Jacen pressed harder with his emerald-green blade. For the briefest instant, the golden sparks that shot through her white pulsating energy beam flickered wildly. Her blade blurred with static, grew less focused.
Intent on the battle, Jacen gave a final, extra push with all his strength.
It all happened at once.
Tenel Ka jumped backwards, sensing the disturbance in her lightsaber. Jacen stumbled forward, nearly falling. Tenel Ka's blade gave a shriek of electrical overload, and just went out.
"Blaster bolts! What happened to yours?" Jacen asked, as he stopped advancing with his saber, holding it at his side.
Dropping her rancor tooth handle, just in time to see it explode in a shower of blazing sparks, Tenel Ka contemplated her position. She had lost her weapon, but the warrior was more important, was it not? The lightsaber she had constructed was a failure. She didn't know why, but Tenel Ka suspected it had something to do with the crystals she'd used for it. But she still wanted to win. "It is not over yet, Jacen."
He stood there, confused. Jacen glanced at their small audience, as if asking for permission. Luke appeared concerned about Tenel Ka's lightsaber, but not overly worried. Lowie's face was unreadable, and Jaina looked to be as confused as Jacen was. But if they continued the match, and she didn't have a weapon, he was sure to win, wasn't he? Giving her a Solo grin, he said: "It's not over until somebody falls."
Nodding in agreement, Tenel Ka slowly began to circle her friend, looking for an opening. Jacen, not knowing exactly what to do in such a situation, or how to attack, twitched his saber from side to side, watching her warily. She suddenly faked a lunge to his right, and he brought his lightsaber up, stopping short when realizing he risked cutting her with it. But that was all of the opportunity Tenel Ka needed.
She dropped back to the ground, using her arms for support as she brought her legs together. Tenel Ka lashed out with her feet, sweeping his legs out from under him. Jacen fell backwards, landing not-so-comfortably on his rear, switching his lightsaber off so he didn't cut himself. Quickly leaping up, Tenel Ka planted her foot on his chest, pushing him down on his back, preventing him from standing, and looked at him. "Does this count as falling?"
Sputtering incredulously, Jacen stared up at her. If he didn't know any better, he'd say she was laughing at him. Jaina and Lowie certainly were. How could he of lost when he had a lightsaber, and her's had fazed out, leaving her weaponless?
"I think you all have had enough," Luke said, standing. "Tenel Ka, after you release Jacen, please come see me about your lightsaber. I'll be in my office." He left the clearing, leaving the four alone.
Stepping off of her friend, Tenel Ka reached down to help him up. "You were a worthy opponent, Jacen. But you should expect an attack from all sides, not just one."
Grunting noncommittally, Jacen accepted her hand. He returned his lightsaber to his belt, and looked sheepishly at his smiling sister. "I know, I know," he said, reaching into his pocket to pull out a handful of credits. "How much do I owe you for losing?"
Teneniel Djo turned to look at her husband sitting next to her in the ship. After weeks of negotiations, they were no closer to getting the Barabels to agree to not try to eat the Verpines. Their feud had lasted over fifteen years, and still nothing had changed. It was hard to remember what the real conflict even was.
But she would be going home now, to the sparkling palaces of Hapes. Even after ruling the sixty-three planet monarchy for so long, Teneniel still wasn't used to all the splendor. She still had a hard time believing that her husband, still called Prince Isolder, as opposed to King, even though she was referred to as a Queen, had spent most of his life in such places.
"Almost home, sweetheart," Isolder said, kissing her hand. "Maybe we can ask Tenel Ka to come visit her parents in our boring old house. It's been a while since we've seen her."
Teneniel Djo managed a small smile. She missed her daughter, so like herself and yet she could see so much of her husband in the girl. Gone away to her old friend Luke Skywalker's Jedi Academy, they seldom heard from her. The child was having her own adventures now, it had something to do with a new batch of night sisters, and the Empire. Not a pleasant situation, but Teneniel knew her daughter would be safe. "Think we could tear her away? She loves it there: no royal court, no assignation attempts, no dressing up, and she can spend time with people her own age."
"Only for a few days, and then she can go back. It's been months, aren't we allowed to see her?"
