The Sith Lords: Part 11

Two more to go! Wuu wuu! This chapter’s theme is Cyberbird, for the fighting on the city walls!

Somewhat wall-of-texty here, but it’s all important (imo) although I am not 100% happy with all the details. Also, a minor fight detail – I’ve been informed by the internet that butterfly kicks are more style than substance… but I imagine in the feet of a Jedi, they’d be pretty effective.

Part 10

 

Part 11: The General’s Resolve

 

Crowded into Mandalore’s control centre, they listened to Kelborn outline the situation.

“This Kavar said the Queen had arranged safe passage for you to Onderon, but I don’t know how good that offer is anymore. This morning General Vaklu met with the Council of Lords and declared that the Queen was guilty of treason. The military is divided on who to support, but I doubt that Queen Talia and her advisor will survive until nightfall. The Royal Palace is well fortified, I’m told, but Vaklu has new allies: Sith soldiers and their masters. The war has also driven the caged beasts in the streets mad somehow. Bralor and I concur. She doesn’t stand a chance.”

“How does one commit treason if one is the Queen?” Mira murmured to herself.

Kreia stepped forward, and the big soldiers around them quieted to hear her. “I sense there is something… stirring on the moon itself. Tell me, have your sensors picked up anything from Dxun?” Selyn closed her eyes briefly to reach out, but she could not feel whatever Kreia felt. Were her senses still muffled by her past here?

Kelborn started in surprise. “Y-yes… yes, we have. How…? We picked up some transmissions from nearby in the jungle. Zuka’s satellite relay has also picked up several shuttle launches with old Sith transmitter IDs. Some sort of staging base at the Tomb.”

“Those transmissions are the enemy,” Kreia said. “They are linked to the fate of Onderon. They must be stopped. Otherwise the Mandalorian is right – Master Kavar and Queen Talia won’t survive this day.”

Mandalore pointed at his soldiers. “Bralor, Kelborn, pick a few units and prep them for battle. I don’t know what’s going on at the Tomb, but you’re gonna find out and shut it down. I’m heading for Onderon. Tekeri, I’ve got room for two more. I’m assuming you’re one of them.”

Selyn nodded. “I will go with Mandalore to the Royal Palace.”

“And I as well,” Kreia said.

She expected Mandalore to object to an old woman joining a full-on assault, but he only nodded back. “Then that’s our group.”

She turned to look at her companions. Atton was frowning a little that Kreia had jumped in before he’d had the chance to. “Atton. You’ve led before, haven’t you?”

He straightened to something resembling attention. “Yes, ma’am. Two Flight leader in the Blue Banshee Squadron.” And his experience with the Sith assassination squad, but neither he nor she was going to mention that.

“You will lead the others to assist Bralor and Kelborn.”

“Hacking through beasts and jungles? Sounds like a job for me, as usual.”

“Of course she’d pick her boyfriend,” Mira groaned, then lifted her head when Selyn turned her attention to her.

“You’re his second-in-command, Mira. Together, you should be able to overcome anything.” She held all of their eyes in turn. “Be careful, and be strong in the Force.” Bao-Dur, Mira, Mical, Visas, and the three droids formed a formidable team; they’d be invaluable to the Mandalorians, even if they couldn’t be at her side directly.

“Hey.” She met grey eyes. “You too.”

She nodded, then turned to Mandalore. “How are we getting to Onderon? The shuttle again?”

A low chuckle came from inside the silver helmet. “Let me show you.”

 

Plummeting through Onderon’s atmosphere at insane speeds, Selyn clutched her safety harness. “I thought you said riding a Basilisk was fun.”

“What are you talking about? This is fun! I haven’t flown one of these babies in year!” Mandalore whooped at the controls. So strange, to see a man in his 50’s acting like such a kid. “If only we had the main guns working… The secondary cannons will have to do.” She felt a ‘chunk, chunk’ as ancient laser cannons fired from somewhere in the hull very close to her.

The ground was approaching them very fast. Selyn took a deep, calming breath, and closed her eyes, bracing for impact. Either Mandalore would get them down in one piece, or they would all die, and there was nothing she could do about it either way. One of those situations where being a Jedi didn’t help being a mortal.

There was an impact that slammed Selyn deep into her seat, inertial compensators notwithstanding, and a colossal thunderous noise, and then blessed stillness. Kreia had been grimly silent this whole time.

Mandalore sprang up from his seat, popping the hatch and diving out, blaster rifle at the ready. She heard screams from outside the Basilisk, and fires burning. “Talia’s formed an alliance with the Mandalorians! Destroy them!”

“Looks like they still remember us,” Mandalore said, chuckling, as Selyn crawled out of the Basilisk after him. Uniformed soldiers with brown armbands opened fire on them, and the three of them took cover behind one of the Basilisk’s wings. Then a group of soldiers with blue armbands charged the others from the flank, and together with Mandalore’s rifle, ended the assault on the trio.

The air was filled with smoke, but the sky was clear and blue, and Onderon’s sun shone brightly. How incongruous. “We should head for the Sky Ramp,” she said. “As I recall, it leads directly to the Royal Palace. Although if anyone has any less direct suggestions, I’m completely open to them.” Suicide was pretty low on her to-do list, after all.

The captain of the blue-banded soldiers approached her. “General Tekeri, ma’am?”

She straightened. “Captain Riiken?”

“Thank goodness you’re here. We were sent here to guide you to the Palace, but General Vaklu’s men have taken the Sky Ramp. We’ve been cut off.”

He kept sending twitchy glances towards the Basilisk, so she stepped forward briskly. “Escort me to the Palace, and we shall retake it. Is this your entire company?”

“Yes, ma’am, but there are other forces fighting in the city. We can rally them to our aid.”

