Sliding Time 7:
Puckworld Revolution

by Fur and Fantasy
NC-17 for M/M and M/F sex
full contents and notes located at the bottom of the file

"Not again," Duke dove for cover without bothering to really take in the world and shot back at the forces laying cover fire on them on reflex. He could hear Wildwing, Wolf and Carmelita only a few paces away doing the same, the distinctive humming crackle of two lightsabers being ignited and the bone chilling howl as SunWind's form flowed into the monstrous Lumari and he gave into the battle lust he was still exploring the full existence of.

Two worlds in a row where they were dropped into the middle of a war; this couldn't be a good sign.

Then he made out the forces firing on them; Saurians. Another moment and he placed some of the landmarks of Puckworld's capitol.

"Anybody know who these are?" Obi-Wan asked, blocking a flurry of blaster bolts with his lightsaber.

"Whoever they are, they're not just firing at us," Lyass pointed out, advancing on them in a defensive stance.

"Saurians!" Wildwing shouted over the noise. "We're on Puckworld."

"~Dead lizards,~" SunWind rumbled silently as he charged the opposing line with little care for getting hit.

Lyass wasn't far behind him, surprising everybody by shifting her stance to the offensive and taking a massive leap towards a Saurian unit, hacking their blast-rifles in two as she provided some cover for SunWind as he decimated the ranks he was set against with an abandon that would scare the hell out of anyone with half a brain for survival.

"Cover that whatever!" An achingly familiar voice to both Wildwing and Duke shouted from the Duck's line.

"It can't be," Wildwing whispered, stilling in his shock

"Can, is, figure it out later," Duke whacked his shoulder hard to focus him back on the battle.

"Besides, whoever it is, I like his orders," Wolf rumbled, flipping his blaster over to auto-fire and spraying into a mass of Saurians trying to swing around to get behind SunWind. It wasn't very accurate or powerful fire, but it kept them where they were long enough for Obi-Wan to move to hold them back.

It only took a few minutes more before the Saurians began to retreat, most of their leaders bloody smears along with many of their weapons.

"Hold your positions," Canard ordered his troops, who were now preparing for the possibility that the monster that had routed the Saurians so quickly might turn on them.

"He won't fire on them if they don't start it first," Wolf said confidently, holstering his blaster, waiting for his mate to relax enough to shift back to Maru as the two Jedi extinguished their lightsabers.

Wildwing stood almost immediately, his mask firmly in place as he called out. "Canard?"

Duke put a hand on his shoulder, his blaster still in free hand as the large white Duck approached from the unit of Ducks that looked far more organized than anything the pair had seen on their Puckworld.

"I see you managed to keep the Mask," Canard called to his kinfolk as he approached. Behind him, his troops were much more nervous. "Real thing?" Duke asked quietly.

"Yes," Wildwing's voice was barely a whisper.

"Your old leader?" Wolf asked Duke quietly, knowing that Wildwing wasn't exactly in a condition to answer questions just now.

"Among other things," Duke nodded, his own body tense with the internal struggle not to rush to greet the larger Duck and the even more difficult one of holding Wildwing in place without an obvious struggle.

It was a contest he lost when Canard was about half way across the battlefield.

"It is him," Wildwing nearly groaned and ran to greet him.

Wolf tensed, watching the other Ducks to see how they reacted... and how Wildwing would greet Canard. If they'd been lovers, and the Ducks here were anything like the ones Wildwing and Duke were used to....

It wasn't hard to see that it was about the same thoughts that were going through Duke's mind.

"We won't let him be hurt," Obi-Wan promised, ready to act if need be.

"~Must not touch?~" SunWind's mind brushed against Wolf's as he returned to the group, his arousal intense and obvious to anyone who cared to look.

"~I don't know,~" Wolf admitted quietly. "~Their pack threw them out for what they were to each other... might be different here.~"

The tension on all sides held as the two white Ducks met among the bodies, mostly Saurian, and stood at arm's length as they regarded each other.

It was Canard that moved first. One step forward and his arms wrapped around Wildwing's body to pull him close in a kiss that could leave no doubt that they had been lovers and had parted still desiring each other.

For Wildwing's part, he stiffened for a second, then melted into the embrace and gave up any remaining thoughts to the consequences of how public this display was.

"~Might just be that he's their leader, but I don't think they're about to roast anybody alive for it,~" Wolf thought to SunWind, relief practically burning in his thoughts as everybody on both sides started to relax.

"I don't think this is your Puckworld," Obi-Wan commented quietly to Duke as the group headed for where Canard and Wildwing were talking quietly, and trying their best not to be too frisky in public.

"Y'ask me? That's not a bad thing," Duke murmured. "Canard's alive here, after all."

"And they aren't being shot at for kissing," Wolf added with an affectionate scratch behind SunWind's large ears.

"That too," Duke nodded.

"I think that is your Canard," SunWind added with a bit of surprise.

Duke raised the brow over his good eye and took a harder look at the white Duck that was only a few years younger than he was and now more war-hardened. "He was lost in hyper-space," he murmured thoughtfully.

The expressions on the pair shifted the full range of emotion as they spoke quietly.

"Welcome to Puckworld," Canard extended a hand to Obi-Wan in greeting, the other arm still wrapped around Wildwing, who's mask had long ago come off.

"Thank you," Obi-Wan said, shaking Canard's hand firmly and struck as always just how young Wildwing looked without his mask. "I suspect you arrived here in a manner similar to the one we did?"

"More intentional, I expect, but generally," he nodded. "Come. There are good beds and warm food at base."

"Thank you," Obi-Wan said again. "Maybe you can explain some of what's happened here? It looks like we were just dropped in the middle of another war."

"You have been," Canard told him evenly. "This Puckworld had an extra decade of warning to prepare, and slightly saner social standards."

"And someone who knew exactly what was coming," Duke added with a look.

"That too," Canard acknowledged.

"Are they likely to come back any time soon?" Lyass asked softly.

"That was just a skirmish," Canard told her. "A dozen happen on the world every day. They'll be back in a day or two."

"Just wanted to know if one of us should stay out to make sure they don't come back particularly soon," she said easily.

"So, the situation's pretty much like our Puckworld was, just doing a Hell of a lot better?" Duke asked.

"Pretty much," Canard nodded and reached out to brush his fingers across the back of Duke's hand. "We are winning, though slowly. This world's high magic level is helping a great deal too."

"There's something we could've used before," the thief admitted.

"Yeah," Canard nodded. "Ummm, so is he intelligent?" He motioned towards SunWind with his beak.

"Oh yeah," Duke chuckled. "You just met him at a bad time for first impressions. That's SunWind, the guy next to him is Wolf, the Raccoon is Sly, and the Vixen with the big gun is Inspector Carmelita Fox. This is Obi-wan," he said, indicating the younger Jedi, "and Lyass. The other girl ... where did Alyaa get to?"

"Back here," Wolf chuckled with a motion of his long muzzle behind SunWind.

"Oh, he made an excellent first impression, for a combat monster," Canard quirked a grin and relaxed a bit more as his hundred-odd soldiers closed rank around them for the short trip back to their base. "We don't have enough of those right now."

"Well he's one of the best you'll find," Duke said confidently. "Haven't known him that long, but he's taken out bigger groups than the one we were dealing with just now. Heals fast too."

"So are any of us on this world?" Wildwing asked a bit uneasily.

"No," Canard shook his head. "For all the similarities, there haven't been any people in common."

"Probably a good thing," Duke chuckled. "Could you imagine a world trying to deal with two of me?"

"World? Can you imagine having to face yourself?" The big Duck laughed. "Though I'm not sure I'd mind," he winked at both his old lovers.

"You wouldn't," Duke laughed, shaking his head. "Until you had to bail us both out of jail some time," he added with a smirk. "Y'know ... we've both really missed you," he admitted softly.

"Not as much as I missed you," Canard hugged Wildwing and reached out to squeeze Duke's hand. "It's been a very long time, very little of it fun."

"It never was, once the Saurians showed up," both of them agreed.

"C'mon... your friends seem like they'll be okay," Canard said, leading them back towards his own part of the base. "What have you two been up to?"

"Fighting the Saurians on a planet called Earth, where we both crash-landed, and a few other places we ended up over time," Wildwing began the story.

"We left when news of Tabrin's death kind of outed us," Duke said quietly.

"Tanya pressed the play button on the recording that Tattan sent. One meant to be played in private." Wildwing added to the explanation.

"And you, being you, couldn't let him be persecuted without making them think about it," Canard sighed with a shake of his head.

"Tanya joined us when Tattan arrived with Tabrin's old ship." Wildwing added with a nod.

"She find a good place to stay somewhere, while you guys were exploring?" Canard asked hopefully, even though he practically knew already that it wasn't going to have happened.

"She was killed by things called mind worms on Alpha Centauri two months after Tattan died so we could escape bounty hunters," Wildwing sighed, his gaze on the ground.

'He Tanya mates,' Duke hand signed so Wildwing wouldn't have to be reminded of his loss any more directly while giving Canard the full impact of the Duck's death.

"I'm sorry," Canard said softly, squeezing Wildwing's shoulder. "So, different topic... I'm sure you two have questions for me," he chuckled slightly.

"How did you end up here?" Wildwing grabbed the opening.

"You probably won't believe it, but magic," Canard said. "We have it too, around here. I was pulled out of hyperspace by Lord Archmage Anelloe. She was casting a spell to bring somebody here who would end up being important to this Puckworld's future. Nine years warning was a lot of help, once she finished reminding them of how I ended up here. It got easier once folks saw I knew what I was doing."

"Have you found anyone?" Wildwing asked quietly.

"No," he shook his head and ruffled the fine feathers of Wildwing's cheek with his bill. "Not that I was really looking. I've been pretty busy, especially since the Saurians showed up... we're doing pretty well, all things considered."

"How many mages fight with this unit?" Wildwing asked.

"At the moment, we're short our Mage, though five soldiers have enough talent to cast a few basic spells. I'm expecting her replacement to arrive in the next day or two." Canard explained simply. "The Saurians learned quick that they were the heaviest artillery we could bring to bear. Their ranks have been decimated in the past few years."

"That sounds like the Saurians all right," Duke muttered. "At least for now, you've got more than that here. Between SunWind, Obi-Wan, and Lyass, you've got one Hell of a bunch of heavy artillery."

"Particularly SunWind," Canard agreed. "That guy is a walking demolition team. Amazing to watch."

"Amazing, and just a little freaky sometimes," Wildwing nodded. "Though Obi-Wan and Lyass weren't pushing themselves too much out there. Those swords of theirs are particularly nasty; they could carve through the hull of a Saurian ship like it was barely there."

"Really?" Canard tapped in a security code to open the door to his quarters. "Technology they are willing to share?"

"You'd have to ask them that," Duke admitted. "Honestly... I don't have a clue if it'll even work for anybody else. There's something about them and their weapons, the way they treat 'em, almost like they're part of them."

"It wouldn't be the first time a powerful weapon bonded to it's owner in some way," Canard nodded, though it was clear he was referring more to magic than the technology he thought the lightsabers were. "I will ask."

"How long have you been here?" Wildwing asked as he looked around the room. While large by most standards he knew, there wasn't much to be seen. There were few photos of people he didn't know and looked military for the most part, a hologram of himself in bed, bare-chested but covered, that didn't look quite right. He could remember the night it was likely from, the first time he'd allowed Canard to coax him into his bed, but he didn't think he was quite that well grown at the time.

He tore his eyes away from the unsettling image and found Canard's old team jersey hanging on the wall with two hockey sticks crossed behind it.

"It was built off a memory, not a picture," Canard said softly and kissed Wildwing's cheek before pulling him around a bit for a real kiss. "Three years. Decorating hasn't been a top priority."

"I'm going to check out the base," Duke excused himself so he wouldn't be tempted to disrupt the true lovers reunion. He cared about them both, he had shared both their beds, but he knew it was not out of love or romance.

"I've missed you," Wildwing murmured, brushing Canard's cheek with his bill lightly.

"So did I, especially when I was stuck in hyperspace with nothing to do but think," he ran his hands down Wildwing's back. "Duke'll be fine."

"I know," he nodded slightly and pressed close, his memories of so long ago coming back to life vividly with the scent and touch of his lover back in his life. "Do ... we have time ... before you ...."

"Yes," Canard ended the question with a hungry kiss and slid one hand forward to unbuckle their belts. "We have time for ourselves."

Wildwing groaned softly, starting to work his lover's shirt free.

"Good," he murmured, kissing Canard back, more confident in what he was doing than the older Duck remembered him ever being before. Duke and Tanya had both seen to his education far beyond what Canard could have in their short time together.

They both hurried to remove their clothing, but even as Canard ghosted his fingers to either side of his lover's cloaca he paused. "My shower is big enough for two," he offered throatily.

"Good," Wildwing smiled. "Water, I hope?"

"What other kind are there?" Canard asked, honestly curious as he withdrew his hand so they could walk to the connected bathroom.

"The world we just came off of had nothing but sonic showers," Wildwing said, rolling his eyes. "It was not fun."

"Doesn't sound like it," he agreed and opened the door to a simple but spacious bathroom with a large shower installed over a soaking tub. "We have all the perks of civilization here."

"They thought they did too," the younger Duck hugged as him from behind as Canard turned the water on an waited for it to come up to temperature. "But I like this civilization better ... haven't been on a planet that knew what hockey was since Earth," he added.

"That's just uncivilized in the extreme," he muttered in understanding sympathy. "Still like it hot?"

"The hotter, the better," Wildwing grinned, nuzzling his neck a bit. "Haven't changed that much, you know."

"Good," he turned to kiss him soundly before they let go to step under the hot spray with a pleasant groan. "So this is a double treat."

"Only double?" Wildwing asked with a murmur. "Try triple, at least." He wrapped his arms around Canard, pulling him close. "Hot showers, back on Puckworld, the Saurians aren't in charge of everything yet, we don't have to run or hide anymore... and best of all, you're back from the dead."

"That's quite a list to top," he smiled down at his long-lost lover and began to run his hands down Wildwing's body, taking in the well-muscled, fully mature body he hadn't gotten a chance to explore before. "I'll try to live up to it."

"How about I try to make things good for you, for a change?" Wildwing suggested, running his fingers down Canard's chest and smiled at the hungry way his breath caught in his throat. "It's... really okay here?"

"Yes," Canard murmured and brushed his fingers through the fine feathers of Wildwing's cheek. "They really do accept gay couples here."

"Going to take a while to get used to it... but I sure hope we've got the time," Wildwing murmured, reaching down to lightly stroke around Canard's cloaca, coaxing him towards hardness.

"I know," he groaned and leaned back against the tiled wall and spread his legs a bit more. "You've been practicing," he shivered as his breath quickened as much from thought of who was touching him as the physical contact.

"I've had a good teacher... Duke had quite a few tricks," Wildwing chuckled, kissing Canard deeply as he fondled and caressed him.

"Yes, he does," Canard moaned and ran his hands down Wildwing's broad chest before slipping his fingers between his legs to share the pleasure he was receiving.

The younger Duck groaned, slipping his feathered fingers in to free Canard's slender, smooth shaft and began to stroke it lightly. This much he remembered from before; the pleasure of it being done to him. When Canard's head rolled back under the hot water he knelt and slowly ran his tongue up the smooth, salty length.

He suckled the tip lightly, then ran the side of his rigid bill back down Canard's shaft, working his way back up it hungrily, feeling more relaxed now than he had in the better part of a decade. He slid one hand back, the palm cupping the root of Canard's cock, and pressed lightly against the skin hiding his testicles.

"Oh, yeah," Canard groaned and began to rock his hips into the varied contact.

"Any more tips for me, let me know," Wildwing grinned, slipping a finger in to touch the very base of Canard's shaft as he took him back into his mouth, working him over with his tongue as his first lover trembled in ways that Duke never had but Wildwing remembered well. The intensity of that first intimate contact after years away from it was a rush like little else.

"Close," Canard warned with a sharp intake of breath and reached down to caress Wildwing's longer head feathers. His cock throbbed in Wildwing's mouth, the salty pre oozing out already to coat his tongue.

He forced himself not to pull back, to push Canard over the edge and stay there, swallowing every drop of his seed that he could, though most of it still oozed out of his beak.

"S-so how do you want it?" Canard gasped, his eyes still closed and body trembling with the force of the orgasm. He had no doubt that if Wildwing let go of his hips, he'd slide to the floor.

"Inside me," Wildwing said easily, his own shaft hard between his legs, working to get Canard hard again.

"Glad you still like that," he kissed Wildwing, long and lingering, as his body recovered enough to indulge his lover.

"Both the guys I've been with preferred the other end," Wildwing chuckled, leaning back against the shower wall with a groan.

"True enough," Canard moved forward with him and nuzzled his soaked white feathers before rubbing their hips together. When he finally heard Wildwing moan in desperate need he shifted down and easily guided his cock along Wildwing's and into his body.

"Oh yeah," he moaned, squeezing down, his shaft rubbing against Canard's as the older Duck started to thrust into him slowly. He wrapped his arms around his neck, pulling him close for a desperate, hungry kiss that was returned with the same founding emotions.

"Love you, Wildwing," Canard whispered and brought one leg up to wrap around Wildwing's hip. It made it a bit awkward for them to stand, but when Canard reached back between his legs to shift and guide Wildwing's shaft into his own body they both forgot about it in the intensity of the double-penetration.

"Mmmph!" Wildwing's eyes were wide with surprise at the intense feelings of pleasure; it was clear that this was new for him, and that he wasn't quite sure what to do from here.

"Let your body do what it wants," Canard whispered with a long familiarity with teaching Wildwing this way.

"All right," Wildwing groaned, starting to thrust a bit awkwardly, his entire body trembling around and against his newly-found lover.

A few minutes earlier, Duke was slipping out, looking around the base.

"Good a time as any to find a room," Duke mused as he began to explore the base. Preferably one near Canard's quarters. He didn't have any doubt that Wildwing would be staying with the older Duck, and he didn't blame him. He just wasn't sure if he'd be welcome to stay there too, and to be perfectly frank, was pretty sure he wanted some space to himself regardless.

"You're one of the new arrivals," a perky female voice caught him from behind.

"Yeah, I am," he said, turning to face the red-billed, white-feathered female Tropicbird behind him. "Duke L'Orange... and you are?"

"Shatta," she smiled and extended a hand to him even as he spotted a name badge saying 'Lt. Swiftwing'. "You won't be staying with the General?"

"Not regularly, at least," Duke chuckled, shaking her hand. "Wildwing was closer to him than I ever was to either of them. Don't suppose you could help me find a room?"

"Sure," she grinned, an almost nasty look given her long, sharply pointed beak despite the friendly tone. "Do you want to be by the others you came with or the rest of us?"

"The rest of you guys, I think," Duke chuckled. "They're good enough guys, but they are not really my type of people. Barracks-type setup, or are personal quarters the norm?"

"Personal quarters, though the lower ranks share them," she said easily and motioned him to follow her. "So what's your specialty?"

"Getting things that other people don't want me getting," Duke chuckled, starting to follow her. "And getting into places I'm not supposed to be."

"You and Captain Ramillia will either get along great, or kill each other," Shatta snickered. "She's our resident master thief."

"Oh she is, is she?" Duke grinned. "She a specialist, or just a general thief?"

"She's a specialist at B&E and getting out alive and undetected," she explained. "That's what thieves do in war. She or the General can explain her missions better if you really want to know. It's not my field."

"I was just wondering if there was another jewel thief for me to watch out for," Duke chuckled. "It'd help answer that question about whether or not we were going to get along or kill each other," he winked.

"She wasn't a thief before the war," she shrugged and returned the smile and nod from a passing Mallard male. "She's military trained."

"Ah, new to the game then," Duke nodded slightly. "I was pretty well born to it," he admitted. "Good at it too," he bragged.

"So I've heard," she winked at him. "You'll find the rules have changed a bit. Magic brings a new level of difficulty to stealing, at least from some people."

"I'll just have to be careful about who I go for then," Duke chuckled. "Besides, I've focused on Saurians long enough that I'm not too worried about it just now. They'd taken most of the good gems back home for themselves at any rate."

"They haven't had that much successes on this Puckworld," Shatta churred with a vicious pride. "They don't actually control anything planetside."

"And they're still fighting after... what... ten years? Stubborn bastards, aren't they?" Duke muttered, shaking his head.

"Four years, and so are we. They may hold the high ground, but we control the ground," she said and paused to open a sliding door with 'Intake' edged on the metal surface. "Hay Gunny!" She called out in greeting to an older white Duck behind the desk. "Got a room for one more in officer land?"

"Always," the grizzled white Duck chuckled at her perkiness. "Let me guess, you'd be Duke L'Orange."

"What, does everybody here know my name?" Duke chuckled. "And I only just got here."

"Pretty much," Gunnery Sergeant Sandfeather chuckled even as he pulled out a well-worn hardcover book of rooms and their residents. "Between your friends that I just set up and Canard, you're obvious enough. Looking for your own space, or expecting to take in company fairly soon, or regularly?" He asked as he regarded the openings. "Or I can play matchmaker," he glanced up and winked.

"My own space with enough room to take in company when it's available would be fine, thanks," Duke said. "I imagine I'll have somebody over fairly often."

"All right," he nodded and was all seriousness for a moment before he stood and opened a small locked cabinet behind his desk and pulled out two keys. "Room 218. The Tropi will show you," he tossed the keys to Duke and a teasing grin to Shatta.

Duke caught the keys easily and followed Shatta out.

"So, I take it I'm not the only person with a reputation around here?" He asked with a half-grin.

"With a General like Canard?" She laughed easily. "No way. He draws the unusual and unruly and the others are happy to let him have us."

"That sounds like Canard," Duke grinned. "Some days I wonder how Wildwing ever hooked up with him, honestly. Guy's a regular boyscout."

"Except for his preference for males," Shatta reminded him. "From what I understand, on your world, that was a big way to end up on the wrong side of a lot of things. I never heard the entire story, but what I heard of it involved Canard rescuing him from a suicide attempt over it." She said with a fair amount of distress.

"That would do it ... and explain why he never wanted to tell me about how the two of 'em met," Duke grumbled. "And it was... got into more trouble for sleepin' with the occasional drake than I ever did for stealing."

"That's just so warped," she muttered with a shake of her head. "Didn't folks ever notice that it's natural?"

"Problem was, what some folks thought was natural," Duke shuddered. "Ever hear of a rape flight?"

"Well, yes, everybody has," she looked at him funny. "Don't tell me they took hormone-driven mob behavior as normal behavior."

"It was mostly same-sex, back home," Duke explained. "Take good old-fashioned idiocy, add in a couple well-publicized rape flights that ended in death before they raped the guy, and you've got the makings of some great propaganda."

"Yeah," she shivered with an icy stomach. "I can see that. Guess the propaganda folks had better things to focus on around here, like who the latest celebrity was sleeping with." She shook her head a bit. "Still just sick to blame an entire group for what a few nut-jobs did."

"Not gonna argue with you there," Duke agreed. "Our Puckworld fucked over Wildwing's head worse than anything the Saurians ever tried to do. Just glad that he's had a few worlds to adjust to the idea before we got here, or he'd probably have given Canard a much different greeting."

"I'm glad it went the way it did," Shatta said quietly as they turned a corner in the sizeable complex. "He's had enough trauma in his life."

"Which one?" Duke asked. "True of both of 'em."

"I was thinking of Canard, but that's true," she nodded as they went outside and headed for the two-story building that housed most of the officer's quarters. "As long as you're with us, you'll probably have the same quarters, unless you ask for a transfer," she added as the headed up the open-air stairs to the second floor.

"No problem," he smiled a bit. "It'll be good to have somewhere with some air... how tight's security around here, and how prone to shooting first are the guards?"

"That depends on whether you are Avian or Saurian and where you are," she said seriously, though there was humor in her dark eyes. "We're pretty relaxed overall. The places that will get you shot first are very well marked."

"So if I practice climbing around the walls and roofs, I'll probably be okay?" He chuckled. "Good to know. Last time I played dodge-the-guard it was too close; I've been slipping."

"Now we can't have that," she giggled playfully and led him along the open-air walkway lined with numbered doors. "If you're spotted, you'll be yelled at, but I seriously doubt you'll be shot at unless there's some kind of general alert to give more cause."

"If there's an alert, I've got better things to do than sneak around rooftops," he chuckled as they reached the right floor. "So, you know if anybody else is in 218?"

"You asked for solo quarters, so you should have them," she motioned to the door. "Officers get them by default."

"Okay," he nodded, unlocking the door and heading in. It wasn't bad, really - a lot better than some of the places he'd lived. Recently, too. It didn't take him long to spot a good place to put some of his stones, either.

"Not bad," he said approvingly. "By the way - you keep saying officers. What sort of hoops are Wildwing and I going to have to jump through, rank-wise?"

"I really don't know," Shatta admitted. "You are both going to be officers if you stay with the unit, so that's what you're getting for quarters. A lot of specifics are up to the General. He's got pretty much free reign on how things work around here. If you don't stay with us, or are civilian liaisons of some kind, then you'll probably live off base unless you hook up with someone here."

"Fair enough," he nodded, snagging a chair and pulling it out, turning it around to sit straddling the back of it. "So, what's your story?"

"I was in my first year of collage and ROTS when the first shots were fired," she leaned back against the wall. "Graduated early with a degree in Business Administration and was assigned to this base after that. Been here since."

"Just a few months then," he guessed after a few moments to do the math. "So you're not one of the misfits and rebellious sorts?" He asked with a chuckle, fairly sure she was, but wanting to leave it open to her if she'd talk about it.

"Not as much as most here," she smiled faintly in return. "I'm just too much of a slut for most bases to tolerate without actually doing anything against the regs."

"Somehow, I think I'm glad I showed up at this base instead of somebody else's. Better first impression," he winked.

"Even if it meant loosing both your lovers at the same time?" she cocked her head a bit.

"Don't count the Duke out yet with those two," he winked, earning a giggle from her. "Besides, unless I'm misreading things pretty badly, I've got... other options around here?"

"Oh, I'd say that's an accurate assessment," Shatta shifted her pose to be a bit more provocative. "Assuming you like ducks as well as drakes."

"Oh I do," he chuckled, leaning forward a bit. "You don't like making the first move, do you?"

"You get hit enough times for something, you tend to learn to avoid it," she sort of shrugged, though she relaxed a bit more. "Most drakes don't take much encouraging to do something," she chuckled a bit.

"Now who would hit a pretty face like yours?" Duke smiled, moving off the chair to sit down next to her on the bed, wrapping an arm around her back. "I just like to make sure the first move's a good idea too."

"A very conservative father," she sat on the bed next to him and ruffled the feathers of his neck with her long, slender beak. "He wasn't happy about my interest in drakes before marriage."

"Guess things haven't changed that much then," Duke murmured, rubbing her back through her cammies, using his own chipped bill to ruffle the finer feathers on her neck and upper shoulder. "Time to stop worrying about the past though, I think. The present's a lot more fun."

"Agreed," she slid her fingers under the collar of his shirt briefly before sliding a hand all the way down his chest to pull it out from under his belt.

Duke raised his arms, letting her pull his shirt off, then pulled her own shirt free, running his hands up beneath it to feel her lean, athletic body and well preened feathers. Along with the physical assessment, he could feel how eager she was. Though the hands on his belt were a clue too. He really shouldn't have worried about her being passive.

He pulled her shirt up and off of her body, bright white feathers a distinct contrast to his own dark brown ones. He let her press him back against the bed, kissing her lightly as he worked to undo her belt.

She had his unbuckled first and pulled his pants down as she shifted to preen her way to his groin.

Duke groaned, kicking off his boots and pants the rest of the way, reaching down to stroke her neck and back.

"Seems like you know what you want," he grinned. He drew a sharp breath when her fingers slid inside his cloaca to tease his cock out.

"Usually," Shatta crooned and licked at the length of hardening flesh that soon emerged from his body while she used her hands to get the rest of her clothes off.

Before long, they were both naked, the Tropi's tongue darting in and out of her long, strait beak to tease his length as he moaned and enjoyed her attentions. It was so good to have casual sex with another Avian. For all he honestly cared for Wildwing, the drake just didn't do casual.

Duke groaned and ran his hands up her lithe body to fondle her breasts while she guided his cock into her body and squeezed down around the welcome intrusion.

He leaned up, ruffling the feathers of her breasts as he reached down to grip her firm, shapely ass, starting to thrust into her with earnest.

"Been a while," he groaned, brushing the chipped portion of his beak over her nipples, teasing the sides with the edges until they were hard pebbles and she was trembling from his attention. It felt so good to be with someone who had no guilt about what they were doing.

"Fill me," Shatta demanded even as her body stiffened and arched up with a chittering cry of raw pleasure.

He groaned, cumming hard, filling her sex with his seed as he pulled her down into a somewhat awkward kiss as their bodies spasmed together.

Wolf knew as they were shown to his quarters, one that he would share with SunWind and Alyaa, that they'd be breaking in the bed and everything else as soon as the door closed. SunWind had been very good about keeping his hands and tail to himself, but he could tell it was hard on him to hold back and she was not helping one bit.

He squeezed SunWind's hand lightly; it probably wouldn't be too much further, and they knew they were going to have space to themselves. After the fight, he really wasn't too surprised that SunWind was so badly wound up... just very, very glad that he would wait until they had some privacy, even if Alyaa didn't care.

Besides, maybe they could get away from the sound of hockey games in their quarters. If it was that noisy all the time, Wolf was quite sure he'd go crazy before the next portal showed up.

"Here you go," the young white drake showed them to a corner room that was much larger than most they had passed. "Have fun," he winked at the three of them before turning to leave. "I'll come by around six to show you to the mess hall and such."

The door was barely closed before SunWind had Alyaa pinned to the bed, stripping off what little she was wearing. Wolf shook his head slightly.

Well... maybe the three hours they had would be enough for them to wind down.

He had to admit that it was intensely erotic to watch his mate and this exotic, over-sexed female go at it with such abandon.

Alyaa's legs were spread wide enough that they dangled over the edge of the small bed, SunWind pounding into her as Wolf stripped down and moved to the bed. He wasn't entirely sure how his mate would react to him trying to get on top, but it wouldn't hurt to try... and he had to admit, the idea of being on top of these two was very hot.

He ran a hand along SunWind's back and along his hard, thrusting ass. The scent of the two of them was pure intoxicant as SunWind grunted and slammed into Alyaa to drench her insides with his seed.

When the twitching and reflexive thrusting stilled a bit, SunWind lifted his tail and looked over his shoulder at Wolf with hungry eyes. "Sounds good," he licked his muzzle eagerly.

Wolf climbed up, straddling SunWind's hips and pressing his shaft into him with a groan. He leaned forward, kissing his neck as they both started to thrust into the moaning, whimpering Twi'lek beneath them again.

Obi-Wan and Lyass agreed without a thought or word between them that while they were immensely grateful for real beds and something resembling civilization as they knew it, it was also a decidedly difficult place to meditate. The Force was definitely here, Force-users were around, but it was not much on communing with them and it was not even remotely close to the Force they were used to.

"~Maybe if we would go down to their 'hockey rink' we would find it a bit easier,~" Lyass half-joked mentally. It would explain why they found the sport so fascinating, though the brief exposure to the cold of the area had been more than enough to convince her she'd remain a spectator at best.

"~Perhaps, but there is so much noise there,~" he commented back, thinking of trying to meditate around the spectators.

"~True,~" she acknowledged. It wasn't any easier, given their intense focus on the game. The physical noise wasn't nearly as big an issue as the physic noise of their focus would have been. She settled back in, trying to reach through to the Force, feeling almost like she was trying to catch a hyperactive butterfly in a hurricane.

They were both almost relieve at the polite knock on the door to Obi-Wan's quarters.

"I believe it is your room, officially," Lyass said easily, opening her eyes as he stood a bit reluctantly. Only the resonance of another sensitive on the other side made either of them curious, and it was enough to make Obi-Wan put on his very best face in greeting.

"Hello," he looked down a bit at a brilliant silver Peacock wearing the standard urban cammies. "How can I help you, Captain StarShine?"

Lyass stood with a slight bow of greeting, acknowledging him without being too distracting. He was a fairly weak sensitive, from what she could tell... he wouldn't be Jedi material, at any rate. But he was still a sensitive with training, that much was clear.

"I was curious if you have been given a tour of the Mage's Quarter," he asked with a combination of formality due the visitor's assumed rank and honest friendlessness. "It is something that most here don't realize you would rate."

"No, we haven't," Obi-Wan said honestly. "Though these quarters are sufficient, if there is a shortage of room."

"No, the Mage's Quarter," the Peacock clucked in mild amusement. "It is where Mages, people with power like yourselves, have shops, schools, homes ... there is one on base and one in Hockadia," he motioned with his beak towards they city beyond the small base.

"Ah, I'm sorry," Obi-Wan chuckled slightly. "The translator isn't perfect, and Duke and Wildwing haven't taught us your language that well yet."

"It's okay. Would you like to see them?"

"I think so," the Jedi decided.

"Maybe we'll find somewhere a bit easier to meditate," Lyass chuckled.

"Perhaps," StarShine clucked in agreement. "I have always found my studies easier among those of power and where they congregate. It rubs off on an area after long enough. What are your specialties?" He asked in honest curiosity.

