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  1. Muggy Ylesian wind whipped across her ankles, clinging to the exposed skin of her shins, and was followed by the heavy metallic thunk of landing struts. A large transport touched down on the tarmac a few meters away—a newcomer. And judging from the way she acted and spoke, she was very young. The Twi’lek knew it was helpful to train when you were young. Cynicism was almost unavoidable as you got older. It made it more difficult to teach anyone after a certain age. But youth was a minefield. Keenava could hear bits of what the girl was saying to the crew that met with her. She seemed willful, if a little arrogant. Whoever took responsibility for her would have their hands full. A soft light stretched across her ebony forehead. The elevation and angle indicated it was a little past midday. She felt the sweaty remains of their spar beading upon her brow. And, although her master had asked a heavy question, she couldn’t bring herself to focus. Everything else stood out with remarkable clarity. It was tempting to continue looking, seeing, smelling, and hearing without thinking about the heavy topic she needed to consider. But she couldn’t avoid it forever. She needed to come clean. She needed to tell them. The temptation to continue stalling poked at her, but she knew it was coming. She needed to share the load. Someone else needed to know. Keenava nodded solemnly to her teacher and took a deep breath, mentally composing herself for what would come next. The Twi’lek politely asked that the group retire to her ship. It sat close by and would give them some privacy. Kirlocca didn’t have to follow, but she indicated he was welcome. With little additional commentary, she shouldered her bag with her old hilt pulsing inside it and grabbed her boots before ascending the landing platform and making it to the ship’s galley. It was a modest space. It had a small island that separated the main room from the kitchenette and a large, sunken seating area in the center. The seating area was a circle of couches broken at two ends to allow people to filter in and out. In the center was a circular table that, when she entered, was devoid of any decoration or frill. Keenava carefully set her boots by the island and plopped her bag on the center table. She put a kettle on the stove and selected a temperature that wouldn’t scorch the leaves. She removed a small sachet of calming herbs and placed them in the pot before walking to a couch and settling into the cushions. She withdrew her former lightsaber hilt, hissing as it stung her skin, and set it standing up in the center of the table, removing her bag and placing it on the floor. When everyone settled, the Twi'lek shifted until she sat cross-legged on a couch opposite Alcmene. She stared at the hilt, feeling the cold whispers of her past echoing off the corroded steel. She took a deep breath and centered herself, allowing her mind to touch the hilt. The steel glowed with a slight orange hue when it came into contact with her mind, but nothing else happened. She opened herself to the room and the others, allowing them to follow her into her mind. “This is my old hilt. It is the only lightsaber I made. Born of the first shackles that used to contain me, they are a foundational part of my identity and something that I don’t want to brush away.” She looked at the metal once more, feeling the familiar bite of shackles on her wrists. “It stood for what the Sith considered freedom, but that isn’t real. The Dark Side is a noose. The Sith pursue power and strength to break from a perceived shackle or barrier as per their infamous code. But they don’t stop at breaking the shackle. More than earning their freedom, they create a new binding. They find a new master as they try to leave their old one. I was like that. I was delusional, and I wanted my saber to stand for the strength it took to achieve freedom.” “But I wasn’t free.” Keenava’s voice was soft. She bowed her head ever so slightly. “Revisiting your question, Master, to say that I am unafraid would be false. A more accurate statement is that I am open to fear. Did I feel fear when I held the force? No. But my past is something I will carry with me always.” The Twi'lek breathed in, and a small wave of calming energy radiated from her center. “A common misunderstanding regarding fear is that fearing something is harmful. The Sith use fear to empower or break people down, and Jedi talk of fear like it is something to be ashamed of. The root of the problem is that fear is an innate survival instinct. We fear something that will or can cause us harm. It isn’t something that we can always control. But if we let our fear control and rule us, we become a creature of fear. “I’m uncomfortable sharing my past, and I think—void of my usual walls—I overshared with Sandy and Leena to the point where they either dismissed me or discarded what I said, so I shut myself off again. I didn’t want to chase people away with my baggage. But my journey of self-actualization that led me from the sands of Tatooine to sitting here with you taught me that my baggage is important, even if not everyone wants to listen to it.” Keenava swallowed gingerly, feeling as the ball of her throat rose and fell, letting each sensation linger a second longer than it would. In her open mindscape, she showed visions of her history and began to speak as the ethereal slideshow played around them, channeled through the Twi'lek and the faintly glowing lightsaber hilt. “I was born on Ryloth to two very different people. My father was physically and verbally abusive, and he took his marital frustrations out on everyone around him. He did things to me that no parent should ever do to their child. And then, a series of misadventures led him to sell me, my mother, and my sister into slavery. I was sold into slavery when I was six years old. They did terrible things to me. For brevity and to avoid oversharing, I won’t get into the nitty-gritty of it. But, suffice it to say, I experienced horrors that no child should ever experience. They used, abused, and discarded me like I meant nothing. I saw my mother die