“Follow me.” She reignited her lightsaber, held it aloft for a moment, then ran in the direction of the Sky Ramp.

Soldiers flocked to her with cries of hope and confidence, and she felt her heart beating with their feelings under the blue sky. Onwards, upwards, towards the wide high wall that led to her goal. She remembered this feeling, this feeling of oneness with her soldiers, the feeling that together they could drive back all who opposed them. She wasn’t afraid of it anymore; she needed it now. They would save Queen Talia.

The security force-field across the road fizzled under their assault and they were through.

“A Jedi… here!? Men, attack!” The enemy captain sounded frightened, and she couldn’t blame him. The enemy soldiers who had been frantically setting up more physical barricades behind it dove for cover and began sending a hail of fire back towards them. She was like a moon moth, flying erratically, unpredictably, her saber whirling, defending as many of her soldiers as she could while they fired back.

She was strong and in control. The Force flowed through her, filling her with serenity in the midst of chaos, flowed through her to her followers, giving them courage and resolve. This wasn’t like fighting Mandalorians. This would be resolved with far less bloodshed and sacrifice on both sides.

As they cleared the defenders and moved on, Captain Riiken held out his comm to her: “The Palace has been breached. I repeat, the Palace has be- Aaargh!”

She had to hurry, then, and she ran on, soaring over the wall. Nearly a kilometre below on her left, the plains of Onderon stretched forever, golden to the horizon and the sky. Lasers were firing at her from blaster rifles and pistols above; she deflected them without a thought, bounding to battle up the long marble corridor.

“Tell command we need reinforcements! The Jedi is assaulting our centre and breaking through! We need reinforcements!”

The second group could not stop her. She could see the Palace now, gold and marble in the sky ahead of her, and still there were many soldiers ahead of her. She didn’t want to kill them, didn’t want them to die, but they opposed her, and she had no time to let them down easily. They would die for what they believed in, but she couldn’t allow their sacrifice to be validated. She felt sad for them, as much as the General could be, in an abstract, detached way.

“She’s still alive! Run, run!”

The man who screamed, suddenly screamed again as a black vibroblade slashed across his chest. The black-clad Sith who had killed him stepped forward and addressed more masked men in black. “Hold the line. These cowards will be dealt with.” One by one, the wavering Vaklu soldiers were killed, and now the way was blocked by much deadlier opponents.

But she remembered what HK had told her about fighting Sith; what Atton had told her. The Sith didn’t fight fair. So she didn’t have to, either. “Focus fire! If anyone has grenade launchers, rocket launchers, use them now!”

“Well, well, you like the big guns too, huh?” Mandalore aimed his left arm and a mini-rocket shot from it, exploding in the face of a Sith warrior.

Doubt was her greatest weapon, HK had said. “I’ve already won,” she cried, believing it with all her heart. “No matter what lies ahead, no matter what you have prepared for me, no matter what you are concocting on Dxun, I will sweep you away, and you and your master will fail. Your power is nothing.”

“Foolish Jedi! You don’t even know-” The Sith who spoke turned to face her in close combat, and was shot by Captain Riiken.

 

She fought on until she reached the great antechamber to the Palace’s throne room. Colonel Tobin faced her, with many Sith and Onderon soldiers with him, but she had her own army, with Kreia and Mandalore.

Unfortunately, Tobin also had on his side a baby drexl, one of the great winged creatures that soared the skies of Onderon, the deadliest predator in the entire Onderon system. It had broken down the door to the throne room, and General Vaklu and more soldiers had just entered.

Tobin’s face was red with rage. “Will you just die, already!? You will go no further than this.”

She had to get past him quickly. “I told you that door would not stop me, Tobin. Your pet drexl cannot defeat me either. Surrender now.”

“Never!” Tobin gestured to the Sith flanking the baby drexl, and the creature swung around from the door to face her, towering over her ominously.

It might not defeat her, but it wasn’t going to be easy to fight, either. And Queen Talia was in terrible danger while she was delayed. She hoped Kavar could keep things under control until she got in. At least the drexl wasn’t attacking the Queen.

It screamed at her and raised its meter-long claws to attack.

 

Fighting alongside the Mandalorians hadn’t been that bad. This Kelborn guy that knew Selyn was pretty helpful in guiding them through the jungle, and between the seven of them – he wasn’t counting Goto, the fat lump – he thought they impressed the know-it-all Mandos in the way they breached the Sith camp perimetre and held their ground in the firefight that followed. Impressing a Mandalorian wasn’t easy. That was why they basically only cared about Revan and Mandalore these days. In that order, probably.

Now the Tomb of Freedon Nadd rose before them, carved from obsidian and looking like it had been completed yesterday, although Kelborn told him it was hundreds of years old. He could feel the Dark Side lurking within it, as sure as he’d felt it on Korriban. It was… less aware, than Korriban was, but it still was going to be dangerous for their group without Selyn. But hey. They didn’t need Selyn to solve everything for them. I can do this. I can prove myself to her – to me.

“What a terrible name he has,” Mira commented. “I’d say he can’t help what his parents called him, but I thought Sith Lords were supposed to pick their own evil name or something?”

“It probably wasn’t a terrible name hundreds of years ago,” Mical said earnestly.

“More importantly, they are preparing for us,” Visas said. “We should enter now, before they are ready.”

Atton turned to Kelborn. “Hey, it’s been great fighting with you, but I think we ought to go in alone now. You never know what’s inside a Sith hole, and we might be better prepared to deal with it than you guys. No offense.”

“None taken. You fought well outside. Go do your Jedi thing, and we’ll hold here against Sith reinforcements. However, I doubt we’ll be able to keep in comm contact through those stone walls, so if you’re not back in three hours, or don’t at least send word on your progress, we will come in after you.” The slitted helmet nodded sarcastically. “The General would have our heads if we just let you get killed without finding out how.”

