Tabania was largely considered a backwater planet. While covered in beautiful forests, it had few resources useful for export. In the twilight of the Empire, its settlers were mostly composed of beings searching for a neutral place, a planet on which they could raise their children in peace. As the New Republic's influence spread throughout the galaxy, the planetary government made a smooth transition from Imperial rule to the republic. As time went on, new settlers of every imaginable species came, mostly galactic travelers in search of a home for their families. The planet was left out of the major events of the galaxy, and was pleased with this fact.
So it was an unusual day when fifteen security officers were called together.
The Tabanian security chief drove the lead speeder in the caravan. The road he traveled along was familiar to him, as all the roads in this province were. As they turned a corner, a two-story white house rose out of an open field. While the design had been strange to him during its construction ten years before, full of curves and using an unfamiliar architecture, he had grown to know it very well. The house, and its occupants.
His passenger, a tall, pale woman with dark hair, was silent as he stopped the speeder. She had introduced herself only as Annissa, but the robes she wore clearly identified her as a Jedi. She watched silently from the speeder as he formed up the officers around him, then followed him to the front of the house. The group of sixteen was composed of a variety of species, but each held the same dismayed quiet. None of them had ever expected to be called to this particular home.
In an upper story window, a curtain was pulled aside, then swiftly pulled back down.
The security chief knocked once. Twice. Three times.
"Silja Thorsten, we know you're inside. Open the door."
"You stay away from me!"
Annissa tapped the Tabanian security chief on the shoulder, motioning for him to move aside. "Silja, this is Annissa. We need to talk to you about your husband."
"Leave Tomas alone!"
"Silja, you know I can get through this door whether you want me to or not. Now, are you going to make us do this the hard way?"
After a few moments, a pale purple Brigian woman in a white dress opened the door. Her deep red eyes scanned the congregation of officers outside her home, finally coming to rest on the young woman in Jedi robes. Her eyes narrowed. "I should have expected you'd show up."
"Silja, you know we have to talk to you."
The Brigian moved aside, letting the Jedi and security chief enter. "The rest of you stay outside. I won't have my home overrun."
Annissa nodded at the rest of them. "This shouldn't take long."
The officers glanced at the security chief for confirmation, and then stepped back. Annissa closed the door firmly in their faces as she turned around. The threesome stood in a decorated room obviously designed for entertaining company. Silja Thorsten, wringing her hands, stood by a doorway that led to a cooking area. Her dark hair was piled on top of her long, oval head. Strands were loose, indicating she'd paid little attention to it. The Tabanian security chief stood near a window, surveying the outside of the small home. His dark brown skin reflected the low lamplight. Annissa sent a quick mental probe throughout the house - Tomas hadn't been home for hours, if he'd ever been there at all. Taking a deep breath, Annissa faced Silja.
"Silja, we need to find Tomas."
"He's not here."
Annissa fought down a sigh of frustration. She steeled herself, keeping her face blank. "Silja, Tomas is dangerous -"
"He's not!" Silja insisted. "Tomas is a good man. He's done nothing wrong!"
"Then why is he hiding?"
"I don't know!" Silja turned away. When she turned back, tears were running down her purple face. "I don't know."
Annissa guided Silja to a chair by the window, then sat next to her. "Silja, has Tomas been home at all this week?"
"Two days ago." The Brigian was picking at her dress, avoiding the eyes of the Jedi. "His robes were tattered, and it looked as though he hadn't bathed in days. He - he was frightened. Or angry, I couldn't really tell. I insisted he clean himself up... he did so without any complaint about my nagging. When he was finished, he joined us for dinner. Everything seemed normal."
Silja took a deep breath before continuing, her high voice trembling. "When Jian asked for a story about his trip, Tomas stopped eating. He stared at Jian. When he repeated the request..."
Annissa covered the woman's hands, comforting her. Silja nodded in thanks.
"Tomas yelled at him. He's never done that before. Then he stormed out of the house. When I followed, he was gone."
"Silja, this is very important. Do you know where he is?"
