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"There are times when the truth is the hardest pill to swallow, but there are also times when the truth shouldn't be spoken. I never was any good at determining such a time, and even to this day, regret that I spoke it to Master Armiena no matter the outcome that followed. For in my honesty, I broke her heart." - Genesis Stormhelm

 

My heart lept as I had realized my mistake too late, the gaze that Armiena had given one speaking volumes upon which my honesty had weighed. "Master, I'm..." I went to speak, but those two words were all I managed to verbally confess before she departed the tent, leaving me to own disheartened thoughts. The tension left in her wake was thick and its weight heavy upon my shoulders, and from that moment on, I wondered if I should have said anything at all. Placing the mug before me, I uttered the words that I truly wanted to say. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to hurt you."

 

I sat in silence for many moments, my right simply staring at the mug before me, my mind clouded with the etched look of Master Armiena still as fresh as it was before her departure. I couldn't even attempt to do as she had asked, lost in my own loathing for hitting her so. Many questions crossed my mind during this time, mainly asking myself if I should have said anything at all, or should I have I worded it differently. But then I thought back to the day I lost my parents, and what I would have felt had someone said the same to me. Now I would have welcomed it, a chance to grieve their passing in earnest. But then, as a child, it would have destroyed me. It took me years to come to terms that they were no longer there, let alone grieve. And in truth, I still had not completely grieved over their passing, only a few tears here and there as I remembered the before.

 

Now I understood where the fault laid in my words. Though sincere and caring, came off as harsh and careless, much like one telling another to buck up and get it over with like time held little meaning. And this brought tears to my own eye having made this realization, especially considering what we had been through together just these past few days. Though I had meant well, meant to give her time and space so she could, I managed to come across heartless as of the person she grieved meant nothing. And I had yet to even know who not the story behind them. Truly, my youth had gotten the better of me.

 

Wiping the tears strolling down my face, I gazed upon the mug once more. With her gone, I could not apologize. Nor would my apology gain anything in the moment as it was still a fresh wound considering what I had said. So instead, I would wait for her return, give her time to find a semblance of forgiveness in my brashness, and then ask for it. For now I would hold up my end of the bargain and focus on my training. Or try to at least. Sighing, I began.

 

Closing my eyes, I began my breathing techniques, focus myself and centering myself as I touched upon the Force that flowed around me. Like aboard the ship, I listened outward, feeling those around me and feeling the energy that flow through them. Though there was much depression, anger, sorrow, and disgust, I also found hope, joy, happiness, and selflessness flowing amidst the darkness. It was the unlikeliest feeling, noticing those damaged by all that was lost still holding true to a brighter future, if not for themselves, for others they cherished or knew. But then I turned that focus inward.

 

I searched for the mug through the Force, trying to attain its presence, remembering Armiena's words as I did. The first few tries came up unsuccessful, the presence of objects a hard presence to capture. But then I began to feel it's cold temperature, noticing its texture and dimensions as if I was seeing it through my left eye. Only I wasn't gazing upon it with my heritage, but with my mind alone. And to be honest, it was the strangest of feelings. Though the Force flowed through it, it held no feelings of it's own, nor did it give off any sense of sentience. It was bland, lifeless, almost as if it simply existed for no purpose. And in the back of my mind, I wondered why the Force even flowed through it at all, a question i intended on ask Armiena when she returned.

 

"Master..." I spoke to myself, remember the look upon her face and losing my focus. I brought my knees into my chest as I sat there, haunted still by my mistake. Gazing out toward the lowering sun, sweat beading down my face, I wondered where she was and what she was doing. It was then that I caught a glimpse of a group of children playing, their laughter echoing about as they kicked a mug much like the one before me, careless as to what transpired upon their world with an innocent determination to find joy in their lives and keep moving forward in their own lives despite the bad that befell them and their families. And I smiled, remembering my own at that age despite being alone and missing my parents. It was growing up that caused me to lose that, to find struggle in my will to survive and forget the simple pleasures that life brought on it's own.

 

Turning back toward the cup, I focused once more. Now that I knew it's presence, it didnt take long to find it once again. The laughter still echoing outside, it filled me with the joy I once knew in playing with the kids near my home, remembering the joy mixed with the pain, and it calmed my mind. And upon opening my eyes, I saw it floating before me, a simple shift of my sight tugging at its form and moving it about. A thought crossed my mind and I chuckled as the floating mug exited the tent and hovered before the children who were struck in awe at it. One followed the path back toward the tent it had exited and peeked her head in, her eyes sparkling with amazement at what I had done, my own cheerful grin reflecting her own.

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"Good," I encouraged him. "You'll have time to keep practicing on your own, and now that you've got the basics down, you'll find many new applications as you live your life as a Jedi." I handed him one of the bamboo sticks as I spoke. "Now, perhaps you've already had some training in using a blade as a weapon in combat, but a lightsaber is different. There is no weight beyond that of the hilt, which takes some getting used to, and of course, it's as much a defensive weapon as an offensive one."

 

I took a stance in the middle of the room, my weight balanced evenly between my two feet, my bamboo stick raised perpendicular to the floor at an easy guard. "Obviously, these sticks have weight to them, but they're a good starting point to work on your form." I went on to explain about the six zones of defense, and the three rings of awareness. Following that, I showed him the first few postures of Form I. "There are seven forms in all," I continued. "I'll send you an attachment to some data files so you can look them over, and once you've mastered these basics in Form I, I'll teach you everything I can about whatever form you wish to learn about. Most Jedi end up focusing on one form that they become masters of; I myself prefer Form VI. The Order currently has masters of almost every form; if I can't take you deep enough into your desire to learn a particular form, then we can surely find another Jedi to teach you more."

