Many Happy Returns: Chapter Forty
Rating: PG
Iella

Rongo's ears were still ringing from the throaty roar of the cannon, so he missed hearing Iliana's voice screaming his name. It was therefore with considerable surprise that he turned in response to what he thought was one of the Rancors attacking him from behind, and had to halt in mid-swing as she grabbed him in a fierce hug. He barely had time to catch the relief in her eyes before she was forced to leap away quickly to avoid being pierced by a thrusting Rancor vibroblade.

Rongo lunged at the intruder, gripping on to the wrist holding the blade and viciously forcing it up and then back towards the man's swarthy face. Eyes popping with horror, the swooper released the weapon as if it had suddenly become molten, only to have his unprotected midriff become a convenient punching bag for Rongo to release some of his anger and frustration. The Rancor reeled away dazed colliding with Chopper as he was thrown backward by a hefty Trandoshan who was himself immediately leapt on by Treetrunk in retaliation.

Rongo glanced around wildly to find Iliana again, and felt his heart miss a beat. She was back on her feet, but completely unaware of the man standing directly behind her — a man who caught Rongo's eye and stared back through greasy bangs with a gaze that was both hungry and yet curiously vacant. A look that suggested no humanity whatsoever, or that whatever empathy with others had once existed had long been extinguished, and all that was left was base instinct. Aware that Rongo had noticed him, Slash grinned — slowly, and with a strange cold enjoyment.

And somewhere at the back of Rongo's mind as he charged to protect the young, beautiful woman he loved with all his heart, something clicked into place, and connections that had been half-forming in his thoughts for the last few months suddenly meshed. This was no life for Iliana — no life for any of them. Even with his best efforts to improve the gang's lot, they were all still trapped in an endless cycle of vendettas and retaliation — and all for what end? Survival? Survival to achieve what?

The pain of his brother's death; his concern for Iliana — and for all his brothers, as well as the two young Jedi who had touched him in inexplicable ways — filled his soul, and surged through his body turning sinew to steel, and desperation to grim determination. He saw, to his relief, Slash cast Iliana aside — and the last thing he heard before the resounding crash of bone against bone was the Rancor leader's animal howl of triumph.

* * * * *

Time and space had always been an endless source of fascination to Anakin, and here in the heat of battle it struck him again how fluid these concepts could be. Here milliseconds carried the same import as eons, and the perimeter of the room within the perimeter of the warehouse was a world of its own within a galaxy. A galaxy where yet again evil and greed had taken seed and been allowed to run rampant.

In a curious way he could find more in common with the Yuuzhan Vong warrior he was fighting than Tag, or the Rancor swooper who was currently twirling a whip made of a section of chain looped and attached to a hefty section of durasteel. At least the warrior was committed to an ethos, to a belief system that, no matter how erroneous, was at least focused on values larger than self-interest. The warrior at least understood the idea of honour. It was dubious that the Rancor had even heard the word, let alone assigned any kind of abstract meaning to it. And Tag's sense of honour appeared to have become so skewed by psychosis that it was impossible to even try and understand where he was coming from.

And so milliseconds stretched into seconds, and seconds to minutes, clocking the strikes, the parries, the sharp pain of the errant laser blast that had caught him by surprise and caused him to drop his lightsaber; the immediacy of Tahiri's response; the awe-inspiring beauty of the blue curve inscribed by her flying saber; the comfort of his grip on the metal, still warm from her hand. The sense of her presence nearby — fierce, pure, vibrant — was a melody, faint but still clear above the discord, and as familiar as the drum beat of his own heart. Beyond the focused energy of the Yuuzhan Vong leader and the frenzied oscillations of the Rancor, Anakin could hear the fluctuations in Tahiri's progress as much as he could feel them. But rather than finding this connection distracting, it was empowering. It was as if the two of them had been transported into a whole new level of the Force where individual boundaries ceased as such, and energy was shared and deployed for the maximum benefit of both. At the same time that he was countering the singular attacks by both of his adversaries, Anakin was sharing in her triumphant defeat of Jaytee, and bolstering her as she resisted the demons of anger and pain tempting her to kill the hapless boy.

But no matter how strong or committed a Jedi he was, Anakin was still a Solo — and there were certain traditions pertaining to that side of his identity that had to be maintained, no matter how dire the circumstances. In fact, the more dire the situation, the more important the rituals became.

Well — it helped the morale.