Silja shook her head. "No, I swear it. I've not seen him since." Her deep red eyes met Annissa's blue. "Tomas is a good man, you know that. He worked hard to become a Jedi, he's so proud of his Knighthood -"
"I know Silja. I - " Annissa stopped as she was interrupted by a young voice.
Annissa turned just in time to catch a small purple and white blur running at her. "Jian! What are you doing up so late?"
"Why are you here, Ann?" The young Brigian boy stared intently at the young Jedi. "Are you here to find my daddy?"
Annissa nodded. "Do you know where your daddy is?"
Silja opened her mouth to protest Annissa questioning her son, but Jian shook his head before she made a sound, his short black hair brushing his eyes. "But I'll bet he's in the forests. Daddy loves the forests." He frowned. "Can you make my father happy again?"
Annissa hugged him, her eyes on Silja. "I'm trying, Jian. I'm trying." She pulled back. "But right now, I see a young Jedi who needs his sleep."
"Jedi Annissa is right." Silja took Jian's hand and led him to the door. "Up to bed. You have classes in the morning."
Before leaving the room, Jian turned back and bowed slightly. "Good night, Annissa."
"Good night, Jian." Annissa's eyes followed the boy out of the room, and then returned her gaze to his mother. If only Tomas could see how he's hurting his family....
"There is no more I can tell you." Silja's eyes burned into Annissa's. "I want you to leave now."
Annissa stood. "I hope this ends well, Silja. If not -"
"I said leave! Please!" Silja turned on her heel and left the room.
The security chief turned and looked at Annissa. She nodded, leading him outside. She continued to stride toward the speeders parked near the home. "Send your officers back to the city; they can do no more good here." She sat in the driver's seat of a speeder, motioning for the chief to join her.
After ordering the officers to return to the city, he did so. "My orders are to have Tomas Thorsten arrested. I doubt he will just allow one person to do this."
"If Tomas Thorsten returns to the city, he will do so willingly."
The chief shook his head, and frowned. "Why do I not like the sound of that?"
"I didn't intend for you to like it. It's a fact. If Tomas does not wish to return to the city, no amount of your officers can force him to do so." Annissa pulled the speeder out behind the last of the others. A short way down the road, she pulled off into the trees.
"Why are we stopping, Jedi? Do you think the wife lied to us?"
Annissa shook her head. "She did not lie. She has no idea where her husband is. But he knows where she is."
The chief leaned back in his seat and crossed his arms. "I'll never get used to you Jedi."
Annissa smiled at him. "Believe me, if you did, you'd find us to be rather predictable and boring."
The man beside her snorted. "Somehow, I doubt it."
Annissa watched from the edge of the dark forest as the Brigian woman walked quickly away from her home. Feeling as though a large weight had just been forced down her throat, Annissa returned to the parked speeder hidden nearby. "Wake up, Chief. Time to move."
The man grumbled in his sleep, turning away from her. Irritated, Annissa reached over and shook him. "I'm awake, I'm awake!"
"Silja's left the house," Annissa told him as she helped him out of the speeder.
"I thought you said she doesn't know where he is."
"I think he's drawing her out of the house." Annissa started walking back toward the Thorsten home. "Marriage with a Jedi Knight is a powerful bond, even when you are not one yourself."
The man following her merely grunted in reply, apparently not yet awake enough to care.
Taking a deep breath, Annissa pushed the chief out of her thoughts. Rather, she drew upon the Force, trying to calm her racing heart. As the house came into sight, she removed her lightsaber from its belt clasp, weighing it in her hand, then returned it to her waist. No sense in going in on the offensive. Still, Annissa felt deeply unsettled. She knew without thought that the next few hours would be difficult, and she dreaded them.
Yet she continued toward the clearing behind the house, staying just inside the cover of the trees.
