Faith XI - Mourning
Tal had picked up Faith and carried her over his shoulder back to the speeder and set her in the back seat of the passenger cabin. Vira took the gunner’s seat while Tal flew them back to the spaceport. For the entire flight back, even while under attack from swoop gangs and wild beasts, Faith did something she hadn’t done since she’d hit her lowest low in a back alley in Los Angeles years ago.
Faith cried. She wept for the emptiness she felt all around her. Ralto had been more than a familiar face: He had been a familiar presence. His existence in the Force was something almost tangible for Faith, and she realized now that she had taken it for granted all this time.
And now, Ralto was dead. Gone forever.
Ralto might have believed that there was no death. Faith wanted to believe that he survived in the Force somehow, but she was too wracked with grief to even begin to search for him. Meditation would help if anything would.
Faith hated herself as the speeder landed on the Promenade. She let Tal and Vira guide her back to their ship, but all she could think of was how horrible she had been to Ralto and how good he had been to her.
The Nautolan Jedi Master had put up with her endless flights of whimsy, her distinctly un-Jedi-like attitude, her overall lack of respect for him and his position, and he had tolerated all of her faults while still being able to return a smile in her direction.
The man had had the patience of a saint, Faith mused as Tal led her into the ship and laid her down on her bed. Faith still remembered the first time she had seen him. It had been when she’d first been plucked from Earth and deposited on Denova. She had thought that Ralto was a demon and had tried to kill him.
He not only forgave her, but he took her under his wing and trained her to be a Jedi Knight. The notion caused Faith to laugh a mirthless sound. She was no Jedi. Jedi were heroes: The best of the best.
Ralto had been a true Jedi. He’d died a hero’s death.
And what was Faith next to such greatness? She was once more the screw-up; the failure; the one who got good people killed because she wasn’t strong enough to save them.
Someone knocked on the open door.
Faith looked up and saw Tal looking down at her. He was in casual garb and had no armor or weapons on him. “Mind if I come in?” he asked kindly.
“Door’s open.” Even if Earth was nowhere to be found, Faith wasn’t about to issue an open invitation to anyone.
Thankfully, Tal took the statement as it was intended and entered her small cabin. Faith propped herself up to a seated position and moved to the side so that Tal could sit down next to her.
“Master Ralto was a good man,” Tal said softly. “I didn’t talk with him much, and I didn’t know him well, but he always seemed like a fair-minded man with a good heart. I’ll miss him, too.”
Faith shook her head and tried to blink away the tears that threatened to well up and burst out again. “I was such an ass,” she said. “I treated him like shit, and he died to let me live.”
“Faith,” Tal said, taking her hand in his, “you might be a colorful personality, but you never did wrong by any of us. Hell, you treated Master Ralto kinda like a kid might treat her dad. Good-natured humor, right?”
“Like a dad?” The thought hadn’t occurred to Faith before, but the more she pondered it, the more it made sense. Her relationship with Ralto hadn’t been like what she’d had with Mayor Wilkins, but it had been a familial sort of thing in its own way.
“I guess he was kinda like Giles was to B,” Faith said.
“Who?” Tal asked.
“Sorry. B is Buffy. She’s sort of my… What do I call her? She’s like me. We’re both Slayers, and I guess you’d call us frenemies. Any given day, we’ll be chilling together or else going at each others’ throats. We’re close to each other: Really close. It’s a hard thing to explain.”
“That’s fine,” Tal said kindly. “Who’s Giles?”
“Right,” Faith said. “Giles was Buffy’s Watcher. He was the one in charge of training her, looking after her, making sure she survived long enough to be able to fight the good fight on her own. And also, I think he was kinda like a dad for her. B’s real dad was a sleazebag who ditched his family for his hot secretary. A walking cliché, I know, but there it is. Giles was there for her, and she turned out all right.”
Tal smiled warmly and tightened his gentle grip on Faith’s hand. “I think you’re right. I think Master Ralto was your Watcher, as you put it.”
That made Faith look up. She met Tal’s eyes and found warmth and kindness looking back at her. “My Watcher?” Faith had had only one Watcher that she’d had any real respect for, and Diana Dormer had been killed by the vampire, Kakistos, before Faith could truly benefit from her tutelage.
