The Meeting at the Tree
A Star Wars – Hunger Games Crossover
Era: Jedi Apprentice – 971 Ruusan Reformation/Just after Catching Fire
Are you, are you
Coming to the tree
Where they strung up a man
They say who murdered three…
"Katniss, I still think that it ain't just risky, but downright stupid of you. Send a holo to Coruscant, of all things?! Why do you think the Jedi or the Republic would even consider to help us?! We've kicked them off planet 77 years ago!" Gale hissed, trying not to be too loud. "And to wait in the Hanging Tree is just an invitation." Even considering that I didn't think this place really existed or still existed.
The young woman shot him an irritated glance – it had been a trial to get him and the others to play along, and even then, they had been adamant that she would only send a recording, which could be sent with some of the more obscure resources of the resistance. To protect me, really. You're overdoing it, guys.
And even after agreeing, he had voiced his displeasure with the idea, pulling out a sack of recorded HoloNet News that showed the Jedi working mostly in the actual Republic, not here, on the edge of Hutt Cartel space. But Katniss was not discouraged – if any stories of her father could be believed, the order used to come to Panem to look for initiates… until the uprising that ultimately started the Hunger Games.
"For the last time, Gale, we owe to the uprising from back then not only the Hunger Games, but also the complete absence of the Jedi on Panem. Ever since then, the Capitol government has blocked all the search teams and the Sector Watchman from searching Panem for students. Too much hope I guess. As for why they have never considered before… well… maybe it's because nobody ever bloody asked. The order works on a mission basis, as all your vids show. And any negotiation was pointless since the capital was never interested in a peaceful resolution, so, unless someone asks, they wouldn't have come. I've heard enough old lore from my dad to know that they won't ignore us out of principle." She sighed, unconsciously fiddling with her bow. "As for the Hanging Tree… well, the answer was a modified quote from the Hanging Tree. By now, it's so common a song with the resistance that it's hard to track to any of us."
He lifted an eyebrow. "Really, what did it say?"
Katniss smiled. "Are you, are you coming to the tree? Where they strung up a man they say who murdered three. Strange things are happening; no stranger will it be when we'll meet at midnight under the hanging tree. I think that's pretty straightforward, together with the date stamp."
The young man groaned quietly. "Someone has a very twisted sense of humour out there."
"Maybe. And would you please give it up? You're the only one left who's still protesting that much." She took a look around, not easy considering that it was literally pitch-dark. "They should be here by now though…"
"And you shouldn't be here at all." A voice called out to the two. they turned and saw a peacekeeper walk out of the forest with his rifle pointed right at Katniss. "So what's the great Mockingjay doing out here?"
Much to the horror of the two rebels, he had not come alone, but had brought about half a platoon with him. Fuck.
"Should have stuck with shooting arrows in the Games girlie," the lead peacekeeper called out. "Because you know nothing about sending secret messages. We'll find out soon enough who you're sending this to."
"Katniss run!" Gale yelled pulling out his gun and stepping in front of her.
The sergeant charged his blaster. "Bad call, boy."
But the purple bolt he fired never reached the young man. Instead, somewhere in between them and the soldiers, a glaringly cyan blade seemingly made of pure light blocked the shot – and sent it right back at its shooter. "Pathetic."
"Number Thirty, young one," a woman's voice ordered.
The calm words, spoken in an accent of Basic not native to Panem, shook the Peacekeepers out of their reverie. "Kill them!"
"Always the same song. Well then. Here's mine." A flutter in air was the only indication of the coats falling on the ground in front of the rebels; then, four lightsabers, wielded in pairs, sprung to life – cyan, white, green and orange. "Are you, are you coming to the tree? Where they strung up a man they say who murdered three. Strange things are happening: no stranger will it be when we'll meet at midnight At the hanging tree." While she was singing, the blaster bolts the enraged troops were firing pinged harmlessly off the lightsabre blades, more often than not Returned To Sender.