"Can't you remember what she looks like? I talked to her on holo vid a few weeks ago, she's doing fine."
"Well, she dresses the way you want to," Isolder started, "She's already taller than you are."
Teneniel smiled at him again. "Are you calling me short?"
"You? Short? I said no such thing!" He said, in mock indignation. "I'm only saying that she got my height, and your style."
"Don't forget the eyes, the gray eyes. And the leadership, and she got her hair from your mother."
"Yes, my mother. They look alike too, good thing that's where the resemblance ends." Isolder said, frowning.
"She's gotten better," Teneniel said.
"I hadn't noticed. But anyway, at least we're almost-"
Isolder was cut of by the shriek of the alarms, the ship had fallen out of hyperspace unprovoked. He swore under his breath as he and Teneniel went to see what was going on.
"Pilot? What seems to be the-" Isolder stopped when he felt the blaster barrel against his back.
"And I thought you'd never give me a chance to do this." The voice was familiar, Isolder recognized it as belonging to one of the newer guards. "But now, you die." As she said this, the renegade guard pulled the trigger.
Teneniel screamed from behind the two, as she watched her husband fall to the ground with a heavy thud. She struck out with her foot, catching the assassin in the back of her knee, shattering the bone. Teneniel used the force to yank the guard up, but before she could hit her again, she felt a burning sensation on her back, and then explosive pain. She had been betrayed too, Teneniel realized, and she tried to get a message to her daughter, to anyone with the force, but it was too late...
The guards that were still loyal, were shouting and attacking the others, but the pilot had other things in mind. She turned the ship, changing the course to one directly in the path of a comet that had been streaking by. One of the guards who had been with the royal family for years managed to send out a distress signal, before she was taken out. The pilot turned the sublight engines to full, and gave a maniacal laugh before the ship exploded on impact. The last thing Teneniel saw was the bright, bright light before everything went dark.
"Your Highness, there is an emergency message from your son and his wife. Do you want to read it?" The guard's voice destroyed the Ta'a Chume's concentration. She would have to remember to fire that one.
"Yes, bring it here." The Queen Mother was seated on one of the benches surrounding a small lake, located within her granddaughter's quarters, so she really shouldn't of been there, but it was so peaceful.
The disruptive guard had returned, carrying the printed out message. The Ta'a Chume instantly recognized it as being a distress call. Quickly grabbing her data pad from one of the guards, she typed in a few short commands.
They were gone. The ship should have registered on the data pad as being somewhere near to the Yashonni nebula, but it wasn't. Rereading the auto-mated message, the Ta'a Chume realized the full extent as to what had happened.
At first she had assumed that there had been an uprising of some kind, something that could be quickly and efficiently squelched. But it was so much worse. The person sending the message must have been in a hurry, she realized. Otherwise it would have included more information.
But there had been enough. Her son Isolder, and his wife were dead. The princess must return home, to claim her throne, lest the usurper take it from her. Ta'a Chume didn't know who could of had the assignation carried out, but she knew who she could suspect.
The murderous cousins whom her son had so feared while growing up were gone, Ta'a Chume had seen that they would be no threat to her granddaughter. She had not killed most of them, just sent them away to easy jobs and high salaries. Those who were not satisfied with the arrangement had been eliminated. But there were still many in the court who would have no qualms in killing a few people to reach the throne.
"How are we today, your Highness?"
Ta'a Chume looked up from her data pad in shock. Who could have gotten in? The guards were under strict orders not to disturb her. But then again, Ambassador Yfra had always found ways to get past such formalities.
"We? I don't know about you, but I always thought that persons of lesser social class were more respectful than you are."
"That bad?" Yfra gave the old queen an evil grin. "Or has someone else had an even worse day?"
Of course, she realized sadly. Yfra was one of the most cunning and manipulative women in the court, a valuable ally, but dangerous enemy. And it was the ambassador who had killed her son, his wife, and was obviously plotting to kill her too. As well as her granddaughter, given the chance. But Ta'a Chume wasn't one to die quietly. "Guards! Arrest her!"
And to their credit, they did try. But Yfra had some on her side, no wonder she'd gotten in. The traitorous ones had come prepared.
