larisa asked again, trying to keep still as the droid worked on fastening the back of her dress. "I still think she was very rude not to invite you."

Eeth Koth paused, thinking of the cold glances he'd received from some of the humans at the Esplanade. "The wealthy often are. Just ignore it, and what's the matter?" he asked when she started to squirm.

"Its hands are cold!"

"I'll take over," he told the droid.

"Yes, Sir," it said, and went back to the bedroom to pick up the discarded clothes.

"Thanks," she said after Koth finished.

"Your transport will be here any minute," he told her, looking over at the chrono.

"All right, but first, I bought you something."

"What?" Surprised, he watched her pull a jacket out of a large bag sitting next to the table.

"This. Here, try it on," she said, unfolding the jacket and handing it to him.

Tomuon wool, Koth noted, examining the material before putting it on.

"Well, it does fit," Larisa pointed out, disappointed when he didn't respond. "You don't like it."

"I like it very much," he finally answered with a pleased smile. "Thank you."

"You're welcome." Smiling back, she turned and picked up her gloves. "What will you be doing while I'm at the Voumant?"

"I'm going to visit the Yyolig, on the other side of this asteroid. From what I understand it's where the non-human visitors gather. You'd better leave now, or you'll be late."

"I'll see you later, then," Larisa said, hurrying out the door.

Koth took off the jacket and added it to the small pile of clothes to be cleaned by the hotel service. Deactivating the droid, he picked up the commlink, ordering a transport for himself before leaving the room.

Half-listening to her friends' chatter, Baeris resisted the urge to tap her fingers against the arm of her chair and checked the time again. The opera was due to start in five minutes and still no Tenneil.

If that thing had actually forbade her to come, I'll... I'll... well, I'll simply make him regret it, that's all, she angrily swore, schooling her features into a welcoming smile when the door to her large private box opened.

"Ah, Tenneil. There you are." Baeris stood and began introducing the eight other men and women present. "This is Dejia."

Nodding politely to the blonde woman, Larisa turned to the next person Baeris introduced, a dark-haired man named Tevrl.

"And this is Layniv," Baeris finished with the last name, a tall, dark-haired woman. "Unfortunately, my husband wasn't able to come with me on this trip. He was recently appointed Governor of Balmorra."

"Appointed by who?" Larisa asked, sitting down in the empty chair between Baeris and Tevrl.

"By Supreme Chancellor Palpatine, of course. Such a charming man. But I don't suppose you've ever met him."

"No, I'm afraid I haven't."

"Baeris tells us that this is your first visit to Oseon," Tevrl said, smiling with practiced charm.

"Yes, it is. We'll be staying at least a week," Larisa told them.

"We?" Layniv asked on cue.

"She arrived with a Zabrak," Baeris told them.

"His name's Jehvir," Larisa added.

"I don't know how you can even stand the sight of him," another woman, Neloria, muttered.

"What??" Larisa stared at her, wondering if she'd heard right.

"What she means is that Zabraks aren't exactly pleasant to look at," Tevrl interceded.

"At least they can speak Basic properly," Baeris said after throwing an angry glance at Neloria. Sometimes that woman was as subtle as a krayt dragon. "Most of the natives on Balmorra can't even do that, which is why I use any excuse to get away from those creatures."

"Rodians are the worst," Dejia contributed. "My father had to entertain some Rodian dignitaries once. We opened all the windows after they left, and it still took hours for that disgusting smell to go away."

"I must say, I'm surprised your parents would allow someone your age to travel without them," Layniv stated.

"I'm eighteen years," Larisa said, uncomfortable. Why were they asking all these question? "And my parents are dead."

"Oh, dear! I am so sorry!" Dejia said amid other declarations of sympathy.

So he purchased her from an orphanage, Baeris thought. How perfectly horrid. And she seriously doubted the girl was a day over seventeen. "That is very sad," she agreed. "Let's not dwell on it."

"How long have you known this Jehvir?" asked Tevrl.

"About three years," Larisa replied, grateful for the change in subject

By the gods, he's had her since she was a child! It was worse than anything she had imagined. Having heard more than enough, Baeris almost sighed with relief when the lights dimmed and the curtain stage lifted. Tonight she had plans to make, and some favors to collect on.

Frustrated by his lack of success, Eeth Koth opened the door and entered the hotel room. "Is she back yet?" he asked the droid.

"Yes, Sir."

Koth swiftly scanned the room before entering the fresher room. Stopping in front of the washstand, he noticed first the soft music playing, then Larisa, lying in the bathing pool.

"Could you bring me a robe, LC?" she asked, her words muffled by the cloth covering her face. "This isn't working."

"What's not working?" he asked, picking up a thick white robe up off the bench.

Larisa tensed for a moment, then realized that all he could see of her was the back of her head. "Have you ever sat through five hours of opera?" she asked, taking the cloth off.

"No, I haven't." Koth handed her the robe and turned his back. "Was it that bad?"

"Ugh. I can still hear them wailing. And did you know that they eat bugs here?" Stepping out of the pool, she put the robe on and let her hair down. "You can turn around now."

Koth raised an eyebrow. "Bugs?"

"Yes. They're called nut-beetles, and they're served live. There were waiters carrying jars full of them." She shook her head. "I don't now how I'm going to sleep tonight."

"Perhaps I can help."

"Could you?" Larisa asked, trying not to sound too hopeful. "How?"

"I can fade your memory of it," he explained as they walked back into the public room.

"So instead of today, it'll be like it happened a long time ago? Please do!"

"Well, a few days ago, at least. But before I do, did you hear anything that might be useful?"

"Not really, no. They kept asking me questions, and they think you're ugly."

"Most humans would," Koth remarked.

"That's stupid," Larisa stated. "Just because you look different doesn't make you ugly."

"No, it doesn't," he agreed. "So they don't like Zabraks. Did you learn anything else?"

"They don't seem to like any kind of alien. Baeris, Lady Urdoma, said that her husband was appointed Governor of Balmorra by Chancellor Palpatine. That's about all I heard from them."

Koth frowned. Since when did the Supreme Chancellor have the authority to decide rulers of worlds. Placing one hand on her forehead, he repressed her memory of the opera. "How's that?" he asked, straightening one of her curls.

"Much better. Thank you," she said, smiling in relief.

"Since it's so late, I'll have dinner delivered here," he told her, looking through the hotel's service menu. "How does backshin sound to you?"

"Fine, as long as it's fully cooked. It's not fish is it?"

"No, it's not," he assured her, picking up the room comm link and ordering their dinner. "It will be here in about thirty minutes."

"We could play some sabacc while we're waiting," she suggested. "I'd like to visit one of the casinos tomorrow after lunch."

"All right." Deactivating the droid again, Koth took a deck of cards out of one of the cases and sat down across from her at the table.

Waiting while he shuffled them, Larisa picked up the cards dealt to her and focused on the game.

Mulling over her cards thirty-two minutes later, which looked pretty hopeless this time, she looked up when Master Koth put his down and stood. "What?"

"Our dinner," he reminded, and went to answer the door.

Where did the time go? she wondered, staying seated while the hotel worker set the tray down in the middle of the table and left with a tip from Master Koth.

"Perhaps we could continue playing a little while longer," Koth suggested when she looked down at her cards again.

"Well, if you don't mind."

"Not at all. We can play cards and eat at the same time," he told her, picking up one of the plates and moving it to her side of the table.

They finished that game, with Larisa losing as she'd expected, and started another, taking small bites while waiting their turn.

"I think that's enough for one day," Koth decided an hour later when she started yawning.

"Mmm. If you say so," she mumbled from behind her hand.

"I do." He stood, picked up the clothes the droid had left out, and went into the fresher room.

Stacking the cards, Larisa shuffled them while she waited her turn, snatching up her gown the moment the door opened and hurrying in. She came back out a few minutes later, collected the pillow and blanket, and headed for the sofa.

"I take it you're still determined to sleep on the sofa?" Koth asked.

"Yes, but you can have it back tomorrow night," she informed him, stretching out and covering up. "Good night."

"Good night." He smiled fondly down at her before going into the bedroom and closing the door.

Sitting back and spreading the napkin on her lap when the waiter put the plate down in front of her, Larisa glanced over at Koth. "What's that?" she asked, curious about the card he'd been given with his meal.

"A change of plans," he told her. "I've been invited to a club called Tancheon."

"Invited by who?"

"Deraem. Is he someone you met at the opera?

"I don't know," Larisa said slowly. "Baeris introduced me to a lot of people during the intermissions. I guess the casinos will have to wait until tomorrow," she added, taking a bite of the roasted ploth.

"According to this card it's a men's only club. You can go to the casinos by yourself," Koth decided. "But don't drink anything offered to you, and don't leave with anyone. Some of the people there probably deal with slavers, like the Hutts."

"What's a Hutt?"

"Something you wouldn't want to meet."

"Oh." Not knowing what else to say, Larisa quickly finished her lunch.

"Remember what I told you, and don't stay out too late," he instructed as they left the restaurant.

"I won't. I'll see you later," she said, impulsively hugging him before climbing into a waiting taxi.

Koth watched the vehicle glide away. He was, he had to admit, enjoying her company. This assignment would have been much less tolerable otherwise.

Catching the next taxi that came along, he ordered the driver to take him to the Tancheon and leaned back in the seat. Time to find out who this Deraem was and why he sent the invitation. Paying the driver, he got out, walked up to the square-shaped building and went inside.

"Name?" demanded one of two burly men standing guard on either side of the door.

"Jehvir Ghelrin," Koth replied, showing him the card. "I was invited by Deraem."

"This way," the guard smirked, walking over to a pair of thick wooden doors and opening them.

Koth quickly glanced around the room as he followed the guard. Large mats were scattered in the middle of the floor, with tables set against the walls. Tables whose occupants watched him go by in a decidedly unfriendly manner. He turned back when the guard stopped in front of one.

"So you're Jehvir," a large, bald-headed man remarked.

"You're Deraem? Have we met?" Koth asked warily, sensing a trap of some kind.

"No, but I know someone who's heard about you. That's why I invited you." Deraem pressed a button on his wristlet and metal bars sprang out of the floor to encircle each mat.

"Who? And as for whatever you've planned, I will have no part of it," Koth calmly informed him.

"Sorry," Deraem replied with a show of teeth. "Everyone who comes in here has to fight. Those are the rules."

Baffled, Koth looked back at the guard positioned by the door. Deraem had called him Jehvir, so the man must not know that he was a Jedi. He glanced around, observing the eager anticipation on the faces of the men listening to their conversation. "Am I expected to fight everyone here?"

"Of course not. We're all civilized here," he grinned. "I've organized a little tournament for you."

"Why?" Koth pointedly asked.

"Let's just say we want to find out if you Zabraks are as tough as everyone thinks. The rules are simple: No blows to the groin or the head, and no using the bars. You'll get a ten minute break after each fight." Deraem snapped his fingers and one of the servants came over with a bowl filled with square pieces of plastic.

He's not telling the whole truth, Koth realized, watching him pull them out two at a time and read the names aloud. Someone else has put him up to this. With each pair called, two men stood and and walked over to a mat, where the bars lowered to let them in. By the time his name was called nearly all of the mats were take and the bowl was still half full. He turned around as his first opponent, a short, stocky man with arms as thick as his neck, came forward.

Not being able to use his Jedi reflexes without revealing himself was going to make this extremely difficult. Sooner or later, he was going to tire. I will get through this, Koth told himself as he stepped onto the mat.

Instructing the driver to wait in front, Baeris got out of the transport and strode inside, marching through the casino over to where she'd been told Tenneil was.

"What do you think you're doing?" she demanded upon reaching the girl.

Larisa looked up, puzzled. "What's wrong?"

"What's wrong? You'll never become respectable if you frequent this sort of establishment! I insist you come with me right now."

Flustered, she gathered up her credits, excused herself from the sabacc table, and followed Baeris outside. "Where are we going?"

"Somewhere where we can talk."

Larisa hesitated, then got in the shuttle with her. "I really should go back to my hotel room."

"Don't worry about that Jehvir. I've made sure he's occupied elsewhere."

"What so you mean?"

"We'll talk about it when we get there," Baeris said, patting her on the hand and frowning when she felt the glove.

Get where? Larisa wondered. She looked out the window as the shuttle stopped in front of a cafe near the spaceport.

"Come along," Baeris said, getting out and entering the cafe. She led her over to a table where Layniv was waiting for them.

"What's going on?"

"We're here to talk about the future. Your future, to be exact," Baeris explained once they sat down. "You don't really want to spend the rest of your life with that Zabrak creature, do you?"

"Well, no," Larisa said, trying to figure out what they were were after.

"That's what we thought." Layniv leaned forward. "Which is why we've arranged a transport to take you to Salliche, my homeworld."

"Where you'll never have to see him again," Baeris added. "It's ready to leave as soon as you're on board."

Larisa hesitated, looking down at her hands while they waited for her reply. Why were they going to so much trouble? Concentrating, she used the Force to try to read the two of them, something she had never been very good at and rarely attempted.

They had a strong dislike for Master Koth, which made no sense to her since they'd never even met him, and they apparently believed she felt the same way. I'll tell them what they want to hear, she decided, then get away from them at the first opportunity. "All right," she agreed, looking back up. "But I don't want to leave with just the clothes I'm wearing."

"I'm sure there's a shop around here that has something in your size," Baeris said, though she sounded doubtful.

"Maybe, but I'd rather take the clothes he gave me. I might as well get something out of it. Except these, of course," Larisa added, pulling off the gloves and throwing them over her shoulder. That's convinced them, she thought at the satisfied looks on their faces. "By the way, what did you mean when you said you made sure Jehvir was occupied?"

"I had him invited to the Tancheon," Baeris announced, looking proud of herself. "It's a sparring club."

"I'd like to have seen that," she commented, forcing a smile. "Can this trip wait until tomorrow? I'll give him some excuse, and go back to our room and pack."

"Yes, it can," Layniv assured her. "Just go to docking bay thirty-two this time tomorrow. I'll inform the pilot."

"All right, and thank you." Keeping the smile pasted on her face, Larisa stood, kicking one of the gloves out of her way for good measure as she walked out of the cafe.

Horrid, dreadful women! she fumed while waiting for a taxi. She was tempted to go straight to the Tancheon, but for obvious reasons that was not a good idea.

Ordering the driver to take her back to the hotel, she rushed up to their room, but Master Koth wasn't back yet. She paced the room for several minutes, then turned on the holovid and sat down on the sofa to wait.

Where is he? Larisa fretted over an hour later, looking at the time again. If he's not back in thirty minutes, I'm going to go over there and find him. Picking up the holovid remote and flipping through the channels, she dropped it and the cushion she was holding on the floor when the door opened. "Oooohhhh! Are you all right?" she exclaimed, appalled by the numerous cuts and bruises on his face as she ran over to him.

Koth checked the room before answering. "Yes, I'm fine," he told her, rubbing his aching jaw. "I've ordered some bacta sent up. They don't give you nearly enough over there." He walked slowly past her and sat down at the table.