Sensing her approach through the clamour, he managed to catch her eye just as she shot out from between two of the Rancors, timing her leap perfectly so that the swipe both men took at her resulted in both knocking the other senseless.

He cocked an eyebrow as she staggered to her feet. "Having a good time without me, huh?" he huffed. "I suppose you want your lightsaber back now?"

Tahiri's answering grin faded quickly as her gaze shifted to focus on something beyond his left shoulder.

"I dunno. Maybe you still need it more than me," she observed succinctly at about the same instant that Anakin felt the whirlwind rush of an oncoming amphistaff.

But he was already rising in the air, already hitting the cut-off switch on Tahiri's blade and preparing to throw it down to her. The other warrior, who obviously had been caught up in the tangle of swoopers, may have thought his lack of presence in the Force would allow him to sneak up on the young Jedi and take him by surprise. But between the tattling lambent in Anakin's saber and the mental warning he received from Tahiri, such a tactic proved fruitless. It gave Anakin a certain perverse amusement to see the look on the newcomer's face when instead of joining his captain in facing Anakin, he found himself face to face with a very determined, very focused, very lethal Tahiri.

* * * * *

Having begun in the company of Vehn and Blue, Lando had quickly become close to more Rancors than he would have preferred — not to mention one of the Yuuzhan Vong, who was fortunately downed by some people he assumed belonged to the same gang as Blue. It was very confusing in the gloom, as one rancor-hide jacket looked very much like any other. He just had to hope that the members of the Black Knights he hadn't met, who had been with Anakin and Tahiri, would have enough sense to identify themselves to him if he showed any sign of whacking them. But he had noticed — albeit fleetingly — that there was an indefinable difference between the two factions. It might have been something in their eyes, or maybe it was just his instinctive ability to read people that he had spent a lifetime developing. Whatever it was, he hoped it wouldn't let him down, because it was obvious the Black Knights couldn't afford to lose too many from their side.

He was also extremely uneasy about Tag. Although it was difficult to see above the heads of those involved in the battle, it was alarmingly clear to Lando that Tag's prone form was no longer lying where it had been. Which meant he had recovered enough to move clear. And Lando was sure that there was no way the man was going to give up easily. Even if he had no more people to call on, what else might he have in the warehouse that he could use against them?

But any thoughts Lando might have had on the subject were quickly wiped from his mind. Dodging to avoid a sideways blow from one of Tag's men, Lando lurched away from the main group to be met with a piercing shriek warning him to duck. Something whistled shrilly through the air just above his head, and as he rolled away he caught a glimpse in his peripheral vision of the glittering serpent eyes of an amphistaff — eyes that appeared to mock his hasty, and somewhat clumsy, retreat.

Heart racing and temporarily out of breath, Lando paused before trying to regain his feet, and took stock of his surroundings. Unwittingly he had almost lumbered into the middle of a grim battle between Tahiri and one of the Yuuzhan Vong warriors, who appeared to be one of only two left standing judging by the corpses he could make out in the gloom. There was another lying not far from one of his fallen comrades, attempting rather weakly to sit up, although the black gore staining his lower legs suggested that the manoeuvre was proving more difficult than he expected. The mere fact the alien was alive, however, was in Lando's book a sign of danger, for he knew only too well their total disregard for pain or the prospect of death. But no sooner had he made up his mind to eradicate this particular potential threat, and stood up, then something seared the flesh at the top of his ear making him flinch and, very quickly, he hit the ground again. He peered in the direction from where he guessed the shot had come, and caught sight of a figure atop the fallen section of roof aiming again in his direction. He raised his blaster and fired, but to his surprise the erstwhile sniper was already toppling in a lazy slow-motion roll toward the ground. A movement caught his attention, and he realised the killing shot had come from someone partially hidden behind the upturned snack cabinet near the stairwell entrance, but then his mouth fell open and he gave a whoop. It was Tendra! Which meant, hopefully, that Qorl was all right.

Willing his wife to stay put, but feeling nonetheless invigorated, Lando turned around to find his view obscured by what he initially thought was two swoopers fighting in close association. It came as a surprise, therefore, for him to realise that the two heads he could see actually belonged to one body, and that that body was currently preoccupied, along with the other Yuuzhan Vong warrior, in fighting Anakin. The trio dodged and side-stepped, trading places and blows, moving as if bound together within a force field of purple light.

