Saché found herself observing the ground as she followed Losté, teaching herself to differentiate human footprints from those produced by battle droids on harder ground. The footprints became easier to tell apart as they became more and more pronounced over time; the handmaidens had gotten very close to the swamp indeed.
They found the remains of the speeder scattered about the newly-formed clearing. Stepping lightly over the unidentifiable pieces of metal, Losté waved Saché back as she hovered over the contraption, trying to examine it without touching it. After a couple of minutes, she carefully reached down and ran her hand along the edge of the surface. Saché saw her smile as she hooked her fingers into something and a compartment sprang open.
"Untouched," she observed. "Did they want us alive, I wonder?"
"If they took us alive, they'd regret it," Saché answered.
"I think they'd change their minds. Hmmmm, powder explosives. I can see Yané turning up her nose now."
"Why?" Saché asked, drawing closer.
Losté looked up at her, but did not wave her back. "Powder weapons are generally thought to be a little...primitive, for lack of a better word. I know Yané's father won't even deal in them. They are genuinely messier, but then again, I don't think we'll be around when we detonate them. At least I genuinely hope we won't, Saché. I really wouldn't advise it. Yané would back me up here, and she would be right to."
"Hit and run, then," replied Saché. "I just hope they're sufficient for the droid facility in the museum. Anything else in this wreckage?"
Cautious again, Losté rose and examined the melted front of the speeder. "No," she then said.
Saché's hood had already been tearing; she now took a loose piece of metal and cut it away completely. As she watched her, Losté said, "There's one more thing you should know about these grenades, Saché."
Losté was placing her hand back into the compartment. Then Saché saw her muscle visibly flex and strain even through her sleeve, and she grunted out, "They...are...very...heavy."
"Oh. Here, let me help." Saché knelt down next to her.
"Careful. These...things....need to be-*umph*!" She lifted one of them out and hastily whirled around to put onto the loose piece of cloth Saché had laid down. But even after she did this, she carefully adjusted tiny levers on the smooth grenade, observing as she did, "Tricky safeties. On purpose. We can use these, Saché, but it's not going to be easy."
Saché was now reaching into the compartment. She had taken note of where Losté had put her hands and imitated her grip. As she lifted it up, she felt her arm start to strain, and by the time she had the grenade clear of the speeder she was turning around to place it down as hastily as Losté had. "We can't carry all of these at once," she observed out loud. "One more, I think, but after that we take them back, then return with some of the others. How many of them do you think we need for the facility? Though perhaps if we could hide the others somewhere for later use..."
"I'll have to ask Coté about the facility, but at a guess, we'd need at least five. But you're right; the two of us can only carry four at once, and Briné'll probably insist on massaging our arms with bacta afterwards." She seized a third grenade and heaved it down onto the cloth. Saché did the same for a fourth; her arm felt like snapped elastic afterwards. She left Losté to manage the safeties on all four, since she obviously understood them.
They folded the cloth over the grenades and gripped the edges with their hands. "Carefully...on the count of three...one, two, three, li-ergh!"
Pulled by their combined strength, their makeshift bag shifted, then reluctantly rose. When it was high enough that Saché and Losté could walk more or less normally, they started trudging.
Already Saché had thought it a long walk. Now, she was ashamed to admit, she lost track of where they were going all together, aware only of following their footprints blindly while her arm ached and burned, and she struggled not to make a sound, because there might be battle droids anywhere. With that came the terrifying thought that if they were found, they wouldn't be able to defend themselves.
She lost track of time too, but was suddenly aware of it being late in the afternoon when the level of trees began to thin. She forced herself back to awareness and whispered, "Come on, Losté, we're almost there."
Then at last they came in sight of the others, and the pain fled Saché's arm completely when, on looking them over, she saw, sitting by Briné, a very bandaged but alive Ardré.
She heard Losté exclaim her name delightedly; she too had seen her. Together they tumbled forward, their burden swaying and the grenades nearly falling out. Coté, Lané, and Ené all hurried over to take it from them. Aside from the bandage covering much of her jawline, Ené looked good as new.