"Combat and body control," Obi-Wan said easily. "Though Jedi don't necessarily specialize the way some do."

"Healing, for the most part," Lyass nodded. "And he's right... we're trained as generalists, with a focus on something we're particularly good on, but not to the extent of many orders outside of ours."

"It does not hamper your training?" He flicked his head-crest up in surprise and interest. He may not have the power to do much, but he had every scrap of curiosity natural to so many sensitives.

"That depends on what you mean by hampering it," Lyass admitted. "Other orders, with a stronger focus on a particular area, can accomplish things that we cannot. However, many of those orders are so strongly focused that they can only operate in a narrow field. If they run into a situation where their talents aren't of use, they need somebody else to fill in the skill-gap. We aim to avoid that problem."

"Oh, like the Hunters," he nodded and turned to show them around, his long tail flowing just above the ground. "They never know what they'll encounter, so they try to be ready for anything. Good at what they do, but they never manage to learn the most powerful spells in any field."

"That sounds about right," Obi-Wan nodded as they followed behind the silver feathered Avian. "Though 'spells' aren't really something we work with too much, any more. At least not by that name."

"You focus your mind on an effect you want and draw on power to make it so?" StarShine glanced at him.

"Yes, but without the usual trappings of spells as we've heard them described," Obi-Wan agreed. "And more fluid end-results as well."

"I'm sure the Lord Archmages will just love to talk to you," StarShine grinned as they walked across the base. "Anything new is of great interest to them."

"It often is to anybody who is sensitive to the Force," Obi-Wan chuckled. "Yourself included, I imagine."

"True," he nodded. "Though I don't have the talent to back up that curiosity. I've never managed more than the most basic spells."

"Is it common for everybody with the talent to be trained here?" Lyass asked curiously.

"Yes, though the more talent you have the easier it is to get into the better schools," StarShine nodded. "Folks like me usually just get a few years of after-school classes before we top out. Someone like Lord Lord Archmage Anelloe, our leader, get taken in by a top school as soon as they can walk, sometimes earlier, and can spend forty years or more mastering their craft."

"That sounds about right," Lyass nodded. "We generally spend that long becoming Masters, then the rest of our lives further exploring the Force."

"Do Jedi live longer than most people?" He asked, wondering if that much was the same.

"Usually up to twice as long," Lyass nodded. "Roughly, at least when age is the factor. Partly better health, partly the Force, but we don't exactly live a hazard-free lifestyle."

"Most with good combat skills don't," he nodded in acknowledgement of a truth he knew too well as they entered a building towards the northern edge of the base.

Both Jedi could feel the concentration of Force increase with each step further into this realm of the mages.

It was like walking into a grove maintained by Alderaanian Jedi, or a similar nexus of the Force.

"This is more like what we're used to," Obi-Wan said with a slight nod. Meditating here wouldn't be nearly as difficult as in their quarters.

"Hockadia's is much stronger. There is rarely more than a single full Mage and a few casters here," StarShine told them. "The city's Mages Quarter has almost thirty Mages."

"And right now, you're down a Mage, aren't you?" Lyass asked him. "I thought I heard somebody say it would take a few days to get another one here, but if you're in the city, shouldn't it be faster?"

"If just any Mage could fill the post, sure," he nodded and used a pass card to open a door into a space of crystals, rich fabrics and flickering candlelight. "Not everyone is military and not all military Mages are combat specialists. It's a bureaucracy, even in wartime. It takes time to find a replacement that doesn't leave another unit short."

"They're not the primary officers then?" She guessed, putting together the local system and hierarchy in her head as she looked through the things that decorated the area. While much seemed to just be the ambiance they preferred, quite a few items had a touch of Force to them that was similar in many ways to the charms that SunWind made.

"No, few Mages are command personnel," he shook his head. "Most military Mages are either into Divination and go into fields like investigation or repair, or they're Combat specialists and go out with the grunts."

"Somewhat different from home then," Lyass nodded slightly. "Jedi tended to be Generals or Admirals, but we also usually only had one or two Jedi to a thousand or so clone troopers in a unit."

"As you said, you are also generalists," StarShine clicked. "That is something most leaders have to be. It is not something most people, and very few Mages, are."

"Understood," Lyass chuckled. "This is a very interesting place," she said, shifting the focus back to the Mage Quarter.

"I may not be much of a spellcaster, but I know theory inside and out if you have questions." He offered to them both.

"How do your spells work here, generally?" Obi-Wan asked, taking the opening.

"In what context?" StarShine asked in return as he made a quick flick of his wrist that resulted in a myriad of crystals floating upwards to begin a subtle dance of light and refraction that was both soothing and stimulating.

"What is involved in using them, how fixed are the effects... what is their source, if you know?" He explained, looking up to watch the spectacular display.

"Training in how to identify, harness and manipulate the energy all around us, and inside us. How fixed depends on the spell and how strong and experienced you are," he said. "The few true spells I can manage are very restrictive, very specific in effect, while an Lord Archmage can pretty much do anything they can think of."

"It sounds like it's largely a training tool," Lyass murmured. "At least for many. A way of focusing more easily."

"It does work well," he nodded. "Most Mages I know of still use spells no matter how far they progress, but when they become advanced enough the variety they have access to is in the hundreds of thousands, and they have the knowledge and skill to create new ones that actually work. I know the theory in creating a spell or magic item, but I don't have anything close to the innate talent or power to accomplish it."

"Do you have any idea why it's so hard to reach the Force outside of the Mage Quarter?" Lyass asked curiously.

"Probably because anywhere magic is practiced regularly or has a naturally strong connection with the physical world would make it easier to reach it," StarShine thought on his feet a bit.

"A natural distance then," she nodded slightly, accepting it. "Rather than an unnatural one."

"We have also been on many worlds recently where the Force was unusually easy to access," Obi-Wan added to her thoughts.

"Not with me along," Lyass reminded him. "It is rather like being in a Temple, though. I have always found it easier to touch the Force in one."

"So, the display," Obi-Wan motioned to the dancing objects still hovering about. "It seemed more than what somebody of the skill you admit to would be able to create on his own."

"The usefulness of enchanted items," the silver-feathered Peacock clicked. "All I did was turn them on. Doing that by myself is well beyond my abilities."

"Ah," the young Jedi chuckled. "It would have been beyond many Padawans as well, controlling that many objects... was there a purpose to it, or was it only a display?"

"Habit, honestly," StarShine ducked his head a bit even as his lacy feather crest lifted. "I find the light patterns and glitter very enjoyable background energy."

"Hardly something to be embarrassed by, it was a very pretty display," Lyass smiled.

"Thank you," he quirked the corner of his beak.

"So, is the Mage Quarter in Hockadia much like this one?" The Twi'lek asked as they continued to look around. Now that the Force-rich objects and generally flashiness of the decorations, both Jedi became aware of the true heart of this place. To one side of the very large room, protected by clear glass-like sheets, were shelves upon shelves of books. The real paper and leather kind with hand-crafted spines and great effort invested in each one. To the other side was a workshop that could be comfortable in the Jedi Temple on Coruscant.

"Except that it is much larger and more diverse, and has a major school," he nodded.

"Very impressive... is the library open to any who are allowed in here?" Lyass asked curiously.

For Obi-Wan's part, he was too entranced by seeing real books to think about their contents much.

"Generally," he nodded and walked over to one of the cabinet doors and opened it. "We don't have the kind of tomes that you have to be careful who gets a hold of them. We've never had a Mage of that power assigned here."

"Even so, the most basic training information you have could be invaluable new information to us," Lyass smiled. "Are there rules here, about sharing the information available? I know that some people are very... touchy... about giving up something that could be a tactical advantage."

"There isn't much of anything here you can't find at any good public school," he chuckled and pulled a book from the shelf. "The stuff we're a little careful with has a Mage Lock on it," he motioned towards another bookshelf cabinet further down the wall. "If you can get to it, you can read it," he explained and offered her the book. At an inch thick with its heavy leather cover stained and worn, it was not something they were all that protective of. "That one is the first you'll need to understand to read anything else here. It will teach you the mage's language, what we write our spells and most of everything else in."

"A code language?" Obi-Wan asked, curious why information they were apparently open with was in a language that wasn't their native one.

StarShine cocked his head and thought for a moment. "It is the language of magic. The difference between a rhyme and a spell. The words can be the same, but energy responds to one easily and the other ... not so much."

"This is going to take a while," Lyass chuckled, looking through it. "Though if we're going to be here for a while, I can think of worse ways to spend our time."

"Could you show us an example?" Obi-Wan asked; fascinated by the idea that the Force could care about language.

"Sure," StarShine nodded and thought a bit before his eye caught how filthy their clothing was.

"Dirt and sweat, blood and gore, unwind yourself from these clothes." StarShine chanted. There was a stirring in the Force, but not much.

"Clearly not that effective," Lyass nodded slightly.

"Qua-ji kumki a ucca aswa," he repeated the spell the way it was meant to be done. This time when the Force stirred the Jedi's clothing was cleaned as good as new.

"Fascinating," Obi-Wan murmured. "A very unusual difference, at least compared to what we're used to. There is no real influence between languages that we have encountered before."

"The effect is very different from anything I've heard of too," Lyass regarded her newly clean robes with a bit of surprise.

"It's one of our most basic cantrips," StarShine said, then paused as a low vibration went off on his belt and he looked at the small device. "I have to answer this call," he told them before flicking it open. "Yes?" "Yes." "Oh." "Yes, Ma'am. I'll bring them right over."

"Duty calls?" Obi-Wan asked understandingly as StarShine put his communicator away.

"At the highest level," he nodded, the shock of the call starting to show a bit. "That was Lord Lord Archmage Anelloe. She wants to see the two of you and your companions as soon as possible."

"Don't hear from the Lord Archmages very often?" Lyass guessed, judging by his clearly surprised reaction to the call.

"I'm just a low-ranking Captain," he pointed out. "She's the world leader. Canard hears from her, but me?"

"Ah... well, you are the one here, she may have just wanted to tell you herself?" Lyass suggested, offering him something that would be a bit easier to swallow.

"Right," he nodded and motioned for them to follow him. "At any rate, we'll have to get your friends together and go see her."

"Does the entire group have the sex drive of those three?" StarShine asked Obi-Wan quietly as they headed into the officer's barracks with Duke, Sly and Carmelita in tow.

"There's a very good reason that we suggested getting Wolf and SunWind last," Lyass chuckled. "If we're lucky, we'll be able to get Wolf's attention enough that he can pull up a blanket or grab some pants before we get there... SunWind, with Alyaa there, no promises."

"Obi-Wan's the only one without a mate in the group," Duke quipped with a teasing grin at the Jedi.

"Not the only one," Lyass said, shaking her head slightly. She wasn't SunWind's mate, that much was sure. Now that he was most of the way out of her system... to be fair, she doubted if she'd be with him again in the near future.

"Riiight," Carmelita snickered. "I must have just been imagined all the noise from your room on Tatooine."

"I'm not SunWind's mate though, or vice-versa," Lyass chuckled.

"Semantics, but important ones sometimes," Sly acknowledged.

"Got it," StarShine waylaid the impending debate before knocking on the General's door.

They quickly settled down, not that anybody had been that wound up, as they heard a variety of cursing in the local language from the other side of the door. Duke smirked slightly, but didn't say a word.

"What?" Canard snarled as the door slid open, his nude, aroused body blocking any real view of what was beyond.

StarShine choked, his crest flashed up even as his head crinkled down on his long neck to give as small a vital target as possible.

"There was a call from Lord Lord Archmage Anelloe," Obi-Wan said smoothly, realizing that the Peacock was just not up to meeting that sort of response, or display, intelligently just now. "She wants to see the new arrivals ... so I'm afraid we need to borrow Wildwing."

"I did not just hear my name," a voice denied the summons even as Canard sighed.

"Yes you did," Canard called back over his shoulder. "Better get dressed before she decides she's been polite long enough and just teleports you where she wants you."

"She can do that?" Wildwing asked as he started to move, hurriedly dressing from out of sight.

"Can, will and has before," Canard muttered and stepped back to let the door shut.

"Which is our cue to warn Wolf again, before the she teleports a very intimate threesome to her location," Obi-Wan chuckled, reaching out telepathically to SunWind and Wolf both to let them know. As he expected, Wolf was the most coherent of the pair, though not by a lot. Still, he managed to acknowledge the news.

"I - I knew, but ...." StarShine stammered as he worked himself back from a coronary at being all but rushed by a general who had earned his stars by field combat.

"You might want to let Obi-Wan stand in front of the door when we get SunWind and company," Duke smirked at him.

"If SunWind isn't ready yet, I think we all stand to the side," Obi-Wan chuckled. "Though he's usually more good-natured about it than the General just was."

"It's a good thing, given when he can do," StarShine shuddered at the idea of the killing machine pissed and looking in his general direction.

"Our killer Mouse is with Alyaa?" Wildwing asked as he came out, dressed and looking only slightly ruffled.

"Who else?" Sly half-laughed. "And Wolf, I guess. We're going for them next."

"Joy," Wildwing rolled his eyes and fell in with the group as they headed off.

"See?" He added under his breath to Carmelita. "Told you we weren't the only ones who were interrupted."

"Everyone but the Jedi," she muttered back, her full tail twitching despite having calmed down.

"So relax," he chuckled a bit, squeezing her hand lightly as they made their way towards SunWind's quarters, outside the Officer's area.

"I think that Wolf, at least, is going to be ready for us," Lyass said with a bit of a smile.

"Dressed, if not comfortable," Obi-Wan chuckled as the group fell silent again on the way back to the guest quarters.

Eventually, they found Wolf standing by the door, looking mildly irritated.

"SunWind should be out soon," he said as they approached, standing up straight quickly, his military training showing in his posture, if not in much of anything else yet.

"Out!" SunWind's snarl cracked in the brief silence before anyone could respond, and was answered by a form scurrying from the room even before her brightly pattered skin was fully covered by robes.

Lyass quickly reached out, looking at Alyaa with her Healer's eye as the other Twi'lek dressed in the midst of the group without a care and realized that she wasn't hurt in the least, just miffed to be thrown out of her owner's shower while she was 'working'.

"And that would be SunWind remembering, once more, why he shouldn't be in the shower with her if he has to be out any time while there's still hot water," Wolf murmured with a shake of his head.

"Or any water, I expect," Lyass added dryly.

"You have quite an ... unusual ... group," StarShine said quietly to Obi-Wan as SunWind made short work of drying off and dressing in his habitual jeans, leather vest, boots and blaster.

"That's a very fair assessment," the Jedi agreed as SunWind came out.

"Sorry for the delay," he apologized quickly to Obi-Wan.

"We're still here, and from the sound of it, that's a pretty good sign it wasn't too long a delay," Obi-Wan offered. "According to Canard, at least," he added with a chuckle.

"I don't think I want to know," Wolf shook his head and the group moved to follow StarShine to where they were going.

"I think Canard mentioned something about being teleported there, whether we were ready or not," Sly snickered.

"Fairly powerful then," SunWind murmured. "What's this about?"

"Lord Archmage Anelloe wishes to speak to you. I believe it is more than just meeting the new arrivals," StarShine explained.

"I suspect we may have been brought here for a reason, other than just finding a home for Duke and WildWing," Obi-Wan nodded slightly. "Whether consciously or by fate."

"She did bring Canard here intentionally," Wildwing nodded.

"As long as we stay, I hardly care how we got here," Duke added as StarShine walked up to a fifteen-passenger transport parked in a line with half a dozen others.

"She wouldn't tell us to leave...." Wildwing said, wishing he was really confident about that.

"I'm sure she won't," Lyass agreed as they boarded the transport. "Let's see what she does want."

"Maybe she can help guide the next portal to where we actually want to go," Wolf added with a hopeful look, though half his attention was on the vehicle and how to control it.

"She may," Obi-Wan mused, thinking it over as they took off and headed for capitol quarter of Hockadia. The city showed clear signs of the war that was still raging, but it also showed clear signs of rapid rebuilding and life continuing on as normal despite the almost daily attacks. Most of the population below were Ducks, mostly of the white variety, but there was a smattering of all kinds of avian races and other breeds of Duck.

"Looks a lot better than home did," Duke murmured, looking out the windows to see what this world had to offer, compared to the war-ravaged Puckworld he'd left behind. This was still a world controlled by Avians, rather than one where the only Avians were either in work gangs, concentration camps or on the run.

"Yes," Wildwing smiled, his gaze never leaving the healthy city below them. "Has all of Puckworld fared so well?"

"Most has fared better," StarShine told him. "The Saurians have concentrated a lot of effort on wiping out the capitol and the school of magic here."

"A major tactical target, but a well-defended one that keeps them focused away from doing more damage," Wolf nodded slightly. "Pretty good setup, really."

"Particularly when the mage's quarter where the school is has a very good protective shield and the Lord Archmage keeps the capitol quarter safe. They've concentrated on trying to wipe out the military forces here so they can launch a ground assault, but haven't had much luck against us either."

"An attack like that is what we dropped into?" Wolf guessed.

"A very small one," StarShine nodded. "It was probably meant as a diversion, but something happened to the main attack. It never happened. It's usually a bigger force than that, with better air support."

"Maybe the Lord Archmage will be able to explain it," Obi-Wan offered. "Or maybe they found a second portal," he mused, wondering where they might have ended up if that was the case. Hopefully it was somewhere very cold.

"Perhaps," StarShine nodded and angled their flight to land vertically in a parking lot with many other vehicles arranged in neat lines. "Everybody out. I'll show you to the meeting room."

They all piled out quickly, following the Peacock in and to the meeting room, taking their seats and waiting for the Lord Archmage to arrive.

Somewhat to their surprise, a rather irritated Canard was there next. He was in full dress whites; a look he had not sported in their presence before and didn't appear at all comfortable in.

"I guess the call wasn't just for us?" Duke guessed, looking Canard up and down. Uncomfortable or not, he did look good like this. The chest full of medals that were no doubt well earned didn't hurt either. It was good to see that Canard had flourished here. The Duck was too good for his previous fate.

"As the local commander she expected me to be here too," he muttered. "Along with most of the planetary command staff."

"Ah great," Duke muttered. Wonderful - the rest of the brass. "They're still arriving, I guess."

"You expected something less when meeting the world leader about a critical mission for our survival?" Canard raised an eyebrow at him.

"I never was regular military," Duke pointed out. "And just 'cause I should've been expecting it doesn't mean I have to be thrilled with the idea."

"Wait a minute," Wildwing suddenly became very focused. "A critical mission ... why us?"

"And how much do you know about it?" Obi-Wan added.

"Most of it, I think," Canard admitted. "I was the one who said you were the one who could do this," he looked directly at Duke. "It's a simple theft with a not-so-simple security system protecting it."

"Okay, I'm listening... or are you going to wait for the others to get here before you talk about more of it?" The jewel-thief asked.

"That is for the Lord Archmage to tell," he smiled slightly as two other generals arrived and sat down. "I know enough to know that I couldn't pull it off, even with her power to help me."

"No offense, but you're not a specialist, let alone two of them," Sly chuckled slightly.

"It's not his skills as a thief that make him needed for the job," Canard said quietly and shifted to silence as the rest of the world leaders, ten in all, found positions at the table, leaving only one seat open. No one was particularly comfortable. The local leaders, military and otherwise, at what they knew was about to happen or Obi-Wan's group at being the center of such attention. Sly in particular was edgy at it.

"Now that everyone is here," a smooth female voice soothed the silent tension as a creature out of mythology walked in. Taller than Canard, but with a slender female form draped in the shimmering rainbow feathers of a Phoenix Peacock and an aura of power even the most Force-dead could feel, she took the breath away even of those who knew her well. "Let us begin with the introductions.

"I am Anelloe Whitecrest, Lord Archmage and Puckworld's Governor," she introduced herself as she sat down at the head of the oval table.

"An honor to meet you, Lord Archmage," Obi-Wan said politely, inclining his head to her. It wasn't hard to tell who was there that wasn't used to dealing with authority figures like this. Sly, SunWind, Duke, Wolf... Wolf looked the most comfortable with it, of the four of them, but it was clear to both Jedi that he'd already slipped into mercenary mode. If it weren't for the context of being involved in a mission, he'd be feeling just as awkward as his mate. Carmelita and Wildwing both seemed fairly relaxed and Alyaa was doing her level best to blend into the woodwork. She was doing a remarkably good job of it, actually.

"My Council," she motioned to the six generals and four archmages sitting around the table. "The Generals are Carter Windcrest, Tomas Drake, Canard Drake, Alix Drake," she motioned to the four males in military uniforms. "Tinna Mallard and Grace Ride," she motioned to the two female generals. "Archmages Junna Rill, Brandy Star," two females in ornate but functional robes nodded to Obi-Wan politely, and with interest showing in their eyes, as did their two male counterparts. "Kender Freewind and Rex Xan."

"I am Jedi Padawan Obi-Wan Kenobi, and this is Jedi Knight Lyass Vida," Obi-Wan said, taking the role of group leader that, for now at least, Lyass seemed content to let him have. "Wildwing and Duke L'Orange are already known to some of you, SunWind is the one who was most involved in the battle we arrived in the middle of, and next to him are Wolf O'Donnell, Alyaa, Inspector Carmelita Fox, and Sly Cooper," he motioned to each in turn.

"Welcome to Puckworld," Anelloe smiled at them. "You are aware of at least the basics of our situation?"

"We are," Obi-Wan nodded, with confirmation from Wildwing, Duke, and some of the others.

"I understand there's something that I'm supposed to be able to help with?" Duke asked, hoping to cut through the formalities that he remembered gatherings like this created even in the underworld he usually worked with or for.

"Yes," Anelloe focused on him. "Canard has spoken to be about how certain gems ... call ... you?"

"Yes...." Duke nodded, not entirely sure how this would play into a mission. If they knew where the gem they wanted was, which he assumed they would if they were going to send a team after it, how would that help?

"Kennerli's Heart, The Star of Puckworld, Deep Sea Blue, Stellar Path," she counted off major stones. "Any others?"

"Shadow's Pact and The Lord's Emerald on Puckworld. The Blue Carbunkle and Mazarin Stone of Earth, the Rigel Crown, and an unnamed Krayt Dragon Pearl," Duke offered, not mentioning that several of them were still in his possession. A pity about the ones that weren't; they wouldn't be located where he'd left them on this Puckworld.

"Ever heard a call you could not follow no matter how hard you tried?" She asked softly with an intensity to her voice that he took as meaning he'd said everything right so far.

"One," he nodded, a trace of old frustrations evident. "Couldn't even find out its name."

"The Star of Eternity," Anelloe told him. "A black gem the size of my head that glows with an inner light. This is what you must retrieve."

"Do you know where it is?" Duke asked, leaning forward. If it was the same stone, this would be a chance to finish off the last of his old 'failures.'

"Yes, I know where it is. I can even provide a map of the complex that guards it and what previous teams have learned before they were slaughtered by the defenses our ancestors and others put in place. We," she motioned to the other archmages on the council, "have known since it was secured of the details, including what would take to actually retrieve it."

"And what will it take?" Duke asked, now officially Very Interested. "And what's so special about the gem that you actually want me to steal it for you?"

"Because we can not and the Saurians have nearly succeeded," Canard told him flatly.

"It holds the power of a galaxy with it," Anelloe added. "If they claim it, their mages will be unstoppable."

"That would explain why you want it," Wolf shuddered. "Those sort of things are never good news, but it's worse when the bad guys get them."

"With it, we can end the war in the time it takes for a simple spell ceremony," Anelloe added with a nod. "It is too dangerous to be loose, and now it is too dangerous to risk that it's defenses are insufficient."

"With all due respect, Ma'am, if one of your power can not retrieve this item, what makes you believe Duke can?" Obi-Wan asked.

"Because he can sense what the real stone is and what path leads to it," she answered simply. "It is not a matter of power, it is a matter of a specific gift and the training to use it. You will have whatever we can provide for this mission, but it is Duke who can find the stone."

"What can you tell me about its defenses?" Duke asked almost eagerly, earning a concerned look from both Wildwing and Canard.

"A great deal, and little that will help you beyond the first level," Anelloe admitted and brought up a holographic three-dimensional image of a mountain-sized complex. "That is as far as any of our teams have penetrated."

"Well that I should be able to beat," Duke chuckled slightly. "Am I going in alone, or are others going to be coming with me?" He asked, looking at the rest of the team as well as the Archmage.

"You know I'm coming," Wildwing glared at him defiantly. "Somebody has to watch your back."

"So will I," Canard nodded, and matched glare for glare with Anelloe. "Sandy is more than qualified to take over for a while. You brought me here to save this world. Are you really going to argue that my troops can't fight without me?"

"No," she churred at him in irritation. "This is not your duty."

"You think you can stop me?" Canard shot back.

"She probably could, but I doubt it would be a good idea in the long term," Lyass said softly, speaking up for the first time. "Is there a reason that he should not go, Archmage? Something you have seen, perhaps?"

"No," she admitted reluctantly.

"It's not the suicide mission it was for the others," Canard said more gently. "You saw what these people are capable of."

"And they won't be the only ones going," Wolf offered. "I have a feeling we all will be, except Alyaa."

"C'mon, a chance to steal a fabulously valuable gem and not end up on the top-10 most wanted list for it?" Sly grinned. "You'd have to tie me up to stop me from joining in."

"Somebody has to come along to keep these two honest," Carmelita muttered.

"They're pack ... teammates," SunWind pointed out. "Loyalty's the only thing that's kept us alive so far."

"And I didn't become a mercenary because I like sitting around the base all the time," Wolf smirked.

"I think it's official then," Obi-Wan smiled slightly. "We'll all be along."

"Yes; we'll be sure to return your General in excellent condition afterwards," Lyass chuckled.

"You do that," Anelloe said a bit more seriously than she probably should have, then turned her attention back to giving them all the best chance at success that she could.

"You know it's crazy to take on something that's a suicide mission to a Mage like her," Wolf muttered under his breath as the transport hovered next to a slender rocky crag that was supposedly the entrance to a fortress like no other.

"Then why are you here?" Sly pointed out. "Me ... if it's just a suicide mission, that's a pretty easy day, really."

"Mild death-wish?" Wolf quipped after he jumped to the ledge and stared at the stone mountainside that was supposed to be the entrance. "So how do we get in this thing again?" He looked at Archmage Junna Rill, the only local to have joined them.

"Wildwing's mask will show the way," the Arctic Tern said.

The white Duck looked a bit surprised, but activated his mask and scanned the rock face. "I see the door, but not ... ah," he pressed a particular spot that looked like every other, then two more in the order from their briefing.

After creaking and grumbling, a massive chunk of stone began to recess and slide out of the way.

Obi-Wan glanced around the group to see that they were ready. About half were using flashlights, technology of some kind. Wildwing relied on his mask and Junna lit the finial of her intricate staff. Lyass and SunWind were both content to use the light of others to enhance their naturally sharper night vision as they began a careful exploration of the entrance for the traps they knew to expect.

"Got the first one," Sly said almost immediately and dismantled the simple tripwire across the entrance to the largest tunnel out of the entrance way.

"Yeah, but wrong tunnel," Duke murmured. "Smallest one, on the left," he said, nodding that way and moving forward carefully, watching his step.

"Look, gimme half a minute before you go chasing jewels, okay?" Sly grumbled, quickly moving in and spotting a pressure switch. He looked around until he spotted the trap it would set off, then stepped back and reached out with his cane, pressing it down and setting off a flurry of energy bolts that shot across the hallway. Once they stopped, he quickly gestured for the others to move ahead.

"I wouldn't have hit that," Duke pointed out.

"Yeah, but no telling if somebody else would have ... shouldn't reset until I take the pressure off," Sly offered as they moved past him carefully.

"There will be a matching trigger somewhere down the hall," Junna lifted her staff and focused. "Many traps are meant to catch you going either way. We have a few minutes to clear the far side of this trap."

"Then we'd better move fast," Duke nodded, leading the way once Sly released the trigger and joined them, moving just behind the dark-feathered Duck who could sense his way through the maze. The rest of the group followed suit, everyone's senses open for the trouble they knew this place was full of.

"Dodge!" Junna shouted even as SunWind launched himself forward to assault the dimly glowing forms that were approaching them at a run.

Lyass and Obi-Wan's lightsabers flared to life as they moved to back SunWind up. Within a few moments, the magical defenders of the complex flickered out of existence... at least for now.

"This isn't that bad, so far," Wolf pointed out optimistically.

"You had to say that, didn't you?" Carmelita muttered under her breath.

Wolf was about to reply when he caught SunWind drop to all fours in Lumari, favoring his left leg where it was stained with blood.

Lyass knelt to help him, but it wasn't anything particularly serious. More irritating for SunWind in that it would slow him down longer than regular damage.

"I don't suppose you have a spell that'd just disable everything magical around here, do you?" Duke asked Junna quietly.

"I can, but magic also holds the complex together. If I cast a general anti-magic shell, it will begin to implode with us in the middle." She explained. "Our ancestors spent five generations building this place and another ten improving it. A dozen Archmages gave their lives in those years to power some of the magic here. Everything we knew or could think of to make a shortcut, we defended against in some rather fatal manner."

"Ouch," Duke murmured. "And the Saurians are getting anywhere near it?"

"At the price of hundreds, if not thousands, of solder's lives," Junna pointed out. "They use methods we can simply not condone, not to mention not afford."

"Agreed," Obi-Wan said grimly. "We will do this the hard way if need be, but throwing away lives is not acceptable."

"Duke, we are meant to retrieve this thing," Canard put a hand on his shoulder. "You have to believe that."

"I do, just wondering if they had some sort of shortcut that wasn't going to collapse everything on our heads," Duke shrugged. "Don't worry," he grinned back at his sometimes-lover. "I'm not losing my edge just yet. You okay, SunWind?"

"Not bleeding anymore. Local magic doesn't heal like it should," he added with a muttering tone. "Just have to be more careful next time."

"I can help it heal faster, but it'll take at least an hour if I focus on it, probably two hours based on what I've done already," Lyass offered.

"We should keep moving," SunWind said firmly. "It won't hinder me much."

"Will you stay out of rushing headlong into a fight for a while?" Wolf asked him. "We've got two Jedi, a mage, and five of us have blasters we're actually pretty good with."

"I'll be more careful," SunWind stretched out, cat-like even as he promised. "It's still pretty heady, you know."

"I know," Wolf admitted, scritching SunWind lightly before they started to move on. "Just don't want you gettin' hurt too bad unless you have to."

"I don't think that so-called 'roast beef' is sitting very well," Carmelita muttered quietly to herself, referring to the pre-packaged meals they'd all eaten not long before. Nobody really paid her too much mind; they all knew she was just trying to keep her mind off the fact that Sly and Duke were both studiously working on a pair of locks none of the previous teams had gotten through.

"I think they're set up in mirror-pattern," Sly told Duke. "What you're talking about is exactly the opposite of what I've got."

"That makes sense; made this before standardized locks and screws were common," Duke murmured. "So, if you're right, you should have to turn the first tumbler left...."

"The second one's a left for you," Sly continued, moving along.

"And the third goes...."

"Down, for you," Sly said, raising his own at the same time that Duke depressed his.

"And to think, some people brag about how exciting it is being a crook," Wolf chuckled lowly as the two thieves gave each other directions on picking the locks simultaneously.

"You want excitement, screw up Duke's timing," Sly shot back over his shoulder. "Given what's happened the last few corners, things'll get real exciting then!"

"Comment, not request," Wolf said quickly, raising his right hand as Lyass checked the bandage on his arm from where it had been cut by a swinging blade. It hadn't been poisoned, at least not effectively, but it was going to leave a new scar eventually.

"Good," the Healer muttered, tightening the new bandage. The last thing they needed was more 'excitement' right now, even if Sly and Duke had been working on those two locks for the past hour, apparently doing nothing more than looking at them.

"Something's happening," Obi-Wan stiffened and stretched his Force-senses out, seeking the source of the very bad feeling he was getting.

"Yes," Lyass shuddered.

"Summoning trap, something big," Junna gripped her staff tightly and readied her collection of combat spells.

"We didn't do anything wrong," Sly pointed out.

"Except not using the keys," Duke countered. "Keep working, let them fight, maybe getting through will cancel it."

"Right," Sly nodded and focused on their work again.

"Holy crap," Carmelita whispered in honest fear as the ground shook with the approach of their adversary. "It's a fucking Balrog."

"What?" Sly couldn't help but twist around to look at a fantasy nightmare made very real. "Hurry, Duke," he trembled slightly and focused back on his work with difficulty as Junna fired the first volley in the battle with a blast of lighting that made the air all around thick with ozone.

"I'm hurrying already!" Duke muttered as the two Jedi moved in and everyone else opened fire.

"Obi-Wan, you take the lash, I'll take the blade," Lyass said, her lightsaber blazing as she braced herself to block the flaming sword more than twice her size, not particularly surprised when it resisted her lightsaber.

"What can you tell us about this thing?" Wolf barked at Carmelita.

"That it's not supposed to be real," she shouted back, firing at it with her shock pistol. At least this thing wasn't particularly hard to hit. "It's a major demon or something, that's all I really know!"