When Silja could be seen through the trees, Annissa reached out a hand. "Stop here." The chief stopped without a sound. Closing her eyes briefly, Annissa checked her mental shields. They'd been up since her arrival on the planet, but it was more important now than ever that she remain undetected. She didn't want to frighten Tomas deeper into the woods. Carefully, Annissa stretched the shields to cover the chief's presence beside her, and strengthened the few weak points she found. Once satisfied, Annissa opened her eyes and focused on Silja.
The woman was seated on a low stone bench on the other side of the clearing. Head bent, her hair spilled over her face. It was not difficult to see that the woman was sobbing. Annissa's stomach clenched as she witnessed the quiet turmoil. It was all so unnecessary, so pointless...
Some time passed before the scene changed. When it finally did, Tomas Thorsten stepped into the clearing.
Annissa sucked in her breath as he pulled back the cowl of the dark cloak he wore. His dark violet skin seemed to draw in the light around him, darkening the space he stood in. Rather than the typical wiry frame of a Brigian adult, Tomas had an unusually well-defined muscular system, emphasizing his broad shoulders and chest. The clothing he wore accentuated the strength, making him an imposing figure. His deep red eyes seemed to glow in the midst of his dark appearance, eerily focused on his weeping wife.
But it was not his physical appearance that disturbed Annissa. Even through the mental shields, she could sense waves of Darkness rolling off the man. The gentle, modest nature she associated with her friend was missing. He radiated anger and violence, and confidence to the level of egotism.
Annissa had hoped to find Tomas still in the throes of indecision and doubt. Her task would be a great deal harder now.
As the two humans watched, Tomas strode across the clearing. "Silja."
With a gasp, Silja's head flew up. Faster than one could have expected, Silja had a blaster trained at her husband. "Stay back."
Tomas stopped. While Annissa had expected surprise, or perhaps uncertainty, Tomas' face showed no emotion. "Put it down, Silja."
"What have you done?" Silja's voice was raspy. The woman's emotional strain was palpable, and fear was plain on the woman's face. Yet the blaster never wavered from its target.
"Only what I must, Silja."
"Annissa was here! She said..." Silja seemed to choke on the words, "she said that you're dangerous. She had an entire squad of security officers with her. You must have done something!"
Tomas started walking slowly toward his wife. "Put down the blaster, Silja."
"No." Rather, the woman stood and hoisted the weapon higher. "Don't come near me."
"You're not going to shoot me." Tomas' voice was low and slow as he continued his paced steps. It had an almost seductive quality to it. "You're not going to shoot your own husband."
Silja's voice dropped to a whisper that just barely carried across the clearing. "Stay away, please stay away."
Silence fell as Tomas continued the last few steps. As he reached her, he slowly reached up to the blaster, pulling it from Silja's hands. The woman collapsed onto the stone bench, covering her face.
Rather than comfort his wife, Tomas examined the blaster carefully. "Just what did you think this would do, Silja? Do you think I could not have avoided it?" He received a sob in reply. "What did you want it to do, Silja?" In one smooth movement, Tomas grabbed Silja's chin and forced her to look into his eyes. "Did you want it to hit me? Did you want the energy blast to sear my flesh, to burn its way into my body, the body you have held so many nights?" Jerking her chin higher, Tomas smiled coldly. "Did you want it to kill me?"
When Silja gave no answer, Tomas used the blaster to hit her across the face.
The man beside Annissa moved, and in an instant the Jedi was forcing him back into his place. Annissa watched with a heavy heart as Silja spilled to the ground, crying out in pain. Silja's hands flew up to her head. Annissa could see blood seeping past the hands, staining the white dress the woman wore. Making her decision, Annissa looked once at the chief to indicate that he should stay where he was, then silently crept out from the trees.
Silja slowly brought her hand away from her face, staring at the blood. Her eyes rose to meet the haunted eyes of her husband. It was impossible to tell whether or not he regretted his actions. "What do you want, Tomas?"
"I want my son," he told her bluntly. "I will take Jian away from all of this, away from the weakness. The boy needs to learn how to be strong." He laughed shortly. "He obviously can't learn that from you."
"No." Silja turned her bleeding face toward the man that stood above her. "As long as there is breath in my body, you won't have Jian."
