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Before - Legends A Marine Went to Jedi Camp (Tales from the Corps series w/Laera Reyolé) 7/26/11 -- COMPLETE!

Discussion in 'Fan Fiction- Before, Saga, and Beyond' started by Goodwood, Jun 17, 2011.

  1. Goodwood

    Goodwood Jedi Master star 5

    May 11, 2011
    Title: A Marine Went to Jedi Camp
    Author: Goodwood
    Timeframe: Pre-KotOR
    Characters: OCs + assorted KotOR characters
    Genre: Character study/training w/action scenes
    Summary: For approximately four thousand years, from the earliest conflicts with the Sith Empire to the Ruusan Reformation, the Republic Marines did battle with the enemies of the Galactic Republic. Renowned for their skill in all aspects of galactic warfare as well as their traditions of duty, valor, honor and loyalty, the Marines were one of the foundation stones for civilization throughout the galaxy.

    Even among the citizens and soldiers of the Republic, there are those who don't quite trust the Jedi Order. Marine Captain Laera Reyolé, a veteran officer who was killed in combat at the height of the Mandalorian Wars and subsequently resurrected, is one of them. But what happens when a person who holds the Force in disdain learns that she is sensitive to it? For Laera, that answer must surely come, for even as she dwells on the possibility of Jedi training, galaxy-altering events are already in motion.


    [B]Chapter One[/B]

    I watched with a heavy heart as the packet transport lifted off, waving one last goodbye to its solitary occupant, the pilot who had ferried me here in the first place. The small, streamlined vessel's repulsorlifts whined as it continued to gain height; eventually, its ion engines kicked in, propelling it out of sight. With a sigh, I walked out of the landing facility within Garang Spaceport, running a hand through my short, auburn hair before donning my cap and continuing through the terminal. Doing my best to maintain an air of professional detachment, I climbed into the back of the landspeeder that was waiting for me.

    Dantooine wasn't really a bad place; it was actually rather similar to my own homeworld of Agamar. Both planets had an abundance of arable land, but while the former was almost exclusively grassland and savannas, the latter possessed large forests of evenly-spaced binka trees. Both had been settled relatively recently; while Dantooine had been settled for long enough to have attracted the establishment of a Jedi training enclave, Agamar had only been colonized a few years prior to Exar Kun's insurrection. My folks had been among the first wave of new arrivals; my father, Daddi (I'm not kidding, that's his name) had been a manager in the multi-sector agricultural conglomerate which had first scouted the world, while my mother, Ceylon, had worked as his executive assistant before the two had fallen in love and gotten married. In addition, both planets had small populations spread out over large areas, which greatly appealed to me after having been cooped up for so long aboard warships, constantly bumping elbows with soldiers, crewers, pilots and droids.

    I laughed to myself at the irony of it all. Here I was, a dead Marine only recently reborn, stranded on a backwater rock that was so close in appearance to the world of my birth that it almost ached. Not exactly how I had pictured spending my time after the war. Still, it was better than the alternative—even if I didn't quite understand what that alternative would have entailed. Flashes of what I had experienced still cropped up now and again; every so often a stray memory would cause me to involuntarily flex a muscle or two to make sure they were still working. This was not helped by the friendly-looking sights of Dantooine's countryside as they flickered by the speeder's transparisteel windows.

    As the vehicle continued its trek from the spaceport to the Jedi enclave, I took the time to consider the current situation. Revan's fleet had gone missing without a trace, leaving behind no indications of where they had gone, and Commander Onasi—who was probably the closest thing to a friend I had at this point—had been recalled to Coruscant “with all possible haste” to try and explain what might have gone wrong. Oh yes, and it turns out that I'm Force-sensitive.

    The emotional numbness that had first greeted the previous evening's pronouncement by Jedi Master Vrook Lamar now gone, I started laughing so hard that my stomach soon began to cramp up. Now, I'm nobody's fool, despite being a first-gen colony kid from some Outer Rim dirtball; Marine service tends to be pretty brutal in its assessment of one's capabilities and talents. I know what the Force is, and have witnessed its power firsthand on many occasions while fighting against the Mandalorians. But I had never really trusted those who wielded it; those who called themselves peacekeepers and defenders of justice. Their idea of justice, as Dad had explained it once, had been to get rid of those who didn't agree with their own doctrine in a way that made it [I]look[/I] as though they were just "keeping the peace." I could understand his point of view; when I was two, we had lost nearly everything when a Krath supply raid had targeted my hometown, nearly flattening it in the process. The Jedi-led relief force, which had arrived too late to stop them, had been unwilling to help repair the damage, and so my family and I had been forced to rebuild our lives almost from scratch. I supposed that it could have been worse—indeed, life seems to be full of such suppositions—because most of the town's residents had been spared in the attack, including my family.

    It was because of the raid that I had enlisted in the Republic military at the earliest permissible age—sixteen, with joint parental consent. It was not out of patriotism or any thirst for revenge that I had joined up; the attack had occurred much too early in my life to have left any such impression. Rather, it was because the armed forces of the Republic pay their soldiers well; we're trained to professional standards, and expected to maintain that standard for the duration of our service. The Marines in particular receive something on the order of fifteen percent more in base pay alone, plus there are ample opportunities to earn hazardous-duty and even combat-related bonuses. Though the training had been arduous, and on more than one occasion I had found myself wondering what the kriff I was even trying to prove, I had come to view the experience as a life-changing event, feeling proud to have earned a place in one of the galaxy's most elite fighting forces. Despite the fact that my pay went almost exclusively to my parents back on Agamar, the Republic Marines eventually became my true family, their motto of [I]Semper Fidelis[/I], which roughly translates to “always loyal” in Old Alsakan, became my personal creed.