"That it is," Junna confirmed and hit it in the face with an icy ball that froze its flames and slowed it. "Aim for the head!"

The group of them shifted their aim, leaving the two Jedi to keep running interference on the fiend's weapons. Unfortunately, that was easier said than done, particularly with the whip.

"We can't hold this thing much longer!" Lyass shouted in warning, gritting her teeth as the now-thawed Balrog brought its sword down towards her head with all its strength. She blocked the blow, but it forced her down, her knee and ankle twisting painfully as she absorbed the blow.

"We're doing our best," Junna shouted back over the sizzle of another lightning blast.

"Focus on the whip hand!" SunWind ordered.

They shifted their fire as Obi-Wan flicked his lightsaber on and off to block the lash without getting it tangled. It was reasonably effective, but hardly a strategy that he could keep up forever.

"I hope somebody has a plan in the works," the Jedi shouted back.

SunWind bit his lip lightly and holstered his blaster. "Getting there."

He closed his eyes briefly and reached out into the Force on a level that both Jedi would be wondering about when they had a moment to think.

"What's he doing?" Canard demanded.

"I don't know, but cover him and the Jedi!" Wolf shouted back, turning his blaster up to take a charged shot at the demon's face, distracting it for a moment as plasma burned between its eyes.

When SunWind's eyes snapped open, the way he held his body was wrong, as was the power that was coalescing around him in a visible aura.

It took all the discipline the Jedi had not to look at what was going behind them instead of the Balrog they were fighting. Junna wasn't so disciplined, but she recognized the effect much more quickly and turned back to the battle and the alternating ice, lighting and defensive spells she was casting.

"If we're going to have to get out of the way of this, let us know!" Lyass grunted as she parried another blow, her robes smoldering, ignoring her twisted leg as she fought.

"Moving would be good," SunWind's voice echoed with enough power to unsettle everyone. It was just enough of a distraction that the Balrog's whip escaped Obi-Wan's block and cracked the ground in front of those firing, sending molten stone and shards into their ranks.

"Door's open!" Sly shouted before he twisted around with Duke to check out the battle. They were just in time to see SunWind shift to Lumari and continue to grow until he stood eye to eye with the Balrog.

"Shit!" Carmelita swore, diving back out of the way as Obi-Wan grabbed Lyass and pulled her back to safety, the others falling back with a variety of relatively minor wounds of their own to watch the gigantic Lumari step forward, a shield of energy wrapped around him as SunWind lunged forward to snap his jaws around the Balrog's whip arm and drive his claws into the demon's chest.

"I'm guessing he doesn't do that very often," Canard murmured as flames licked at the massive warrior's body, the Balrog howling in rage and pain.

"More like 'never,'" Wildwing confirmed, pulling his lover back under cover to where Duke was lying unconscious and bleeding from a large chunk of rock that had slammed into his chest.

"It's not SunWind, not exactly," Junna explained as she maintained a protective shield around them as best she could. "He summoned a powerful spirit to fight this battle in his body."

"And what's that going to do to him?" Wolf demanded as the Balrog fought back, slamming SunWind into the wall and was thrown across the grand hall in return.

"It depends on how the spirit he summoned views him and the summons," she could only shrug. "Right now he should be in there, but not in charge. A somewhat standard possession, though that's not a standard display." She winced in sympathy as SunWind got a solid bite in across the Balrog's collarbone, only to have one horn nearly shattered by the reprisal strike to his head with the butt of the Balrog's sword.

"Possession isn't standard where I come from," Wolf pointed out, trying not to let how worried he was for his mate show too much. He let out a light whimper when SunWind took a whip blow across the chest only to step into the pain and grab the whip in both hands, ignoring the burning as he moved forward and pulled the Balrog towards him. His jaws clamped down on the demon's head, his long saber-fangs protruding out the other side as they began exchanging close-quarters blows; one to kill before it died, the other to kill before he lost his fangs to the thrashing and his breath to the heat.

Green blood and red flame flowed freely; small rivers of it down their bodies and around the battlefield as they ripped into each other's bodies until SunWind twisted, his jaw completely unhinged to free his long fangs and dropped back. He put his palms together and fired his claws into the Balrog's face, all ten of them erupting out the far side to crash threw the wall beyond them.

"Holy shit!" Duke whispered, feeling a little ill as the Balrog staggered back and slowly began to collapse into a dimly glowing pile of cinders.

"I really hope that's as bad as things get," Wolf shuddered and held himself back from rushing up to the still standing, though unsteady, giant SunWind.

"I really don't want to tell him that it probably won't be," Sly murmured to Carmelita.

"Lyass, get out here if you can move enough!" Wolf called to her. He ran forward as SunWind gradually shrank down to a normal sized Lumari where his swaying balance gave way completely and his knees gave out from under him.

"Not with Duke in the shape he's in," she told Obi-Wan quietly. "Can you help him get SunWind over here?"

"Yes," Obi-Wan nodded and headed out after Wolf as quickly as his own battered body could manage.

"I'll help," Wildwing and Sly offered almost at once, both moving out to give what help they could. They were both in better shape than the Jedi, Sly practically untouched during the fight and Wildwing only bearing a few relatively minor wounds from when the whip had kicked up the stone and earth into the main fighting force.

"Thanks," Wolf greeted them where he was trying to get his unconscious mate off the slick, hot battlefield. "He's too big for me."

"And this footing doesn't help much," Sly murmured. "I've got the best footing, if we can get a little help from the magic-sorts?"

"That we can do," Obi-Wan nodded slightly, focusing and helping to lift SunWind while Wolf and WildWing took most of his weight and Sly helped by finding the best footing.

"If this is level one, we are in so much trouble," Junna murmured. "No wonder no one else reported back on how to unlock the door."

"Speaking of the open door, what's on the other side?" Wolf asked as they set SunWind down and did their best first aid to stop the bleeding that hadn't slowed yet.

"Stairs down, from the look of it. And we're not going to be going down them for a while," Lyass said firmly. "I know we're trying to keep moving, but two of us are out of action, and more are injured. We are waiting until we're ready for what's coming up."

"Lyass, if he's not bleeding, SunWind really is," Wolf's voice had an urgency in it none of them had heard before.

"I've just managed to get it under control," she nodded, moving over towards SunWind with a slight limp. "He's lucky," she murmured, quickly inspecting his injuries. "Junna, how is your healing magic?" She asked, even as she started to work on him, closing the worst of his wounds with the typical difficulty of wounds that didn't want to heal.

"Not my best skill, but I have a few spells," she nodded and drew upon her reserves to help with the most severe of SunWind's wounds.

"C'mon, let's set up camp again while they help him," Sly said, squeezing Wolf's arm and leading him off to take his mind off what was happening with his mate.

"We're going to be down here a long time at this rate," Carmelita murmured, most of the group resting while Wolf sat up near SunWind, stroking his fur lightly as Junna and Lyass kept working on him. At least his natural healing abilities had started to kick in... just very slowly.

"Yeah... once SunWind's up and about again, Wolf's gonna pass out, probably," Sly nodded. "How's Duke, guys?" He asked Wildwing and Canard.

"Responding better than SunWind," Canard nodded towards the much more critically injured warrior. "He'll be fine in the morning. Lyass is good at what she does."

"For all the good that does Wolf," Sly nodded. "Well, now we know why the Archmage didn't want you coming here, Canard."

"Huh?" Canard looked at the small Raccoon with a frown, one that Wildwing shared.

"Well, if SunWind hadn't pulled off that trick, we'd probably be ashes by now," Sly pointed out. "She didn't want to put you in that sort of danger."

"She's just got an overblown opinion of my importance to planetary security," he snorted in honest irritation. "Spent too long looking for me."

"You really haven't seen it?" Carmelita asked, looking over at Canard and cocking her head curiously.

"Seen what?" Canard finally demanded, his temper shortening by the round.

"Canard, relax," Wildwing said softly, squeezing his hand. "They're not trying to say there's anything wrong."

"No... I just thought you'd have seen she was interested in you already," Carmelita said, shrugging slightly.

"Oh for the love of ...." Canard muttered and rolled his eyes. "She just thinks I'm some kind of world savior."

"She's got good taste," Wildwing briefly rested his beak on Canard's shoulder. "She's probably right, you know. Even if it's just political, I can see it."

"It's why she was so worried about you coming along," Sly pointed out. "She needed to send somebody, and she isn't exactly attached to any of us. She only really got worried when you were going to be joining the group. That was personal, not political."

Canard tensed, but relaxed when Wildwing squeezed his shoulder insistently.

"Would it really be so bad if she was?" Wildwing whispered. "She hasn't pushed. Maybe she's not like most."

"I'll believe that when I see it," Canard muttered darkly.

"We just ran head-long into somebody's issues, didn't we?" Sly asked softly with a sympathetic wince.

"I'd say so," Carmelita shrugged and let the subject die.

"So how many more of these level doors do we have left?" Sly asked as a change of subject.

"Nine," Canard said quietly. "Each one's supposed to be harder to pass than the last."

"Great, that gives us about one more floor before we manage to get killed," Carmelita muttered.

"Unless we can find the keys... or some way to get through without having to fight something harder than that Balrog," Sly murmured. "There's got to be some way though."

"We're going to have to go for the slow approach and find the keys, rather than just let Duke lead us down." Carmelita said.

"Except that doing that is going to lead to a lot of dead ends and more traps," Sly countered.

"Sly Cooper backing off from a challenge?" Carmelita asked, raising an eyebrow, knowing by the way his tail bristled that she'd hit him right where it counted.

"We'll see how it works out... but if we're exploring the entire complex, we'll be down here for weeks, if not months," he pointed out. "This isn't like trying to bust into Raleigh's joint... or even the Panda King's. I can see the traps plain as day, but disarming them involves tools I don't have," he explained. "If I had Bentley and Murray here... that'd be different," he sighed. "A lot different."

"Maybe not, but we do have Duke, an Archmage, two Jedi and ... what is SunWind's training?" Canard remained him.

"General ass-kicker," Sly chuckled slightly. "At least that's what I'd say. Guess I'm just edgy... that fight was almost too much for us, and I haven't been on a mission yet where I didn't have backup that I'd been working with forever. You guys are good, yeah, but we don't really know how to work together yet, not on something like this. This place was built to kill people like us."

"It was built to kill better than us, technically," Junna said as she walked over and joined them, her spells and energy spent for the time being. "But I have my doubts that the demon we fought was meant to be the one summoned. The level of power required by the last level if that was true is beyond anything mortal. Summoning Gods is not possible."

"Even with suitably potent archmages giving their lives?" Wildwing pointed out. "How could the wrong demon get summoned?"

"It depends on how the summoning was set up in the first place. A locational summons would just grab whatever was closest. One that was tied to an individual ... if the Balrog ate it, it could have been transferred with the object it was linked to. There are even variants of the spell designed as tests. Those summon something that is just at the limits of the test subject's abilities to defeat it. A true trial by fire. It might not have even been summoned by something to so with the door. A demon of that level can enter the physical world if it finds a weak spot in the barriers."

"Well, that would explain why there was a summons when we didn't screw up picking the lock," Sly murmured. "Still don't know if we really want to chance doing this the way we just did."

"What is your suggestion to do differently?" Junna asked him politely, actually open to the suggestions of an offworlder thief.

"Much as I hate the extra risk, all I can think of is having the keys... and being ready for a fight. Have SunWind and the Jedi in place. We were lazy this time," he admitted. "If we'd been ready, able to hit it as soon as it showed up... might've gone better for us."

"Likely," Junna nodded. "That is assuming that all the doors use keys," she pointed out. "Most secured doors that mages create don't."

"That I didn't know," he admitted. "So, voice-locks, puzzles, things like that? Still... being ready for a fight would be a good idea."

"Yeah... we were a little sloppy this time around, knowing that something would happen if you guys screwed up," Carmelita admitted.

"Guess you do have some confidence in me," the Raccoon smirked slightly.

"Confidence in Duke," Canard and Wildwing answered in near-unison.

"You can't be surprised," Junna smirked at Sly, then yawned. "I really do need to rest, as do the Jedi, to recover our energy. Will someone keep watch while we rest, and see to it that they do?"

"I'll see to it, Archmage," Canard inclined his head to her.

"Thank you," she stood and got in her simple bedroll to get the rest she desperately needed if she was to be of any use to them as a mage.

"I'd been talking about the Fox here," Sly chuckled, glancing over at Carmelita. "And I'll take the second watch then?"

"Third," Carmelita offered.

"I've got fourth, then," Wildwing nodded and got up to settle in his bedroll next to Duke's unconscious but no longer badly injured body.

"He has no idea how well he gets into people's hearts," Canard said softly with a gentle look at the pair.

It wasn't clear which of the two Canard was talking about, but neither Sly nor Carmelita bothered to ask. They were both sure it was a comment to himself, not to them.

"C'mon, let's get some rest while we can," Sly said, pulling out Carmelita's bedroll and laying it out for her before his own.

"Yeah," the Vixen nodded, laying down next to Sly, and quickly dozing off. They'd both had far less comfortable beds... even before this had all started. After the fight they'd been through, they were just grateful to know they'd probably all wake up in the morning.

Duke groaned softly as he woke up the next day, stirring with Wildwing and Canard.

"Anybody get the number of that truck?" He asked lowly.

"Yeah, Balrog," Wildwing nuzzled his neck. "Feeling better?"

"Well, I'm awake and I think we're all alive," Duke offered. "Sounds pretty good to me really." He looked over to where Wolf was laying next to SunWind. "They okay?"

"Getting there," Canard murmured and kissed Duke gently. "SunWind took a hell of a beating that he's not healing right from according to everybody. He's looking a lot better to me."

"Yeah, but most of the time he'd be up and telling us it's time to get a move on already by now," Duke pointed out. "Well, can't get much worse than that, can it?"

"Every level's supposed to be harder," Canard reminded him quietly. "But Junna thinks that demon might not actually be the one guarding the door. So it might be as bad as it gets."

"How much is there out there that could be nastier than that?" Duke pointed out. "Doesn't seem like this place's style to just keep throwing more of them at us until we get to the bottom."

"Junna mentioned Gods," Wildwing shuddered.

"It's why she thought that this Balrog thing wasn't meant to show up." Canard added. "It's just too powerful for the first door."

"Well, makes sense to me," Duke chuckled slightly. "That seemed like the sort of thing that would be at the bottom... heck, even an Archmage couldn't take it, that wouldn't be up top. Who was supposed to get to this thing, if not them?"

"You," Canard murmured. "As they keep telling me, it's not about power, it's about destiny."

"Destiny?" Duke asked. "Have a feeling there's more to this than I've heard. Mind filling me in?" He asked, sitting up.

"It's what you were told, you can retrieve The Star of Eternity. An offworlder thief is trusted with this because it was foreseen, the same way my involvement in this war was," Canard sighed. "Prophecy, destiny, whatever you want to call it, they're convinced it'll happen. They've just dealt with me long enough to know not to say those words around me."

"Well, when it's a gem, I don't mind hearing 'em," Duke chuckled. "When I can hear it like I can hear the Star, destiny's a real thing."

"It always has gotten you in trouble too," Canard chuckled and ruffled the dark feathers of Duke's neck. "You'll be hearing all those ones you got before again too."

"Hey, maybe if this one saves the world, they'll be nice enough to let me take 'em," Duke smirked, turning to brush Canard's neck with his beak. "Y'know, for services rendered and all that."

"We both know you don't want it that way," Canard chuckled and shifted to kiss him more directly. "But maybe they won't try to prosecute you for it."

"That'd do," Duke murmured, kissing Canard again.

"You guys do remember there's another eight of us here?" Carmelita pointed out with a bit of a chuckle as Wildwing started to turn bright red under his white feathers.

"Won't be the first time I've had an audience," Duke winked at her before he slid a hand under Canard's shirt.

"Not secure here," Canard managed to object even as his breath quickened and he returned the touch.

"Life never is," Duke slid a finger under his belt. "Enjoy every moment you can."

"We... should probably send a report back out to the base," Wildwing managed to say, blushing deeply.

"Right," Sly agreed. "I'll keep an eye out for traps while you broadcast," he said as the two of them headed out and down the tunnel a ways.

"Spoilsports," Carmelita chuckled and relaxed back to watch the two Ducks slowly pleasure each other with their hands while they kissed. "They do make an attractive show though."

"That they do," Junna murmured throatily.

"So, what's the plan for the next level, once we head down there?" Carmelita asked, watching the show and talking to the Archmage at the same time.

"I believe that letting Duke continue to pick out the route is still the best choice," she said, shifting as her body's arousal became more obvious to her. "Avoiding all the side passages and dead ends and their traps will be worth any extra battles at the doors. The truly dangerous path is the one you don't have to take."

"I suppose," Carmelita admitted. "After all... you guys lost the better part of two teams to them already, didn't you?"

"And we don't know how many that attempted this unofficially," she nodded. "We've made it further than anyone else from Puckworld and in much less time."

"Well, I don't know about destiny and such, but it seems to be working... just hope you're right about that being the wrong demon. So... is Canard the only one who didn't know about Anelloe, or was that more of a secret?"

"I wouldn't call it common knowledge among the general population, despite what the tabloids, the entertainment news, keeps saying about them," Junna shivered when Canard moaned deeply into Duke's beak. "But just about everyone who's seen her around him does. The small extent it is kept secret has been out of respect for his wishes to have as little to do with those of rank as he can manage."

Yeah... there seem to be some issues there," Carmelita nodded slightly. "And of course, the only people who know what they are aren't talking. Hope that whatever they are don't end up making problems in the end."

"Oh, he's talked, he just doesn't like repeating himself much," Junna chuckled a bit. "We heard plenty, and loudly, the first couple years. It just wasn't the Lord Archmage approaching him for favors."

"And he doesn't like the idea of being used," Carmelita guessed. She had to sympathize; she'd had to deal with her fair share of politics and then some.

"And can't tell the difference between honest interest in him and interest for other reasons. Once he got it through his skull that he had a destiny here, it was pretty much over for any local to get close to him. Maybe he'll relax now, with a couple Ducks he trusts around." Junna added softly, her voice barely louder than the male Duck's moans as they pleasured each other with deliberate slowness. "He's always been the user. Being on the other side in his mind grates on him. A lot."

The Vixen's head practically snapped over to look at Junna.

"He's always been...."

"How else do you think those two got together?" Junna motioned with her beak to the lovers. "Ask either one. They aren't in love, never were. Canard used their mutual interest in drakes to get Duke to listen to him and acceptance of it to get him to stay half the time. Did much the same with Wildwing and a dozen others over the years of both genders. He's done it here too, whether it's sex, acceptance, power, position ... he's very good at using what people want to get what he wants and he's fairly shameless about it. Fairly open about it too."

"Wildwing know... or that he's being used too?" Carmelita asked quietly, looking back at the pair. She didn't really consider what Junna had mentioned about Duke to be using him... it was certainly mutual, at worst. But Wildwing... she knew that he was in love with the older drake.

"I don't know," Junna admitted honestly. "Canard's fond of him, I know that much. Duke's the one that scares him though."

"Why?" Carmelita asked. "If Duke minded, I don't think they'd be in quite the shape they're in now."

"Not that way," Junna shook her head slightly. "People like Canard are unsettled by folks that have some kind of hold over them. Duke's got something on him, and it's probably that Canard actually cares about him and believes that Duke is capable of using it against him. Wildwing doesn't have that kind of personality, so he's not threatening on the same level."

"Figures... maybe they'll be able to get him straightened out some time." Carmelita sighed. "How's SunWind doing?"

"It will be some days before he's recovered enough for us to move on," Junna admitted. "Once the Jedi have rested, we plan to take a look at what's ahead, magically."

"Hopefully it ends with all of us out of here in one piece and with that gem," Carmelita let her attention drift back to the drakes and the near future.

Wildwing glanced back at where Duke and Canard were stroking each other in completely disregard for the two women watching them. Duke was likely making a bit of an extra show for them too. Not for the first time he wished he could be as cavalier about his body and pleasure as the older drakes, but it just wasn't in him. He could barely manage to touch himself for one of them in the secure privacy of a room. Out here, where they could be attacked at any moment, he could barely sleep.

"You okay?" Sly asked him from a bit further down the tunnel where Wildwing had stopped to make the call. They couldn't see what was going on, but Sly could hear the show that was going on and he was fairly sure Wildwing could too, if only dimly.

"Yes," he said on reflex, even though they both knew it was a blatant lie. Sly didn't have to be interested in guys to recognize wistful desire in one, especially when he knew he was already lovers with someone. "It's just weird, what they're doing."

"Out where everybody can see 'em?" Sly guessed. "Not many other options down here... I can think of worse things to have interrupt you than a trap going off, but SunWind killed one of 'em yesterday."

"And almost got killed himself in the process," Wildwing shook his head. "I don't think even he knew he could do that. Can you imagine a whole world where folks can do stuff like that? They could take over the universe with little problem."

"If they wanted to," Sly nodded slightly. "On the other hand, I'm guessing they can't do it often... and you're changing the subject. You're not back on your Puckworld anymore, you know. Not, mind you, that I'm complaining about an excuse to skip the show," the Raccoon chuckled weakly.

"I'm just not like that," Wildwing sort of shrugged and opened up a channel to headquarters to end the conversation. "HQ, this is Wildwing with retrieval team."

"Hay Wildwing," a young, perky female voice answered almost instantly. "How's it going?"

"Hi Shari. SunWind was critically injured in a battle at the first level's door. It will take will take a couple days to heal. The door is unlocked and we'll continue when he's fit to fight again."

"Might ask 'em to see if a Balrog is listed as something that's supposed to be anywhere near here, especially this high up," Sly offered, settling in to keep an eye out for trouble while Wildwing reported.

"I'll have to get back to you on that one," Shari said even as she typed rapidly on a keyboard off screen. "Did Archmage Rill say anything about it?"

"It's a major demon," Wildwing supplied what little he knew. "Carmelita actually identified it."

"Based on a movie from back home, so probably called something else here," Sly agreed. "Whatever it was, big, fiery, and had a sword and whip that melted rock. Summoned when the locks were being picked, might've come through on its own according to the Archmage."

"A major demon should not be that high up," Shari said confidently. "Whatever one this was, it wasn't there according to the designs we have. The complex was designed to change a lot, but not that much."

"Right," Wildwing nodded. "Well, that's good to hear... I did not want to see what was supposed to be beating it on the next floor if it was supposed to be there. You guys want the information for opening the locks, in case you have to send another team through?"

"Go ahead. It will be different once the door closes but it might appear elsewhere," she nodded.

"Right," Wildwing agreed. "First off, the lock used a mirror setup - they had to be unlocked at the same time, and what had to be done for one lock had to be reversed for the other," he said, getting a nod of confirmation from Sly before continuing, giving them the rest of the information on the first level.

"Ready to see what we can see?" Obi-Wan asked the two women who formed a semi-circle with him. Both were more talented at what they were doing, but the one who was more skilled used very different methods. They all agreed, however, that between the three of them they should be able to glean some useful information out of a Foreseeing attempt.

"I believe so," Lyass nodded.

Both Jedi centered themselves and sank into the Moment, seeking the lines of time and life that represented those present and Puckworld itself.

They quickly found the Star; it glowed brightly, deep beneath them, seeming to bend and warp the lines around it. The power contained within was incredibly potent ... but they could sense that it wasn't supposed to stay here much longer.

"~Lyass, focus on SunWind, Wolf and yourself. Check on Alyaa if you can. Junna, you focus on Duke, Canard and Wildwing and yourself. I will look at Sly, Carmelita, the Star and Puckworld.~" Obi-Wan sent to the others as they began to trace the people near them. "~If a vision comes, let it and share it if you can.~"

The trio focused on what they could, stretching out towards the future, trying to catch a glimpse from the ever-shifting probabilities that existed.

Junna's mind was flooded with images of battle, sex and feathers. It was nothing that surprised her as she focused on a point several weeks beyond now. Who was with who she couldn't determine, but she saw all three clearly alive in the capitol. What she knew of Canard, and what he said of the others meant that their mission was successful.

Lyass focused a bit closer in, looking for what was coming up. She caught glimpses of Saurians... and of something else, felt a screaming pain in the back of her head, some sort of echo through time from her future state. Stretching further out, she saw a room with a massive pool and no apparent way across... and felt an intense sense of darkness and seething anger from within.

"Juiblex," she whispered, giving name to what she felt, not sure where the non-sensical name came from.

Another flash, from 'nearer' in time, was her heavily pregnant. It made no sense, but it was there.

"~Does any of this make sense to the two of you?~" She asked silently.

"~Not in the time frame,~" Obi-Wan frowned. "~I do not see us down here nearly that long.~"

"Neither do I," Junna agreed, catching enough from Lyass' mind to put it in context.

"~Some sort of trick perhaps... what are you two seeing?~"

"We will succeed. Duke, Canard, Wildwing and myself survive to see the surface world again. It is a bloody, painful, but it is as we have seen for decades." Junna summarized what she had gathered.

"~I see a similar outcome,~" Obi-Wan agreed. "~We are here for weeks, perhaps, but not anything close to the months needed.~"

Lyass tried to look forward herself... but something was confusing the issue.

"~I suspect we get out as well ... there's just something else there that's muddying the waters.~"

"~We are dealing with a great deal of power in this place, and the possibility of even more involved in the future,~" Obi-Wan reminded her. "~It is possible the muddying effect is SunWind himself.~"

"~Agreed,~" she nodded slightly. "~I'm simply explaining why I haven't gone further out. I may also just not have the talent for farseeing that the two of you do.~"

"~Possible,~" Obi-Wan accepted the option. "~You have named a likely opponent in time to find out about it.~"

"Agreed. I do recognize Juiblex, the lord of slimes and oozes. A minor demon lord. Very sneaky, but not as physically dangerous as the Balrog." Junna told them.

"Ugh," Lyass shuddered. "Hopefully it'll just be glad to see somebody and willing to let us go for something less than a fight."

"Very, very unlikely." Junna said grimly. "Maybe not to its demise, but it will seek ours."

"At least it's not going to be as bad as the Balrog ... let's just hope it's not on the next floor," Lyass sighed.

"Why?" Obi-Wan asked, uncertain why it would matter what floor it was on.

"I'd rather think that a demon-lord, even a low-grade one, is one of the final challenges, not first," Lyass pointed out.

"True," he nodded, then caught the sound of shifting from where SunWind and Wolf were resting.

"Well, that's earlier than I'd expected," Lyass murmured, stretching out with her senses to make sure that SunWind should be waking up. He was weak, but stronger than before and very hungry.

"How're you feeling?" Wolf asked SunWind softly.

"Been better," SunWind shifted his Lumari head weakly to nuzzle him. "Hungry."

"Would I be correct and your metabolism would like a great deal of food right now?" Junna asked as the three moved closer to him.

"As much as I can get down," he nodded. "It burns a lot of energy."

"I will see what I can do. Any preferences?" Junna asked as she began to work a spell together in her mind.

"Meat. Any kind. High calorie anything." He looked at her curiously but didn't move. It was too much effort.

"Not something lean," Wolf offered. "And if whatever you're doing brings it in cooked, don't bother, he prefers it practically bleeding when he's hurt."

"I can arrange that," Junna smiled indulgently and turned her attention inwards before casting a fairly simple alteration spell with very unusual intentions.

Her magic wove around the air and earth near SunWind and soon formed into a large herbivore still warm in death.

SunWind rumbled in appreciation and licked his muzzle before shifting to put both arms on his meal and digging in with a relish that left everything in the vicinity splattered with blood and him well-soaked with it.

"He'll be busy for a while," Wolf said simply, sitting back a bit as the Ducks, Sly and Carmelita turned away from the scene. "You'll probably want one of those cleaning spells I heard about handy when he's done."

"Do you know how often he should eat like this while recovering?" Junna asked Wolf even as she and both Jedi watched SunWind through the Force. "He is definitely doing better."

"Not a clue beyond 'as often as he wants to,'" Wolf said honestly. "He probably doesn't even know, really."

"~As much as I can,~" SunWind answered silently, his mouth full of bloody meat. "~This much three or four times a day would be great,~" he added with the clear impression that it was far from needed, just helpful.

"Stretched out, I can probably manage that for a few days," Junna nodded slightly.

"Do you have any idea how long it will take you to heal fully?" Lyass asked. "At the current rate?"

SunWind paused in his gorging to do a bit of internal checking and to dig around in memories that weren't exactly his own. "Three days, I think." He said before returning to his meal with a relish.

The others waited for him to finish, and for Junna to work the cleaning spell, before Wolf snuggled up lightly with him.

"Had me worried for a while there," Wolf murmured, nuzzling SunWind's cheek.

"You weren't the only one," SunWind licked him in return and settled down to digest and heal. "That was very close," he admitted uneasily. "I wasn't sure I would wake up."

"For what it's worth, you probably saved all our lives, and we're pretty sure that there won't be another of those down here," Lyass offered. "What exactly did you do?"

"I don't remember the name of it, but I called on a powerful ancestor to fight in my body with her Gifts ... her magic ... and her skills. I may be an experienced fighter, but not as a Loup Maru. It was all I could think of that might give us a chance at surviving."

"Do you know who the ancestor in question was?" Junna asked curiously.

"Maru," he answered softly, the awe in his deep voice evident even in Lumari. "One of the first three Loup Maru. All of us trace our lineage back to either her or Luprani, if not both. Lumari was their mate, the sire we all eventually trace to. I wasn't expecting her to answer."

"That's... whoa," Wolf murmured.

"I'm guessing that Maru is very nearly one of your people's gods?" Junna guessed.

"Most who are not Loup Maru would consider them such," he nodded, struggling to find the words to explain what he had never really thought about. "Ramilz created our solar system, then created three daughters and gave each a world to guide life on. Haloeth had the world I was born to. She created the early seeds of life and the immortal Lumari to watch over them and guide much of her plans to fruition. But as he helped develop more complex life, animals that knew language and emotion, he grew lonely knowing he was the only of his kind forever.

"Eventually Haloeth gave him two mates, Luprani and Maru, and the ability to have children, but at the price of his physical immortality. It is said that he never regretted his acceptance of those terms. I am not so sure, given the fate of Ramilz."

"Is Maru going to be asking some sort of price for her aid?" The Avian asked cautiously, seriously concerned at the idea of being in the direct debt of such a powerful unknown.

SunWind thought about that for some time, a wide yawn coming before the answer.

"I am not sure," he eventually admitted. "If she does, it will likely simply be claimed," he glanced at Lyass with a bit of an apologetic expression. "She is the mother of my kind. She wants us to continue. If that means half-breeds, she may not care. It would never occur to her that motherhood is not for everyone."

"First thing you've ever said that has made me really glad to be a guy," Wolf murmured.

"It wouldn't be the first male pregnancy and delivery in history," SunWind said apologetically to his mate. "I do not think she will, I like females enough, but one of her power is capable of it."

"Would she be capable of accelerating the process as well?" Lyass asked, thinking back to her vision. "Though it seems that Alyaa would be a more likely candidate, in ways."

"You have much better breeding," SunWind pointed out. "I expect she could, but I don't know."

"That could explain some of the visions, though I still suspect that was some sort of illusion... or a glimpse through some very, very strange opportunities."

"Vision?" SunWind yawned again, but his attention was solidly focused on Lyass now.

"We were trying to get a glimpse of the future... it seemed likely we were going to succeed, but at some point before we're going to get to the bottom, I caught a glimpse of myself very heavily pregnant. Which, barring some manner of time warp, shouldn't be possible."

"True," SunWind regarded her, the desire in him clear despite his exhausted state. "Also very unlikely to be a good idea. I can not imagine it being a good idea to give birth here."

"That is putting it mildly," she agreed. "You look like you're exhausted, so we'll let you rest soon... how much of what happened to you was because of the fight, rather than the possession?"

"Physical damage is from the fight, but the possession took a lot out of me too, energy-wise. She used my power to fuel her gifts, and I don't have nearly as much as she does." He tried to explain the difference.

"We'll let you get some rest now, then," Lyass said, squeezing his shoulder gently. "Rest well, SunWind."

Canard tried not to think about the voracious monster that was eating freshly killed raw meat to regain his strength only a few yards away. When walking on two legs as a Maru, SunWind was an agreeable, pleasant enough sort with too much interest in sex for either of his lovers on the team. Still, he had always kept his mind on business when he was supposed to, so it wasn't so bad.

This though, what he did to fuel his healing, was sickening. At least his meat was dead, but the bloody mess wasn't anything Canard liked to think about, much less smell. It was too much like a battlefield on the next day. All he could do was count down and try to keep his own food down.

Nine times down, five to go.

He had to keep reminding himself what the payoff for this was. SunWind back in fighting shape, and the lot of them off on their way to retrieve the Star....

On their way to get the one thing that could end this war once and for all.

That thought brought him back to the young Duck sitting next to him, and the dark rogue watching them both. They were an odd group, the three of. They were an odd group, the three of them, but they brought out the best in each other most of the time.

"Had any thoughts on what to do when the war's over?" Canard asked quietly.

"Tried not to think about it too much," Duke admitted. "Didn't seem all that likely it ever would be, up until now."

"I still remember that feeling," Canard nodded. "Took a long time to go away."

"Go back to school," Wildwing said quietly. "Finish my degree. Try for a real life."