“Heh, she wouldn’t do that. All right. Got it. Good luck and all that.”

It took them a while to get down to the central chamber of the tomb; the Sith were plentiful and they’d been training bomas and maalraas to fight for them, taking over the creatures’ minds with the Force or something. At least they hadn’t gotten any zakkegs, Mira had mentioned they were a pain. Still, their progress was difficult and dangerous, and every time they were held up or attacked he chafed at the time they were wasting. Relax. Impatience can hide you from them, but then you can’t use the Force to fight well. Selyn will hold on until you get there.

The central chamber was cavernous, with a massive statue of the tomb’s Sith Lord looming at the back, and an ornamental pool down the centre, filled with what appeared to be blood. But it could have been a trick of the dim light, as well. A ring of Sith stood around the pool, heads bowed, concentrating as purple lightning coalesced from nothing and danced around the ceiling. It looked like some kind of ritual. Actually, it looked like a perfect target to attack, to mess up the Sith and help Selyn.

Atton drew back his head and turned to Mira. “Hey, you have any mines left?”

“Yeah, why?”

“Let’s set up our own minefield out here. We’ll draw them out, could get some easy kills. And HK, better set up a sniper position back here.”

Mira gave him a long, suspicious look before reaching for her demolitions pack. “How much do you think about killing Sith?”

“Maybe I’m not as dumb as you think I am,” he retorted. “Go on, we’ll cover you.” He nodded to the others to follow him.

“So this is what a Sith rave looks like,” he drawled loudly. “Could use some lighting variation, all you’ve got going on right now is purple. Could use a better DJ, too.” He strolled in right through the centre of the door, the line of allies hopefully shielding Mira’s actions from the view of the enemy.

The black-robed men turned to him, apparently surprised that anyone would walk in on them, and the lightning sparked and exploded; one of the Sith fell over dead instantly. One down and we didn’t even have to do anything. But the rest of this won’t be so easy.

One of them stepped forward. “You are too late. We have done what needed to be done, and now Onderon shall fall, and on this breaking point the Republic shall die. But what is this? Ah… of course, the Force has guided you here. It echoes within you, yet I sense it is… untrained.”

“Frak off, we’re working on it,” Atton retorted.

“Why did she make you leader again?” Mical muttered.

“Shut your face, Mick.”

Annoyingly, the Sith seemed to want to talk first before fighting, unperturbed by their bickering. Or maybe encouraged by their bickering. “It is good you sought us out. This tomb is strong with the Dark Side. Here is where you will take your first steps along the path to your destiny.”

Destiny, shmestiny. Those are excuses. He couldn’t deny he felt it. ‘Get mad and tear them apart.’ That’s the Dark Side speaking, isn’t it? We have to stop them. Have to fight them, to protect Selyn, according to all Kreia’s mumbo-jumbo. But we have to do it with the Light.

“You have within you the potential to wield the Force. I am not speaking of the ways of the Jedi or their flawed teachings – their Order was rooted in weakness.”

“No, you’re wrong,” he protested. Selyn was the opposite of weak. Selyn was the strongest person he knew. Sure, the Jedi were flawed, but she believed in what was important about them, right?

“What lies has your Master spread? What have they denied you in their ignorance? The Jedi preach calm and serenity while wallowing in weakness and hypocrisy. They would have you become a puppet of the Force. They would have you deny the strength of your emotions – the strength of your own will. Can’t you feel the power of this place? It echoes through you like a second voice. Accept it… embrace it.”

All right, all jokes were off. “Everyone tells me I’m an idiot,” he said quietly. “And I don’t mind. Usually. But from what you’ve just said, you’re a bigger idiot than me! The strength of my emotions? The strength of my will? You don’t know anything about me!”

“Atton,” Bao-Dur said, reaching out to him in the Force.

Right. He stopped and took a deep breath. Calm, control. He was in danger of slipping just from how dumb this Sith was. It was almost embarrassing. Unless that was the Sith’s ploy, in which case… clever. But annoying. “Thanks, Bao-Dur.”

He turned back to the Sith. He didn’t know why he was compelled to tell him just how wrong he was, but if he did it with anger and arrogance, that was a one-way ticket to nope-ville. “It’s not easy to be Sith or Jedi. You need strength to be either. But she’s not teaching us to deny our emotions – only not to let them rule us. And that takes more willpower than just trying to be the strongest, or trying to conquer things, or whatever – to feel, and still do the right thing, whatever your definition of ‘right’ is. Your ideas of ‘power’ and ‘strength’ have nothing to do with what’s really important!”

Memories of Selyn came to mind; listening to him mercilessly verbally abuse the Jedi and still giving him a second chance; doing her best to assist helpless people who had no way to repay her; struggling to move on with the guilt of Malachor before she’d been to Korriban. The way she had melted into his arms in the cargo hold, had dared to show him weakness, had dared trust him. She was fighting to be a person even as she fought to save the galaxy from the repercussions of her own unavoidable actions. How many of the Sith could say they did that?

Rage boiled up again in him and with an effort, he quelled it again. “A puppet, huh? You sit there spewing the same trite nonsense I’ve heard from every low-level Sith I’ve ever met, and you think we’re the ignorant ones? You need to take a good hard look in the mirror before you try converting Jedi again. Amateur.”

The others stared at him. He could feel it, could feel at least Mira and Bao-Dur putting two and two together, but somehow it didn’t bother him right now. All that mattered was standing up to the coward before him. No, not even that. Standing up to the coward inside himself.

The Sith raised his lightsaber. “Then instead of freedom and power… you have chosen death.”

Atton grinned. “Well, that makes my life a lot easier. Come get it.”