"Bacta? What do you need bacta for? I'll heal you," she said, hovering over him.

"No. Whoever's behind this will expect to see some bruises tomorrow," he explained.

"I know who was behind it. It was Baeris. She told me right after she and her friend tried to get me on a ship to Salliche. They seemed to think I need to be rescued from you or something. I lied and told them I'd be on it tomorrow. I don't know what I'm going to tell them then." She started pacing again. "I can't stand these people another minute!"

"You won't have to," Koth said after a moment's deliberation. "We're leaving in the morning."

"Thank the Force! Oh, the bacta." Larisa hurried over and answered the door, bringing back a small metal container. She set it down on the table and opened it. "You'd really rather use this? It looks slimy."

"I suppose it makes no difference now, since we're not staying."

"I'll just get rid of this then." She picked up the bacta container and disappeared into the fresher room.

Koth wearily leaned back in the chair and closed his eyes.

"I've got the bath filling up for you," Larisa said when she came back. Sitting down next to him, she placed both hands against his face. Both jawbones were bruised, and there was a tiny crack in the right one. "Does it hurt anywhere else?" she asked after healing them and the other injuries.

"No. I'll be fine by morning."

"Your bath's ready," Larisa said, turning her head at the beeping noise coming from the fresher room. "Are you sure you're okay?" she asked when he slowly stood up.

"I'm just tired, that's all." He steadied himself against the table before walking into the fresher room.

Larisa sat there for a couple seconds before getting up and following him, stopping just inside the door and watching as he attempted to take his shirt off. She came over to help when he hissed in pain.

"I can manage," he told her, gritting his teeth.

"Look, you're obviously in a lot of pain, so let me help," Larisa said impatiently. She planted herself in front of him when he turned away. "You can give orders again tomorrow. Right now you're going to do what I say and sit down. All right?"

Koth directed a scowl at Larisa, who frowned back, chin raised in defiance. "Very well," he relented, sitting down on the bench.

"Well . . . good." She stood there for a moment, then remembered what they'd been arguing about and carefully removed his shirt. "And you said it didn't hurt!" she accused, looking at all the bruises that covered him.

"Well, perhaps a little," he allowed.

"Uh-huh. Right," she muttered, healing his back first. Considering how thick his muscles were, those deeper bruises must have hurt like hell. She walked around to the front of him, pushing his hair out of the way and working his chest and stomach, noticing that those lines etched into his face continued down the rest of his body. To what purpose she had no idea. Probably just a characteristic of his species. "Just how many did you fight?"

"I stopped counting after the fourth one," he said, relaxing under her ministrations. "Were you waiting here long?"

"At least an hour. I watched some news on the holovid."

"Has there been anything new about the Mandalorians?"

"No, but I heard that the Supreme Chancellor is sending a fleet of ships to Circap... Circra..."


"That's it. Circapous V."

"Now, does it hurt anywhere else?" she asked after she'd finished.

"Yes." Pulling off his boots, Koth hesitated briefly before taking off his trousers as well. Modesty in front of a trained healer was rather foolish.

"How did that happen?" she asked, immediately noticing the large bruise just above his left knee. "Did someone kick you?"

"Yes," he replied, sitting back down. "My third opponent, I believe."

"She shouldn't get away with this," Larisa muttered, kneeling down to heal the bruise.

"Lady Urdoma is not our concern," Koth told her. He stood after she was done and checked to see if the water was still hot.

"All right," she sourly agreed and left him to his bath, wishing she'd have a chance to tell them exactly what they could do with their ship.

Making sure the door was locked, Larisa activated the droid and ordered it to start packing, then curled up on the sofa.

"It's my turn to sleep on the sofa, remember?" Koth said, coming out of the fresher room.

She jerked her head around. "You are not!"

"Would you care to explain that?" he asked, his arms folding over his chest.

"What if I wake up in the morning and you're gone? What am I supposed to do then?"

"I hardly think someone's going to break into our room during the night and kidnap me."

"You didn't expect to get beat up either," Larisa retorted. "You've also checked to make sure there's no one eavesdropping every time we came back to our room."

"True, but you were the one that Lady Urdoma tried to convince to leave, so what do you suggest?"

"Well, that bed is big enough for three people," she said, chewing her lip thoughtfully. "You don't snore, do you?"

"Not that I'm aware of," Koth said dryly. "All right." He glanced over at the droid, who had stopped to listen to them. It immediately went back to folding the clothes and putting them in the trunks. "You can finish that in the morning. Go ahead and shut down for the night."

"Yes, sir." It put the cloak it was holding in the trunk and closed it, sat down at the other end of the table and deactivated itself.

Grabbing a sleep gown from the closet, one of the shorter ones, Larisa went into the fresher to change and clean her teeth. Entering the bedroom, she was surprised to see Master Koth already sound asleep on his side of the bed. He must have been really tired, she thought. He was still wearing the bathrobe. Turning off the light, she quietly tiptoed over to the bed and climbed under the covers on the other side.

"So Chancellor Palpatine did send a fleet to that sector without the consent of the Senate?" Billapa asked the following morning when she caught up with Windu and Mundi on their way to the dining hall.

"Yes, he did," Windu answered. "So far the Senate has been quiet about his decision."

"I am glad someone is finally doing something. Queen Amidala has expressed concern over the situation."

"Do you now think we're wrong about the Chancellor?"

"It does seem that way," Billapa said. "We've been watching him closely for weeks and he's done nothing that would be cause for concern."

"Plo had said that we were seeing the Sith in every shadow," reminded Mundi.

"We'll give him our full support if he asks for it, but we will remain cautious," Windu decided.

"Indeed," Billapa agreed. "Have you heard from Plo or the others?"

"Not yet, and probably not for another few days."

"I expect Eeth will have a number of things to say to you," Mundi remarked as they entered the hall and sat at the first available table.

"What do you mean?" Billapa asked, curious.

"I sent him to Oseon 6845," Windu told her.

"You didn't!"

"I did."

"As you might have guessed, he was less than enthusiastic about it," Mundi told her.

"I'm sure he was," Billapa replied with an exasperated look at Windu.

"He did not seem to be looking forward to his mission," Windu said mildly. "Or to having Larisa accompany him."

She looked at him in surprise. "Larisa went with him?"

"Yes. Councillor Fey'Zon believed it would help Eeth blend in over there," he explained.

"Was that wise? She can be rather . . . unpredictable at times."

"I'm sure he can handle her."

"Hmm. It must be nearly morning over there right now. And speaking of mornings, have you contacted Master Rancisis yet?"

"Not yet. I've decided to wait and see what happens at Circapous first."

"Do you really think the Mandalorians will try to attack with that many Republic ships there?"

"I don't know. This could be what they've been waiting for."

"They want to see how effective the Republic Army is," Mundi concluded, then stood and walked over to the counter to get his food tray.

"The Republic fleet will defeat them. They have to," Billapa said to herself as she and Windu did the same.

Eeth Koth woke to a warm body lying next to him, and an elbow digging into his ribs. Moving Larisa's arm back, he looked down at her in amusement. Even asleep she managed to look worried about something. He idly reached out to brush some hair out of her face, surprised when she turned her head, rubbing her cheek against his palm.

Sitting up, Eeth studied her a moment, then lightly stroked the side of her face. Moaning softly, she moved closer, pressing against him. He let his hand slide over her long neck before snatching it away.

What was the matter with him? He would never have considered mating with any human female, let alone one this small, no matter how tempting it might be. On the other hand, she was a healer...

Annoyed with himself, Eeth dismissed that absurd notion. Larisa did not think of him as anything other than a friend. Steadfastly ignoring the urge to take her, he got up and looked out the window. It was just now starting to get light out, and if they wanted to leave without attracting too much attention they would have to do it soon.

He turned away from the window and headed towards the door. He would activate the droid so it could finish packing, then meditate to clear his mind before waking Larisa up.

Behind him, she rolled onto her side and smiled.

"We're taking one of those cruisers?" Larisa asked once they reached the spaceport.

"Part of the way, yes. We'll get off at Corulag and hire a faster ship to take us to home," Koth told her, the most he'd said since they left the hotel room.

She looked up at him, wondering if there was another injury he hadn't told her about. "Do you feel all right?"

"Yes. I will," he responded.

Frowning at his answer, she decided to leave it at that. He didn't really look as if he were going to keel over at any minute.

Larisa waited two steps behind Master Koth while he counted out the credits and paid for their passage, then followed him to the room. "So, how long before we reach Coralug?"

"About fifty minutes." He sat down on the sofa and turned on the holovid, looking for the latest news on Circapous.

"I'll have them bring our breakfast here," she said, walking around the droid and luggage over to the comm button next to the door.

"Just one breakfast. I won't be eating this morning," he told her.

"Oh. All right." She placed the order, then moved to a chair and waited for her food to arrive.

Those Republic ships had been there several hours now and the Mandalorians haven't attacked. And hopefully never will, Larisa thought, half-listening to the holovid while she ate until he finally turned it off.

"If you're interested in a game or two, I just happen to have a deck of sabacc cards on me," she told him, pushing the tray to the side and pulling the deck out of one of her long sleeves.

"By all means," he agreed, taking a seat at the table.

"Did I mention that I'd won almost a thousand credits before that horrible woman showed up?" she asked as she shuffled the cards.

"No, and I suppose this is as good a time as any."

"A good time for what?"

"I . . . bought something for you as well," Koth said, looking oddly embarrassed as he pulled a small box out of a jacket pocket and handed it to her.

"You did? What?" Larisa opened the box and stared down at a wide choker of small, shiny grey pearls. "Ohhh! It's beautiful!" she exclaimed, smiling brightly. "Thank you!"

"You're welcome." He nodded at the cards. "Will you deal or shall I?"

"I will." Putting the necklace back in the box, she picked up the deck and dealt the cards, then looked over her hand and concentrated on winning.

Intent on adding just the right amount of sugar to her tea, Baeris looked up, annoyed, when someone called her name. "What is it?" she glared at Layniv.

"You did ask me to check on Tenneil, remember?"


"And they're both gone," she said, sitting down at Baeris' table. "They left Oseon early this morning."

"What? You said that Zabraks were too proud to run away," Baeris said accusingly.

"They are."

"Could she have said something to him?" Dejia asked.

"Maybe, but if she did I think he'd have come here to . . . talk to you," Layniv answered. "There must have been another reason."

Baeris frowned. Being forced to actually speak to it, if only to order it out of the restaurant, was not something she would have looked forward to.

"Well, you can't save everyone," Dejia said, then changed the subject. "Did I mention that absolutely gorgeous scarf I saw at Cheskri's yesterday?"

Picking up her cup, Baeris blocked out her friend's inane chatter. Someday soon people like him will know their place in the galaxy, she consoled herself as she sipped her tea.

"Eeth. Larisa," Ki-Adi-Mundi greeted them as they got out of the air taxi. "We were surprised by your message. We weren't expecting you back so soon."

"I know, but it was necessary," Koth answered. "I have a report ready."

"Good. The Council meeting is immediately after the noon meal," Mundi informed him.

"I'll see you there, then," he said, nodding before going inside.

"Well, Larisa, did you enjoy your trip to Oseon?" Mundi asked as they entered another of the elevators.

"Not exactly," she grimaced. "Master Koth got beat up, and somebody practically tried to kidnap me."

"What!?" Mundi looked down at her, astonished.

"I'm sure it's in his report. Will I need to come to the meeting?"

"No, I don't think "No, I don't think that will be necessary." She had to have been exaggerating, he thought as the elevator stopped and the door opened. "Oh, and here." He pulled her access card out of his belt pouch and gave it to her. "There's a datapad on the Yatir waiting for you in your room, and a message from Obi-Wan arrived while you were away."

"All right. Thank you." Larisa bowed to him, then went to the Padawan dining hall and took a food tray back to her room to eat and study.

"The Chancellor has named this Urdoma Governor of the entire planet? Can he do that?" Mundi asked.

"If there were some sort of political struggle involved, perhaps," Windu replied.

"We would have heard from Knight N'seyn if there were," Tiin pointed out.

"I noticed that you did not eat during the noon meal," Mundi told Koth. "You have fully recovered from your experience, haven't you?"

"Yes, I'm fine," he said irritably. "Others I spoke to experienced that same prejudice from humans, and not just on Oseon."

"There's not much we can do about that, other than hope it doesn't spread any further. We can't tell people how to think." Windu glanced from Yoda, who wore a closed expression, to Yaddle, who didn't seem to be paying attention to the conversation. Where had he gone yesterday? Ahd what did he tell Yaddle after he got back this morning. Those two had been out on the balcony nearly an hour talking. "I'm going to send another Knight to Balmorra to find out what's going on there."

Waiting patiently until the meeting ended, Eeth Koth arranged for a fellow Knight to take over today's exercise class and went directly to a practice room.

Taking the empty dinner tray back to the dining hall, Larisa listened to the snatches of conversation from the Apprentices she passed in the hallway. A lot of it was about Master Koth. Apparently right after the Council meeting he went to a training room and has been there ever since practicing with his lightsaber.

One of the Padawans mentioned that he had skipped both the noon and evening meals. A few of them were even speculating that he was dying, which was incredibly silly to her. Did they always blow things out of proportion? Still, if there was something bothering him, she hoped it wasn't too serious. The training rooms would be closing about this time, Larisa realized, glancing over at the chrono. Maybe tomorrow she would ask him.

Shoving the tray into a slot in the recycle bin, she left the hall, taking a few lesser-used corridors to reach her room, away from all the gossip. Rubbing at her temples, she looked down at the datapad and turned away. Must have been too much card playing, Larisa thought as she lay down. Just a few minutes rest, then I'll get back to the Yatir, she told herself as she dozed off.

Finally, Bane thought. That Force suggestion he had planted in Kenobi's mind was probably starting to fade by now. Not that it mattered, since he had no intention of waiting four weeks.

Getting up off the bed, he took off the two outer tunics and put the robe on, leaving the boots on as well in case someone was roaming the halls. He picked up the eye lenses, carefully applying them before kneeling down to concentrate.

In order for this to succeed, he had to banish all negative emotions. The Jedi must not suspect a thing. Bane knelt in silence for a few minutes, then got up and left her room.

Leaving the fresher room, Eeth Koth opened a drawer and pulled out a set of sleep clothes. Turning at the sound of the door alarm, he set the clothes down on the metal table and went to answer it. "Larisa," he said, surprised to see her in this part of the Temple at night.

"Eeth," she replied, looking up at him. "Aren't you going to invite me in?"

"This isn't a good time," he told her, well aware that, having just taken a shower, he was dressed in just a robe.

"I know, but I need to speak to you."

Koth glanced around the hallway, then reluctantly stepped back to let her in. "Come in."

"Thank you." Now for the difficult part, Bane thought, entering the Jedi's sparsely furnished quarters and sitting down on the sofa.

"What did you want to talk about?" Koth asked, leaning against the table.