 

From there, I went on to explain about the precognition the Force granted us, and how it was useful in combat. Once I had exhausted both my knowledge on the subject and my student, I made Mjan work through more of the basic formwork. Several hours passed until we were both pretty wiped, and I was satisfied that he had begun to really grasp Form I.

 

Once the lesson had finished, I collected the bamboo sticks. "Next time, we'll use training sabers," I smiled, wiping sweat from my brow. "Good work today, padawan. The rest of the day is yours to spend as you see fit."

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Mjan took the bamboo stick in hand, noticing its weight centered more toward the hilt to try and mimic that of a lightsaber. But in truth, he had never really held a blade in his life, as the Sorcerer's of Tund were pacifists, and the only training he had ever received to defend himself was a sole wooden stick. Now that was something he was proficient at. The only reason he knew how the stick he held mimicked a lightsaber was that once, as a child, a passing Tsis that had ventured among their group had once let him hold it. Mjan remembered the lingering cold that emanate from it, its touch churning his stomach, and that his Father had immediately grasped it from his hands and returned it to his owner. For a moment as Mjan grew to gain a feel for the bamboo stick, swinging it back and forth, he pondered if the Tsis knew of its effects upon him so long ago, a test of his sensitivity, but quickly shook it from his mind as his Master took her stance.

 

Mjan took point across from her, placing his weight balanced upon both feet just as she did, though it was obvious that he favored more weight toward his front foot that his back. Still, he tried his best to mimicking her positioning as best he could. As she went on explaining the six zones of defense or body target zones as they were called, Mjan remembered reading of them back on Felucia. But the three rings of awareness was something that Mjan was not familiar with. Still he listened attentively. Taking each posture she showed, Mjan, taking her knowledge and applying it to memory. Nodding as she spoke, he continued, focusing solely on retaining muscle memory rather than visual as he had always been one to learn by doing rather than seeing, something he felt they both shared.

 

As the hours passed, Mjan did as instructed, repeating the formwork until he felt that he could do them in his sleep. His muscles ached, evident by the shaking of his legs with each movement of his feet as he parried and lunged. Feeling as his legs would surely give out, Mjan stood and found a nearby seat, massaging his calves and thighs as Aira began to collect the bamboo sticks and place them aside. His thoughts ran amuck through-out her teachings of the day, and a few questions did wonder across his mind as he relaxed his form upon the bench. "Thank you Master." He jested despite the ache of his legs and arms. "In all honesty, I could probably spend the rest of the day simply sitting here." Mjan chuckled. "But that wouldn't be very productive."

 

"Tell me Master. I read that lightsabers are extensions of our thoughts, fueled by our desire to wield them, and in turn, are drawn to others when activated. Is there any truth to this?" Mjan poised with sincere curiosity, remembering back to his studies on the subject at Felucia with what little access he had been granted at the time, supposedly a quote from a Jedi during the early days of the Empire, a survivor of Order Sixty-Six. "And if so, is there one solely based on defense of the Jedi and those he or she chooses to protect?"

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The two veteran operatives sat down heavily on the grass. Clinking the ceramic mugs together, Draygo took a sip of the warm beverage and scowled.

 

“The Sith is this?” She peered into the mug with accusing eyes.

 

“Caf. So the Senth-Forn claims.”

 

Draygo considered the mug and pressed it between her palms. It seemed a constant in her galaxy that every freely offered caffeinated beverage was either burned, bitter, cold, or all three of those descriptors at the same time. Granted, this was synth-caf, engineered to be cheaply produced by the tonne to keep an army of medicians on their feet, not to be particularly flavorful or even palatable. Flakes of undissolved creamer swirled limply in the coffee-like liquid and occasionally bobbed just beneath the surface.

 

“I know that this has been a raw week.” Her friend gave another sip. “Talk to me.”

 

It took nearly an hour for Armiena to say another word. Hamis didn’t pry any further; the Corellian didn’t even probe her presence with the Force, his thoughts and senses focusing elsewhere in the refugee camp. Once or twice in this hour the heavily-built man gave a full-body twitch, as though an invisible stranger had poked him in a pressure point. Draygo just continued drinking her not-quite-caf and continued to plot. Alluyen might be able to summon a conclave and rally the Jedi Order, she mused, but there was too much work to get done on the ground to simply wait for the Order rouse from its sedation and mobilize for war. A few hundred Jedi and their support staff would never be able to mount an effective resistance against the Sith. However, if the outrage at the scouring of Coruscant could be turned to a more productive purpose…

 

Her next sip came up dry. She sighed. It was time to return to her own skin.

 

“Aryian is dead. Don’t know how, don’t know where he was. I’ll find the filth that killed him… has to wait, though.” Her voice began to take on a hysterical pitch. “Mother should have gotten here hours before me--something happened and I don’t know where she is. And Aidan--Kuat got hit and I haven’t heard anything--I don’t even know if I would feel it if something had happened.

 

Draygo forced herself to take a deep breath. “Everything has changed since I got stuck in that prison. Most of my friends are missing or gone. I went to Kashyyyk believing that I had won--that whatever Faust did, the galaxy finally had a stable government and Aidan wouldn’t have to go through what I have. Now I’m looking at all of… this.” She indicated the overgrown tent city. “And I have to ask myself ‘what was it all for?’”

 

There was a trickle of liquid spilling beside her as Hamis poured the remnants of his caffeinated caricature on the ground.

 

“I think I can help.

 

“I have some friends in Imperial space. I can ask them to make inquiries, find out whether he made it through. They won’t be able to get eyes on your kid, but… well, better than wondering. And Misal is alive, I can tell you that much.”