"What the hell are those things!" Gale asked his eyes going wide. "Some kind of special Capital weapon?"
"I..I don't know," Katniss managed to reply. "I've never seen anything like them before. I always thought the stories about Jedi weapons made of light were just that, stories. To think they can even block these damn blasters… Watch out!"
Some bolder peacekeepers closed in on the two offworlders, intending to attack with electro-jabbers and the likes… and they were the reason the whole thing suddenly exploded into a hurricane. "Are you, are you coming to the tree? Where the dead man called out for this blood of thee. Strange things are happening; no stranger will it be when we'll meet at midnight at the hanging tree." The two Jedi were on the move, stabbing and slashing at their attackers. Initially, only the clatter of weapons could be heard…
"They're disarming them."
Gale frowned, knowing all too well what kinds of assholes peacekeepers were, especially in Sector 12. "That's useless. They'll just take another."
As if on cue, their defendants switched to deadly force. "Are you, are you coming to the tree? Where I told you to come, so you will be free. Strange things are happening: No stranger will it be as we'll meet at midnight at the hanging tree…"
"Is the singing also a Jedi thing?" Gale asked moving to get out of the way. "The text is all butchered up though."
Katniss listened and got a confused look on her face. "I think it's for us."
"What do you mean by that, for us?"
Suddenly, one of the peacekeepers literally flew through the air, where an orange lightning bolt grasped him, snuffing out his life, lighting up the scene for a moment. At least half of the men the Panem troops had brought laid dead already, and another eight joined them as the lightning jumped over from its original target to them, forking out in a virtual storm of power. Strangely enough it was the young man this time who sung. "Are you, are you coming to the tree? Bear a shining light of hope, side by side with me. Strange things are happening, no stranger will it be as soon as we'll meet there at the hanging tree."
"Did she just…" Katniss trailed off.
"Summon lightning, yeah," Gale finished, just as numbly. "And he apparently pushed someone hard enough to send him flying. I'm starting to think this wasn't such a bad idea after all, but damn!"
"This is insane!" Katniss mutter having trouble believing all she was seeing. And hearing. She swallowed before adding. "I think they are trying to tell us they are here to help."
"If this this their idea of help I definitely appreciate it. And here I thought Jedi were pacifist sissies."
"Come out, you cowards, surrender!" one of the soldiers yelled, but unfortunately for the peacekeepers, the two offworlders had no intention of stopping, as indicated by the more and more spectacular whirls of their twin weapons. Are you, are you coming to the tree? They strung up a man they say who murdered three. Strange things are happening; no stranger will it be when we'll meet at midnight under the hanging tree. "What the– AHHH!"
"That's why you've been protesting? Their search for peace?" Katniss blinked. "I think you've been sleeping when I was telling stories."
"We're not part of the Republic. The closest thing Panem has to a 'big brother superpower' are the Hutts. End of story. And I'm sorry if I had more immediate concerns than stories about some Coruscant mystical order that our school teachers usually only tell the defeats of," he groused. "I didn't think you'd put that much stock in them."
"My dad told them. Well, that's one thing Peeta knows better of me than you do," she sheepishly mumbled under her breath. I hope they can rescue him too.
A hiss, and the last peacekeeper fell with gurgled breath. "Are you, are you coming to the tree? Where I told you to come, so I could come help thee. Strange things are happening; no stranger it must be as we meet at midnight at the hanging tree." The taller of the two figures – a woman, as Katniss noted numbly – finished her song, deactivating the pair of lightsabers she wielded. "Are you alright? That should have been the last of them…"
The shorter Jedi – a young human male, barely older than them – also deactivated his weapons and cracked his neck. "It figures that they followed you. They couldn't have heard us – ship was running on thrusters and anti-gravs. And we have a stygium-based cloaking device on board, so being seen is also out."