Rubbing her arms with relief, Saché and Losté both race over to Ardré, and the latter tried to hug her, but drew back as the injured handmaiden winced. "What happened?" she asked before Saché could.
Ardré addressed her answer to Saché. "I drew the droids into one of the buildings and was able to pick most of them off. It took me a bit of time after that to get out of Theed, but on the way out I was able to steal a diagram. Yané's got it right now. Also some water; we saved some for you."
Yané was awake, and carefully reclined on her uninjured side, with a bacta pack strapped to her hip. She had a datapad in front of her which she now looked up from as Saché approached her. "It's all here," she said. "Ené and I have been trying to decide where best to plant the explosives. We'll need at least five, and I'd much rather do it with six."
"We have four grenades here, and there are more back where we got them from, but, as you can see," she glanced back at where Lané and Ené had lugged the bundle over and were carefully placing it down under Losté supervision, "we weren't able to carry them all at once."
"Sounds like heavy frag grenades," Yané commented. "Let me have a look at them. If they're what I think they are, we're going to need six."
Coté brought one over for her to examine. Yané peered at them, muttering to herself, "Double-split, heavy mass-oh swamp take it, powder?" The disgust on her face was clear. "Well, we could probably do the job with five of them after all, but this is going to be a very messy business."
Meanwhile Briné was applying a thin streak of bacta to Saché's arm. The relief it brought could not be expressed in words. "The condition you're all in," she said, "it should probably wait until tomorrow morning."
"Will Yané and Ardré be recovered then?" Saché asked her.
"Very well, then. As soon as we can easily see where we're going. We just have to get the other grenades."
"I would suggest," Briné replied, "that you and Losté not go again. And send enough of us to carry one grenade each."
"That can easily be done," Losté noted, "there were only four more in the speeder."
Lané has also come up to them, with two metal water bottles. "Here," she said. "We've all had our shares."
It was a couple of mouthfuls for both of them. It went down better than Saché had ever thought water would.
All the others had dropped off by the time twilight had passed, leaving Ardré to pass restlessly amoung them, unable to stay still unless her body quite literally forced her to. Coté, on the other hand, sat pressed up against a tree and watched her pace.
"Why do you need to watch me?" Ardré finally snapped at her. "Shouldn't you be keeping a lookout?"
She was surprised by how hard Coté flinched, and hastily started, "I'm sorry..."
"Don't be. I should know better than to behave this way."
Ardré decided she didn't like to hear Coté putting herself down like this. "Your behavior is not entirely in your control; that much is clear. Not just in relation to your abilities either, but overall."
"So you noticed." Her voice was very harsh, an automatic defense mechanism.
"What is it?" Ardré had, during her days as an Initiate, tutored a younger girl, one more successful than her, and she now tried to adopt the same gentle tone of voice she had used while talking to her. "What happened to you?"
"Well," Coté started, "it's just that today..." she drifted off. Even this sounded hard for her to put into words, and it hadn't even been what Ardré was asking about.
"This isn't just something that happened today. You said yourself you have some idea of why you are the way you are, but why are you refusing help?"
"Maybe I don't need it."
"So you would rather lack control over your own behavior?"
"I...." But before Coté could come up with another protest, they heard a sigh from where Moré slept, and they both turned to see her open her eyes. "Morning?" she asked softly.
"If it was morning there'd be a problem. I'm supposed to wake you up in two hours."
"Oh, great." She curled back up and closed her eyes, then shook her head and pulled herself up. It was clear she did not expect to get able to get back to sleep in time.
"What woke you?" asked Coté.
"Nothing in particular, I think. I just have trouble sleeping sometimes." She gazed around the clearing and they saw how her eyes lingered on Briné. "Especially lately, since the blockade began."
"All of us have, I think," replied Ardré. "Though I wonder...a couple of weeks ago, I woke up and heard some footsteps outside, and I remember seeing your bed was empty." She, Moré, Losté, and Ené all shared sleeping quarters within the palace.
"Oh!" Moré blushed. "That actually might not have been me. That might have been Briné."
"Yes, she...I'm not sure if I should be telling you this."