A brilliant blue lightsaber lit up their corner of the clearing. Hefting it carelessly, Tomas shrugged. "So be it." And he swung in an arc.
Mere inches from Silja's terrified form, a green blade met blue with a clash. Tomas stumbled back as his blade was thrown back at him. Annissa used this space to stand between the two Brigians. "Stop it, Tomas. This won't help anything."
Snarling in answer, Tomas lunged at the Jedi. Annissa blocked three quick attacks, then used the momentum of the fourth to help her spin and aimed for Tomas' blade handle. Tomas leapt behind her, forcing Annissa to put up a rear defense. She was amazed at how well Tomas performed these aggressive tactics. He had always preferred defensive, reactionary fighting, letting his sparring partner lead. Now he was playing her like a child's puppet, leading her away from Silja, and away from the protective cover of the forest.
Soon the two were facing each other in the center of the field. Tomas had not yet attempted a killing blow. Either he was reluctant to kill Annissa or he was toying with her as he looked for an opening. As she looked into the man's blazing red eyes and sensed the anger rolling off him, she reluctantly accepted the second possibility as more likely. She had to start working fast if she hoped to stop him.
Annissa gave an extra shove the next time their lightsabers connected, and Tomas stumbled back, falling to the ground. He held his lightsaber in front of him as he propped himself up, eyeing Annissa.
"You don't have to do this, Tomas."
"To get to my son? Apparently, I do. Don't you think I know why you're here?"
"I'm here to help -"
"You're here to take me away from everything."
Annissa swallowed. Keep him calm, calm him down. But she didn't even understand what the problem was. How could she keep him calm?
"Tomas, what happened? We need to know before we can help. I'm sure it's nothing we can't fix together."
Annissa realized that Tomas was staring at her lightsaber, held casually at her side. He was in a vulnerable position, sprawled on the ground. He must know she could easily strike him down. But that was not her purpose; she wanted to bring him home. Should she deactivate it as a show of trust? But there were others here needing her protection, and if she failed...
The lightsaber remained on.
Soon Tomas spoke, though his eyes never left the green blade. "The slaves we were sent to get... they were children."
Annissa felt as though her insides were gripped by ice. The slaves hadn't been found by the NR team that followed Tomas and Sella, his partner.
"Someone tipped off Thanatos that Jedi had been sent after him. He slaughtered them - all but one. He left the bodies for us to find, as a warning." Tomas' voice was even and smooth, as if he were reciting the menu of his dinner. "Most were beyond recognition. The only thing we could clearly see was the slave trademark branded onto each child. We burned the building, then went after Thanatos. When we reached his compound, we fell right into his trap. Sella never made it to Thanatos."
Annissa nearly sighed in relief to hear that Sella had been a victim of Thanatos, and not Tomas. When they had found her body, enough Dark energy lingered about the compound that they weren't sure what to think.
"When I found Thanatos, he had the last child. He was a young boy, about Jian's age. Just as I stepped through the door, Thanatos killed him, right in front of me."
"And so you killed Thanatos." Annissa was feeling sick as she imagined the scene Tomas described for her.
"Of course." Tomas smiled and slowly stood. His red eyes burned into Annissa's blue, chilling her. "After he had killed so many, death was the only option left for him."
"It wasn't your place to decide that, Tomas." Annissa's voice was soft but firm. "You were supposed to arrest Thanatos and bring him to the New Republic for trial."
"And risk letting him escape when death was his inevitable sentence?"
"It wasn't your place," the Jedi repeated. "As a servant of the Light -"
"There is no Light!" Tomas' cry echoed around the clearing, and Annissa flinched at the denouncement. "In a galaxy where this could happen, there is only darkness. Cold, empty, impenetrable darkness."
"We make the Light, Tomas! If we stand by and let this happen, or worse, help it along, of course there's darkness! It is only through our hope and vigilance that there is Light."
"You're deluded like everyone else," Tomas accused. "Like I was, and like my son would be. But I am not going to let that happen. I will not let Jian die like those children, and I will not trick him into believing that you can survive without strength and power."