In the light of his glowstick, Gale however gaped at their surroundings, where at least fifty Peacekeepers laid dead. "You… you slaughtered them! Is this what Jedi are? Butchers?!" he yelled, having lost his earlier admiration. For all his hate of the capitol, he couldn't fathom two people utterly destroying practically an entire platoon of, by the looks of it, elite peacekeepers.
Katniss however noted that while all the soldiers were in various forms of death, none of them had suffered long or had been desecrated – most of them had died of stab wounds to the chest or deflected blaster bolts. "It wasn't like that, Gale. After all, you were attacked first, weren't you?" She turned to the woman once more, "Master Jedi," she stated calmly, confident she did guess right.
The Jedi Master smiled ironically. "A Jedi should avoid attacking, unless it is to protect someone or something else. While my frequentation of war zones has lowered my level of hesitation out of necessity – and that of all of my padawans – I prefer to not indulge my inherent violent streak more than necessary, so yes. Defence first." She shook her head, sheathing the weapons to the small of her back. "But where are my manners. I am Sareeta Valoris, Jedi Weapon Master, and this is my padawan learner, Weapons Student and Ace Aspirant Kelrac Rand."
The young man picked up the cloak he had discarded earlier, opened the standing collar of his tabard, and gave a sloppy salute. "Yo."
"I forgot to mention that he's Corellian, and thus has about as much reverence as old boots."
Kelrac snorted, readjusting his armoured gloves. "With respect, master, you are a Verian woman who's 109 and still not bonded. And thus not to be considered any saner than a Corellian betting on the odds."
"What's wrong with that?" Gale wondered.
"Hardly my fault, and do not change the subject. For your information, Corellians usually bet against the odds… and win." Sareeta focussed briefly on the brooch on Katniss's collar. "You must be Katniss Everdeen, the mockingjay. And who is this young gentleman?"
Shaking off his shock, he answered, "Gale Hawthorne. Master Jedi… I apologize for my outburst."
The Weapon Mistress waved it off. "You hardly like the idea of us being here, and you probably know even less about Jedi, so don't worry. And no, while I certainly could, I have not been reading your thoughts, it's written on your entire body language. We should leave this place. This way."
The two teens followed the alien visitors away from the battle scene. "How do you two know about the hanging tree?"
Sareeta Valoris stopped for a second. Even with her collar closed, Katniss could sense the painful smile the Jedi Master sported. "Do you really think that song originates from Panem? I am afraid it is not so. It's actually a Verian song. This world – it was once a Verian colony before a lot of humans settled, so Panemi are actually Verian-blooded humans who remember the Dark Age of my homeworld. In the song that represents it. Beyond that, it's a kata of my preferred combat form." She shook her head, regaining her composure. "Now. I believe we've got some serious talking to do, so, I suggest we go to our ship."
"Don't you think that's a bad idea? Space ships aren't exactly common in District 12." The pair followed the two Jedi along the path they had apparently taken to meet them at the tree.
"But abandoned coal mines are. There's one not too far away that we found to have been destroyed in a Firedamp explosion. Ironically enough, it seems to have become a natural hangar thanks to it." Kelrac smirked with pride, but dropped the expression when he did not get the expected reaction of praise. "What? Master thought it was brilliant – letting the cloaking device run all the time is vastly impractical."
Katniss looked out the at the forest and saw were they were heading and froze. "No…not here."
Gale glared at the two. "Ya real brilliant. Want to use the ashes of our old district members for camouflage as well?" he practically growled.
The Jedi master suddenly whirled around, the dark eyes glittering. "Do you think your relatives would not appreciate us trying to make the best of it? I heard them, and they welcomed us, wind-boy."
"I doubt my dead father would 'welcome' having you park your spaceship on his corpse."
Kelrac tried his best not to snap at him. "I am better at flying than that, thank you. The spot was empty. That firedamp explosion killed your fathers I take it? Lady Mockingjay."
"Killed both of our fathers." Katniss muttered, "and many more."
