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Salliche


Exodus

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She awoke with a start, her right hand reaching towards the lightsaber clipped onto her belt as the starship emerged from hyperspace in the core worlds. The jerking motion of the ship slipping out of hyperspace was enough to break her from the last vestiges of a very bad dream.  Sleep had not been plentiful, and even with a myriad of strange and twisted dreams, she still felt almost human after the long assignment on Falleen. She shook her head and looked towards the viewport where the golden planet of Salliche was slowly growing in size as the starship approached. She took a deep breath and then looked to her apprentice and gave him a smile. A smile that hoped he did not see her twitch or cry out in her sleep.

 

“I hope you slept as well my friend.” Though this was not a combat mission, there would be much to do ahead and it was better to start a day off rested than not. And knowing her luck, some Sith lord would walk out of the wheat fields and challenge her to a duel before the mission was over. 

 

She slowly stood, pulling her satchel straps over one shoulder. 

 

“Did you dream at all?” 

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Tea. How many long years it had been since she had been spared the thought and small luxury of tea. Its aroma, though pleasant and not a bit overpowering, hit her like a landspeeder. Some of the scent was unfamiliar, having come from relatively obscure vegetation in the shadowlands of Kashyyyk, but the spice undertone was familiar. It brought a hundred memories up in her mind as if they were ripped from the grave. Memories of her middle childhood in a Jedi Order that was not at all like the one she was currently a leader in. A different galaxy, a place at peace. Much like the one they now inhabited. The spice she had smelled before as an apprentice in the gardens of the Jedi Enclave at Gala. And the flowers in the old archive at Tython. 

 

All abandoned now. Left to rot like some burned out homestead. The bodies of its defenders left to decay into the ground that they so diligently tended. Was it a nostalgia for a time not well remembered that now pulled at her mind? Or was it a deeper truth stirred up by the Tree Tender that now proffered her tea. 

 

She gratefully took the wooden carved mug of tea and took a sip as her thoughts continued to spin. Its taste was as comforting as its smell. And she could feel a sense of joy roil through her spirit. It brought in another firmer and less nostalgic thought pattern. A moment of reflection on herself. For how long had it been since she had a moment of non focused thought? Of meditation that was not a preparation for yet another battle? A half dozen years at least since the Sith had begun their affront on the outer rim. Her apprenticeship had ended at fifteen and she had jumped straight into the conflict with all the pride of a young woman who thought herself wholly in the right. Her own rebellion against a council too distant and prideful to concern themselves with the plights of those in the far outer rim. 

 

But now she was in their place. One of the few Jedi Masters left after the long war and she had to wonder how long had it been since the Jedi Order was truly itself? It was not an enriching thought. But it was a necessary one. 

 

She blinked and took another long sip of the tea and pulled herself out of the distraction of her mind to look at Kerriwarr. “Sorry I was in a deep and distressing thought.” She laughed softly and could feel some of the tension in the back of her neck slighten from the conversation. 

 

“I am glad that those were your dreams my friend, and I hope that I can glean at least as much from you.” 

 

A new scent was now filling their cabin as the Ship settled onto its landing gear and opened the recyc vents to let in fresh air to the compartments. She took another sip of the tea then gratefully handed the empty cup back to the Wookiee. 

 

There was much to do, much to think about, and much to discuss. 

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  • 4 weeks later...

Three old model Toscan fighters of the inner rim defence forces left lazy lined contrails of condensed water in their wake in the upper atmosphere overhead. Adding to the thicker lines of the industrial haulers that crisscrossed the sky as they made their way between outposts and collection points. There was much work to do on the planet, and with the fields being left fallow for nearly half a decade there was even more to do than a regular planting season. But something felt vaguely off. Perhaps it was the air that smelled like fertilizers, or the tired looks of those who had begun to refuel the shuttle. 

 

Or perhaps it was the Jedi Apprentice in pale sunbleached robes that was waving furiously at them from the port of entry. Kayla… what was her last name? Thren-Tir? That sounded right in her head. And Sandy returned her wave with a grin. A grin that pulled at the scar tissue on her face quite painfully, but she kept the smile. 

 

A jedi master and she had never once taken part in a restoration like this. Not even during the great peace that had defined her late apprenticeship. Had they as an order neglected one of the core purposes of the Order? She herself had taken to the task of fighting and killing Sith as she had been asked to, as had nearly every other survivor of the Jedi order from before. Even the great naturalists of the Jedi order had either been mostly killed or in some way removed from the board. Even Roene that dear Cerealan Jedi Master was rarely seen. 