 

The certainty in the spy’s voice made her gaze rise from its study of the powdery sludge that persisted in her cup. The middle-aged Corellian’s forehead shone like glass in the sultry tropical heat.

 

“We have a protocol for when we’re in the field and need to go comms-silent for a while. We periodically send out a… ping over our bonds--it feels a lot like a persistent hiccup, actually. It just reassures us that we’re all still alive. Space-mom’s been reporting in on a regular basis, ‘bout every thirty minutes.”

 

“You can tell that over interstellar distances?”

 

“We place a much higher priority on developing Force bonds than you Jedi. I mean, it’s nothing clear--it’s a bit like a hiccup that won’t go away. But all I know is that she’s alive, she’s coherent, and she’s working. Now, Borleias.”

 

The spy launched into a summation of the strategic situation around Borleias. Senator Modell of Zeltros had managed to escape Coruscant before its moon fell and she was somewhere in orbit around the planet, where the Zeltron could monitor the situation without exposing her psyche to the turbulence of millions of desperate refugees. In the more immediate term, a small number of the refugees from Coruscant were combat veterans of the civil war, forced into civilian life by the reductions in the Galactic Alliance’s military. With Coruscant overrun by the Mandalorians, there might be very little time to act if their fleet followed through on their conquests.

 

“Something that your mother likes to tell new squaddies: Our mission began long before you were born and you will die before it’s complete. Forget about the future, forget about everything that might happen and all the possibilities that might arise. Forget about hope. Forget about despair. None of these will help. Solve one problem at a time and move onto the next one until you run out of problems… or you run out of time.”

 

“That’s a bit grim.”

 

“Your mother has been operating for a very long time. Get to work, Draygo.”

 

____

 

The veteran Jedi eventually made her way back to the tent that she and her Padawan had occupied. There was no need for her to confirm the success of her pupil; Armiena could sense the flare of triumph that came from the tent… as well as the starburst of awe that followed shortly thereafter. Turning down the tidy lane of tents, her eyes caught a glimpse of a miniature witness who was peering into the tent flap to investigate the flight path of an levitating caf mug.

 

The child’s nose turned upwards as Draygo approached and she sniffed. She turned to see the veteran Jedi, but her eyes were initially focused on the two lightsabers at her belt. One of them was the source of the acrid scent of smoke, its internals having been reduced to slag by her lightning rod stunt on Coruscant. Her brown eyes next focused on Armiena’s face, and her jaw fell open. The girl seemed to be trying to communicate, or at least her lips and jaw were attempting to form syllables. However, her voice hadn’t yet caught up with her thoughts and the best that she managed was a vague, strangled noise that sounded like y… y… you?.

 

“Yes, me.” Armiena forced herself to smile. She crouched down to the child’s level. “I need to speak to my Padawan for a moment. May we borrow your tent for a few more minutes?”

 

There was a possibility that this child and her parents weren’t dwelling in this shelter, judging from the girl’s continued stammers--that, or she hadn’t expected to meet a former Jedi Grandmaster and was still slightly dumbstruck. Draygo patted the Devaronian on the shoulder and stepped into the shelter.

 

“I felt it a mile away. Well done.

 

“There’s been something that I’ve been meaning to ask since Coruscant. I offered you a lightsaber on the landing platform, but you refused. I need to know why.”

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"There are times where words cannot fix things, but actions can. I had hurt my Master more than I could have imagined, and while I could have simply have let it rest, my conscience nor my character could ever let it be. It was even apparent upon my face when she spoke to me after her return that day." - Genesis Stormhelm

 

"Master...." I began to speak, but the words could not nor would not escape my lips as I began to apologize. Instead, my eyes simply spoke the feelings that resided within my heart and as my face drifted away from her gaze in shame, instead choosing to gaze upon the dirt below me and the small twig that I twisted and broke within my hands. A few brief moments of silence would pass before I replied to the question she posed, a question she deserved to know the answer to. "Its because of my childhood, and a promise I made the day that my parents were killed."

I sighed. I suppose I was a bit on the melodramatic side during these years, but given the life I had been dealt, melodramatic was the least of my worries. That aside, it was still a sore subject to approach even after all these years, my memory of a little hazy from fighting to forget it, but some part parts remaining etched into my memory forever. This was one of them, just as was the lifeless forms of my parents and the events leading up to their deaths at the hands of the kath hounds. Of their sacrifice and their aim to protect me no matter the cost. But this memory was even more sorrowful, as there were two truths to every story, two tales to be told. And this was what let to me making such a promise that day.

"As you know, my parents were killed by Kath Hounds when I was a child. And I took the life of the last one before I collapsed. And the reason I collapsed was from the death I wished upon myself in my moment of pain and anger. You saw this in the vision that was shared when we first met." My thoughts shifted back to that day, back to that Kath that stood before me, rearing backwards and keeping distance from me as I held the blade in my hand, stepping forward and backing it into a corner against the speeder we had took that day, my eye filmed over by the tears I shed, wishing to go with my mother and father just moments before it attacked and fell upon me and the blade. "But what you didn't see, nor did I know until they found us, was that she never intended to attack me. I remember them mentioning as I was being taken away that her attacking was rare, as pregnant Kaths rarely engage anyone unless provoked...."

My face turned toward Armiena's at this point, my eye flowing with tears as I revealed what I felt was a unforgivable crime, even if I was too young to have realized, let alone known. It was why I swore I would never lift another blade, or shoot a weapon outside of stun. It's why I swore I would never take another life, even if it was at the expense of my own. I didn't care of the consequences. Through the weeping I uttered. "I provoked a pregnant Kath. In my sorrow, I ended the life of a Kath and her unborn when there was no need. Yes, I lost my parents, but I ended lives that haven't even began. That's why I swore I would never take another."