Giles had been too focused on Buffy to help Faith with what she needed by the time she dropped by Sunnydale. Gwendolyn Post had been a fraud and a psychopath, and then Wesley Wyndham-Pryce turned out to be a little sissy who didn’t know anything about how things really worked. At least Wesley had managed to grow up and grow a pair before he died fighting.
And Ralto… Ralto had filled the role of Watcher without Faith even realizing it until now. Faith had never had a father – her real dad had been behind bars for most of her life without her ever knowing him – and even the Mayor didn’t count. He was sort of an evil Watcher. Faith didn’t know what having a dad was like, but a Watcher was the next best thing, and Ralto had been that for her.
And now he was gone.
“It’s all my fault.”
“What? Faith, don’t be silly,” Tal said.
“What’s silly about it?” Faith said angrily. “If I’d stayed behind and fought, if I’d helped, I could have saved him! I abandoned him to die!”
“You listen to me, Faith!” Tal yelled.
Faith was never one to take trash talk from anyone, but after losing the closest thing to a father she’d ever had, Faith was stunned into silence.
“You listen to me,” Tal repeated more softly. “You did everything you could. You got the intel we needed, you got out with it, and you certainly did not abandon anyone. You would have died back there with Master Ralto if he hadn’t told Vira and me to grab you and drag you out of there kicking and screaming. You didn’t do anything wrong, Faith. You did everything right. Unfortunately, that isn’t always enough.”
Tal stood up and put a hand on Faith’s shoulder. “We’re on our way to Tython. It’ll be a few hours, so get some sleep. You’ll feel better after you get some rest.”
Faith looked up at the big soldier with a small smile on her face. “You’re a nice guy, Tal. How do you stay so good after all the shit that happens to everyone in this galaxy? How do you keep it from knocking you down?”
“I don’t,” Tal said with a smile of his own. “The trick isn’t to never get knocked down, Faith. The trick is to keep getting back up as many times as you have to. The only person who can keep you down is you.”
Faith laughed. “You sound like a Jedi, Tal.”
“Oh no,” Tal said with a warm chuckle. “I’m just a man with a giant gun, trying to do the right thing. Get some rest, Faith.”
“Thanks, Tal. And… Thank you for saving my life back there. It hurts like hell, but I learned a long time ago that dying before your time is the easy way out. I don’t want to take the easy way out, so thanks.”
“Anytime, Faith.” Tal smiled as he left Faith’s cabin and closed the door behind him.
Faith tried to meditate for a few minutes, but she couldn’t bring herself to the level of calm needed. Feeling quite defeated, Faith lied down, closed her eyes, and let sleep take her.
The streets of Los Angeles were darker than Faith remembered them. The lamps didn’t shine as bright and the moon was hidden from view.
Faith walked down into the alley as the rain poured down from above. She saw herself brawling with Angel as she hit her lowest low.
“You hear me?!” Faith saw herself yell as her memory-self kept pounding Angel with her fists. “You don’t know what evil is!”
Angel defended himself without striking back at Faith. She remembered wanting so badly for him to punish her.
“I’m bad!” she yelled. “Fight back!”
Angel grabbed her. “Nice try, Faith.”
They scuffled again and Faith saw herself go flying back. Angel followed.
“I know what you want.” Another bout of fighting. “I’m not gonna make it easy for you.”
That had been the last straw. Faith saw and remembered herself throwing herself at Angel in a tirade of nearly incoherent fury, rage, and despair.
“I’m evil! I’m bad! I’m evil! Do you hear me?! I’m bad! Angel, I’m bad!”
And now the rage began to ebb and the tears began to flow.
“I’m bad,” Faith heard herself say through her growing sobs. “Do you hear me? I’m bad! I’m bad! Please. Angel, please, just do it.”
Now was the part that Faith only vaguely remembered as Wesley coming out of the building, ready to aid Angel if need be.
This time, however, it was Master Ralto who came out of the building. He held no weapon, and he did not run or show any signs of the torture she’d inflicted on Wesley when the scene in front of her had actually played out. Ralto just walked over to stand beside Faith as she watched herself fall into Angel’s arms.
“Angel please, just do it. Just do it. Just kill me. Just kill me.”
Faith felt a blue Nautolan hand on her own shoulder as she saw the memory of herself and Angel falling to the ground as she sobbed helplessly into the vampire’s shoulder.