Lando hesitated. Leaping into the fray unannounced held the danger of upsetting the curious dynamic that had evolved in this particular battle, and might put Anakin off his stride. Also, Lando realised he wasn't exactly geared up with the right weapons for such close hand-to-hand combat, having only the old blaster Chukka had given him. He was still in the process of thinking his way through the problem when providence decided to smile on him. The swooper, dodging a lateral sweep from Anakin's lightsaber, suddenly landed within an arm's length of the spot where Lando was standing. The man teetered for a moment, one head shaking as if to clear the mind inside it while the other emitted a strange wheezing laugh, and then he began to raise his weapons, obviously intending to leap back into the fray.

Lando studied the looped chain-whip and the long-handled vibroblade, and made his selection, but being the gentleman he was he decided it was only fair to inform the swooper of his intentions. Not that he expected the man would appreciate the gesture. And he certainly didn't take kindly to the tap on the back alerting him to Lando's presence, nor the whack on the side of the head with the blaster butt that allowed Lando to grab the vibroblade. But having the weapon in hand proved most useful as the enraged swooper came at him chain-whip swinging, and Lando couldn't help a slight tinge of satisfaction knowing that all Anakin and Tahiri had to deal with, for the moment anyway, was one Yuuzhan Vong warrior apiece.

And considering the lengths that the two teenagers had gone to to rescue both him and Tendra, it was the very least he could do.

* * * * *

Bomar Tag was in pain. His head was pounding like a hydro-hammer to the extent that everything he could see was tinged with a pulsating red, and gravity felt as if it had suddenly doubled. He wasn't even sure how long he'd been lying on the floor of the old locker room, but he suspected it hadn't been more than a few minutes because it was quite obvious from the thunderous roar coming from up the corridor, that the fight was still in full tilt.

He vaguely remembered coming to amidst a haze of dust and screaming voices and lasers. His legs were sandwiched in between the wall and a huge chunk of what he surmised must have been part of the roof — although how that had got there he had no idea. He'd tried struggling to his feet, but narrowly missed being hit by a bolt from a blaster, and it was then, in a moment of inspiration, he'd remembered that on the other side of the wall was the old staff kitchen, which in turn led out into the former locker rooms now used to house old files. The wall had been shattered in several places by broken roof tiles, and he had managed to summon enough strength to use one of the pieces as a lever to prise open a gap just large enough for him to squeeze painfully through. He had pushed enough of the wall panelling back in place to cover his escape hole, and then, grazed and bleeding from large splinters, he had staggered down the corridor and into the locker room, but at that point unconsciousness had claimed him again — until now.

He clambered sluggishly to his knees and pulled himself up slowly using a set of nearby shelves as a prop. The room spun a few times and then stabilised, although the walls still looked red. He cursed quietly to himself — the familiar mantra, strangely comforting in its vehement damnation of the Jedi and all those of similar ilk. They, who had robbed him of the one parent he had loved, deserved everything the Yuuzhan Vong could throw at them.

"She never hurt anybody, never hurt a soul." His throat was clogged with dust and his voice sounded like a rasp. He needed a drink, but the plumbing in these rooms had been disconnected once they had fallen into disuse.

"Sith'n, sith'n Jedi!" The outburst produced a spasm of coughing that he was convinced was going to pull his ribcage apart. He fell back against the wall, resting his head back so he was staring at the dingy ceiling with its peeling phlegm-coloured paint.

"It used to be a blue sky," he murmured. "Was always blue when she was around." He closed his eyes remembering: the summer sky, the orchard next to the old family home ... everything was so ... pure, clean, warm. He saw his mother smiling, reading stories to him on a blanket under the trees. She had a special smile that she kept just for him. It told him that he was special, and that she loved him better than anyone else ... better than everyone. And he would do anything to see her smile like that.

His eyes flew open. If only that was his last memory of her — happy, safe, cherished. He could feel his fists clenching, his breathing becoming ragged, and not because of the muck in his lungs. He tried not to look, tried not to see her broken body, tried not to see the lovely face deformed in a rictus of incomprehension and horror.

All because of the Jedi. All because the villagers had agreed to help them — stupid, stupid people. And she hadn't even been one of those who had sheltered them. But the troopers wouldn't listen ... wouldn't listen as she pleaded with them.

And where was he when he needed her? Her husband. Where was he?