"And anyone who gets in my way will be eliminated!"
Annissa sensed the attack only a moment before it came, and just barely managed to block it. This time, Tomas knew her moves and was going for the kill. Annissa wanted to talk with him, reason with him, but defending herself took all her breath. She tried to connect with him mentally, but the Darkness was too thick to penetrate. As she looked into his eyes, Annissa couldn't see Tomas. All she saw was anger and despair, power and hate. The man she knew had been consumed by the Dark Side.
As this realization sank in, Annissa's defenses slipped. Tomas' fist shot out, and the combination of that and the Force sent Annissa flying through the air.
Annissa pulled herself up and looked back at Tomas. As he strode toward her, lightsaber held ready, Silja ran at him, her features a white and purple blur. She pulled at her husband's arm when she reached him. "Tomas, no!"
Tomas knocked her to the ground. "Enough, woman!"
Time slowed. Annissa watched in horror as, once again, Tomas raised his lightsaber over his wife. The security chief was running out of the woods toward them, but he would not reach them in time, and Annissa knew that she couldn't, either. Opening herself completely to the Force, Annissa searched for an answer. The Dark Side immediately offered any number of seductive possibilities, each and every one calling for her, but Annissa pushed on, searching for the Light.
Time was running out.
Annissa gripped her lightsaber as she locked on the blade. Then, focusing on the scene before her but lacking the time to aim, she threw the blade through the air.
His arms held over his head, Tomas suddenly stumbled back as the green lightsaber sank deeply into his chest. Silja screamed as the man standing over her fell to the ground. The security chief reached them a moment later, his face filled with shock. By the time Annissa reached them, Tomas was dead.
Annissa's hands moved gracefully over the starship controls. The jungles of Yavin IV were visible outside of the ship. When the great temple that housed the Jedi Academy came into view, she carefully maneuvered the ship onto the landing pad.
Beside her, Jian Thorsten peered outside. Any other little boy would have been firing off questions faster than they could be answered, and Jian might have done this at another time, but he had not spoken a word to Annissa since his father's death. She knew that the boy was still in shock, that reality had not yet set in - and that he blamed her for what had happened.
Annissa couldn't disagree with him. She blamed herself.
As the two exited the ship, they were greeted by a Rodian Jedi apprentice. Annissa could not connect a name with the face. She had been away from the Academy for too many years. She returned the apprentice's bow, and then spoke. "This is Jian Thorsten. He will be staying with us here for a while."
The Rodian smiled, and then held out his hand. "We have a room for you with a big window. Would you like to see it?"
Jian looked between Annissa and the apprentice, then took the offered hand and followed the Rodian. Annissa could see other apprentices coming to collect their bags. The expressions on their faces were familiar. They were eager to talk with the returning Jedi Knight, and get the story of her adventure. As they drew closer, Annissa realized she couldn't face the apprentices, or anyone else. She turned and walked quickly toward the jungle. At the head of one of the many trails, she deposited her outer robe onto a bench, and then took off running.
She did not run fast. It was a paced jog, and the path was smooth and free of debris. Without paying much attention to her surroundings, Annissa relived that night on Tabania. Her breathing became loud as, once again, she saw the worry in Jian's eyes as he asked about his father, the fear in Silja as she crouched under her husband, the anger and hatred blazing in Tomas' eyes.
You're here to take me away from everything.
Annissa crashed through the trees, leaving the path. Her feet ran faster, her eyes darting through the foliage. Her stomach felt like lead, heavy and painful. Her legs grew numb, and her chest threatened to split in two. But she could still hear him.
After he had killed so many, death was the only option left for him.
Did she use the same logic that she had condemned Tomas for? But what other option did she have? He was threatening Silja, would have taken his own son into danger...
You're deluded like everyone else.