"I heard that you were in lightsaber practice for hours, and I know that you haven't eaten all day. Those people on Oseon bothered you more than you want to admit, didn't they?"

"No, they did not," he immediately assured her. "Don't give them another thought."

"But something has been troubling you."

"Yes," he answered honestly. "But that is my problem, and I will deal with it. Is that why you came here?"

"No." Larisa stood and walked over to him. "I came here because I wanted to see you again."

"Well, now you have," Koth said lightly. "You'd better go now. It's late."

"Yes, I know what time it is." Stepping closer, she slipped one hand inside his robe, pressing it against his chest.

Startled, he froze for an instant before grabbing her wrist and pulling it away. "What do you think you're doing?" he demanded, frowning fiercely down at her.

"I thought that was obvious." Larisa tilted her head, looking puzzled. "What's the matter? You wanted to this morning. I know you did. So did I."

"You were awake?"

"Yes, I was awake," she told him, lowering her gaze. "And I was enjoying it. Why did you stop?"

Koth stared at her in disbelief. This couldn't possibly be happening. I must have fallen and hit my head in the shower. "This isn't real," he said aloud.

"Yes, it is." She reached down and clasped his hand, their fingers entwining. "See?"

He looked down at their hands a moment before pulling away and walking past her. "It's impossible. Go back to your room."

"Why? Why is it impossible?"

"Because it is!" He turned around to face her. "This would never work."

"Yes, it can. I know it, and I think you do too."

"I had wondered," Koth admitted after a long stretch of silence, then looked steadily at her. "If you don't leave now, you never will," he warned.

Smiling, she let her healers robe fall to the floor, turned and walked into the bedroom.

Glancing from the robe to the open doorway, Koth walked over to the wall shelf and picked up his commlink. He looked down at it thoughtfully, then deactivated it and set it back down. He walked over to the doorway, finding Larisa sitting on his bed waiting, her boots lying half underneath it. She watched as he approached, stopping in front of her.

"Do you know what you're doing?" he asked again, running his fingers along her face.

"Yes," she answered, lifting her head up as he stroked her throat before moving lower. Lying back, she kept her eyes on his while he removed her clothing one article at a time.

He acts as if she's made of glass, Bane thought contemptuously, growing bored as Koth slowly explored every inch of her body. And she was starting to respond. That was interesting.

Very well. I simply let her take over, he decided, before I give in to the urge to rip the Jedi's throat out. Turning away to stealthily remove the lenses and toss them to the floor, Bane waited until Koth discarded his robe and moved to cover her before focusing inward and waking Larisa.

Stirring at the cool air against her skin, Larisa woke to a heavy weight suddenly pressing against her. Her eyes snapped open and she stared up at . . . Master Koth?? Stunned, she gasped, arching her back when he slid inside her.

Pausing, Eeth waited until she relaxed before pushing the rest of the way in. Growling with pleasure at the tight fit, he closed his eyes and lay still.

Barely able to move an inch, Larisa felt him throbbing deep inside. Struggling to control herself, she cried out as she came, drawing another growl from him. Blinking hard to clear her vision, she clutched at his arms, shuddering as a second orgasm swept through her. Giving up, she wrapped her arms around him, listening to the rumble in his chest each time she came.

Exhausted, she lay for what seemed like hours before Eeth finally moved.

Withdrawing a couple of inches, he pushed even further in and climaxed, pressing his cheek against hers as he emptied himself inside her. Sated, he rolled over, pulling her with him. Glancing down when she shivered, he used the Force to lift the blanket up over them.

Vaguely wondering how she got here, Larisa fell asleep in his arms.

Opening one eye, Eeth Koth looked over at the chrono, marking the time in disappointment. The morning meal was in eighteen minutes and a Padawan would be by soon to collect any clothing that needed cleaning. Too bad the Temple didn't normally allow meals delivered to rooms.

Looking down at Larisa, he thought back to the previous night and decided against waking her. He gently rolled her onto her back and pulled out. She moaned, tossing her head restlessly when he left the bed. Leaning over, he brushed the hair out of the way and rested his hand against her forehead. *Sleep* My stubborn little healer, he added, smiling. Sighing, she turned onto her side and he tucked the blanket around her.

Picking up the clothes from the floor, Eeth went into the public room and added her robe to the pile. Putting them down on the small stand next to the door, he quickly showered and dressed, finishing just as door alarm sounded.

"Good morning," he greeted the male Padawan at the door.

"Good morning, Master," the boy answered, surprised to see Master Koth still in his quarters. Most Masters were usually gone by this time, leaving him to go inside to retrieve the clothing, and he had heard that Eeth Koth was an early riser.

"Here." Koth picked up the bundle of clothes and handed it to him. "And bring it back as soon as it's cleaned."

"Yes, Master." Watching the Jedi Master lock his door and head down the hallway, Dl'ygh turned back to the hovering cart behind him. Shoving the clothes into one of the numbered compartments, he stopped, puzzled. Was that robe green? Looking inside, his mouth dropped open at the green undertunic he pulled out.

Obviously a female's, and a small one at that. Wait 'til his friends hear about this!

Dl'ygh looked at Master Koth's door, dying to know who was in there. He wasn't familiar with very many of the Healers in the Temple, having rarely been sick or injured in his life, and he didn't dare use the key he'd been given to go in and see. He would be put out of the Temple for sure if he did. Invading anyone's privacy, much less a Councilor's, was not tolerated under any circumstances.

There has to be a way to find out, he thought, shoving the rest of the clothes into the cart. There had to be someone who knew a healer who wore that size clothing.

Moving the cart to the next door, Dl'ygh left it there and ran back the way he had come, grabbing the first Apprentice he knew and whispering in her ear. Eyes widening, she nodded and rushed off to the Padawan dining hall.

". . . and remember lightsaber practice was moved to room thirteen," Billapa told her Apprentice.

"I won't forget, Master," Zyrid promised fervently.

"Good." Billapa nodded, smiling, before making her way out of the Padawan dining hall. Walking down the hallway, she passed a group of Apprentices huddled together in a side corridor. She frowned when she heard Larisa mentioned. The Temple must have some of the worst gossips on Coruscant.

She started to walk away, then stopped in her tracks when she heard Eeth's name. It can't be, she thought, listening to them. Eeth knew better, even if Larisa didn't, and besides, one Padawan's account of clothing supposedly found in Eeth's room didn't prove anything.

Still, it would be best to be sure, Billapa decided, and went to see Mace, who was probably in his office by now.

Looking over a report on the latest group of Initiates brought to the Temple, Windu looked up when Billapa sat down in front of his desk.

"I need to know where Larisa is," she said without preamble.

"Right now?"

"Yes. Ki-Adi told me that you gave her an access card with a tracker in it. Do you have it on you?"

"Yes, I do." Windu put the report down and searched through the contents of his pouch. "It's here somewhere. Aha!"

Pulling out the tracker, he pressed a button, his brow creasing when he read Larisa's location.

"Where is she?"

"She's in Eeth's quarters." Windu frowned, then shrugged. "She must have gone to see him this morning."

"Not according to the Padawans I heard in the hallway a few minutes ago!"

"What did they say?" he asked, his face darkening.

Billapa told him what she had heard, then stood up, agitated. All this time she had thought the problem had been with Obi-Wan. Apparently she was wrong. What was that girl thinking? "I'm going to go talk to her. I want some answers."

"I know you do. So do I, but the hallway isn't the place for it. What if Eeth's still there?"

"Of course. You're right. Would you let me know the minute she leaves that room?"

"I will," Windu said, leaving the tracker out on the desk.

"Thank you." Nodding, Billapa left his office and returned to her quarters to tend to her plants. They always helped calm her mind.

Groaning, Larisa burrowed under the blanket, flinging one arm out to the side. She felt around with her hand. Something didn't feel right. The bed seemed bigger somehow, and a lot more firm, but there was something else...

Sitting up with a strangled gasp, she stared around the room as a memory from last night came back to her. What am I doing here? Racking her brain for answers, she caught more bits and pieces of what happened. Did I really say those things? Did I really let him . . .

The dull ache she felt inside confirmed it.

I've got to get out of here! Larisa thought, her confusion erupting into a full-blown panic. First, though, she had to take a shower; she needed one badly. And where were her clothes?

Throwing back the cover, she stood and almost fell over. Just what did I do last night? she wondered, healing the strained muscles in her legs along with the soreness. Larisa frowned. That strange sensation was still there. She began examining herself, then sat down hard on the bed, trembling in shock. How could this happen? And how am I ever going to explain it?

Giving herself a shake when she started to wheeze, Larisa slowly got up, went to the fresher room and showered. How could I have done that? And for that matter, why did he? She braced herself against the wall when her head started to spin.

Leaving the shower, she dried off and ventured into the public room, relieved to see her clothes neatly stacked on one end of the sofa. Deciding she'd better be gone by the time Master Koth came back, she threw on her clothes and looked around for her boots, finding them under the bed. She quickly put them on and left his quarters, going to the garden to try to think.

Sitting down on the first bench she saw, Larisa briefly considered just leaving the Temple, but considering how expensive everything was here she didn't have enough credits to go very far. It might have to do though, especially if the Jedi kick her out. She could only imagine Master Windu's reaction to this.

Trying to come up with some kind of plan, she didn't notice when the Temple door opened.

"Larisa!" Billapa called out, watching her leap to her feet, her face flushing guiltily. "So it's true."

"I'm sorry," she blurted out.

"You're sorry," Billapa said flatly. "Tell me, was this planned, or did it 'just happen'?"

"I didn't mean to," Larisa stammered, wringing her hands.

"You didn't mean to?" Windu stepped forward. "If it had been anyone else, you'd be removed from the Temple immediately."

"And still might." Billapa turned back to Larisa. "Do you intend to dismiss him the way you did Obi-Wan? Eeth happens to be a good friend of mine. I don't want to see him hurt as well."

"I . . ."

"Force sake, get a hold of yourself," Windu snapped, annoyed when she looked ready to burst into tears. "Don't you have anything to say for yourself?"

"I'm . . . I'm . . ."

"You're what?"

"I'm pregnant!"


Chapter 2

"Are you certain?" Billapa asked.

"Yes. I'm sorry," Larisa said again when they just stood there, Billapa frowning while Windu looked even angrier. "I'll go, and I'll never bother you again."

"You'll do no such thing!" Windu grabbed her arm when she tried to walk past him. "You are not going anywhere until the child's born."

"What do you saying?" she asked, apprehensively.

"I suppose you should know. We haven't always had the parents' consent when we bring children to the Temple," Billapa said regretfully.

"You... you just TAKE them?" And they'll do the same with mine, Larisa realized. I have GOT to get out of here!

Catching that thought, Windu tightened his grip. "If you attempt to sneak out again, I'll have you locked in your room!"

"Mace..." Billapa began, putting a hand on his arm.

"Let go of her!"

Larisa flinched, surprised, when Windu immediately released her arm and stepped back.

Startled, Billapa jumped and whirled around. "Eeth! I didn't hear you coming."

"I had a feeling Larisa was here," he said, glaring at a tense Windu.

"Mace and I were just trying to understand what happened," Billapa explained, putting herself between the two Councilors.

"Was that what he was doing?" Eeth glanced at Larisa. "Come here."

"Yes, well, we both know how... abrupt Mace can be," she said, watching Larisa dart over to Eeth and hide behind him. She reached back and poked Windu in the stomach.

"I apologize," he told them, bowing stiffly.

Eeth regarded him a moment longer, then nodded. "Now, would you mind telling me what this is about?"

"Actually, it's Larisa who has something to tell you," Windu answered.

Eeth turned to Larisa, who was gaping at Windu. "What is it?"

"I'm pregnant," she stated hesitantly.

"You are? Truly?" he asked, an oddly hopeful expression on his face as he caressed her cheek.

"Um. Yes," she said, momentarily distracted. "They're going to lock me up until he's born. Then they're going to take him away and kick me out of the Temple."

Billapa closed her eyes in dismay.

"What?" Eeth turned back towards Windu and Billapa. "What is the meaning of this?"

"That is not what I said," objected Windu.

"Eeth, could I speak to you alone, please?" Billapa asked.

"You may," he replied with a hard stare at Windu.

"Larisa," she said, walking over to her. "Would you please return to your room. You won't be locked in. Will she, Mace?" she added, glancing pointedly over at him.

"No, she won't," Windu responded, glowering.

*If you are, I'll make sure Mace gets locked in his, I promise* Billapa told her.

"The fresher room would be even better," she said, smiling a little at that idea.

"Indeed." She looked back at Windu, who was starting to get suspicious. "I think both of you need to go back to your rooms and calm down. Larisa, I want you to see the healers this morning, at the eleventh hour. All right?"

Nodding, Larisa kept her distance from Windu as she followed him into the Temple.

"Well, this morning has been full of surprises," Billapa commented, sitting down on the bench.

"It certainly has," Eeth agreed.

"Why her?" she asked once he was sat down beside her. "I know there are very few Zabraks here, but you could have asked for some time to yourself and gone to Iridonia, or another planet."

"You also know that Zabraks generally mate at a much younger age."

"Yes, but there's also an excellent chance that any offspring would be accepted into the Temple. I'm sure there must be several who would..."

"Most likely, but I would not."

"No, of course not," Billapa said, smoothing her robe. "But that still doesn't explain why you chose a human. Unless..." She paused, looking at Eeth searchingly.

"Is it that you believe the child will be healthy because she is a healer?"

"That is hardly the only reason," Eeth growled, offended.

"I did not mean to imply that it was." She paused again, trying to find the right words to say. Force, Depa! You've handled much more difficult dilemmas, she reminded herself. "You may be willing to take the chance, but is Larisa? I mean, is she aware that there have been problems in situations like this?"

"She is, and she's sure there will be none," he told her.

"Perhaps she's right, but I can't help but worry. She is so high-strung. I think it would be best if she visited one of our healers at least once a week."

"All right," he readily agreed.

Billapa hesitated before continuing. "You know that Larisa wasn't... that is, you're not..."

"Her first?" Eeth provided when she broke off, her face turning pink. "Yes, I had realized that. It doesn't matter," he said dismissively. "She's mine, and I won't have her frightened like this again."

"I know. I'm going to go speak to Mace now," Billapa told him. "I'll see you later at the healers?"

"Definitely," he said as they stood and went inside.

"Come on!" Larisa muttered, nearly ripping the pouch apart finding the access card. She hurriedly went in and closed the door before another Padawan could happen by. As if being stared at was my biggest problem, she thought, laughing at herself. What am I going to do now?

She could still try to leave, and make do with what money she had, but that wouldn't be fair to Master Koth. Children should know their parents, despite what the Jedi believe.

Well, they should know one of them, at least.

Larisa slumped down on the couch, deflated. They were right. Considering the mess she'd made of her own life, she had no business trying to raise a child. She glanced at the chrono, then got up and left her room.

Might as well tell Master Windu now and get it over with.

Saesee Tiin stepped out onto the balcony and looked around. "Mace?"