"Coward!" The word exploded from his bruised lips and blood-flecked spittle spattered on to his chin. "Coward!" he howled. "Hiding out in some monastery — gorging on that mind-bending trash they feed you ... oh, oh, the universe is so beautiful when you're one of the chosen. No need to get your hands dirty with hard graft — just sit on your butt visualising and let somebody else worry about supporting you ... supporting your family. Protecting them." He choked on something halfway between a cynical laugh and a sob. "Oh yeah — protecting us. So where were the gods when she needed them, Daddy?"

Named after his father's heroes, the B'omarr Monks, he'd once considered changing his first name to something that would honour his beloved mother. But then he realised there were ways to honour her that were far grander than something so simple and cosmetic as a change of name. There was his life — there was living and doing the things he was sure would make her proud: supporting families by providing work for their men, protecting mothers, like Gassanta, from the cruelty of the universe; saving children ... like Dajira. Even when they repaid him with ingratitude.

But that was part of the suffering that those who put their lives on the line for others had to endure, something his cowardly father, safe in his cloistered existence never knew. That was what made a man a man.

Well, he was a man. And he wasn't afraid to stand up against the tide of sycophants and simpletons and say that the Jedi, and all those other freaks that promoted themselves as righteous, were wrong. In fact not only were they wrong, but they were evil, because it was their influence on the powers that be in the New Republic that had created a situation where millions of innocent women and children were now being slaughtered. And it could all be avoided so easily. Get rid of the root of the problem, and the problem would cease to exist.

So he'd dedicated his life to wiping out the Jedi. He'd been patient building up his resources and his contacts, knowing that one day the chance would arrive — and now it had.

And his name? That was a constant reminder of what not to become — a daily source of motivation to destroy the things he hated.

Bomar Tag straightened and pushed himself away from the support of the wall. He was not going to relinquish his stand against the Jedi and their stupid friends. He would take them on alone if necessary. He had the power.

He smiled, even though it hurt, and his gaze shifted to the old grey metal cupboard jammed in between two filing cabinets. He'd forgotten about it when he was organising back-up weapons when the first confrontation with the Jedi brats in his goods delivery bay had gone awry, but now he remembered, and he complimented himself yet again for his policy of preparedness — and of never throwing out anything that might still prove useful. Especially anything associated with firepower.

The lock responded with a dull twang to the code he keyed in, and the door squeaked in protest at the sudden demand for it to exercise its rusty hinges and reveal what it had been storing. A clutch of Nacht-5 smoke grenades, obtained years earlier, long before he left Pantan, as part payment for some engineering work he'd done for a group of smugglers down on their luck and needing some hasty repairs for their ship. And now they were going to prove, yet again, his foresight.

The old cabinet might have been showing the signs of time and decay, but the same could not be said for the grenades. He congratulated himself as he carefully extracted them from the silica sheets they were wrapped in, and held one up, testing the weight against the muscles in his throwing arm. Of course the things would be useless unless he had some form of protection from the cloying smoke they would release, but he had that potential problem well in hand. And again he smiled as he reached for another package — a lumpy oblong, which once unzipped revealed a peculiar device that resembled some kind of grotesque insect face. Grotesque or not, it would be the thing that would protect him from the smoke. It was going to give him immense pleasure watching through its bug-eyed goggles as they all succumbed to the contents of the Nacht-5s. In an enclosed space, the things might well prove almost lethal. There was the slight difficulty of not knowing how the Yuuzhan Vong would react, but even if he had to quickly drag them out of the affected area himself, he was sure that his gift of two comatose, and by then blaster-stunned, Jedi would make up for any inconvenience caused them.

And in return, he'd ensure Balmorra's preservation, and Balmorra would reward him. Oh, how it would reward him — the saviour of a world. A man who by sheer hard graft and self-belief had beaten the Jedi and put them down where they belonged.

How proud his mother would be — and at last he would know that she could rest in peace. As could they all.

Moving as quickly as his aching body would allow, Tag untangled the straps on the gas mask, checking the nasal filter to make sure its fragile membranes were still intact. He grunted with satisfaction and hung the device around his neck, and then began loading as many of the Nacht-5 sticks into the zipbag as it would hold, remembering also that he had to be able to slide all this back through the hole in the wall. He took a deep breath and turned toward the door, aware once again of the battle sounds rumbling down the corridor like angry waves.

Soon it would be his moment — his hour. And there was nothing or nobody capable of stopping him.