Struggling to control her emotions, Annissa closed her eyes as she ran and searched for the Force. Aloud, she recited the code as her mantra. "There is no emotion; there is peace. There is no ignorance; there is knowledge. There is no passion; there is serenity. There is no death; there is the Force." Rather than finding the answers she so desperately sought, she was groping nothing. Darkness surrounded her, taunting her, calling for her, seducing her. Annissa shook her head, again repeating her chant, searching for the Light Side of the Force.
There is no Light!
Annissa once again stumbled through the trees. She found herself by a stream that babbled as it rushed over the smooth stones. Annissa fell to her knees beside the water. Splashing the cool liquid onto her face, she resolutely shoved the images from her mind. As they departed, Silja's scream once again filled her ears, then was cut short by Annissa's own shout of defiance echoing through the Yavin jungle. She leaned over the water, gasping. Her distorted reflection wavered below, and she studied it carefully. What had she done wrong?
She was still in this position when Luke Skywalker found her. She knew it was him even before she heard the leaves he pushed out of his way. She sat back on her ankles and turned toward him.
"I saw Jian at the temple."
"Yes, Master. I thought it best to bring him here."
Annissa kept her voice level and strong. "Dead, Master."
The Jedi Master said nothing more. He sat down next to Annissa. The young woman tried to stay calm, but without the reflection to focus on anymore, the memories once again invaded. She bit her lip, ashamed that she had so little control in front of her mentor.
Then he reached out and took her hand in his, and Annissa broke. "Oh, Grandfather!"
She collapsed against him, sobbing. He gathered her into his arms as if she were a small child and rubbed her back. Annissa wished she could fall completely into her grandfather, stay here in his arms where everything was all right, where he could save the world. The low voice murmuring in her ear was the same that had chased away her childhood nightmares, had comforted her even where her mother had failed. Slowly, the pain leaked away through her tears, and her grandfather, the great and mighty Luke Skywalker, accepted each and every one.
Eventually, the tears ceased, and Annissa pulled back from his shoulder. Luke dipped a cloth in the stream and used it to gently wipe her face. "It's not easy," he told her.
"Tomas shouldn't have died. There must have been something I should have said -"
"Don't." Luke brushed her hair back away from her face. "Don't do this to yourself. You did everything that you could for him."
"But I didn't!" Annissa protested. "If I hadn't reminded him of what happened, if I hadn't been so threatening," she shook her head, "maybe if I had spoken up as soon as I saw him, instead of letting him at Silja..." her voice trailed off. So many things could have happened. So many things left unsaid, or things that should not have been said. "You could have saved him. I should have."
Beside her, Luke looked down at his hands. "So if I had gone myself, Tomas would not have died. Is it then my fault?"
"Of course not!" Annissa looked at her grandfather in shock. "I didn't mean it that way!"
Luke's eyes returned to Annissa, the blue irises sparkling. "Or perhaps if I had acknowledged Tomas' struggle sooner, and not sent him with Sella to search for the slaves. Perhaps that could have saved him."
"But there could have been another mission, another tragedy..." Annissa trailed off as she saw where her grandfather was heading.
Luke's voice was now soft and soothing. "No one is responsible for Tomas' behavior but himself. Tomas made his choice. He completed his training, and knew full well what would happen. He knew someone would come after him. And he knew that he had a chance. You offered him help. You offered him a way home. And he is the one who rejected you." He sighed. "Contrary to the tales your teachers have so loved, I was not always successful at recovering fallen Jedi. Yes, I did manage to help some. But it was always their choice. I only showed them the path. They were the ones to walk it."
Annissa nodded, chastised. She said, in a small voice, "Then why do I still feel so guilty?"
Luke gathered her back into his arms. "It will take time, Ann. You've been through a terrible ordeal. Don't let anyone tell you that you don't deserve time to recover." Gently he kissed her forehead. "Come. Your brother is waiting at the temple. He's eager to show you your niece."
Nodding, Annissa stood with her grandfather, placing a hand under his elbow to help him up. As they left the stream, Annissa focused on thoughts of her brother's new child. Slowly, the Darkness faded from her thoughts, and the Light, unbidden, filled her with new strength and hope.
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