 

How long had it been since the Jedi Order was truly itself? There were so many question in her mind as they walked that sher had no doubt they were leaking from her like a sieve. Pouring into the force and bubbling around her in her wake. Her voice was soft as they approached the long line of entry.

 

“My friend I am afraid that this venture here will be just as much an instruction for me as it may be for you.”

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  • 2 weeks later...

It was strange, almost foreign, how peaceful it was. Even with the hardness of the work, the dirt that was ever clinging to her clothes and under her fingernails, and the still healing wounds that stung under the suns bright light. But still there was peace. Even though her mind fought a battle against it, with every handful of dirt she could feel something in the back of her mind, or perhaps her heart, felt better. The hard, backbreaking work, most of it without any use of the force, had given her time to reflect upon herself. 

 

And with every handful of rich loamy dirt she found she had the wrong spirit for such a task of healing. Her mindset was one only built for battle. Even in planting fledgeling muja bushes was a mind of objective and control. Racing back and forth without peace or contemplation. She was a Jedi Master that had only ever seen horrifying war. She had been promoted from the rank of apprentice in the wake of a hundred Jedi deaths in the beginning of a brutal war. And ten thousand more friends lay in the dirt of countless worlds which had paved the way for her own promotion to masterhood. There was much to learn on the agricultural planet.

 

Ding

 

It was a dim sound, trying its best to be projected from the inner pocket of her travel bag. She wiped the sweat from her forehead with the hem of her grey-green tunic and turned her head to the side. Before she pushed herself to her feet and walked the half dozen metres to the makeshift tent where she had been basing for the last several days. The message was not a good one. And a blight that affected the monocultural food supply was a nightmare that could be measured by the millions of deaths. 

 

She left the tent and the supplies there, climbing onto the old model swoop bike and after dialling the repulsors to their maximum height, sped towards where her apprentice was stationed.

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  • 2 weeks later...

It was hard not to jump to conclusions with such an event as a monocultural blight. True the crops had gone untended for nearly half a decade, but if such a blight was to appear it would have done so then. Not now. Not when the Jedi were finally back, and the Sith defeated. A trap? A long dormant dead man's switch waiting for the time when the galaxy would be left hungriest? It made sense from the puzzle pieces she herself knew. The Sith had disappeared mysteriously, leaving a vast majority of planets unfought for and stripped of resources. Their armies and navy mysteriously vanishing as well. With the majority of their Sith lords unaccounted for. 

 

Even that red faced Sith she had briefly encountered but not fought at the Jedi outpost on Felucia. What was it that she said? That they would keep the blade of the Sith sharp until such a time that they could use it? Something along those lines. A sith lord that she had not seen again. Another one lost to history, lurking, waiting for her time to break the galaxy again into brutal war. And there was no better way to do it than to keep the Sovereign Alliance hungry and weak as they bode their time. Or perhaps that was her own paranoia, her yearning to find someone to cross blades with. It was easier afterall to dream of someone to kill then  to go through the effort of fighting a pathogen that could have already blown to half the world by now. 

 

“My friend. First we must investigate and get there in person. I will reach out to the Alliance to get pathogen experts here but it could be some time until they arrive. In the possibility that it could be something more direct and Dark, we should prepare you for what might come to pass.” 

 

She looked at the Wookiee who towered over her.

 

“Have you ever thought of constructing a lightsaber?”

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Of course he wouldn't have thought of such a thing. It was far too early. Especially since the Sith had at least temporarily departed their realm. There was so much to teach, so much to learn from and as always so little time. But this was no true emergency of sword and blaster. There were no Sith shuttlecraft shattering through the atmosphere, no contrails of a hundred bombers flying overhead, no Sith lord screaming for their revenge like a little child denied their chocolates before bed. This was an environmental emergency with little indication of Sith involvement, save her own worry.

 

She shrugged, and laid her hand on his arm to draw him out of his deep thought. “Something to consider for the future then. I am still in the combat mindset from so many years of warfare which is not something I should be striving to inflict on you.” She unclipped the long handled lightsaber from her belt and handed it to him. It carried with it the gravitas of a generation of jedi knights. Forged by one master during the troubles of decades ago, and handed from knight to knight until it had been given to Sandy by a master now long dead. One who had turned to evil, and had been slain by the pure white blade. It told the story in its essence of the rise and fall. Of pride, vanity, and the corruption of ideals until they carried only evil. Of suicide, of death, of joy and despair. Of a love hard won then even more harshly lost. 