When the first two had gone to arrest her, four of Yfra's guards had killed them, and had begun to shoot all of the loyal guards trying to protect the aged queen. Two thirds of the enemy were taken out, but only one of the loyal guards remained after the fighting was over. Astarta, who had served the royal family since the Ta'a Chume had ruled, had run out.
It was not because she was a coward, but because she had common sense. They were out numbered and outmatched, and they were going to lose. Better to get away and warn the princess. She had served Isolder faithfully, and would see that his daughter was queen.
She could still hear the voices and shouts of the dying in the battle. Against her better judgment, Astarta turned back. Looking through a crack in the door, she saw the Ta'a Chume, once a regal and imposing figure, huddled in a corner, surrounded by five of the enemy, and Yfra herself. But before they could kill her, the old queen pulled from her robes a tiny hold out blaster, and shot herself.
Astarta closed her eyes. Three down, one to go, in Yfra's mind, she assumed. But she would warn the princess, if it wasn't already too late. Such a thing might not even be necessary, as Yfra probably didn't see the girl in lizard hide as a threat to her power, because she was so young, and so far away.
Yes, she would go warn the princess, tell the child to come home and claim her throne. The princess probably had been overlooked, and if she came back in a few months, a story would have been made up about her death, and she would be accused of impersonating royalty. Astarta had to leave, had to get to the princess. The Jedi Master would probably help her, he had been a friend of Isolder.
Quietly, she crept away from the carnage. Astarta knew better than to sound an alarm, who knew how many could be Yfra's people? So she went to the docking bay, to get her ship. It was easy to fool the computer into thinking she'd left a few minutes earlier, and in almost no time at all, Astarta was waiting for clearance to leave. When she was able, Astarta set the fastest course possible for Yavin IV, and watched starlines appear in her windows as she cried.
By the time Astarta reached Yavin IV it was dark on the small jungle moon. All of the trainees and teachers had been asleep for hours.
She had made many randomized drops out of hyperspace; making it harder for anyone who might be following her. The location of the young princess was kept under tight security, and the only reason Astarta knew where to find her was because she had been a trusted associate of the family for so long.
It was doubtful that Yfra knew where the princess was, but if she didn't know before, she would most certainly find out. Provided that the other members of the court hadn't caught on to her traitorous acts, but, unfortunately, that was a very small possibility.
Astarta warily got out of her ship, looking around the landing field for any other space craft. Satisfied that she was alone, Astarta walked briskly into the entrance to the Great Temple. She stopped short when she realized she had no idea as to where the princess's quarters were.
She was about to go knocking on random doors, when a voice startled her from behind.
"Looking for someone?"
It took Astarta a moment to recognize the voice, but he wasn't someone easily forgotten. Jedi Master Luke Skywalker watched her patiently by the dim glow of the electric torches lining the hallway.
"Master Skywalker." Astarta gave a small bow on behalf of her employer's old friend. "I need to speak with the princess, something terrible has happened on Hapes."
"What is it?" He asked in a concerned tone of voice, sensing her inner turmoil.
"The Ta'a Chume has been assassinated, as have Prince Isolder and the Queen. I fear the princess may be next."
He appeared very troubled. "Who did this?"
"Yfra." Astarta spat the name out, showing her obvious hatred of the woman. "She did something to Isolder's ship, I don't know what, but they're dead. She came into the room where the Ta'a Chume had been reading the distress call put out by the ship, and attacked her. She had most of the guards on her side, the others tried to stop them but-" Her voice cracked. "It wasn't enough, she killed whoever tried to defend the Ta'a Chume, but before Yfra could kill her, the Ta'a Chume shot herself."
"How did you escape?"
"I ran. I saw what was going to happen, and I ran. I went back to see the end but..." She trailed off, guilt marring her features.
"It's all right." He reached out to give her hand a comforting squeeze. "You came to warn us, there's nothing wrong with that. You may have saved the princess's life."
"But maybe if I hadn't run, maybe I could of stopped it, maybe I could of done something."
"If there were as many as you say there were, you couldn't of made much of a difference. You did the right thing coming here."
