"Good evening, Ayedana."
Sevar's tiny image appeared on Ayedana's holopad, and she observed her bowing in reverence.
"Sevar, I have been waiting to hear from you. Please, tell me, have you found the children?"
Sevar paused, causing momentary anxiety in Ayedana.
"I had been watching them for the last few days," she finally answered. "I'm afraid I wasn't able to get near them. They were heavily surrounded by guards all this time."
Ayedana sneered. "I knew this would be difficult..." she said under her breath, the vein in her forehead beginning to throb slightly.
"There is good news, however," Sevar told her quickly, as Ayedana turned back to her holograph immediately, her curiosity piqued at the younger woman's statement.
"Yes, it seems that Skywalker must go off somewhere... And he is sending his wife and the children somewhere to hide..."
Ayedana let out a small grin. "So... Now there is only one Jedi you must deal with in order to get to the children..."
Sevar nodded, laughing slightly. "Yes, I couldn't have worked it out better myself... I thought it was best to place a homing beacon on her ship instead of following her right away. I could not risk her detecting me if I followed her."
"Good, Sevar," Ayedana nodded in approval. "That was very clever of you. So they thought they could just run away with the children," she cackled, "but they don't know who they are dealing with."
"No, they don't," Sevar replied. "I'll bring them back to Dandoleer, Ayedana. Or I'll die trying."
Tegris was exactly how Callista had remembered it being six years ago. She had been drawn to the small, orange gaseous planet, a relatively unknown world which she found on her charts as she neared the end of her long journey. She remembered how she had felt then -- frightened, disillusioned, and so alone. Tegris had seemed like a safe haven, a second home she so desperately sought.
"Well this certainly seems like a hospitable planet," Threepio commented as he studied his surroundings. "It's very pretty, Mistress Callista, it reminds me of Bespin in a way, only thankfully we are much closer to the ground. I must say, I did not particularly enjoy being up in those tall buildings..."
Callista laughed softly at the droid. "Yes, it does look a lot like Bespin, doesn't it? You know, I never really thought about it before, but that may be why I immediately felt at ease here when I first came here years ago. It must have reminded me of my training days on Bespin."
"Madam?" Threepio gently asked, sensing that Callista had drifted away in deep thought again.
"Yes, Threepio?" she answered him, her eyes still fixed to the horizon.
"Are you sure your friend will be meeting us?"
"Don't worry, everything's going to be fine," she told him, giving him a reassuring smile as she propped Owen up on her hip and clutched Cray's hand, getting ready to head out.
"Oh, I'm coming madam, wait for me!" He called out to her, as he watched her and the children approach a small structure -- a place of dwelling, it appeared, if his visual sensors were correct. Its ivory walls gleamed in the sunlight, looking almost ethereal against the backdrop of the clouds. A small figure stood motionless in front of the house, watching them as they came closer.
"Manzir!" Callista suddenly cried as she spotted her friend.
The tiny old woman let out a giddy laugh as she saw Callista, clutching her small cane as she walked towards the younger woman. "Callista, it has been so long," she said, tears forming in her eyes, as she reached out her wrinkled hands to her old friend.
Callista ran to embrace her, the vivid memories of Tegris, of Manzir, of her long odyssey, flooding her mind all at once. She had owed so much to Mazir. It was she who had taken Callista in when she had first arrived on Tegris, alone and without any resources. She took pity on the young woman, offering her shelter and work. To Callista, she was almost like her mother -- she was even the same age that Callista's mother would have been had she still been alive. She was able to confide in Manzir, who eventually came to understand why Callista had been travelling for so long, in search of her lost powers, haunted by the loss of a great love.
"Yes, it has been so long," Callista whispered to her as she squeezed her tightly. In Manzir's embrace, she felt like a child again, safe and protected.
"Your powers... Are they...?"
Callista nodded, laughing softly, "They're back... The Force came back to me..."
Manzir smiled in response, and touched Callista's face in the motherly way that she always had. "I am so happy things worked out for you, my child... I know how desperately you wanted the nightmare to end."
Callista squeezed her hand affectionately, silently communicating her gratitude towards her, for everything the old woman had done for her. "Manzir, there are two very special people I want you to meet," she told her, putting Owen down, and pulling Cray out from behind her, where the little girl had been hiding shyly from the stranger. "These are my children. Cray and Owen... Skywalker."
Manzir's face lit up unmistakably in surprise, her mouth opening for a brief moment to say something, then closing again to form a smile. She looked down at the two children and gently patted them on their heads. "So," she said, looking up at Callista, "you returned to him after all."