 

The drexl’s claws lanced down – and impaled one of the Sith standing guard over it. Selyn’s lightsaber, raised to block as she dodged, lowered slowly as she watched. The other Sith screamed. “Ahhh! I’ve lost control of the beast!”

Tobin turned pale. “The ritual on Dxun: it has been interrupted?” Huzzah for Atton, Kelborn, and company.

The drexl roared and stomped on the other Sith, then turned to Tobin and his soldiers.

She didn’t wait, charging ahead to the throne room while they were out of the way. “Soldiers of Onderon, Mandalore, I’m counting on you! Defeat that drexl!”

“Yes, ma’am! We got this!” Captain Riiken called.

“Thanks, very thoughtful of you,” Mandalore said, with no sarcasm she could detect. And usually Mandalore’s sarcasm was heavy. He was a confusing man.

The throne room was a confused melee of soldiers, the Queen’s taking cover behind upturned tables and chairs, Vaklu’s laying down cover fire from behind pillars so the others could charge into close combat range. The Queen was crouched behind her throne, head down, but Selyn could feel her anger, frustration, and determination – she wanted to fight alongside her men, and didn’t like that she was too important to get sniped. Kavar stood before the throne, both blue lightsabers batting aside incoming blaster fire, waiting for Vaklu himself to get closer. He caught sight of her dashing into the room, and his look of grim determination melted into a relieved, familiar grin.

There was only one of her, and maybe fifty soldiers in front of her. She could take them, but it would mean killing them all. If she and Kavar worked together, perhaps they could be convinced to surrender. But that would mean capturing their leader. “Vaklu! Your coup has ended. Throw down your arms!”

“Destroy the Jedi!” Vaklu commanded his men. “I’ll take out Kavar!”

That was exactly what she didn’t want, but she didn’t have time to restrategize – twenty blaster rifles were already pointed in her direction and she had to move fast if she didn’t want to become a smoking corpse.

So she did. Skimming low across the white stone floor, blaster bolts hissing off her armour, she leaped impossibly high into the midst of the soldiers, so now if they tried to shoot her they risked injuring their comrades. She was never still, ducking, weaving, making great looping kicks and sweeps with her lightsaber. The soldiers screamed and fell back, some of them missing blasters or hands or arms.

Vaklu was a good warrior, she could tell from the glimpses she caught of him from the corner of her eye. But he was no match for Kavar, who had always been one of the best sparring partners in the Coruscant Temple, and he was already losing when Queen Talia stepped from behind her throne and put a pistol shot between his eyes.

His defeated soldiers cried out in panic and threw down their weapons.

 

Kavar walked up to her while she was still looking around the beautiful, though battle-scarred room, avoiding the political fallout from her victory. “I’m glad you came. I was worried my message wouldn’t make it in time.”

“I’m glad I was in time, too,” she said. “It was too close.” If she hadn’t arrived when she did, Kavar would have been overwhelmed and shot. As it was… He was holding his side, where his clothes had been burned, so he hadn’t escaped unscathed.

“I had faith in you.” He smiled. “I’m glad to see you haven’t lost your edge. They never knew what hit them. But did you have to come in a Basilisk? You know how the people of Onderon feel about Mandalorians.”

She smiled. Kavar was mostly teasing. “It was our best shot. I’m sorry.”

“It’s fine. You made it, and that’s all that matters. But something confused me about that battle.”

“What is it?”

“You move like the Force is with you, but I feel nothing but emptiness from you still.”

She shook her head. “I don’t know what to tell you. I don’t know how my connection has returned, only that I am strong in the Force once again. I was hoping you might have an answer. The other Masters do not.”

“I will confer with them. So you have seen them?”

“Yes, Vrook and Zez Kai-Ell are on Dantooine now. Master Vash… is dead.”

“Ah.” He looked down for a moment. “May she rest in the Force. But the others are gathering?”

“Vrook said you were waiting for the Sith to reveal themselves, and they have. I met them some time ago on Peragus, and again on Korriban.”

“And again here, although I do not think any of the Lords was here. Yes, it is time. Will you take me to Dantooine, then? We must plan our next move, and you have the most insight into their activities, I suspect. And perhaps together we can figure out what has happened to you.”

“Yes, we will take you.” She looked around. “I’m not sure where Kreia and Mandalore are, but there isn’t a lot of room in the Basilisk anyway. Will you take other transport to meet us on Dxun, where our ship is?”

“Certainly. I’ll meet you there this evening, once I’ve got this wound patched up and completed things here.” He bowed to her and turned to stride away as she bowed back, heading in Queen Talia’s direction.

Queen Talia. She was gazing at Kavar, and with a look in her eye that told Selyn everything. She’d felt herself making that look when she was younger, after all.

Kavar probably didn’t even know Talia was in love with him. Or if he did, he was ignoring it, like a good Jedi.

If Selyn was taking him back to Dantooine personally, she would have to be ready to have a long, awkward talk with her old friend.

 

Atton met her at the ramp to the Ebon Hawk; his gaze flickered over Mandalore, Kreia, and Kavar before returning to her. “Hey, babe, how was your vacation on Onderon?”

“It went well, thanks to you,” she answered, determined not to react to the endearment, not with Kavar right there. Mandalore snorted, Kreia vanished into the ship, and Kavar looked confused. “This is Master Kavar. Kavar, this is our pilot, Atton. How was your mission?”

“No scary Sith Lords, only the worst conversion attempt you ever did see. ‘The Light Side is all lies and weakness, only losers join the Light Side!’” He affected a sarcastically stupid voice and she had to laugh. He smirked at her reaction and asked: “So where we headed?”

“To Dantooine.”

“Sure thing.”