"Over here," Windu answered from the far right.

"We tried to reach you, but your comm link isn't working."

"I left it in my office," he said curtly. "What's happened now?"

"I see you've had a pleasant morning," Tiin remarked before giving him the news. "It seems that one of the Republic ships has attacked the Mandalorians."

"One of them?" Windu turned away from the view of the cityscape.

"Yes. The rest of the fleet did join the battle, after it had been destroyed," he informed Windu, disgusted by the delayed reaction. "We haven't heard anything new in the last few minutes, but it wasn't going very well for them."

"Contact Oppo and ask him to return to the Temple."

Tiin started to respond when a third person came out onto the balcony.

"Councilor Windu, may I have a word with you, please?" Depa Billapa politely inquired.

"Not if it's about Larisa."

"I just want to know what possessed you to threaten her," she stated, undaunted.

"You threatened Larisa?" Tiin looked at him as if he had lost his mind.

"You'd prefer it if she ran away again?" Windu asked Billapa. "She can damn well live with the consequences of her actions."

"Does that include being treated like a prisoner?" she countered.

"What actions?" inquired Tiin.

"She fu..."

"Larisa and Eeth are expecting a child," Billapa interrupted. "Must you be crude on top of everything else?"

"'On top of everything else?'" Windu repeated. "Are you suggesting that this is somehow my fault?"

"Of course not, but there's obviously a problem here. Have the two of you ever gotten along?"

"Master Windu?"

"How did you get up here?" he demanded, turning around.

"I told one of the other Masters that I was looking for you and he let me come up," Larisa nervously explained.

"Would you please stop scowling?" Billapa said to Windu before walking over to her. "Why were you looking for him?"

She took a deep breath before answering. "I just want to say that I understand why you want to take the baby, and I won't try to stop you."

"What do you mean, 'you understand'?"

"I mean you're right. I... I'd make a terrible mother," Larisa said, looking down at the floor.

Billapa straightened and turned towards Windu, tucking her hands inside her robe. "What did you say to her after you left the garden?"

"I didn't say anything," Windu said, feeling harassed. "You two leave. Go on. I'm not going to eat her," he prompted when Billapa hesitated.

"Let's go," Tiin said. "I have to send a message to Rancisis. A battle has broken out at Circarpous," he began explaining as the door closed behind them.

Larisa warily approached Windu. "The Mandorians attacked?"

"The Mandalorians," he corrected. "No, it was one of the Republic ships that attacked first. Tell me, do you always jump to conclusions?"

"I know what I heard," she said defensively. "You said you were going to lock me in my room."

"Because you were thinking of running away," Windu pointed out. "All young children found to be Force-sensitive are brought to the Temple, regardless of what kind of parents they had."

"Who don't have any say in the matter."

"Most of them are honored at having their children selected, but there have been a few who have tried to keep theirs, usually for personal gain."

"You actually thought I would do something like that?" She stared at him, aghast.

"No, I did not, and no one thinks you would be a terrible mother, either. You're doing it again."

"I'm sorry." She hung her head in embarrassment. "I do try not to over-react."

"Talk to the healers about that. I'm sure they can recommend something to calm your nerves, perhaps some jeru tea. That's what Depa drinks." He looked out over the vast city. "I had doubts, too, the first year with her."

"The first year?"

"That mission I'd found Depa on was my last. I brought her to the Temple and raised her myself. I knew from the first moment I saw her that she would be my Apprentice." Windu smiled, recalling the day he cut off her Padawan braid.

"You raised her?" Larisa looked up at him in surprise.

"Yes. That is allowed sometimes when a training bond has already formed, and it was much simpler then. I wasn't the Head of the Council, responsible for the entire Order."

She looked at him thoughtfully, then brightened. "Oh! I get it now."


"You just need to yell at someone once in a while, that's all."

"I do not!" he immediately denied.

"It's all right, really," she said, patting his hand. "I knew someone just like this back home. I used to visit him three times a month. We had the most wonderful arguments."

"Jedi do not argue!"

"You should try it sometime. I bet Master Koon would be really good at it." Shut up already! Larisa told herself at the look Windu gave her.

"This conversation is over," he stated, heading towards the door. "Come on."

Great. Just great, she thought, trailing after him. You can never say anything right to him, can you?

"Don't forget your appointment with the healers," Windu said before leaving her at the elevator.

Aggravating girl, he thought on the way back to his office. I should see if they could give her something stronger than tea. He sat down at his desk and picked up the comm link to check with Tiin. "Saesee, have you spoken with Oppo yet?"

"Yes, just now. He'll be here in a day or two; he needs to make some arrangements before leaving."

"I want you to go to Thisspias and pick him up in your ship."

"I'll leave right after today's meeting," Tiin replied.

"Good." Ending the transmission, Windu looked up when the door opened and a small, robed figure entered the room. "Master Yaddle. What brings you here?"

"Stepping down from the Council, I am," she declared, getting straight to the point. "Leave Coruscant, I will."

"You're stepping down?" Windu asked, caught completely by surprise.

"Problem, there will be?"

"Frankly, yes. We still haven't agreed on replacements for Depa and Even. Where are you going?"

"Hmph. Stayed on, Depa should have. Needed she is," Yaddle said, evading his question. "Speak to her, I shall."

"Would you at least wait a few days before leaving the Temple?" Windu asked. "Perhaps you can help convince Oppo to resume his seat on the Council, since he was your Padawan."

"Three days, no longer," she decided. "Then go I must."

"Very well," he said, bowing his head. "You will be missed on the Council."

"Hm. Return soon I will," Yaddle told him on the way out.

Soon, Windu mused. How long might that be to someone who lives hundreds of years? Sobering, he sent off messages to several Knights instructing them to return to the Temple once their missions were completed, then looked through the datachips on his desk, intending to get more work done before the noon meal.

"Master," Anakin greeted when Obi-Wan walked into their quarters.

"Padawan. How has your day been?"

"Not as interesting as yours, I'll bet," Anakin said, still perturbed at being left out of the latest negotiating. "Any progress?"

"As a matter of fact, there is. We got through an entire meeting without anyone being threatened."

"You did?" he marveled. "Oh, by the way, a message came from Councilor Windu while you were out. We're to return to the Temple as soon as this treaty's signed. Any idea when that might happen?"

"I don't know. Four, maybe five days," he replied absently.

Anakin looked at his Master closely. Obi-Wan was usually more alert than this. In fact he'd been acting a little strangely ever since they left Coruscant.

There was also the problem of how close he and Amidala seemed during their last stay on Naboo. "Are you going to write to Larisa?" he asked. "I haven't seen you do that in a while."

Obi-Wan stared at him blankly. "What?"

"Are you going to write to Larisa and let her know?"

Anakin frowned. That meeting must have been more tiring than Obi-Wan let on, he decided. These Tunroths were very difficult to negotiate with. "It could wait until later, if you're too tired to do it right now."

"Yes. Perhaps later," Obi-Wan said, rubbing between his eyes as he went into his room, intending to get an hour or two of sleep before making another attempt to get the chiefs to cooperate.

Still frowning, Anakin looked over at the closed door, then shrugged and turned on the small holovid to catch the latest news. How he wished they'd been assigned to a planet in the Expansion Region, where all the action was.

"You're late," Billapa reproved when Larisa entered the healers' room.

"I went back to the garden to visit Rialth," she explained, glancing nervously at Eeth Koth.

"You'll have to be careful around that creature from now on," Master Ulizr advised. "Lie down on this table."

"Is this really necessary?" Larisa asked as she hopped up. "I feel fine."

"That won't last long, believe me, and given the circumstances, we want to take every precaution," the healer told her.

"You'll be examined by a healer four times a week," Eeth added, moving to stand next to the table.

"FOUR!" she protested, sitting up.

"Yes, four. Now lie back."

She looked up at him a moment, then sighed and lay back down.

"Well, she is in excellent health," Ulizr announced after examining her. "But it's much too early to tell about the baby." He walked over to one of the cupboards, opened it and began looking through its contents.

Billapa looked at Larisa, curious about what she'd said in the garden. "Larisa, you referred to it as a boy earlier. How could you have known so soon?"

"I don't know. I just did." Sitting up again and swinging her legs over the side of the bed, she froze when Koth picked her up and set her on her feet. "Y... Y... You... W... We..." Larisa stuttered, disconcerted. "Master Koth..."

"Eeth," he said with a smile.

"Eeth. I..."

"Councilor Windu spoke to me a little while ago about giving you a supply of jeru tea," Master Ulizr said as he closed the cupboard door. "We're nearly out of it right now, but it won't take longer than an hour to prepare more."

"That will be fine. Have it sent to our room once it's ready," Koth answered, taking out an access card and pressing it into Larisa's hand. "I'll see you later," he told her before leaving the room.

She stared after him, dumbfounded. "Did he say our room?"

"Yes. Your belongings have already been moved to his quarters. Are you all right?" Billapa asked, concerned when Larisa started to sway on her feet.

"I'm okay," she said weakly.

"Sit down," Ulizr ordered, pulling a chair out for her. "Do you feel dizzy?"


"I want you to lie down for a while when you get to your room," he said, unconvinced. "I'm going to have all your meals brought to you. The Padawan Hall can be very stressful."

"About that jeru tea," Billapa said when Larisa stood. "Don't drink more than three cups at one time. It can make you sleep for hours, and feel ill as well. I made that mistake the night before my Trials."

"Yes, I remember that," Ulizr said. "The Council had to postpone them for two days."

Larisa glanced at him. "They did?"

"Just remember to use it sparingly," Billapa repeated, ushering her out the door. "Your card, please."


"Your old access card," Billapa repeated.

"Oh. Right." She dug out her card, handed it over and went the opposite direction as the Jedi Master.

Why did this happen to me? Larisa wondered, walking aimlessly down the hallway. Did I make some god on the other side of the galaxy mad? No. That was silly. If anything, she should have her head examined.

What she really needed to do was straighten this out with Master Koth the next time she saw him. He no doubt felt he had an obligation to her. She tried to remember where his quarters were, then simply looked at the card in her hand for the location and went over there.

Larisa hesitated in front of his door, knocking three times before finally using the card and going in. She stopped and looked around the empty room. It was larger than hers, but didn't have much more in the way of furnishings.

Maybe I should take a nap before lunch, she thought, yawning. She set the timer on the chrono, avoiding looking at the bedroom door. There was no way she was going to go back in there. She lay down on the sofa and folded her hands over her stomach. It was still a bit of a shock, this baby. Larisa closed her eyes and smiled, wondering what he'll look like as she dozed off.

"According to Knight N'seyn, Urdoma was appointed ruler after the current Viceroy was killed by a political rival." Tiin set the datacube aside on the dining table. "Apparently there have been similar incidents in recent years in the Balmorran government."

"What was N'seyn's impression of Governor Urdoma?" Mundi asked.

"Capable and fair-minded. There's been none of the prejudice that his wife exhibited, and he seems determined to put an end to the various feuds there. I've ordered both Knights to remain there until this new government's in place."

"I've spoken with the Supreme Chancellor," said Sylant, the Mon Calamari Councilor, as she sat down across from them. "He informed me that any more ships carrying refugees from that sector will now be sent to Coruscant for any necessary medical treatment. Apparently, many of the other worlds will no longer let them land for fear of spies planted among them."

"Did they never think of having them segregated?" Windu asked, scornful of the weak excuse. How many would die before they even reach Coruscant?

"Apparently not. I had the impression that if they continue to be uncooperative, Palpatine will take action against them. If any ships do arrive here, he wants some of our healers available to attend to some of the more seriously injured."

"Naturally." Windu turned his head when a fourth Councilor joined their table. "Eeth."

"Mace," he answered, sitting two chairs down from him.

"You're looking well today," Mundi remarked to him.

"I feel well," Eeth smiled.

"Leaving already?" Mundi asked, surprised when Windu pushed his half-empty tray back and stood up.

"Yes. I still have to go over the report on that latest group of Initiates," he explained.

"Ah, yes. One hundred and twenty-six. Master Na'ajh has quite outdone herself this time."

"She has indeed." He nodded to Mundi before walking out of the room.

"So, there has been an increase in Initiates found?" Eeth asked.

"Yes, due mostly to the Knights that were assigned to the outer worlds."

"Depa must be pleased."

"She is, and speaking of assignments, you've been on several lately. Are you going to request another or will you finally take a few days off?"

"As a matter of fact, I plan to stay here for a few months."

"Months?" Mundi echoed, staring in surprise. He gave up when Eeth said no more on the subject and went to retrieve his lunch tray.

"Anakin," Obi-Wan called, looking around the courtyard for his Padawan.

"Over here, Master," Anakin answered from a bench next to a large tree, concentrating on drawing a diagram of a new ship he'd been thinking about for days now. Perhaps Councilor Tiin would be interested in seeing it.

"Still working on that?" Obi-Wan asked once he reached him.

"Uh-huh." Anakin looked up at him. "How did the meeting go?"

Obi-Wan sat down next to him. "It lasted approximately ten minutes before two of the clan chiefs walked out."

"What happened?"

"Chief Vurthr has decided to be difficult."

"Him again?" Anakin asked, disgruntled. "You know what? I think you should take the rest of the day off. I heard that there's a huge park about six miles north of here."

"That sounds very tempting," Obi-Wan admitted, glancing up at the late-afternoon sun. "Tell the chiefs that the next meeting is at nine tomorrow morning."

"I will." Anakin waited a good twenty minutes after Obi-Wan left before putting the diagram away and going inside. This has gone on long enough, he reasoned. Someone had to put an end to this squabbling. He went straight to Chief Vurthr's apartments, knocking on the door until it was answered.

"What you want?" Vurthr's aide demanded.

"You're going to invite me in," Anakin said, waving one hand in front of the belligerent Tunroth's face. "Then you're going to leave me alone with your Chief."

All right. Here we go, Larisa thought, steeling herself before opening the door and entering the training room. She tried to make herself as inconspicuous as possible as she searched the room for Master Koth and hurried over to him.

Koth turned around just before she reached him. "You are not going to continue these kind of exercises in your condition," he stated.

Larisa flushed when a Knight standing nearby glanced at her. "I should still get some kind of exercise."

"True," he agreed after a brief pause. "Ask Master Ulizr about what is appropriate."

"All right." She started to turn to go before remembering why she'd come here. "I need to talk to you."

Eeth looked over at the Knight, silently telling him to keep a sharp eye on the students for a minute, then put an arm around Larisa and led her to one corner of the room. "You're not going to make a habit of interrupting my classes, are you?"


"Good," he said, stroking her hair. "What did you want to talk about?"

"Well... I... Uhhh..." Larisa said, distracted. "Master Ulizr's having all my meals sent to our room," she blurted out, then blinked. That was not what she'd planned to say.

"That won't be a problem," Koth said, smiling indulgently at her. "Now, I have duties to attend to, so you'll have to leave."