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Beck sat back after they were given permission to dock with the main ship in the system, Adi-Wan. He watched out of the corner of his eye as the pilots began to have the ship landed within the hangar bay of the massive MC-90. The deck crew was working and preparing to have the Imperial shuttle land, yet there wasn't a great greeting party like the old days of the Empire. He was slightly disappointed, but he also understood that he should no longer expect such a greeting anywhere any more. In fact, he was certain that even the Imperial Remnant was no longer in a position to do so. 

As the ship landed, Beck stood up and made sure that he was prepared and dressed correctly to be seen by whatever leadership had survived the recent massacres of Coruscant and other battles that took place around the galaxy. The Sith had made their move, and with a few quick strokes, broke every other opposition against them into small tiny pieces. They would need to band together in order to survive. As he walked down the ramp, he only saw two people awaiting for him and his team. Not letting the small number discourage him, he spoke firmly. 

"I am Admiral Beck Pilon. I have intelligence regarding the location of Empress Raven..."

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"Hmmm," I mused, "that's an interesting statement. I've never heard that said before." I placed the sticks back on the rack as I spoke. "I suppose I'd say that that both oversimplifies and overcomplicates the issue. Yes, to a certain extent the lightsaber is an extension of our will, of our thoughts and desires. I'd say it's more like an extension of our body, a tool. But that statement puts too much emphasis on the idea that it's the Jedi controlling the lightsaber. Like in every other area, our actions should always be only what the Force wills. If our minds are at peace, and our wills surrendered to the Force's, then they become one and the same and we can act without hesitation. Knowing the will of the Force will, ideally, become second nature to you. That is what I believe true mastery is. You're empty of yourself, and there is only the Force."

My tone had grown misty, and I shook myself. "As far as others being attracted to a lightsaber, that's also sort of true. Many beings will recognize you as a Jedi because of your lightsaber. Their response then is usually one of two things: wariness and antagonism, or relief and respect. Even if you don't draw the weapon, sometimes its mere presence is enough to end a dispute--or start one," I added. "Anyway, each Jedi is slightly different in terms of how often they use their lightsaber, and why. But honestly, most of the time Jedi only find themselves needing to draw their lightsaber as a last resort. Most situations can be diffused without it."

Or at least, hypothetically, I thought. My experience had been a little different. But I was still a Jedi Knight myself, not a Master, and training Aelyn and Mjan was showing just how far I still had to go. "In terms of defense, yes, there are forms more focused on deflecting blaster bolts and the like, particularly Form III."

I fell silent then. I was tired, and I had done a lot of talking today. What I needed was a shower, another meal, and a good nine hours of sleep. Plus, I needed to recharge by being alone for a bit. Mjan was great, but I was kind of people-d out. Tomorrow would be another day, and if I was right about the nudges I was feeling from the Force, would require much from both myself and my padawan. 

I smiled tiredly at him. "Okay, I'll see you in the morning. 0800 hours, back here, okay?"

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A lieutenant saluted their new arrival and responded, "Admiral Pilon, though I wish it were under better circumstances, we have been eagerly waiting your arrival. I am here to take you to Admiral Antilles and Grandmaster Alluyen in the briefing room."

He took the Imperial officer deeper into the cruiser to a modest briefing room that was wrapped around a large holoprojector that was currently projecting the Galactic map displaying tactical and political information. The room had only five people in it: Antilles, Alluyen, two tech officers, and a Jedi Knight. Once the Imperial admiral entered, his previous escort saluted once more but did not enter the room as the door closed.

Adenna looked up from the map and smiled slightly. "Admiral Pilon," she said in a quick, business like tone. "It is good to see you here. This is Admiral Antilles, currently in command of the Jedi Order's allied naval forces. On behalf of the Jedi Order, I wanted to extend our hand in an alliance against the Sith and their allies."

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Mjan sat there in silence as he took in her words and saw the wisdom within them. Her knowledge and thoughts seemed to let her heart within the matter flow as elegant as her skill within the Force, and something that Mjan himself hoped to one day retain. As he sat there, he took the time to massage and relax his muscles, focusing his breathing patterns and calming his mind and body. He felt at peace, tranquil and serene, and her soft tone seemed to only settle him more. Much like an older sibling or Mother would have toward their child in a manner of speaking. But Mjan had never thought to be here this day, let alone have a Master to help guide him down this path. Noticing her own exhaustion, when she finally spoke about meeting the next morning, Mjan simply smiled and nodded his head in agreement.

As the two departed, he took with him the words of which she had spoken along with the notes she had given him. In truth, his own form was exhausted, and despite the massage he had given himself, he still ached in each step that he took. He felt hungry to be honest, and considered a quick detour toward the cafeteria for a quick snack, but decided against it as he turned toward his room, rathering a quick hop into the refresher and an early approach to sleep. The day had really taken a toll upon him, but he suspected that it would have given his life before the Jedi Order. Combat training was a minimal requirement among the Sorcerer's of Tund, and given his newly acquired touch in the Force, he was drained more than usual.

As he entered his room, Mjan went about his usual habits. First he enjoyed a warm moment in the refresher after changing out of his attire, and as he dried off, he made a pot of tea to help take the edge off before he settled into bed with the cup of tea in hand. Remembering her words as he looked over the notes she had given him, he wondered of what form would fit him best. Aira had mentioned Soresu, a form focused on defense and developed during an era of when blasters became a wide response to lightsabers, so he understood her mentioning of it. It provided the skills of defending both blasters and lightsabers and was a truly defensive form given the philosophy of the Jedi. Perhaps this was the one for him once it came time to train using lightsabers.