"Ever figure out what you'd want your degree in?" Duke asked with a smile.

"No," he murmured. "I'll have to start over anyway."

"You'll have one hell of a head start when headquarters finishes the citizenship paperwork," Canard ruffled his feathers lightly. "Whatever you can test out of that you want to, plus as much of your service and skills as you care to tell them. Or you can just have ... six ... years of military service listed," he added gently. "It won't look like much, most folks around here have at least a couple years."

"I'll have to think about it," Wildwing admitted. "So much is different here."

"Well, y'could always come along with me," Duke chuckled slightly, smiling at the younger Duck. "Not sure you'd want to get into my line of work though."

"You know I'd never make it," Wildwing chuckled weakly. "Just cause I defended you doesn't mean I like it."

"Yeah, probably not," Duke smiled slightly. "Besides, it'll take me a while to get a gang together... longer to get enough that I could retire to live in the style I prefer."

"If I thought it would do a wit of good, I could change that," Canard laughed with a shake of his head. "You know full well you won't retire no matter how much you get."

"You, run with a gang again?" Wildwing raised an eyebrow.

"It's what I've been doing since Canard recruited me," Duke shrugged. "Might go solo instead, but having some backup handy doesn't hurt. And who says I couldn't retire?" Duke smirked at Canard. "You just don't like the idea of me letting Puckworld get boring again," he winked with his good eye.

"This Puckworld'll never be boring," Canard rolled his eyes, though there was an edge of hatred to his tone. "Besides, you won't be my concern once you're out of my command."

"You're going to be able to get back to civilian life too, y'know," Wildwing pointed out, squeezing his hand lightly.

"Civilian, yes," Canard agreed with a sigh. "Ditch the 'world savior' title, maybe not."

"I know some amazing things to do with dyes," Duke offered. "You'd never look like yourself again."

"Besides, would it really be that bad, once it didn't need saving anymore?" Wildwing asked gently.

"It'll be worse," Canard shook his head. "I've gotten a good look at their plans for me, and it's nothing I want to deal with. Pomp and personal appearances, eggs with females I'll never see again. Look pretty, do what your told and forget you ever wanted a life or your own," he nearly snarled the last of it, his feathers fluffed in enough distress that Junna was staring at them with concern, as were both Jedi.

"Canard, you wouldn't let them do that to you, even if they do want to," Duke pointed out. "Like I said... I can help you disappear. It'll be possible, especially around here. Dyes ... you're a good enough actor you could change enough that nobody'll recognize you."

"Sometimes you know me too well," Canard muttered, though he settled down a fair amount too. "A place in some big city, far away from the capitol and the mages who can see through it at a glance," he murmured thoughtfully, a wistfulness in his tone they were used to when some variant of the statement came up.

"It can't be too hard to work it out," Wildwing tried to encourage the positive thinking. "Between the three of us, we have a lot we can do."

"And if there's somebody we can trust who can use magic, there's a lot more," Duke nodded. "I'm sure there are spells for people who don't want to get found."

Canard froze slightly, his thought process visibly crossing his face as he worked on that idea.

"Yes, and I don't have to trust them much at all," he smiled slightly. "A spell would have to be refreshed regularly. An enchanted item, a pendant or ring or something, can be bought on the open market. It wouldn't stop an archmage, but an expensive one can stop anything short of one."

"So there y'go," Duke said. "Hell, with everything you've done, could probably get a pretty reliable one as a thank you gift from 'em."

"That would require telling one of them I wanted it," Canard pointed out. "They're the ones who want to run my life."

"You trust someone to get it for you?" Wildwing asked and watched his lover's reaction carefully.

"Yes," he nodded and flicked a wary glance towards Junna. "Some of my troops are loyal to me, a few even more so than to Puckworld's government. It can be acquired as untraceably as anything on this world is."

"Duke could probably manage it too," Wildwing said with an odd look towards the master thief. "Untraceable is his modus operandi."

"Heck, I could acquire it for free too, probably," Duke said easily. "Untraceable's easier though, and both of you'd probably prefer it. Could live however you want then ... with whoever you wanted."

"I like that idea," Canard relaxed almost as quickly as he'd tensed before, and made a low sound of pleasure when Wildwing ruffled the feathers of his neck with his beak.

"Good," Wildwing smiled at him and relaxed as well.

"See? We can sort things out with a little effort," Duke smiled.

"Yeah," Canard relaxed into the affection shown by Wildwing, more than content with the minor display considering who it was coming from.

SunWind stretched and shifted into Maru as he woke up, finally no longer stiff and sore and starving. It left his body with another kind of hunger to contend with. One that was nearly as easy to sate as the one for food.

He licked his short whiskers back and quickly shimmed out of his clothes before moving to run his hands down Wolf's sleeping body.

The napping Wolf murmured lowly, pressing into SunWind's touch. Before too long, he wrapped his arms around him, not bothering to open his eyes before shifting to kiss SunWind almost reflexively.

SunWind rumbled happily and brought his tail up to stroke Wolf's back while he unbuckled Wolf's jeans and slipped his fingers under his underwear to cup and caress his balls and sheath.

"Mmm... you're lucky I bothered with a blanket last night," Wolf murmured sleepily, kissing him again, pressing into his touch and running his hands down SunWind's nude body.

"So are you," SunWind whispered throatily and kissed and nuzzled his mate's muzzle and neck. "~Missed touching you,~" he added silently, his mouth occupied with tasting Wolf's left nipple. "~Glad you were always there.~"

"~Wouldn't be anywhere else,~" Wolf thought back with some difficulty, rumbling and reaching down a bit to tease SunWind's antennae, licking the tip lightly. It brought the predictable shudder of pleasure and deep moan before SunWind moved down out of reach of Wolf's mouth.

The exchange, however, was to wrap his mouth around Wolf's almost-hard cock and taste his mate for the first time in days.

Wolf groaned softly, reaching down, rubbing SunWind's ears and antennae lightly, trying not to make too much noise with the rest of the group nearby, some sleeping, some not. He knew both Jedi would be awake for sure. Likely at least one Duck. He trembled under his mate's skilled attentions. A tongue and mouth that knew him well working the soft skin of his cock, a tail wrapped around his slowly swelling knot, it was heaven in the middle of hell. He knew this mood, knew by the way SunWind touched him, it would be long, slow and ultimately mind-blowingly intense.

"You're downright evil," Wolf groaned under his breath, his shaft throbbing, balls twitching right on the edge of orgasm as SunWind backed off a bit, holding him there.

"~Of course,~" SunWind grinned at him mentally. "~I've had little else to take my mind off how much I hurt for days but how to celebrate living with you.~"

"~Just watch it, or I'll kill you myself,~" Wolf teased, his fingers slowly stroking SunWind's antennae to encourage his mate's arousal.

"~Would you rather ravage me?~" SunWind asked, his mind mixed on the idea. Intensely hot, but it meant giving up what he was doing.

"~How 'bout you let me cum... then I'll take you?~" Wolf rumbled mentally and was rewarded with a tightening of the tail around the base of his knot and SunWind's mouth going to work sucking and licking the hard length above it.

Wolf groaned, pushing his mate's head down, spraying his hot, thick seed into SunWind's hungry mouth to be swallowed. He shuddered and whimpered as he was licked clean.

SunWind continued to fondle him as he kissed his way back up Wolf's body and into a long, lingering kiss as they rubbed their hard bodies together.

"Love you so much," Wolf rumbled deeply, rubbing his mate's back when they finally broke for a breath.

"I love you," SunWind nuzzled him breathlessly.

"Mmm ... think you said something about being ravished?" Wolf smirked slightly, rolling on top of him.

"Oh, yes," SunWind shivered in anticipation and let his body relax, ready for whatever his lover willed.

Wolf reached down between them, guiding his shaft to his mate's tight, furless pucker with plenty of help from the male below him and his long, agile tail. Wolf pressed against him, kissing him deeply as he started to force his tapered shaft, slick with cum and spit, into SunWind's body. It had taken a long time to get used to the idea that SunWind really did enjoy it without stretching or lube as much as with, but the benefits were distinct in times like these.

"Missed this, missed you," SunWind groaned and slid his knees further up Wolf's sides before wrapping his legs around his lower back.

"Missed you too," Wolf murmured softly, trying not to moan too loudly as he started to thrust slowly, working more and more of himself into his mate.

It was a care that was soon moot as SunWind stiffened and almost howled his lover's name. His body contracting tightly around Wolf as he came with unabashed pleasure and a complete lack of care at who knew it.

Wolf let out a howl of his own, his swollen knot pressing at SunWind's body as he came, spraying his insides with seed just before a light pillow sailed over and smacked both of them in the side of the head.

"Ohhh, I think somebody's jealous," SunWind panted even as his body was still spasming a bit around Wolf's shaft.

"Mmm ... or wants to sleep," Wolf chuckled sheepishly, nuzzling SunWind's cheek lightly and felt the Loup Maru's long, strong tail begin to stroke his back and sides.

"Maybe," he murmured and kissed him soundly.

"Or doesn't want you guys setting off the Ducks any more than you already have," Sly muttered from nearby, grabbing his pillow back and pulling it over his head.

"Just nudge Carmelita," SunWind teased him. "Join the fun."

"I need a bit of a break anyways," Wolf chuckled, kissing his mate. "I was really worried about you," he murmured.

"I wasn't too sure either, that first day," SunWind kissed him solidly. "I'm healed now," he added with a nuzzle.

"I know," Wolf smiled, nuzzling his neck as they reassured each other more gently. "Mmm ... how much of what happened do you remember?"

"Most of it, I think. It's like a movie, or someone else's memories. I'm there, but I'm not," he tried to explain the sensations of possession.

"So you didn't get much of a feel for what Maru was like?"

"She wasn't in much of a position to chat," SunWind pointed out. "I got some. We did share a body," he smiled suddenly. "She's very maternal, very sexy."

"She's also an ancestor," Wolf teased lightly, licking his muzzle. "And I just wasn't sure how much you'd been able to feel from her."

"A little more than I can from digging into the old memories, but those have a lot more details," SunWind tried to explain and he rubbed Wolf's back. "I was pretty surprise she was the one who answered too."

"Weren't trying to get her then?" Wolf guessed, snuggling close. "How'd you even do something like that?"

"There is no control over who answers, if anyone does," SunWind said with a contented sigh for being able to relax with Wolf so close. "All Loup Maru are connected through our heritage and our connection with Haloeth. Sometimes you can call an ancestor to help you out of a tight spot. Sometimes they just show up. I wasn't sure it would work. It's been generations since an attempt was successful that anyone knows about, not since Haloeth and the other spirits stopped being accessible," he kissed Wolf softly. "It's so exhausting because she has to use my energy, but she has gifts that are far beyond me. It takes a while to recover that kind of expenditure."

"So, think you'll be ready to head out in the morning?" Wolf asked him.

"Yes, I'll be good as new by then," he smiled and kissed him gently. "Time to get back to real life."

SunWind perked his canine head up, his large, round ears twitching as the group carefully trekked through the second level of the complex.

"What is it?" Wolf asked intently from his side just behind Junna.

"I hear ... fighting." He got out, his efforts to keep his Maru vocal cords in Lupki proven reasonably successful. "Up ahead."

"Saurians, probably," Canard muttered. "Dammit, Sly, can't you get those any faster?"

"They didn't exactly design the traps to be disarmed here," Sly pointed out, cutting a tripwire carefully. "Okay, go on through."

"Do we actually want to fight them, or let the dungeon handle it?" Duke pointed out with a question.

"It would probably be a good idea to let the two deal with each other as much as possible, but the longer we wait, the better the odds that another patrol will come through," Lyass pointed out.

"Besides, Saurians make good snackfood," SunWind added with a devilish grin as he shifted into Lumari while the group moved forward.

Despite the Loup Maru's interest in charge into the battle, they waited until the sounds of the fight stilled, Sly looking over at a Saurian impaled against the opposite wall by a series of spears with a slightly disturbed expression as they did so.

Once it was done, they moved forward, charging into the group of Saurians from behind while they tried to recover from the battle against a pair of shattered statues.

"Wha ...." one of them started to demand before his voice was cut off by SunWind's crushing jaws.

"Kill it!" A Saurian yelled at the surviving troops.

Two lightsabers flared to life, blocking the initial flurry of blaster bolts as SunWind and the rest of the group lit into the Saurians.

The battle went quickly. Once SunWind was out of the way of the others, puck-shots and the blasters Carmelita and Wolf still carried quickly annihilated the remaining Saurian force. It was barely a minute before they were all dead, as broken as the remains of the golems they'd only just shattered.

"That was quick," SunWind complained as he sniffed at the bodies and went to eating the best parts.

"Let's hope this is too," Canard shuddered, most of the group turning as they tried their best to ignore SunWind's feasting, Sly distracting himself by scouting out the traps up ahead.

"Has he always been like that?" Junna asked Obi-Wan in a whisper.

"Only if they're the enemy," the Jedi replied softly. "He was first encountered with the remains of a mercenary who'd been working with the Plutarkians."

"How do you pick up a habit like that?" she asked, looking both at Obi-Wan and Wolf.

"At a guess? Fighting enemies who've destroyed every world in your system with no food but them," Wolf suggested.

"And that's assuming it's not a cultural element," Obi-Wan added. "It's not uncommon amongst carnivores."

"Speak for yourself please," Wolf made a bit of a face. "Not in Lylat it's not."

"Nor our world," Carmelita pointed out very quickly.

"Sorry," SunWind lifted his head from his kill and moved to rub his muzzle forcefully against the dusty ground to get the blood off of him. "I still forget to be civilized sometimes."

"And I was referring more to my home system, and more primitive groups," Obi-Wan said with an apologetic bow.

"It's not common to Haloeth, though it is not the taboo I've seen most places either," SunWind tried to sooth them and shifted into Maru. "I had a long time with only bodies to survive on, and no reliable source of even that. I got used to eating what I could whenever I could as fast as I could. I don't always remember there is real food right after a kill."

"Well, we should still have enough supplies that we don't need that," Wolf reassured him as he finished cleaning up. "So, moving on?"

"Yes," Junna nodded sharply and focused on Duke. "Any sense how far until the next door?"

"It's a ways off, but with these guys down it'll be a shorter trip," Duke said easily, starting to lead the way.

"Y'know, if they've already come through here - and we've seen they have - then why have we still had to deal with every fight and trap on the way?" Carmelita asked, watching carefully.

The complex is designed to regenerate. Damage, traps, even monsters that are meant to be here," Junna explained. "It's the only defense against a force willing to just pour bodies into it like the Saurians are. The statues they just destroyed are golems and will be whole and deadly again. Likely within a day or two. The closer we get to the bottom, the faster that will happen."

"I don't suppose that they deactivate after we have the Star, do we?" The Vixen asked with a sigh.

"I do not know," Junna admitted. "We may have to fight our way back up."

"Joy," she muttered.

"We're going to have to deal with Saurians on the way out at any rate," Sly pointed out. "Junna, will you be able to access the Star at all?"

"From our records, yes," she nodded. "It will provide almost unlimited power for my magic, but even then I can only do so much. Some spells are beyond a single mage, no matter how much power they have access to.

"Understood," he nodded. "It'll probably help if you can throw around your big ones without having to worry about tiring yourself out though, I'd guess. Against Saurians, at least."

"What about a teleport portal?" SunWind asked abruptly. "With that much power, could we skip the walk back up?"

"If the shielding does not prevent it," she nodded thoughtfully. "I should be able to."

"Is it a finite amount of power contained within, as far as you know?" Lyass asked softly.

"Yes, that of a galaxy," Junna nodded. "The limit is a technicality in all ways we understand it."

"Agreed," Lyass chuckled. "I was wondering if there might be a way to try and direct the next portal we leave through, after the Saurians have been dealt with."

"That would depend on how well we understand it," Junna told her. "Messing with a teleport system you don't understand can have disastrous results for all involved."

"That's how I got into this in the first place," Obi-Wan chuckled slightly.

"Think we've got trouble coming up," Sly said cautiously.

"More golems," Junna murmured after a quick spell. "Generally they have low intelligence, are very tough, fairly slow and attack anything that moves. Highly magic-resistant as well."

"SunWind, going to be trouble for your claws?" Wolf asked as they stopped so Sly could take out another trap, a room full of stone and iron statues ahead of them.

"Shouldn't be," he growled and shifted into Lumari, the Force wrapping around him as he slashed the sides of his claws against the stone floor, then used them to sharpen his saber-teeth. "My training may have ended young, but I know a few useful gifts."

"Get ready to use 'em then," Sly warned them. "'Cause these things are probably going to start moving as soon as we're in the door, from what Junna said... Junna, this thing's a magical sensor I think. Can you complete the circuit so we can move through?"

"Easily," she nodded and cast the simple energy control spell. "Too easily, if I didn't know what was coming can turn most archmages into chunky salsa."

"Okay, given the recent topic of discussion, not a mental image I needed," Duke shuddered.

"Obi-Wan, SunWind, Lyass, ready?" Sly asked. The three of them nodded, SunWind visibly eager to get into another scrape, the two Jedi igniting their lightsabers. Without a word, all four of them bolted into the room, turning to face each of the walls. The remainder of the group, Carmelita, Junna, Wildwing, Duke, Canard and Wolf, held back close to the door.

It didn't take long for the defenders to react - four massive stone statues, and another four of the iron ones stepping forward into the large room, moving slowly, but with lethal purpose.

"Avoid lightning and fire," Junna called out to everyone, but especially to Carmelita. "Especially fire on the metal ones."

"Vulnerabilities?" Wolf demanded even as Carmelita was given one of the Duke's backup puckblasters and Duke moved forward, his own sword flaring into existence as a solid weapon from the hilt.

"Damned few," Junna admitted.

"Hey, they're metal - I know one that's guaranteed," Sly grinned, rolling out of the way as one of the iron golems smashed the ground he'd been standing on, climbing up the massive statue and smashing the hook of his cane through the outer layer of its metallic hide.

"I think I know what he's up to," Obi-Wan nodded slightly, hacking into one of the stone-golems. He wasn't sure if his lightsaber would count as 'fire,' but he wasn't going to take the chance if he could help it.

"Basic physical works," SunWind slammed his sharpened claws threw one's head, only to grunt as he took a blow to the gut from the creature that was only a couple feet shorter than he was.

Unfortunately, the golem wasn't nearly as obliging as most people about dying when their heads were pierced, and it kept hammering at SunWind, cracking ribs with punishing blows until the Loup Maru backed off. SunWind began a wild darting dance of shifting forms that inflicted damage and bolted away before he could be hit again.

Sly kept working on the one he'd mounted, wrenching an opening into its insides and popping an arm off. He reached back into his pack and pulled out a pair of spare hats, pressing them into the open socket and leaping off. He rapped his cane on the floor, and there were two explosions from deep inside the golem, the entire body swelling with the force of the blast before it fell apart.

"One down," Canard got the idea and directed the group's fire at one iron golem, hoping to wear it down before the outnumbered front line warriors got trapped.

"Anybody have a grenade?" Lyass asked, carving the head off one of the stone golems.

"~Telekinesis may be more effective,~" she told Obi-Wan silently.

"~Slam one into another?~" she suggested even as a metal golem crumbled under the puckblasters.

The other Jedi considered the task.

"~Worth a shot,~" he agreed, trying to move one of the incredibly massive, dense creatures.

He knew instantly that there would be no lifting it, but between them they could shove it in a desired direction.

"~Here,~" SunWind caught their plan on the relatively open broadcast, only he included where to shove their target so he could shove something else that way.

The two Jedi agreed silently, both of them focusing, Lyass moving quickly to distract the golem, send it off-balance trying to strike her. They both shoved at just the right moment, telekinetically sending it staggering to crash into the one that SunWind had simply body-slammed into place.

"~Not bad, but not great,~" SunWind commented as both golems showed cracks but didn't fall apart. "~Can anyone drop the roof on these guys after we get to the far side?~" he called out to everyone.

"Easily," Junna nodded, though she wasn't sure about the wisdom of it.

"~This place heals, right?~" SunWind shot back. "~We can easily outrun these things.~"

"Whatever he's suggesting, it might be a good idea," Sly offered, ripping into a third iron golem. "Still got three of these things."

"~Then everybody move,~" SunWind orders echoed in everyone's mind. Though both Jedi knew without a doubt it wasn't intentional, they could both feel the swirls of Force backing his orders with a mild command.

Everyone started to run, dodging golems rather than fighting them. Sly popped another exploding hat into the second-to-last iron golem and kicked off, gracefully soaring out of the chamber just behind Carmelita, the last to get through besides SunWind.

"I think we should keep moving," the Raccoon said, continuing on towards what would eventually become the front, keeping an eye out for traps as well as he could.

"Agreed," SunWind rumbled as he broke off from the golem he was wrestling to keep in place and bolted for the other side while Junna began to blast columns down and rip the keystones out of the roof.

The rock and stone began to rumble... then traps on the floor above went off en masse, the floor collapsing into the room, crushing the remaining three golems beneath tons of earth.

"Thanks for letting me be useful," Junna told SunWind quietly as the pace slowed to a more natural walk.

"You're welcome," the Lumari said as he shifted down to Luprani with Maru vocal cords.

"It was a good idea, particularly since this place will repair itself before we have to go through again," Obi-Wan said approvingly. "And it should slow down further Saurian patrols. How much further to the next door, Duke, if you can guess?"

"Not far," he said after a moment of concentration. "It's not easy to tell distance around here."

"That is the point of it," Junna nodded.

"Well, let's get going," Sly said easily. "No traps just here... I think it's going to be really close."

"Let's just hope this door isn't as bad as the last one," Wolf murmured as they turned a corner and were faced with an ornate door with elegant script imbedded in it.

"Ooookay... I don't see any traps on it," Sly offered. "Junna? You have a clue what that says?"

She nodded and read the ancient script.

"Honesty will open me. Follow your heart and you will follow the path to Eternity."

"An ideas what ..." Obi-Wan began to ask, but was cut off by a wave of light from the door that washed over them. "Something doesn't feel right." He murmured.

"No, it doesn't," Lyass agreed, shifting uneasily as she realized something was horribly wrong with her body.

"This explains the vision," she murmured, looking down at her body as her belly swelled, becoming fuller and heavy with a largely impossible child. She could feel the sharp shift in SunWind's mental state as he caught sight and scent of her. She felt herself drawn into his lust, the hunger for something he desired beyond words. Even as she tried to resist, she saw reality begin to change around her. The rocks were dusty red, as was the soil. The sky was open and clear above them, a pale blue with a bright yellow sun. The plants were scrubby and hardy, the kind that could flourish in deserts.

There were others as well, indistinct minds and shadowy shapes around them, large and small.

"We're on Haloeth, aren't we?" She realized; they were in SunWind's fantasy, the world he craved more than anything else. Loup Maru around them, a mate with child. It was incredibly simple in so many ways compared to what most folks would answer to this question, but it was also the most impossible. Even her half-dream of seeing the Jedi rebuilt was more likely than SunWind having kin and pups around him on a living Haloeth.

"Y-yes," he answered, both startled and very distracted by her presence as he came up to her to slide a hand reverently over her swollen belly, then kissed her tenderly.

"This can't be entirely real," she murmured, kissing him back. "Just ... so you know, I doubt this will last."

"~Nothing does,~" he murmured silently and slid her robes from her shoulders to expose her tattooed skin for a lavishing of kisses. "~Please, just roll with it,~" his mental voice carried a true plea to be allowed this fantasy made real for however long it lasted.

"~I will,~" she promised him silently, laying back in the red dust of his homeworld and welcomed the attention he gave her body. It struck her within minutes that this was very different from the pheromone-driven encounters of their past. He was tender, loving ... very much like she had seen him with Wolf on their most gentle nights.

She trembled with a soft groan as a mental wave crested across her, joining not just her mind and SunWind's, but also the unborn son inside her. She felt the arousal mount, but couldn't take her attention from the fact that the child inside her, a child that didn't exist, was fully sentient and aware of his surroundings, them, his father's love for him, his mother's shock.

It left her wondering if this was illusion... or if it was real, and just how much would last beyond the encounter. With the power this place supposedly had, it was far from the most impossible thing that could happen.

She wrapped her arms around SunWind, holding him close and kissing him as he explored her gravid body and gently guided her to her side so he could slide into her ready sex from behind. It left his hands free to rub along her swollen belly and milk-filled breasts.

"~Thank you,~" he wrapped his mind around hers and wordlessly offered her anything he could give in thanks for this moment of bliss.

"~You're welcome,~" she replied silently, kissing him again. "~All yours, for now.~"

Not far away physically, but universes away mentally, Obi-Wan was dressed in his formal robes, his master in matching attire beside him as they waited for the Jedi Council to be ready to see them. They both knew what was going to happen, it was impossible to hide that he had passed the last of his formal knighthood trials the day before, but it made it no less difficult to stand still and relaxed both inward and outward, and wait for one of the most momentous events in Obi-Wan's life to be formalized.

"Seeing your Padawan knighted is no less momentous for the Master, Obi-Wan," Qui-Gon reminded him with a wan smile.

"Being home after so long only makes it harder to be calm, Master," Obi-Wan smiled back.

"I know," Qui-Gon agreed. "Your trials came so quickly. I always expected more time, but you have matured greatly in your absence."

"A year's unexpected solo time taught me to very quickly," Obi-Wan admitted. "Hard to believe that I'm back, sometimes."

"They do tend to do that," Qui-Gon nodded. "Come, they are ready," he responded to the silent order from the Council.

"Yes, Master," Obi-Wan said with a nod of his own, following Qui-Gon into the Council chamber where they bowed to the assembly.

"Good to see you, it is," Master Yoda greeted them both. "Expect this day, we did not."

"You both know the results of Kenobi's trials," Master Windu actually gave them both a proud, approving look. "It is a fine day when the Order can knight a Padawan with so much experience at such a young age."

"Thank you, Masters," Obi-Wan said politely, bowing his head to them, and the rest of the Council by extension.

"Important business we get to then," Master Yoda nodded acceptance of the gesture. "Obi-Wan Kenobi ready to be Jedi Knight, decision of this Council is. Honors to you, Master Jinn?" He gave the traditional offer to the new Knight's Master to cut his Padawan's braid as his last act as Master.

"Thank you, Master Yoda," Qui-Gon said, inclining his head as the other Councilor's stood and ignited their lightsabers. Obi-Wan lowered his head, holding up his braid as Qui-Gon's lightsaber flared to life.

"Confer upon you the rank of Jedi Knight, this Council does," Master Yoda said solemnly as Obi-Wan knelt. "This is the will of the Council, the will of the Force."

Qui-Gon raise his lightsaber in a flash, severing Obi-Wan's braid, the long hair hanging from the youth's hands.

"Rise, Obi-Wan, Knight of the Jedi Order," Master Yoda said with a thin smile, Obi-Wan doing as he was told. "Mission you will have soon. Prepare for it you should."

"Yes, Masters," Obi-Wan nodded, turning to leave alongside his former Master.

The trip back to the quarters they would share for such a short time now passed quickly and without event, and Obi-Wan quickly turned to embrace the older Jedi, hugging him as soon as the door closed behind them.

"You have done very well, Obi-Wan," Qui-Gon slid Obi-Wan's outer robe from his shoulders.

"Thank you, Master," Obi-Wan murmured, kissing him tenderly as he slid the taller man's outer robe off. "It is good to be here, with you."

"It is," he agreed, gently exploring Obi-Wan's lean, hard body as he removed layers of robes with slow deliberateness.

The younger Jedi worked to remove his former Master's robes, kissing him tenderly, relishing the contact he'd missed for so long. They were quickly naked and aroused on a level that their few weeks together during Obi-Wan's trials had not done much to cool. They gradually lowered their shields to each other and explored each other's bodies again with little urgency beyond the midmorning appointment with the healers in mind.

"Love you," he murmured, kissing Qui-Gonn's neck gently, taking in the slight changes that two years had wrought on him... a handful of new marks of battles he'd been in, but little more. Their lips brushed together again as he reached between the two of them, lightly fondling his Master's shaft and sack.

"Mmm, is that a hint?" Qui-Gon chuckled and ran his hands down Obi-Wan's back to cup his firm ass cheeks.

"Mmm ... mhm," Obi-Wan chuckled back, pressing into Qui-Gon's powerful hands.

The older man smiled and rubbed their bodies together, relaxing his reflexive grip on his body's reactions to the pleasure of their touching and anticipation of release with his lover.

Obi-Wan kissed him, rolling onto his back and drawing Qui-Gon on top of him, relaxing in the same way as their minds touched and their bodies quickly reacted to the arousal intended for them. With an intimate familiarity long absent but never forgotten, Qui-Gon offered to indulge his lover's desires with a small bottle of oil hovered over from the nightstand.

Obi-Wan nodded slightly, spreading his legs and laying back, his body open and welcoming to the man above him. He relaxed, his eyes drifting closed as Qui-Gon spread the oil on his fingers and slid one inside his body.

"Ohhh, you don't have to ...."

"Hush. I know your body control is quite sufficient. I do not particularly care to hurry at the moment," Qui-Gon challenged him.

"Ooh... yes, Master," Obi-Wan teased lightly, pressing into his touch. As eager as he was to feel Qui-Gon deep inside him, there was a distinctive pleasure to this as well. He moaned deeply when Qui-Gon leaned forward and took the tip of his cock into his mouth, teasing the swollen head with his tongue.

Obi-Wan focused for a moment, weaving their senses together through more than just their bond, using the trick he'd picked up from SunWind as he stroked his Master's long, dark hair. The feedback to his pleasure was a moan around his cock; a bit of added vibration that made his hips thrust upwards a bit into that welcomingly wet pleasure.

He made a sound of protest when both fingers and mouth disappeared from his flesh, but held it still beyond that. It meant that his lover would soon be inside him fully.

He spread his legs wide, kissing Qui-Gon as he slid up along Obi-Wan's body, hungry for the contact and pleasure he offered. They both moaned into the other's mouth as Qui-Gon smoothly pressed into his body until Obi-Wan felt his balls nestled against Qui-Gon's hard pubic hair.

The younger man tightened his body, milking his Master's shaft as his hands worked down his body to squeeze his ass as they began to move together as if two years apart had not happened.

"~I love you,~" Qui-Gon entwined the words through their bond along with his growing pleasure. Also with it was a hope, concealed but not well enough, that Obi-Wan could walk away from him at any point.

"~I love you too, Master,~" he replied, along with the knowledge that he could... but only would if it was necessary.

"~That is all we need,~" Qui-Gon murmured and let his mind go to the pleasure of being with his lover again.

Lyass stiffened as she felt something approaching her... something dark and evil by any definition of the word. She reached for her lightsaber on reflex, igniting the blade and looking around in the dark chamber.

She caught a glimpse of a red rod glowing in the darkness and knew instinctively what she was facing.


"Anakin," she growled lowly, even as she saw the second lightsaber ignite, and knew she was facing them both.

"And you are dead, Jedi," the Sith told her as he advanced.

"You're a traitor!" She yelled, raising her lightsaber to defend herself. "You and your Master both."

The old Sith laughed and threw a blast of Force lighting at her.

Her lightsaber moved in a flash, blocking the crackling, actinic bolts of pure hatred. She twisted the blade, casting them to the side, and stepped back, taking on a defensive stance. She couldn't attack, couldn't charge them... she wanted to, but she couldn't let herself, it wasn't the Jedi way....

Besides, they would tear her apart.

She could feel someone just at the periphery of her awareness trying desperately to get to her, to get past some kind of elastic barrier and join the battle. It wasn't anything she could pay attention to, however, as Anakin moved forward to clash lightsabers.

"You know you can't beat me," the young Sith sneered as she tried desperately to defend herself. "You couldn't while we were Padawans, you can't now."

"I'm not a Padawan anymore," Lyass muttered.

"No, you're a half-trained Knight against a Sith Lord," Anakin smirked. "You should just give up; I'll make it quick."

"Never," she glared at him and blocked another blow, but couldn't move fast enough to block the lightning that wrenched a scream from her.

"Do you really think you can defeat us both?" Palpatine laughed. "Fool Jedi... just like the rest of your Order."

"No wonder you all die so easily," Anakin laughed, driving her back with a powerful blow.

No one, not even Palpatine, saw the tawny blur the size velocity of a large speeder coming in to bowl Anakin over with a silent snarl of rage that echoed in everyone's minds bright and hot and utterly uncontrollable.

Before anyone else could react, a blast of lightning threw the monster off his prey and Anakin was on his feet again, scuffed and bleeding, but not slowed down.

"He's not part of this!" Lyass shouted, feeling fear, for SunWind and herself, and rage, at the two Sith, starting to well up inside of her.

"He has made himself part of this," Palpatine told her and picked SunWind up with the Force to throw him against the far wall.

She tried to move to help SunWind, but Anakin blocked her at every turn until she was fighting for her own life again.

She saw SunWind move to tackle the greater threat in Palpatine and be thrown back time and time again, his fur sizzling more with each round. Every trick he tried the Sith Lord saw coming and blocked, even when he began to dodge and shift attacks, he never got close to his target.

"This stops... now!" Lyass screamed, blocking Anakin's next blow, twisting her lightsaber to remove his bionic hand. He staggered back, disarmed in more ways than one, and she motioned towards him. Her rage and pain, the hatred she felt for the traitor who had been so instrumental in the destruction of everything she held dear taking on physical form.