Callista beamed back at her, wishing she could find the words to adequately express her gratitude at what she had done for her and Luke. "Thanks to you," she said finally, knowing that Manzir would know what she meant. "If it hadn't been for you telling me what a fool I was being for staying away from him all that time..." Her voice trailed, as she fought back the sudden tears that stung her eyes. She couldn't even imagine what her life would be like now if she hadn't returned to her beloved...
Manzir gave her a knowing smile, her wizened face lighting up with the warmth of her eyes. "You would have returned to him, my child," she said with unwavering certainty, putting her hand over Callista's heart for emphasis. "That kind of love only comes once in a lifetime. You knew in your heart that this was a chance at happiness that you couldn't pass up. You didn't need me to tell you what you already felt was right, Callista."
Manzir was right, of course. Callista knew that. No matter what she told herself at the time, there was never any doubt that her heart would have eventually led her back to Luke. Still, it was Manzir's gentle persuasion that had finally made her open her eyes to the mistake she was making.
"I see you brought a droid?" Manzir said, as she eyed Threepio nervously peeking at the group, unsure of whether he should intrude. She waved him over to join them.
"Hullo, madam," he said, as he tentatively approached her. "I am See-Threepio, human cyborg relations."
"Very good to meet you, See-Threepio" she replied, holding out her hand for him to shake, which he accepted with gratitude. "Welcome to Tegris."
She turned back to Callista and took her hands. "Now, my child, let's go inside, and you can tell me what it is you are hiding from."
"And you don't know what this is that they've been having visions of?"
Manzir sat across Callista, noting the worn look on her. She looked as if she hadn't slept in the last few days, as if she had been fighting to keep her fear and anxiety at bay, and was barely succeeding in the battle. Her eyes were not on Manzir, but instead towards her sleeping children. She watched them as if afraid that taking her eyes off them for even a second would be letting her guard down.
Callista shook her head in response to Manzir's question. "All they know is that they're being chased in their dreams," she sighed. "They can't see their faces... And neither can Luke and I..." She finally moved her gaze away from the children, and looked down at the table in frustration, running her hands through the loose curls from her disheveled braid. She sat there in silence for a few moments, Manzir sitting beside her saying nothing as well.
She gently laid her hand on Callista's shoulder, feeling the younger woman tremble slightly. "You did the right thing," she told her. "They will be safe here. You can stay as long as you need to."
"Thank you," Callista whispered, finally looking up. She squeezed Manzir's hand in gratitude. "I am so glad that you've agreed to help us. I knew I could count on you."
Manzir smiled back at her as she slowly got up to retrieve a plate for Callista. "Now, why don't you have some of this stew I made? I didn't see you eat anything earlier."
"I'm sorry, Manzir, I guess I'm just not very hungry," she replied wearily, the fatigue that she had been fighting beginning to have an effect on her.
"You know you won't be any good to them if you don't take care of yourself," Manzir told her.
Callista nodded, letting her shoulders drop. "I know you're right," she conceded, her eyes once again returning to her children. "I'll be fine, really. I have to be strong for them, and I will be."
She rose from the table. "I think I'm just going to go outside for a bit and get some fresh air. Would you mind keeping an eye on the kids and let me know if they wake up?"
"Of course, my child."
"Thanks," Callista smiled, as she stepped outside. She wrapped her arms tightly around herself, feeling the cool evening breeze that made her shiver in her thin tunic. She looked up at the stars, almost hoping she would be able to see the bright dot that was Dandoleer. She focused on Luke for a few moments, absent-mindedly fingering the amulet she wore on a chain around her neck. It was a present that Luke had given her on their first anniversary, one half of a Tatooine wuipui coin, whose other half he wore around his neck He had told her that it reminded him of them, two halves of the same whole, united and unbreakable. She squeezed her eyes shut to keep the hot tears from trickling down her face. She had never missed him as much as she missed him at that very moment. In their five years of marriage, they had never been apart for even one day. Not once. Not since she returned to him from her long journey, and vowed that nothing would ever take her away from him again.
But here she was, without him. Without the tenderness of his kiss, the strength of his arms holding her, the warmth of his body caressing hers... The memory of their last night together was still so fresh in her mind that it made her ache. Her lips could still taste the sweetness of his mouth, her skin was still afire from his touch, his strong masculine scent still filled her lungs as if he were right by her side at that moment...
Hurry back to us, Luke, she whispered,
wishing he could somehow hear her. Hurry
back to us...
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