Monday, July 03, 2006

Chapter Twenty-Four

The hovercraft traveled through the foothills, approaching a huge cave opening. It had to be a good 20 meters in height, almost 100 meters wide, a yawning mouth in the side of the mountain. Vader brought the craft into the mouth of the cave. He had travelled a full kilometer from the ship, and was grateful to sense that his Force powers had returned. Suddenly, the terrain was no longer dark, but was rife with meaning.

And the ‘meaning’ he sensed coming from the cave was in the form of 2 life-forms, both sentient, and both Force sensitive.

He stopped about 30 meters inside the mouth of the cave, and powered the hovercraft down. He exited the hovercraft, reaching in for a lamp. Once switched on, he saw the small metal building to his left. It was about 4 meters tall, and 30 meters on a side, with no windows.

He walked around to the back of the building, further inside the cave. There he found a door, and a window. There was a light on somewhere inside the building. He could see no movement inside, but then it was very late in the night here. Surely the occupants were fast asleep.

There was no comm button. There was a doorknob. He was loathe to simply break in -- he needed to possibly win these people’s trust. That will be some trick, he thought. No matter, he must try to get these people’s sympathy and assistance willingly, before he gave in to using force. As it was, he was so exhausted he wasn’t sure he was up to using force.

Diplomacy was not his strong suit, even when he was a Jedi. But exhaustion was about to force him to depend upon that route.

He sighed inaudibly from inside his mask, and knocked on the front door.

He heard someone talking inside, walking towards the door. Then the door opened, and an old man in robes was staring up at him, groggily. As the man registered who was standing in front of him, his eyes went wide.

“Gilly, I think we’re under arrest!” He called to an old woman behind him, also wearing robes, who was stumbling into the room behind the old man, probably coming from their bedroom.

“Mortis, what did you say?” the woman walked over, appraised the situation, eyes wide with surprise when she saw who their visitor was.

Vader decided it would be best to cut to the chase. “Are you two the shamans?”

“No... m’Lord... they’ve all left. Order 66 scared them off.” Mortis said.

Vader couldn’t tell if the man was lying or not. He was too tired. But he knew Mortis was Force sensitive.

“Please... I need to find them.” Vader said.

Gilly face changed from being slightly fearful, to suddenly filled with compassion.

“Won’t you please come in and sit down?” she asked Vader.

Mortis looked questioningly at Gilly, but moved out of the way so Vader could come in. Gilly guided Vader over to the kitchen table and sat him down in one of the kitchen chairs. Mortis looked cautiously out the still open door, and once he realized there were no stormtroopers outside, he closed the door.

Mortis walked over, cautiously. His wife, Gilly, had an uncanny ability to read people... but her sudden friendliness with the Dark Lord was unnerving.

Gilly dragged a chair over so she could better face Vader, and sat down in it. “What is it that you need?” She asked.

“I need the shamans to help a friend of mine.” Vader said, uncertain how much he should tell them.

“You’re not here for help... you just want to arrest or kill any Force users you find.” Mortis said.

Gilly seemed not to hear her husband. “What is wrong with your friend?”

Vader turned to Mortis. “I am not here to arrest or kill you or the shamans.” He turned back to Gilly. “It’s a long story, one that I would rather tell the shamans in private.”

Gilly said “We’re the shamans. We’re all that’s left of them. The rest fled the planet when the order to kill all Jedi came down. They felt that they would be grouped together with the Jedi, and decided it was time to make themselves scarce. We fled the city and decided to live in the cave we had been using to train our members.”

Mortis gave Gilly an angry stare. Next she would be telling him where all the other members had fled to, and what their names were.

Vader stared at Gilly, rather astonished at her honesty. “You are taking a big risk telling me all this.” Vader said.

“You’re going to have to trust us if we are to help you. Now, tell us what is wrong with your friend.” Gilly answered.

Vader looked at her, then at Mortis, who was obviously having a hard time watching Gilly be so cooperative with the Sith Lord.

Vader couldn’t help his curiosity. “Why are you even willing to help me?” he asked.

Mortis said, “I’m not sure I’m willing to help you. My wife is willing to help you because she is compassion personified, and can tell you are... in great distress.”

Gilly said, “I can tell that you mean us no harm, and that you have a request that we will be willing to fulfill.”

“You do not even know what I am going to ask of you.” Vader said.

“I don’t need to.” Gilly said. “Now what does your friend need from us? And who is your friend?”

“My friend is someone you may remember. Her name is Sasha Yod.” Vader said.

“Of course I remember her! What’s happened to the girl?” Gilly asked, concern written all over her face.

“She has been possessed by the spirit of a deceased Sith Lord.” Vader explained.

“What?” Mortis exclaimed.

Gilly shook her head.

“She was using the Dark Side, allowing it to fully take over. The Sith Lord, Darth Hedra, was entombed in an obelisk near to Sentinel... to Sasha... when Sasha allowed the Dark Side fully in. Something about Sasha made her vulnerable to Hedra taking over her body.” Vader said. He found himself leaning on the table in front of him. He was starting to feel nauseated from lack of rest.

Mortis moved to stand behind Gilly, his hands on her shoulders.

“You aren’t telling us everything.” Mortis said.

“The Emperor intended for this to happen. He selected Sasha for training in the Dark Side because he knew she would be an appropriate vessel for Darth Hedra.” Vader said.

Mortis stared at Vader in confusion. “Why would you choose to stand in the way of the Emperor’s plans?”

Vader remained silent.

Gilly read Vader’s emotions. “Oh...” she said. “You’re in love with her.”

Mortis’s head snapped down to look at his wife, incredulously.

