Willow and Tara were escorted through the swamps by the Gungan sentries, who were constantly prodding them with their spearlike weapons. Neither of them felt particularly happy about it, though neither of them actually voiced their complaints, lest they earn yet another series of jabs.
At least they hadn't bothered to try to separate their hands. That was some comfort to the two of them.
Willow squeezed Tara's hand, hoping to get a comforting squeeze in return. The squeeze came back quickly, though Willow could feel a nagging sense of doubt through the Force about the emotional welfare of her Master, who was starting to close herself off, feeling guilty for having let themselves get captured.
Willow wished she could talk to her Master, let her know that everything would be all right. Unfortunately, she couldn't bring herself to say it. It was in part due to the fact that she didn't feel the same way.
But mostly it was because she had let it happen.
She was the one who had been talking non stop ever since they had begun moving and allowed Tara to get distracted. She silently blamed herself for allowing the situation to deteriorate as much as it did. If she and Tara hadn't allowed themselves to get distracted, they would be free right now.
"And I was just beginning to get Tara to express herself, too," she silently mused. "So much for that."
The two arrived at the edge of the swamp, where a strange looking craft awaited them. They noticed that a Gungan was sitting at the controls. One of their guards jabbed Willow in the back again with the spear, no doubt wanting her to step inside.
Tara moved to step inside the craft, though Willow silently stood her ground.
"I'm not getting in until I've get some explanations," she said, trying to sound more confident and brave than she actually felt. Sadly, it was all for naught, as the guard jabbed the spear into her ribcage again, this time with enough to cause her to flinch and cry out.
"Gettan inside," the guard commanded.
Tara turned to look at her Padawan. "Willow, please?"
Willow caught the tone of her voice, and realised that she was cooperating with their captors in an attempt to keep the situation as under control as she could. By openly defying their captors, Willow was placing them in danger that she had hoped to avoid.
Her heart caught in her throat, and she moved to enter the vehicle, feeling a fresh wave of shame over the situation she had inadvertently brought upon themselves.
The trip had taken several minutes, during which Willow had attempted to spark conversation with both their pilot and Tara, though none were exactly willing to talk back to her. She had expected that from the Gungan, but from Tara...
She felt the emotional walls that she had so carefully began to deconstruct going up once again, and knew that she wouldn't talk to her the way she had done before ever again. It was something she knew couldn't last, given that their oath to the Jedi Order prevented it. But still, she had wished for it to last somewhat longer than it had.
Willow's eyes caught sight of their destination, and found herself amazed at the sight, despite the situation that brought her to it. It was a series of bubbles through which she saw several figures and other craft passing through. It was quite the sight to behold, she had to admit. The perfect blend of organics and technology.
Their craft passed through one of the bubbles, oriented itself and came to a stop. The pilot pressed a button, withdrawing the canopy that had kept the water from seeping in. Before she could move, however, she found herself staring at yet another spear being thrust at her head.
"Comen wit dus," the guard holding the spear said. "Da Boss wanten to see youse."
Willow and Tara found themselves, once again, being escorted by several Gungans to their destination. Willow noted, however, that these ones seemed to be a tad more on the aggressive side, jabbing them with their weapons whenever they thought they were moving too slow. Which, Willow thought, as she grimaced as yet another jab impacted against her back, seemed to be far too often for her tastes.
Eventually, they arrived at one of a room that appeared to be some sort of council chamber, a series of chairs arrayed in a half circle at the opposite end of the room, a Gungan in each one of them. The one in the centre chair looked considerably different than the others. Whereas the others were slimmer and had sleeker faces, this one was rather heavyset and had a pronounced ridge above his protruding eyes, giving him a flatter, more imperious face.
"Ah," the Gungan, obviously the Boss the guard has spoken of earlier, grunted. "Mesa thoughen you Jedi already leave. Mebbe mesa too generous."
Willow's head lifted ever so slightly. "Wait. You mean...Master Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan...they were here?"
The Gungan's face creased. "Theysa heren. And dey bringen back Jar Jar Binks." He shuddered in obvious disgust. "Mesa thought thatsa bad idea, ledding dem go. It seems theysa bringen der friends here to causen more trubble."
"We're not the one's you have to worry about," Willow spat out. "There's a whole army of droids up there that could be coming for you at any moment."
The Gungan spat out a laugh. "Yousa spouten da same nonsense da uders say. Theysa thinken that da machaneeks comen here doo. Mesa say do usa the same thing mesa sayen da them. Wesa safe here."
It was then that Tara spoke up. "Then...may we...may we stay?"
The Gungan fixed his gaze on her, and Willow saw Tara shrink further into herself. "And whyen shoulda mesa doin that? Mesa already trusten one pair of outsiders mesa apparently shouldn't. What maken you different?"
Tara was hard pressed to come up with an answer to that question, and lowered her gaze to the floor. "I...I don't know, sir."
Willow would have expected outright disgust at the comment, or even thinly concealed resentment. Instead, she was rather surprised when the Boss smiled. A rather evil looking, vicious smile, but still, it was a smile.
