Jerella backed away from her dark-side opponent again, limping as the gash in her thigh streamed blood. She held the gaffi stick defensively before her, as she tried to get through the battle rage to touch the man's mind. His crystal gray eyes narrowed as her probe broke through. *Mind tricks are no good against me, Jedi* he sent back to her as he advanced, the glaive he held bloodstained and glinting in the doubled sunlight. *If the plan I suggested when we got onto these sands and selected our weapons is going to work, it has to be now* she answered, ignoring the shouts and cries of the audience that surrounded them. *You will win this tenth fight and regain your freedom, and I'll be in a position to make my own escape.* She deflected another blow, the impact making her arms ache. *If I kill you, I'll still have my freedom. Why should I go along with you and your idea?* Jerella swallowed hard. *Because of who I am. Look beyond the disguise.* While the light part of her decried her action, she showed him a quick vision of herself and Darana, training together. And another of Palpatine. *The emperor wants to get me back... if I die at your hands, he'll hunt you down like a glarehound's prey. If you go with the deception, you will be rewarded.* He hesitated only a moment or two. *Agreed then. Prepare yourself.* He loomed over her, keeping just out of reach of her weapon, and inflicted two stunningly hard blows; one to her injured leg, making her collapse to the sand with a scream of pain. he used the Force to knock the gaffi stick from her grasp and swung the second time. As Jerella slipped into the trance, willing her body to assume the likeness of death--and willing it to end once she was removed from the arena sands through the death gate--she flung up her left hand automatically to block the descending blade. Her last awareness as the darkness took her was of a hot agony in her arm as the blade sheared through the energy bracelet and deep into the bone and flesh of her wrist. # # # # "I knew I should have bet on this fight," complained a grating voice close to Jerella's head as she slowly came back to awareness. "She lasted longer than anyone thought she would. I'd have made at least some credits for that." The Jedi halted her rise to complete consciousness, maintaining the feigned death, but allowing her awareness to expand through the Force. She was going to feel a lot of pain when she came fully out of it, she knew, and she didn't dare let the lackeys realize she'd been faking it. "Well, better luck next time." The second voice was deep and rumbly. "Here, dump her by the burner and lets go watch the next fight." There was a lumpy surface under her, and the stink of fresh blood. "Just a sec, let me get the cuffs off. The boss don't want to waste credits by incinerating those." Clammy hands fumbled at her right wrist and, suddenly, the cuff fell away. "Heh, the left one is a loss. Along with her hand too. Blasted Sith cut just about all the way through it." "Take it off anyway, the components might be salvageable...and hurry up, they're about to begin." The remains of the damaged cuff joined its mate in a pile on the side of the room, and Jerella felt a meaty hand give her body a rough shove. She rolled, limply, off the top of the pile of bodies, to lay sprawled in a spreading pool of her own blood, hidden from the exterior door through which two sets of footsteps retreated. She eased herself out of the remains of the trance, keeping a tight control on the nerves that reported pain, and willed the bleeding of her mangled thigh and wrist to slow, then stop. *Another lesson from Darana's tutelage.* When she opened her eyes, she nearly retched at the sight of her left hand dangling from a mere strip of muscle and flesh. As quietly as possible, she scrambled to her feet to limp toward an inner door, supporting her hand and wrist tightly against her chest. *No one can see me.* She projected an aura of invisibility as she went, and hoped that it would be effective as she moved into the corridors beyond. Like the incinerator room, they were not Force-damped. With luck, she might find some sort of first aid kit, or at least something with which to bandage her injuries. And then she would concentrate on finding a way to rescue Luke and her new friend Octavia from wherever they were being held in the Force-damped barracks. # # # # # "Don't worry about getting the cuffs off, this next fight's gonna be real short. Come on, we'll get to it later." The attendants dropped the black-clad body on the pile and hurried back out to await the next body. Before Luke was even aware of his surroundings, as he began to come out of his Force-induced coma, he used the Force to shatter the dangerous cuffs that encircled his forearms. It had been a close call, but he was free. The Jedi looked around at his surroundings. He was in a bloodied pile of corpses. Bodies had been piled up and left to be incinerated later. Cheers from the crowd could be heard through the heavy door. Luke thought quickly about Octavia, still wearing her cuffs. He needed to find the main controls and disconnect their ability to kill the wearer; then they'd be able to focus on getting them off later, when they were safe. Obviously, the guards could unlock the bracelets manually. But they'd gone back out to wait for the end of the next fight and subduing them would be too risky. Luke had been able to use the Force already, and his questing probe encountered no areas of Force-damping in the vicinity. He knew that it was safe for him to pass through this area of the complex. Before he slipped from the incinerator chamber, he looked over the piled bodies, searching for Jerella's. It wasn't there. Sounds from beyond the door leading to the arena urged him to flee the room before he was caught. # # # # # Octavia could feel the hatred coming from the woman called Psylocke. The heat from the sand gave her the feeling that she had been there before--before these so-called games. Before either of them could move, a loud, crashing sound accompanied by screams made her turn. Taking advantage of the situation Octavia dashed away from Psylocke and started toward the door that led back to the holding area. She stopped short, looking down at her bracelets: if she crossed through the doorway she would die. *Now what?