Chapter Five: The Welcoming Committee
Chapter Five: The Welcoming Committee Part One
Morning was fast approaching the mountainous area, yet the valley for the most part remained silent and cold. Bits of sleet and rain poured down lightly from the low hanging clouds that poured in over the ridges like waterfalls made of mist. Small icicles hung from a few branches, but most were still bare of ice due to the earliness of the season. In a month’s time, they would all be covered as the promise of a hard winter that had been whispered among the older generation since the first early snow a few weeks prior. On the river, a foggy vapor drifted up from the warmer water making it almost appear as if the river itself were boiling.
It was a morning like any other in the area for this time of year: cold, calm, and serene. Much like the ice itself.
The high pitch of a swoop bike shattered the quiet of morning. It screeched and howled as it cut through along the old valley path, startling the forest creatures that had come to the river for a drink.
The water splashed up as the rider took it right across the water. Specks of the slightly warm water clung to his boots and leggings, but he paid it not mind as he directed the bike. Shifting his weight, he made a sharp turn on the opposite bank and narrowly avoided a large tree.
To a casual observer, the driver probably appeared completely reckless. To those who looked closer, they would be able to see the precision in his movements; the way he shifted and moved with bike as he banked turns and accelerated and then shifted down at just the right moment. He knew the bike. He knew the path. He knew where he was going.
He wasn’t expecting the explosion that shattered the low hanging branch, however.
The bike turned sharply to try and avoid the falling object, which threw the rider from his secure place on the mount. Tucking into a roll, the driver tumbled over the muddy, wet ground for several seconds before being stopped by the trunk of a mossy tree. Twenty meters or so, his bike exploded as it hit a bolder that had rolled down from higher up.
He swore softly to himself as he slowly pushed himself up. Pain stabbed at his side, his lungs burned with each breath, but he’d live. Or he would if he got himself up and moving.
Glancing back where the shot had come from, he couldn’t see them yet. Either they were too far away yet to send in the ground forces, or perhaps it had been just a lucky shot in response to hearing a swoop bike in an area that was supposed to be deserted. Either way, he could afford to stick around and find out.
Making sure that the backpack that he ware was secure, he pushed himself off the ground and looked at the wreckage that was once his swoop bike. With any luck, they would think that whoever had been on the bike was killed in the explosion and not look any further.
But, if there was one thing that he had learned in his life, it was that luck or the Force or whatever really didn’t like him that much, so he wasn’t holding his breath on that one.
So he did the only thing he could do. He ran.
The third moon had not fully set by the time the sun had begun to lighten the morning sky. Cool gray clouds, all that was left the storm that had been threatening them from the west the entire night, drifted lowly along the mountains edge and through the ridges. The still smelled of rain and snow, but they now they gave up more than a brief shower as they passed by. An occasional clap of thunder would grumbled unpleasantly in the early hour, but the bite the storm once had had long since lost it sharp teeth.
Sitting in a meditative position on the ridge edge, Qui-Gon watched as one cloud passed by through the narrow valley below. It was slow moving, crawling along at a snails pace and obscuring his vision of area, but still he didn’t mind. There was nothing there that he now couldn’t see if he wanted. All he had to do was simply reach of it.
A smile graced Qui-Gon’s lips as a warmth that could not be felt by many enveloped and greeted him happily like a dear old friend who one had not seen in many years. The Living Force swirled through him and around him like the cold wind that blew through the mountains, only it was far more welcomed than the icy air.
He reached for it and let his feelings guide him to his friends. Qui-Gon had always had a vague sense of their force signatures back on Earth, but the way they shone through to him now were like small beacons of light. Each different and easily identifiable now that he was looking.
There was Giles, sitting at the table inside the motor-home, tiredly reading over the book that had brought them there.
Xander and Anya were curled up together and peacefully sleeping.
Tara asleep in the captain’s chair, while Willow opened cabinets in search of something to eat.