She nodded and hastily retreated out into the hallway. That was a disaster! Larisa resisted the urge to bang her head against the wall and tried to figure out what the problem was. Obviously talking to him in public had been a bad idea. I'll try again tonight, she decided, and went back the way she came.

"The Mandalorians have retreated from Circarpous?" Windu questioned Mundi, who arrived late near the end of the Council meeting.

"Yes," Mundi replied, taking his seat. "It is strange. Perhaps they sustained more losses than what had been reported."

"Perhaps. This last matter concerns one of our members. Earlier today Master Yaddle informed me of her decision to resign the Council," Windu told the other Councilors, noticing that it was a surprise to everyone but Yoda.

"Yaddle? But why?" asked Billapa from her chair, having been 'persuaded' mere hours ago to rejoin the Council by Yaddle.

"Necessary it is," was the reply.

*I have a feeling that's the only answer you're going to get* Windu told Billapa before continuing. "One more thing. Ki, we've chosen Master Ngr'Savh to fill Even's seat on the Council. Do you have any objections to him?"

"None at all," Mundi said, pleased with the selection.

"Then it's settled. I'll inform him of our decision," Windu concluded, ending the meeting. Halfway to the door, he glanced back at Yoda and Yaddle, still seated in their chairs, silently conversing. He paused, wondering what they were saying to each other, then shrugged and followed the others out of the Chamber.

"Eeth," Ki-Adi-Mundi greeted after locating him in the Dining Hall during the evening meal. He set his tray on the table and sat down. "I spoke with Taoliss a few minutes ago."

"And how is your Padawan?"

"Fine. Apparently this hyper-activity is something some members his species goes through. It's nothing serious, and normally lasts only a year or two. By the way, he heard some of the other Padawans talking."

"About Larisa and I," he guessed from the perplexed look Mundi was giving him. "Yes."

"Yes? You mean it is true?"

"Yes, it's true. She's also carrying my son," Eeth said proudly.

"How... extraordinary," Mundi managed, at a loss for words. "When did this happen?"

"Yesterday," he said, finishing the last bite of meat before standing. "Good night."

"Hm? Oh, yes. Good night. And congratulations."

"Thank you." Eeth nodded to him before striding out of the Hall.

Mundi looked thoughtfully down at his tray. Well, whatever there was between Larisa and Obi-Wan was long over. She had made it clear that she never wanted to see him again, not that the young Knight had shown any real interest in returning.

He picked up a fork and began eating. Larisa's relationship with Eeth, he was sure, will fare much better.

Nodding to the other Jedi he passed in the hallway, Eeth reached his room and went inside. Larisa was standing in front of the holovid, switching from one channel to the next.

"Umm. Hi. I was just looking through the channels," she explained. "How many are there?"

"Over twelve thousand, I believe." He walked up behind her and slipped his arms around her waist. "There are specific categories you can select."

Larisa turned around in surprise and looked up at him. "We need to talk."

"About what?" Eeth asked, running his hands up her arms.

"Uhh... Last night..." she faltered, her resolve crumbling.

"Mmmm. Yes. Last night." He leaned down and nuzzled her throat.

She put her hands on his shoulders to push him away, then leaned into him instead, her eyes drifting shut as she tilted her head back.

Aroused by her immediate response, Eeth decided against waiting any longer and picked her up. Her arms wound around his neck as he headed towards the bedroom.

"Could you repeat that, please?"

"Terms are reasonable," Vurthr barked. "I agree."

Amazed, Obi-Wan looked around the table. "Will the rest of you sign as well?"

Anakin watched from behind his Master, carefully keeping a serious expression on his face as the other Chiefs agreed. He frowned when they then stood and began leaving the room.

"What's going on?" he quietly asked Obi-Wan. "Aren't they going to sign it now?"

"No, not until midnight. That is the traditional time for these kinds of ceremonies. You would have already known that if you'd studied the Tunroth culture as I asked," Obi-Wan admonished.

"I know," he grouched. "They don't do it in the nude, do they?"

"No," Obi-Wan chuckled as they left the conference room. "They're not like the Elomin."

"Good," Anakin said, relieved. Seeing a group of four-armed Tunroths without clothes on would probably ruin his appetite for the rest of his life. "So, we'll be going home tomorrow?"

"Yes, we're going home. I don't think any of them will be asking us to stay another day." Obi-Wan grinned, feeling as if a great weight had been lifted from his shoulders as they returned to their quarters and began packing.

Unbelievable! thought Larisa, waking early the next morning underneath Eeth Koth, who somehow avoided crushing her in his sleep. She started to try to wriggle free and gasped, realizing he was still inside her. No wonder she'd felt so sore yesterday morning.

She dropped her head back down on the pillow and pondered the last two days. First I sleep with Master Koth, a member of the Jedi Council, and get pregnant, and now I've slept with him again. One thing was clear; she had absolutely no self-control.

And her fingers were tangled in his hair. Carefully working them free, she became aware of yet another dilemma. An urgent one. "Ma... um, Eeth," Larisa said, tapping him on the shoulder.

He woke instantly. "What?"

"I... Uh... I need to use the fresher," she told him, thankful that it was still too dark to see very well as her face grew hot.

"Oh. Of course." He withdrew and rolled to the side, then reached out and turned the light on for her.

Larisa scrambled out of bed and ran to the fresher. She remained seated several seconds afterwards, leaning over with her head in her hands, before getting up. She was going to go to the healers today and find out what was wrong with her. She washed her hands and went back to the bedroom. Eeth was still awake and sitting up, his hands clasped behind his head as he waited. Larisa paused by the door. What difference did it make anyway? She walked over and climbed back into bed.

Eeth turned off the light, noticed how chilled she was and covered them with the blanket. His quarters were kept cooler than most humans were accustomed to. That was going to have to change, he decided as he slowly stroked her back. She sighed and snuggled up against him. Tightening his arms around her, Eeth turned her over and pushed back inside.

Larisa moaned, then shut her eyes and tried to concentrate on getting back to sleep.

"Larisa," Knight Ciral greeted, surprised to see her in the healers' room. "I thought your appointment was tomorrow.

"It is, but I have a big problem."

"The child? I'd better get Master Ulizr down here," Ciral said, reaching for her comm link.

"This isn't about the baby. I just need to talk to somebody." Larisa paused. "He told you?"

"Yes. I'm usually in charge when he's been called away. Let's go in here." Ciral led her into one of the storage rooms. "Have a seat," she said, motioning to a table and two chairs.

"Thank you." She sat down and tried to think of where to start. "You know about me and Master Koth?"

"Yes, but I must say, I had thought that you and Obi-Wan... Never mind," she said when Larisa looked away. "Now, what's the matter?"

"It's just... I can't think straight when he touches me!"

"That's a problem?" Ciral asked, making a concerted effort not to smile.

Larisa looked at her a moment, then got up to leave.

"Wait! I'm sorry," the Knight quickly said. "Please sit down." She hesitated, then slowly sat down again. "Something is obviously bothering you a great deal."

Ciral frowned. "He hasn't been abusive to you, has he?"

"No! He'd never!" Larisa protested, appalled by the question.

"All right. You said that you couldn't think straight, but how did you feel?"

"Well... I don't know. It was like nothing I'd ever felt before," she confessed, blushing. "That's my problem. I think I like sex too much."

"There's nothing wrong with enjoying it, unless it's becoming an obsession. Tell me, when did you mate with Councilor Koth?"

"The night before. Then there was last night, and again this morning."

"Hmm." Ciral sat back, determined to get to the bottom of this. "I know that Obi-Wan has been gone two months. Has there been anyone else since then?"


"All right then. How long had you and Obi-Wan been together?"

"About ten days."

"And how many times did you and he..."

"Uhmmm. Twelve? No, eighteen. At least," Larisa said, thinking back. "That's not normal, is it?"

"Some people might find that excessive, but that has more to do with age, not to mention religious beliefs, than anything else," Ciral told her. "How many were there before Obi-Wan?"

"There wasn't anybody else."

"No one?"

"No. I'd spent most of my time studying," she explained.

"Exactly what makes you think there's a problem?"

Ciral asked, realizing that their conversation had gotten off track.

Larisa recounted, as much as she remembered, that first night with Koth. "I don't know why I went to his quarters."

"I see," she said thoughtfully. "Part of being a Jedi is learning to follow your instincts, to let the Force guide you. But of course, you haven't had the complete training."

"That would explain a lot of things," Larisa said after thinking it over. "Thank you."

"There's no need to. I'm glad I could be of some help. The morning lightsaber practice should be over about now. There are always a few burns that need to be looked at. Would you like to stay a few minutes and help out?


They walked back to the other room and waited for the wounded Padawans to show up.

*They are progressing well* Yarael Poof complimented as the older Initiates filed out of the training room.

"Was there one in particular that caught your eye?" Eeth Koth inquired, flexing his shoulder.

*Soleym is impressive*

"Ah, yes. In another two years she'll be sure to find a Master. Unless someone is considering it now."

*Nine is a little young to be chosen as a Padawan*

"Now we both know that age is not an accurate way of judging. Uli has been very diligent in all of her classes." Glancing speculatively at Poof, Eeth decided to leave it at that and returned to his quarters.

Larisa was seated at the table, staring intently down at a datapad.

"What are you studying now?" he asked, pausing next to the fresher room door.

"The Narvaths. They don't seem very complicated," she told him, not looking up.

"Hm." Eeth went in and used the fresher before preparing a bath, adding a small amount of oil to it.

He removed his clothes and stepped in, settling back as the water soothed his sore muscles. He looked up at the sound of the door opening. "You're done with it?"

"Almost," Larisa said, standing in the doorway. "I'll finish it a little later. I was thinking of going to the garden." Taking another step into the room, she tore her gaze away from him and focused on the strange-colored water. "What did you put in there?"

"Dhenei oil. It's perfectly safe for humans," he answered, watching her with anticipation. She looked back down at him a moment, then closed the door behind her. Eeth moved over when she approached the bath and began undressing.

Larisa tossed her tunics aside and slipped into the water next to him. There's a lot to be said for instincts, she thought when he pulled her into his arms. "So, what did you do this morning?" she asked a few minutes later.

"Just what I usually do when I'm at the Temple, although I do believe that Councilor Poof may be taking another Padawan soon."

"Poof. He's a Quermian, right?"


She glanced up, then slid on top of him, rubbing her cheek against his chest. His skin felt a little rough, and she found herself wondering that it tasted like. Eyes closed in contentment, Eeth opened them when he felt her mouth press against his neck, then move to his arm. He wrapped her hair around his hand and tugged her head back up. Larisa hid a smile and went back to his neck, listening to the now-familiar growl.

She'd just started to work her way down his chest when he suddenly lifted her off him.

"The water's getting cold and I have another class in fifteen minutes," he said when she grabbed at his arms in protest.

"Oh, all right." Larisa gave him a pouty look before letting go and climbing out, picking up a towel to cover herself. I should have put my hair up, she thought critically, looking in the mirror. Now it needed another washing to get the oil out.

"You could always leave it in," he suggested, smiling when she turned around and wrinkled her nose at him.

"I don't think so." She grabbed the soap and turned on the water in the washbowl.

"As you like." Eeth dried off with the other towel, dropped it on the bench and left the fresher room to get a fresh change of clothes from the closet. He'd just finished dressing when Larisa came out of the fresher wearing one of his robes. "Don't you have a robe?"

"Well, yes, but this one's a lot warmer." She continued across the room, holding up the hem to keep it from dragging on the floor, picked up the datapad and sat down on the sofa. "You don't mind, do you?"

"No," he assured her, reminding himself to have the temperature adjusted as he pulled on his boots. "I'll see you later."

"Or sooner, if you get someone to take over for you." Larisa sighed in disappointment when Eeth merely smiled and left the room. Oh, well. She turned on the datapad and continued reading about the Narvaths.

Padawan, what do I keep telling you about this? Obi-Wan asked when Anakin maneuvered closer to a group of Knights waiting for a shuttle as they walked towards the elevators.

How else am I going to find out what's been going on while we were away? Besides, if it's supposed to be a secret, they wouldn't be talking about it in public.

You do have a point there, he conceded. And it has been useful during our missions, but there will be no more eavesdropping on Knights and Masters, understand?

"Yes, Master. They were just wondering what the weather was like on Hythrope IV, anyway," Anakin said with a snort once they were in an elevator.

"That would be something you'd want to know if you were going there."

"Yes, Master." Anakin said no more until they stepped off the elevator into a crowded hallway.

"Classes must have just ended," Obi-Wan noted, looking for the nearest side corridor. He glanced curiously at Anakin when he jerked his head towards a nearby group of Padawans, his eyes widening in shock. What's the matter? he asked, hoping nothing serious had happened.

"Nothing, Master. Nothing at all," Anakin said out loud.

Obi-Wan looked disapprovingly at him. It was obvious that he wasn't telling the truth: If there was one thing his Padawan was not good at, it was lying, and it was something he was going to have to put a stop to immediately. Once they were in an empty corridor he turned to his Apprentice. "I saw the way you reacted. What did you hear?"

"They were talking about Larisa. And Master Koth," he reluctantly told his Master.

"What about them?"

"They, uh, they said that she's living with him."

"Where do they get these ideas?" Obi-Wan laughed.

"I don't know. They sounded pretty sure of it," Anakin said, uncertain.

"It's not true," he insisted. "It can't be."

"Of course, Master."

"You can go on back to your room," Obi-Wan told Anakin once they reached the next hallway. He had a report to submit to Councilor Windu and didn't have time for such foolish gossip.

"There's a transmission from Chancellor Palpatine and I wanted you and Yoda present when I speak to him. Master Poof is busy at the moment, or I would have asked him as well," Windu told Mundi as they walked to the Council Chamber.

"It is rather unusual that the Chancellor's had so many excuses for not coming in person."

"Unusual or convenient?" Windu asked as they came to the Chamber and went inside. "Palpatine hasn't set foot here in months."

"Prove anything that does not," Yoda stated, already in his seat.

"We must find out once and for all," Mundi said. "This uncertainty is not doing our Order any good."

"Revealed the Sith will be," Yoda stated with certainty. "Stay hidden forever it cannot."

"Given the current situation, any amount of time is too long," Windu added before activating the hologram device. "Chancellor Palpatine."

"Councilor Windu," Palpatine responded, looking surprised when he noticed the other two Councilors seated to the left. "Have I interrupted a meeting?"

"No, you did not," Mundi replied. "Has there been any news?"

"We've heard that the Mandalorians retreated from Circarpous," said Windu. "What exactly happened over there?"

"I'm afraid I won't have any definite answers until the remaining Republic ships return."

"How many were lost?" Windu asked.

"Six." Palpatine paused, a puzzled expression on his face. "I must say, the Mandalorians' strategy escapes me. From what I understand, they had been winning the battle."

"Winning easily, were they?" Yoda questioned, peering sharply at the holographic image.