"But I sho-"
"No buts," He interrupted her. "And no regrets. Under the circumstances, you did the right thing. And we need to tell Tenel Ka what has happened."
"Where is she?"
"Sleeping, and that's where she'll stay until morning. I want her to get a full night's rest so she'll feel better when we tell her about her family."
Accepting that she would have to wait a few more hours, Astarta said: "What should I do until then? Patrol the landing field to make sure no other ships arrive?"
"No, you need to sleep also. I'll know if anybody comes." Seeing her about to protest, Luke continued. "You haven't slept in a long time, I can tell. And you can't very well protect the princess if you fall asleep. Now, there are plenty of spare rooms on the lower levels, or you can go back to your ship, it's your choice."
"I'll be in my ship." At least that way she'd know if anybody arrived. Astarta didn't trust Jedi powers very much.
"Well, goodnight then." Luke left her, heading towards his own quarters.
"Night." Astarta echoed. She couldn't believe how unaffected he seemed by all of it. Jedi thing, she rationalized.
She slowly walked back to her ship, realizing how tired she really was. She would see the princess first thing in the morning, Astarta told herself.
Astarta was awakened by noise coming from outside of her ship. Looking out a window, she could see Jedi trainees milling around the clearing. Few paid her any attention, but among those who were looking at her ship, Astarta recognized the princess.
She was taller than she'd been the last time Astarta had seen her. The princess stood with other teenagers who were eyeing her ship. A tall wookiee with a streak of black running across his forehead, marring the otherwise uniform ginger color of his fur, next to two humans, a boy and a girl, both with brown hair and brown eyes. The girl was studying the ship's repulsers, and seemed to be conferring with the wookiee. The boy was chattering on about something to the princess, who stood silently watching the ship, seemingly ignoring him.
Astarta quickly dressed, and readied herself for her approaching encounter with the rightful queen of Hapes. The princess would not be pleased to learn what Astarta had to tell her. Leaving her ship, Astarta made a beeline to where the princess was standing.
The brown-haired girl opened her mouth as if to say something, but Astarta spoke first. "Tenel Ka," bowing her head before continuing, Astarta saw the other Jedi trainees exchange confused looks. At least she'd remembered in time not to call her `princess' in front of people who might not know her as such. "It is imperative that I speak with you; I bring news from home."
The princess immediately appeared worried. "Where would you like to discuss it?"
So her friend's were oblivious to the princess's social stature. They would probably be enlightened soon enough. Astarta glanced around the clearing, looking for a place that was secluded enough for to inform the princess of her family's deaths. "Someplace where we can be alone."
The princess nodded in assent. "The jungle?"
Astarta watched the princess's friends look at each other in confusion before replying. "That sounds acceptable. Shall we go?"
"Yes." Tenel Ka immediately began walking towards the trees, with Astarta following her.
"Um, What just happened?" Jacen asked, watching Tenel Ka's retreating figure.
"It just isn't right," mumbled Jaina, as she continued to go over the ship's design.
Lowbacca growled questioningly at her comment.
"It's a Hapen ship," she explained. "But that woman said she brought news about Tenel Ka's family, so why would she have a ship like that?"
When she was convinced that they were deep enough in the jungle that no one would hear them, Tenel Ka stopped and faced Astarta. "What has happened to them?"
Astarta braced herself for whatever retribution the princess would give her. "They're dead," she said, with a surprisingly even tone of voice.
Tenel Ka swallowed thickly. "Who, and how did it happen?" She regretted the question as soon as she heard herself say it. "My mother?" She asked, her voice trembling slightly.
"Yes." Astarta took a deep breath before continuing. "And your father. And your grandmother. Assassinated."
Tenel Ka closed her eyes, as if to hide the escaping tears. "How? Who did it? Wh-why?" The normally emotionless warrior could barely speak. The concept of assassins was something she'd grown up with, a reality normal children never had to accept. It was inevitable that she'd lose someone close to her to an assassin, but her entire family? And it was all because someone wanted more power than they already had.