She screamed again as the power of the Dark Side flowed through her, arcing from her fingertips and wrapping around the former Jedi, lightning dancing along his body and consuming him as he cried out in surprise and pain.

"Perfect," Palpatine grinned to himself even as he let SunWind get close. He lifted his lightsaber, expecting to cut the monster in half with an easy swing only to find it blocked by a shimmer that flashed across the huge arm used to block the blow.

The old man pulled back just in time to avoid being gutted by the Loup Maru and lashed out telekinetically, hurling him back through a window that Lyass hadn't noticed before.

"I'll kill you," she promised the old Sith, still in pain, Anakin's corpse smoldering from the lightning she had channeled into him. She raised her lightsaber, charging Palpatine. "I'll kill you!"

"Better than you have tried and failed," he remained her. "Now that your pet is dead, it is your turn."

"He wasn't my pet," she growled, lashing out hard and fast, her every blow blocked handily, the anger and hatred rising inside of her again. "You'll pay for what you've done!"

"I rule the galaxy for what I've done," he pointed out with a smirk. "So a Jedi sleeps with a wild beast? How fitting."

"Less a beast than your lackeys!" She snarled. "You'll be joining them soon enough!" She cut loose with her anger and hatred again, lightning spraying from her hands... and washing over the Emperor like so much wind.

"Such hatred can be tempered and used, you know," Palpatine told her and wrapped tendrils of force around her to hold her still. "Since you have bested my former apprentice, I will be generous and offer you his position."

In a flash, Lyass realized what all had just happened to her. How very close she was to breaking... how close she was to becoming what Anakin had become.

"Go to Hell," she spat at the Sith Lord ... even knowing that, in doing so, she condemned herself.

A cracking from shattered window brought both their attentions back to the outside and the bloody Loup Maru that was painfully climbing back into the battle to both their shock.

"Maybe I won't kill your pet after all," Palpatine mused while she struggled frantically to free herself. "That kind of tenacity can be useful once I break him to my will."

"Never... happen," Lyass grunted, working to free herself, trying to use the Force to undo Palpatine's bonds.

"You might be surprised what I can do given time and privacy," he chuckled and threw SunWind against a wall even before he'd climbed fully into the room again. "It's almost a shame to kill you now. It would be so entertaining to have you watch as I break him, then have him kill you for me."

"If you're going to kill me, then get it over with!" Lyass shouted at him. She felt like she was burning up inside... she wasn't sure what was happening, but she knew that she was already falling towards the Dark Side.

Despite that, she wouldn't surrender to the Sith; wouldn't join him. That would be a step farther than she would ever take.

"~No!~" She heard SunWind's mind scream in hers a heartbeat before a flash of red gave her her final demand.

Wildwing blinked as he took in the sudden shift of surroundings. He recognized The Hockadia Amphitheater with hundreds of thousands in the stands cheering wildly. The game was over, his team gathered around him in celebration. Canard skated up to him with a huge grin on his face.

They didn't have time to talk as an official skated out to them with Lord Archmage Anelloe.

He trembled slightly inside his goalie uniform. This was a lifetime of work given the ultimate public recognition.

"Congratulations, Wild Ducks," Lord Archmage Anelloe's voice carried to every corner of the gigantic stadium and the world broadcast. "You have played hard and honorably for the world championship. Congratulations."

"Thank you, Lord Archmage, Prime Minister," Wildwing bowed slightly to the pair as he accepted the large trophy and held it high.

Canard's sudden move to pull his head down for a long, heated kiss made him startle, but he wrapped his free arm around his mate and continued the kiss while the team and crowed cheered wildly.

Sly looked around, shaking his head as the flash cleared ... and he felt something in his back pocket. He reached back to see what it was... and felt a lump in his throat.

"Ah crap," he whispered, looking over at Carmelita. "You're gonna kill me, when this is all done."

"Since when hasn't that been true?" she muttered with a shrug, oblivious to what was beginning.

"Well, it's gonna be more true after this," he sighed, pulling a small ring-box out of his pocket, one he'd had sitting back in the gang's hideout ever since buying it on a whim one night after they'd taken out Clock-la. "If it helps any... I wouldn't be springing this on you if it weren't for what that door says," he offered, getting down on one knee and opening the box to reveal a bright, very expensive diamond ring. "Marry me?" He asked, sounding almost sick as he said the words.

What happened next he was expecting, at first.

She looked somewhere between sick and furious, but she held still for a long moment.

Then she extended her left hand to caress his cheek. "Yes."

"Y-yes?" He asked disbelievingly, blinking up at her. That was definitely not what he'd been expecting.

"Yes," she smiled down at him, though it didn't look completely right.

He took the ring out and put it on her hand, then stood and kissed her deeply. It was a gesture she returned fully as she ran her hands down his back.

He wasn't honestly sure what was going on, or how, but right now... he didn't really care either.

A flicker out of the corner of his eye drew his attention away, and when he looked back at Carmelita, she was holding a bundle of soft blankets with a soft mewing sound coming from it.

They were home now, or at least in a hospital. He smiled and moved over to sit on the bed next to her, looking down at his new daughter.

"She's beautiful," he smiled, looking down at the red-furred Raccoon; by all odds, her tail was more like her mother's, just like their first son's. He had memories of the three years that were between his proposal and now, their return, the wedding, their first son... it was a little hazy, but it all fit and made sense.

"Yes," Carmelita agreed and reached up to kiss him tenderly before their daughter's mews made her bare one breast to let the newborn nurse.

Duke tensed as the light blinded him briefly, but relaxed when he recognized the luxurious surroundings as the hideout he had begun building before the war, only finished and fully stocked with the spoils of his trade. Around him were other spoils; hired attractive attendants to cater to his every whim and be sexy while doing it.

"Master Duke?" Two voices said lowly. He turned his head and saw two of his favored female attendants, Daisy and Teryx, approaching from the other room. Daisy, one of Puckworld's best-known actresses, was barely dressed in a flimsy, filmy negligee, carrying a bowl of peeled grapes as she sashayed over. She wasn't as attractive as many of the ducks and drakes in his harem, more animalistic in appearance than he really preferred, but having the celebrity at his beck and call amused him enough to more than make up for it.

Teryx, on the other hand, was definitely a favorite of his. She wasn't a native, but like him had been dropped here. Not only was the pastel blue and pink Archaeopteryx lovely in her own right and skilled at pleasing him, but she was a fighter capable of acting as a bodyguard. She could fly as well. She had also taken surprisingly well to the harem and the translucent silks that displayed all her best assets for him to fondle or fuck at will.

"Hello, ladies," he grinned at them. He knew he wouldn't have to say a thing to them. They knew what to do and neither one disappointed.

Daisy settled near his shoulder where her breasts were on nice display and offered him a pealed grape while Teryx settled between his spread legs and unzipped his pants.

The Archaeopteryx nuzzled him, working his shaft free as Daisy pampered him, feeding him and ruffling his head-feathers with her bill tenderly. He knew he should be getting some reports soon, but there was time enough for this before that started. It felt so good to be catered to like this.

His gaze fell on two more of his harem and he groaned softly at more than just Teryx's attentions. He knew what was coming here too, as the nearly naked white-feathered drakes kissed and fondled each other in preparation for an energetic display for his amusement, and the entertainment of those soon to give reports.

Teryx took his shaft into her long, beaked muzzle, her long tongue tracing along it as she looked up into his eyes with a sultry, seductive expression, rubbing his legs through his pants. He was king here; this was the sort of retirement he could live with.

"Sir, Brendon is here with the weekly report," another servant, this one dressed in formal butler's attire, announced.

"Show him in, then," Duke nodded and took another grape from Daisy.

"Yessir," the servant nodded, leaving to show in Duke's private 'accountant,' the servants not concerned in the least with the prospect of an audience, or business going on while they performed for their Master's pleasure. It was what they were paid and very well taken care of for.

"Wolf O'Donnell; you have been convicted of desertion and treason. Do you have anything to say for yourself?" Wolf was years back, seeing himself at his trial once again. But this time it wasn't going the way it had before. People weren't trying to whitewash the war away as best they could. They weren't trying to forget. They were willing to admit that there had been people who'd been led astray, who'd thought that maybe Andross had been right.

And this time, they were willing to punish them as well.

"No, your Honor," Wolf said simply. There wasn't anything to say, that he hadn't already said. "Only that I do regret my decisions, which I've said before."

"Very well. The court has considered the circumstances raised in your defense, and feels that you may be a productive member of Lylatian society in the future. However, we are not willing to overlook your actions during the war. You are sentenced to the penal colony on Macbeth for twenty years, which will be spent working with the reclamation units there."

Wolf let out a small breath, and his attorney let out what was to him a much larger one. She'd done everything reasonable and then some to mitigate the most damning of the testimony against him, which was his own. She's all but begged him not to take the stand, not to admit to what hadn't been conclusively proven by others, but he couldn't shut up once he was sitting there, his oath given to tell the truth.

It had been his one chance to clear the slate, to give himself a clear soul, if not an easy life.

It was the prosecutor's dream and the defense attorney's worst nightmare. To the system's credit, both sides had hammered him about details to prove beyond any doubt that what he said was true. Granted, one had done it to avoid any chance of a mistrial or overturned conviction and the other to save her client's life, but the battle of the canines was something to see and hell to be in the middle of.

He really hoped he'd never see Cassie, the prosecuting attorney, again. She was all fire and determination.

As it stood, he had gotten off incredibly easy given half his listed crimes put the death penalty on the table and the rest they were bothering with could carry a life sentence. Even choice of prison, the reclamation units on Macbeth, was much easier than he'd expected. He'd actually have something given back to society when it was over. It was an incredible realization as it sank in.

Aside from Zoness and Venom, Macbeth was the worst planet in the system... but Zoness didn't need laborers, it needed scientists, and Venom had started a wasteland. He was sure that was why he'd been assigned there. The irony of being assigned to Macbeth, where the worst damage had been done by Fox and the Star Fox team... he was sure that was missed by everybody but himself.

Maybe the rest of Star Fox, but that was hard to tell. All he could pick up from their expressions as he was being led out to the transport was that they were glad to see he was being punished to some extent... and that same, half-betrayed, half-confused look that Fox always gave him since he'd left.

"Wolf O'Donnell, report to the visitors room," the now familiar announcer's voice at Macbeth drew a groan from Wolf as he rolled out of his bunk to give up precious personal time to whoever wanted to talk to him. He couldn't help but wonder who it was. No one actually cared about him and the generals and others who wanted intel from him had long since drained everything he could give them.

That alone was actually enough to make it worth reporting, honestly. It was something different to do. Working the reclamation teams wasn't really bad, but for somebody who'd spent most of his adult life as a fighter pilot, it was mind-numbingly boring. Right along with everything else he had available to do.

And he had another eighteen years of it to look forward to. Eighteen well-deserved years that he'd earned for himself, but still another eighteen years of sorting through rubble and finding the broken remains of people he'd helped put in harm's way.

He was escorted out to the visitor's area ... and he very nearly turned right back around when he saw who was waiting for him.

"You're going," the Panther guard growled at him and tightened his grim on his arm. "You earned this too, traitor."

"They're from before I did anything," Wolf pointed out with a resigned sigh, going into the room to see the white-furred canines waiting for him.

Ryan's family.

He so didn't want to face them, face that moment in his life again.

He wasn't surprised that Ryan's father was angry, or that it was his mother that was keeping things from turning into a fight. Her expression was more heartbroken than angry.

"Mr. And Mrs. Tamola," he inclined his head in a submissive greeting to the pair before he sat down on the other side of the glass from them. It was there for his protection as much as theirs... especially with the two of them. His ears were back, tail down... everything about his manner was submissive. He didn't deserve to be on the same level as the two of them, and he knew it.

"Why?" Susan Tamola asked in a single word a hundred questions.

"Which why?" Wolf asked quietly. "There's lots of 'em."

"Start with why you let Ryan into that deathtrap he was in, why you didn't get him out of it," Kendal, his father, asked with a low growl.

"It wasn't my choice," Wolf whispered. "I tried.. we thought he was up to it, but...."

"You promised to look out for him," Susan snarled, her ears flattening, but not in anger. "You promised. It wasn't even in battle."

He flinched; it was all true.

"I tried to get him out," Wolf said, swallowing hard. "He.... We thought he could make it, even he did. I tried to get him out after he crashed."

He did get him out... for all the good it had done. He'd lost an eye, and Ryan had still died.

"I am so sorry," he whispered, lowering his head. "I loved him too."

"So it's true?" Susan asked, barely above a whisper. "You were his boyfriend?"

Wolf stiffened; he hadn't been sure if they knew or not, not many people had.

Apparently they hadn't. Still, he couldn't lie to them... not now. He nodded slightly, almost imperceptibly, seeming to shrink in his seat.

"I wish you hadn't found out like this," he said softly. He didn't even flitch as Kendal slammed into the barrier between them and was sent reeling back. It was enough to put the guards on notice though.

"How dare you!" Kendal snarled, his fist against the bulletproof glass and every fur on his body on end. "How dare you disgrace my son's memory like that."

Wolf looked up, pain and anger in the eye he had left.

"If I disgraced him, it's with what I did afterwards, and I still wish I hadn't," Wolf said steadily, even though his hands were shaking. "It wasn't by falling in love with him. I lost my eye trying to save his life, and I still wish there was a way I could've taken his place! What we had didn't disgrace him, and I've done everything to keep it from getting out."

Kendal bristled, only to find himself twisted around and slammed against the clear wall by his mate, her ears forward, her tail stiff and raised and her fangs barred in a way that shocked both males.

"If you dare call my son a disgrace again in my presence I will kill you," Susan growled low and very serious, her hand around his throat. "Do you understand?"

The entire room, both sides of it, stilled and went silent as Kendal regarded his mate in shock and processed what had just happened.

It was a long moment before he swallowed and nodded, his body language going instantly submissive to her in a reversal of their apparent rank.

Wolf watched, shocked, the guards with their hands resting uneasily on their stun blasters, not sure if they'd actually need to subdue Susan.

It was over nearly as fast as it began and both Tamolas sat down again.

"Was he happy?" Susan asked, her eyes a little wet but her voice steady.

"I like to think he was," Wolf said softly. "He wished he didn't have to hide it, but we all knew better ... only other person who knew was Fox."

Susan nodded slowly. "Why did you ... turn?"

"I was hurting... and so was Fox. Pigma'd just detonated the gravity bomb, and killed James McCloud in a black hole, we didn't know it was him at the time. Ryan hadn't died long before... Andross had a lot of lies about things being rigged by the government, and I bought the whole pack of 'em."

"So much that you turned on your own squad?" She pressed him, still not understanding how a Wolf could turn on their pack like that.

"Fox was the only squad I had left," Wolf pointed out. "And we both got the same spiel ... think there was some history with Fox and Andross even before he knew he'd blown up his Dad, I don't know what. You know what we've been like; we were never solid on who was Alpha and who wasn't, he's a Fox. We argued... we made up our minds. I was dead wrong, and he was right."

"What will you do when you are released?" She finally asked.

"Military's out, but if I can get licensed I'll probably go independent, mercenary work. You can be damned sure I won't be working for the next Andross to come down the pike... and if I can get my mits on Pigma or Andrew, they'll be putting in their twenty years too."

Kendal opened his mouth to say something, but snapped it shut at a glare from Susan.

"Will you give me something?" She asked softly.

"What?" Wolf asked her. "I don't really have much to give here," he half-laughed.

"But you might, in time." She looked at him, very serious, a little hopeful and very nearly tearful. "If you have a son, name him Ryan, and let him know me as gradnma. My baby never had the chance, but if you love him, yours are as close as I'll have to his pups."

"...If I get the chance, I will," Wolf promised. "Around here, can't really be sure if I'll get out at all," he reminded her. "But I'll do that for you if I get the chance."

She nodded and got ready to stand, when Wolf got up the courage to ask a question of his own. "Did ... you suspect ... us?"

"I knew he had someone he wasn't willing to talk about," she nodded. "I knew he looked at males. It wasn't hard to put it together and make a short list of possibilities."

"Thanks... for not saying anything. From both of us," Wolf said sincerely.

Junna looked around in surprise. She felt more powerful, more free than ever before, but little had changed around her.

Lyass, only a few feet away, collapsed with enough power swirling around her to ignite a city. SunWind was in his monstrous Lumari form and thrashing about in place, howling in rage and pain despite the evident arousal of his body. Obi-Wan stood in stark contrast nearby with a relaxed, content expression and posture.

Duke was just standing where he'd been, though he looked a bit smug and decidedly content with things. Wildwing looked to be cheering something. Neither one seemed aware that Canard was on his knees with his head covered by his arms and shaking terribly.

Sly looked to be in heaven. Wolf stood there and looked miserable but accepting and a little relieved by something. Carmelita was curled in a fetal position.

Then Junna looked down and understood. Her own body was on the ground, laying like a dropped rag doll with her archmage robes and staff the only things that marked this body as one who had wielded great power in life and would get a state funeral in death.

She looked around her again and relaxed. So this was death. She could no longer affect the mortal world, or at least not easily or often, but it was warm and peaceful here. Not even all the trauma around here particularly sunk in. It was much like she had been told death was like when you had accepted it, except for the part about still being around and seeing the mortal plane. Maybe she'd have to be buried and given a proper farewell before she could go on.

Then the peace was gone and she began to bear witness to her companion's visions, one by one.

Canard felt the magic of the door's defenses probe his mind, trying to dredge up things he'd spent his lifetime keeping very well buried from people with all kind of power and methods to reap the secrets he knew. He'd held off these kinds of attacks for days before. He knew he could do it again. He had never lost a contest of will yet. He had no plans to let this be the first time.

"~Then you will not pass,~" the magic spoke directly to his mind.

"~I can not divulge secrets,~" he shoved back hard.

"~Then you will not pass,~" it repeated simply and left him to decide his fate.

Canard closed his eyes and looked inside, looked at the inscription the door had, and shivered.

"For Puckworld," he offered up a half secret, one more valuable to him personally than most but not so important to any of his oaths, and felt the door's acceptance of it with a mixture of relief and dread.

Canard looked up in horror to realize that the entire group was going to witness this and briefly considered backing out. Instead he trembled before he got control of himself and gave in, giving up something of himself as a truth to these strangers.

It was Obi-Wan that caught the tendril first and understood without thinking what Canard was giving up for this mission. Even knowing didn't prepare him for what he was to stand witness of, or the realization that as much of it was only dream-fears, much was also very real.

It took a great deal of effort to stand and watch as a naked Canard was hauled to his feet by a white female Duck that shouldn't have so much strength in her form. She was strongly built, but he was both taller and larger.

Despite that, she bent him over her knee with ease, starting to whip him painfully, humiliating him in front of everybody.

"Who is that?" Obi-Wan asked softly, knowing that one of the others would see soon ... and possibly have an answer.

"Grace Vertis," Duke answered grimly.

"Who?" Wildwing looked at the older Duck even as he fought to move forward.

"Governor of Hocca, where Canard grew up; he wasn't sixteen when he flew the coop." Duke explained and tried to look away, only to find he couldn't. "You ever wonder where his hatred of those in power came from Junna, you're looking at the bulk of it. Nine years she was 'guardian'. I never got details, I never asked for details, but she was a well-known sadist and pedophile in my circles by the time I met him."

"Shit," Carmelita growled lowly. It was clear she wanted to move, to do something... but she couldn't.

"Why isn't he that age now?" Wolf shivered as a knife came out a bright red blood began to stain bright white feathers.

"Because he knows he's an adult, but he's no stronger against her than he was back then," Carmelita answered him, trying not to think about how she knew this or what she was being forced to witness without interfering with. "It might be a memory, but he's living it now."

"It's a good thing for her that this 'Grace' doesn't exist on our Puckworld; she'd be investigated thoroughly," Junna muttered lowly. "And suffer greatly if she was like his counterpart."

"I put her threw a good bit of payback before we left," Duke said. "Not nearly enough, but she did pay."

"What now?" Wolf muttered as the scene shifted.

It was years later, but Canard still young as he stood in a small cafe and tried to greet an female Duck with a kiss only to be rebuked. Her white feathers immaculate, her long black head-feathers perfectly styled and her clothes several classes above his jeans. Her manner was of authority and breeding. She was everything he seemed to hate now, but here he was only confused as they sat down.

"Her?" Wildwing looked at Duke.

"I have no idea, but that one's got serious old money.... Ah crap," Duke sighed. "I wonder... 'eggs you don't have anything to do with after,' remember?"

"Yes," Junna murmured, shocked at such a variant on the sire price as she watched.

"Look, Mother's insisting you sign this before we even talk again," the young woman surreptitiously motioned towards the family driver, someone quite capable of enforcing the matriarch's orders.

"What's this?" He took the paper and tried to understand the legalese with limited success.

"It's a modified pre-nuptial agreement," she told him simply. "Short version, you aren't entitled to anything you didn't have when we first saw each other."

"Why?" He looked at Whisper, bewildered, even as he took the pen she offered and struggled to read the multi-page document.

"It avoids gold-diggers. Folks who just want to date me for my money," she explained. "I know you aren't, but she doesn't."

"That's it?" He looked even more bewildered, but signed it.

"Just Mother being Mother," she nodded and smiled at him before taking the papers. "Ride your bike here?"

"Of course," he smiled shyly as she stood and waved the papers at the driver. "Give that to Mother. Come by to pick me up in the morning."

"Yes, ma'am," the bruiser nodded to her and accepted the papers.

"So... can I kiss you now?" Canard asked with a shy chuckle as they went outside to his motorcycle and the driver entered the limousine he had come in.

"Yes," Whisper smiled and kissed him soundly. "Your place, or mine?" She asked seductively and tugged him along to his motorcycle.

"Mine's closer," he managed to get out in a breath, his mind already skipping ahead to what was to come.

They were in his room now, and he was guiding her through to his bed, both of them half-dressed at best by now.

She took charge again and pushed him to his back with a playful giggle as she climbed on to strip the last of his clothes off.

He kissed her again, running his hands along her bright white feathers as she pressed close to kiss him while her fingers slid into his body to tease his cock out. He knew exactly what she wanted and he had no complaints at watching her undulate above him as they mated. She enjoyed putting on the show nearly as much as he enjoyed watching it.

He groaned as she coaxed his shaft out, reaching up to fondle her breasts. He leaned up, kissing her, moaning into her mouth as he hardened under her attentions and was soon guided into her body.

It was still strikingly similar to being inside a drake, a thought he still had every time, but with more room.

"Oh, yes," Whisper moaned and arched her back to give him more of a display of her fit body while she tightened her muscles to tighten around the hard length inside her, intent on rubbing the sensitive spots to heighten her pleasure.

He groaned, reaching down to hold her hips as he started thrusting up into her. As often as they did this, he never got tired of the way she moved, the way she felt around him. He knew it wouldn't take long, not like this, but he wanted to draw it out as long as he could.

Time blurred as they came hard together and continued to mate, positions shifting as they made a mess of his bed sating each other completely, and eventually fell asleep in each other's arms, their bodies still linked.

When daylight came again she woke him with her tongue between his legs and her fingers caressing over the spot where his balls were hidden.

"Oh Whisper," he moaned, reaching down to rub her head lightly, his shaft already hard. "Love you," he trembled as she slid his shaft from its hiding place and took it into her beak to make him slick.

"Beg for me?" She crooned from where she was laying between his spread legs.

"Please," he moaned, his eyes lidding as she licked his shaft. "Please, make me cum...." There weren't many people who could make him do this; she was about the only one he ever saw. And the only one who could make him beg willingly.

But for her, he did, loudly and desperately.

She always gave in quickly and rewarded his willingness with pleasure. It was just a kink that really got her off, just like being on top, not something she had ever truly demanded of him.

He whimpered as her mouth left him right on the edge and she slid up his body to kiss him heatedly while her hand continued to fondle him lightly.

Then she reached over to the nightstand and retrieved a long silken scarf. Without being asked Canard lifted his arms and put his wrists together near the headboard to be tied lightly. It was a knot he could undo himself with little effort. Just like all her requests, she never put him in a position that he couldn't regain control if he really wanted to.

Despite the memories it could bring up, it had a level of excitement too. He knew he could get out and she made it very, very good for him to be willing to push his boundaries.

She tied the knot lightly, and he pressed up against her, panting lightly.

"Please," he murmured.

"Oh, yes," she nuzzled his neck and reached back to guide him into her body again. "You are so sexy like that."

He thrust up into her a couple times, shifting to rub against the spots that would make her feel good too... then he cried out, spraying his seed deep into her body, filling her with hot, thick semen.

They stilled for a moment, enjoying the high and coming down from it.

Then Whisper leaned forward to kiss him softly and lifted herself from his cock.

"Thank you," she murmured as she got off the bed and picked up her clothing, quickly slipping into it as Canard watched with a bewildered expression.

"So soon?" He asked, lying still on the bed.

"My pregnancy was confirmed. It was fun, but now it's time for me to look after my chick." She told him. "Relax, you aren't under any obligations. The paperwork sees to that."

"What?" Canard stiffened and began to struggle, his emotions hampering his attempts to get out of the loose bindings. "I love you ... my chick too."

"Canard, you are a sweetheart, but you aren't suitable to marry." She said like it was the most obvious thing in the world. "You're protected, and so is my chick."

"But... you said...." It was clear that he hadn't put everything together yet... and just as clear that she really didn't care.

"It's over," she shrugged and walked out the door before he could get himself loose.

Carmelita looked around, confused, as she took in what was around her. Her old room... she was home? But... it wasn't possible.

"Hello, Amante," an all-too familiar voice rumbled behind her. Carmelita stiffened, honestly afraid to turn around.

"No," she whispered. It wasn't possible. She couldn't be home....

And He couldn't be there with her.

"Padrastro...?" She asked, trying not to shake or whimper as she looked back over her shoulder at a Red Fox who hadn't seemed to age a day since she'd run away from him decades ago.

"You have grown into quite a lovely woman," he grinned at her and didn't hesitate to sit on the bed next to her and grabbed her shoulders to claim a kiss.

"No," she protested weakly, trying to push him away. She felt weak, vulnerable... everything she'd worked to make herself not since she'd run. "Please, no, not again...." she whimpered as she realized she was naked as he slid a hand between her legs.

"Come now, Amante," he grinned and pushed her back, his on body naked and aroused. "You know you enjoy this."

"Padrastro, no ... i-it's wrong," she whimpered, even as she laid back. He forced her to the bed, laid on top of her, doing with her as he pleased. Exactly the way he had since he'd married her mother, since she'd been a kit.

"No!" She shouted again, once more, before he silenced her with a kiss. She felt something at the edge of her mind, the very periphery of her awareness, like somebody was trying to get into the room and help her... but she knew that nobody could help her now.

Nobody ever helped her, not where her step-father was concerned.

Not even her mother.

She felt him pressing into her body, and she let out a soundless scream; nothing had changed. She was his... and always would be.

The spell ended, leaving most of them to recover from their trances. Sly looked up at Carmelita and saw the Vixen curled up on the floor, sobbing. He moved over towards her, hugging her gently, reassuringly. It was almost as distressing when she didn't have the will or strength to push him away as he knew she'd want to.

"It's okay," he whispered and tried to lick her forehead gently. "He won't hurt you ever again. I swear, he'll never touch you again." They'd all seen what each others went through ... he'd tried to find some way to get into her dreamscape, the way SunWind had broken into Lyass'. Ultimately, he hadn't been strong enough to get through. It just proved to him once again how strong she was, and how badly she didn't want anyone to come near her.

He'd be damned if he wasn't going to be strong enough to help her here, as much as she'd let him.

Obi-Wan looked at the two of them and determined that it was as good as things would get until Lyass was in a condition to try to help her a bit. He saw Wolf move to help SunWind, who was in Lumari and still thrashing around, though it looked more like dream-movements than seizures now.

Duke and Wildwing both ran to help Canard, who was curled up nearly as tightly as Carmelita, and no more interested in help.

"That door has probably claimed more minds than anything else down here," he told Junna softly as they moved to Lyass' unconscious body and he focused inward to try and reach her mind before she went so far into shock that she joined the Force completely.

"At least up to this point," she nodded and looked at the others, trying to determine where her meager healing skills would be of best used. "Not all of us had bad experiences. I'm not sure why those who did had such traumatic ones while some have very pleasant visions." She reached out with her power towards SunWind and stilled his mind and body into a regular sleep. It gave Wolf a chance to cradle his head and whisper soothingly to him as he slowly shifted into Maru and actual rest.

"'Honesty will open me,' " Obi-Wan said as he worked to reach Lyass, slightly more than unconscious after her 'death' at Palpatine's hands. "She'll recover soon," he said after a moment. "For Lyass, I think it was the only thing she was less than honest to anybody about ... if only to herself. The others ... Carmelita and Canard, they fought it. Hard. I have a feeling that it was the only thing they were willing to surrender ... something that would make the fight worth it."

"I'm not sure what they could possibly have that would make those visions the most acceptable to give up," Junna shuddered deeply. "Particularly Canard. He knew we were there, watching. I'm sure of it."

"It was the point of that one," Obi-Wan nodded and glanced at the powerful Duck, who'd just pushed Duke away hard enough to put the dark Duck on his tail several paces away. "There could be any of a number of reasons. Promises, personal feelings...." he shrugged slightly as Lyass started to stir. "I wouldn't think about it too hard, for those two. The answers might be worse than the questions."

Lyass struggled to sit up and looked over at SunWind. She let out a relieved sigh, then got to her feet with some assistance and moved towards him.

"All an illusion," she reminded him softly, squeezing him along with Wolf. "We're all okay... physically, at least."

"Can you tell him that?" Wolf looked at her almost desperately. "Tell his mind. I can't do that. I'm not a telepath. He's not hearing me."

Lyass nodded and reached out to his mind. She shivered at the pain she found there, and even more at the number of times he'd been through this. Names, faces and last moments were burned into his mind and right on the surface for her to face in getting to him.

She found him kneeling by a large rich green stone in Maru form. A small tool was in his hand and he was working on the smooth stone with it.

"~I'm alive,~" she told him silently and placed a hand on his shoulder on the psychic plane. "~SunWind, it was all an illusion. I wasn't hurt.~"

As he looked up, she recognized through his mind many of the names, so many that the stone was long full and he now had to squeeze names in between lines and along the margins. Hers, written in the script of his long lost kind, was almost complete in one corner, intentionally placed near a small grouping more dear to him than most.

"I saw, felt ..." he stared up at her, his distressed mind having difficulty working logically, or working at all but to process his grief.

"I'm real," she promised him, grateful for the small gift of his lack of active disbelief in her survival. "I'm real, and I'm not hurt. It was... incredibly realistic, but what you saw... it happened in my mind, I think. I passed out, closed in on myself."

"L-like you being pregnant," he made the effort to work the connection and got to his feet shakily.

"Yes," she nodded and didn't fight in the least when he pulled her against him hard for a kiss as desperate as any they'd share, but on a completely different level. "If it helps, I much preferred your vision to mine," she offered weakly. "Please... Wolf needs you too. I'm all right, and we're both very worried about you."

SunWind nodded and glanced at the stone before waving his hand over it. It soon sank beneath the red earth and was covered by the fine grains of dust until he had cause to etch another name in it.

"If I never inscribe another name, I will die very lucky." He said softly, as much to the powers that be than her. "Go back to your own head. I'll be out shortly."

"I'll hold you to that," she smiled slightly, caressing his cheek before retreating to her own mind.

"He thought I had really been killed," she explained to Wolf softly. "To be honest, I wasn't sure myself for a while. He'll be aware soon."

"I'm not surprised," Wolf nodded and caressed SunWind's cheek. "I thought you had been too," he glanced over at Carmelita. "I know you aren't a mind-healer, but you've got to be able to do something to help her. Even if it's just to put all that back where it came from."

"It won't last for long, but I can try," Lyass nodded reluctantly. "What she's dealing with... I'm sure she wants it put back. The hard part will be that she knows we all know now... just like it will be for Canard."

"If it's put away, she can probably keep it there," Wolf murmured and watched as Lyass walked over to try to help the two most traumatized members of the group while the rest of them set up camp and a perimeter.

SunWind ran his hands along Wolf's sides as they tried to relax, sitting and not watching as the two more stoic members of their group pieced their minds back together enough to go on. Both looked fairly normal now, but the effects of their experiences still showed in their hollow eyes and the uneasy way they looked at everyone else. Carmelita was the hardest to try and not comfort, but Lyass had pointed out, privately, that acknowledging that you knew what had happened to her would only make it worse for now. Better in the long run, but she'd have years of therapy to get over it, if she ever did.

"Why did you have the vision you did?" SunWind eventually asked his mate.

"I've always felt that I deserved more than I'd had to go through," Wolf said softly. "Thank you, for not interfering ... Lyass needed the help more."

"She was fighting, you ... you wanted what happened," SunWind shuddered and hugged his mate close. "You weren't in danger. Did ... it help? Going through that?"

"Yeah... I think it did," Wolf nodded slightly. "Before... I hadn't really succeeded at causing any serious damage personally, not even as the leader of Star Wolf, not that wasn't covered under the normal acts of war. Everybody was trying to cover up that there had been a civil war; they preferred the idea of Andross as an unusual sort of invader. The whole thing was practically a show trial ... only one I've heard of that was meant to acquit."