“I never knew,” Ralto said softly. “Faith, I’m so sorry.”
“Don’t be,” she said. “I was bad. I had to hit rock bottom to come back up at all. Seems like forever ago, but here I am again.”
“Again?” Ralto asked kindly.
Faith let out a sound halfway between a laugh and a sob. “Yeah, again. You died on my watch, Ralto. I failed, just like I always fail. I don’t want to keep messing up, and I figure the best way to make sure of that would just be to… Well, you saw, right?”
“I did, Faith. I saw.”
“Yeah, I told Tal that I learned my lesson about not giving up. Truth is that it ain’t that easy to get back up again when you’ve just lost your Watcher.”
“I heard that conversation,” Ralto said gently. “You truly saw me as a fatherly sort of person. I can’t say I ever expected that, Faith, but I’m both honored and flattered.”
Faith laughed humorlessly. “I am so messed up. Having this conversation with my own twisted psyche. What is up with this, anyway? Why are you here?”
Ralto shrugged. “Perhaps I’m more than just a figment of your imagination. There is no death, Faith. All things are possible in the Force.”
Faith looked anew at her deceased Master and saw his eyes glimmer with contentment as he smiled graciously.
“Is… Is that really you, Master?”
“I’m not entirely sure myself, to be honest,” Ralto said. “I’m one with the Force now, but whether it is truly me talking to you or else some other manifestation of the Force, I could not say. I do know that you haven’t called me ‘Master’ in quite some time.”
Faith chuckled. “Well, you really were a Jedi Master. You kept trying to teach me, and I didn’t listen. I just wish you didn’t have to die for me to see what you were all about.”
“Death is not the end of us, Faith,” Ralto said as his hand caressed Faith’s cheek. “You see things in me now that you did not see before, and you carry such a capacity for love and goodness inside you that I can never truly die. You will love and pass on your kindness to others, and they in turn will pay that goodwill forward, and the cycle will keep going. That is all I can hope for, and I know you won’t fail, Faith.”
“How can you know that?” Faith asked with trepidation. “How can you know I’ll be anything other than a fu… Sorry. A screw-up. How can you be so sure I won’t just be a screw-up like every time before?”
“I know, Faith, because I see you even now in the Force. You shine so brightly, and you always have. You have a shadow, but all beings do. That darkness is a part of you, and it always will be. Your determination to move forward, to do good and to make up for your past… That makes you great.”
Faith shook her head. “It’ll never be enough. There’s no end to repenting. I’ll never be fully clean.”
“That doesn’t change the fact that you want to do what is right,” Ralto said kindly. “You want to help people, and you want to make sure that nobody suffers what you suffered through. Some people say that suffering builds character, and while I would never wish the pain you have suffered upon anyone, you have emerged from that pain as a strong and beautiful woman with a heart full of goodness and love. I have never had another student like you, and I am proud to call you a friend.”
Faith could barely stand anymore. She leaned into the blue-skinned Nautolan, and he wrapped his arms around her and held her close as she let a few silent tears flow.
“You always put up with me, Ralto,” Faith said. “I put you through so much trouble. I’ve said it to myself, but I’ll say it to you now: You have the patience of a saint.”
Ralto chuckled warmly. “You are hardly the average Jedi, Faith. You are, however, a unique person with so much to offer the rest of the galaxy. We may not have always seen eye-to-eye, but I have never been so proud of any of my students as I am of you.”
Faith gripped the Jedi Master’s robes tight as she tried to bite back tears. “I’ll keep going, Master. I’ll do it for you. I won’t let myself give up.”
“Don’t keep going for my sake, Faith,” Ralto said. “Not just for my sake, at least. Keep yourself moving forward for the sake of yourself, for those you love, and for all those you seek to protect. Everything is connected, Faith. Never forget that.”
Faith leaned back from Ralto and looked him in the eyes. Each of them had one hand on the other’s shoulder.
“You were the best, Master Ralto. And I guess you still are.”
Ralto smiled wide at his former student. “The Force will be with you, Faith. Always.”
Faith woke up.
The trip down to Tython from the orbiting space station had been entirely uneventful, and Faith was dreading the judgment of the Jedi Council. Her dream talk with Ralto, regardless of whether or not it had really been him, had helped Faith deal with what had happened. She was still torn up inside, but she was trying not to let her grief devour her. Faith had needed to hear Ralto’s voice, and she was perfectly willing to believe that her old Master was still alive in some form that she just could not see or comprehend.