    And I regretted none of it. Not even the dying part.

    The landspeeder slowed to a halt in front of the enclave's southern entrance, bringing me out of my introspection. I suspected that Master Vrook offering to put me up at the Jedi-run facility until the Republic could ascertain my status was more than just him being generous, particularly in light of his assessment of my hitherto unknown abilities. However, the fact remained that I didn't really have anywhere else to go. Garang had a few low-rent hostels that seemed nice enough, but without any ready credits, it was a no-go. Because of some bureaucratic SNAKU—situation normal, all karked up—regarding my final orders, I couldn't go back Coreward with Commander Onasi either.

    Still, the enclave itself looked homey enough. The architecture of the place was simple, but elegant: large courtyards, lined with benches, that surrounded a complex of interconnected buildings that housed everything from dormitories and training rooms to a pair of fully-functional landing pads for small shuttles or low-stock freighters. Taking all this in as I extricated myself and my duffel bag from the landspeeder, I dimly wondered what fate awaited me inside. [I]Well, no sense in dilly-dallying, Laera,[/I] I thought to myself, taking a deep breath. [I]Might as well go on in and see what the Jedi want.[/I]

    — — —

    “Captain Reyolé, welcome,” a jug-eared apprentice said cheerily as I entered the enclave. The tow-headed youth, who looked as though he was barely old enough to access the HoloNet without the safeties, smiled eagerly as he took in my appearance. Unconsciously blushing, I remembered that I hadn't been able to get any laundry done after the long hyperspace voyage to Dantooine, but that usually wasn't a problem for the Marine-issue green-gray-brown mottled battle-dress uniform I wore. Though they were designed to appear relatively neat and clean despite extensive wear in the field, I suddenly felt extremely self-conscious walking into such an auspicious and venerable place in a frumpy set of BDUs.

    The gestures of the youngster, who was beckoning for my duffel, brought me out of my reverie. “I'll take that to your room for you, ma'am,” he piped up as I met his earnest gaze. “The Council was hoping to meet with you before you settled in.”

    “Yeah, whatever you say, kid,” I replied woodenly, handing over the bag—which contained everything that I owned in the universe—without really paying attention. “Where is this Council you mentioned?”

    “Over that way,” the apprentice pointed. “Take the next right and then left, it's the big circular room with the open roof.”

    “Thank you,” I replied. The youth sketched a bow before scampering off with my duffel, which looked almost as big as he was. Heartened by the absurdness of such a small boy carrying such an overlarge load, I strode deeper into the enclave, finding the indicated chamber without much trouble. It was as he had described; large and round, it was bathed in natural sunlight from the center of the ceiling, which was open to the elements. The floor, lined at points along the walls with plant boxes, was sunken in the middle, with a row of chairs arranged along the edge on the far side. Four of them were presently occupied, with two humans, a Lethan Twi'lek, and a member of a diminutive species that I'd never seen before sitting in close proximity. This, I guessed, had to be the Council of Jedi that the youngster had referred to.

    “Greetings, Captain Reyolé,” Master Vrook said, standing as I entered the sunken portion of the chamber. He was joined by the other human, a dark-skinned man who looked to be older than my father, and the Twi'lek, whose red countenance reminded me of a rather nasty sunburn I'd once gotten while on leave on Dac. The shrimp in their midst, however, remained seated. “It was good of you to accept our offer.”

    “Thank you for extending it, Master Jedi,” I replied, somewhat stiffly as I stood at attention.

    “Before we see to your comfort, however, the Council wishes to discuss something with you,” the elder Jedi continued. “To my left is Master Zhar,” he said, pointing to the Twi'lek. “To my right are Masters Vandar and Dorak,” he indicated, gesturing toward the small Jedi and the other human in turn. “You remember, of course, what we discussed the previous evening?”

    “Yes, I do,” I said with a nod. [I]Good guess, Laera![/I]

    The other human, Dorak, spoke up then, his tone scholarly but not aloof. “We are aware of the circumstances surrounding your life and, to a certain extent, your death and subsequent resurrection. What intrigues us most is your connection to the Force, and how it may have been affected by your ordeal.”

    “The Force is life, as well as death,” Master Vandar said, his voice high, nasally and raspy. “The two are as interconnected as anything else in the universe. You are strong in the Force, but it seems that this strength has only recently made itself manifest.”

    “With the Force, many things are possible,” Master Zhar chimed in, his voice low but fatherly, after a fashion. “You are a disciplined warrior, dedicated to the Republic. We are considering you for Jedi training.”

    My attention not fully allocated toward the four-part harmony of Force-inspired philosophical yammering, the Twi'lek's last words caught me blindsided. Realizing that my jaw had dropped several centimeters, I hastily closed it and regarded the Council with something that was intended to be a scowl, but from the furtive nods that all four of them were shooting me, it was clear they could see right through the facade.

    “You do not trust us, that much is clear,” Master Vrook said frankly. “But you trusted those Jedi who fought beside you against the Mandalorians, despite the fact that they did so against the wishes of the Order. Be mindful of—”

    “Excuse me, Master Jedi,” I interrupted, my voice spiked with sudden anger, “but with all due respect, you are [I]wrong[/I]. I fought alongside the Revanchists, but I never fully trusted any of them, except for one. I'm a Marine, [I]sir[/I], trained to fight the enemies of the Republic, of civilization itself, no matter who leads me into battle!”