"This is war, young one. Nonetheless. I suffer with thee," Sareeta stated gently.
"Katniss you can't believe they actually talked to our dead fathers." Gale asked exasperated. "last I checked the dead can't talk much less welcome people."
"There is no death, there is the Force," Kelrac stated calmly. "So states the Jedi code, the code of the force-wielders. Your fathers might be dead, yes, but some of their will still remains in the force signature of the mine. Some of the oldest even remember Master having been to this world before."
"My grandfather remembered," Katniss spoke up. "He told my dad who in turn told me."
"Most of these spirits were glad to sense a Jedi."
"He said there had been a Jedi warrior on Panem, just before the uprising. She took away several children to become Jedi. Why didn't you stay?" Why…
Sareeta sighed, waving them to follow her once more to the mine. "Back then, all I could do was run. And my padawan was injured. So I had the choice. Save the children I've been entrusted with, or fight a war I couldn't win."
Now even Gale couldn't protest any longer. "You chose to save the children."
"Yes. And now you also know why I volunteered to come, despite my rank. I absolutely cannot stand leaving things unfinished," she stated. "And admittedly, I really want to break that idiot's snowy nose for kicking me off."
"I want to break more than just his nose," Gale grumbled.
"How about locking him into the same room as that brat named Coin?" she asked. "Two power-hungry morons in one room, now that sounds almost like a pair of sith lords."
The younger Jedi snorted. "Bet they both want to kill each other too… one has power, the other one wants it, right?"
Katniss chuckled. "Apt description." They arrived at the broken mine. "What now?"
"For you, rope ladder," Rand stated, pointing at their feet, where the metal rope ladder had been anchored to the edge. "Just hope the ship won't get too dusty in there. Well, see you downstairs." He put on his coat.
"What he said." She also reequipped her coat, taking a few steps back. "Last one down is Qui-Gon Jinn!"
"No way!" Kelrac yelled, and, with a run, both of them jumped down. "All your base are belong to us!"
Katniss walked to the ladder and gripped it with both hands as Gale watched. "Katniss you can't be serious about going with them? They're crazy!"
"These two may be the only hope we have of taking down the capital without getting everyone killed in the process." She started down the ladder before calling out, "If you're too scared you can wait up there."
Gale grimaced before grabbing the rope. "I have a bad feeling about all this."
I'm going to do it, Katniss thought as she climbed down. With these two I will save you Peeta. So please just hold on a little bit longer. At the bottom – it had been a long climb, at least 60 metres deep – the two Jedi awaited them, kneeling on the floor. I know this one. It's meditation… "Master Jedi?"
"Terrible," the woman whispered, and her voice seemed to be amplified by the emptiness of the mine. She opened her eyes and got to her feet again. "I reviewed the situation through the Force, and now I am struggling not to race out and bash in a few heads."
Katniss tilted her head in confusion at these words as she walked up. But before she could ask what the older woman meant she stopped dead in her tracks and her jaw went slack.
"Hey Catnip you ok?" Gale called out running to catch up. "Come on what's….what… what is that thing?" his eyes went wide as both he and Katniss stared up at the Jedi's means of transport.
"Please, you're causing a draft, dears. She's nothing special," Sareeta declined in a joking voice.
"As far as I know master, you were the one who insisted on that glaring white paint job," Kelrac shot back. "Meet the Sight Unseen."
Katniss collected her thoughts, shaking off her awe. "I've never seen a spaceship in my life before, not even during the Hunger Games. And this? This is beautiful."