Inside, she found her other students waiting for her, and she touched their spirits, praising them all for their work. They seemed more comfortable with themselves and each other now. It seemed that sending them out on their own, forcing them not to rely on her, had been good for their training, their confidence in the Force. And it seemed that they agreed with Atton on the Sith’s attempt at conversion; they had all stayed strong in their convictions, they had not given in to anger, despair, greed, jealousy, pride…

Although Mira drew her aside and said: “I don’t think Atton is just a pilot, Sel. He’s got history with the Sith.”

“I know,” she said calmly. “He told me a long time ago. But those are his secrets, not mine.”

“All right, I won’t pry, just… Look, it’s not that I don’t trust him after all this time – although I still think he’s kind of a jerk and I can’t believe you guys hooked up a power coupling-”

“We haven’t really, er, gone that far-”

“Whatever – he’s an okay guy and all, not as dumb as he lets on, but don’t you worry for him?”

“No,” she said. “I trust him completely. He wants no part of the Dark Side. Whatever his past, he’s here for us now.”

“He’s here for you,” Mira said with a grin. “But okay. That helps. Man, your old teacher is pretty hot. Too bad he’s, like, ancient.”

“He’s only just over forty,” Selyn protested, laughing incredulously.

“Yeah? And I’m just over twenty. Ancient. You’re old, too. No offense.”

Selyn laughed and turned to talk to Mical.

 

Her companions were all in good spirits by their victory, and it took some time for them to settle down enough for her to have some private conversation with Kavar. Eventually, they both ended up in the comm room, and Kavar shut the door to keep eavesdroppers out.

She looked at him, properly, for the first time since before the Wars. There were more wrinkles in the corners of his eyes, a litte more grey in his curly brown hair, and he looked more tired than she remembered, but otherwise he was the same as he had ever been.

First, he enfolded her in a brotherly hug, one she gladly returned. “The Force works in mysterious ways, it seems,” he said warmly, holding her at arms’ length and studying her face as she studied his. “There are times I’m not convinced it doesn’t have a sense of humour. We spent all this time looking for you, and you came to us. I thought you might return to Onderon. Just in time, too.”

She blinked at him as they sat down. “You sent me a message, didn’t you?”

“No, from before then. From when Revan disappeared, from when Katarr was destroyed.” He tapped a finger on the console thoughtfully. “I told the other Masters that our only chance to figure out what was happening to us was to find you – and try to understand what happened to you. I don’t know how much you know, but this threat that’s striking at the Jedi… it’s attacking us through the Force. Vrook didn’t believe me. But he was willing to travel to Dantooine, if only to help the settlers there… and perhaps protect what was left of the Jedi Enclave. Whatever the reason, having us all drop out of sight I thought might make the enemy more bold – but then you happened. You came back, and you became a new target for whoever was attacking us.”

“The others said it was your plan. Why did you choose these places to hide?”

“They were places touched by war. And we thought there was a chance you would return to these worlds, if only to try and make peace with what happened there during the war. We were looking for you. You were our last hope.” His eyes met hers, and he looked very serious and grim. Now she felt sorry, although she couldn’t have known how desperate the situation was while she wandered in exile. What had he felt, trying to deal with that unknown threat as friends and colleagues disappeared across the galaxy? And she had been ignorant of all of it.

Her voice was small. “Looking for me?” Zez had said Kavar had said she might return, but he hadn’t said he was looking for her.

“Yes, at least, that’s what I asked them to do. I believed you are the key to the whole war.”

Surely not. She was only one floundering Jedi, and until very recently, not even a Jedi, only a broken human. “How could that be?”

Kavar shook his head. “When you stood before us in the Council chamber on Coruscant, we felt something from you that we’d never felt before – it was as if the Force had died within you, leaving you hollow. We had suspicions as to why this was, but nothing definite. But rather than try to understand, we sent you away.”

There was regret in his voice, a deep and personal regret. She thought of the recording from her trial, where none of the Masters had really said anything supportive of her, especially Kavar, whom she thought might have – but they’d changed as much as she had over the last ten years. She was finally ready to forgive them.

“I remember we said amongst ourselves it was because you needed space to yourself before returning to us, time to consider and accept what had happened. But I think we did it because at some level, there was fear. We live our whole lives in touch with the Force, in touch with life all around us, and you had a special gift in that regard. You formed bonds so easily, and they flowed deep between you and others. To see such emptiness in the Force standing before you, from someone who had once been so full of life… it is not an easy thing to face.”

“Master Zez said the same thing,” she said. “He said he questioned the Jedi Order because of what he felt at my trial.”

“I think we all did, whether we wanted to admit it or not.” He glanced at her, through her. “It’s still not an easy thing to face. But I’m not afraid of you now. You’re still you, even without the Force. You may be hollow, but you’re not dead like you were then. No, the unsettling thing now is, that whatever is attacking us now, it is leaving something in its wake, something we haven’t felt since you stood before us in judgment. The deaths of the Jedi, the destruction of Katarr, all of these things are leaving behind echoes, wounds in the Force, like yours.” He put a hand on her shoulder. “I know it was not you who did these things, don’t worry. But it is something connected to you in some way. It was clear to us, to me, that we had to find you to understand what it was. But we couldn’t call you back from exile, because we didn’t know where you’d gone. Plus, there was a chance we might put you in danger, and that we couldn’t allow. If you couldn’t feel the Force, then it would just make you a target.” The hand on her shoulder squeezed gently. “I don’t know how you got back, how you knew to come back, or whether the Force guided you without your knowing, but I’m glad you’re here.”

“I’m glad I’m here, too. I didn’t really know to return, though. Perhaps it was the Force, moving around me though I couldn’t feel it then. It just… felt right to come back. I’d done all the thinking I could do in isolation. Although I did not come intentionally to confront my memories, my past… even though that was certainly what happened on Dxun. And yes, I am stronger for it. It seems you still know me better than I know myself.”