    A thunderous silence descended upon the chamber as the Masters exchanged glances. My heart thudded in my ears as I struggled to regain my composure, shocked at my own words and the heat with which they had been shot out. I didn't understand why I was acting this way. Certainly, these particular Jedi Masters had done nothing that warranted my ire, and though my distrust of the Order ran deep, I had usually treated its members with some modicum of respect. Realizing that my hands had balled into fists, I determinedly unclenched them, instead clasping them behind my back as I forced myself to calm down and see the situation rationally.

    It had to have been Vrook's assumption, I realized. He'd touched a nerve by stating that I had in fact trusted Revan and his followers, that I'd embraced their help with open arms, when he couldn't have been more wrong. While it was true that I had fought under the command, and even alongside, those Jedi who had deigned to take the war seriously, that had not meant that they had automatically earned any sort of respect, much less trust. Part of me, it seemed, still held a small dose of contempt for those Jedi, like the Council before me, who had stayed out of the fighting.

    “Perhaps we have put too much pressure upon you, Captain,” Master Vandar said at last as my thoughts drew to a close. “Please accept our apologies.”

    “This is a lot to take in at once,” Master Dorak suggested. “Would you care to get some rest? An apprentice will show you to the quarters we have prepared for you.”

    I acquiesced to the Council's suggestion, offering them an apologetic sort of nod.

    — — —

    The same youth who had greeted me upon my arrival showed me to the single-occupancy that had been arranged in the enclave's sublevel. As I followed him, I watched as other Jedi, who all wore some variation on the homespun tunic and robes I'd always associated with their kind, went about their business. Some of the older ones nodded at me as we passed, while the rest, for the most part, ignored me. As my guide led me into the lower floor, a mixed-species gaggle of kids even younger than he was were playing a game of some sort, which to me looked like a variation of knee-sack but without the use of knees. [I]Telekinetic fun and games,[/I] I thought ruefully to myself. [I]Is [/I]that[I] what they're going to try and teach me?[/I]

    The quarters I had been given lay at the far end of one of the long corridors. My room, along with five others, were arranged in a rough hemisphere around a small common area. Though I would have preferred the one closest to the door to this cluster, I ended up with the one whose entrance directly opened onto the egress from the corridor to the center space. This meant that, unless I kept my own door sealed, I would have virtually no privacy. [I]And in a place like this, sealing myself off from the others will look like I've got something to hide,[/I] I thought. Perhaps the only saving grace was that the room itself, as well as its otherwise utilitarian-style furniture, was somewhat larger than what I was used to; aboard a warship, even a company or battalion commander couldn't expect to get much space aside from a bunk and a small desk terminal.

    As I entered my quarters, the tow-headed apprentice sketched another bow and beat an awe-struck retreat. Not caring what tales the kid might tell of the “high-ranking Republic officer” he had escorted, I promptly slammed the door actuator and pounced on the bed, which was surprisingly comfortable. It wasn't long before sheer mental exhaustion overtook me, ceasing all thoughts.

    — — —

    When I awoke, I had to check my chronometer three times before finally accepting the fact that I had slept for a full twenty Standard hours. Despite the shock, I felt extremely rested, as though I'd finally sloughed off a hundred-kilo suit of armor that had been encasing me like the skin of a nerf sausage for the past several weeks. Sitting up and easing my legs over the side of the bed, I stretched, taking in my surroundings as I did so. Like the rest of the sublevel, the walls were tiled in muted gray and red hexagons, while the floor was covered in clay-colored squares. On the floor across from the bed was a padded mat about a meter on each side that I supposed must be for meditation or training purposes. Along the wall opposite the entrance was a decent-sized chair and desk, which included a small computer terminal; above it, a small shelf had been grafted to the wall. I noticed that it had been stocked with datapads.

    Getting up, I rummaged through my duffel for another set of BDUs, but gave it up as a bad job after realizing that all three sets I owned were just as filthy as the ones I'd slept in. It was at that point that I noticed the brown parcel that had been left on the desk chair, which had been pulled aside so that the gift faced me. [I]Oh no,[/I] I thought after opening it. [I]They don't mess around with this stuff, do they?[/I] Disgusted with the fact that my only options were to run around this place either in full battle armor, full dress reds, or this tunic and robe getup, I finally gave in and went native. The cloth itched like nothing I'd ever experienced, the heavy outer cloak was hot and oppressive, and the leather boots were a bit tight in the ankle, but at least I wouldn't have knee-high initiates gawking at me as though I had stepped out of a war holodrama.

    Deciding not to unpack the duffel just yet, I left it to lean against my bed as I sat, now fully robed, at the small desk. Out of curiosity, I punched up the terminal and attempted to get a layout of the enclave. The computer was kind enough to oblige without too much coaxing, and I soon found out where I could get something to eat. Ignoring the seven datapads on the shelf, I switched the terminal back off as my stomach gave a huge grumble.

    Thankfully, the enclave didn't follow military protocols, and served its inhabitants whenever they were hungry, though the menu was understandably limited to native-grown or -raised foodstuffs. When I arrived at the sublevel mess hall after having visited the refresher, it was empty save for a trio of diners. A human, a Bothan, and a Falleen, all of whom were male and clad in the ubiquitous Jedi robes, were engaged in a heated philosophical debate even as they ate their meals. After obtaining as large a portion as I dared from the communal self-service area, I parked my rear on a bench close to them. “Morning,” I mumbled distractedly before shoveling a heaping forkful of nerf-and-kidney pudding into my mouth.

    Though relatively plain, the food was delicious, but I hadn't gotten two chews in before it dawned on me that the nearby conversation had come to a screeching halt. Chewing furiously and finally managing to swallow that first mouthful, I shot a glare in their direction. “Problem, gentlemen?” I asked none-too-politely.

    “No, ma'am,” the Falleen replied, shaking his head in a would-be casual way that fooled no one.