Indeed, the Sight Unseen was not your average Republican Diplomat Cruiser, which was the most likely transport for a Jedi, but instead, it was a delta-winged, double twin-jet V-Wing cruiser whose form was all elegance and speed. Also, it was not painted in the traditional red of the Diplomatic Corps of the Republic (which was considered an invitation to shoot by outlaws anyways), but stark white, with red, black and azure lines hinting at the traditional Jedi wing design, albeit in a way more geometric, edgy way. Altogether, its presence sung promises of fantastic journeys to the far reaches of the galaxy, and whispered stories full of heroism and glory. "Valorum Star Yards X-Type RX-112A V-Wing passenger cruiser. A bit short on weapons, but fast, manoeuvrable, and very stealthy," Kelrac smiled, "of course, that is only if Master isn't the one flying it."
"I'm sorry if I can't fly anything bigger than a speeder at more than workmanship level," she bantered back before shaking her head. "Come in. This is my home away from home. It's actually the second of its kind – I had to scrap the Star Shadow 25 years ago – but it's mine, not borrowed or anything."
"Sight Unseen?" Gale echoed. "That ship's a bit of in the face and exactly what it says on the tin, if what you said about a cloaking device is right."
"It is, and let's just say I do not have a very normal sense of humour." Sareeta led them up the back ramp, straight into an on-board conference room. Sitting down, she waved her hand, and a tray with glasses and a metal carafe of water settled down on the table. "I can make tea if you prefer."
Katniss shook her head to get rid of her surprise. "No, it's fine." She took a moment to study the Jedi Master. Standing at nearly two metres tall, she was somewhat of a contradiction: As a member of the Verian race (well, that's what her student called her), she was a near-human whose major traits were their pointed ears and their long lifespans, given she didn't look a day over 25 yet had been here 77 years ago. Given that, Katniss considered her to be quite pretty, even beautiful, but she consistently did not open the high collar of her tabard (which she suspected to be armoured, like the rest of her clothes), hiding most of her face but the dark blue eyes, which were as sharp as the cut of the fair-skinned face itself. A quick glance at the edge of said collar however hinted at the why, as a web of scars, not unlike the lightning she used earlier crawled up her left cheek, ending under her eye. I think she doesn't want to creep us out. If she was vain about them, she'd be covering them up altogether. I can't seem to remember the stats of her race though. The blue-black hair was pinned, probably for pragmatic reasons. Remembering the speed and ease with which she had moved before, Katniss speculated that she was probably rather strong in spite of her relatively slender figure, as the plates of armour flashing out of her robes were rather heavy-looking. Suddenly sensing that she was caught staring, she took one of the glasses. "Thank you."
Gale however had focused his attention on the padawan, who was about his age. Taller than himself, he was nonetheless built rather compactly, the form betraying the nimble strength of earlier, and the height betraying better nutrition than a Panemi from District 12 had access to. His hair was, like Katniss's and Gale's own, dark brown, as were the young Corellian's eyes. There was something hell-defying in them, an invincible fearlessness the rebel couldn't fathom, paired with something like wisdom. How can he have such eyes if he spends his time fighting other people's wars? It just doesn't make sense… "So you two aren't exactly the usual diplomat Jedi I take it." He gestured at the young Jedi's robes. "That's medium armour, even I can see that."
"Depends on what you call diplomacy. Our job are what one calls aggressive negotiations." Kelrac snorted, dropping his cloak on another chair before sitting down. "Master has said it earlier – we're warriors."
"We go where words have long since lost power," Valoris nodded. "Unless it is to negotiate the conditions of capitulation. Which brings me to your predicament. According to our meditations, your world is suffering from a tyrant that keeps a grip on it by dangling a bit of hope in front of you – the victory of the Hunger Games – and you want to end it. With force if necessary. But I sense that there's a personal motive for you in it, Everdeen."
"Katniss is fine, Master Valoris." She replied as her hand slipped into her pocket and touched the pearl it held. "And I just want to end all this fighting so my family can be safe." there was a slight hitch in her voice that even Gale noticed. But he bit his tongue not wanting to voice what he knew she was holding back.
"That's not all, young one. Your feelings, confused as they are, betray you. Who is it that the capital took from you?" Sareeta considered the situation.
"It doesnt matter who they took." Katniss said looking away.