* she thought in desperation. Suddenly a voice rang out in her mind. *Stay away from the doors until I tell you it's clear.* Octavia looked around, confused, looking for the source of the voice that warned her, but there was no one there. # # # # # Moving cautiously through the maze of corridors, Luke was able to catch a glimpse of Octavia's fight with Psylocke. So far it looked like she was holding her ground, but he wasn't sure how long she would be able to do so. As he went, he sought for Jerella's Force signature, so like Leia's as to be indistinguishable, but was unsuccessful. Luke traveled the corridors as quickly as he dared, feeling a terrible urgency to find the power unit controlling the bracelets. It took him less time than he had expected, since he was able to use the Force to guide him. The door was guarded by a pair of Twi'leks who seemed more intent on the broadcast of the arena's activities than their job. It was easy for Luke to temporarily cloud their minds, allowing him to trigger the lock and slip in through the door. The console was unattended. Luke examined it, all his old intuition in working with droids and power devices coming back into play. As he shifted position, his booted foot came into contact with something hard and unyielding on the floor. It was an unfamiliar tool, but he quickly sensed how to use it to his benefit. Using the Force to guide him to the most sensitive areas of the control, he began to probe the unit, hoping that there would be no alarm circuit. Sparks flew everywhere, making him duck briefly, but it remained operative. After several failed attempts, Luke took several long breaths and then pulled the Force about him. He envisioned his gloved mechanical right hand closing around the internal components, crushing the power unit's controls. And the thought was the deed. Simultaneously, a thunderous crash from outside the chamber made Luke look up, startled. He could see nothing beyond the room he was in, but he knew that something had broken through the stronghold surrounding the arena. His attunement to the Force clarified the situation. It was the Alliance! Just as suddenly, everything was plunged into darkness as the facility's main power source was shorted out by the invasion. He sent to Octavia, part of his mind having remained aware of her situation on the sands, *Stay away from the doors until I tell you it's clear.* Pausing briefly to ensure that the bracelets' controls were truly dead, he continued. *It's safe now! Run through the entrance! Get out of the arena!* Luke sent to Octavia. # # # # # Jerella was almost ready to admit that she was lost in the maze of corridors when the lights went out. She'd managed to fix a temporary splint and sling for her left arm from the sleeve of her jumpsuit and a strip of loose decorative wall molding she'd pried from the hallway's wall. And she'd managed to keep from being recognized by the denizens of the arena facility--somehow able to mentally persuade them that she belonged there and wasn't to be noticed. But she couldn't find her way back to where she'd come from, and hadn't succeeded at all in locating the prisoner barracks in the extensive complex. And then she'd heard the announcement that Skywalker was fighting in the arena, and she tried to get to a place to see the fight and try to assist him if she could. But she was still lost when the announcement of his loss echoed over the complex's speakers. Jerella stopped dead and gasped, reaching out for Skywalker's mind--and finding nothing to grasp. *So much for my Force abilities* she said bitterly to herself, pushing back the physical pain once again as she briefly rested against a wall. *I can do things that some of the new Jedi Masters haven't even tried, but I can't do the simplest things, like find my way to where I'm needed!* A Twi'lek passed by and she increased the "I belong here" projection as he glanced curiously at her. For a moment she thought he wasn't going to continue, but he just nodded and walked on around the corner behind her. When he was gone, she pushed herself away from the wall and continued to limp along. Octavia was still alive, and maybe she could still find her. Several minutes later, fighting against the wave of grief that threatened to overwhelm, Jerella stumbled to a halt when the lights went out in conjunction with the sound of rending plascrete as something broke through the defenses of the arena. Fighting exhaustion and a bit of panic, she extended a mental probe to find out what was happening and heard someone call her name. *Jerella! It's Luke! Where are you?* Before she could answer, as a burst of joy washed away the grief, she was nearly run down as a pair of ysilamiri-laden guards charged through the darkness. She staggered back against the wall once more as the bubble of Force-nothingness passed her by. She reached for the location of Luke's presence, but the disruption had broken her almost-link and now she had no idea of where he could be. But he was alive, and she'd find him. # # # # # Luke moved quickly to the door. A brief moment's scan showed the guards had abandoned their posts to respond to the current crisis. Luke tried again to sense where Jerella was. Still encountering no trace of his sister's clone, he easily picked up the fact that Octavia was still in the arena. Using the Force to augment his vision in the darkened corridors, he sprinted in that direction. Although he couldn't pinpoint his other student, he sent to her as well. *Jerella! It's Luke! Where are you?