Faith was slightly surprised that nobody confiscated the many firearms, grenades, and small blades that Tal and Vira carried. Given the level of combat skill that she’d seen Ralto display, however, she expected that the Jedi were confident that they could negate any potential threats within the Temple
Remembering Ralto’s infinite patience and tolerance, Faith realized that it was just as likely that the Jedi were extending an open hand of trust to Tal and Vira. The notion made Faith feel dirty, as she would never have invited armed first-time guests into her home. Faith had made an effort to vouch for the two soldiers, and she was humbled to see that the Jedi seemed to give a damn about what she thought.
The landing pad was in an open-air part of the Jedi Temple itself, and the trip to the Council chambers after touchdown was not long at all. In Faith’s mind, however, the walk was slow and long and in the general direction of not-nice words being said about her. There could be an execution waiting for her as well, for all she knew. Ralto was one man, but Faith didn’t really know how the other Jedi would react to his death on her watch. If she was honest with herself, Faith wasn’t even sure how she wanted them to react.
The double doors to the Council chamber slid open and allowed Faith to walk inside. She made a distinct effort to hold her head high to combat the image of weakness that she felt inside herself. Tal and Vira followed right behind her.
Satele Shan rose from her seat and walked to meet Faith, causing the younger Jedi to smile very slightly. The Grand Master of the Jedi Order might be a powerful and influential personage, but she also seemed to truly care about individual people.
“Welcome back to Tython, Faith. And welcome to you as well, Major Cortland and Lieutenant Septus. Thank you for coming. I received a very brief, text-only update from the Major, but I’d like to hear from you, Faith, about what happened on Nar Shaddaa.”
Faith tried not to smile. A lot of people in power would play around with words and avoid actually dealing with what had to be dealt with. Satele Shan didn’t mess around, and Faith respected her for that. It didn’t hurt that she was quite easy on the eyes. Even if Satele was in her forties or fifties, Faith could imagine… No! No imagining such things! That was not why she was here.
“We had to work to find the place, which turned out to be a temple of some sort,” Faith said. “It was a four-sided pyramid, but not with a single slope. It was layers built on top of each other. One of those super-skyscrapers was built on top of it and a few other buildings.”
“Interesting. The design is familiar, but please continue,” Satele said.
“Uh, right. So, we went inside. There was a big ramp leading into the temple, and there were statues of some alien that none of us recognized. It looked kinda like a human in that it had two arms, two legs, a head, and a body, but the hands were different, and the heads looked like a penis with the eyes being two balls sticking out on the sides.”
“Jedi Lehane,” one of the other Masters said sternly, “are you trying to make a mockery of this situation?”
“No, I’m not,” Faith answered the dark-skinned human man. “I’m just calling ‘em like I see ‘em. Mind if I continue?”
The Jedi Master who didn’t give his name merely waved a hand dismissively.
“Thanks,” Faith said tersely, taking his gesture as permission to speak further. “So, we go through to a room further inside, and there’s a Hutt in there, only it’s all shriveled and corrupt and pale. It’s like if you took a Sith who’s used the Dark Side so much that his skin is white and veiny and his eyes are red… Take that and multiply that by a hundred or something.
“So the Hutt talks to us, only it doesn’t feel like a Hutt and it wasn’t speaking Huttese. I dunno what it was speaking, but I think the Force was translating. It really, really wanted this Purge Engine to go off, whatever it is. It said that using this weapon would be its revenge. It mentioned its species, and I think that whatever was talking was just possessing the Hutt’s body, and had been using its ancestors and possessing the kids as soon as they popped out.”
“That could be true, assuming it could find enough food to survive over many Hutt generations,” Satele said fairly. “Hutts are hermaphrodites and need no partner to reproduce. They just need a lot of food. In any event, do you remember what the species was called?”
Faith shook her head. “Everything happened so fast. The thing summoned a huge storm of lighting that probably would’ve vaporized us all if Ra- If Master Ralto hadn’t summoned some sort of barrier to protect us all. Vira and Tal… I mean Lieutenant Septus and Major Cortland covered me while I downloaded the map.