"Your parents were killed aboard a ship, how exactly I do not know. Your grandmother was betrayed while she read news of their death. Yfra came in, and there was a fight between us, and Yfra's supporters. We were outnumbered, and your grandmother killed herself before letting Yfra do it. You know why." Astarta spoke without emotion, she was out of sadness. The only thing left was regret. Regret that she hadn't been able to do something, anything to stop what had already happened.
Tenel Ka nodded, crying silently. It didn't really matter who had been responsible for their deaths, only that whoever had killed her parents would be punished. Tenel Ka wasn't bloodthirsty, it was nothing like that. But Yfra had to be punished, and when the royal court discovered her betrayal, it would only be a matter of time before they executed her.
Provided Tenel Ka made it home in time to stop Yfra from stealing the throne. Tenel Ka wasn't worried about her own life being endangered, if Yfra wanted her dead, she'd be dead right now. And Astarta had always been frighteningly loyal to Isolder, so there was no chance of betrayal from her.
"You need to come home." Astarta said, watching the princess cry. "We may not have much time left."
Tenel Ka nodded. "I'll get my things," she said, when she was able to speak again. She would have to leave quickly, there was no telling what Yfra would be doing while Hapes was in morning.
"Meet me at my ship in twenty minutes, I'll be doing preflight checks." Astarta waited for a sign of agreement from the princess, who only bowed her head to hide her remaining tears. Astarta stood for a moment, then took off back to her ship.
Tenel Ka shook her head in a vain attempt to clear it. She couldn't let herself be affected by her emotions, not now at least. She needed to get back to the Academy without being seen, which would be difficult with her friends wanting to talk to her, but if Tenel Ka was going to get anything done, she'd need them to be out of her way.
Almost made it, almost got away without interference, but no, someone just has to know what I'm doing, Tenel Ka thought in response to the abrupt knock on her door. "Come in," she called.
Jacen practically fell inside. "Hey, where've you been? What's going on with your family?"
She sighed. "Nothing, nothing's going on. Jacen, could you give me a few minutes to-"
"Wait a second, why are you packing?" He said, looking at her half filled case and the general disorder of her usually spotless room.
"Family trouble." Tenel Ka said flatly.
"But you just told me there was nothing going on with your family! Tenel Ka, who was that woman earlier, and why are you-"
The door burst open, allowing the assassins to enter. The intruders immediately opened fire on the pair. Tenel Ka threw her suit case at the nearest assassin, but the other two still advanced. Jacen was trying to deflect the blasts with his lightsaber, but instead of reflecting the bolts back at their attackers, most just ricocheted of the walls. Tenel Ka cursed, and ducked under her bed. She hoisted the mattress, and tossed it with surprising ease at the assassins.
The mattress landed on the two who had been firing, but the one who'd been trapped beneath Tenel Ka's suit case sprang up without warning to fire upon Tenel Ka and Jacen again. Tenel Ka threw one of her spears this time, and it caught the would be assassin in the leg. But not before attacker managed to get off a few more blasts.
Tenel Ka grabbed Jacen's arm and pulled him towards the window to escape, but her hand caught a warm, wet substance instead on the rough flightsuit she'd expected. Cursing under her breath, Tenel Ka put her arm around his waist and half carried him out the window.
She could hear the sounds of blaster fire from the landing pad. Tenel Ka assumed the assassins hadn't come alone, and her theory was proven when she reached the clearing. She was still almost carrying Jacen, his breathing was shallow but he was conscious and could probably walk on his own; the wound was only on his arm.
Tenel Ka could see Astarta crouched behind a nearby boulder at the edge of the clearing. Master Skywalker was with her, and together they exchanged fire with assassins from across the landing pad. Luke noticed her, and signaled Tenel Ka to run for Astarta's ship. Unfortunately, the assassins noticed her two and redirected their fire at Tenel Ka.
Astarta ran for her ship in hopes of being a diversion, but only a few of the assassins fired on her. Tenel Ka chose to run at that instant also, at least she wouldn't be on the receiving end of all of the assassin's firepower. Dodging with the assistance of the force, Tenel Ka reached the ship unharmed. Astarta had already opened the hatch on he ship, and pulled Tenel Ka inside, with Tenel Ka still holding onto Jacen.