It seemed to fit, at least, in his mind. But given how tired he was, he wondered if he was thinking too much into it or was even capable of thinking clearly at this point. Slowly he could feel the lids of his eyes beginning to weigh, but he kept on reading and pondering, hoping he could find the answer. Yet, he also knew that he had time to truly invest in his eventual decision. It may have been the excitement of the day, but he couldn't turn his mind off, even as he slipped deep into the realm of dreams without knowledge, laying alone within his room, wrapped only in a towel with the tea still cupped in his hand next to the datapad containing the notes upon his chest.

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The Jedi Order Corvette Soresu emerged from hyperspace at the edges of the Borleias system. It was a quick ride on impulse to the rally point and from thousands of kilometers away, Sandy could easily make out the masses of the MC-90 dreadnoughts against the pale blue dot of the planet for which the system was named. Sandy swallowed the spit in her mouth and looked around at the bridge crew, it was now also filled with the few Imperial commandos that had decided to join her on the quest. Eight men and four women, all from the Caridian Rifles. They had fought beside her at Nal Hutta, and they would follow her to save their empress. 

A little less than an hour later and the Soresu docked with the Adi-Wan and Sandy made her way to where she sensed her master. The commandos stayed behind, lingering in the bridge of the smaller ship, perhaps out of prejudice, or to set up a comm relay to Nar Shaddaa, which was more likely. Dressed in the grey armour given to her by the Imperial Knights, with its imperial badge emblazoned on the soft hill of armour that covered her chest she entered the bridge, and bowed to her old jedi Master @Adenna Alluyen. Waiting until she was done speaking with the imperial Admiral before she approached. Sandy stood, awkwardly off to the side of the conversation, smiling like a fool at the prospective mission playing out in her head. A daring rescue of a lovely imperial empress, Aidan impressed. She could barely contain herself, and the joy that would come from such a mission. So she bounced from foot to foot while her green eyes surveyed Adenna and Beck. 

 

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I was happy to be back at my quarters. "Lights at 60%," I said, and the lights dimmed to a soothing yellow as the door slid shut behind me. I headed into the refresher, and after a moment, drew a bath instead of taking a sanisteam. Once the tub was full, I undressed and slipped into the soothing warm water. For a moment, I wished for some pleasant-smelling foam or oil to add to the water, remembering the luxurious baths I had had as a teen, but then I let it go. Both the Jedi and the military didn't approve of frivolity. In fact, I remembered Onderin giving me a hard time once about my numerous hair care products, but I had put my foot down on that one. 

I was out of the water before it got cold, drying off and dressing in a simple long-sleeved under tunic and soft woven pants. The ship was honestly too cold to wear that without my warmer outer tunic, but I wanted to be comfortable and was feeling too lazy to pull on the outer layers. Heading out of my room, I made my way quickly and quietly down the hall into the mess. I grabbed a simple meal--a sandwich with some kind of meat and a salad of local greens, packed it up, and brought it back to my room. Once back, I kicked off my boots. Unfortunately, there wasn't a nice soft chair I could curl up in--another example of military and Jedi spartan philosophy--but I was comfortable enough on the soft rug that covered the floor by the bed. Lastly, I set the computer playing some quiet classical music. I had discovered that listening to music often helped me clear my mind, and since that discovery, I'd been trying out various pieces from composers around the galaxy whenever I had the opportunity. Tonight's piece was Valachord Cantata in G Minor by a Nautolan composer. 

I leaned back, eating my meal and enjoying the music, my mind slowly processing through the events of the day, and then clearing bit by bit. The music, the dim lights, my contented fatigue and full stomach all combined, and my relaxation slipped into meditation. As I relaxed, the Force flowed through me, washing away my anxiety and sorrow, replacing them with calm acceptance and faith.

After a long while, I rose, disposed of my trash, and got ready for bed. Sleep came quickly after I slipped between the covers, and I slept long and deep above Borleias.

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When Mjan awoke early in the hours of that next morning, he lifted to find the cup of tea he had been holding had tilted and spilt over his chest and down onto his sheets. Quickly jumping up, he noticed the datapad was miraculously unharmed, sending a feeling of relief through his mind. His sheets and robes however, weren't so lucky and he sighed in distraught. He knew he was tired the night before, but he could have sworn he had sat the cup aside during his reading. Looking out the viewport of his room, Mjan saw the sun beginning to peak over the horizon of the looming planet below. Thankfully he still had about an hour or so to meet up with Aira, and just maybe, he had enough time to bring his clothes to the laundry for a quick wash.

But what would he wear in doing so? There was no way he would get away with a simple towel. And if Aira happened to be up and about, Mjan cringed at the thought of the embarrassment he would feel over his Master catching him in such an act. Lowering his head in disbelief, his gaze managed to fall upon the dog tags he had been given and it struck him like a bantha. The Kit! There was a uniform inside! Nearly stumbling as he hopped across his bed, Mjan raced to open it. And sure enough, there laid the freshly pressed dress blues of the Jedi Navy.

They were similar to typical Jedi Robes, but more uniform, with spots to hold the Lieutenant stripes upon its sleeves and were adorned with buttons and cufflinks brandishing the Jedi Insignia. To be honest, Mjan thought they looked quite nice, better than his own in fact. Quickly adorning them, Mjan drew ready to make his way toward the Laundry, adorning his pauldron armor atop the dress blues as he did with his own robes as he gathered his robes and the staining sheets before exiting his room. After quickly dropping his laundry off at the wash, Mjan decided to grab a quick bite to eat before he headed to meet Aira, taking in the morning scenery as he strolled toward the cafeteria. As the sun began to crescent over the planet's horizon, the windows dimmed to darken the brightening light and radiation. Still amazed at the sights he was seeing, Mjan couldn't help but smile.