One signature practically hummed at him, but it always had to some degree. It was brighter than the others now, and practically called out to those who were willing to listen. It was also currently moving towards him at a toddling speed.
Perhaps it was just him, though. He had been trapped on Earth for a very long time with little contact with the Force, and none with other Force sensitive beings aside from possibly this small one. Maybe that was what made her own signature stand out to him so much. Or perhaps it was because he knew what to look for and had always hoped that it was there. Whatever the truth was, the portal closing had left little doubt in his mind about her and what he had always suspected about her. He didn’t even need a blood test to confirm what he knew, though he was sure that the other Masters would.
Particularly for one Knight, he suspected. Though for other obvious reasons, of course.
Cracking open his eyes, he turned towards the motor-home and watched as Dawn moved along on her slightly unsure legs. Her steps were wide apart from one another, as if she were scared she would trip over herself (which had happened on more than one occasion), but the determined look on her face showed that she would not even let that slow her.
“Ki-Gun,” Dawn cried happily as she ran into his arms.
“Hello, young one,” he said, lifting her into his lap. “How are you this morning?”
“Bouncy and full of way too much energy, which means I‘m probably going to have to break out the ‘kid leash’ before long.”
Walking from the motor-home, Buffy crossed her arms and held the jacket she wore tightly around herself. The cold wind pushed lightly at her blonde hair that had fallen loose from the twin braids she had resting against her back, while the temperature itself caused her pale cheeks to color slightly.
Much like before, Qui-Gon found it difficult to pinpoint her signature in the Force. In fact, he had noticed that it seemed even harder to detect now than it had been in times past, which was rather remarkable. Buffy signature had always been obscured, for whatever reason, but he had always known how to find her. One simply had to look for her emotions, and there Buffy would be. Whether she meant to do so or not, she always ended up projecting what she felt, and that was the only way that most of the Masters had figured out to known when she was around. Aside from that, only those most familiar with her or very powerful with the Force would be able to find her signature.
Now, however, it was different. She felt closed off. Distant. Smaller.
Qui-Gon adjusted his grip on Dawn and pulled the child closer to him. She snuggled closer into the warmth of his robes -- which he had not wore in nearly two years -- and held on tightly as he rose to his feet.
“I’m sure it won’t come to that,” Qui-Gon said. “Has Giles or Willow found anything?”
“Not so far,” Buffy said with a shrug. “But you and the Force on speaking terms again, so this should be the place, right?”
He didn’t ask how she knew that he had reconnected with the Force again. Somehow, he felt like he probably didn’t really want to know the answer.
“Yes,” Qui-Gon agreed.
Coming stand beside him, she looked out over the ridge as the sun finally peaked over the top of mountain’s top. Soft, yellowish-red light spilled out over the tops of the white clouds, but neither felt any extra warmth from it.
From somewhere below, several grumbles of thunder echoed up towards them.
“So we took the right exit off to Gythontown, only…” Buffy glanced again their peaceful surroundings. “No Gythons. Got to say, not really enjoying the whole ‘deserted planet’ vibe going on here.”
“I highly doubt it’s deserted, Buffy.”
As if to prove his point, the Force screamed a warning at Qui-Gon. Reacting quickly, he grabbed onto Buffy’s arm and pulled her back with a hard jerk.
“Get down!” he yelled as he turned to brace himself while leaning over to protect a very startled Dawn and surprised Buffy.
A hundred meters or so below them, the ridge exploded from a powerful blast. Dirt, rock, and bits of tree kicked into the air. It seemed to hang suspended there for moment, before finally showering down onto them. Qui-Gon felt several bites at his skin as the debris rained down on them but nothing that would cause much damage. However, he hardly had time to reflect on it before two more powerful blast hit, only this time further to the left.
Dawn’s screams could barely be heard in the thundering din that the explosions had caused, but her shocked terror hit him hard. He held the child close, but it hardly seemed to comfort her.