Vader hated being read this easily. He merely nodded slightly in acknowledgment.

Gilly looked up at her husband. “Sasha could charm a deranged Wookie strung out on death sticks.”

Gilly turned back to Vader. “Sorry, I didn’t mean that in an insulting fashion. I just wouldn’t have thought...”

“That I could feel love for anyone?” Vader remarked, dryly.

“Well...” Gilly sighed.

“Will you help Sasha?” Vader said.

Gilly looked back up at her husband.

“What will happen to Sasha after we’ve helped her?” Mortis asked.

“What do you mean?” Vader said.

“Will the Emperor come after her? Was she fully committed to the Dark Side? If not, would you force her to go back to the Dark Side?” Mortis elaborated.

“The Emperor will not be pleased. He will hunt for her. I will make sure he cannot find her. As to the rest... that is up to her.” Vader rumbled.

“You will protect her from the Emperor... even if she should completely reject the Dark Side, and then join the remaining Jedi?” Mortis asked.

Vader sat silently, considering. “I will not allow the Emperor to harm her.” he finally said.

“I find that hard to believe.” Mortis said.

“I don’t.” Gilly said, looking up at her husband.

After a moment’s thought, Mortis asked, “Do we have your word that you will do nothing to harm Sasha, should she leave the Dark Side?”

“You have my word.” Vader solemnly said.

Gilly stood up. “Take us to her.”

Vader led the shamans to the hovercraft. They rode the short distance to the ship, while Vader explained that Sentinel was currently sedated, and that he had the Force nullifying creature on board to ensure she would be easy to handle. To his surprise, the shamans told him they would not need the creature removed... they would be able to drive Hedra out with the creature still present.

“You see, we can’t drive Hedra out with our Force abilities. We will instead be asking for help from a Higher Power, the one from which the good side of the Force itself emanates, to intervene on Sasha’s behalf.” Mortis explained.

“A Higher Power?” Vader asked.

“Yes.” Gilly said, without giving any further explanation.

“But... won’t the Force nullification also affect this... Higher Power’s Force abilities?” Vader asked, his exhaustion only amplifying his confusion.

“The Force nullification only disables the living’s connection to their Force abilities. It’s not going to nullify the Higher Power’s access to it’s own abilities!” Gilly further explained.

Vader suddenly felt very unsure of these two people. All this talk of a Higher Power, something above the Force, that actually emanated the Force itself? But then, it made him think of how Sentinel had personified the Force. Maybe she had been hearing this ‘Higher Power’ all along.

Nevertheless, their explanations that they wouldn’t even need the Force for their task did not make him feel comfortable. But he didn’t think he had any choice now in turning back. Anyway, this would either work, or he would try something else.

Another thought occurred to him: these two could merely be getting him back to his ship, to the source of the Force nullification, in order to overpower him and take him hostage... or kill him. He wished he had thought of that ahead of time, and had taken some kind of precaution.

All he wanted to do at this point was to sleep. Maybe they would wait until he was deep asleep before they took his life, he thought resignedly.

“You act as if you have heard of these Force nullifying creatures before”, Vader said.

“We have heard of such creatures existing, but not what they are called, or what they look like.” Mortis said.

The ship came into view from behind a small hill. Vader activated the ramp using the remote control, and coasted the hovercraft up into the ship. Once inside, he led the shamans to Sentinel’s quarters, unconsciously keeping a hand on his lightsaber the entire way.

Gilly went to Sentinel's bedside and immediately bent over Sentinel, putting her hand onto Sentinel’s forehead in a motherly fashion. She sighed and said “Sasha, sweetie, it’s ok. It’s Gilly and Mortis. Your friend brought us here to help you.”

Mortis stood behind Gilly, and took Sentinel’s hand, squeezing it. “What have you gotten yourself into this time, child?” Mortis said.

Gilly turned to look back at Vader. “Lord Vader, it would probably be best if you allow us to work alone, undisturbed. This is not going to be an easy task, and will take some time.” Gilly walked over to Vader, gently ushering him out of the room.

“I would prefer to stay and watch.” Vader rumbled. He still wasn't sure these two were really on Sentinel's side.

“Believe me”, Gilly said earnestly. “You don’t want to see any of this. Possession is a terrible condition. You haven’t seen what it’s like when a possessed person has an evil spirit forced out. The evil spirit does not go quietly.”

“I’m not sure I should trust you.” Vader admitted.

Gilly looked up at him. “I’m not sure I should trust you, either. Not without my senses dampened like they are here. But I know what I felt back in our home. You love her. Maybe you were too tired to sense how Mortis and I feel, but we also love the girl. We won’t do anything to harm her. We will do our very best to free her from this Hedra person.”

Vader considered this. “Thank you for...” he said.

“You don’t need to thank us. She is like a daughter to us.” Gilly said.

Vader had a horrible thought. “If the Emperor finds out you had a hand in helping dispose of Hedra...”

“I’m sure you will do everything in your power to keep our involvement a secret?” Gilly suggested.

“Of course. I will do whatever I can. But I may not be in the Emperor’s good graces when this is all through.” Vader said.

“You’re risking alot, aren’t you? Your authority, your power, your very freedom...” Gilly said.

Vader stood there, leaning against the wall, the exhaustion competing with his desire to ensure Sentinel’s safety.

He found himself being led, then, by Gilly, to his quarters. He couldn’t remember telling her where his quarters were. She left him sitting on his bed, after unsuccessfully trying to get him to lie down. Once she had left his room, he reached for the breathing hose, installed it, and removed his mask. He lay down, practically falling backwards onto the bed, and promptly passed out.

Goto Chapter Twenty-Five


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