"And about Ryan?" SunWind nuzzled him.

"Would've helped more if it weren't really an illusion," Wolf chuckled slightly, pressing close to his mate. "I remember everything that happened ... but at the same time, I know that I haven't talked to them since Ryan died. It helped a bit, but I still wish there'd been some way to tell them while he was alive."

"Why didn't you? Lylat was supposed to be okay with guys together." SunWind asked in open confusion.

"Lylat, yes. The military ... only recently. Even then, you weren't really supposed to be that open about it. Back when Ryan and I were a couple, could've gotten one or both of us grounded, at best."

"He knew his father would react like that and cause trouble," SunWind murmured, only sort of guessing.

"Yeah. He'd have been surprised if his mom was that okay with it," Wolf nodded. "But that was probably my hopes more than reality. Even if it was okay in the military, or we were civilian, he didn't want to tell them. Only pup. He was getting pressure to find a mate and breed."

"I'm sorry," SunWind said softly, the only thing he could think of.

"It's okay," Wolf murmured, pressing against him and closing his eyes, hugging him close as the Ducks not so far away tried to have a similar conversation.

"Canard?" Wildwing asked softly, ruffling his lover's neck-feathers lightly. "Are you going to be okay?"

"I'll be fine," he nodded, though the light shudder countered his easy tone. "That was a long time ago," he nuzzled his lover in return. "I'm sorry you had to witness that. It's not always like that."

"You could have told me," Wildwing said softly, hugging him. "You know I wouldn't use it against you."

"There never seemed a reason to," Canard pointed out. "I've seen a lot of things I wouldn't want to inflict on anyone unless I had to. I never asked for your life story, just the parts I figured I needed to know."

"I mean when we were talking before this all happened," Wildwing said, shaking his head a bit. "Did... you ever find the chick you and Whisper had?"

"No," he admitted weakly. "She could have been lying for all I could find out."

"Maybe she was," Duke pointed out and held back his reaction to Canard's flinch. "Wouldn't be the first girl from that circle who's said she'd gotten knocked up to get out of dating somebody... lucky I didn't find out about her though. Pulling something like that, she'd have gotten knocked up an entirely different way," he muttered.

"If she was lying, why the paperwork?" Canard pointed out with a sigh, resigned to having to discuss this with his lovers. "It doesn't matter anymore, guys. We're not even on the same world anymore."

"Could be a bunch of reasons," Wildwing sighed. "And she doesn't... but you're still hurting because of it."

"That's life, Wildwing," he pointed out a bit more harshly than he had too. "Everyone has scars from the past," he motioned to include the greater group beyond them. "Most are changed by them. It's just what growing up is about."

"He didn't mean you should just forget about it, Canard," Duke pointed out. "He wants to help you... we both do, I just know that you probably don't really want it, not with this."

"Nothing to help with," Canard shrugged. "It happened a long time ago and everyone else involved is long gone. It'll always hurt, just like Tanya's death will always hurt."

Wildwing looked like he was about to say something, but Duke shook his head, stopping him. They weren't about to win this one, at least not down here. Maybe later... they'd have years after they had the Star.

Meanwhile, at the other end of the small camp, Lyass was cooking breakfast for the group. She'd spent the entire night meditating, after helping Carmelita relax enough to sleep. Now... now, Obi-Wan was making his way over towards her, and she knew they were going to be having a conversation she did not want to have.

"How are you feeling?" he asked quietly as he crouched by her.

"Conflicted," she admitted quietly. "I... didn't know I had that in me."

"We all do," he reminded her, his voice low and soothing. "It is why they drill it into us so much to avoid anything Dark."

"I meant that much," she clarified. "It ... it came so easily. I didn't even have to try. I wouldn't have turned to the Sith... but to the Dark Side, I very nearly did. The Council would probably have had my mind wiped after that sort of outburst."

"During the war, I don't doubt it," he nodded in all seriousness. "In my universe, it will get you put on restricted duty and daily visits to the mind healers until they're convinced you're okay. I've seen it before, I expect I will again. Some come back, some never do."

"Which path do you think I'll go down?" She asked softly. "It ... I know that what I did was wrong, illusion or not. But if I was in the situation again, I can't honestly say I'd have done anything differently."

"Your future isn't clear to me, but I do not sense the kind of ... problems ... in you that those who have not come back had. You don't have the pride or desire for power that has been the downfall of most," he said thoughtfully. "Your problems have come from emotional outbursts. You should have been trained better in self-control, but it is not a fatal flaw in and of itself."

"A Jedi Knight who lacks control," Lyass chuckled grimly, shaking her head. "Never would have happened before the Clone Wars."

"It is at least much more rare outside of the wars," he nodded. "Desperation is an invitation to make a poor choice, even in the Council. You did one thing to remember in that trial," he told her softly but firmly. "You chose death over Dark, even after feeling it's full power. I'm only a Padawan, but it is the most critical thing I witnessed during the entire battle. Yes, you used the Dark Side's power, but you rejected it even as it would have saved your life, and possibly SunWind's. That takes a core that is strongly linked to the Light. It is not a thing many can do."

"I chose death over the Sith," she pointed out softly. "Dying tainted, fallen... that I could accept. But I wouldn't live by becoming one of them... maybe you're right though, in the end. It was a step in the right direction, at least."

"Yes, it is," he put a hand on her shoulder and squeezed supportively. "When we get home, you won't have to face this alone anymore. You will have the care of healers the way you need."

"Thank you," she smiled slightly. "I should finish breakfast... to be honest, I think I'm looking forward to the next floor being filled with regular traps and monsters again."

"You and at least half the group," he cracked a bit of a smile. "Though after the Balrog and this, it can't get much worse."

"I hope so," she shuddered at the idea of something worse and focused on breakfast and the companions that her cooking were bringing in.

Sly lifted his hand as he suddenly froze, making everyone else follow suit.

"~Many humans, other creatures ahead,~" SunWind added silently to the entire group after sniffing the air in Luprani. "~Fire. Encamped, I think.~"

"We might be able to get around them," Sly whispered and crept forward to spy on the encampment from the shadows. "Holy crap," he kept the whisper to himself as he took in the huge cavern the tunnel opened up into. It was a small army, or more precisely, a fair sized unit in a professional army.

"We really want to get around them," he whispered, returning to the group and giving the telepaths a mental impression of what he'd seen so they could share it with the group. "Junna, you have something to make us all invisible? I can do the job for myself."

"If they are not magical, easily," she nodded and began to weave the spell.

"SunWind, do not go there," Obi-Wan put as much Force as he dared behind the order to still the Loup Maru's battle-lust. "If we can avoid them, we should."

"Yes, sir," SunWind dropped back into Luprani and lowered his head submissively.

"It will be dispelled if anyone interacts with a living thing," Junna added in warning.

"If a fight's about to start, wait until one of the guys with big guns gets nailed," Sly warned them silently, fading from view and starting to move forward very, very carefully.

He kept to the edge of the camp, paying careful attention when a couple of the few non-humans, a German Shepherd bitch and a Rottweiler dog, began to pay attention in his direction by sniffing the air. Their interest drew the attention of the rest of their pack, five in all, and the human dressed as an armored skeleton; his helmet covered with spikes. It was a theme the entire unit shared to some extent.

Sly shifted his focus, moving even more carefully, not sure if it was his scent or some sound they were picking up on. Even so, he started making his way closer to one of the two mechs. At twenty feet tall, it wasn't the largest he'd fought, but it was plenty big enough to have the biggest weapons on the field.

If they were scenting one of them, then somebody was going to be found out before they reached the other end, if they couldn't keep 'downwind' of them. He felt of a bit of relief as the pack began to work away from him, until he realized they were headed for where the rest of the group was.

"Mage, powerful," the Rottweiler told his spike-helmeted master as he pointed towards the main group.

"Several psi's. Very potent," the German Shepherd added as she continued to sniff.

"Invisibility spell?" A German Shepherd dog suggested.

Sly swore a mental blue-streak, quickly getting out of the line of sight of the hunting group, moving behind one of the power-armored warriors; they were the biggest, most obvious threat, and he was sure they wouldn't take long to get into the fight once the group was discovered.

He watched as the skeleton-armored canines worked whatever version of a scent trail they were following on the magic and psi, wishing desperately that he could see what the others were doing.

Unfortunately, he couldn't see them... and they couldn't see him. Given what he'd told them, that left him with only one real option.

At least there were only two of the mechs. It made an obvious target and a big explosion.

Or at least it would once he was done with it.

He jumped up, dropping into view and latching onto the back of the mech's neck with his cane.

The thing started to reach for him, its partner turning to lock onto him. Sly drove the butt of his cane into the base of its head, then jumped off, just as the other mech locked on with its laser turrets, firing at him. Sly ducked down behind its head, drawing the thing's fire straight through every key part of the other mech's head, weapons, and power systems before jumping off what would be, he hoped, clear of the explosion.

"The UAR!" Someone shouted as the firing began. "Scrabble! We're under attack."

Though the damaged one didn't explode, it did shut down before it's pilots scrambled to safety out of it while the entire encampment grabbed weapons, body armor or ran for the smaller vehicles.

Sly didn't have to look to know that the distinctive sound of metal being torn apart by brute force was SunWind going after the second mech.

The explosion of a fireball and the crackle of lightning racing though the human ranks marked Junna's contribution and almost concealed the unique sound of two lightsabers coming to life.

Gunfire started to echo through the cavernous space, the human forces cutting loose with their weapons. The second mech fired a volley of rounds into the gathering, but Junna stopped the lethal rounds with a magical shield as SunWind ripped its head off, then ripped the pilot out of it and cleanly in half.

Or, as Sly couldn't help but note, rather messily in half; there wasn't much other way to do the job.

It was another reminder of how big the Loup Maru combat form was, watching SunWind rip into a twenty-foot tall mech with his feet only a short way from the ground as the co-pilot was dispatched similarly before SunWind roared and made a lunge for the ground to head for the pack of canine morphs and their human leader.

The leader pulled out some sort of dagger, lashing out at SunWind. A blaster bolt caught him in the hand, sending the vibro-dagger falling to the floor as Wolf fired again, drilling him through the back of the head while the group of Dogs turned on SunWind with energy-enhanced hand weapons and pack tactics that were well-prepared for facing a larger, stronger, deadlier opponent that was dangerous from all sides.

Sly caught sight of the two lightsabers flashing in a daring dance of incredible speed around the battlefield, while Junna let off another volley of lightning arching through the field, damaging more than it killed, but leaving the humans vulnerable to more traditional weapons.

It wasn't long before they were all down; those who weren't dead so near it that they wouldn't last long.

"They're going to have to go through that again later, aren't they?" Sly asked, feeling a bit ill at the thought.

"I don't know," Junna admitted. "They could be randomly pulled here, or they could be in a loop that resurrects them and their equipment."

"If it's the latter, then I hope they get sent back after we get the Star... anything from the gear we want to grab?" Carmelita asked, looking over the equipment.

"As much as you can," Wolf suggested even as he began to collect what he wanted. "Their blasters are good, and the hand weapons are better than anything I've seen. Body armor's top notch too, though I'm not sure I'd want to wear that design."

"Carm and I'd drown in it," Sly pointed out. "Besides... it's a little worse for the wear by now."

"True," Wolf nodded and tossed a couple vibroblades to SunWind, who caught them with ease in Maru and stashed them in his boot sheaths. "Anybody catch who these guys are?"

"Part of the 107th Coalition Army," SunWind provided. "They hate non-humans. Passionately. They from an Earth too."

"Do I even want to know how you know that?" Canard asked quietly.

"Ripped it out of their minds before I killed them," SunWind shrugged.

"Can anybody here manage to disconnect that big cannon that's still in one piece?" Wolf asked. "I probably could; looks like a prototype personal railgun they were working on back home, might be handy later on."

"Looks like a basic mechanical system," Canard shrugged and walked over to one. "I'm not the mechanical genius, but I can probably get it out working."

"Who's going to haul it around until then?" Duke asked as he regarded his leader.

"I can shrink it, put it on a charm for SunWind to enlarge when he wants to," Junna offered.

"Depending on the firing system, might be possible to rig it so one of us can use it too," Wolf offered. "But probably easiest for him. Give him something he can use if we run into another Balrog; doubt they'll bounce those."

Canard looked up from where he was working on one while Wolf began dismantling the other. "With a little rework we could probably turn it into a sniper riffle that any of us can use."

"Does anybody here actually think we're going to need a sniper rifle?" Sly pointed out.

"No, but we might need something that can shoot through one of those and keep going," Wolf pointed out.

"Only SunWind can use one of these like a normal riffle," Canard pointed out as he worked. "The rest of us would need it braced. It's easy to do though."

"Oh we'd definitely need it braced," Wolf chuckled slightly. "Physics is a bitch like that...." He trailed off, the two of them working and discussing what to do with their new gear as the rest of them finished collecting blasters and vibro-weapons before moving along.

"Now what?" Wolf asked as they came to a dead end with two statues of Ducks in full goalie gear minus their masks.

"This is the right way," Duke was nearly pacing as he tried to find a way past the barrier to the stone that was all but making his mind buzz now.

"Yeah, I'll bet it is - the next fifty feet are one massive trap," Sly warned him. "Nobody move past those statues, even if you can find a way through ... there's something screwy going on here."

"That's Canard Windswift," Junna motioned to one statue. "Not sure ...."

"Madric Drake," Wildwing supplied with a hint of awe-filled respect in his voice.

"Who's that?" Duke asked, looking over at the younger Duck with a confused expression.

"There's an inscription on the frame around the statues," Sly offered. "Anybody able to read this?"

"I can," Junna stepped forward and knelt. "He who led the greatest team, shall lead the way."

"Has to be Windswift," Canard said. "The guy's still a hero."

"Because he did everything short of cheating outright to win," Wildwing shot back. "Madric's the one who always played fair."

"Yean, but Windswift never had a loss; they didn't make this thing only to be opened in their lifetime," Duke pointed out.

"I suspect that Wildwing is right," Lyass said softly. "Consider what they did make it for; to open to somebody worthy of the Star."

"A winner," Canard said. "A world leader."

"Someone who had enough honor and such a strong moral code that they would accept loss in a game over breaking their word," she rephrased it. "Someone who wouldn't use the power of the Star for personal gain or glory, if it wasn't the right thing to do."

"She is right," Junna murmured despite her natural inclination to the contrary. "Her logic is flawless. Wildwing's heart is true."

"I ... am?" Wildwing stammered, startled.

"It's not that outrageous a thought, y'know," Duke chuckled. "So... how do we get him to lead the way?"

"Well, he is missing his mask," Canard pointed out, really hoping that Junna and Wildwing were right.

Wildwing nodded and removed his mask, climbed on the base and put it on Madric Drake's face.

A tense moment passed, then the mask glowed a faint blue and the two statues shifted to make way as the mask fell back into Wildwing's hands.

"Well ... that worked," Wolf said, still a touch uneasy but willing to follow Duke and Sly as they moved forward.

"Wait," Lyass said, warning them. "Didn't the passage say something about leading the way? It might be best for Wildwing to take the lead for a bit... with the mask."

"Can't hurt," Duke acknowledged and motioned him forward. "See anything?"

"There's a blue ribbon of light," Wildwing nodded.

"Let's follow that then," Duke nodded. "And really hope you picked the right one."

"Everybody single-file, right behind Wildwing," Sly agreed, everybody gathering together carefully and SunWind shifting into Lumari to make the smallest track possible.

"Somebody keep an eye open for traps besides me," Wildwing chuckled weakly and began to lead the group forward, carefully following the glowing trail and keeping as keen an eye open for traps as he could with the mask.

"Don't worry; I'll be the first to duck," Sly promised with a weak chuckle of his own.

They worked their way down the stairs, and the path Wildwing was following carried them past the traps Sly had sensed expertly.

"Don't suppose that thing leads down to the bottom?" Duke asked jokingly as they reached the next level.

"~Everybody quiet,~" Obi-Wan said silently. "~There is something ... wrong down here.~"

"~Agreed,~" Lyass added. "~Not Dark, but not Light either.~"

"~Undead,~" SunWind said after sniffing the air and the mindscape around them.

"~Undead?~" Lyass and Obi-Wan both asked, the word apparently new to the both of them.

"~The walking dead, bodies that have been animated by magic or the will of something very strong,~" he added as many referances as he could think of. None from his homeworld, but many from Earth and a few other worlds.

"A powerful one," Junna agreed. "Likely still inteligent and a magic-user."

"~Lich, demi-lich?~" SunWind suggested, trying to think of any others that qualified.

"Damned things are illegal back home," Carmelita muttered.

"The unintelligent ones, at least," Sly agreed. "Intelligent... well, not much you can do to somebody who willingly wants to turn into a bloodsucker. Some of 'em aren't half bad, really."

"That is the most disturbing thing you have ever said," Carmelita looked at him with a stricken expression.

"Hey, X is a pretty good guy, even if he is completely nuts. It's a good nuts," Sly shrugged. "But I'm guessing they usually aren't so nice around here."

"Not usually," Junna murmured, glancing down the path uneasily. "No way to go but forward."

"~Very true,~" Obi-Wan nodded slightly. "~Be careful.~"

They started to move forward carefully ... and the absolute lack of traps was more disturbing to Sly and Duke than anything else.

"Never again," they heard from up ahead of them. "Never again...." the voice that was ranting and muttering, whatever it was, sounded royally pissed.

SunWind and Junna looked at each other, then at Obi-Wan, who silently moved to the front with lightsaber in hand, but deactivated.

"...Can't believe they did that... one, two, one two... there couldn't be seven, only... of course," the voice stopped as though some revelation had been made. "The six made seven, seven who weren't there... very tricky of them. Have to remember that for the next time...."

"~Whoever is up there is likely more insane than evil,~" Lyass warned the three other telepaths.

"~If they don't attack, neither will we,~" SunWind promised.

"~Just be ready for something... unorthodox.~"

"Who goes there?" The voice demanded as they approached close enough to see it.

They wished, almost immediately, that they hadn't. He... it looked like a he... wasn't exactly a pleasant sight. The Duck had long since been reduced to a skeleton, the rotted remains of an Archmage's finery hanging limply from his shoulders, bill long since gone, though it didn't keep him from speaking somehow. Feathers gone... he was nothing more than bones and dirty, fitly rags.

"Archmage Junna Rill of the Puckworld World Council," she called out. "Who are you?"

"Who... am I?" The voice sounded bewildered, confused. "I... do not remember." That seemed to disturb him, quite a bit, but he shook it off quickly. "You are Archmage Junna Rill of the Council... there is no Rill on the Council," he countered.

"There is in the year 10,206," she countered. "Check your celestial magic."

"Has it been...." There was a moment as the undead mage did as she suggested. "It has been that long... so long, that I have spent here... fool relief is always late," he muttered. "Why do you seek the Star?"

"Puckworld is under assault by a race called the Saurians. We need the Star's power to repulse them before they kill enough mages that we will be defenseless against their anti-planetary weapons," Junna explained with a fair amount of success in keeping the desperation from her voice while conveying the seriousness of the situation.

"Those aren't Ducks," he pointed out with a nod towards the rest of the group. "Not a one of them from Puckworld. Saurians though... they're the tricky ones... never saw the seventh one coming...."

"The seventh one?" Junna asked with polite curiosity.

"The seventh... the Saurians came through before. Saw six of them, they died. There was a seventh, a seventh that wasn't there, he blindsided me...." The ancient mage let out a cry of frustration. "Ten thousand years!"

"And they are the first to pass unchecked," Junna nodded in sympathy. "Do you know how many followed him, before you came around?"

"Two, ten, twenty... I get... confused... sometimes. More than you lot. But they won't find the Star," he chuckled grimly. "I know they won't find that. It wasn't long before I fed on enough of their torment to recover. More may have made it, but many were dispatched by my Pet."

"You have a pet?" Junna prompted.

"Oh yes," the lich laughed. "Quite a nice one too... all fangs and claws and teeth and feathers of razor-stone. And those are his nice points," he said, with what would have been a grin. "Only problem is that he's not much for cuddling."

"I'm not sure if he's serious or just being sarcastic," Carmelita muttered.

"Quiet!" The dead Duck commanded. "Do not speak without permission, not when your betters are discussing business."

"~Relax,~" Obi-Wan sent a Force-command to her to forestall any immediate reprisal.

"I imagine not," Junna nodded, ignoring the exchange with Carmelita. "Will you allow us to pass?"

"None may pass, unless they prove," the mage said, shaking his skull. "A test... there is a test. No telling if you are with those Saurians, after all... no telling if you're against them either."

"We will pass this test," Junna said with firm confidence.

"Perhaps. None others have," he pointed out. "And they all thought they would as well."

"They did not have the one who can feel the Star, or the Mask to see the path," she pointed out. "What is your test?"

"Who would pass the Bridge of Death must answer me these questions three, ere the other side he see!"

"Oh sweet Haloeth," SunWind groaned.

Obi-Wan raised an eyebrow at him.

"~Movie quote. Monty Python and the Holy Grail,~" he tried to explain the unexplainable. "~This is about to get weird, unless he has different questions. Hope somebody knows the capital of Assyria.~"

"We will answer your questions," Junna said, not sure at all what SunWind was talking about.

"Very well! You first, Archmage Rill, and one of your servants."

"Duke," she nodded towards the dark-feathered Duck.

"Very well," he nodded slightly. "What is my name?"

Junna reached out with a tendril of magic to retrieve the fairly simple information request.

"Archmage Corda Drake."

"Oh, well, that's a relief, I think I'd misplaced it somewhere," the lich mused. "Thank you. Now ... what is the greatest threat to Puckworld?"

"~Itself,~" SunWind blurted into her mind with enough force to make her say it without thinking.

"No kibitzing from the peanut gallery; you'll get your turn," Corda said disapprovingly with a sniff that was physically impossible. "But I suppose I forgot to tell you the rules, so that's acceptable. Third question... would the two of you be willing to undress and continue on in the buff?"

Both blinked, staring at him liked he'd lost his mind while they processed the request and just how to answer it.

"If I must," Junna finally decided.

"All right, you two may pass," he said, shrugging and stepping aside.

"Just like that?" Duke asked, unable to really keep himself from asking, even though a part of him knew he was probably going to regret wondering why the lich wasn't carrying through with his last question and the logical response to Junna's answer.

"I only said you had to answer!" Corda pointed out. "Now, that means you have to answer right, but if I went and made you do that I'd be breaking the rules, wouldn't I? Hardly fair."

"True," Junna nodded and gave Duke a look that kept him from saying anything more.

"Who's next?" Corda asked the remaining members.

"Wolf and I will," SunWind spoke up and stepped forward.

"Very well," Corda nodded. "Who would cross the Bridge of Death must answer me these questions three, ere the other side he see." "All right," SunWind nodded.

"First question! What is your quest?" There was something about the emphasis that he put on the word 'your' that made SunWind think he wasn't talking about the group as a whole.

"To rebuild Haloeth," he answered softly, fully aware of the enormity of what was encapsulated in those two simple words.

"Humph. Most folks get tripped up by that one. Very well; second question. What is the greatest thing in the cosmos?"

SunWind cocked his head a bit and thought back, running various answers against a standard of finding something more important. Eventually he settled on something he couldn't find anything to top and glanced at Wolf. "~Got one that tops energy?~"

"~Not unless we want to get philosophical,~" Wolf thought back. "~And besides; he's asking you, so I don't know how much what I've got to say plays into it.~"

"Energy," SunWind answered even as he tried to shrug off the idea that he mate was less important than he was.

"Odd, but I'm starting to think that's normal for you," Corda agreed after a moment. "Now... what is the answer?"

SunWind regarded him for a long moment, then finally caught a whisper of a concept from Corda's mind and nearly burst out laughing. "I may not agree with Adams but I remember it. 42."

Wolf, Obi-Wan, Canard, Lyass, and Junna were all looking at SunWind like he was more than slightly insane. Sly and Duke were trying not to break out into laughter as they caught the reference, which made Wildwing look at them oddly until he managed to place it and groaned.

"Adams?" The lich asked, cocking his skull. "No matter; the two of you may pass. Who is next?"

"Sly and I will," Lyass stepped forward.

"Very well," he nodded. "Who would -"

"One moment, before you go on?" Sly asked, stepping forward a bit and earning as irritated a look a skull could give him as possible.

"Make it short, or we'll see how you look as a toad."

"You've been saying that anybody who'd cross the Bridge of Death has to answer your questions. But there's no bridge to cross."

"Well what do you mean there's no -" Corad Drake turned around, gesturing towards the solid ground as though there should have been a bridge there, plain as day.

"Well I'll be deuced," he murmured.

"And since we're clearly not trying to cross the Bridge of Death that isn't even there," Sly continued, "it doesn't really make sense that we have to answer your questions."

"Well... I suppose...."

"And since you've clearly got a lot of work to do, digging a chasm, building a bridge, maybe running a small creek through under it full or rabid piranha or something so that it warrants being called the Bridge of Death, we should probably just keep moving along and let you get to it!"

With the exception of Carmelita and Duke, the entire group was staring at Sly as though he'd gone as crazy as the lich. Duke was trying valiantly not to start laughing again, and Carmelita... well, the look on her face said that she'd seen more than enough examples of Sly's twisted logic working before.

"I... guess you're right," Drake murmured. "Well, on with the lot of you," he said, stepping aside. "You'll have trouble enough with Fluffy, I'm sure."

"One round to you," Duke murmured to Sly as the group escaped the realm of the lich as quickly as possible.

"Hey, why should insanity always work against me?" Sly shrugged slightly. "It was either that or hope he asked the question about swallows ... and after that long, he'd probably have picked one to ask about."

"Who knows, some of those questions were easy," Carmelita pointed out.

"Don't argue with success, Vixxie," Duke grinned down at her.

"Relax, everybody, we do still have his pet coming up," Wolf pointed out. "And somehow, I think 'Fluffy' is going to prove painfully ironic."

"Given the description, we'll probably want to leave it to Jedi, magic and SunWind's new toy," Canard said.

"Oh Hell yeah," Wolf shuddered, remembering the description. "Just don't want to get surprised by it."

"That's a given," Obi-Wan agreed even as SunWind tensed and shifted into Lumari without a sound. The Force swirled in an exploratory pattern that was nearly an assault on the surroundings as he sought something.

"~What is it?~" He asked the Loup Maru silently, stretching out his own senses to see what he was looking for.

"~A predator ... of predators,~" SunWind answered cautiously as he continued to sniff the air with all his senses. "~Something's hunting us,~" he added a visual of himself and both Jedi for emphasis of the who.

"Close off your minds," Obi-Wan warned Junna, Lyass, and SunWind quickly. "Best hope."

"But how do we fight then?" SunWind looked at him, though he did as instructed and raised the shields normally reserved for his deepest secrets to the top of his mind.

"If whatever it is only goes after sensitives, we might simply be able to continue on to the door," Obi-Wan offered. "If we do have to fight, then we go to it."

SunWind nodded, visibly reluctant to let himself be mind-blind but complied with his leader.

"Okay, what's going on?" Carmelita asked cautiously, looking around.

"Fluffy is in the area, and hungry," SunWind told her, looking around uneasily. "We're the first choice, but a psi-predator can attack anything that isn't a null."

"Some can only sense a target that is sensitive, and we're hoping to get by on that," Obi-Wan added. "But given the way things are down here...." He ignited his lightsaber, knowing he might have to be ready to answer any attack in an instant.

"Have you ever fought a psi-battle?" SunWind asked him uneasily even as the group kept moving.

"I've trained for it, dealt with fallen Jedi on the mental level," Obi-Wan nodded slightly.

"I don't know if that's exactly what he's asking about," Lyass said quietly. "I've dealt with a Space Wraith before, but that's the extent of it."

SunWind nodded a bit. "This is a predator of the Force, as you'd call it. They feed by consuming the energy of their prey. Those I've met, and what I've done, the method varies, but it's never a nice way to go. Most with this kind of signature don't have a physical form. We may have to battle it on its turf."

"Uhm... what is this thing going to feel like when it attacks?" Sly asked, looking around as he started to feel something at the back of his mind.

"Depends on how it attacks," SunWind abruptly dropped his outer shields to draw the creature's attention. "Pain, pleasure, confusion, suppression of self, hallucinations... anything."

He shuddered, his pain leaking out to the others a bit as two minds incapable of surrender clashed in a battle for survival.

"Shit," Wolf growled. "What can we do?"

"You can't do anything," Lyass said, tossing her lightsaber to Carmelita before she focused along with Obi-Wan. "We try to help him," she added as the two Jedi reached out to SunWind's mind to try and join him. It was assistance he accepted gratefully and shared what he knew with them without words.

The three did their best to shield the rest of the group from the battle, but they couldn't stop it all.

SunWind took the brunt of the attack; deflecting what he could, let shields absorb what they could and accepting the rest as the price of surviving.

Lyass focused on what she understood best; healing the damage as best she could while keeping both males from losing their focus on their bodies.

"~Defend,~" SunWind called out to the Jedi before turning inside himself and letting loose with a part of his past he really wished he could forget most days, but was grateful for too many times to do so.

Lyass watched in a horrified fascination as SunWind took the draining attacks being used against him and launched a series of his own. A soul-deep and insatiable hunger left by the loss of his kind erupted from him in a steaming black hole of howling agony that latched on to the strongest source of living energy available and began sucking it in. The loop it created between the two psi-predators as they tried to such each other dry soon transcended any physical sensation until all that was left was insatiable hunger feeding on insatiable hunger.

It was an endless loop of pain; the creature that Drake had spoken of devoured SunWind's energy as quickly as it could, only to have that energy drawn back into him. Ultimately though, it was a battle that could only end one way.

With the black, sucking void of SunWind's pain devouring the beast ever so slightly faster than it could drain him.

When the physical world settled back onto the group, SunWind was struggling to just get up on all fours in Lumari; standing was beyond anything he wanted to try. He drew in one deep breath after another and tried to forget what he had just done once more.

"It wasn't a real being," Lyass said, trying to help him over it. "Just a magical construction."

"I .... know," he managed weakly. "It's still a nasty way to kill."

"It kept us from getting killed," Wolf pointed out softly, moving to hold him gently until he was ready to move on.

SunWind caught it first, the waves of frustration and anger echoing down the corridor along with the sounds of blasterfire and fireballs.

"I think we found the Saurians," he commented drolly.

"The next question is, who are they fighting," Wolf muttered. "Could be the next door's got another guardian."

"Sly?" Obi-Wan glanced at the Raccoon.

"Right," he nodded, focusing until he faded from view, slowly stalking forward again. He didn't need to be all that careful; the dozen Saurians at the huge golden door were fully focused on trying to blast the barrier from existence.

"Idiots," he whispered to himself, watching their progress for a few moments before turning to return to the other group.

"They're trying to blow the door away completely," he explained once he'd become visible again. "Not having much luck with it, though we could probably do worse than waiting until they run out of ammo or break through before going ourselves."

"How long is that likely to take?" Obi-Wan asked Junna.

"Weeks, I expect. Their blaster technology is as good as ours. Though waiting for their mage to exhaust himself would be very much to our advantage. That shouldn't take more than a couple hours."

"We'll wait for that then," Obi-Wan decided. "And he may well have used much of his power before getting here, against the creature we fought. The blasters shouldn't be too much trouble to deal with."

"Definitely not," SunWind chuckled softly and settled down in Luprani. "Is there an easy way to tell when he's out of magic?"

"I'd wait for the explosions to stop; he seems particularly fond of fireballs, even if the door isn't melting," Sly chuckled.

"Then let's take the opening to eat, rest and prepare," Obi-Wan said. "Who wants first watch?"

"I'll take it," Lyass offered. "Let SunWind get some real rest after the last fight."

"Thanks," he smiled at her, an expression understandable even with his canine face. "Any MREs left?" He looked hopefully.

"Yeah, but we're getting down to the ones that really are practically inedible," Wolf chuckled, the group settling in to eat and rest, the sounds of the Saurians only a few hundred feet away a constant reminder of what was going to be coming.

Sly was on watch two and a half hours later when the blast a fireball going off didn't happen at the expected time and he crept forward carefully to check things out.

The Saurian's mage, looking absolutely exhausted, was still shouting orders at his subordinates, some of whom had resorted to a battering ram to try and break through... with the expected results of absolutely no dents.

Sly headed back, nodding slightly when Obi-Wan looked at him questioningly.

"I could lead 'em back into us, instead of us into them," he offered.

"I like it," SunWind grinned.

"It would likely be to our advantage," Obi-Wan agreed. "If any stay behind, we can deal with them."

Sly nodded, taking off down the corridor, not even bothering to go invisible again as he moved into the room and rapped his cane on the floor to get their attention.

"Hey, scales-for-brains; is bad fashion-sense genetic with reptiles, or do I just keep getting lucky?" The mage turned to see who was there, along with some of the troopers, and Sly jumped for them, twirling his cane mid-leap to clock the mage squarely between the eyes with the blunted side of it. He turned and started to run, ducking into a roll as the soldiers started firing and he tumbled down the tunnel towards the others.