Glaring up at him, Buffy asked, “Have I mentioned lately how much I hate it when you’re right?”
Stumbling, Willow grabbed the side of the table as the Winnebago suddenly shifted underneath her with a thunderous roar. The bag of chips she had just opened feel to the floor quietly while one of the books that Giles had stacked on the table slid after it and landed with a soft thud. Willow held herself up, even though her foot had slipped out from under her and slid into one of the lower cabinets. She winced slightly from the awkward angle her ankle had landed in but managed to ignore it.
The snapping crack of broken glass broke through the roar, but she hardly had time to think where it came from.
Out of instinct, Willow muttered a quick protection spell. Not a moment too soon, either. She had barely finished speaking before a second and then third explosion reverberated through the Winnebago.
The tinkling sound of small pebbles and rocks hitting against the roof like hard specks of rain could scarcely be heard through the din roar of her own ears.
Willow looked up at Giles. He was lowering the arm he had thrown up to cover his head while his other had reached out towards her as if it would offer some sort of protection. His eyebrows were knitted, and his lips were parted in a small frown. He clearly had no idea what had happened.
“Are you alright?” he asked.
“What was that?” Xander exclaimed as he stumbled in from the bedroom along with Anya. “What happened?”
Giles may have replied or may not have. Willow wasn’t sure, for it was at that moment that she turned to the front of the Winnebago.
Spider web cracks had spread across the windshield, making it impossible to see through it. Willow could see several small holes where some of the debris had managed to smash its way through, but somehow they had not broken out the entire windshield. The passenger side window, however, was scattered across the front dash and captain chairs.
Weakly, she rolled to the side of chair to face them but held her hand pressed to the side of her face. A dazed look rested on her face as she forced herself to sit up a little straighter and look at them. She then drew the her hand away and looked down at the fingers that were covered in sticky blood.
“Tara!” Willow shrieked as she scrambled to her.
She glanced up at her name, but it didn’t seem as Tara quiet understood her. Ignoring the bites at her knees from broken glass and debris, Willow knelt in front of Tara and took her face into her hands.
“Tara, baby, can you hear me?” she asked, pushing her hands over Tara’s forehead and smearing blood into her blond hair.
“What happened?” Tara asked.
“The welcoming committee has finally arrived,” Buffy said dryly as she practically ripped the door from its hinges. She briefly glanced over at Tara but quickly turned her full attention to Giles. “We need to leave. Now.”
Nodding in agreement, Giles scrambled out from behind the table and towards the driver’s seat as Qui-Gon hurried inside. Dawn clutched to his robes as she continued to cry, though what had sure to been loud screams had now changed over into soft sobs and whimpers. At first, it appeared as if he were about to hand the child over to Willow until he saw Tara. Without hesitating, he turned and gave the child over to Anya as Giles climbed into the driver’s seat.
“Are you alright,” he asked softly as he too knelt in front of Tara.
She did not get a chance to answer before Buffy was stepping over Willow to get at the windshield. A broad sword swung at her side.
“Heads up,” she said.
Moving quickly, Qui-Gon leaned over the girls as Giles threw his hands over his own head.
“Good Lord,” Giles said as Buffy struck the hilt of the sword through the windshield.
Larger holes appeared as she pushed the broken glass out, but several pieces fell around her hands. Buffy didn’t seem to notice, however.
“Let’s go,” Buffy said flatly once she was done.
Knowing an order when he heard one, Giles cranked the vehicle and shifted gears. The mountain path they had landed on wasn’t exactly made for Winnebago travel, but Giles managed to get the motor-home moving.
However, he had only built up a little speed before Qui-Gon stiffened and reached out.
“Giles, wait!” he snapped before another explosion blasted an area a bit further up the path.