* * * * *

Despite the fact his adversary was proving to be more creative than Anakin had expected, he couldn't help thinking — albeit briefly — what a strange thing battle was. It could almost be described as organic; and like organisms, each battle possessed its own idiosyncratic signature, its own pulse — even its own life cycle. And there was something about the rhythm of this battle — the one that had started in the vehicle bay between his group and Tag, and that had now evolved into a full-scale conflict between Rancors and Black Knights, Jedi and Yuuzhan Vong — that suggested it was beginning to reach its climax. He felt it in the staccato strikes from the warrior, building one on the other in a savage crescendo that left him little time to open his senses to gauge how the others were faring. He could hear it in the gathering momentum of thuds and ragged attempts to catch breath by both Lando and the two-headed swooper. He saw it in frantic snapshots as his personal battle arena became entangled with both Tahiri's and also Lando's. He had to focus very carefully on his immediate sphere of responsibility for fear of placing either of them in danger from a strike from his opponent's weapon, or becoming an unwitting target himself for a wayward blow from Tahiri's adversary or from the maniac swooper.

He leapt back neatly to place himself a few centimetres clear of the needling fangs of the warrior's staff, and heard a gasp from Lando directly behind him.

"You okay?" he shouted, flipping his lightsaber up into a diagonal guard to counter a full-bodied slash by the war leader.

"Testing a theory!" Lando's voice strong, but tinged with more than a little discomfort, replied.

"You mean that tendency he has to lead from the —" Anakin channelled his energy into a shove with his weapon that forced his adversary to scuttle quickly back, "— left?" he finished with a growl.

"You noticed?" Lando almost managed to sound disappointed.

"Yeah. Didn't get to capitalise on it though." Anakin was disappointed. He had noticed quite early on in the fight that the twin with the annoying laugh lagged clearly behind the other, and it was quite obvious that the brains behind the twosome rested in the left-side head. But the job of keeping both opponents at bay had given him little opportunity to apply that knowledge to his advantage.

"I don't care how you do it," Tahiri grunted acidly as her hasty retreat from her opponent's hungry staff brought her into hearing range, "as long as you disable his voice box. If I have to put up with any more of that stupid laughing, I'll deal to him myself."

"The lady has spoken, Lando!" Anakin warned.

"It's so easy when you're young and supple," Lando grumbled, and lurched to avoid yet another swipe from the swooper's chain, the movement taking him out of earshot of the two young Jedi.

Although, actually, he thought, as he dodged yet another lasso whirl of the chain, I'm not doing too badly for a man of mature years. In fact, he added, regarding the body of one of the Yuuzhan Vong downed by Anakin earlier, I think I've discovered a way of pleasing her ladyship. It's simply a matter of careful, he shuffled sideways, holding both vibroblade and blaster close to his chest, positioning. He shuffled a little further pulling his elbows in close to his sides to present a narrow target, watching the swooper's reaction.

Predictably the right-side head gave his signature chuckle. More interesting was the reaction of his twin, who was studying Lando with a cross between amusement and curiosity. Lando grinned to himself. No doubt if he was confronted by someone who was dressed — or maybe not dressed was a more accurate description — like he was, he'd be equally as uncertain of how seriously to take them. He could almost see the swooper's brain clicking through a number of possible explanations for his bizarre appearance.

He sidled to the left a little more, disguising his motion as a somewhat clownish attempt to ape the twinkletoes dance steps of a professional boxer. The swooper moved with him, fascinated by the show he was providing but still determined to keep him within range. Lando measured the distance between swooper and fallen warrior.

Just a few more steps and ... .

Quick as a flash he lashed out with a rapid right-handed thrust with his blade. More surprised than scared, the leading head flinched and jerked back, a movement that caught the slower twin unaware and made him stumble. This in turn unbalanced the thinking half of the pair, making him step hurriedly back to try and regain his equilibrium — but instead of solid floor, he found the somewhat spongey abdomen of the dead Yuuzhan Vong. His foot slipped and, before he could react, he was falling, pulling his other half with him, until both landed like a sack of topatoes on the ground. Lando took careful aim with his blaster and fired ... and then cursed. Either Chukka had forgotten to check the power pack before he handed it over, or the weapon was faulty. He gritted his teeth in the hope it was just a temporary glitch and fired again, but the swooper remained stubbornly uninjured.