"Then maybe you shouldn't," said Ardré.
But Coté seemed to spend a moment looking at Moré, or maybe through her, before saying, "Are you just embarrassed?"
"No, it's not just that," she said, though she was blushing again. "Briné was meeting with Captain Panaka over something-and don't ask me what because I don't know-and she didn't...she didn't..."
"Want us knowing," Coté finished for her. "Are you feeling as guilty as you are because you didn't tell us, or because you're telling us now?"
Moré started violently at the question, and Ardré suggested, "Coté, from now on, if you're going to mention our feelings, why not tell us that you've sensed them first? Just so we're a little bit more prepared?"
Moré had recovered, and she now answered, "Both, I think. But my point is that she was afraid you would wake up, Coté-she told me you often did, in the middle of the night-so she asked me to sleep in her bed so it would look like she was still in it." She was blushing more than ever.
"If I'd woken up," Coté noted, "you wouldn't have fooled me. I *probably* would have sensed that it was you and not Briné."
"How could she have known that? You hadn't even admitted to us that you were anything out of the ordinary at that point in time, had you?"
This sounded, to Ardré, like a perfectly good thing to point out, but it somehow offended Coté, and she said, "Most of us hadn't said much about ourselves. I know you hadn't!"
She got so loud on the last part that both of the other two made shushing noises. She grimaced at them, her fists clenched, and for a moment Ardré was frightened she would completely forget the situation and shout, or worse. But just then Briné awoke and leapt to her feet, glancing around. She did so silently enough so as not to wake anyone else, but all three of the handmaidens already awake turned their attention to her. She saw them, saw the others asleep, then shook her head angrily.
"Is it time for her shift yet?" she asked. When all three shook their heads, she continued, "Then why is she awake? Come, Moré." She slung and arm around Moré and encouraged her to lie back down. Moré made no protest; she was limp and weak-eyed. Suddenly Ardré was angry.
"Briné," she asked quietly when Moré had closed her eyes and was now going to try to sleep, even if she wasn't sure she could. "Could you come with me for a moment? You'll keep watch, won't you, Coté? We won't be long."
Coté nodded, and Ardré suspected she could sense the anger and even figure out the cause of it. Let her, she thought; she could deal with it.
"I've done all I can for you," Briné started, when they were far enough away from the others to whisper without being heard.
"It's not that," said Ardré. "It's Moré. Oh, it's strange that I'm the one telling you this..."
"What?" Briné looked very anxious at the mention of her young assistant. "Is there anything the matter with her? Something she just told you and Coté?"
"It's nothing she told us, but quite frankly, it's something you should have noticed for yourself. Haven't you seen how she looks at you?"
"Well, yes, her hero worship of me is a little enthusiastic, but I'm sure it won't be as strong as it is right now in a little while."
"You think it's just hero-worship? Briné, you know-"
But Ardré never finished her sentence, because at that moment there was a buzzing sound and both girls turned towards it with their blasters drawn.
Nothing appeared, and the buzzing sound grew no louder. They looked at each other. Briné said, "We need to wake Saché."
When they got back to the clearing, Moré was sitting up, and the buzzing had woken Saché already, as well as Losté and Ené.
"What's that?" Saché asked softly. "Did you see anything?"
"Didn't see anything," answered Briné. She glanced over at Yané, whom she had sedated at the beginning of the evening. "I don't know if she'd be able to identify it. It sounded pretty generic."
"Don't assume she can't. Wake her up."
Briné didn't look happy at all as she prepared her hypospray with something and injected Yané. She then clamped her hand over the other girl's mouth. The explanation for why came when Yané groaned herself awake, shuddering. When she'd gone still again Briné removed her hand.
It took another moment for comprehension to set in, then she was pulling herself to her feet. "Searcher droids," she said.
"Those are what those are?" Saché asked. "What can you tell us about them?"
"They're very bad, especially in the dark. Have they been any closer than this?"
Ardré and Briné listened for a moment, then Ardré said, "No. They haven't."