He could hear the Saurians close behind, more than happy to go for a target that was more killable than the door. He ducked and rolled again as SunWind's Lumari form launched over him and into the melee with abandon.

The Jedi followed him in, and the others started shooting, picking off the Saurians that managed to break through the line before they could try to outflank the three melee fighters.

All in all, the fight barely rated a damp splat before it was finished.

"Mage is probably just concussed in the chamber; we might want to try tying him up," Sly offered. "See about getting some info from him."

"Good idea," Obi-Wan nodded to him and headed for the chamber right behind SunWind.

"~I can break his mind if we want,~" the Loup Maru offered easily.

"Let's not go that far," Obi-Wan said, shaking his head. "It will probably not be necessary."

"Yeah; just have to threaten to feed him to you if he doesn't talk," Canard muttered. "Then do it anyways."

"I would much prefer he be alive and as sane as he is now when we return to the surface with him as a prisoner," Junna added. Though there was little demand in her tone, none of the group had a doubt she would do her best to make it happen.

"He may have more useful information about larger operations," Obi-Wan agreed. "And besides; there's no need to kill him at this point. I suspect we're close to the end, we could just leave him here until we return."

"Mind giving up a pair of your cuffs, Inspector?" Sly asked her as they entered the chamber with the unconscious mage. "I know you've been itching to use 'em on somebody for a while," he teased lightly.

"Sure," she pulled a pair out and knelt to cuff the mage's hands behind his back.

"That will never hold him, but it's a good start," Junna nodded and cast a simple spell to rouse the skinny Saurian mage. "You can have him when we get to the capitol with the time and equipment to interrogate him fully," Junna offered SunWind a smile that he returned with a grin of understanding and thanks.

"It should while he's exhausted and dizzy, I'd think," Sly offered, backing off to let them conduct the interrogation.

"We should probably focus on what's gone on ahead of him," Obi-Wan offered as the Saurian shook off most of his lingering headache.

"Who are you?" Drourgon glared at the group in general before his eyes landed on Junna and SunWind's Lumari form towering over her protectively.

"I am Archmage Junna Rill, of the World Council. You are lucky that we decided not to simply assault your group while you tried to breach the door."

He just continued to glare at her as he struggled with the handcuffs, his magic spent.

"What do you know about this door, and how to get through it?" Junna asked him. "I'd think hard about answering; we could always make you do it."

"~You annoy her, she lets me get the information she wants,~" SunWind grinned maliciously. He was visibly pleased with the uneasy look he got for the mental intrusion.

"Nothing has worked," Drourgon answered truthfully, openly frustrated. "It wants the truth said, but not what truth."

"Have any of your men gotten through it so far?"

"Two groups, one of six and one of nine," he answered with an uneasy look at SunWind.

"~He's telling the truth, at least as best he knows it,~" SunWind told her.

"Do you have any means of communicating with them, or of judging their progress?" Junna asked him; there wasn't much else they needed down here.

"All dead," he shrugged.

"Good riddance," Canard muttered.

"The rest can be saved for later," Junna decided and began to cast a containment spell that shrunk Drourgon down and encased in him a crystal the size of her fist. "Yes, SunWind, you can be part of it." She smiled at the giant tolerantly after picking up the stone and slipped it into a belt pouch.

"So, that leaves us with this... wants a truth, but won't say which one, isn't that what he said?" Duke asked, moving to inspect the door.

"It is what he said, but not what it says," Wildwing commented as he read the inscription.

"Speak a secret to one who cares," Junna told the group.

"I really hope this isn't another hallucination sequence," Wolf mumbled.

"I doubt it," Obi-Wan said. "You need to be lucid to do what this one wants."

"Well... guess there's only one way to find out," Sly said with a bit of a shrug. "Carmelita? How'd you like to know where the Star of Bombay is now?" He asked after a moment to pick something that'd be nicely harmless, and that she'd be likely to be interested in, even out here.

It caught her off guard, her startled expression stayed on her face for a moment, then became keenly interested right along with Duke. "You're admitting to stealing it?"

"You know I stole it," he pointed out. "The last I saw it, it was behind the left eye of the golden Ganesh statue in the Museum of Hindu History of New Delhi."

Carmelita blinked a couple time, then shook her head in disbelief. "You didn't keep it?"

Sly was about to answer when he saw the huge golden door open with a deep creak that no one else seemed to hear.

"You know I never keep the national treasures," he pointed out with a chuckle, walking over to the door. "And it looks like it worked ... maybe only for me, since I don't see everybody else rushing to get through, but I can try to get through if you guys want."

"If you do, don't go far," Obi-Wan cautioned him. "It might be a while for some of us."

"Just to the other side, to make sure it's really open," Sly agreed, heading forward and stepping through, turning back towards the others. "It's open for me; looks like everybody's going to have to find something to spill the beans about."

"Great," Duke muttered even as the group looked at each other, uncertain how to proceed.

"C'mon, don't tell me I'm the only person here who has secrets?" Sly sighed, leaning back against a wall to wait for them.

"Most of mine I told pretty early on," Wolf pointed out.

"And some of them are hard to find people who might care about them," Lyass added, thinking, trying to come up with something. Jedi weren't exactly encouraged to keep secrets.

"I had plenty, but those who cared are long dead," SunWind added with a look around, trying to think of what to tell, to anyone.

Canard drew a deep breath and turned to Duke. "I don't remember when it happened, but I did fall for you."

It was clear to see that Duke was surprised, possibly shocked, and Canard heard the door creak open in response. He let a breath go, more than a little relieved that this small truth was enough.

While Duke tried to think of a reply, Wildwing shifted uneasily.

"You aren't the only one I love," Wildwing murmured to Canard. "I was mated to Tanya."

"It's okay," Canard nodded slightly, heading through the door along with Wildwing. "I'm glad you weren't alone."

"Okay, just please don't cook me for this," Duke sighed, reached into his vest and pulled out a small ring. He tossed it over to Junna, and hurried to the door as soon as it opened for him.

"That ... thief!" Junna stammered, shocked as she held her ring and stared after him.

"Well, it is why you guys wanted me along," Duke pointed out with a sheepish shrug, quietly praying that the door would be closed as far as her spells were concerned too.

"Okay, moving on," Lyass said, trying to hide a snicker as soon as it became clear that Junna was more surprised than pissed. "Who's next?"

There was a general silence as the rest of the group struggled to think of a secret to tell.

"Canard ... this secret is not mine, but is mine to keep or give," Junna called out to the Duck on the other side that she could not see but knew was nearby.

"What?" Canard asked cautiously as he came through the door to look her in the face.

She lowered her eyes briefly, then raised them to meet his gaze. "On my honor as an Archmage and the World Council, what I say is true. Anelloe does love you for nothing more than yourself."

Canard stared at her for a lingering moment, then nodded, almost startled when the door opened for her.

Carmelita shifted uneasily. "Sly? You didn't have to cuff me to the rail at Krak-Karou." She spat out as quickly as she could. She was almost trembling in relief when the door opened for her.

"Was that really so hard?" Sly asked her softly as she came through along with Canard and Junna.

"Just us now," Wolf sighed, looking up at SunWind. "And I'm still looking for one that you'll care about that I haven't already told you," he admitted with a sheepish chuckle.

"I think it can be something anyone would care about," SunWind suggested, though he was in no better shape. "Any ideas from you guys? Anything you want to know about either of us?"

"Anybody here," Wolf nodded slightly. "Well... there is one," he admitted. "Kind of new, actually," he chuckled slightly. "And no clue if this door'll think it counts. If I ever get the chance... I do want to keep that promise I made, up on the second floor. I know it wasn't a real promise to her, but I still kinda feel obligated."

"I hope you get the chance," SunWind smiled and kissed him gently as Wolf heard the door open. "It is a fine way to honor him."

"So... now we just need to figure out you three," Wolf chuckled. "I'll wait to go through until you're ready."

"I... might have one," Lyass said, looking up at SunWind. "Were you ever interested in me, as a mate, beyond the effect my pheromones had on you?"

SunWind scrunched up his face a bit, not happy with the question but not about to refuse to answer, even without the door to get through.

"I've grown to like you," he said, struggling to separate pheromones from the rest. "You are a fine woman. Strong, fierce, devoted, determined ... and you are beautiful. There is little not to desire. Very different from Alyaa."

Lyass glanced at the door. "How about a yes or no answer?" She suggested.

"Yes," he nodded. "For some time now." He heard it creak open, and knew that the best chance for Lyass was probably the same question.

Fortunately, she answered before he had to ask.

"I'm afraid I can't say the same for you," she admitted. "You are a fine person, a fine man, and I do like you... but I couldn't say that I would want to take you as a mate. I'm sorry," she apologized, looking up at him, hoping she hadn't hurt him.

"I suspected as much," SunWind said softly. He didn't hide that it stung, but it didn't come as much of a surprise either. He reached out to caress her cheek. "It is good to know the truth, even when it is not what you hoped to hear."

"It wasn't easy to say," Lyass admitted. "Obi-Wan," she turned to him, though she didn't quite meet his eyes. "How did you become ... involved ... with your Master?"

"It's not a very exciting story," he admitted. "When I became interested in sex, I went through the standard classes on the subject and was encouraged to experiment with my peers, so long as I kept in mind that attachments were to be avoided. By the time I was seventeen I had realize that my desire to stay with Qui-Gon reached far past my knighting. It took the better part of two years for us to work out what was happening, and for him to admit he felt the same. By the time we stood before the Council to ask permission, it was well examined and the Force agreed with us."

"It sounds so... simple," she chuckled slightly as the door opened for the last of them. "I imagine it was anything but at the time."

"It was simple for me," he smiled slightly at her. "I knew what my future was as surely as I knew I would be a Jedi Knight. It was not so simple for Qui-Gon."

"Okay, what the fuck sort of door test was that one?" Carmelita asked, growling. "If you don't have a secret that anybody with you cares about, you can't get past, and this is supposed to be worse than that damned door with the hallucinations?!?"

"It is a test of honesty in the conscious mind, while the other was a test of the unconscious mind," Junna explained. "If it is like it's more modern variants, it would have created whatever situation was needed for a secret to be told."

"Of course somebody'd have to be logical about it," Carmelita muttered quietly as they continued down the stairs.

"Look on the bright side, it wasn't harder than that one," Sly offered.

"It couldn't have been for some of us," she nearly growled at him.

"Right," he said quietly, going on up ahead.

"Something down here stinks," Wolf muttered as they made their way down to the next floor. "Like industrial solvent."

"And the Dark Side," Obi-Wan added uneasily. "A very powerful Dark Side source."

"Lyass ..." SunWind looked at her, hesitant to continue their conversation for a moment but too focused on it to really notice what Wolf and Obi-Wan had said. "You don't want me as a mate, but as a lover?"

"I'm not sure," she said softly. "It's... probably better if we try to just stay friends."

She knew even as she said it that she's crushed the small hope he had. It hurt, to feel even a small amount of new pain from someone who had endured so much. Even with that she knew the truth was what he deserved.

"I'm sorry," she said softly, taking his hand and squeezing it lightly. "It is for the best though... for both of us."

"Was .. it something I did?" He asked. Even afraid of the answer, he did want to know. "Did I not try hard enough to control the lust?"

"No, it wasn't anything you did," she reassured him. "It's just... at this point, I don't know if I can risk it. If things were different... maybe it'd work out differently."

"Risk?" He latched onto the one thing he didn't understand even as he unconsciously wound his tail around her waist.

"What you saw, in my vision... I might have to make the decision, some time, between what's right for you, and what's right for the Order. I'm not sure if I could make that decision even now. It's not about anything you've done wrong, far more about my own weakness."

"It is why Jedi are so careful about relationships," Obi-Wan added. "They can make you stronger, but they can also cloud your judgment. It is a very fine line to walk."

"Exactly," Lyass nodded. "No matter what happens, I am still a Jedi."

SunWind nodded, reluctant but accepting, and squeezed Wolf's hand when it was offered even as he loosened his tail from Lyass' waist.

"You gonna be okay?" Wolf asked him softly.

"Yes, I just had a bit more hope than I should have," he nodded.

"You guys ready to hit the next floor yet?" Duke asked. "That smell's getting a lot stronger on the other side of this door.

"Ready as we'll ever be," Wolf nodded even as SunWind shifted into Lumari and both Jedi ignited their lightsabers.

"Be ready for a very... strange fight," Junna warned them. "Juiblex's body isn't solid... and touching it could very well be the last thing you'll do, if you're not careful."

"Thanks for the warning," Duke murmured, shuddering before he opened the door and got out of the way as quickly as he could... revealing a vast, open pool of sickly blackish greens, translucent grays and ambers and foul browns and yellows, and more of the acrid, pungent smell.

Around the perimeter of the cavernous room were many smaller pools of one color or another, and the ceiling and various rocky formations were coated with a green slime.

"This is so not going to be fun," SunWind muttered as he tried to ignore his nose and brought out one of his two rail guns.

"He'll be immune to that," Junna added. "Iron, poison and healing magic are their only weaknesses."

"And I rather doubt poison will bother a creature that dissolves rock," Obi-Wan observed, noticing the patterns of acid-burns that led into the pool. "Maybe there's a way around it? It hasn't attacked yet."

"~Archmage of the Council?~" Juiblex silently spoke to Rill.

"Yes," she nodded. "I know of you as well."

"~I have no desire to kill you. I only wish my freedom from this place. You have the power to free me, being of the Council.~"

"True," she nodded. "You also can not strike a bargain like that while the geas is in place."

"~I am a demon lord,~" he pointed out. "~The spell is very old; a geas has its limits when cast upon one so powerful.~"

Junna thought about it. She had to. It was a tempting offer. Even though she knew they could defeat Juiblex and his minions, it would save a lot of grief not to have to. On the other hand, turning a demon lord loose was not the brightest idea and she was all but positive he was lying.

"I will send you home, and remove what is left of the geas, once we are all in the next room," she finally offered. "If you do not attack us."

"~That is not the bargain I offered,~" he pointed out in irritation. "~You may cross to the other side,~" he offered, something in the tone of it saying that that was likely to biggest concession she would get from him.

"~Let me take everyone into the Umbra,~" SunWind suggested privately. "~We will be in much less danger. I do not trust it.~"

Junna nodded, both to Juiblex and SunWind.

Without a sound SunWind took Wolf and Lyass' hands and concentrated, pulling all three of them into the shadowy spirit world of the Umbra with him.

"Stay right here. I will bring the others. It will not take long," SunWind told them before fading out of sight into a dim shadow like their companions and opponents. Obi-Wan, Junna and Juiblex shown much brighter than the others, as did Wildwing's mask.

It wasn't long before he returned, taking more of them... crossing Juiblex through the Umbra was a disconcerting experience to say the least. He... it glowed with malignant power, like crossing a thin bridge over a pool of lava. Still, the demon lord kept his word, letting them to the other side without challenge.

"He probably can't attack us here," SunWind added as the thought crossed several minds. "Unfortunately, the walls are enchanted. At least one of us will have to return to the physical world to open the door.

"Best that we all do then," Junna said grimly. "All of us who will fight him, at least. He worded his agreement very carefully; he intends to attack us as soon as he can. He couldn't make a bargain any other way, his boasting aside."

"Wolf, Carmelita, Duke, Wildwing, Canard; try to get that door open," Obi-Wan told the group. "Junna, SunWind, Lyass and I will fight."

"He is vulnerable to poison, healing and any purely magical damage that can reach him. Cold, lightning and fire will do some damage, but much less than usual. He has significant magical powers; comparable to mine, though not quite as varied. He can spit large globs of digestive goo," Junna shook her head a bit. "Demon lords are very difficult to kill without loosing many warriors."

"We'll just have to be the exception," SunWind asked. "What about mind attacks?"

"He's a powerful psi, so only if we're desperate. You might not come out of it with a mind left." Junna warned him.

SunWind glanced towards the glowing malevolence they were about to fight. "Should I just start with trying to summon an ancestor?"

"Not if the fight'll end up like the last one," Wolf interjected. "Think about it, and the smell - that thing's practically a lake of acid, it'd take you down to the bone in nothing flat."

"I doubt whoever shows up would be that stupid," SunWind countered, but Wolf's point was well made.

"Hang on a second; if we're talking about summoning, why don't we see if Junna can summon something that'd be able to even the odds a bit?" Sly suggested. "I mean... don't have that much experience with magic, but I know that there's got to be something out there that can take him. Heck, maybe one of those Balrog things."

"Yes, I can," Junna nodded with a pleased expression. "Though it would be easier, and safer, to summon many lesser demons and elementals than one very powerful one. "Summoning takes time, however. It might even be better if we go back to the other side and out of the room where I can work in peace."

"We'd better go back across then," Obi-Wan agreed. "The summoned creatures ... what sort of danger are they actually in?"

"None," Junna shrugged as the group turned back to cross Juiblex once more and then up the stairs onto the platform on that side of the last door. "When their physical bodies are destroyed they will be sent to their home plane uninjured. That is the advantage of using creatures from other planes. You don't actually kill any of them. Juiblex won't be killed for real either, regardless of whether he is freed or not."

"Sounds like a good plan," Wolf nodded. "Definitely safer for us."

"Even if she can't summon enough to kill everything in there, it will even the odds a lot," SunWind agreed.

"Honestly, I'll be surprised if I can summon enough to kill Juiblex," Junna admitted as they crossed back over into safety. "It would take a Balrog or something similar to take him out for sure. Demon lords usually fight against armies of the type of creatures I'm going to summon and come out victorious."

"You aren't making this sound encouraging," Duke pointed out dryly.

"The situation isn't encouraging," Junna told him flatly. "A demon lord is one of the most powerful entities, if not the most powerful entity, that can be summoned and bound. A Balrog is only a greater demon. A demon lord commands them with a thought."

"Didn't you say that a Balrog was tougher than this guy though?" Carmelita pointed out.

"In a straight, physical fight, yes," Junna acknowledged. "But Juiblex is far more intelligent, and has magic that could strip the flesh from the Balrog's bones without actually killing it. Fortunately, many of those spells would only work on another demon, but he still is the match of any Archmage. And that says nothing about the use of his servants and minions, the oozes and slimes that he has spawned over the years."

"Plus he's effectively immune to our strongest attacks," Canard nodded towards SunWind and the Jedi. "Why don't you take Junna back to the real world first, so she can start on the summoning."

"Right," SunWind nodded and took her had as they faded from sight, except for the bright glowing of their auras.

Junna worked her spells as quickly as she could, summoning a small horde of elementals, beings of wind and fire and water, preparing them to meet the first lines of the attack. Next were a battery of canine warriors, noble of bearing, armed with great swords and massive bows; they quickly fell into line as she summoned the last of her warriors, a tall, lean, green-skinned human woman with broad, angelic wings and a gleaming silver trumpet. The archon exuded an aura of calm and peace that resonated through the Umbra, even though her expression said clearly that they all knew what was ahead for them.

The howl of frustration and anger from the next room told them that Juiblex was fully aware of what had just happened... and that he was very much less than happy with it.

SunWind was nearly oblivious to it, or to the promise of a battle that usually keyed him up. The canine warriors made him whimper with a different kind of desire; the desire to be among them as kin, and the angelic woman drew out a desire to be near her, petted and allowed to remain in her aura.

"Damn," Junna muttered as the first of the elementals reached the room bellow. "I'll have to be there to maintain the summoning." She told the group even as she began to head down through her small army to direct the battle.

"We come with you then," Obi-Wan and Lyass both said, moving to protect the Archmage, not sure what would happen if she was injured, let alone, killed, in this battle. SunWind wasn't far behind them, and the others kept behind the forces but still close enough to have a sense of the battle. It didn't settle well with any of them to let others do their fighting for them.

Even as Junna arrived in the chamber, a fireball exploded, bathing the chamber in a green, coruscating blaze that was barely stopped by her reflexive counterspell.

"So much for no challenge," Lyass muttered, moving forward with her lightsaber ignited to guard the Archmage even as the elementals spread out, moving to face the mobile pools of black, stinking slime that slithered out of Juiblex's body.

"Telekinesis might be useful," Obi-Wan suggested, even as he demonstrated by shoving a black pudding into a fire elemental's body tackle.

"Not my strong suit, but agreed," Lyass nodded slightly, holding one of them in place while a water elemental slammed into it, diluting the creature's body until it fell apart as the celestials moved forward, firing a volley of enchanted arrows into the demon lord's body.

Juiblex raised a sickly looking tendril of acid-slime, slamming it down, the canines diving to the side as the leader moved forward, her trumpet transforming into a gleaming, glowing silver sword. She swung it forward, cleaving the pseudopod from the demon's body, only to be struck by another, wings burning as she as slammed into the wall.

"Protect the archons!" Junna ordered the elementals. Three of the flame-creatures did as she commanded, leaping into the demon-lord's arm. Strong against flame as he was, they still boiled the arm away, leaving the green-skinned woman to recover for a moment before raising her sword. It turned into a trumpet again, and she took a deep breath, cutting loose with a powerful, clear note that practically screamed out, ripping through Juiblex and cutting a mighty swath out of his body, blasting it free.

"~There was a bargain; now you shall die!~" He promised Junna silently, raising another tentacle and striking out at the her. Lyass moved quickly, leaping into his path and raising a shield of telekinetic force to try and deflect most of the blow. Still, she wasn't strong enough to completely stop the demon lord; the titanic, overpowering blow reached through, slamming her back into Junna, pale blue skin burning and starting to melt as she shielded the Duck with her own body.

It was more than enough to make SunWind and Canard rush forward. Canard to helped Junna to her feet and hung nearby to shield her if it was needed again. SunWind ran to Lyass, uncertain how to help her other than to help her shield her mind from the pain of the burning as she worked to fix the damage before it got worse.

Suddenly he looked at Junna's waterskin and grabbed it with his tail. Without a sound he began to pour the endless stream of cold water on Lyass' skin to dilute and wash away as much as he could.

He could feel the pain and anger seething just beneath the surface, and had a momentary flashback to her vision just a few floors above. Unlike in the vision, she kept it under control this time, the acid washing away and leaving her body badly scarred and burned; she was completely out of the fight at this point, he'd see to that.

"~Get Canard, Junna,~" she managed to get out to him mentally, looking over where the fiend was trying to get at the woman who had summoned the angelic forces carving into his body before he was temporarily killed. Obi-Wan and Canard were both doing an admirable job keeping that from happening, but it was not a fight they could keep up for long.

SunWind nodded and glanced up to see Wolf ready to pull Lyass to safety while he turned his attention towards the battle.

Junna had raised some sort of shield, but it was clear that it was mostly holding back Juiblex's spells, which he was hurling almost as quickly as his attacks. One of the canine warriors was caught by the demon lord's pseudopods, and faded from view with a howl of pain. Junna motioned, and the elementals shifted their focus, every one piling into Juiblex, attacking him and trying to break his focus from his magical assaults.

The archons, too, focused more completely on the demon lord, their weapons biting into him as SunWind added what magic he could call on to the storm.

There was almost a sense that the fiend didn't really want to keep going, to simply take the bargain that Junna had given him and flee... but the geas that had been lain on him thousands of years before wouldn't let him do so, not until he had been defeated or those crossing over had been.

Powerful Words were spoken, echoing through the Force as his magic gathered. Coruscating lights, one each color of the rainbow, lashed out, assaulting the gathered warriors even as he smashed Junna back against the wall with a powerful, acidic tentacle that snaked through the gathered archons, elementals, and warriors.

While Juiblex screamed in pain from the final blows, the rainbow of beams struck targets at will. SunWind howled in pain as the red beam burned him with elemental fire, yet he didn't do more than shift into Lumari to deal with the short burst of damage. Not far away Obi-Wan deflected a yellow blast of lighting with his lightsaber, but missed the blue beam that froze him in place, his skin hardening into stone. The Trumpet-Archon screamed and dissolved when the orange beam hit her. Lyass choked back as an indigo beam enveloped her and Canard vanished in a swirl of stars and violet.

"No," Junna whispered as the green beam struck her in the chest. "Knock Lyass out. She is a danger now. Grab Obi-Wan and move. We have no time left."

SunWind blinked for a moment, but Lyass screamed out, the pain she was feeling overwhelming her senses as the magic undid what self-restraint she had left. As she painfully tried to get to her feet, Wolf reacted, slamming his blaster-butt into the back of her head and picking her up.

"What happened to Canard?" Wildwing demanded as they rushed into the room.

"No time!" Junna shouted again, starting to run for the other side of the room across the stone bridge as SunWind picked up Obi-Wan's granite form and rushed through, not knowing what was going on, but knowing that time was limited. "That spell ... only minutes left, unless I'm very lucky."

They ran through the door on the far side that opened for them and nearly ran into the shimmering magical hologram of a lovely female Duck in archmage garb from millennia ago appeared as the door to Juiblex's chamber closed behind them.

"Welcome, my children and heroes. It is good to know that such strength still exists on Puckworld, even as it is sad to know that such desperation does as well. I am your final challenge," she motioned around the room filled with treasures. "I give each of you the chance to return to the surface world with one item from my trove. As with all such gifts, there is a price. I know what you need. That one item you may take without a price, if you can find it on your first try. For each item beyond that, I will have an item of value in return. This item will be of my choice. You may select your first item now."

"Find it, Duke." Junna ordered with real urgency in her voice.

The Duck looked around, blinking his one good eye as he tried to sort through the massive array of jewels and artifacts. Every one of them was a fortune that could let him retire, especially with their history.

But it didn't matter; only one of them called to him.

"The star-obsidian," he said confidently, moving and picking up the fist-sized stone, worth less than most of its compatriots... but only as a gem. It practically sang to him as he closed his hand around it; he knew it was the Star of Eternity.

"Very well," the hologram nodded in acceptance. "Does anyone wish to claim another item?"

It was clear that Sly was tempted, but even he shook his head; no time to make sure he picked something more valuable than anything else that he might lose. And, in all likelihood, she'd have ended up taking his cane - and that was something he wouldn't give up.

"No," SunWind shook his head, a sentiment echoed by Wolf.

"Will anything here find a lost person?" Wildwing asked quickly.

"The Staff of Cerethas," she motioned to a jewel-incrusted scepter.

Wildwing went to grab it without thought to what he might lose, but Duke stopped him and picked it up himself. "I'll take this."

"Accepted," the hologram nodded and reached out her hand to display a large diamond that both Duke and Wildwing recognized well. "I will keep this in exchange."

"Accepted," Duke nodded, though he looked at the diamond hungrily.

"No more," Junna shook her head and began weaving what she expected would be her last spell. Even with the power of the Star that Duke handed to her it was draining, but the shimmering portal opened at her command. "I have to be last through. Hurry."

They did so without question, moving through the portal as quickly as they could while still hauling the unconscious Lyass and petrified Obi-Wan.

Wildwing stayed to the last, all but carrying Junna's dying body through at a run before it closed. There was already Ducks scrambling around at Duke's orders as he stepped into the capitol building with the archmage's barely breathing, limb form in his arms.

"She's most critical," Duke snapped at everyone as the healers and medics came running in. "What can you do for Obi-Wan and Lyass?"

"Petrified and ...?" the young mage asked, visibly unsettled by what had just appeared in front of his reception desk.

"Insane," SunWind barked, still in Lumari and agitated to no end.

"I can't but we can," he nodded quickly. "Just follow the healers and medics with Archmage Rill. They will see to all injuries."

Once they were in medical, it proved surprisingly easy to restore Obi-Wan's physical form, and a low-level mage was able to break the spell shackling Lyass' mind.

For the Archmage, however, there was nothing they could do.

"What about resurrection?" SunWind asked shakily.

"We can, but her will specifically stated she did not want to be resurrected," the lead doctor shook his head, even more shaken than the group. "She did not believe her life was worth more than anyone else's."


"Resurrection requires a soul take the place of the one returning," the doctor explained briefly. "To bring one back to life, another must die."

"Oh," SunWind murmured, understanding all too well her wish.

"We won't let her die in vain," Archmage Anelloe promised, walking into the room. "Or Canard," she added more softly. "The Star, Duke?"

"Here it is," the thief nodded slightly, picking it from Junna's body and turning it over with only a bit of reluctance.

"You should get some rest," Anelloe told them gently. "It will be some time while we prepare."

"And some time before we can leave," Obi-Wan nodded, still a little bewildered at being changed to stone and back again.

"Yeah, come on," Wolf tugged SunWind's arm, grateful that he'd changed back to Maru after being healed. "Alyaa's probably going to be happy to see us both," he murmured, as they were herded out of the room.

Obi-Wan and Lyass both sat quietly in the small chapel where Archmage Junna Rill's body was being held in magical suspension until her funeral could be arranged. It would be quite the event, as they understood it; a state funeral fitting somebody who had helped to lead Puckworld, and who had died trying to save it from the Saurians.

Now, the Jedi were paying their final respects to her. They would be gone before the funeral, and nobody had really minded when they had asked to be allowed a few moments.

As they centered themselves, meditating on what little they knew of Junna's life, and of how she had joined them despite knowing she could easily lose it, Obi-Wan could sense a hint of Lyass' pain ... and a sense of failure.

The blue-skinned Twi'lek's face was still partly a raw mass of seared flesh and half-exposed muscle, the regeneration spells that had been used on her not enough to totally repair the damage the demon lord had done to her, not yet at least. It would likely be a few days before she truly healed in body ... but when she did, she would have healed entirely.

Obi-Wan knew that she was privately cataloguing this as another in the long list of her 'failures' as a Jedi; she had tried to protect the Archmage, and been grievously injured in the process. He wasn't entirely sure what she thought she should... or even could... have done differently... but he wasn't honestly sure if that mattered to her.

That was one of the greatest difficulties with those who believed that they should be perfect. It was nearly impossible to convince them otherwise.

He sighed privately. It was difficult to know what to do, other than to continue to do what he had for months; council her in forgiveness.

"Would it have made you feel more at peace to have died with her?" He asked quietly.

"No," Lyass admitted. "I failed to properly understand the threat; I should have seen that the greatest threat wasn't his physical attacks."

"She was at peace with the idea of dying," he reminded her quietly. "Remember the visions... I think she actually looked forward to it, in a way."

"She was a master," she murmured. "It is a concept I still have difficulty with."

"I am no more ready to join the Force," he said and looked across his shoulder at her. "You could not have stopped what killed her. Not even she had a spell that could save her life. She knew exactly what had happened."

"True," Lyass acquiesced, closing her eyes... it was a miracle she still had both of them, honestly. "Farewell, Archmage Rill. Be as one with the Force, and be at peace."

"~I am, youngling,~" the woman's gentle voice caressed Lyass' mind briefly before dissipating, leaving only a deep sense of peace within the pair and the chapel.

"We'll get him back," Duke wrapped his arms around Wildwing from behind and pulled the younger Duck against his chest. "That was fast thinking."

"Why'd you claim it?" he glanced up and relaxed fractionally in his lover's arms.

"Because we need the mask a lot more than I need a gem," he shrugged, then ruffled the sweat, dirt, grime and blood encrusted feathers that once gleamed white. "Why don't we get under the water, clean up, rest ... we need to be rested and ready when we go after him."

"We'll need a mage too, unless you've got something that'll open the portals... we can't just rely on Obi-Wan and the others anymore," Wildwing murmured, pressing back against Duke with a soft sigh. "Water sounds good though."

"Come on then," he coaxed his leader towards the bathroom. "After what we've done for them, they own us at least a portal to him. Assuming Anelloe doesn't ask to come with us. She really does love him, I think."

"Junna thought so," Wildwing pointed out, letting Duke guide him, turning to undress the other Duck before they made it to the shower. "And I think so too, honestly. Just hope he can see that some time ... not everybody's going to use him the way that... ugh," he muttered, shaking his head.

"Yeah," Duke murmured and turned on the water. "I really wish I knew about that one before we left. I could have at least found out if he had a kid," he shook his head. "What a question to live with."

"Nothing we can do about it now, not without finding a way back to our Puckworld ... and I don't know if he'd really want us prying anyways," Wildwing admitted, turning to hug Duke as the water flowed over them and heated up. "So glad to be out of that place," he murmured.

"All of us are," Duke cracked a smiled and kissed him gently. "Now stand still and let's get the worst of this out of your feathers."

"Yes, mother," Wildwing chuckled, relaxing in the shower and trying not to think too hard about what was going on around them.

Sly took a deep breath, letting it out slowly as he laid back in one of the chairs in the quarters he shared with Carmelita. She was in the shower at the moment; he'd gotten his shortly after they'd made it back to their rooms.

He was bone-tired, to be honest. He hadn't done the fighting, not much of it at least, but being on full alert for the better part of a month was draining. To say nothing of what had happened with the doors.

"Corda, I hope you've got yourself an afterlife now," he said, raising a glass of wine he'd poured for himself in toast to the lich. Honestly, the undead Duck had been about the only part of it all that he'd enjoyed. He already had another bottle sitting out, clear as water but far stronger, along with a shot glass for Carmelita when she was out of the shower. He had a feeling she'd want something a bit stronger than wine.

"When will you stop running away, Carm?" He asked himself softly. Since the visions, she'd been very nicely pretending that nothing had happened, that nobody had seen what she'd gone through, and that she hadn't seen what his vision had been. There was going to be a very nice blowup about that any time now, he was sure. Even knowing the memories were fake... it was still hard to ignore them, ignore what could have been, in a vastly different life, a different world.