    “Well, that's not exactly true,” the black-and-tan furred Bothan interjected, cocking a thumb at his reptilian friend. “Fezor here isn't used to the sudden appearance of females he doesn't already know, particularly mammals.”

    “Right,” I said, rolling my eyes at the trio. The human, wisely in my opinion, was keeping silent, his attention directed firmly toward his own meal. To the extent that I could read the cues, I guessed that the two aliens, like their companion, were in their mid to late twenties, though I had no idea where in the Order's rank structure they were placed. Though I'd fought beside Jedi, and even gotten to know a few during the war, that didn't mean I had any clue as to how the Order itself worked. Hazarding a guess, I marked them down as newly-minted Knights. “Well Fezor,” I said, extending a hand toward him, “my name is Laera Reyolé, a humble Marine and guest of this fine facility.”

    “Pleased to make your acquaintance, ma'am,” the Falleen Jedi replied with a nod. “We welcome you to our table.”

    “Thanks, I think,” I said, returning to my food after having scooted a few seats away to give the men their privacy.

    — — —

    After having gorged myself on Jedi cuisine, I left the mess hall, making my way toward the courtyard so I could get in some good old fashioned physical training to get my mind back in focus. After twenty-plus years in the service, a person gets used to certain routines; for me, working up a sweat was the best way to start off a new day, particularly when that day seemed as though it would be the first of many spent in the same location. Garrison-living, I called it, which applied whether or not such living was spent in an on-planet base or aboard a warship. Upon exiting the building, however, I soon realized how truly out-of-whack my sense of timing had become. Instead of the sunrise I had been expecting, the skies overhead were midnight black and spangled with stars. [I]Nevermind that now,[/I] I thought to myself as I picked out a semi-secluded place to exercise. [I]Just get your head on straight, and you can go from there...[/I]

    Shucking my cloak and placing it neatly upon a nearby bench, I began running through the standard Marine PT protocols; stretches, then pushups, situps, and spring-leaps, intermixed with place-running and quick-drop/quick-stand routines. As I began to sweat with the effort, I noticed that the itching caused by my garments' fabric had begun to subside, which was as good a start as any. Having finished the PT warm-up, I began to jog a circuit around the courtyard perimeter; unfortunately, I hadn't gone thirty paces before an all-too-familiar voice called through the night. “Captain Reyolé, a word with you?”

    Shaking my head ruefully as I blew an exasperated sigh, I did an about-face and jogged back toward the dimly-lit form of Vrook Lamar. “Something I can do for you, sir?” I asked, trying to sound polite, though I knew that “sir” wasn't the proper way to greet a Jedi Master. [I]There you go again, Laera,[/I] I admonished myself.

    “There is,” he replied, apparently ignoring the slight cheek. “I had hoped, now that you are properly rested and fed, that you might be open to further discussions of your future.”

    [I]Why am I not surprised,[/I] I thought to myself. “May as well, since there's not really anything else for me to do,” I said, walking back to retrieve my cloak. “You Jedi aren't as subtle as you like to think you are.”

    “Subtlety was not my intention,” Vrook retorted. “You Marines aren't as serious as you claim to be.”

    “Like you would know,” I shot back, slinging the heavy cloak over my left shoulder and trotting back toward the elder Jedi. “When was the last time you met a Marine?”

    “Eighteen Standard months ago,” Vrook said darkly. “A man named Thedus Bimm had been sent to Coruscant for treatment after having suffered severe wounds at Jaga's Cluster. I oversaw the Jedi healers' efforts to restore his mind as well as his body.”

    That brought me up short, and I could sense that Vrook had known that it would, too.

    “Ah, yes, that's right,” he continued on, driving the vibroblade deeper into my heart. “You two served in the same battalion during the war, if I'm not mistaken. Was he a friend of yours?”

    “Damn you,” I growled, hating the man for his insight. “Alright, you've made your point. Where do we go to 'discuss' this cluster-knock of a future you want to rope me into?”

    “Follow me,” Vrook replied, utterly unperturbed.

    — — —

    “Ah, Captain Reyolé,” the three-quarter sized holographic image of a middle-aged Bothan said as I entered the Council chambers behind Vrook, who took his usual seat. “I had been hoping for the chance to talk to you!”

    “Vice-Admiral Dun'vei,” I acknowledged mechanically as, snapping to attention, I offered him my best salute.

    The holographic admiral returned the gesture, his fur rippling at neck and shoulder, and I stood at ease. “Please, Captain, there's no need for parade-ground formalities. This is merely an informal session to discuss your unique status and what it means for you and your service with the Republic.”

    I shook my head, not quite believing what he was saying. “Begging your pardon, sir, but the Commandant of the Marine Corps himself doesn't usually dabble in tidying up personnel files.”

    “A fair point,” Dun'vei acknowledged. “But as you have already gathered, you are quite the exception, in more ways than one.”

    I shot Vrook a glare, which he either missed or ignored. [I]You Jedi play dirty, too,[/I] I thought at him. [I]Assuming I don't burn sky, I might just end up liking you...[/I] “Yes, Admiral, I've been made aware of the more pertinent facts.”

    “Indeed? Am I to assume that you have accepted their offer?”

    “Offer, Admiral?” I asked, stalling for time to gather my thoughts and suppress my private outrages. [I]That son of a murglak Vrook went over my head? How dare he![/I]

    “Captain Reyolé, you have been given an incredible opportunity!” Dun'vei replied, seemingly taken aback. “Given all that you have done in service to the Republic throughout your career, surely you must see the benefit of undergoing Jedi training?”