"Good. But the problem with those droids is they're designed for quick image gathering and transmission. Once you've seen them it's too late; they've sent an image of you and a note of your location back to their owners. We need to keep lights on and our eyes and ears peeled, and if we think one of them even might have spotted us, we should shoot it down if we can, and we won't be able to stay here."
After that noone could get back to sleep. Those who were still asleep slept on, but the others all ended up sitting with their blasters in their hands. Even after the buzzing sound could no longer be heard, having, according to Yané, never gotten close enough to be of any danger, they maintained their anxious wait.
Until Lané woke up unexpectedly and looked around at them. "What's going on?" she asked, very softly indeed, and her voice wasn't that loud even at normal volume.
"Our turn to watch," Saché decided out loud. "Everyone else try to get to some sleep. That's an order."
Yané saw that, and asked, "Will I be able to fight?"
"Not very well," answered Briné, "though the kind of fighting we do against battle droids might not be that hard physically. You'd have to hope we don't run into anything that can move faster..."
"That'll have to do, I think," said Saché. They needed Yané on this one.
She'd kind of hoped that whatever these abilities Ardré had were, they included something to make her heal faster, especially since she'd heard about Jedi having something like that. But it seemed not; Briné's reaction to her was the same as her reaction to Yané. "You really did get battered up yesterday," she commented.
"I don't feel any pain right now," Ardré told her.
"You'll feel it again before the day is out, probably," was Briné's response. To Saché she said, "She too can fight, technically. But I don't think it helps matters that none of us have had anything to eat for nearly eighteen hours. I would in fact advise against them charging any droid facilities today, but..." As she drifted off, both Yané and Ardré's faces finished the statement for her.
"We're waking the others up now," said Saché. "Yané, do you think there's anything you could shoot down?"
"Give me one of the proper pistols and I can try."
It was yet another thing Saché hadn't thought of, maybe nobody had thought of. It was the second day of their little war and she was not at all happy with how she was doing as leader. She still had no idea what they were going to do for drinking water; they'd been lucky to get some the previous day. It was also nagging at her that the previous night, Briné and Ardré had gone off by themselves, and they probably shouldn't have, because they'd put themselves in more danger. She didn't know why'd they been so stupid as to do such a thing, but since they had, it now fell to her to somehow stop them from doing so again.
When everyone was awake, Yané shot down four decently-sized birds. Then Ené stopped her, saying, "After those blasts, you're not going to be able to get any more for the next few hours."
Briné butchered the birds with Losté's aid. The others all tried to distract themselves, examining their weapons or scanning the surrounding woods. Together the two of them divided the meat as best they could into ten equal parts. Yané managed to somehow cook them with a blaster on the lowest setting and they all ate. There seemed to be no taste, which to Saché was a relief.
"We'll take all the grenades to the waterfall," Saché declared, "and hide the ones we aren't using in the secret passage."
Everyone picked up a single grenade except for Yané and Ardré. After helping to carry four of them the previous day, Saché found one to be surprisingly little trouble.
The trip to the waterfall was, thankfully, uneventful. When they slid open the entrance to the secret passage, Saché surveyed its width, then said, "Lay three of them along the far side of the passage, right next to the entrance. When we exit, one of us will open the door from the other end first, so we make sure not to step on them."
Armed only with five grenades now, but still weighed down a little, they crept through the passageway with Saché in the lead, Yané and Losté right behind. Saché could hear them talking quietly to each other. About halfway through the passage Yané joined her in the front and whispered, "We're going to have to set all five as close together possible, but even so, if we can blend them in, we should put at least twenty minutes on the timers."
"Gotcha," Saché replied. "Does anyone besides you and Losté know how to set them?"
"I don't know, but that isn't that hard to do."
Noone spoke after that until they were once again in the museum basement. The clanging from the previous day had stopped. Saché repeated what Yané had told her and asked, "Does anyone else here already know how to set these grenades?"
"I do," said Ené, and Coté said, "I do too."