"Dasten a gud answer," he said. "Mesa have no reason to trust you, justen like you haven no reason to trust me. Dat mean that, either way, wesa need to cooperate." He waved a hand. "Mesa agree to your request. Yousa can stay in Otho Gunga. But only till sunrise. Den yousa go on your way and never returnen."
Tara bowed her head in thanks. "Thank you." She turned and left the room. Seconds later, Willow and their guards followed.
The two were escorted to what passed for a set of quarters, though Willow noted that it was the strangest room that she had ever seen. And having travelled across the galaxy, she had seen her fair share of living arrangements.
She noted that Tara had moved to the bed, discarding her robe as she moved and placing it on the bed.
"Master," she began to say. "I'm sorry for what happened. I know I was out of line and that I could have put us in more danger than was necessary. It's just that...well, if it wasn't for me, we wouldn't have got into this situation in the first place. I suppose we could have if we had been fully alert, but it seems to me that the Gungans know their way around the swamps, and are probably expert trackers and huntsman to be able to move that stealthily. I guess we'll never know now..."
"Willow," Tara said softly, patting the bed beside her. Willow grew silent as she moved to sit beside her Master, prepared to receive whatever rebuke she knew was coming. Instead, she was surprise to find Tara placing her hand on her shoulder, slowly moving it towards her head. Then, even more surprising, moving it gently over to her own shoulder.
Willow was surprised by this act, as she had fully expected her to discipline her for her actions both on the surface and in front of the Gungans. Instead, she was feeling more protective than she had been before.
"Master?" she asked.
Tara sighed. "Don't be sorry, Willow. You were speaking your mind. I've always admired that about you." She smiled faintly. "Though there are times when I think you shouldn't."
"You mean like now," Willow said, her tone neutral and tinged with sadness.
Tara shook her head as she let go of Willow and lay down on the bed. "No. I'm really glad you did. I...I froze. I let my guard down."
"So did I," Willow said as she moved to join her. "I mean, I was there, too."
Tara smiled. "Willow, you don't have to do that. I mean, this is me you're talking to. You don't have to be all worrisome and blame yourself for every problem we have to face. We may be Jedi, but we're also people. And people have their flaws. It's just you and me here, Willow. This is where you don't have to be brave."
Willow couldn't believe what it was that she was hearing. "But..I thought that...since this happened that you'd...you know...close yourself down. I mean, I only just got you to open up."
Tara moved her hand, ruffling Willow's short hair and twirling her fingers around her Padawan braid. "And I thank you for it, Willow. You've opened me up to the galaxy around me. And I still love you. I always will. You can tell me if you're worried."
Willow sighed as she moved to stretch out, the need for sleep finally overcoming her. "I'm worried, Tara. I'm worried about us. I'm worried about Qui-Gon. I'm worried about Obi-Wan. I'm worried about everything."
"I know," Tara said as she moved to join her. "I am, too."
OOM-9 surveyed the area, detecting no signs of life. The search had progressed throughout the entire latter half of the day without any success. Still, this would not deter him. He was under orders to find and eliminate the aquatic settlement, and he would not rest until this task was accomplished.
Switching to infrared scanners, he searched the area once again, and once again detected no anomalous readings. He was about to order the squad to move on when he detected something.
Focusing in on sector 327, he could make out the imprint of series of booted feet, heading in a northeastern direction. Following the trail for several more feet, he discovered that the feet were joined by several other footprints that headed off in a westernly direction.
"All troops advance," he broadcasted to the troops, who moved forward to comply with the request.
Willow slept soundly, her mind on thoughts other than the current situation. She had managed to keep Tara's respect and love despite her lack of respect towards her. And she had managed to keep her from falling back into her shell. The past few days, despite the situation, had been good to her.
Tara, however, was once again plagued by a nightmare, this one showing herself, Qui-Gon and others inside a starfighter hanger with a group of soldiers moving towards a heavy blast door at the room's opposite end. Tara didn't know where Willow was, and the thought left her rather worried.
Her worrisome feelings were magnified when the blast door opened and a black cloaked figure stood waiting for them. Tara noted, with some horror, that it was the same demon creature that she had seen in her earlier nightmare, the one who had killed Qui-Gon. The one who, it appeared, could have killed Willow.
And on its belt hung...
Her heart caught in her throat. On its belt hung her former lightsaber, now Willow's.
As the soldiers moved off to one side and Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan stepped forward to face the demon, Tara found herself rooted to the spot, not knowing what to do. She had a choice to make, and knew that whatever she decided, it would dramatically impact those around her.
An earth shattering boom brought her out of her hesitation, and she looked around for the source. She found none, however, and wondered where it had come from.
Another boom sounded, this one much closer and louder. Her danger sense flared to life, along with her eyes. She got up out of bed quickly, thanking the Force that she still wore her tunic and pants. She looked outside and saw a sight that greeted her as badly as any nightmare.
"Willow, wake up!"
On the bed, Willow stirred and sat up. "What is it, Master?"
She turned to face her Padawan. "We're under attack."