“That’s why I’m a Master,” he said with a bit of a twinkle in his eye. “And we were always like-minded on many things. Anyway, now the Sith have revealed themselves. We shall confer on Dantooine, and then we can counterattack.”

“What about Telos?”

Kavar looked confused. “Telos? But Telos was destroyed during the Jedi Civil War. I heard they’re trying to rebuild.”

“Atris is there. She intends to rebuild the Jedi Order there. I don’t know if she knew you were still alive.”

“Atris? I thought Atris had gone to Katarr.”

“She never said anything about that…” Selyn frowned. “We only spoke once, briefly, and it was not in friendliness. She still blames me for everything that’s happened since the War.”

“Yes, Atris so prim and proper. She never liked me either. But of all of us trying to root out the Sith, I think you’re the only one who’s made any real progress. Even she must see that, no matter what she thinks of past events. Anyway, I don’t know if we have time to go to Telos. Three Masters – and your miniature Jedi Academy – are a big enough target as it is. She won’t like it, but I think we’ll have to make plans without her this time. Speaking of your Academy…”

“Yes?” She braced herself.

“I’m amazed you’ve gathered so many Force-sensitives here on one ship. How did it happen?”

“It just sort of… grew. They happened to be in the right place at the right time for me to meet them, and they all agreed to follow me, to help the cause of fighting the Sith. Mira needed some convincing, and Visas was half-trained as a Sith and sent to kill me, and they’re all a little unusual to be Jedi, except maybe for Mical. Still, I trust them, and they do their best in their own way.”

“You have taught them well, from what I can tell, although I’ve only been with you a few hours. I suppose that is part of the mystery of why you feel the Force but I can’t feel it from you; you can’t have taught them such good technique without showing them.”

“Yes, I can show them. They say they can’t feel the wound in me, and since Korriban and what I faced there, I’ve felt stronger in the Force than ever – almost whole, again, and Mical and Mira have told me that I shine bright in the Force.” Of course, Mira had wrapped it up in innuendo and confused her greatly before she understood what she was talking about…

“If you don’t mind, I’d like to talk to them later, to find out more.”

“Yes, go ahead, although they can be shy of strangers.”

He chuckled. “Understandable. They haven’t really known a proper Jedi besides you. …There are so few left, after all. …But I also notice that some of your teachings are a little… unorthodox.”

“Yes, well, perhaps they are. I don’t want to teach like Vrook or Atris, after all.” She deflected for now. She wasn’t ready for that part of the discussion.

He snorted at that. “All right, fair. And I think I understand why you’re teaching adults – children would be no help against the Sith, and too precious to risk against the Sith. But it’s more dangerous too, you know that. Taking the quick way out in gaining powerful allies in this fight may be costly.”

“I don’t believe that,” she said. “They didn’t have to join me. Even after they joined me, they didn’t have to become Jedi. But they wanted to anyway, as soon as I asked them, even though I made it as clear as I could what it meant. They’re sincere in their intentions, and they keep on their guard against the Dark. Perhaps most of them don’t know what it’s like to have the Force from as early as they can remember, but… I can remember a time without the Force, and I can relate to them. I think it’s enough.”

“Hopefully once we defeat the Sith, a more stable arrangement can be made,” Kavar said. “For many reasons. Training so many students all by yourself, in these uncertain times, having them forced to confront the world before they’re really comfortable in the Force… it’s not an ideal situation.” A diplomatic answer. “Visas Marr in particular should seek extra instruction.”

“I don’t disagree.” At least he hadn’t yet said she was doing it completely wrong and filling their heads with dangerous ideas. He was probably saving it for Vrook to say.

“But you’ve made a good start, and I hope they see you through to the end. They seem to reflect your trust in them. And they faced the Dark Side on Dxun, and emerged victorious. I only hope they aren’t overconfident for the next time they face it.”

“Mm.”

They sat in silence for a moment. She wanted to praise her students more but was afraid it would sound like bragging.

Besides, she had more personal questions, and her eyes grew solemn as she glanced up at him. “Kavar…”

“Hm?”

“Can I ask… Why exactly did you exile me?” She tried to hide the lingering pain in her voice, but she didn’t quite succeed. She was ready to forgive him, whole-heartedly, but the betrayal she’d felt when he sided with the other Masters against her, didn’t even listen to her, had cut deep. “You said you were afraid of the wound in me, that I needed time to myself, but is that all?” Did you hate me for what I did in the Wars? No, not hate, you don’t hate. You don’t bear grudges. But you were so cold then

Kavar sighed, frowning at his hands, and was silent a long moment. “You must understand – the exile was never the punishment you thought it to be. We could not have made you do such a thing, in any event. I think you knew, inside, what you needed to do in order to heal. You defied the Council. You followed Revan to war. I know why you did it, but in so doing, much more harm was done.” Yes, thanks to her, Revan had gained many more followers than she would have otherwise. But if Revan had fallen as a sacrifice… But Kavar didn’t even mention Revan. “All those lives during the Mandalorian Wars – and all those you served beside. Too much death leaves echoes in the Force; it is the price for having such connections. I suspect that is why you chose to accept the Council’s judgment, to wander beyond the Rim. And why you traveled with no one.”

“I don’t know,” she said. “I was still in too much shock to disobey then, I think. And yes, it was good for me in the end, and yes, for a while I never wanted to see another living being. It’s just…” I knew I might lose your friendship by doing what I did, and I did it anyway, because it was the only right thing for me to do. But losing you still hurt.

Kavar seemed to understand, because he reached out and took her hand gently, looking into her eyes earnestly. “I have thought of you often since that day, and there are times when I wonder if being connected to the Force is always the gift it is believed to be. More than that, I cannot answer. This is something the Council must answer, not I.”