"Yes," the Chancellor said with a heavy sigh. "The Republic Army is not as effective as it once was. As you probably already guessed, many of the Captains are young and have very little battle experience, which is why I'm asking for your assistance. I suspect these Mandalorians will not be satisfied with the one sector they're occupying now."

"We have anticipated this," Windu told him, "and we've asked Master Rancisis to return to the Temple."

"Excellent. Also, there are two ships filled with refugees that will be arriving at the Jorunan Embassy in four hours. Quite a few of them are injured, but I don't know how badly."

"We'll have healers there to meet them."

"Concealing something you are," Yoda suddenly declared.

"Yes," Mundi nodded. "There is something you're not telling us."

"What...?" Palpatine glanced to his left before quickly composing himself. "Very well. I was going to wait for an official confirmation, but..."

Windu leaned forward. "Confirmation of what?"

"King Organa of Alderaan has fallen ill."

"We've heard nothing of this from our Jedi there," Windu said, surprised.

"The Organa family undoubtedly wants it kept private for now," Palpatine offered.

Yoda closed his eyes, ears drooping. "Great loss to the Republic, it is."

"We must send our best healer there immediately," Mundi said.

"Too late it will be."

"Too late?" Palpatine asked. "Surely something can be done. Perhaps if they meet your healer halfway..."

Yoda shook his head. "Dying now, he is. Foresee it I do."

"This is terrible indeed," the Chancellor said. "On behalf of the Organas, I must ask you to keep this information to yourselves."

"We will respect their wishes," Windu concurred.

Palpatine exchanged more trivial news for another minute before ending the transmission as politely as possible.

"You're asking the Jedi for help?"

"Yes," he said, scowling at Maul, "and I believe I made it clear that you are not to come here unless I summon you."

"It has been weeks! Master," Maul added belatedly.

"And you will continue to wait until I have a task for you," Palpatine said, leaning back in his chair. The longer Maul remained in this state of near-inactivity, the more reckless he was likely to be when he was finally given a mission. It would certainly spare him the enormous difficulty of disposing of his Apprentice personally without the possibility of it being traced back to him.

"It will not be much longer," he told Maul. "Now get out of here before one of the servants sees you."

Maul silently bowed and stalked out of the office. To the training room, no doubt, to destroy another thirty droids, Palpatine thought before dismissing Maul from his mind. How ironic. After all my efforts to eliminate the Alderaanian King, nature does it for me in the end. I shall have to make Prince Bail's acquaintance to find out if he is more malleable than his obstinate father had been.

For now he would go over the Republic laws in case any might be of use to him, and wait to see if Bane takes advantage of the opportunity he provided to leave the Temple.

"We'll send the Organas our condolences once an official announcement has been made," Windu decided, putting away his comm link as they started towards the door.

"At least whatever has afflicted him is not contagious. They would have summoned one of our healers otherwise," Mundi said, nodding to the Jedi waiting on the bench outside the Chamber. "Knight Kenobi."

"Councilor Mundi." Obi-Wan stood and bowed. "I completed my report on the trip back."

"With or without your Padawan's observations?" asked Windu.

"Without, this time." Taking a datachip out of his belt pouch, he started to give it to Mundi before turning and handing it to Windu.

"Troubled by something, are you?" Yoda questioned.

"No, Master. It was more amusing than troubling."

"And what was it you found so amusing?" Windu asked, hoping to dispel the somber mood King Organa's ailment had instilled.

"I heard the most absurd rumor on the way here," Obi-Wan told the Council leader.

"Not always false are rumors," Yoda stated, scrutinizing him a moment before hobbling down the hall.

"What did he mean by that?" Obi-Wan asked, growing uneasy when Mundi and Windu glanced at each other.

"If what you heard was about Larisa and Eeth, then it is true," Windu informed him.

Mundi frowned, puzzled by the shock and anger that briefly crossed Obi-Wan's face before it cleared of all expression.

"Councilors." He bowed stiffly to them again and walked off.

"This could be a problem. You don't happen to have that tracker with you, do you?" Mundi asked Windu. "I don't think those two should be allowed alone together."

"It's in my office," he said, heading in that direction. "I have to go see Master Ulizr, so you'll have to take care of this."

"I will," Mundi agreed, wondering just what was going through Kenobi's mind as he followed Windu to his office.

"Knight Ciral," Larisa said, surprised.

"Yes, I'm still here. Master Ulizr has been delayed," she explained with a tired smile. "How have you been doing?"

"Fine," Larisa said, smiling back. "I'm done with the Narvath datapad."

"Ah." Ciral looked around the room. "Well, I don't know what you're to study next, so you'll have to wait until Ulizr gets back. It shouldn't be much longer; he has to let Councilor Windu know which healers are available to send to the Jorunan Embassy."


"A couple of ships from the Expansion Region are due there in about four hours and the Supreme Chancellor requested our help with them. There are some injuries even bacta can't heal."

"Oh. Well, I'll come back a little later."

"All right. I'll make sure he leaves a new one out for you," she said.

"Could you tell him that I'd like to try studying the Quermians this time?"

"I let him know."

"Thank you. Bye."

Larisa left the healers and went to the garden to look for Rialth, finding him stretched out on top of a rock. She picked him up, went back to one of the benches and sat down.

"I saved you some pieces of meat this time," she told him, unhooking a small bag from her belt and feeding it to him one piece at a time. "My meals are bigger now, and I'm making sure I eat every bite. Well, almost every bite."

She glanced up when the Temple door opened and jumped to her feet, nearly dropping Rialth. "Obi-Wan!" she exclaimed. "What... What are you doing here?"

"I asked myself that came question," he said, leaning against the wall in front of the doorway.

"Really?" Larisa turned and put Rialth down when he started to squirm.

"Yes, really." He pushed away from the wall and came forward. "I want you to tell me that it's all a big mistake."

"I..." She stopped and bit her lip.

"So it is true about you and Master Koth," Obi-Wan said after a long minute of silence. "Why?"

"Why what?" Larisa asked, her chin lifting in defiance.

"Why?" he repeated in a near-shout, his temper exploding. "Tell me, did you wait even a day after I'd left?"

"I don't have to tell you anything! Why don't you just go back to your Queen and leave me alone?"

Obi-Wan stared in disbelief. She betrayed him because of some ridiculous jealousy of Amidala? "I probably will," he retorted. "I know that she's not a whore!"

"Knight Kenobi!"

Obi-Wan lurched around. "Councilor Mundi."

"You have said enough for one day," Mundi told him frostily. "Return to your quarters at once."

"Yes, Master." He bowed, face flushing, and quickly obeyed.

Larisa sank down on the bench and stared at a nearby bush.

"I must apologize for Knight Kenobi," said Mundi.

She shook her head. "He didn't say anything I haven't already thought myself."

Humans! he thought. "Obi-Wan spoke out of anger. Anger that someone with his training should have control of."

"I'm tired," Larisa whispered. "I'd like to go lie down."

"Of course." He helped her to her feet and escorted her inside, then went directly to Kenobi's quarters.

"Councilor Mundi," Obi-Wan said, opening the door to let the elder Jedi in before he had a chance to press the door button.

"Kenobi," he replied, making sure Skywalker wasn't present before continuing. "Would you care to explain what just happened in the garden?"

"I'm not sure I can," he admitted guiltily.

"Not sure? This kind of behavior would be unacceptable from an Initiate!" he said with stern disapproval.

"Yes, Councilor," Obi-Wan said quietly. "I am sorry."

"I am not the one you should be apologizing to," Mundi snapped. "Do you realize that another incident like this could cost you your Padawan. You could even be cast out of the Temple."

"Yes. I do realize that."

"Good," he said, satisfied. Kenobi certainly sounded contrite enough. "As it is, you'll probably be spending the rest of the month in meditation classes."

"Whatever the Council thinks is appropriate," he said, kneeling back down on his mat and bowing his head.

"I know this must have been a shock to you," Mundi sympathized, "but it would have happened sooner or later. It's difficult enough for any relationship to survive a long separation, let alone one between two such different people. You and Larisa have so little in common."

"We had spent a lot of time fighting." And a lot of time making up. He immediately banished that thought. It was over. "I suppose you think I should have married Amidala."

"No. I did not agree with the Councilors who supported a marriage between you and the Queen. I was aware of her feelings toward you, and that you did not return them as she had hoped. A political alliance, even with a close friend, would not be in Amidala's best interest. She needs a partner with whom she can share everything."

"I wonder now if it was because I wouldn't allow myself to feel that way about her," Obi-Wan mused. "It was years before I could bear to go inside the Theed Palace again."

"You can't possibly blame her for what happened."

"Oh, no. I know she had no other choice in dealing with the Federation's invasion, but all I could think about was that Qui-Gon lost his life on Naboo and how I never wanted to go back there."

"None of us can decide when it's our time," Mundi reminded. "It was the will of the Force."

"I reminded myself of that over and over, but it didn't make it any easier to accept at the time."

"I understand. It seemed senseless to me as well, but not even Yoda can claim to truly comprehend the Force. I shall explain this to Councilor Windu and let him decide your reprimand, rather than bring it up at our next meeting."

"I'll be waiting for his decision," Obi-Wan said, closing his eyes as Mundi left the room. For too long, he had disregarded a basic tenet of the Jedi Code by dwelling on the past, allowing it to control his life.

That was going to end, even if it meant meditating for an entire year. He slowed his breathing and began the slow process of clearing his mind.

Going over a report on the latest batch of failed Initiates, Eeth looked up when the door opened and Larisa wandered in. She gave a start when she saw him sitting at the table. "Oh! I thought you had a class."

"Ki-Adi suggested that I ask another Master to oversee them, but he wouldn't say why," Eeth explained. His eyes narrowed and he studied her face. "Who has upset you?" he demanded, getting up and walking over to her.

"I don't want to talk about it," Larisa said, trying to sidestep around him.

"Who?" Eeth asked again, stepping in front of her.

"Why do you even care?" she blurted out, then ran into the fresher room and closed the door.

Baffled, Eeth went over and tested the door. Locked, as he expected. He considered using his key, then decided against it and took out his comm link. "Ki, what is going on?"

"I take it Larisa did not say?" Mundi asked after a brief pause.

"No. Right now she's hiding in the fresher."

"I see. Well, I doubt she'll stay in there all day."

"You still haven't said what happened," Eeth pointed out.

"I'm afraid you'll simply have to wait until Larisa comes back out."

"Thank you!" Exasperated, Eeth put the link away and glanced over at the door again. He went into the small kitchen area and prepared a packet of jeru tea. This could take a while, he thought, putting the container on a heated pad to keep it warm. He took off his boots, picked up the report and sat on the sofa to wait. The door opened again fourteen minutes later.

"You're still here," Larisa said, wide-eyed.

"You thought I would leave?"

"I don't know what I thought." She sat down and hunched over the table. He poured a cup of tea and set it down next to her.

"Here, drink this."

Larisa sat up, grabbed the tea and gulped it down.

"Now, tell me what happened," he said, not surprised when she shook her head again.

"I can't!" She jumped up and headed for the front door.

He caught her halfway there. "Where do you think you're going?"

"I'm going to go get a blaster and shoot him!"

"You are not going to shoot anyone," Eeth said, keeping a firm grip on her. "Now just calm down."

Larisa yanked at his arm again before slumping against him in defeat. "All right," she mumbled, her face buried in his tunic.

"That's better." Eeth led her over to the sofa and brought her a second cup of tea. "Just tell me who it was, and I'll take care of it," he said, sitting beside her after removing the empty cup away.


"Why what?"

"I don't understand!" she said, wringing her hands in agitation. "Why would you even want me, except for the baby?"

"That is not true, 'Risa," Eeth stated, brushing her hair out of her face. "I wouldn't want anyone else."

Larisa stared at him a moment, then moved onto his lap and burrowed into his arms. "I want you too," she said in a muffled voice. "Right now."

"Now?" He pulled her back, puzzled by her change in mood. "It's the middle of the day."

"You did say that another Master was taking care of your class."

"Only for two hours, and it's been almost thirty minutes already."

"I can make do with an hour and a half if you can," Larisa purred. "And don't hold back this time. I won't melt."

Eeth looked as if he were going to refuse, then slowly smiled.

"Hey!" she exclaimed indignantly when he suddenly stood and tossed her over his shoulder.

"Hush," he said, carrying her into the bedroom and dropping her on the bed.

A little dizzy, she sat up once she stopped bouncing and struggled to get out of her clothes as fast as possible. She managed to get the last tunic off before Eeth was on top of her. He stayed still a few seconds, enjoying the feel of her body beneath his before driving his entire length inside her.

"OH!" Larisa gasped, stretching painfully tight before she adjusted herself to his size. Closing her eyes to better feel him pulsating deep inside, she barely noticed the sharp pain in her left shoulder as the first climax left her breathless.

"Mmmmm. What are you thinking?" Larisa sleepily asked over an hour later, lying in Eeth's arms.

"I was thinking about how you surprised me."

She craned her head around. "Is that good or bad?"

"It was definitely good." He smiled, resting his hand over her stomach.

Larisa sighed and put her hand on top of his, turning her head when the door alarm buzzed. "They might go away if you don't answer it," she urged.

"Maybe, but I'm not going to wait to find out," he said, scooting her over to the side and getting up.

Some people have the worst timing, she thought, sitting up to watch Eeth lean over and pick his robe up from the trunk. She lay back down when he put it on and went to see who was at the door.

"That was Knight Ciral," he said when he returned. "She brought the new datapad you'd asked for."

"I forgot all about it." Remembering the reason why, she grabbed the blanket and wrapped it around herself.

"Are you warm enough?" he asked. "I ordered the temperature raised earlier."

"I'm okay," she said, yawning. "Just a little tired."

"Yes, you should rest now."

Larisa eyed Eeth suspiciously. He'd sounded positively smug about it. Well, he did have a right to she had to admit. What an afternoon! She looked up again when she realized he was getting dressed. "You're leaving already?"

"I need to finish a report and return it before the next Council meeting," he told her. "There are quite a few Initiates that need to be tested."

"Oh. Well, I'll see you tonight then."

"I'm looking forward to it."

Blushing a little, she glanced over at the datapad and closed her eyes, her mind replaying that horrible encounter with Obi-Wan. Not a word from him in weeks and he just shows up acting like he owns me. I will never forgive him for this, Larisa swore, gradually falling asleep.

That certainly took long enough, Bane thought, throwing the blanket aside the moment he sensed the Jedi leave. He stood and walked into the fresher room, growing more irritated when he looked in the mirror. Yet another delay. I can hardly move around the Temple like this.

He swiftly showered and stood in front of the mirror again, methodically searching for and healing the various bite marks. He went back into the bedroom afterwards and looked for the eye lenses, finding them still on the floor under the bed. Bane cleaned and applied them, then finished his preparations and left the Jedi's quarters.

Broken, thought Windu, examining his belt again before dropping it down on his desk. I'll have to pick up a new one on the way to the meeting. He tucked his tunics into his trousers, sat down, and began going over yet another report when his office door opened.

"Larisa," Windu said. "I suppose you're here about Obi-Wan."