Giles turned the vehicle sharply, and Willow was thrown against his seat from the force. The tires spun in the mud as the breaks squealed, and the Winnebago slid towards the fast approaching burning crater. Willow sucked in a sharp breath as she waited for the vehicle to turn over, but an impossibly long moment passed before the Winnebago came to a shuttering halt.
Glancing quickly at the broken windshield, Willow could only see a clear blue sky that was being partly obscured by dusty smoke. They were close to where the explosion had hit. Way too close.
“Everyone out!” Buffy snapped as she practically grabbed Willow off the floor and none-to-gently pushed Xander towards the door.
Willow didn’t remember much after that. She could remember helping Tara up, having enough forethought to grab some of the books off the table, and then being outside in the cool, crisp air that smelled like fire and snow.
The next thing she knew she was being pulled behind a large boulder and thrown to the ground as the Winnebago erupted in flames and made its way towards Winnebago heaven.
Tara laid on the ground next to her and still seemed rather confused about everything that was happening, while Xander crouched protectively over Anya and Dawn. Giles was leaning back against the boulder, having apparently just sat up from the time honor ‘duck and cover’ position, while Qui-Gon and Buffy knelt on the other side of him.
Glancing over her shoulder, Buffy leaned on the broad sword she still held and looked at the wreckage before muttering to herself, “Why is it every time I come to this stupid dimension, I end up loosing all my clothes?”
Dawn’s loud cried echoed around them, which caused Buffy’s eyes to widen at the Scoobies’ looks.
Narrowing her eyes, Buffy protested, “I so didn’t mean it that way, and you know it.”
From a wet, icy slush of mud that had one time been solid dune, the young swoop driver peered over the ledge of a small cliff to the group of strangers. His legs ached from the long run, and his muscles protested when he stretched them in order to stand taller to see, but he ignored it as he tried to get a better look at them.
Their chatter had caught his attention a few minutes earlier as he had tried to make his way through the mountain’s ridge. Anyone with the least bit of sense knew to avoid the paths, since they were well marked and easy for the enemy to spot. These people, however, seemed to had missed the message.
At first, he had wondered if they were the resistance come to meet him, but he dismissed the thought. For one thing, the resistant fighter knew better than to put themselves out in the open like that. Whoever they were, they obviously hadn’t been in many battles to make such a rookie mistake like that. It was a mistake that mostly only saw people make once before they ended up in the presences of gods and their friends learned never to do that.
Another thing that told them that they weren’t the resistance was the fact that they were all humans. Any humans that had been unfortunate to be planetside had promptly disappeared soon after the droids showed up. No one asked what happened to them, mostly due to the fact that no one really cared. Their own species had enough to worry about without worrying about another that didn’t belong on their planet in first place.
Of course, this begged the question where did these stupid humans come from?
Reaching over, he grabbed onto a thin tree that had grown out the side the small cliff he was peering over. He watched as the one with the long hair and beard said something to the angry-looking blond.
Well, whoever they were, they were on their own. He had enough to do at the moment and since the Separatist seemed to have themselves a new target…
A sharp slicing sound thudded next to his head as a rather nasty looking sword embedded itself into the tree trunk next to him. His eyes widened as he looked at the sharp blade that vibrated stiffly awful close to his exposed next.
A soft clearing of the throat drew his attention away from the weapon and to the very tall human that now stood over him. His face was almost serine as he looked down on him: the picture of pure control. He had curled his fingers up to hid in the bottom of the long sleeves of his jacket before he brought his arms together. He wasn’t quiet crossing his arms, but they were folded over one another, which allowed the young swoop driver a nice view of the deactivated lightsaber that hung at his waist.
Feeling his jaw drop slightly, the blood drained from his face and his pale blue skin lost a few shades. After all these years, the Jedi had finally sent someone to held the people of Gala.
And apparently they sent the stupidest one.
If he ever needed proof that the gods did hate him and his people, Melo was pretty sure that he just got it.
Disclaimer and summary found with the prologue.
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