Tenel Ka saw New Republic guards rushing out of the academy to meet the fire of the assassins. Astarta was quickly making calculations for hyperspace as she flew the ship up and away from the academy. Once they had cleared the atmosphere, starlines appeared, telling Tenel Ka they were out of danger. For now, that is.
While all of this was happening, Jacen was being supported by Tenel Ka's arm and to say he was confused would be a drastic understatement. He'd been injured by himself; his attempt to block one of the shots towards Tenel Ka had backfired on him, literally. He know it wasn't anywhere near being fatal, unless he bled to death or something, but it hurt like hell, which was why he'd been immovable when Tenel Ka'd tried to pull him away. Jacen had considered dreaming as a possible explanation for what was going on, but that didn't seem right. He'd never felt physical pain in a dream before. And now Tenel Ka'd dumped him unceremoniously onto a couch in the ship's cabin to go confer with that woman who'd been at the academy earlier.
Moving his arm slightly reaffirmed Jacen's diagnosis of his arm. Yep, he was bleeding. All over himself and the couch on which he sat. The loss of blood was starting to make him feel lightheaded. Tenel Ka chose that moment to emerge from the cockpit, carrying a first aid kit.
Jacen stared at her blankly. Tenel Ka sighed and knelt down next to him to tend to his arm. "Jacen, I'm sorry. I was going to tell you, but there just wasn't any good way to tell you. I was waiting for the right time, but I guess I kind of. . ."
Tenel Ka trailed off as Jacen passed out. She continued to pull at his flightsuit's top to better access his arm. Carefully taking his arm out of his sleeve, Tenel Ka grimaced at what she saw. Ordinary blasters, when fired, did not break the skin. By design they sent an electric shock through the body of whoever the blaster was shooting at, who was generally killed by the overload of the nervous system.
But less common types of blasters killed in a way reminiscent of ancient weapons that shot bolts of metal to tear through vital organs to kill. Tenel Ka was uncertain as to how the lasers from those blasters were different from the lasers of the predominant type of blaster, but she did know that one of the aforementioned was the cause of Jacen's injury.
Tenel Ka started cleaning and bandaging Jacen's wound. She wasn't particularly worried about his fainting; he'd lost a lot of blood, but not enough to truly damage him and he'd awake with a monstrous headache, nothing serious. His arm was pretty bad though, he may want to spend a few hours in a bacta tank.
Finished with dressing Jacen's arm, Tenel Ka looked up to find Astarta standing in the doorway. "Friend of yours?" Astarta asked.
"Yes," Tenel Ka said. "He might want a bacta tank when we reach Hapes, do you think that'll be a problem?"
"It shouldn't be." Astarta said. "Yfra couldn't of swayed the entire court to her side, so I believe that you won't have any problems claiming the throne, either."
"Are you certain of that?" Tenel Ka asked, her weariness showing in her eyes. "If Yfra didn't have a good percentage of the court on her side then my parents would still be alive."
Astarta sighed. "Either way, Yfra's got a two week mourning period to go through, and she can't change that. We'll get there in plenty of time."
Tenel Ka's eyes drifted to Jacen. "How much time before we arrive on Hapes?"
"About three hours," Astarta replied.
"I should get ready then," Tenel Ka said.
Astarta seemed surprised. "Why?"
Tenel Ka glanced back at Astarta. "I have do shower, do my hair, get all dressed up, it takes me awhile."
"Oh." Astarta said. "Refresher's the second door on the right." She gestured to the narrow hallway at the other side of the room.
"Good," said Tenel Ka as she stood. "Any clothes?"
"Some old dress clothes of your mother's are in the storage room, I'll get them for you." Astarta left to retrieve the clothes for Tenel Ka, though she worried if they would fit the young teenager.
Tenel Ka swallowed at the mention of her mother. She hadn't had time to grieve, and probably wouldn't until she was secure on the throne. Which was exactly why she couldn't let her emotions get to her now.
Glancing at Jacen, she left for the refresher. He'd wake up soon enough. Tenel Ka fervently hoped that he wouldn't be too angry at her for lying, but it was simply something she'd had to do. In her place, he would surely have done the same.
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