    I took a few moments to mull this over, letting the admiral stew in his own mental juices for a bit. Part of me was, I'll admit, intrigued at having learned of my own Force-sensitivity; it, along with my own curiosity, wanted to at least give the Jedi the benefit of the doubt—if only this one time. Another part wanted to reject the offer out of hand, to denounce the Jedi as selfish manipulators and insist on being assigned to a line unit. The two sides warred with each other for a few tense moments before their struggle was torn asunder by the viridian blade of General Vima Sunrider—the only Jedi I had ever trusted.

    “To be honest, Admiral, I'm conflicted.” I answered, finally admitting to the core truth of the matter. “I've been quite literally dead for almost a year and a half, and I'm still coming to terms with that. I have yet to learn why Revan wanted me resurrected, and now it looks as though the answer to that question will be forever lost. While I am humbled, even intrigued, by their offer, I don't know that I am cut out to be a Jedi. Not enough trust there, I think.”

    The holographic admiral was silent for several moments, his fur rippling to and fro as he drummed a finger against his jawline. “I understand, of course, Captain,” Dun'vei said, his voice pensive. “You should realize, however, that the Jedi can help to guide you toward understanding in this matter.” He paused, and his thoughtful look was replaced by the type of predatory grin that came so naturally to his kind. “Failing that, I can always assign you to Dantooine as head of its garrison."

    My heart sank. “Very well, Admiral, you win,” I sighed, turning to face the Council. “When do we start, O Great and Wise Masters?”
  2. Tevase2

    Tevase2 Jedi Knight star 1

    Mar 12, 2011
    Well you have me hooked:D
    are you going to continue it
    Goodwood likes this.
  3. Goodwood

    Goodwood Jedi Master star 5

    May 11, 2011
  4. TrakNar

    TrakNar Jedi Grand Master star 5

    Apr 4, 2011
    Laera seems very out of her element and even reluctant. Should be interesting to see what comes of this.
  5. Goodwood

    Goodwood Jedi Master star 5

    May 11, 2011
    Chapter Two

    Ten minutes later I was back in my quarters, taking the first of the seven datapads that had been given to me from its place on the shelf. Flicking it on, I began scrolling through its contents, which turned out to be a fairly detailed history of the Jedi Order. For the next several hours I took in the information like a sponge, hoping for some sort of context that might help to assuage my lingering trust issues. The Masters had taken my rather impertinent acceptance with remarkable grace, considering that I'd have been hopping mad if I had been given similar cheek by some upstart of a shave-tailed ensign. [I]This must come with the territory,[/I] I thought to myself as I read about the First Great Schism and the reforms instituted afterward. [I]Being blessed with such powerful abilities, a person has to learn how to be moderate of spirit lest those abilities take control of them.[/I]

    I'd seen my share of fellow Marines laid low not just by war, but by their own bravado. One of my platoon sergeants during the war with the Mandalorians, who had been a crack shot with a repeating blaster, had gotten sloppy during one engagement. Yelling his head off, he had mounted the parapet we were defending, spraying blasterfire in waves at the oncoming assault troops, only to be cut down by a sniper shot that had hit him right in his helmet's visor. As if that weren't enough, his erratic fire had caused the attacking Mandos to start using sense, which had made our job that much more difficult. We'd held the line that day, but barely.

    Digging my head out from the past, I paused the datapad and tossed it aside, running my hands over my face in a yawn. I had only been up for about half a day, but I was already tired, which was odd considering the amount of sleep I'd had. Idly wondering whether I was being subjected to some trick of the Force, I stood up, stretched, and exited my room. The common area was beginning to fill up, with the cluster's other occupants taking seats on various scattered chairs or else kneeling in meditation. It was only then that I recognized that I'd been put in an all-female cluster, and that I was easily twice as old as its next-eldest member, a Duros whose blue-green skin flushed as she caught sight of me. The other women—well, girls, if you wanted to get technical—began to notice me as well; they started to talk amongst themselves, and even the pair of meditating humans came back to the here and now to shoot quizzical looks at me.

    Deciding that I didn't care to be subjected to such scrutiny, harmless and well-intentioned though it might be, I wordlessly exited the cluster and made my way back to the mess hall for some lunch. This time, fortunately, there were enough Jedi present that my appearance would not be readily noticed. Drawing attention to myself had never been one of my goals in life, a feeling that had been reinforced multiple times over during my Marine career. Oh, I certainly knew how to get people to notice me when I needed to, but that wasn't the point; here, I was just another initiate, starting her first day on the job. As I heaped food onto my plate, I silently congratulated myself on having become a "noob" all over again.

    — — —

    The next several days passed in a haze as I worked my way through the datapads, learning the history of the Jedi Order, its traditions and protocols, as well as some basic Force-related philosophy and theory. It soon became readily apparent that, as the oldest person in my residential cluster, I was expected to take responsibility for its five other occupants, despite the fact that each of them were far more advanced in their studies and abilities. Though I was used to taking charge when the occasion called for it, doing so was still somewhat disconcerting when I had to keep in mind that even the youngest of my charges could knock me to the floor with a single thought if they so chose.

    Most of my time was spent reading, though I'd begun to move out of my solitude and into the common area. The other residents, apprentices all, spent most of their days off with their own Masters, “learning by doing” as one of the philosophical texts had described it. As an initiate, I was comfortable with the idea of staying put and learning how [I]not[/I] to make a complete ass of myself in front of some of the strongest Force-users in the galaxy, in addition to playing mom to the other apprentices. After having progressed through all seven datapads, I began to access the terminal at my desk, intending to shake it down for any information on recent Jedi history.


    Hoping to follow up on something that Commander Onasi and I had discussed on the trip over to Dantooine, I typed in the name “Vima Sunrider,” then initiated a search of the Enclave's records.