Harder to ignore what he knew about her now... what she didn't want anybody to know about her. His mind kept drifting back to it, to the little hints, here and there. He didn't know the details, wasn't sure he wanted to. He could put enough of them together though, based on what he did know about her. He knew she'd spent her entire life trying to get away from what had happened to her... and knew that she still had a very raw, gaping wound that had always kept her away from everybody who really cared about her.

He'd be surprised if he knew what was going on just a few yards away. Carmelita was under water so hot it was nearly scalding. It hid her tears, gave them a different reason to be there, gave her something besides the pain in her heart to focus on ... but what it really did was give her something to distract herself from her own mind.

It wasn't working well enough though, now that they weren't in constant danger that could be from anywhere and a world's fate hanging on their success. A success that had cost two lives and caused a lot more grief than any dungeon crawl had a right to.

She couldn't help it; she kept coming back to what she'd relived and what Sly had wanted. Complete opposites in destiny. She wasn't sure whether the churning in her stomach was over her memories or her mind's battle over knowing what Sly showed her was the truth, as much the truth as her own experience, and she wanted to want it.

She just couldn't.

So she stood under the scalding water, scrubbed her fur over and over again, and slowly worked out how to get through the rest of this journey until she could get herself lost in an entire galaxy that didn't care.

Eventually the water temperature was reduced so her fur would feel normal once it dried, then off and the blowers on to dry her thick pelt out. She wasn't sure why Ducks would need them, but she couldn't care at the moment. She was just too grateful not to have to hand-dry herself.

Sly was waiting for her when she came out a few minutes later, wrapped in one of the light bathrobes that had come along with the room. He hadn't bothered with his, wearing a spare pair of slacks and nothing else instead. He looked over at her, unable to wholly keep the concern out of his expression.

"You okay?" He asked her softly, pulling out the other seat by the small table he had the liquor on. She looked like she had everything together, but she usually did even when she was falling apart inside.

"Yes, it's just been forever since I've had a good hot shower," she actually smiled at him and poured herself a glass of the liquor after sniffing it to see what it was. "How in the world did you find chocolate vodka here?"

"I figured we could both use something to drink that we liked, so I took a guess and described it," he chuckled, smiling back at her. "You'd be surprised how easy it is to get just about anything you ask for when you just came back with the key to saving the planet."

"Especially when it's something this simple," she chuckled lightly and took a sip of her drink. "I guess after what Junna could create for meals, this would be pretty simple."

"Yeah," he nodded slightly. "The mage I was talking to whipped up a bottle in the time it would've taken me to find the shot glass," he chuckled. "Hope I guessed right?"

"Assuming you were trying for something I like, yes," she hid a smile behind another sip.

"That was the idea," he chuckled, wondering just what was up. There was a part of him that was just saying to take it at face value and be happy that she seemed to be pretty much at peace with the world.

The other part of him was wondering just what sort of storm was brewing, that the calm before it would be so nice. After all, she was nothing if not volatile.

"So what happened that made you get that ring?" She asked evenly, still apparently calm about it.

"It was just after the Paris job, when we took out Clock-la," he explained, taking another, longer drink of his wine. This was as good a time as any to not be quite sober. "With everything that had gone wrong against the Klaw Gang... I needed to do something that seemed optimistic, even if it was just to tell myself that things could still get better. Bentley was still in the hospital, Murray was a wreck... it looked like everything was about to fall apart, even if we had 'won.' Given how well things had been going since you arrested me," he chuckled slightly, shrugging a bit. "I never really meant for you to find out about it, definitely not the way you did."

"Is it here, for real?" She asked, still calm enough to make him uneasy.

"No," he said, shaking his head. "It's stashed in my room of our main hideout; doesn't see the light of day unless I'm dusting. So... are you mad about it?" he asked uneasily.

Carmelita took another sip, then a fourth, before she looked directly at him and he knew the calm demeanor was only half a sham. Something had worked for her, but it hadn't really changed her.

"No," she finally murmured. "Think I feel sorry for you more than anything about it."

Well... it was a step in the right direction, at least.

"Don't worry about it," he said with a slight shrug. "I knew when I bought it that Hell'd freeze over before it mattered in any way that was a good thing. I still remember our little agreement."

He didn't miss the fractional shift in her body language to the more relaxed. He'd managed to make the right choice again. What a day of luck so far.

"So we've both had a nice shower, a drink and established that nothing got too screwed up by that nightmare we just got out of," Carmelita smiled at him against and relaxed back, her manner becoming a bit more seductive. "Care to finish that celebration in bed?"

"Sure," he smiled slightly, resisting the urge to correct her about being finished with the nightmare they'd just gotten out of. He leaned over, kissing her gently on the cheek. He relaxed when she reached out to run her fingers threw the thick fur of his chest and leaned forward to kiss him soundly.

He kissed her back, relaxing and letting her take the lead, ignoring the odd taste of the chocolate liquor on her breath as she stood and shifted to his lap, her robe loose and ready for him to slip from her shoulders. She never broke the kiss while she explored his bare chest and shoulders with her hands and her scent quickly took on a familiar edge of real arousal.

He moaned softly into her mouth, brushing the robe back and running his hands down her back. He didn't break their kiss either, keeping his mouth occupied with hers so he couldn't slip up and say something that might send them back to where they had been since the visions. Maybe he'd be lucky and it was the constant danger they'd been in that had cooled her desire so much.

"Think those Cooper fingers are skilled enough to take me?" She asked throatily and nipped at his jaw playfully.

"I'd bet they are," he rumbled back. "Want to the bed first, or right here?" He asked, working her robe off further, licking the outside edge of her ear lightly. It was a pretty serious turn on to have her so relaxed and playful with him.

"Right here," she shivered slightly in anticipation and spread her legs even further apart.

"As m'lady wishes," he chuckled, knowing that sometimes just the right words could really work on her. He shifted to kiss her neck, his hands playing down her body, over her breasts and the gentle swell of the muscles of her belly before coming to rest on her hips, his thumbs rubbing gentle circles on her inner thighs.

"Ohhh," she moaned softly and let her muzzle press against his shoulder as her body trembled in urgent desire. "Lower."

He obliged with his muzzle, turning to lick her nipples lightly, coaxing them to hardness before catching one between his teeth gently. He slowly turned one hand, his fingers teasing their way to the warm, fluffy-furred mound above her sex... then a bit lower, caressing the folds of her sex with a feather-light touch developed over years as a pickpocket and safe-cracker.

He smiled as she shivered and moaned, every light stroke to the edge of her lower lips making her press closer to him. Even though he never took control, he could feel it as she gave it up bit by bit and it sent a rush of arousal through his body.

He felt his slacks tighten as his own arousal mounted. He inhaled her scent deeply, moaning gently as he spread the lips of her sex, circling her clit with his fingertips as he started to focus on getting her off. Her moans echoed in his ears, her scent and willingness was more intoxicating than any wine.

He relaxed back in the chair; one arm around her so he could rub her back while the other slowly circled her clit and caressed the swollen folds of her sex. He slid his fingers back to wet them with her juices and smiled privately when her entire body tightened as slick fur caressed sensitive skin.

He spread his own legs a bit, working her clit and the slick lips of her sex, occasionally slipping his fingers down to press them up into her.

"Let me know if you don't like what I'm doing," he told her seriously, turning his hand around, rubbing her lips and clit with the heel of his hand as he reached back with his slick fingers to circle the tight pucker of her ass.

"Ohhh," she arched back and pressed down, forcing the tip of a finger into her body where she milked it hungrily.

He grinned privately, looking up at her, his eyes dancing as he stretched her out carefully, kissing the hollow of her neck. He stopped touching her for a few brief moments, shifting to hold her up and press both fingers up into her, one into her sex, the other up into her ass where it had just been. He leaned up a bit, kissing her deeply, running the fingers of his free hand through her dark hair as he started trying in earnest to push her over the edge.

She trembled and pressed their chests together, her hard nipples rubbing against his collarbone as she rocked against his palm and into his fingers. She slid a hand between them and unzipped his slacks, freeing the hard length of flesh she wanted inside her badly now.

"Slide down a bit," she told him breathlessly, her body on the verge of an orgasm.

Sly nodded and shifted. He moved his hands and gripped her ass tightly while she moved up and sand down on his cock, almost taking him in all the way to the sheath. While she shivered and moaned, her body milking his shaft, he sank a slick finger into her ass again.

Despite how edgy it made him feel, he didn't flinch when she bit down on his shoulder as she came hard, her body trying to pull his cock and finger even deeper into her body. He kept thrusting as best he could through her orgasm and beyond it, enjoying the feeling of still warming up as she began to come down.

"Love the way this feels," he rumbled, kissing her, squeezing her ass a bit. "You liked?" He asked with a grin, only thrusting into her lightly, keeping her from coming down entirely.

"Yes," she continued to nuzzle him and began to intentionally tighten her body around him. "Now for your turn."

"Ooh... answer one question for me first?" He moaned lightly, kissing her neck.

"All right," she murmured with a different kind of tension.

"Why aren't you worried about kits?" He asked her, hoping he didn't kill the mood, but wondering, particularly given how distinctly not fond of the idea she seemed to be.

"I had my tubes tied," she said and relaxed again. "Nothing to worry about."

"Mmm ... then let's take advantage of it," he rumbled, kissing her as he started to thrust up into her body as well as he could.

"Master," Alyaa greeted SunWind with a warm smile and wearing next to nothing; the translucent fabrics she'd figured out he had a taste for at times. "There is a hot bath ready. The pool is even big enough for three."

"Thank you," Wolf answered before SunWind could. "Why don't you go play with some Ducks for a few hours. I want him to myself right now."

"Yes, Masters," Alyaa said easily, looking at them with a slightly disappointed expression before she headed out.

"Sorry, but I do want you to myself," Wolf said apologetically to his mate, turning to kiss him lightly. "I'm sure she'll be plenty happy to join in after she gets back."

"I'm not complaining," SunWind nuzzled him and drew him back towards the large hot tub like bath. "She's fun, but you're who I love," he murmured and drew Wolf close for a kiss before they began to undress. "Besides, we both really need a bath right now."

"Tell me about it," Wolf chuckled. "Mmm ... you still smell a little singed," he murmured, hugging him close after they'd stripped their clothes off.

"And we both smell like a month on the battlefield," SunWind rubbed his back before letting go to step into the swirling hot water.

"We've both had a month on the battlefield," Wolf pointed out, following him in. "Y'know... up to that last fight, I'd thought we might manage a miracle," he murmured, laying back in the hot water, suddenly looking significantly older than his true age.

"I know what you mean," SunWind nodded and relaxed to let the hot, swirling water loosen the grime from his fur. "There were a couple other tight spots, though. That Balrog, and the vision door."

"Yeah," Wolf nodded. "We made it out of those... when Junna said that Juiblex wouldn't be up to what the Balrog could do, guess I was kinda hoping I could be on a mission where I wouldn't lose anybody. Y'think Canard was sent somewhere, instead of wiped out?"

"Wildwing thinks so," SunWind sank under the water for a moment and floated there before coming back up next to Wolf. "Junna knew what that last spell was. The mages here probably know," he began to rub Wolf's fur to help clean the thick mass.

"Might know where it sent 'im, I suppose," Wolf murmured, groaning softly as sore muscles were worked by his mate's fingers. "At least Junna didn't... I guess didn't mind is the best way to say it. From what we saw."

"People who are at peace with themselves seem to be like that," SunWind kissed Wolf's neck softly. "Not something most warriors I know seem to be like."

"With what we see, what's there to be at peace with?" Wolf asked softly. "You're as bad as I am, worse really." He turned, kissing SunWind tenderly. "I love you," he whispered softly.

"I love you too," he smiled and nuzzled him after the kiss ended, his hands still working Wolf's fur. "And I know what you mean."

"Mmm... c'mon, there's been enough thinking about death for one day," Wolf murmured, moving out more towards the middle of the pool, pulling SunWind along with him. "Y'gonna be okay with what's going on with Lyass?"

"I'll be fine," he nodded and quite willingly followed Wolf out. "She's hardly the first one to reject me."

"At least she's not rejecting you because of you," Wolf offered, kissing him deeply. "Mmm ... want to get a bit dirtier before we clean up the rest of the way?" He winked.

"With you? Anytime," SunWind grinned and slid his hands down to cup Wolf's balls.

"Mmm... want inside you," Wolf rumbled, pressing into SunWind's touch, running his hands down his back to squeeze his ass. "Nice not having an audience for a bit," he chuckled.

"Oh yeah," SunWind groaned in anticipation. "Just have to get you nice and hard for it," he grinned down and kissed Wolf lovingly while his hand continued to caress his balls.

"Won't take too long," Wolf chuckled, kissing him back as his sheath filled out. "Mmm... so much more fun with Alyaa busy elsewhere," he murmured and just let himself enjoy the close contact and the swirling hot water.

"Less mindless," SunWind smiled at him and shifted to rub their entire bodies together. "I've missed this with you."

"Mhm," Wolf rumbled, closing his good eye, just enjoying the contact. "Slow... easy... just the two of us, and nobody around expecting us to start rutting like we're in heat," he chuckled, kissing SunWind's chest as his shaft started to emerge.

"Or the ability to make me," SunWind rumbled and slipped his tail between them to encircle both their emerging cocks. It pressed them together and began to gently rub.

"Ooh, I love the way that feels," Wolf groaned and thrust his hips into the contact. "Just remember," he murmured, licking his mate's nipples. "Y'don't want me to get off too soon," he winked.

"If you do, I'll just have to work you up again," he smiled mischievously and ran his hands down to Wolf's ass. "You did say slow and easy."

"Mmm ... you are such a tease when you put your mind to it," Wolf rumbled, kissing him deeply as their shafts throbbed against each other.

"I think I could get used to this kind of service," Duke chuckled as he and Wildwing sat down to a fine breakfast spread the next morning.

"Yeah... too bad we'll be leaving it behind before too much longer," Wildwing chuckled, snatching a piece of fruit and munching on it happily. "Have to enjoy it while we can, I guess."

"We'll be coming back," Duke pointed out as he poured a large glass of sweet milk. "We'll need a mage to get to him. I don't think it'll be hard to get Anelloe to get us a two-way ticket."

"Yeah," Wildwing nodded. "Duke... you think he'll want to come back? Given everything he said before?"

"I don't know, but I think we can convince him," he paused in his eating to shake his head a bit. "Never realized he really cared about me," he murmured. "Changes a few things."

"You care for him too, right?" The younger Duck asked. "Y'might not say it, but you do. Much as you do for anybody who doesn't have facets," he chuckled.

"You tell him and I'll kill you," Duke cracked a grin, though his tone was serious. "That one's mine to tell."

"All right, all right," Wildwing chuckled. "Though if y'go by value, the argument could be made you care for him more than you do for me," he teased, grinning a bit. "A diamond for Canard, a ruby for me?"

"Hey, it's not like I really chose either one," Duke puffed up and tried to look offended.

"Mmm ... well...." Wildwing leaned over, ruffling the feathers of his neck lightly. "I'll take your word for it," he winked. "Y'know... I'm not sure if Puckworld's ready for the three of us together."

"It'll cope," Duke winked at him, then glanced over his shoulder at a knock on their door. "Come in!"

"Thank you," a female white Duck in Archmage robes stepped inside, Anelloe not half a step behind her.

"Do not ignore me!" Anelloe actually growled in frustration.

"You are being unreasonable," the first woman shot back. "You have duties to the world."

"I can step down you know."

"And leave Puckworld without its greatest leader just after defeating the Saurians?" She countered.

"Hang on - what's going on?" Wildwing asked, looking between the two of them.

"You'll need an archmage to get you to Canard and back again," Anelloe said.

"And she wants to go," the older-looking Duck added.

"No way," Wildwing and Duke both said, shaking their heads.

"We don't have any clue where he is, or what he's surrounded by," Wildwing explained. "It's way too dangerous."

"More importantly, I don't know how well he'd take you coming through to get him," Duke explained. "He's got... issues with people in power."

"I won't be one if I go with you," Anelloe pointed out with her delicate hands on her hips. "I've lived long enough to know we don't get many second chances. I'm not letting this one go without a fight."

"Grandmother," Calles glared at the young-looking Phoenix. "You can not step down now. Puckworld needs you."

"Puckworld will do just fine without me." Anelloe shot back. "Junna proved that if she proved nothing else. There are those better suited to rebuilding a world. I have a life to rebuild."

"Whose life?" Wildwing asked her, trying to stay neutral, even though he agreed with Calles just now. "Canard's? Is there something you know, about where he's gone, that we should know?"

"No, I don't know where he's gone," Anelloe sighed in frustration. "Not until we work out how to track him with the Scepter. What I do know is that he's been hurt a lot of times and it's past time someone tried to help him."

"I'm with you there," Duke agreed. "But there are other ways to help him than stepping down and going after him. He's... pretty screwed up, about a lot of things. If we can get him, bring him back... then's the time to try and help him."

"And we'll both be glad for the effort, if he'll let you," Wildwing added. "But is there a reason that you have to be the one to go, instead of another archmage helping us?

"The same reason you're going," she pointed out. "I care about him."

"Which is exactly the problem, Grandmother," Calles interjected. "You're not thinking this through rationally, you're letting your heart get in the way of your head."

"She's right, you know," Duke agreed. "If we're looking at something that only you could help us reach and get him back from safely, that'd be one thing. But without knowing that, just deciding that you'll be going along takes a lot of steps you can't necessarily undo. Besides, think about what it might look like to Canard if you came."

Anelloe glared at her granddaughter, then looked at Duke with a bit of a bewildered expression.

"You're the most powerful Archmage on Puckworld," he explained with a sigh, seeing he'd have to spell it out. "You're the leader of Puckworld, for all intents and purposes the most powerful person there is. He doesn't trust people with power like that. If you show up, with us, looking for him, he's not going to think it's a romantic gesture. He's not going to think it means you really care about him. He's going to interpret it as a threat. Like you, like the Council had its strongest representative come chasing after him so he couldn't say no if he wanted to stay away."

"You're a bit intimidating, especially to somebody who's practically hardwired himself to think that everybody with power wants to use him," Wildwing said, a bit more gently. "You've got so much power that, to him, there's no way you couldn't be trying to use him. It's gonna take a lot to get past that, even if you did step down."

"Short form, he'll never believe me anytime soon," she sighed, the fight knocked out of her by the truth. "He knows you're my granddaughter."

"He knows who all of us are," Calles pointed out.

"Yeah, he does, but he's also smart enough to know that the two of us would need an archmage to come rescue him, or even follow after him," Duke pointed out. "Calles is your granddaughter, but she's not on the Council, and ... you don't have any real rank beyond what you've got as an Archmage, do you? No offense," he added quickly.

"No," she chuckled with a shake of her head. "Not that there is much beyond archmage."

"Well, yeah, but like I said we don't have any way around using an archmage," Duke chuckled. "Calles is about as non-threatening as an Archmage can get. Still a threat, being related to you, but he could also probably convince himself that the three of us could take her, if we really had to."

"Doesn't he trust you two enough not to bring him into a trap?" Anelloe asked quietly.

"If any competent archmage couldn't mind control us, threaten us, or find some other way to make us do it without a choice, he probably would," Wildwing nodded. "Honestly, I figure he'd trust us either way... it's just hard to tell, with how he feels about everything. He'd been talking about getting a ring to let him change his identity entirely after we got back, just to avoid the pain of being a hero again."

"Do you think it would help him if he asked to have a new identity, got it and was left alone for a few years?" Anelloe asked.

"It certainly wouldn't hurt," Wildwing nodded slightly. "Though he'll probably want to build it himself."

"He can have anything he wants," she pointed out. "He just has to believe that, and that there isn't a string attached."

"And that's the hardest part," Duke half-chuckled. "For now, we've got to focus on figuring out this scepter, and how to bring him back."

When Sly woke up the next morning, he wasn't entirely surprised to find that he was alone in bed. Carmelita usually preferred to sleep in... but she hadn't been sleeping as well as she usually did since the visions. He couldn't blame her either. He hadn't for a long time after prison. Or after losing his parents, for that matter.

He sat up, stretching out as his brain started to catch up with his body. His throat caught as he heard something in the bathroom.

Carmelita sobbing.

He got up, moving over to the closed and locked bathroom door.

"I know you're going to hate me for this, but I can't let you go through this alone," he whispered softly, reaching over to the bed and snagging his pack off the end of it, pulling out a simple lockpick and forcing the tiny, cheap door-lock before he opened it slowly. She was curled up in the far corner; as compact a ball as she could make of herself to leave as little of her body exposed as possible.

He saw her stiffen as she realized someone was there, could nearly feel her try to pull herself together and fail.

He moved in, kneeling next to her, reaching out to gently stroke her shoulder.

"It's okay," he murmured softly and forced himself not to react when she cringed away from the contact. "I'm not gonna hurt you... not gonna make you talk about it. But if you want to, I'll listen, and I won't judge you for any of it."

A deep sob was the only thing that answered him, but when he touched her shoulder again, she slowly leaned into the contact until her face was pressed against his chest and his fur was wet with her tears.

He wrapped his arms around her gently, holding her close as she cried until she was out of tears... and half-hoped she wouldn't realize that some of them were his.

"Did you hear much of anything about what is actually going to happen?" Obi-Wan asked SunWind as the group was shown to what was to be a good vantage point for the show.

"Not really, but it's probably going to be more than just a big fireball, given it's a couple dozen archmages with the power of a galaxy to draw on." SunWind said.

"Agreed there," Wolf murmured, not sure what to expect other than it would be well beyond anything any of them, except possibly SunWind, had a chance to comprehend.

"Not even sure if it will be a peaceful approach, or a violent one," Lyass murmured as they waited.

"How would you peacefully use a giant spell to get rid of an invading species?" Wolf asked, glancing over at her.

"Easiest way, use some manner of spell to make Puckworld uninhabitable," she said easily. "Make it painful for them to stay, or even to attack it. There would be spells that could accomplish it for only the Saurians, I'm sure... but I rather suspect they're taking a more final approach."

"I can all but guarantee it," SunWind shook his head at her. "Probably something flashy and very deadly, given they are setting up a show for everybody."

"And given what the Saurians have done to their people, their planet, I don't blame 'em," Wolf agreed. "Shouldn't be too much longer, I'm guessing," he motioned towards the central tower of the school of magic at the heart of the display and the Avians in archmage robes that were gathering there.

A hush rippled across the crowd as the Jedi realized that this was being broadcast worldwide and there were traces of magic in the broadcast.

"Sweet Skies!" Obi-Wan gasped as the Star of Eternity was levitated in the middle of the circle and the power began to weave into a purpose.

"Nothing like this since Rusaan... maybe not even there," Alyaa agreed silently, watching the building power in amazement.

"Much more controlled," Obi-Wan murmured, watching in rapt fixation as the Force was pulled from the Star and shaped by the wills of those on the tower before it shot into space with a firestorm aurora that reached upwards instead of down.

As the spell spread out, it focused as well. Lances of flame spread out into space, seeking out Saurian ships, slashing through them. Explosions dotted the skies above all of Puckworld, as well as great flaming pillars that descended, crashing down into ground-bound pockets of Saurian resistance. The aura spread, and all the skies of Puckworld glowed as destruction and death sought out those who wished harm to its people.

"Godda remember this one," SunWind murmured with a mixture of awe and vicious desire.

"Remember the sort of power they needed for it," Wolf reminded him gently, squeezing his hand. It was an incredible display... and a sobering one, once you considered what it was accomplishing. Every member of an entire species that stood against them, at least on their planet or in the space that they could reasonably consider theirs... they would be gone in a matter of minutes, hours at the outside.

What this power could be done if used in reverse, if the Saurians had gotten it, was even more sobering.

"I think I hope they put that thing back in the dungeon," Wolf decided even as the hush began to wear off and the gathering masses began to break up into small groups that faced off against each other.

"Okay, is this everyone who wants to join this mission?" Wildwing asked with only a very small hint of his frustrations at how many folks wanted to help find Canard. It had quickly changed from three to five and now stood at eight; a number he didn't want to grow any more.

"We've turned away about a half-dozen others," Duke pointed out quietly, not quite so secretive about his own feelings about it. He just hoped that Canard didn't up and decide they'd sent an army after him and run. He was mollified enough by the interviews, watching and listening as Wildwing grilled each one who wanted to join to know exactly why and why Canard would want to see them. It was still unsettling, but it was nice to know how many folks honestly cared about Canard this much. Having Lyass, Obi-Wan and/or SunWind in the room for those interviews helped too. Lying was just not going to get by them.

"I know," Wildwing sighed as he looked around the military-heavy group. Archmage Calles was still the only full mage, and the only one who hadn't served under Canard for years on the front line of Puckworld's defense.

"So has the Staff of Cerethas been deciphered?" A black-feathered female Loon with a white band around her neck asked Calles.

"It has," Calles nodded. "It took some time, but we will be able to detect his planar location when the time comes to open the gate. Fortunately, it's unlikely that he was sent somewhere inherently dangerous; prismatic spray doesn't work that way."

"That still leaves a lot of territory to cover," Duke pointed out. "Just how accurate is this Staff?"

"We have no way of knowing," Calles told him evenly. "I have other spells to help locate him once we are in the right general location."

"So any idea how long this mission will be?" Captain StarShine asked, trying to get the edge of distrust from the gathering.

"It could be a matter of going through and grabbing him and coming back," Calles said. "More likely, it shouldn't be more than a few weeks. It'll be easier if he hasn't wandered off, but I don't think that's very much like the General, myself."

"That's an understatement," Wildwing chuckled lightly. "What do we know about the landing zone?"

"It isn't a combat zone, at least not at this point. The Beastlands is dangerous, but it's inhabitable, and somebody who's armed and a capable fighter can survive there easily. Plenty of water, game, and plant life. We won't need to weigh ourselves down with supplies."

"Just plenty of ammo," a heavily built white Duck cracked a grin across his scarred face. "When are we headed out?"

"In the morning," Calles told them. "The magic fields should have settled enough then."

"Good," Wildwing nodded. "It won't be soon enough," he said to a chorus of agreement from the other soldiers.

"We could try to leave now, but there's a greater threat," Calles explained. "As it is, we might end up shunted into a neighboring plane... and frankly, I'd really rather avoid the Abyss. You've had enough demons to deal with lately."

"Agreed," Duke shuddered. "Far too many. It'll give us time to get a good night's sleep and prep the gear."

"Speaking of which, are we on foot, or will we get to bring a 5-ton or APC?" The scarred Duck asked.

"One of them, no more." Calles consented.

"The APC," Duke said. "Better all around."

"Definitely," a general round of agreement came from the group.

"I'll prep one tonight, then," the scarred Duck nodded to him.

"We'll see you then," Wildwing nodded to all of them. "Get some good sleep, and be ready for things to get rough tomorrow. Dismissed."

"You're still used to command," Duke chuckled and stood from his chair with a lazy stretch. "Say goodbye to the others before we try to get some rest ourselves?"

"They're used to being commanded," Wildwing blushed, not entirely sure why he was embarrassed by what Duke had said. "And sure. They still in the interview rooms, as far as you know?"

"Unless they got bored and left," he nodded as they followed their new team out of the room.

"And, while I wouldn't blame 'em, I'm pretty sure we'll still find the Jedi there if that's the only reason to go," Wildwing chuckled. "I don't think they do bored."

"If they do, they are in total denial of it," Duke smirked.

"They do that well too," Wildwing agreed and knocked briefly on the door to give anyone who needed it a chance to cover up.

"It's not like any of them are in private right now," Duke said drolly.

"Still polite," Wildwing shrugged as the door opened. "Besides, did that stop Wolf and SunWind while we were in the mountain?"

"Point," Duke chuckled.

"So, I take it things are going well?" Lyass asked them politely as they stepped into the room with the others.

"Yes," Wildwing nodded to her. "We leave in the morning. I wanted to thank everyone before we left. You probably won't be here when we get back."

"You plan to stay here then, rebuild your lives in this Puckworld," Obi-Wan nodded slightly.

"No surprise there," Sly chuckled. "Good luck to both of you... all three of you, once you find Canard. Didn't know him for long, but he's a good guy, I'd say."

"One of the best," Wildwing agreed. "Good luck to you as well. If we can find a Puckworld like this one, there's a place for everyone," he looked at SunWind the most, but it was a sentiment to all of them.

"Now there's a sentiment I'll get behind," Wolf smiled, looking up at SunWind as well as he stood to shake Wildwing and Duke's hands. "Been good working with you. No offense, but I hope we don't get the chance again," he half-grinned.

"None taken. I hope not to see you guys again either," Duke grinned at him. "Great team, but trouble follows you guys like nothing else."

"I'll just be happy to get somewhere doors don't go poking through my head and getting me in trouble," Sly chuckled, shaking their hands next. "Besides, I don't think there's any world or system out there ready for both of us to be testing each other," he winked at Duke.

"I'm sure of it," Duke winked back. "Good luck keeping that fluff of a tail out of trouble."

"I'm amazed they didn't get us in more trouble," Wildwing shook his head with a low chuckle.

"He's still making up for the fact that he got me into this in the first place," Carmelita said dryly. "I'm just glad I'll only have to watch Sly from now on. Good luck with Canard. You three deserve it."

Especially Canard," Wildwing nodded and shook her hand, still a bit bemused by the feisty Vixen not much more than half his height. "You've got a good future too, I'm sure of it. You've got the right spirit."

"Thanks," she said, nodding slightly and easily slipped from the room.

"It's been an honor traveling with both of you; thank you both for your help, and the Force be with you all," Lyass said with a polite bow before shaking both their hands to respect their traditions.

"Best wishes with you," Wildwing made her pause as she shook his hand. "You will overcome what you need to," he said with the kind of certainty that she would believe from very few, but had to accept here.

"I hope so," Lyass nodded with a slight smile, heading out after the others as Obi-Wan shook their hands.

"Tanya would be very happy for you both, I'm sure," he told Wildwing gently, squeezing his hand. "I hope, one of these days, your vision becomes reality."

Wildwing blushed brightly, but nodded in thanks as he tried to find his voice again.

"I think you'll be good for Canard, as good as he is for you," SunWind shook his hand. "You're rubbing off on the thief too," he grinned at Duke.

"Don't you mean I'm rubbing off on the boy scouts?" Duke winked.

"I'm not sure which is scarier," Wildwing chuckled, Alyaa slipping out behind SunWind, polite in her own peculiar way.

"Think I'm actually gonna miss most of those guys," Duke admitted, leaning lightly against Wildwing.

"I will," Wildwing admitted and wrapped an arm around him. "Maybe not Alyaa or Carmelita so much, but they're good people."

"Funny... I was just thinking of the same ones," Duke chuckled, turning to ruffle Wildwing's feathers lightly. "C'mon, let's get some sleep."

"Yeah, one night before we're back in the field for who knows how long," Wildwing agreed and ruffled Duke's feathers with his beak before they walked out of the room with just enough distance between them for Wildwing's comfort.

Sliding Time 7: Puckworld Revolution

NC-17 for M/M and M/F sex
Het Level is MediumHet Smut Level is Medium
Slash Level is Slash Smut Level is Medium
Femslash Level is None
Herm Level is None

326 KB, Story is Complete, Series is Finished
Written November 12, 2006 by Rauhnee Ranshanka and Karl Wolfemann

Setting: AD&D (RPG), Biker Mice from Mars, Dinosausers, Disney (Non-Fandom characters), Mighty Ducks TAS, Planescape, Rifts (RPG), Sly Cooper, Star Fox, Star Wars Episode 1, Star Wars Episode 3: Revenge of the Sith, World of Darkness (generic)

Primary Races: Demon, Duck, Fox, God, Human, Kavin, Loup Maru, Raccoon, T'surr, Twi'lek, Wolf

Contents: Furry. Het (M/F). Slash (M/M). Alternate Universe, Child Abuse (Sexual), Rape (step-father/daughter), Violence

Pairings: Obi-Wan/Qui-Gon (in abstansia), SunWind/Wolf O'Donnell, SunWind/Lyass Vida, SunWind/Alyaa'rann, Sly Cooper/Carmelita Montoya Fox, Wildwing Flashblade/Duke L'Orange, Wildwing Flashblade/Canard, Duke L'Orange/Canard, Duke L'Orange/Shatta Swiftwing, others

Notes: Many thanks to Annie Booker for going over this monster for spelling and such. She was a great help and any issues that remain are my fault.

Setting: Mighty Ducks TAS (AU)

Main Characters: Obi-Wan Kenobi, Lyass Vida (Star Wars), Throttle/SunWind (BMFM), Wolf O'Donnell (Star Fox), Sly Cooper, Carmelita Montoya Fox (Sly Cooper), Wildwing Flashblade, Duke L'Orange (Mighty Ducks TAS)

Blurb: Escaping from one galactic war-zone and right into another. This one has a brighter outlook, despite the initial impressions.

Disclaimer: All things taken directly from the sources listed under 'Fandoms' belong to the owners of those shows. No harm is intended and we're definitely not making any money. Now, the things we created are ours, and if you see 'Non-FanFic' up there, it's probably all ours.

Page Hit Count from November 12, 2006    1784