"Knight Kenobi does not interest me."

"You probably want him sent to an ice planet on the other side of the galaxy," he continued, putting the holocron down.

Impatient, Bane glanced down, picked up the belt and slapped Windu's face with it.

Windu jerked back in astonishment. "What the... What the hell do you think you're doing?" he demanded, his expression thunderous.

"Now that I have your attention, you are going to be quiet and listen," she told him, putting the belt back down.

"I'll have you..." Windu's eyes bulged when his mouth suddenly snapped shut.

"Now, as I was saying. You are going to send Doril to the Jorunan Embassy with the other healers," Bane said, slamming the suggestion into the Jedi Master's mind. Curious, he delved further before withdrawing. Such a noble fool.

Outraged by the invasion, Windu struggled to get out of his chair.

"That is just one of the differences between us," she said, smiling contemptuously. "We are not afraid to take what we want."

We? What was she talking about? Forcing himself to relax, Windu looked past her at the door, willing someone to come through it.

Bane followed his gaze. "I won't be here that long, and you aren't going to remember this visit."

Windu tensed when she walked around the desk, stopping next to him. "By the way," she said, "I had considered you as Larisa's lover, but that would have given me too many problems."

Bane paused thoughtfully. The Zabrak could very well present a problem as well. He turned his attention back to Windu. "Sleep."

The Jedi's eyes closed and his head hit the desktop.


Windu woke to feel someone lightly shaking him on the shoulder. "Huh?" He lifted his head and blinked at Depa Billapa. "What?"

"There's a Council meeting scheduled for this hour, remember?"

"Uhh. Right." He sat up slowly, his head aching. Billapa immediately began fussing over him.

"You've been working too hard again, haven't you?" she chided, helping him to his feet. "You'd best get some sleep. We can test the students without you. It won't take that much longer."

"I think I'll do that," he said when he started to wobble. "I was going to get a new belt from the supply rooms."

"I'll take care of it," she assured him, picking up the broken one after helping him regain his balance.

Windu made it into the bedroom and lay down when he remembered something. "I need my comm link."

"Certainly." Billapa handed it to him and began removing his belongings from the belt, setting them down on the table. "I'll stop by again before the evening meal. I hope you'll be feeling better by then."

"So do I," Windu muttered, sending a quick message to Master Ulizr.

He grouched when she insisted on taking his boots off for him and covering him with a blanket. Then, he fell into a deep sleep the second Billapa left the room. Billapa rolled the belt up and attached it to hers as she went back to the Council Chamber. Eeth Koth was waiting outside for her.

"Where's Mace?" he asked curiously.

"He won't be attending this meeting," she informed him, frowning when she noticed a dark spot on his neck. It looked like... teeth marks. "Has one of the Initiates given you trouble?"

"No. Why?"

"Because, well, it looks like someone's bitten you."

"Hm? Oh. No, they're not from an Initiate."

"They're not?" Billapa looked uncomprehending for all of two seconds before her face turned scarlet. "I... see. Could you tell the others that I'll join you in a moment?"

Eeth nodded, studiously overlooking her embarrassment. He made sure the mark was concealed before going back in.

Billapa walked unhurriedly into the fresher room directly across the hall from the Council Chamber and splashed cold water on her face. Speaking to a close friend of such things was, as she had found out yesterday, much harder than to a passing acquaintance.

Do not even mention it to them, Billapa told herself. She took a deep breath and, her expression once again serene, returned to the Chamber.

"What is this?" Palpatine asked, looking at a list of unfamiliar names.

"Those are worlds that have declined entry into the Republic," the aide explained. "Every twelve years, a representative is sent to each one to ascertain if there is any interest in joining."

"Well, that is going to end immediately!" Palpatine flung the durasheet onto the floor. "I'm going to have enough to deal with."

"Yes, Chancellor."

"Out!" he ordered when the aide made a move to retrieve the list, sending the man scurrying out the door.

Palpatine started to get back to work when he sensed someone in the room. He raised his head, looking straight at Bane, who was perusing the list he had thrown on the floor. But was it Bane? he wondered, observing the color of her eyes.

"Yes, it's me. I had to take some precautions in leaving the Temple." Bane looked back down at the durasheet again before depositing it in the disposal unit. "You didn't seem like the type to litter your office."

"I don't make a habit of it," Palpatine replied, then scowled at the inane conversation. "I was expecting you."

"I assumed as much," she said, sitting down in the chair in front of his desk. "The question is why."

"I require information about a certain Jedi Padawan."

"Padawan Skywalker." Bane smiled thinly at his look of surprise. "It wasn't that hard to figure out. I am aware of how strong he is, and the circumstances involving his acceptance into the Jedi Order.

"I would guess that the reason you never found and trained an Apprentice of your own after Maul's 'death' was that, with your new position as Supreme Chancellor, you simply did not have the time to spare."

"That is true, and Skywalker is very powerful," Palpatine said, his eyes gleaming. "But I have had very little contact with him; the Jedi are constantly sending him who knows where."

She tilted her head at him. "And you expect me to find out and tell you?"

"You still owe me for borrowing Maul's services," he reminded.

"Yes, I remember. I also remember how you tried to kill me."

Palpatine hesitated before continuing. Bane did not sound all that angry about that incident. "I want to know when he returns to the Temple and where he is assigned from now on."

"I owe you nothing, but I do propose an exchange. And I can tell you right now that Knight Kenobi is back at the Temple," she told him, looking strangely amused for some reason. "I assume his Padawan is with him."

"What sort of exchange?" he asked guardedly, getting the impression that he was somehow providing an opportunity that she had been waiting for.

"It's quite simple. You want Skywalker. I want Maul."

"Is that so?"

"It is." Let him think what he wants, Bane thought. It makes no difference to me. "Do you agree?"

This would be a quick and easy solution to my problem, Palpatine thought, considering it. "All right," he agreed. "But on one condition: I want him kept far away from here."

She nodded. "He will be."



Come here now.

Yes, Master.

"There's one more thing," Bane said. "You are going to let Maul keep his ship."

"Very well." Palpatine scowled again. Ships like the Infiltrator were not cheap to come by. He leaned back in his chair, studying Bane while he waited for Maul's arrival. "There's something different about you," he stated as Maul silently entered the room.

"You no doubt sense the child she is carrying."

Maul's head whipped around towards the chair.

"Kenobi's?" Palpatine inquired.

"Actually, no. One of the Jedi Councilors, Eeth Koth."

"Get rid of it!" Maul snarled, outraged.

One more thing I shall no longer have to tolerate, Palpatine thought, annoyed by the interruption.

"Get rid of it?" Bane turned and looked at him. "Perhaps I should introduce myself to the entire Council while I'm at it."

Maul subsided, glaring.

"Besides," she continued, "I am not the one who has to carry it."

Pulling his attention away, Maul went down to one knee beside the desk. "Master."

"Do not call me Master," he told Maul. "From this moment on, you will take orders from her."

"No!" Maul growled the denial, springing to his feet.

"You are my Master. I..."

"Have done nothing for me that countless others could not have done," Palpatine finished, observing the stunned look that crept over his face. "In fact, you have been about useful to me as the Bandonian plague. I had planned on having you killed but, for whatever reason, Lord Bane seems to favor you." He checked the time and got up to leave. "I expect you to be gone by the time I return."

Maul stared at the closed door, bereft. The only constant in his entire life had turned him out, and in the most insulting manner. All of this was that witch Doril's fault!

"Is it?"

"You once asked me what I wanted," Maul said, turning back around. "I wanted to rule after him. It was my right as his Apprentice."

"Which is exactly what he took steps to prevent." Bane stood. It was past time Lord Maul faced a few unpleasant facts. "Look at you! How many people even know you exist, other than the Jedi who are hunting for you? Palpatine had all the political power, and never had any intention of sharing it. He'll do the same with your replacement."

"And now I have nothing," Maul said, lowering his head.

"Nothing except your ship, for now." Bane unobtrusively probed his mind. As before, there was a very strong urge to kill someone. How tedious. "Come with me."

"Where?" he warily asked, not moving an inch.

"Do not make me repeat myself. I haven't much time."

Maul took one last look around his former Master's office before following her out of the Senate building. He remained silent as they took an air taxi to the lower levels of the city.

"Wait here for us," Bane commanded, using the Force to ensure the driver obeyed.

"What are we doing here?" asked Maul, his nose twitching at the smell.

"In there." She led him across the street and into a small, dilapidated shop squeezed in between two larger buildings.

"Can I help you?" an exhausted-looking older man asked, coming out from a back room.

"You can indeed." Bane glanced back as Maul entered. "Kill him."

Eyes rounding in terror at his first glimpse of the tattooed features, the shopkeeper scrambled behind the counter, grabbing a rusty blaster and aiming it at Maul.

Reacting instinctively, Maul grabbed his lightsaber, igniting it and deflecting the laser bolt back at the man. He screamed in pain when the shot struck the blaster out of his hands and stumbled towards the door, falling face-first onto the floor when part of a dismantled work droid flew across the room and struck him in the back.

"What are you waiting for?" Bane asked when Maul just stood and looked down at the man, who covered his head with his thin arms and pleaded for his life. "Kill him."

Puzzled by an uncomfortable feeling, Maul looked away from the shopkeeper, now babbling about how his family would starve in the streets without him. "Why?"

"Because I said so. Would it help if you pretended he was a Jedi?"

"No." He turned off and stepped back, expecting anger at his refusal. Bane looked approving instead.

"Your old Master may have insisted on mindless obedience, but I do not, and I am pleased that you can distinguish between who is an enemy and who isn't. I had begun to wonder."

"Then why did you send me to Adarlon?" Maul asked angrily.

"Because Larisa was determined to leave the Jedi and go back home. She can be difficult to control at times."

"That is obvious," Maul growled, his yellow eyes raking over her. This was planned, he suddenly realized when she merely smiled.

"Yes, it was." Bane glanced contemplatively down at the cowering man. "Stand up."

Maul watched as the man abruptly stopped shaking and climbed to his feet. "You have served me well," she told him, handing him a sunstone, "and you will tell no one that we were here."

"T...Thank you, my Lady," he stammered, gawking at the large gemstone.

"Where did you get that?" Maul asked, his confusion growing as they left the store and returned to the taxi.

"Korriban. This is yours," she told him, producing a carved black box the size of his fist. "You will have to find a hiding place for your ship, and a residence for yourself, on the other side of the planet."

"Then what?" He opened the box, staring down at the fortune in jewels inside.

"There is something I'll want you to do when the time comes. Until then, you may do whatever you want, so long as you do not attract attention to yourself. Or allow yourself to be captured by the Jedi."

Do whatever I want, Maul thought as he listened to Bane's directions. He had gone only where his Master told him to go for so many years that this kind of freedom was completely foreign to him, and he had no clue what to do with this free time.

He stood in an alley long after the air taxi was gone, thinking. One thing he could do now was have an alteration he'd wanted made to his ship. Perhaps then he would travel to Cyamirra, to see the Crystal Spires he had heard about once.

"Saesee. Oppo," Windu said, coming forward to meet them. "I wasn't expecting you back until tomorrow."

"I was able to settle matters sooner than I expected," Rancisis explained.

"The Chancellor is sending an army to the Expansion Region in two days to force the Mandalorians off of the planets they're occupying, starting with Gyndine, and he wants you to oversee it," Windu told him. "I'll need all the information he has on them."

"He's sending it over now. I'll meet you in the Council Chamber shortly."

"Good." Rancisis nodded to the two of them and went inside.

"Waiting for someone?" Tiin asked.

"Yes," Windu said, watching a shuttle land and several healers walk down the landing ramp. He intercepted the last one off the ship. "Larisa, what did we tell you about running off during assignments?"

"I did not run off. I just went over to a deli," she refuted, holding up the bag she carried. "I bought some fregeni sandwiches. Would you like one?"


"I would," Tiin said interestedly, ignoring the frown on Windu's face.

"Okay." Giving the Councilor a second glance, Larisa pulled two sandwiches out of the bag and handed them to him. He unwrapped one of them as they walked over to the elevators.

"How is it?" she asked, watching him practically devour it.

"Mm. Delicious," he said around a large mouthful.

"I got them at some place called Vogginns, in case you're ever in that area." Larisa glanced expectantly back at Windu. He was focusing all of his attention on the elevator's slow climb.

He's in one of those moods again, she realized, coming up with a quick plan when they reached her stop. She stepped out of the elevator, waiting until the door started to close before whirling around and shoving a sandwich into Windu's hands. Grinning at the surprised look she glimpsed on his face, Larisa rushed down the hallway, just in case.

"She certainly is persistent," Tiin commented.

"Persistent was not the word I had in mind."

"If you really don't want it, I'll take it."

"That won't be necessary," Windu said in a dignified voice, slipping the sandwich into a pocket.

"No, of course not."

Windu pointedly ignored his friend's amusement as they left the elevator and proceeded on to the Council Chamber.

"Fascinating!" Larisa said aloud, leaning against a tree trunk studying her new datapad.

"What's fascinating?"

She started, then relaxed, seeing that Anakin was alone. "Hi. I'm studying the Quermians. Did you know that they have two brains?"

"No, I didn't."

"They also have four arms."

"Huh. So do the Tunroths."

"How was your mission?" Larisa asked, noticing his lack of interest.

"Same as always. Treaties that people don't want to agree to." He sat down next to her, picked up a fallen leaf and started shredding it, trying to figure out a way to broach the subject. "How have you been?"

"I'm fine."

"Good. My Master and I got back today."

"I know. I saw him earlier."

"Oh," Anakin said, then plowed ahead. "We heard the strangest rumor about you and Master Koth."

Larisa sighed and put the datapad down. "It's not a rumor. I can't really explain how it happened, though."

"You mean it is true? But... what about Obi-Wan?"

"It would never have worked, Anakin," she told him, putting the datapad down. "You can't make someone love you."

He looked startled for a second, then tossed the leaf aside. "Are you happy?" he asked at length.

Larisa looked up at the sky, noticing that the sun was setting as she considered his question. "Yes. I am."

"I'm glad," Anakin stated, quelling his initial disappointment.

"Thank you." She laid her head against his shoulder. "I wonder if they'll be happy."


"Obi-Wan and Amidala. I wouldn't be surprised if he does marry her."

Anakin stiffened slightly. "What makes you think that?"

"Well, they have known each other for years, after all."

"They're just friends."

Larisa drew back at his vehemence. "All right. If you say so."

Anakin closed his eyes a moment, calming himself. "We should go back inside. It's getting dark out."

"Okay. I'll see you tomorrow. Or will you be leaving again?" she asked, picking up the datapad and standing.

"We'll probably stay a few days to catch up on our lightsaber practices."

"Do you know where you're going next?" Larisa asked as they went in.

"Not yet. Maybe in a day or two."

"Hm. Well, have a good night," she said as they entered different elevators.

"You, too."