    Something inside me imploded as I read the computer's response. I typed in a followup query, asking it why she had been exiled.


    If I had been any other woman, if I had not been a highly-trained and -experienced Marine who knew that part of the key to survival in battle was mastery of one's emotions, I probably would have smashed the terminal right then and there, consequences be damned. That aside, I was in a towering rage, my grudging acceptance of the Jedi ripped to shreds and lit on fire. Standing up so quickly that I knocked my chair flying, I whipped around, intent on storming the Council chambers to demand an explanation for this atrocity. However, I had barely crossed through my door when I was intercepted by the youngest girl in the cluster, a Togruta youngling about thirteen Standard years old. “Is there something you need, Jedi Aewa?” I asked, managing to keep my temper from showing.

    “Master Vrook wishes to see you in the number twelve training room, Jedi Reyolé,” she answered, smiling up at me.

    “Thank you, Aewa,” I replied, my voice breaking slightly. The girl seemed not to notice, however, as she whirled about and trotted back into the common area, where she began tinkering with some kind of small training aid. I closed my eyes for a moment, then held my forehead in my palm, trying and failing to stop the roaring headache that was blooming there. [I]Get a move on, Laera![/I] my better judgment screamed; though it took more effort than it should have, I managed to put one foot in front of the other a sufficient number of times to reach the room where the Jedi Master lurked, which was open.

    “So, you've finally finished reading,” he said as I entered.

    “Now is not a good time, Master Vrook,” I warned. I was on the knife-edge of losing it, I knew; at this point, the last thing I wanted was to start going off half-cocked in front of the man who was, apparently, to be my teacher.

    To his credit, the elder Jedi seemed to recognize my disquiet. “What troubles you, Jedi Reyolé? You must become free of emotional distractions if we are to begin your training.”

    I took a few deep breaths, buying time to think of the right words to say. “Do you remember what I said that first evening, when Master Zhar proposed to train me, about having only ever trusted one Jedi?” Vrook nodded, his expression unreadable. “Well, it turns out that you exiled that very same Jedi. Does the name 'Sunrider' ring a bell?”

    “There have been several Jedi with that name,” Vrook replied, his tone neutral. “Nomi, who led the Council, her husband Andur, and their daughter, Vima.”

    I stared at him, waiting for him to elaborate, but he did not. “Then you know that—”

    “It is now painfully obvious, Jedi Reyolé,” he interrupted harshly. “You placed your trust in one who is now no longer a Jedi. I will not discuss the circumstances, and you will not inquire further.”

    I instantly bristled at this treatment; though I was a raw rookie in the ways of the Force, I was not a child. This ill-tempered old man, who really wasn't that much older than me, was treating me as though I were a rebellious teenager demanding an increase in her allotted pocket credits. “You see, [I]this[/I] is why I never trusted your kind,” I seethed. “Secrets upon secrets, keeping yourselves aloof, and not bothering to own up and do your damn jobs when the Republic needed you!”
    Vrook just stood there, mute and inscrutable.

    “So that's why you tossed her out, is it?” I asked, guessing wildly. “You threw out the only Jedi I ever trusted, the only one who ever truly cared about the soldiers she commanded, just because she did what you could not? Simply because she possessed more courage than the entire High Council, and brought the fight to the Mandalorians?”

    Again, the Jedi Master remained silent, immobile, unreadable.

    “I'm obviously angry, [I]Master[/I] Vrook,” I hissed, trying to get him to say something, anything. “You can't train someone who is angry, right? So why not save us both a lot of time and trouble and tell me the [I]real[/I] reason why you want to train a thirty-eight year old woman when, clearly, I'm far too old for this...this [I]fierfek[/I]!”

    The room descended into silence as I waited for a reply, a horrible, ringing silence that stretched on and on. Looking into that impenetrable gaze, I felt my righteous fury slowly ebbing away, to be replaced by the emptiness of resignation. It became excruciatingly clear that I wasn't going to get anything more out of this man, this old fool who thought he knew so much, even if I held a blaster to his temple and threatened to pull the trigger. After what seemed like a full Standard hour, I finally looked away from him, instead staring at the floor and hanging my head in defeat. By way of reply, the Jedi Master assumed a meditative posture, gesturing for me to do the same. With a snort that lacked any sort of vehemence, I joined him.

    “I know you won't forget this, Jedi Reyolé,” he said, his voice calm. “Even if your anger has abated for now, that much is plain. In the meantime, close your eyes, and focus your mind on the sound of my voice.”

    Figuring that I had nothing else to lose by following his instructions, I did my best to focus, blowing a heavy sigh in an effort to further vent my feelings.

    “Look inside yourself,” Vrook began, his low voice now deliberately slow and infused with an undercurrent that I found hypnotic. “Look not with your eyes, but with your mind. Feel your mind, your sense, within yourself. Touch your mind with your mind, encapsulate yourself within yourself...”
    Following the currents of his voice, I began to feel my body from within. Muscles that had been tense with anger only minutes before began to relax in the gentle embrace of my mind's eye. Soon, I began to feel a tingling sensation; at first it was confined to an area near the base of my skull, but it began to radiate outward as Vrook continued to speak, repeating his last sentence several more times.
    “...and finally, awaken to the Force!”

    At that instant, an explosion of awareness surged throughout my body, from the tips of my toes to the crown of my head. In that moment, I could name the exact number of skin pores I possessed, and how many were clogged; I knew exactly how many hairs grew atop my scalp, the number of blood cells of all types that flowed through my circulatory system. Gradually, the heightened sense subsided, and I was left feeling almost hollow, as though I'd expended an enormous amount of energy in a very short time. My eyes fluttered open, and to my utter consternation, it was to see Vrook smiling.