Thinking quickly, Lando tossed the useless blaster aside intending to attack with his vibroblade, but saw to his chagrin that the man was already back on his feet. He was vaguely aware of a fleshy thud and a howl of anger somewhere to his left, but the significance of these events was lost — overwhelmed by the sight of the now angry swooper charging toward him swinging the chain whip. Lando mustered his flagging resources and braced himself wearily for another round, when suddenly a vermillion streak emanating from somewhere behind him hit the oncoming Rancor square in the middle of his chest. The man sank slowly to his knees, his left-side head lolling. The other opened his mouth as if he was trying to give one last chuckle, but the only sound that escaped was a sickening gurgle, and then there was silence. For one crazy moment Lando thought Tahiri must have decided to be true to her threat and take matters into her own hands, when a figure dressed a little like he was stepped up beside him.

"Don't really go along with that saying that two heads are better than one, you know," Vehn observed, in a matter-of-fact tone.

"No. It seems to be more a case of the left hand not knowing what the right is doing," Lando agreed, trying to keep his voice even although his sides were heaving. He turned to Vehn, and was in the process of trying to conjure up a thankful grin when he caught the warning look in his friend's eyes. He followed the pilot's gaze and groaned at the sight of the two oncoming and enraged Rancors.

"You killed Ding-Dong!" one of them yelled accusingly. "You gonna pay for that!"

"I know I'm beginning to sound like C3PO," Lando muttered, palming his vibroblade into a more comfortable grip, "but will this never end!"

* * * * *

Tahiri breathed deeply in an effort to calm the sense of growing frustration she could feel whittling away at her concentration. She had managed to establish a feel for her opponent's particular fighting rhythm, as Anakin had taught her, but all that had done, it appeared, was to create a curious balance with neither she nor the warrior able to gain an advantage. She felt as though they had been circling, striking and trying to catch each other out for hours, and although she had no immediate fears about her own fitness levels, it annoyed her to realise that the Yuuzhan Vong appeared to be similarly unperturbed about his.

Take your time. Have patience.

She wasn't sure whether the thoughts were hers or Anakin's, but she dutifully pushed away the gnawing desire to break her pattern and try something reckless. Whoever the voice belonged to, it was right — time was immaterial. All that mattered was that she maintained her composure and remained vigilant for the break that would surely come.

And as usual when it did, it arrived in a most unexpected form — a blaster that appeared to have suddenly grown wings, and that rocketed through the air and hit the warrior just beside his left eye, eliciting a furious yelp. In fact it was so unexpected, Tahiri almost failed to recognise this as the saving moment until it was too late. It was only as the warrior began to recover from his dazed stumble, and his hand went up unthinkingly to the side of his head to brush away the blood before it blurred his vision, that she overcame her own surprise and saw her opportunity. Grasping the pommel of her lightsaber with both hands she charged forward and drove the humming azure blade unerringly into the alien's unprotected armpit.

The warrior's body twitched and then convulsed, but for an instant remained upright, spitted on the shimmering shaft that had emerged on the other side of his neck bathing his face in its eerie glow. Then slowly he began to collapse in on himself, prompting Tahiri to quickly deactivate her weapon and leap back for fear he might still be capable of one last dying thrust with his staff. For a few seemingly interminable seconds his legs, trembling, held his weight so that he stood hunched over, with curls of steam spiralling off the cauterised flesh, creating an effect almost like a shaper's tendrilled headdress in the cool air. And then quite suddenly he collapsed.

Tahiri, still in battle crouch, watched, almost disbelieving the sight before her — but the Yuuzhan Vong remained convincingly still. The only movement came from his amphistaff that, whether out of habit or something close to kinship, slithered up on to the warrior's torso and curled itself around his arm.

Another second ticked past. Tahiri straightened, and took a cleansing breath to clear her thoughts and steady her racing pulse. On her next breath she opened her focus to the area immediately around her and sensed as much as saw the person she was seeking just beyond a tussle of combatants that included Lando and, to her elation, Vehn.

She paused long enough to convince herself that her instinct to rejoin Anakin wasn't simply the voice of her emotions, for if Lando and Vehn needed her more, then it was her role as a Jedi to go to their aid. But when she rechecked and saw that Anakin had been singled out by yet another Rancor, so that he was being forced to battle on two fronts as before, she knew where she was needed. And sending him the message that she was on her way, she launched herself into the air, soaring over the still smouldering corpse of the dead warrior, and landed squarely on her feet behind Anakin's new opponent.

He swung around startled by the snap-hiss ignition of a lightsaber, and found himself confronted by a girl who, despite her breathtakingly pretty features, had the most unnerving smile he had ever seen.





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