“Kavar-”

“You must understand.” He frowned, a pained expression. “This is hard for me, especially after all you’ve done to help. I want to tell you. You deserve to know. But it is necessary.”

“Why?” Her hand was limp in his grasp.

He was silent a moment, and when he spoke, his voice was very quiet. “Did you know that when I was training you I considered making you my Padawan?”

She drew in her breath. “No.” She’d longed to be his Padawan, she and a dozen other young students. She’d never known he was seriously considering it. “I didn’t know you were considering anyone for a Padawan.”

“I didn’t, in the end. As you know. The demands of the Jedi Council were too great. But I considered you a friend. Perhaps I thought it would be better for us to stay friends, that we were too close already to make a good master and apprentice. So the decision that had to be made was not easy. But I cannot say anything more.”

Friendzoned by her mentor. “I think you’re right.” She offered him a wistful smile. “Between our similarities, and the fact that I adored you, it would probably have been disastrous.”

Now it was his turn to inhale sharply and open his eyes wide, his hand unconsciously squeezing hers. “Selyn, I-” He coughed an awkward laugh. “I’m glad you didn’t say anything at the time.”

“Yes, it would have ruined everything. Now we’re both older and wiser… well, certainly older, perhaps not wiser…”

“But your pilot, your student… you care for him.”

Memories of Atton’s mouth on hers blurted into her mind, and she blushed violently. “I… I’m not sure what to say. I’m not sure if you would like what I have to say. But…” She took a deep breath and sat up a little straighter. “I will trust you, and tell you anyway.”

“I’m listening.” He squeezed her hand again.

“I had a lot of time to think over ten years, uninterrupted by anything – violence, politics, other beings, even the Force. And I think… I think the traditional Jedi teachings are… wrong about a few things.” She could tell he wanted to say something, but as he said, he was waiting until she was finished. “I know what you are probably going to say – those traditions are built on millenia of experience, and it’s not right of me to question them after only thinking about them for ten years in isolation without even the Force to help inform my thoughts, but perhaps, also, it’s given me a different perspective, that normally Jedi more involved with the Force and with the galaxy don’t have the opportunity to get.”

She had to take a deep breath after that sentence. “I didn’t think specifically about love, not until I’d already known Atton for a while, but, it fit neatly into what I’d been thinking before. And that is… The Force is created by life, all life. The Force is life. Life can be many things – it can be conflict, and war, and hatred, but it is also peace and joy and even death. That is why the Light Side and the Dark Side are both part of the same Force, and why neither side will ever truly triumph over the other. And, of course, it is love. Especially love. To live as a biological being is to love. We can’t help it. And to deny that we have feelings at all, as many Jedi seemed to believe in the past, is painful and unnatural.”

“I don’t want to say we should blindly embrace all our emotions, especially the negative ones, like the Sith do. I do think it depends on circumstance, and shouldn’t be without control. But sometimes it would cause more pain, in the end, to allow oneself to love, and sometimes it would cause more pain to pretend that one did not love.” She looked at their still-clasped hands, then up at him. “For instance, when I was a teenager, I thought I loved you, but I hid it away, and that was right, because I was not yet mature, only a girl dazzled by your charisma. It was a sweet feeling not destined to last or be stable.”

And yet she thought she felt his pulse quicken. “Selyn…”

“But Atton…” Suddenly, she smiled at the thought of him. “We support each other. Even if he wasn’t Force-sensitive, or if I lost my connection again, we would still be equals. No matter what happens to us, I will love him, because I can’t not love him. Even if he were to disappear tomorrow and I never saw him again, I will love him, without regret, without resentment. Our relationship may be drowned in uncertainty, but my feelings are certain. I don’t know what will happen in the future, whether there will come a time when I have to pretend I don’t feel what I feel for him, but here and now, denying this feeling will only lead to grief and madness.” Her head dropped a little. “I’m not a droid. He gives me strength to continue.”

He stared at her for a long moment. “You speak passionately.”

“Yes.”

“I can’t say I believe you, not when what you say cuts through everything we’ve ever taught. But I can see you believe it strongly, and maybe that will be enough to keep you from the Dark Side until the dust settles. I also need time to consider what you have said, to give you a proper answer, a thought-out debate. You’ve accomplished so much, and it would be a disservice to you to do otherwise.”

“Thank you, Kavar. It’s… good to talk to someone who understands.” She squeezed his hand back. He did understand, in some ways, better than her new friends. He’d known her from before, since she was a child. Maybe he didn’t approve of her current path, her current thoughts, but he would at least listen to her now. And maybe, once they defeated the Sith, he and she could come to some kind of compromise. Was that too much to hope for? Kavar was compassionate enough to do that for her, right?

He hesitated, then nodded. He seemed to want to say or do something more, but instead he placed her hand on her other hand, rose, and left the room.

 

On the second day out of Onderon, someone entered the cockpit, and they weren’t exiting hyperspace, and it wasn’t Selyn. What was the galaxy coming to?

It was her ex-boyfriend not-teacher, Kavar. Joy. “What?”

“You are Atton Rand, I believe?”

“Yeah?”

It was funny to watch the Jedi Master fumble for opening lines. And probably a bit mean, as well. Well, it wasn’t like Atton owed him any favours. He’d been one of the ones who kicked Selyn out instead of listening to her.

Kavar finally sighed and sat himself in the co-pilot’s chair without being invited. “Your feelings for her are strong.”

“Not that it’s any of your business,” Atton snapped, prickliness at max.

Kavar turned irritatingly serene eyes on him. Frak, it was like having two Micals on board – except one of them was very, very scary. He counted the ticks in the power couplings carefully. Wouldn’t do to miss a single one. “Perhaps it is my business, when you are also her student and she is attempting to train you in the Light Side of the Force. When the fate of the galaxy could rest on her shoulders. When she’s an old friend and I don’t want to see her fall or get hurt.”