When he arrived at the cafeteria, Mjan ordered his food which mainly consisted of eggs, sausage, and toasted bread with a side of fruit, and chose to sit by himself. Pouring himself a cup of caf and topping it off with a squirt of milk and a spoon of sugar, Mjan began his meal. And when he finished, he simply sat there and enjoyed his cup of caf as his gaze shifted about those whom entered and exited, gaining a sense of belonging as he went largely unnoticed in his dress blues. Oddly enough though, as he finished his cup of caf and went to put up his dishes in the wash bin, his thoughts wondered a moment toward home before straying briefly to the mention of his half brother. Curious as to why it came up now of all times, Mjan stood there in thought for a few moments before exiting.

With just a few moments to spare, Mjan arrived back at the training area that he and Aira had taken over for most of the afternoon. Sitting down, he closed his eyes and began to focus on the Force that flowed around him. Trying a application he thought up, he reached out toward the bamboo sticks they used yesterday, pulling three of them toward himself and rotating them around him. 

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Beck offered up a smile and bow before his fellow Admiral. He did not allow for his face to show too much other than concern towards those in the room. He didn't bother to waste their time, so he just started explaining the situation to the room. 

"I am very grateful for the support. I wish that my news that I bring was something far more cheerful than what it is though. Empress Raven has been located- but such good news ends there. My intelligence officers have decoded a message that has her held up at Dark Sun Station..."

Beck allowed for the news to sink in. He wasn't even sure if anyone in the room would understood why that was not good news.

Edited by IC - 2487

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Adenna was glad to hear that the Imperials had located their empress, but it didn't take any use of the Force to sense that the Dark Sun Station wasn't likely going to be an easy or fun target. She had never been one to feel shame in asking when she didn't know something. Nobody was omniscient, and her recent ascension to this position had meant she had a great deal of intel to catch up on. It was always a stress balancing the needs of a mostly spiritual order with the secular needs. She wasn't sure how other grandmasters had done it, but she would do what she could.

"I am unfamiliar with Dark Sun Station," she said simply. "I had not expected her to be kept in anything less than a highly secure location. What intel do you have about this, and what makes it more difficult than any other place to infiltrate or liberate her?"

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Much to Beck's own surprise, Adenna showed herself to be a leader who knew her limits, which was something of refreshing to him to see. Slowly nodding his head, he withdrew from his jacket a datapad that held the intelligence information upon it and the Admiral offered it up to the Jedi. 

"Dark Sun Station is a bank. Many large companies have massive stocks there. Which means if we go in, any damage done to assets can and will most likely result in any group that goes in gets black listed from using such companies... HyperTech, HealthiDrive, and Incom-FreiTek are some of the companies we could be getting ourselves into trouble with."

Beck decided to take a deep breath in before he went on to the next part.

"Intelligence also points towards Zalis Krales being the one who took Raven. Some holo recordings confirm this. Our background knowledge of her makes her very dangerous... Reports from five years ago of assassinations, and recently has heavy ties to Black Sun along with Czerka. Which means we can assume the place will be well guarded..."

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Perhaps out of boredom, curiosity, and the desire to do something other than wait around. Jedi Knight Sandy Sarna could not help but listen into the conversation between the Admiral and her old master, who had now assumed the mantle of the grandmaster of the Jedi Order. She wanted to jump with excitement at the possibility of an infiltration mission but she kept her eyes staring out the viewport towards the slowly spinning planet below. When she was needed, the grandmaster would ask. She had learned that at least.

So silent she stayed, wishing and hoping to be useful. To fulfill the dream of being a real Jedi Knight. Even if Aidan wasn't there to see. 

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Mornings onboard a ship arrived with the chirping of an alarm. I rose a little grumpily; I liked being on ships, but I always preferred waking up on the ground, a planet's sun or suns rising and streaming in through the shuttered blinds on the windows. Space was always just dark. At least, I thought, crossing to my viewport, there was the beautiful sight of the swirling blue-and-green world looming large beneath us. The planet's magnificence dissipated my grumpiness and I dressed with a renewed energy to tackle the day, choosing a set of grey-and-cream Jedi robes that I rarely wore. I tamed my hair and performed my other ablutions, choosing to skip a full breakfast in favor of an energy bar and a cup of caf in my quarters. 

At the designated time, I headed down the hall to the training room. Mjan was already there. "Good morning, padawan. I hope you slept well." I jumped right in. "So I've rethought today's lessons. Let's head down to Borleias."

We made our way through the halls to the hangar, where we waited for an opportunity to make the brief trip to the surface. It wasn't long before an opportunity arose, and we claimed spots on a supply shuttle. As we boarded, I handed Mjan a data chip. "Here, you can read up on the lightsaber forms, as I promised last night."

Half an hour later, we touched down. The cargo door opened with a hiss, letting in the warm air of the planet. I smiled and inhaled deeply. I have breathed the air of a thousand worlds, I thought, quoting the line from one of my favorite poets to myself. 

We had landed in one of the refugee camps. The Jedi were doing what we could to make the camps habitable for a longer term. It was going to take a long time to find permanent homes for those displaced from Coruscant. We made our way through the camp. I wasn't sure what I was looking for, but I knew the Force had led us here. So I turned to Mjan as we walked, and posed a question to him. "Mjan, what is the dark side?"

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“Genesis…” For the moment, Armiena was at a loss for words. She had imagined that the young man’s hesitance to wield a blade was inspired from some religious conviction or personal idealogy, but surely the boy couldn’t have been old enough to commit the kind of moral failures that his teacher had made. Then again, the veteran Jedi had barely been more than a girl when Tarkin had visited her homeworld and ended her childhood with a plunge into civil war.