“Master Ralto…” And now came the hard part. “Master Ralto kept up his defense long enough for us to get away. I don’t know if he took the monster down with him, but he gave his life so that we could escape. I’m sorry I couldn’t save him, Master Shan. I didn’t want to leave him there.”
Satele shook her head. “You don’t have to justify Ralto’s sacrifice, Faith. He did what Jedi are meant to do: He served and protected the lives of others. It may have cost him his life, but he lives on through your actions now, Faith, and all of ours as well.”
“I know that, Master,” Faith said, wanting to show respect in this place. “It just seemed like something I had to say, y’know?”
“I think so, Faith,” Satele said kindly. “And now, I think I have some idea of what we are up against. Before I speculate further, do either of you remember what species built this Purge Engine?” she asked of the two soldiers.
“Rakata,” Tal said. “It said that the Purge Engine was ‘the ultimate revenge of the Rakata.’ Words like that aren’t something that I’m likely to forget, especially with how it spoke them. Maybe the Force had something to do with it, but everything it said just felt evil in a way that I can’t really describe.”
“I agree,” Vira said. “It was a monster, and it had to be destroyed. I’m sorry that Master Ralto had to die to save us, but I intend to honor him by making sure that the Purge Engine is never used. If we can, I’d like to destroy it.”
“That would probably be for the best,” Satele said. “The Rakata were an ancient race that is almost extinct now. They ruled the galaxy for thousands of years before the Jedi Order and the Republic ever existed. They enslaved much of the known galaxy and ruled their ‘Infinite Empire’ through the Dark Side of the Force. The Star Forge that was at the heart of the Jedi Civil War three hundred years ago was Rakata technology.”
“How do you know this, Master Shan?” a female Togruta Jedi asked.
“Interestingly enough, Master Kiwiiks, I found the answers in a book that Jedi Faith found in the Temple on Coruscant: A journal written by my ancestor, Bastila Shan. She wrote about the Rakata homeworld – it was called Lehon, which is probably why the ruin on Taris responded to that name – and the Star Forge in great detail. Their technology required the Force to use, and that became the Rakata’s undoing.”
“How’s that?” Faith asked.
“Near the end of the Infinite Empire’s reign,” Satele explained, “a plague swept through the Rakata populace. It not only hurt them physically, but it permanently severed their connection to the Force, or at least their ability to manipulate it. Their own technology would not work for them, and the various slave species rose up and defeated them. The only survivors are a pale shadow of what they once were, and their numbers aren’t enough to sustain a population for much longer.”
“But if the Sith find the Purge Engine,” Faith said as comprehension dawned, “then they could use it to kill whatever it is the thing kills.”
“It might not be that sort of weapon,” Master Kiwiiks said fairly.
“That is possible,” Satele acknowledged, “but I find it unlikely. What troubles me even more is a report I recently received from a local law enforcement official on a planet in the Outer Rim. One of the natives of the planet Tatooine came to him with a story of a trio of Imperials – at least two of whom were Sith – that took hostage a clan of Jawas, the local natives, and forced them to take the Sith to a desert ruin. These Sith killed Jedi Master Roland Skoan, and the surviving Jawas said that the ruin on Tatooine featured the same symbol that we have been using to identify relics of the Infinite Empire.
“The Sith are on their way to finding the Purge Engine. Jedi Faith Lehane, we need you to take the lead in finding the Purge Engine before the Sith so that we can end this threat for good.”
Faith smiled grimly. “They won’t get the chance to use it, Master Satele. Whoever these three Sith are, they don’t have anything on the three of us, do they, guys?”
“Not a chance, Faith,” Vira said enthusiastically.
“We have this,” Tal said encouragingly.
“All right then,” Faith said. “We’ll find the Purge Engine and destroy it.” She figured that it was the least they could do to honor Master Ralto’s memory.
“And if those three Sith try to stop us, we’ll be damned sure to make them pay.”
I own nothing from Star Wars or Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Nothing new introduced here, so see previous disclaimer for what specifically is and isn't mine.
Disclaimer: Some dialog from this chapter is lifted verbatim from the Angel episode 'Five by Five.'
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Thank you all for reading and sticking with this story! I know this chapter has almost no action in it, but I still feel that Faith's character needed a quiet chapter like this. I hope you enjoy this chapter, and I hope you stay tuned for next time in which Buffy & Co. continue their own adventure.
Until next time... May the Force be with you!