and other atrocities besides. My owners shifted between the Hutts and the Black Sun. It was so bad that I lost all connection to my previous life. I was numb. There was nothing for me to hold on to. I managed to escape due to dumb luck and forge a new identity. I went by Lallunia Kallemi for a while. You might recognize the name, but you might not. “I spent time in and out of slavery for the next few years. When I was old enough to be classified as a ‘young adult,’ predators noticed my potential. Jzora Scorpio, Julio Furion, and Exodus gave me strength. They taught me to survive. They taught me how to build myself and sustain my independence. And yet, the years broke me. I soaked up knowledge as much as possible and tried to learn what I could. But my head was like a speeder bike screaming through Mos Espa. My conscious mind wasn’t riding on the bike. My Alters relegated it to trailing behind the out-of-control vehicle, attempting to regain control. They took the driver's seat, and I had no say in my life. Keenava paused, wondering whether Alcmene or Kirlocca knew what ‘Alters’ were. “If you don’t know anything about DID, it is an identity disorder. When you experience a break from trauma or severe stress, your mind creates another identity suited to compensate for its lack of ability to handle the load. That isn’t a perfect explanation, but I’m paraphrasing an entry I read on the Holonet. Unfortunately, I didn’t know it was happening. I made so many Alters that I had a community of identities that vied for control. And, when my path brought me to the Dark Side and the power it promised, it empowered my identities further, giving them so much influence that any rational thought was impossible to squeeze through the cracks. That is context as to what I mean when I say Alter. “Anyway, my training sharpened my skills, body, and mind. But the mynock nest that was my brain made it impossible to exert conscious control. Every attempt to regain control was futile. Alters held me at bay and took advantage of my weakness. “When Exodus shaped me on Arachnakorr, giving me new life in a way I’d never experienced, it was like he gave me new flesh. That phrase sounds odd, but it was like a breath of air. It was a chance to see myself again and dig deeper into who I was. However, the Alters weren’t quiet for long. And when they returned, they were stronger. Every step I took to try and explore myself and my history seemed to break my brain even more. My Alters became so strong that they almost split off completely, forming entirely different people. People who had such dark and unspeakable thoughts that repeating them isn’t something I would willingly do. Thus, I had a new chapter in my life and my history. I remembered the tragedy of my origin. I reclaimed my name and committed patricide in the name of reclaiming my independence.” Keenava was half speaking out loud and half through her mind, projecting each event the best she could without revealing too many grizzly details. The aura around the hilt briefly flared but slowly subsided, sliding from an angry orange to a gentle yellow. “Then I made an even bigger fool of myself and fought against a Sith named Ailbasi Zirtani. She may go by a different name now because I haven’t seen her name anywhere, but I went up against her for no reason and arrogantly assumed I had any right to infringe upon her time or skills. She killed me, and I floated in a void between living and dying, or—more appropriately—my consciousness did. The Hutts had found a copy of my DNA and made a clone of me without tattoos and scars to use for their enjoyment. But because my mind or personality was void of its host, the body was empty. It was a placeholder with nothing in it. “An unknown time later, after the fall of Coruscant and the wars that led to this new present, I felt this bright white-hot energy scalding me. It was brilliant and cold, but burning hot at the same time. It was hard to quantify because I didn’t have a body. Despite my incorporeal nature, it hit me down to my core. Moments later, I woke up within the body that the Hutts made. I could tell what they did to me and acknowledge it, but what was exceptionally surreal was that I could hear myself think. I was so used to hearing dark voices in my head taking my control away that having any control was odd. Some entity reduced the voices to whispers. And another voice—my mother’s—replaced them, guiding me. I broke out, using a mass prison break as a diversion to leave and wander the desert. “In my newfound control, I was void of the familiar corruption of the Dark Side. I had unequivocal control of the driver’s seat and could navigate wherever I wished. Yet, I still had all my memories. I remembered everyone I killed. I saw the blood on my hands. Now, instead of the manic glee that my sadistic Alters felt, I felt shame and guilt. I was falling to pieces and sobbing on the sand, contemplating ending my monstrous life to avoid more pain. I thought it was everything I was and everything I could be. I thought I would never be anything else. I refused to touch the force for fear that I would run right back to where my psychosis started. “But then I saw Leena and Ruin. I met Roene, Will, Sandy, Kirlocca, and you. I’ve learned to accept what happened. I’ve integrated my Alters and done some healing meditation to allow my heart to open itself again. My fear doesn’t consume me anymore. And, given my experience, it likely won’t consume me again. But I do feel fear. I take each action with a healthy dose of caution to preserve my stability and build on the new foundation I’ve created. “And yet, I’ve carried this hilt since I found it in a scrap vendor’s pile. He is probably long gone by now. And while getting rid of this piece of my past seems like the responsible thing. I feel like it could stand for something more. Much like myself, I feel like it could represent my liberation from the Dark Side. I feel like it could come to represent actual freedom. But I don’t understand how to purify something. I have tried to purify it, but I always run into a block. Can you help me?”
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