She approached her apprentice and hugged him. She didn’t care if his tears were soaking into the shoulder of her robes, or if physical contact like of this nature was disapproved of by the Jedi Order; Genesis needed someone more than a Master or a teacher. He needed an empathetic human being. 

“It’s not alright.” Odd words for comfort, but Armiena would have given much to hear a fellow Jedi acknowledge how deeply she had been wounded. “But I understand.”

She drew away and stared her apprentice in the eyes. The intensity of her gaze was such that she resembled an overgrown, battle-worn bird of prey as much as she did a fellow sapient. “Look me in the eye. I can’t say that I condone what you did, but I can understand how it might have happened.” Armiena began, not unkindly. “Anger comes easily in the middle of a fight, especially when blood is in the air, especially when you’ve lost people who are so important to you. That anger you felt when you killed that hound, it felt… right, didn’t it?”

Edited by ObliviousKnight

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There was always a complication to everything. Adenna nodded in acknowledgment to what the Imperial had said, but didn't immediately reply. She despised business and politics, but in her new role, she couldn't afford to ignore how crucial those were to how the Galaxy flowed. Now, more than ever, she wished Tobias was here. Despite his protests, he had a far better mind for business and manipulating things.

"How much control over the station does Black Sun have?" she asked. She needed more information before she could even begin to formulate a plan. "Is it entirely under their control, or does it attempt to make some semblance of neutrality? I need to know if it is inhabited only by our foes, or if it is a neutral party with families and civilians."

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Hearing Aira's voice, Mjan smiled and opened his eyes to see his Master enter the room and greeted him. Setting aside the bamboo sticks and releasing his grasp upon them as she spoke, Mjan rose to his feet, brushing out the wrinkles that had began to collect upon his uniform with his hands. "Morning to you as well, Master Aira."

It was obvious to him that she was well rest and ready to get back to training, and so was he. He had been thinking over her suggestion, and given her better knowledge of such things, he was going to take it. Following her lead, they exited the training room and began the distant trek toward the shuttle area. Many wouldn't think such a walk would take such a length of time to cover it, and even Mjan would agree that it seemed to take little time to traverse it. But the truth was that it took longer than most could understand. Mjan, though, throughly enjoyed moments like this. It was serene moments with an occassional glimpse of beauty found outside the viewpoints. He was sure seeing another ship outside was mundane for most, but for Mjan, it was still new and he took it all in, even the small wait that awaited them in the hangar as they awaited transport to Borleias below.

But Borleias was nearly more than he could take in once they arrived upon the planet below. During the trip down, Mjan had took the time to read over the data chip that Aira had given, but most of what he read was on the Form III, the form she had suggested. Stepping outside the ship, the sun beamed down upon his red skinned features, its warm touch a welcoming feeling. While aboard the ship, where lighting was limited and the air cold and recycled, Borleias' natural atmosphere was true and welcoming. He took a moment to take the planet in, feeling it not only through his natural senses, but feeling it through the Force as well, Mjan beginning to take every moment he could to touch upon it mysticism as to know it as a second nature. And as they entered the refugee camp, Mjan noticed the changes, even if subtle.

While there was hope for new life and joy that life remained, Mjan could also still feel the lingering disdain and anger that most held closely for what they were going through. And in truth, Mjan knew he was incapable of blaming them. To have spent your entire lives building one, to know nothing but what you knew, and to have it all uprooted and destroyed in a single moment, all were reasonable responses and emotions. After all, Mjan knew a similar feeling, but it was by his own choice and he held no regret in it. But for these refugees, it was different, there was no choice. Just like on Felucia and aboard the ship, the Force and the air around them echoed of it.

So when Aira posed her question, Mjan had to think hard and long upon an answer before he finally gathered his thoughts enough to offer one. With an ache upon his heart, evident by his facial expression, he answered. "This is the darkside, Master, a continuation of it's never ending cycle. A peddle of chaos cast into the pond of life and its ripples ever flowing through each life it connects with. A war started, a world destroyed, lives dislocated or lost, anger and disdain festers in the heart, and eventually, the cycle repeats in one form or fashion. And at the head of the snake, the one who cast the pebble into the pond, lingers whispers of my own kin and those that bare our namesake. Just as it has happened within my own people as time turns forever forward." It was a cryptic message to be certain, but it was the best Mjan could offer at the moment as the Force around him echoed its pain and tempted his own.

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"To truly understand the Light, One must know the Dark" - Genesis Stormhelm

As Armiena approached me, I must confess that I anticipated a slap to the face for what I said earlier or even a scolding for having taken a life such as I did. Even in that moment, I knew a little of her forgiveness and knew the choice I once made as a child would not escape it. But never did I know that when she wrapped her arms around me in such a tight embrace, that I would react in such a manner as I did. I can not say whether it was from the pain I remembered of that day, or if it was the regret I had held in my heart for so long, or if it was even from my regret from having said what I said to her earlier that day. But when she grabbed and embraced me that day, I broke.

Tears began to flow my eye as if the sky had broke and rain covered my cheek. But I wept and sobbed like I have never had before. My chest ached, my lungs strained in between gasps of air as I sobbed, and all I could do was grasp her tight and bury my face into her form. All the pain, all the regret, all the loss, it flushed my mind and blew from me as the lava had rushed to the surface of Coruscant just hours before. And to make it worse, I could not stop it. It kept coming and coming and the only thing I could do was mutter "I'm sorry. over and over again even as my throat grew dry and my voice grew strained. And so I stopped fighting and simply let it go. And even as she drew away and stared into my eyes, her words and questions heard, I could not stop.