Engrossed in the datapad again, Larisa reluctantly turned it off when the door opened. She went to her room to use the fresher and undress, then looked through her nightgowns in the closet. Why bother wearing anything at all? she asked herself.

She shut the door, picked up the datapad, and crawled into bed to wait for Eeth to return, which took two hours.

"How are you feeling?" he asked when he finally entered the bedroom.

"Good," Larisa said, putting the datapad back on the table and stretching. "But I'd feel even better if you came to bed."

She laughed when he immediately complied.

"I've heard from Plo," Windu told the other Councilors two days later over the noon meal. "He said he may have discovered who has been helping the Mandalorians."

"But he didn't say who?" asked Billapa.

"Or how?" Mundi added.

"No, he had to cut the transmission short, but he is on his way back to the Temple as we speak."

*He'll be too late to accompany Oppo* Poof interjected.

"Plo also said he has some information that is of concern to Queen Amidala, and that she has to be told in person. I've already contacted her and she will be coming here tomorrow."

"Sending her a message would have been risky?" Mundi looked troubled.

"So it seems. We'll know what this is about as soon as he gets back."

"And then he'll no doubt wish to join the Republic forces at Gyndine, if only to help direct them," Billapa guessed.

"If that's what he wants," Windu said as the others nodded. "Oppo's decided to include Knight Kenobi and his Padawan in the group."

"He did?"

"Yes, and I agreed. It's about time for Skywalker to have some battle experience. They'll be leaving in an hour."

"Where are you going?" Billapa asked when Mundi rose to his feet."

"There's something I must do right now." He bowed to the table and hurried out the dining hall.

"Hey, Larisa!" Anakin called out, searching the garden for her.


He looked around three bushes and scratched his head. She had sounded close by. "Larisa?"


Anakin glanced around again, then turned and looked up at the tree behind him. "What are you doing up there?"

"I'm trying to get Rialth down."

"Be careful," he warned, hearing a loud crack, followed by a muted curse.

"I am." Grumbling to herself, Larisa caught hold of her pet's tail and reached up, repairing the tree branch she had broken. "Could you do me a favor and catch him?" she asked Anakin.

"Sure, but why did you go up there after him?"

"I need to make sure there's nothing wrong with him and he wouldn't come back down," she explained. "Are you ready?"

"Ready." He tracked the creature as it fell, catching it easily. Keeping a grip on it was the hard part, especially when it started twisting about, trying to bite him. "Could you hurry down here?"

"I'm coming. Rialth! Behave!"

"Here!" Anakin handed it to her the moment she was back on the ground.

"Thanks." Larisa quickly covered Rialth's eyes. "I need another favor. Please don't tell anyone about this."

"I won't, as long as you don't do it again."

"I won't, I promise." She sat down in a shady spot, brushed the leaves out of her hair, and began examining Rialth. "So, why were you looking for me?"

"Oh, yeah. Obi-Wan and I are going with Master Rancisis to fight the Mandalorians," he announced eagerly.

Larisa looked up at him in concern. "You're going to fight? In a battle?"

"Well, maybe. Obi-Wan said that Rancisis will be in charge of the entire army, and that we'll be there just to learn, but who knows what might happen."

Who indeed, she thought worriedly. "But you will be staying close to Master Rancisis?"

"Yes, along with some other Jedi Knights and Padawans. And Master Tiin. He's going too, but he'll probably be flying his own ship."

Distracted, Larisa lost her grip on Rialth when she heard someone coming. He pulled free and disappeared into the underbrush. I should have stayed in my room, she thought, watching Councilor Mundi and Obi-Wan walking down the path towards them.

"Larisa," Mundi greeted. "Anakin. Would you excuse us please?"

Anakin hesitated, glancing at Larisa before obeying.

"What do you want?" she asked after he'd gone.

"I came here to apologize," Obi-Wan answered.

"Fine. You're sorry. Now go away."

"Would you please hear him out before he leaves?" Mundi requested.

"Why should I? The last time I listened to him, he called me a whore." Larisa stood up and faced Obi-Wan. "That was all I ever was to you, wasn't it?"

He shook his head. "No. I never thought that of you. I was very angry when I said that."

"You're also a liar," she said, unimpressed. "You said you'd come back, and you went to Naboo instead. To be with her."

"That wasn't why I went there."

"Then why?"

"I'm not sure why," Obi-Wan admitted. "Maybe because Anakin wanted to visit Amidala. I don't know."

"You don't know?" Larisa shopped short, floundering. It sounded a lot like what happened with her and Eeth. Had that been the Force at work as well?

"No, I don't," he continued. "It was wrong, and I am very sorry."

She chewed her lip thoughtfully. "Do you think we could just be friends, for Anakin's sake?"

"I hope so," Obi-Wan said with a faint smile.

"He told me that you're both going to go fight the Mandalorians."

"Yes, but we're not likely to be involved in the actual battles. We'll just be there to observe."

"Just be careful anyway," Larisa said, hugging Obi-Wan tightly before stepping back. "Goodbye."


"Well, that went very well," Mundi said once she was out of earshot, pleased to have it settled amicably.

It was very hard, too, Obi-Wan thought, looking after her. "I have to go now or I'll be late." He bowed to the Councilor and went back to his quarters.

"What's wrong?" Larisa asked that evening when Eeth came into the room looking concerned. She jumped up from the sofa and ran over to him. "Has something happened?"

"No." He cocked his head at her. "Who were you with?"

"Huh? Oh. I talked to Obi-Wan and Anakin earlier. Are they all right?"

"Yes, they're fine," he assured her. That's odd, Eeth thought. She also smelled of wood. "The Mandalorians were already gone by the time they got there, but not before stripping many of the crops and herds on several planets."

"That's awful! Where did they go?"

"We don't know yet. There's no sign they've returned to their planet. One place they're not going is to the Hutts."

There's that name again. "What is a Hutt anyway?"

"Here." Eeth walked over to a shelf, pulled out one of the hologram devices and turned it on. "This is a Hutt."

"Really?" Larisa studied it intently. "Why are its eyes so big?"

"I don't know," he said, turning it off and putting it back.

"Hm. What do they have to do with the Mandalorians?"

"According to a smuggler Plo spoke to, the Hutts sent a very large shipment of plasteel to somewhere near M'Haeli. One that they were never paid for, it turns out."

"They must be furious."

"They are," Eeth confirmed, pulling her close.

"So what are Master Rancisis and the others going to do now?" Larisa asked, sliding her hands under his tunics.

"They're going to stay there a while and help arrange emergency supplies so the people don't starve during the winter. They'll also be searching for any clues to where the Mandalorians may have gone, but I doubt they'll find anything. All we can do now is wait."

"I can think of something else we can do," she whispered in his ear.

"Did you go see the healers today?"

"Yes. Everything's fine."

"And have you been studying that datapad?"

"Yes," Larisa sighed in frustration.

"Then I suppose the only thing left is this," Eeth said, sending her a mental image.



"Chancellor! Chancellor!"

"What?" Palpatine irritably turned towards the servant chasing after him in the hallway. Just when he thought he'd cleared out the last of these dithering idiots, another one shows up.

"We've received an urgent message from Boordi, and Amorris and Durren. They all say that the Mandalorians have attacked!"

Three worlds at the same time, he thought. They must have a formidable number of ships after all. "Inform the Senators that I am calling a meeting in one hour."

"Yes, Chancellor."

Palpatine went to his office and sat down, reviewing exactly what he was going to say to the Senate.

"So, how are you feeling today?" Master Ulizr asked as he finished the examination. "Any more nausea?"

"No, I took care of that," Larisa answered. "I've just been tired lately."

"I think I can guess why," Ciral said when Ulizr crossed the room to look through some datachips. "You're going to have to curtail that activity."

"I know." Larisa laced her hands over her stomach. It had only been a little more than a month and she was already starting to show. She looked up when Ulizr put the datachip away, frowning. "What is it?"

He quickly changed to a neutral expression and came back to the table. "Well, according to my notes, the child has not grown as much in the last few days. That doesn't mean it's anything serious," Ulizr added when she sat up in alarm. "We'll wait another week and then see how he's developing."

"I'm sure everything will be fine," Ciral said, patting her on the shoulder.

Larisa nodded, not believing them for a second. This is my fault. I must not have been paying enough attention, she thought, wondering how she could fix whatever was wrong. "Could I see the information you have on pregnancies?"

"Certainly. It's all in here," Ulizr said, showing her to a large drawer full of holocrons, each labeled with the name of a species. "I'm afraid they're not in any kind of order, so you'll have to look for the one you need."

"Okay. Thank you."

Larisa waited until they'd left the room before picking out two holocrons, one of humans and one of Zabraks, and activating them. Besides appearances, there were some other physical differences, but they were relatively minor. Nothing she couldn't handle.

She looked over the holocrons again carefully before putting them back, then lay down on the table and set about making a few small changes.

Seated at a table near the back of a bar, Maul listened attentively to the news on the Holonet, ignoring everything else. Finally, the long wait was over.

He left the bar, retrieved his speeder bike and made his way to the abandoned factory where he was keeping his ship. Out of habit, he took a longer route, weaving around miles of buildings on the off chance he was being followed.

Maul stopped in front of the factory door, using the Force to scan the area for intruders. Finding none, he went inside and stored the speeder in the Infiltrator's cargo hold. He paused by the medical droid he had recently purchased before heading to the cockpit.

One more check of the surroundings and the Infiltrator lifted into the air, through a hole in the factory's ceiling. The moment he put enough distance between himself and Coruscant, Maul set the coordinates for Korriban.

"I share your concern," Palpatine told the Amorrian Senator, putting as much sympathy he could muster into his voice. "But you must understand that these reports have not yet been substantiated." He waited for the furor to abate before saying more. "The Republic Army is not prepared to fight three battles at once."

"Then just how are you going to stop them?" demanded the Gran Senator, his box hovering closer to the Chancellor's platform than custom allowed.

"Something has to be done!" shouted another.

"It will be," Palpatine assured them. "I'm going to order the Jedi Knights to assist the Army, unless any of you have objections."

"We have none," declared the Senator from Durren, staring fiercely around at the others.

"Excellent. They'll be dispatched as soon as possible, and I am considering other options as well. This meeting is adjourned," Palpatine announced over the multitude of questions.

It was going exactly as predicted, he thought, leaving the Senators to argue over what he had meant.

Brought out of his meditation by the ship's alarm, Maul stood and went back to the cockpit, his eyes immediately drawn to the Jedi ship. There was a very powerful Jedi on board with the others this time, he sensed, one that was starting to become aware of his presence. Pity he could not stretch this out longer.

Swiftly locking all eight laser cannons at the ship, Maul fired, watching with immense satisfaction as it exploded. He guided the Infiltrator through the debris and down to the planet surface.

"I understand why the Chancellor would want the most experienced Jedi we have," Billapa said to Oppo Rancisis. They, along with Ki-Adi-Mundi, strode down a corridor, followed by his Apprentice. "But we should include some of the younger Knights as well, and we definitely shouldn't send the entire Council into battle."

"Who do you propose to remain behind?"

"Yarael, for one, since he has a new Apprentice."

"Uli, isn't it?" Mundi asked, picturing the small Twi'lek girl.

"Yes, and..." Billapa gasped when Rancisis suddenly staggered into her, knocking them both to the floor.

"Master!" Taoliss froze in place, torn between going to his Master, who was leaning heavily against the wall, grey-faced, and helping the two fallen Councilors.

"I'm all right," Mundi said, waving his Apprentice off.

"Oppo!" Coming to her senses, Billapa helped Taoliss roll the unconscious Rancisis over onto his back. "Call a healer!"

"Master? What's happened?"

Mundi took a shaky breath before answering. "Master Yaddle is dead."

"How could this happen?" Billapa asked no one in particular. "How?"

"Perhaps you can shed some light on this," Windu said, looking straight at Yoda.

"Answer to that I do not have," Yoda responded, his complexion a greenish-yellow. "Unclear it is."

"Could you at least tell us where so we can retrieve the bodies?" Billapa exclaimed, losing her patience.

"No bodies, there are. See that much I can. An explosion it was."

They all turned when the door to the healers' room opened and Master Miruche came out.

"How is he?" Billapa asked.

"He's sleeping quietly now. Having been Master Yaddle's Padawan, he felt her death very strongly."

"Do you know when he might wake?" asked Windu.

"In the morning, most likely. I'm afraid I cannot allow any visitors until then."

"Understand we do," Yoda said.

Miruche nodded to the three Councilors and went to check on another patient.

"We can't delay any longer. We've lost contact with Durren, and two more worlds have reportedly been attacked," Windu said. "Plo and Saesee will go in Oppo's place. I'll inform the Chancellor that he will be joining them as soon as he's able. I'm also sending fifty healers with them."

"Which Councilors will be staying?" Billapa asked him.

"Ngr'Savh, and Yarael, as you suggested. Mundi, too, given his Padawan's current state. As leader of the Council, I will have to stay as well."

Yoda nodded. "Keep watch over the Temple you must."

"Stay safe," Windu instructed, embracing his former Padawan. "You'd better go get ready now. May the Force be with you."

"May the Force be with us all." Billapa bowed to them and went back to her quarters, quickly removing her customary loose gown and changing to tunics and trousers. She opened a small case and took out her lightsaber, her fingers gliding over its casing before she clipped it to her belt. "Zyrid."

"Yes, Master?" her Apprentice answered, appearing in the doorway between their rooms.

"Please contact the Temple gardener and ask him to look after my plants during our absence."

"Right away, Master. Are we leaving now?"

"In ten minutes. I'm going to meditate first," Billapa told her. She knelt down on the mat and drifted into a deep trance.

"You're back early," Larisa commented when Eeth entered their quarters.

"I need to pack a few things," he told her, going to the closet and pulling out an extra set of clothes.

She dropped her half-eaten sandwich on the table. "You're leaving?"

"Yes. I'm going to Amorris," Eeth said, folding them and placing them in a bag.

"Amorris? But... But isn't that at the other end of the galaxy? Why would you go there?"

"It's one of the planets the Mandalorians attacked this morning," he explained. "The Chancellor is sending Jedi Knights to aid the Republic Army."

"Well, just tell him to send someone else."

Eeth gave her a puzzled look. "We can't tell the Supreme Chancellor what to do."

She jumped up out of the chair. "I don't care! Do it anyway!"

"I'll come back as soon as I can," he said in an attempt to reassure her.

Larisa shook her head frantically. This can't be happening again! "Don't say that! I don't want you to leave!"

"Calm down." Eeth took her by the elbow and sat her down on the sofa. "It's our duty as members of the Council to lead the Jedi. You do understand that, don't you?"

"Yes, I understand," Larisa said, ducking her head.

"Good. I will come back," he said with surety.

"Yes, you'll come back," she repeated, keeping her eyes fixed on the floor.

That will have to do, he thought, looking at the time.

When I do return, I shall ask her to share a lifebond with me, Eeth decided as he continued packing.

Larisa bleakly watched him close the bag and walk out the door.


Twilight Chapters 3-4