"On the contrary, it is everything," Kelrac replied, lifting an eyebrow. "As long as that man is in their hands, you won't be able to focus in any form."
"It hasn't affected my aim yet," she objected, "and I don't even know if he can be saved anymore."
"While there is life, there is hope. The man who said that wasn't even a Jedi, but he was all too right. Besides. You fear something about this. We are here to help, but we are hardly able to if you keep it all to yourself, Katniss," the older woman stated. "Please."
Gale's fist clenched. "His name is Peeta and he's her fiancé."
"Last Name?" Sareeta asked, the eyes closed in concentration.
"What are you doing?"
"Trying to find him in the Force. The more I know about it, the easier it gets. I am a Cassandra – that makes me the user of an inherent Force ability that allows me to read the flow of time. Past, present, future… give me the questions, and I will find your answers, as long as I don't overdo it, otherwise I could get lost in time." Her eyes snapped open. "Or, in this case, find your Peeta. The Force whirls around certain names on this world. Some of them I know – Snow, Coin, and now you and Hawthorne… but."
It came over Katniss like an ice-cold shower. "Peeta is also someone critical in this." She clenched her fists until her knuckles turned white. "How bad will it be if we don't rescue him now?"
"How long has it been since you last saw him?" Valoris countered.
"A week. Two days after District 13 rescued me I sent the message to your Order. I haven't heard anything of him since then," she admitted. "His full name is Peeta Mellark. He's a baker from our District."
"That should do it for master," Kelrac answered as said master sunk into the Force and Time. "And to answer your question, well. He is your fiancé – they can and will use him against you. As long as he's with your enemies, he'll be not just in danger, but also a liability. Be it as hostage or by mind control, it matters little."
"I know that!" she gnashed out, her anger seeping into her voice. "And he is there because of me. This whole thing is because of me and I don't know how to stop it."
"Did you start the war? Did you tell him to fight? Did you tell him to love you?" Sareeta suddenly stated, awake.
"I could have stopped all this if I just ate the stupid berries in the first games," she growled. "Then they would have saved Peeta, there would be no war, and everyone in district 12 could have lived."
"In other words, you blame yourself for other people's feelings and things way beyond your control, and now you wish you were dead?" The Jedi Master shook her dark head, pulling out a few clips from her hair to let it loose. "And that while he is fighting so hard in his cell to stay alive. For you. You're all that keeps him sane so far. I am not sure what they are doing to him, but it isn't pleasant to say the least. And he is no Jedi or soldier – he is not trained to take such punishment. If we don't help him now, he'll be the focus of a lot of minor and major catastrophes that will not just break him but all of you." For the first time today, she actually opened her tabard, revealing the marred face. "I know loss. I have seen horrors and madness I hope you will never see in your lives. But if you cannot see the importance of this, be it for yourself or for the sake of our war strategy, I am not sure if I would be able to help you at all." Great. Cassandra's Curse all over.
"Everyone keeps telling me I'm some kind of symbol of hope," Katniss yelled, "I just didn't want them to take my sister." When suddenly both Jedi chuckled, she exploded. "What's so funny?"
"You and us are more alike than you might think," Sareeta smiled crookedly, "always fighting so others do not have to. But it's not that what makes you so idolised. You defy any control they can impose, just by being you. A mockingjay indeed. The life Kelrac and I chose? It is what you are."
"I just want them to be safe," Katniss whispered, the eyes now openly pleading. "If any stories my father told about Jedi are true… Please help me save them."
The Jedi shot each other a look.
What do you think, Padawan?
A padawan's place is at its master's side. And you wanted to break Snow's nose as well as Coin's jaw.
We need intelligence though. And maybe people could turn this mine into a real secret hangar so we could call in reinforcements if necessary… Sareeta drew both lightsabers and placed them on the table, a gesture copied by Kelrac. "Consider it done, Katniss Everdeen."