    “You wanted to know the real reason why we wished to train you,” he said, nodding. “You have just experienced it.”

    “That was incredible,” I almost-babbled. “Was...was I always able to do that?”

    “Under the right circumstances, yes,” the Jedi Master replied. “You...are an interesting case, in several ways. It is very difficult to train one as old as you; a sentient being's thought processes are, typically, too set in their ways to accept such teachings. The older the student, the more the student has to unlearn before they can truly learn.”

    “What makes me different?” I inquired, allowing the happiness I'd felt during that moment of supreme self-awareness to show.

    Vrook was silent for a few moments. “Your mental discipline, for one,” he said, stroking his jaw in thought. “I cannot recall anyone having trained an initiate who was once a soldier. I suspect that, because you are conditioned to readily accept new data and incorporate it into your understanding of, say, a problem of battlefield tactics, you are also able to accept and incorporate new data about yourself. No offense, but at your current state, even an apprentice would probably be able to make you think that your hair was blonde.”

    That actually drew a laugh out of me. “Surely there are ways to block such unfriendly mental assaults,” I said with a chuckle.

    “Indeed there are, but first you must learn the basics,” Vrook replied, his tone all business. “I accept you as my Padawan learner, provided you are willing to accept me as your Jedi Master.”

    “I am,” I replied solemnly, my first experience with the Force having overridden my earlier hatred of the man.

    “Then the bond between master and apprentice is sealed. Go and rest, Jedi Reyolé. May you find peace in the Force.”

    — — —

    During the weeks that followed, Master Vrook and I worked together to further open my connection to the Force. After the first few days of training, I was able to hold the meditative state of supreme self-awareness for longer and longer, reveling in the utter miracle of life that was my body. With help, I was even able to pinpoint the cybernetic implants that had been used to jump-start my resurrection; I couldn't feel them, but by sensing where within my body the energy of life was not, I could discern their outlines. After the first week, Master Vrook determined that I was ready to begin sensing other life, to extend my awareness beyond my own physical self.

    This turned out to be easier said than done. Even as we moved our joint meditations into the courtyard, I ran into a sort of block; it almost felt as though a durasteel wall would slam down upon my connection to the Force as soon as I attempted to extend it outward. Attempting to compensate by taking my training in another direction, Master Vrook began lessons in basic telekinesis, but to no avail. Though I could feel myself with increasing ease with every meditation, the instant I made the effort to stretch out toward some other object, even if I maintained physical contact with it, my connection would abruptly terminate.

    “It's like teaching a gundark to tap-dance, training you,” he bit out after yet another morning of fruitless attempts.

    “You're the one who insisted on teaching me this stuff, Master,” I replied with a smirk. “Maybe I'm not that special after all!”

    Master Vrook then looked at me, a scowl on his face. “Return to your quarters at once and begin composing a summary of the Hundred Year Darkness, to include your opinion on how things could have been handled differently. Have it ready by tomorrow.”

    I almost, [I]almost[/I] laughed in his face at the thought of such a punishment. In the Marines, if I were a recruit who had mouthed-off to her drill instructor in such a fashion, I'd have been lucky not to have been socked in the face right then and there, before being ordered to make a ten-kilometer forced-march in full armor and pack. Smiling inwardly and thinking that the disgruntled Jedi Master simply wanted a reason to send me away, I obeyed instantly, arriving at my quarters with a spring in my step. Taking down the appropriate history datapad, I called up the entry for the Hundred Year Darkness. I had read it once before, of course; the period was a reference to the Second Great Schism, which had started some two thousand Standard years ago and had lasted for the following century. A cadre of Jedi had fallen to the dark side of the Force, and had created legions of monsters to fight the Republic and Jedi Order. The insurrection was eventually defeated, at great cost, and the surviving “Dark Jedi” were expelled from Republic space. Discoveries made in recent years, however, pointed toward these exiles becoming the original Dark Lords of the Sith, whose descendants would attack the Republic once again during the Great Hyperspace War. Opinions on this aspect varied, however, and concrete evidence linking the exiled ones to the Sith from Korriban was scant, and so it continued to be a hot topic among Jedi chroniclers and professors of history.

    After having found my angle for the punishment essay, I shut down the datapad, returned it to the shelf, and drew a piece of flimsiplast and a writing stylus from the desk drawer. Taking a seat on the mat opposite my bed, I began to write, but the stylus never reached the flimsi...

    [I]Flashes of memories flicker before my mind's eye, but they are not ordinary recollections. Infused with smell, taste and touch as well as sight and sound, they are truer than any holographic record, more intense than any dream. I can feel the sun of Agamar on my skin as I look upon the original home of my family, before it was blown open by concussion bombs. I can smell the freshly-cut grass, hear the chirping of native birds, taste the subtle tang of clean, crisp air in the wake of a recent rainstorm. I recognize this memory, and with a flicker of will, switch it over for another one. I can feel the armor as it shields my body, hear the conversations and footsteps of marching Marines, taste and smell the fumes from all manner of sources. I recognize that I was here once before, both in flesh and in spirit, though in the latter form all that was present were the sights. Now, I can hear myself as I shout orders to my platoon, can feel the sense of momentary claustrophobia as I don my helmet and activate its systems, and recall what this mission was first drop as an officer. I send out another flicker of will, bringing up another memory, this one of my hometown after the Krath raid. Sunshine is replaced by oily smoke, the scent of greenery overpowered by the odor of burning debris; this memory, too, has been revisited in spirit...while I was dead, lying on an operating table. I exert my will once more, to bring up another, more pleasant memory, but it is suddenly hijacked, and instead of witnessing the promotion to full commander given to me by Malak himself, I see once again that apparition I had gleamed on the journey from Revan's fleet to Dantooine...the dream of warships consumed by a greasy black tide before jumping to lightspeed, bound for parts unknowable.[/I]
    “ hear me? Jedi Reyolé, are you okay?”