Slowly time passed as my soul bared it's all, the heavy weight I had been carrying for so long only amplified as she questioned me about the life I took and how it felt, and I could not answer. I knew the answer, as did she, and it pained me to even think about admitting it. But as the time passed, the pain began to slowly lessen and wash away with the tears I wept until finally I began to dry up and settle myself. The heart ache remained, the weight forever mine to burden, but my composure began to return even as I caught sight of the young child from before peeking in out of curiosity at the previous sounds of my wailing. I forced a smile, wiping the tears from my cheek, and finally turned my attention to Armiena. I knew it was time to admit the truth I have refused to acknowledge for so long.

"It felt so right, but, it didn't, all at the same time." I said as I sniffled, my nose running despite my constant wiping using my sleeve. "In the moment, I didn't care for it no more than I did myself. I only wanted it to kill me. Just remembering it makes me sick to my stomach...." I took a moment to cough and clear the mucus draining down the back of my throat and swallow it before continuing as I wiped at my eye again. "It did feel good to take the life that was a part of the ones who took away my own, even as I felt the blade sink into the Kath. But secretly, I envied it, hoping for its maw to claim my own. I didn't want to be left alone."

Having said that in the open now, I hung my head in shame and even in briefest of moments, considered my life as a Jedi over. But I would be alone again, left to once again walk as an orphan with no purpose in life but survival. And that wasn't a life i wanted to live now that i had found my place among the Jedi and under Armiena's guidance. I needed the Jedi. I needed to help others, even if it was but a brief smile I was able to give, like with the children earlier. I needed purpose.

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I nodded. It was difficult to define something like the dark side without resorting to poetic language, yet Mjan did a good job of grounding his in the harsh reality of the situation around us. "Tell me this, then," I said slowly. "How does one fight against the dark side? If it's a pebble thrown into the water, how does one prevent the pebble from causing ripples? Is darkness not inevitable? Won't there always be chaos, war, strife, anger, somewhere in the galaxy?"

I gestured broadly to the beings around us. "Despite the best efforts of the Jedi Order, these people still lost everything. We tried. The best of our Order gathered, gave it their best effort, and yet they still failed. And failure is not an isolated incident. As a Jedi, our capacity for failure is greater than others', because of our power and because of the situations we find ourselves in. If failure is, at some point, in many situations, inevitable, and even our successes don't drive back the darkness completely, what, then, is the point of trying?"

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From the hyperlane corridors of the Hydian way, with the chaos of Coruscant’s fal, come a flood of refugees. In the tumultuous upheaval of society, rumours of Mandalorian atrocities begin to filter in with the survivors. From the Corsin Run come a dozen probe droids. Rusted hulks of the Imperial age they were hardly stealthy compared with the technology of the modern galaxy, even in the pandemonium.

 

Borleias would be scouted by a dozen probe droids. Whether or not they were detected would not matter. They were there to send a message to the rotting Galactic Alliance: The Mandalorians were coming for blood.

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Beck offered up a slight shrug before he responded. 

"From what my intelligence has gathered, it appears to be a true bank. Black Sun under the leadership of Zalis has taken a more... legitimate business approach to many of its avenues. There isn't much out on Dark Sun Station, other than companies have a lot of their investments there and Black Sun leader Zalis is the main owner of the station. Now for what we know might be little. What I am expecting to find there is somewhat different."

The Admiral shifted his body around to allow for others in the room to be able to read him. He had nothing to hide. 

"I expect to find many Black Sun guards there, as from what we have gathered intelligence wise on Zalis informs me that she most certainly will protect her assets at all costs. But intelligence also offers insight that she in smart. Those guards will be hidden from plain sight. The majority of what we will find are civilians employed by Black Sun to run the station. The majority there will not be targets we want to hit."

Beck now turned to face Adenna directly. 

"Outside of the main hangar, the main lobby... there isn't much data on a layout. We know there is a private hangar for Zalis, along with her own personal office. But we simply don't know how many vaults or rooms that could actually be in there, or even what room Raven could be held in. We're going to be going in blind."

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“I was in a poor state the first time I killed. Sick for hours.” Like most first attempts at extremely difficult tasks, Armiena’s first kill had been a messy, emotional ordeal, filled with angst and uncertainty. Like most difficult tasks, however, her proficiency was improved with practice--and she had had a lot of practice over the course of the civil war. What an irony it was, that after the failure of the lessons of her training to take root, that she would be tasked with training an apprentice who had made the solemn decision to avoid taking life after losing his home and parents.

Somewhere in the galaxy or in the abyssal mysts of the Force, there was surely an old Caamasi smiling at this  irony.

“You lost your parents and you wanted to hurt something. Trust me, I understand.” An edge of experience in her voice suggested that it was than just empathy that Armiena drew upon. “It’s human nature, not exactly something to be ashamed of. Giving in to these urges, on the other hand… 

“These base impulses--bloodlust, greed, fear, pride… these are the things in which your dark side can infiltrate, and they can be quite addictive. But serving these impulses is a miserable existence and they’re inevitably self-destructive. And just plain destructive.”
____

((From the perspective of Bruce Slaughter.))

The ravaging of Coruscant had left the galactic Holonet array in a frayed state, between the loss of so many planetary relay stations and an extraordinary strain placed on the hyperspace transceivers by the hundreds of billions of sapients who were frantically searching for updates on the lives of their loved ones. Military communications, however, always enjoyed a priority status and a transmission from Anaxes made it through.

From a minor communications installation on the planet surface, the transmission would be forwarded to the Adi-wan and would make its way to a briefing room, where, if Jedi Knight Alluyen and Admiral Beck Pilon chose to receive it, it would manifest itself in a live holographic communication of Admiral Bruce Slaughter.
 

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