* # # # # # Octavia backed up, away from the machines that were moving in the arena as the lights went out. *It's safe now! Run through the entrance! Get out of the arena!* Hearing Luke's voice in her mind, she ran through the doorway. She questioned herself about the voice, how it could possibly be Luke? He was dead! She wondered how she was going to get answers to her questions. Pushing these thoughts away from her mind, she turned her attention to what was going on around her, peering through the darkness, knowing she needed to be able to take this one step at a time. "Octavia, I'm here!" Luke called out, running up from behind her. Octavia whirled and stared at Luke. "You're alive--how?!" she yelled over the noise and confusion. Luke shook his head, stopping in front of her. "I told you not to worry. Come on, that's the Alliance!" He turned and took off down a hallway. "The Alliance?" Octavia questioned as she started to follow Luke. She abruptly stopped when they came to a cross section of hallway. Her eyes had adjusted to the lack of illumination and she watched him run down the one to their left. But felt a strong pull down the corridor to her right. "Luke!" she yelled. When he didn't acknowledge her, she went down the corridor; something was there and she needed to find out what it was. A tall, lanky figure was moving quickly to exit the arena. Suddenly, she stopped, sensing something...someone. Blocking her presence with use of the Force, she went cautiously in the direction of the person she had sensed. A stone's throw down one of the access corridors she suddenly spied her quarry. Two figures entered a crossing in the corridors, conversing quietly. She could sense that both were Jedi, but her attention was riveted on the stronger of the two. A sly, wicked smile crossed her face. The stronger one suddenly ran away down the corridor to his left, but the young Force user started in the other direction and hesitated, looking to the right. After she called out his name, she ran down the right hand corridor. # # # # # Smiling, the lanky hunter slyly echoed what she had yelled, using the voice of the other woman. Luke turned, feeling that someone had called his name. He hesitated and noticed someone standing in the gloom of the corridor, backlit by the light coming from the arena. It was a very tall slender figure; definitely not Octavia. Using Octavia's voice again, she called out, "Luke." The Jedi Master reached out quickly with the Force to identify the person. She smiled, easily blocking his scan. Frowning slightly, Luke felt her prevent him from identifying her. The only thing he had figured out was that she had a form of the Force about her. It seemed to be neither Dark nor Light. He stood his ground, keeping distance between them, but he was very curious as to who she was. The mysterious Force user moved closer, mostly so that Luke could more readily see her. The noise of the Alliance storming the arena grew louder. "You'd make a good prize. But with no saber...it's no fun," she said wickedly, watching him back up. Her hand rested on her light saber. Luke backed up a few more steps. His blue eyes studied her form and coloring. She was very tall, very slender, and definitely not all human. He stopped moving and waited for her to make the next move. There was an unusual and ominous blend of good and evil emanating from her. Thinking quickly about what she had said, he realized that she was a bounty hunter. Running his eyes over her broad expanse of white skin and the brilliant red hair pulled high on the top of her head, he still wondered who she was. "So, Jedi, want to play?" She ignited her light saber and moved still closer, the blade humming threateningly. A tense few moments passed between them. Luke, prepared for whatever move she was going to make, took one more step backward, poising himself for action. Then, just as he had relaxed deeply into the Force, the wall beside them burst open with a crash. Luke tucked and rolled out of harm's way, highly aware of the mysterious person's proximity to him. Alliance personnel charged through the opening, brandishing their weapons and shouting orders. As his feet hit the floor, he glanced around for his foe...but she was nowhere to be seen. He peered through the choking dust and simply could not locate her. With a burst of energy, he sprinted off in the direction she had come from, but he saw no trace of her. Scanning through the Force as he ran, he could only make out a slight impression of her, and it was growing fainter every second. Before the wall had completely fallen, Aurra retreated from the area. No way was she going to deal with the Alliance. She would just have wait for another day to hunt down this Jedi. # # # # # Jerella scanned her surroundings, confused by the sudden presence of dozens of Force auras that had burst into her awareness when the power had died. Somewhere among them, were her friends and she looked for signs of familiarity as tiny, red emergency glows came on to dimly illuminate the corridor. *Luke! Where are you? Octavia?* She hoped her mental voice could be heard over the rest. As she sought mentally, she was unaware of her feet carrying her along through the maze, her speed increasing as she moved, until she was running. *Luke! Answer me!