 

“This carried the memories of my life in its crystal. And the lives of those who previously held the blade. Though it will not teach you directly on how to build a saber. You may take this one apart to learn its mechanical workings and keep it by your side during the mission ahead. If you so desire. If you do not think yourself ready or willing to carry a blade, then do not fret. It's a choice you must make for yourself. We pay a heavy price when we carry a weapon that kills and maims as its primary purpose.” 

 

Behind them the shuttlecraft’s engines began to wind up as the droid inside made his adjustments for the trip ahead. 

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  • 4 weeks later...

Shadows swirled in her mind like the turbulent air kicked up by the repulsorlifts. She was glad of course that Kerriwarr had decided to accept the gift, but the heaviness of the thought had buried itself deep behind her eyes. Lost in a reflection upon a past chapter of life that had not been neatly tucked away, of love and triumph, of loss and despair. Not the thoughts expected of a Jedi master, or at least the ones that Sandy had grown up around. Stoicism had always resembled disinterest, or at the worst disdain in those Masters that had taught her and had guided the Jedi order of a generation before. 

 

Her mouth barely moved as she spoke in response to her apprentice. A creature six times her age and at least as many times as calm and stoic as those she had always compared herself to. “There is much to learn from a blade.” So soft were her words that they were almost lost among the whine of the Vengi-Tharrack branded repulsors. Her next words were more to herself than to her apprentice. “And much to unlearn.” 

 

The scenery in front of them began to change as the speeder moved north, the waving fronds of grain began to darken, and though the sun shone bright, the great fields looked cast in a shadow. The air itself seemed to putrefy with the smell of rotting and decomposing vegetation. 

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  • 3 months later...

What was this feeling? She had felt it before, a decade ago or more, when she had still been an apprentice. Something piqued at the edge of her mind but could not be formed. It was no nurglian plague as she had felt on Felucia. It was pitiful in its lashings, but filled with primordial hate. The smell of rotting vegetation began to overwhelm even the speeders air filters and a glance outside at the spinning ground was dismal. It was almost a black bog of rotten crops. Food that should have been bookmarked for the millions of refugees lay in the welter of decay, each hectare could have fed a hundred families, now even carrion would not land. 

 

Dark Side. What wasn’t Dark Side these days? 

 

Perhaps a local crew, or one of the many Sith that had gone to ground at the end of the Galactic War. And what was better to destabilise the Alliance than to leave the galaxies most vulnerable without food. 

 

But that was not her only concern. She, like her own master in times not worth remembering, had brought her apprentice into a potential conflict zone. Perhaps because he was so much older she had not considered…But that was an excuse. She turned her blonde head to the Wookiee and spoke softly, placing her hand upon his strong shoulder. Her eyes speaking an apology. 

 

“We may face great danger here, prepare, I will do my utmost to protect you, and if I fail. Run and hide, do not try and confront whatever this is alone. It reeks of the Sith.” 

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  • 3 weeks later...

A sound. Soft as a breath. An inhale. A whispered curse. Danger. 

 

As she stepped onto the ground the ominous danger sense that had been growing in the back of her mind was brought to a pique. A screaming sense of terror and anger that flashed up her spine to bury itself in the nape of her neck. Almost by instinct her lightsaber came up in her hand and ignited, flooding the dark tarry earth with its pale grey light. Her eyes and the force searched for that source of danger until it could be pinned down to an object whipping towards the speeder at an incredible speed. Sandy took a step forward to cover the passenger compartment and brought her left hand up. 

 

She took a breath. Inhaling and filling herself with the force. Projecting it in a wave of defensive energy that would cover both her and Kerriwarr, her lightsaber coming up to intercept what could only be a primitive arrow. An arrow that changed its course and direction as fast as she brought the sabre up. It slipped to the side at a great speed, as fast as her movements could be guided by the force, so that her sabre only intercepted the feathered end of it. Cleaving through the ashen shaft while the arrow slammed into the force shield she had summoned. 

 

Much to her horror It did not stop. Blasting its way through the multiple layers and slamming its dark bodkin head right under her left arm. Its momentum carried Sandy into the sidewall of the speeder where the arrow embedded itself in the durasteel. Having carved itself through her lower ribcage, lung, and out of her back. She gasped. Her breath cut short by the boiling blood that began to fill her lower left lung. 

 

She had brought them into a trap. And now there was something else other than the pain. An ebbing numbness that was radiating from the wound. She gasped again and began to draw upon the force.

 

"Run." 

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