Atton took a deep breath. “Do you realize just how much of a hypocrite you sound like right now?”

Kavar grimaced. “A bit. It’s true I haven’t been able to be there for her since before the Mandalorian Wars. But I am sincere in my intentions, and I hope to follow through with useful actions. I do think of her as a good friend, and we still know each other well.”

He glared over at the co-pilot’s seat, carefully. “Well y’know, maybe she’s thought this through more than you seem to think she has.”

“Perhaps. She’s told me about it. But that doesn’t mean she’s right.” Kavar stared out into hyperspace. “And yet she is so convincing when she believes she’s right.”

“Ever think she might actually be right? About Malachor, about me, about anything?”

Kavar hesitated, but then his own shields went up. “That’s not for me to say-”

But Atton interrupted, pouncing. “Why not? You have your own opinions, right? You just don’t trust me. You don’t want to admit that you were wrong to the apprentice of your ex.”

“She’s- she’s not my-” Okay, that was also amusing. Even more amusing than seeing Selyn blush, even if it wasn’t nearly as cute.

“Oh yeah? Then how come she came back from Onderon the first time thinking about you so wistfully? Frak, I don’t even like reading minds and I knew she was thinking about you, and more than just an ‘old friend’. And I know you felt something for her too, so don’t get all high and mighty on me.”

“I didn’t act on it. It was against the Code, and there are reasons why the Code forbids Jedi from holding strong affections for each other. It would have brought only grief to us and those around us, something I’m trying to spare both of you from. Even she knew that then. Even if I had known of her feelings for me then – which I did not, and I don’t think she knew of mine – it would have been a selfish mistake to indulge in them. Besides, resisting temptation leads to greater mental fortitude.”

“Does it? Does it actually?” he asked sarcastically.

“Yes.” But Kavar didn’t sound quite as sure as he had.

Atton sat up with a jerk. “All right now. Look. …” And now he had to get his thoughts in order. While counting ticks. If Kavar was telling the truth, and not being a jealous git – which was probably the case, he was such a good Jedi – he deserved a proper answer. “You Jedi all seem to think that love automatically leads to falling to the Dark Side. And yeah, people change, love can be betrayed or abandoned or any number of things… but it doesn’t have to be that way. Else why would anyone bother falling in love and getting married?” He closed his eyes. His own parents… even with everything that had happened to their family, they were still together, as far as he knew, still supporting each other. “Or just being in a family? Having friends?” Would his parents still love him, if they knew he was still alive after running away all those years ago? If they knew everything he had done? If they knew what he was doing now?

“That’s not a bad point,” Kavar said softly, “but for a Jedi it’s different. No one can avoid being connected to others, it’s true, especially if one is sensitive to the Force, but that’s why it’s just even more important to maintain control over our feelings. We have so much power, for starters, and we need to be open to all of the galaxy, not just focus on the life of one particular being. We can’t risk the strong negative emotions that do come with betrayal or abandonment, and that’s not even mentioning the call of the Dark Side that each of us must constantly struggle with.”

“Then why haven’t you decreed yet that the Republic Chancellor isn’t allowed to be married? Or the Grand Admiral? They’ve got power, even if it’s not Force power.”

“No, that’s different.”

Did all Jedi think they were special snowflakes just because they could feel the energy field generated by all living things that surrounded them and bound the galaxy together? “You’re just taking the easy way out, by teaching complete abstinence. Don’t you know how well that works with sex ed in schools?” It’d been that way at his highschool on Alderaan. Every year had shown evidence of its inadequacy. “You’re not teaching them to think for themselves. She doesn’t do that. She knows she’s still human.”

“I think you’re setting up a bit of a straw-man here. We’re not quite that simplistic. But to be a Jedi, you must be more than human. Or Twi’lek, or Wookiee, or Rodian.”

Atton laughed bitterly. “Talk to the HK droid if you want to know how well that works out. And is that your excuse for handing her the fate of the galaxy? That she has to be more than human? A Jedi’s life is sacrifice or whatever, but you’re going to ask her to risk her life and mental-wellbeing to fight the Sith and then also deny her any sort of emotional back-up? You’re sick.”

“Being preferential to you could cause her to make mistakes, mistakes which the galaxy cannot afford,” Kavar replied, beginning to sound irritated finally.

“Yeah, well, telling her to wall everyone off – to care, but not too much – could lead to her making mistakes too, because that’s going to hurt her as badly as any betrayal. She’d be betraying herself. And you know that, if you know her.”

Kavar sighed again. “I’m afraid you’re right on that. She said as much, already.”

“I guess what it comes down to is, do you trust her enough to deal with the Sith no matter what’s going on in her private life?” There was the magic word, trust. He didn’t trust Kavar. Kavar didn’t trust him. But he trusted Selyn, and he thought Kavar thought he did too.

“I don’t know. It might be that letting this situation go without monitoring could lead to greater tragedy later.” Like what, one of us falling to the Dark Side? So you don’t trust her, then.

“You don’t know that.”

“Neither do you. …But I think I have underestimated you.”

“I’m not even going to rip you a new one on that ‘old friend’ business.” Atton glanced over at the Jedi. “Hey, don’t feel bad. Most people underestimate me. I like it that way. Then they leave me alone.”

“To… count ticks in the power couplings.”

Not even ten minutes and Kavar had tried to invade his mind. “Yep. Stay out of my head and I’ll stay out of yours.”

“Fair enough.” Kavar was silent for a while, then rose. “Well, may the Force be with you, wherever your future leads you. I hope for your sake it happens as you hope.”

“…Thanks.”

 

Part 12

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