* # # # # # Octavia moved down the corridor, passing doors until she came to one on her right. This was where she was being drawn. Giving into the feeling, Octavia found the control that opened the door. She entered the room and was surprised at all the weapons that were there. They had to have been taken from the combatants that were in the arena. Passing over the blasters and other weapons, Octavia stopped in front of the lightsabers. She smiled as she found hers, Luke's, and Jerella's, still attached to their belts. She gathered them up and left the room. She expected Luke to be outside in the corridor, and fear gripped her when she discovered he wasn't there. She felt an urgency to find him as if he was in danger. Retracing her steps, Octavia hoped she could find him. She finally found him, in the act of catching his breath. "Are you all right?" "Yes, just a little winded." "Here, you might need this," Octavia said handing Luke his saber and belt. Luke stared at them in disbelief and admiration. Automatically he slipped it on and adjusted it into place. "Thank you! How..?" Luke looked down at Octavia's hand and noticed that Jerella's saber was there, as well as her own. "I can't explain it--I just felt drawn to them." Octavia strapped her own saber into place. "That's natural isn't it? I mean a Jedi and his saber are one, or they're supposed to be aren't they?" Luke smiled, somewhat bewildered, but happy about the development. "Yes. We'll discuss this later--come on!" Luke turned and ran off in the direction of the chaos. Octavia reached out and took hold of Luke's arm. "Did you find Jerella? I heard her call to us." "No, but she is somewhere nearby. She should catch up with us in a few minutes, as she seems to be heading where we're headed." *Jerella! Meet us at the main arena entrance!* Luke sent out to the other Jedi student. It was the first opportunity he'd had to answer her mental call. Octavia turned and followed Luke. He apparently knew what he was doing. They passed guards and many others who were running in every direction, trying to find a way out of the place in the darkness and confusion, yet Luke seemed to know exactly where he was going. She wondered what the next move would be. # # # # # Jerella made her way through the twisting corridors, trying to relink with Luke. She was tiring and her control over the pain of her injuries was beginning to waver when she suddenly heard his voice. *Jerella! Meet us at the main arena entrance!* She grabbed onto the contact and realized to her chagrin that she'd been moving away from the Jedi Master she'd been seeking. She turned around and picked up her pace as best she could against the flow of fleeing arena denizens. The sound of blasterfire around a corner startled her and she stumbled to a halt, just as a trio in Alliance uniforms came barreling around it, knocking her up against the wall. "Hold it!" The voice was shockingly, joyously familiar, and the orange-clad man was suddenly hugging her to the surprise of his companions. "Jerella!" "Rob?!" She stared at him in disbelief. *What? How?--* *Because I love you.* Rob Severn, fellow Jedi student and Alliance pilot, put his arms around her and hugged her as if he'd never let her go. *Come on. We've got a transport to get everyone out of here.* Aloud, he said to his companions, "You go on to see if anyone else is left here. I'll get her to the transport." "Master Skywalker and Octavia--a new student," she explained aloud as the other soldiers headed down the corridor, "are headed for the main arena entrance. They want me to meet them there." Rob pressed a kiss on her forehead and turned back the way he'd come, supporting her with his arm. *If only I'd known, I'd have never let you head back to Yavin on that shuttle. I was so scared when I heard the shuttle never arrived. And you're hurt.* Jerella groaned in frustration as after only three turns they could see the main arena gate before them--she'd been going around in circles. *Nothing a long session in bacta won't cure. I am so glad to see you!* Rob shielded his eyes from the glare of the sands beyond the gateway. "Master Skywalker!" He was gratified to see Luke's welcoming smile. It faded drastically, however, at the sight of Jerella's wounds. Octavia turned toward the sound of the voice she heard calling to Luke. A grin spread over her face as she looked at her new-found friend. "Jerella, I'm so glad to see you again," Octavia yelled, moving toward her and the stranger supporting her. "You're hurt! Is there anything I can do to help?" Jerella just shook her head, exhausted and still in tremendous pain. "Octavia, meet Rob, a dear friend of mine," she gasped. Octavia smiled curiously at him and nodded a greeting. Rob grinned back briefly before turning his attention back to Jerella. Luke made his way to Jerella's left side and placed a hand on her shoulder. *That's pretty bad. Let me help.* He was sparing in his energy use, but was able to boost her flagging strength and reduce the renewed pain and bleeding. Aloud, he said to all of them, "Come on, let's get you to the nearest Alliance transport and get off this dust ball." As Rob accompanied Jerella up the ramp and into the hands of waiting medics, Octavia, seeing Luke slip back to where the rescued captives were assembling, insisted that she was capable of helping too. Luke and Octavia trotted back to the scene and began assisting the rest of the wounded onto the transport. "Does this adventure constitute the beginning of my training, Master Skywalker?" asked Octavia suddenly. Luke looked up quickly to see her wry grin. "Indeed it does, my friend, and you have, in turn, already taught me several things as well." Octavia, surprised by his answer, remained silent for a moment. "Does a Jedi ever stop learning?" "Not even if she is very, very wise!" Luke smiled. Octavia echoed his smile. Together they gently hoisted a wounded Alliance member onto the waiting transport.
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