"It really isn't that hard," said Yané. "The real trick is dislodging the safety, and one of the four of us could do that to the fifth without setting it. Once that's done, all you do is enter the time in-that button for increments in 10 seconds," she pointed to a tiny button on the grenade, "though why anyone would so foolish to give themselves only ten seconds I don't know, and that screen lights up and shows you the countdown," she pointed to a tiny indentation Saché hadn't even realized was a screen, then at more buttons, "that one adds 30 seconds, that one a minute, that one 5 minutes, and that one ten minutes. When it's set you pull the switch," she pointed. "To stop the countdown you pull it back. I'll dislodge the safety on this one."
"I think it would be a better idea to do that in facility itself," noted Coté.
"You're right," said Saché. "At the facility we'll split into pairs. One person sets the grenade, the other person guards."
By the time they'd reached the top of the stairs, where the two droids had at last been cleared, they'd managed to pair off. Yané pulled out the diagram of the droid facility. "The facility is divided into three sections, along the three big sections of the museum, and they meet in the middle here. That will be the location for one of the grenades, inside the opening section-that one needs to be very precise; I'll place it. Another one will be set in here," she gestured to one of the sections. "This one's the longest to get to. We have to go around through both the other two. We put the grenade dead in the middle, under the structure in the diagram. But this section, the second one, is where most of the machinery was installed, and we'll have two grenades in there. The first will be put within the structure of this contraption," she pointed to a very strange shape indeed, "Losté will do that one. The other one will be place on the other side of the section, over here, by this." Where she pointed wasn't quite the other side, but it was easy to locate. "And the last grenade, which I think should be the one I take the safeties off of first, will be put very near the entrance of the first section, by the main computer."
"I'l do that one," said Saché.
Things grew tenser with each step down the corridor. Saché wished she didn't need both hands to hold the grenade; if battle droids suddenly burst into the corridor they'd be helpless. When they reached the end, Yané said, "I'll go in first. There weren't any notes in the diagram about guards; I think they're just at the museum's entrance. But we should be sure."
Saché nodded, and Yané moved through the door and out of sight. There was a minutes or so of silence, then the sound of a blaster firing. Another minute and Yané returned. "There was a droid guarding the motor," she explained.
Inside the museum was barely recognizable. The walls and floors were still there, but the tables and shelves were gone, and in their place-how had they put it all in so quick? So much machinery, battle droids assembled and hanging limp, and even as Yané took the grenade from Saché and began working on the safety the terrific clanging from yesterday started up again, casung several of the handmaidens to jump. "Don't worry about that," Yané told them. "It's supposed to do that every few hours." She handed the grenade back to Saché. "I would suggest that Coté set the second grenade in the second section, and Ené the one in the last section."
"Set the time to twenty minutes," Saché added, "And when you're done, call out. Flip the switch when you hear me yell."
Coté, Ardré, Ené, Vatié, Losté, and Moré all moved off as Yané and Briné went to the far side of the room, where the wall was covered with ugly twisted wire. Lané guarding her, Saché set the grenade down in the shadow of the main computer and pressed the ten minute button twice. The screen Yané had pointed out earlier lit up, and the display indicated the twenty minutes entered. "Done," she called.
Yané hadn't even placed hers yet; she was staring at those wires. "What are you doing?" Saché snapped at her.
"These grenades are so lousy," Yané answered, "that I really don't want to be off."
"Off of what?" She tried to conceal her impatience, without much success.
"The power cell! It's embedded in this wall, but the wall's been reinforced, and if I don't get the center of the grenade in front of it it might survive. So the wires go in here, and here," her fingers lingered over two spots on the wall.
After another few moments she put the grenade down very carefully and precisely, and set to work on the safety. "Don't roll," Saché could hear her whisper. "Don't roll, don't roll, don't roll..." She was still working on it when they heard first Coté then Ené call out, "Done!" and Losté called half a minute later.
Saché was in the process of walking across the room and to stare over Yané's shoulder when Yané finally pressed in the time, grinned at Saché over her shoulder, and called, "Done!"
Saché returned to her grenade and placed her hand on the switch. "Everyone!" She yelled. "On the count of three...one....two....three!" She pulled her switch back. There was a click, and then a beep, and the screen started counting down. She couldn't help but think of the creepiness of it.
Then, from the door, she heard Lané's quiet, "Uh oh."