    The girl's frantic voice, accompanied by a gentle rapping at the door that sequestered my room from the common area, brought me out of my reverie. With a jolt, I looked at my chronometer; I'd been stuck reliving death dreams for a full eighteen hours. No doubt Master Vrook was looking for me and my essay...

    “I'm fine, Aewa,” I answered, after having gotten up and opened the door. “What's going—wait, when did you start glowing orange-yellow?”

    — — —

    “I don't pretend to understand it, Master,” I said, confident nevertheless that I was right. “I first saw this vision just as we arrived in orbit over Dantooine, just before we lost contact with Revan and Malak's fleet. I know I'm right about this.”

    Despite spending an hour explaining what I had experienced during my accidental visit to the netherworld—or whatever the kark it had been—the blue-shot-with-red glow that surrounded my Jedi Master still felt rather dubious. Hell, I was still trying to get over the fact that he [I]glowed[/I] at all! In fact, everyone had begun taking on these strange sorts of...auras? Coronas? [I]No, “aura” sounds better,[/I] I told myself.

    “Be that as it may, we still have no way to verify what you claim,” Master Vrook replied, ashen-faced. “A student at your level shouldn't even be able to receive visions at all, no matter your potential. The fact that you say you had this vision before you were even aware of your sensitivity makes the whole thing seem even more difficult to believe.”

    “And yet, you said so yourself that the galaxy was in grave peril,” I retorted. “Back when you first welcomed us to Dantooine, then insisted on accessing the holocomm aboard Commander Onasi's ship, remember?”

    For the first time, Master Vrook looked unsure of himself, but the expression of doubt was quickly smothered; if it weren't for that aura betraying his emotions, I doubt I would have picked up on it. “We will discuss it in Council,” he replied after a moment of terse silence.

    “Thank you,” I said. “Also, could you ask them why I'm suddenly seeing multicolored auras around everyone?”

    That earned a sharp stare from my Master, who eyed me as though trying to sense whether or not I was toying with him again. “Explain,” he said sharply.

    “I...really can't,” I replied with a shrug, taking a seat on a bench in the courtyard where we had been speaking. “It started just after the vision, when Aewa summoned me to meet with you. Her knocking had roused me from the...whatever it was...and when I opened my door to meet her, she was, well, she was surrounded by this glow, like an aura, that was kind of orange-yellow. You've got one too, but it's more intense, electric blue, and shot through with pinpricks of crimson. In fact, everyone's is unique; I've not yet been able to pick out any sort of pattern, rhyme or reason to it.”

    Master Vrook, who remained standing, accepted my tenuous explanation with a stony expression. Then he too sat on a bench opposite me. “Close your eyes and meditate, apprentice,” he said simply.
    I did so, but through my lids I could still see the outline of his aura. Despite this, it was not a distraction, and I soon had myself centered in the Force once more. “Now, pick up a pebble, or any other handy object.”

    Once again, I followed the simple instructions for basic telekinesis. This time, however, the barrier did not slam down as I expanded my sense, and I soon had the twig hovering several centimeters above my open palm. Grinning like an idiot, I opened my eyes to find that, no, it wasn't just a mental delusion, the little piece of wood was, in fact, floating in midair. Smiling still more broadly, I flicked out with my sense, and the twig jumped several meters into the air, landing on its tip atop the back of my hand. Despite the fact that I could see Master Vrook's aura flickering with agitation, I continued to toy with the twig, making it do cartwheels around his head. Finally, unable to take it any longer, he snatched the debris up in his own Force-grip and threw it aside.

    “That's enough,” he snapped. “Now I understand what happened. As you know from your philosophy readings, the Force is made up of three aspects: the Physical, Living, and Unifying. Your death, and subsequent resurrection, opened you up to the Force's Unifying aspect, but since you lacked the training necessary to have access to its other realms, and thus comprehension of what it was you had experienced, your unconscious self attempted to wall that part off—rather sloppily, I might add. It was only after you had lapsed into the Unifying Force a second time, after having learned how to consciously open yourself to it, that you were able to breach that wall and unify the Force within yourself. How else would you have been able to manipulate the replaying of your so-called 'death memories?'”

    I had to admit that his explanation made sense, at least from the point of view of a middle-aged, formerly-deceased Marine who had only been training in the Force for a month. Still, I found myself filled with joy at having finally overcome this hurdle in my training; not even the implications of that vision could dampen my high spirits. Still smiling, I turned a curious eye toward Master Vrook. “What happens now?” I asked.

    “Now...we begin to train your physical self...”
  6. TrakNar

    TrakNar Jedi Grand Master star 5

    Apr 4, 2011
    I'm liking the dynamics between Laera and Vrook; him treating her as a child and her reactions to it. They're natural, anyone would be irritated by that and for one to say that no one would get pissed off at a Jedi is only fooling themselves. They have that air of arrogance and elitism about them that I don't see explored very often.
  7. Goodwood

    Goodwood Jedi Master star 5

    May 11, 2011
    A lot of writers tend to forget that Jedi are just sentient beings blessed (or cursed, depending on POV) with a lot of power that has the potential to really screw them sideways. A human Jedi is still a human, and has human failings. Vrook is perhaps the quintessential example of this, and that's why I enjoyed writing for him as well as the scenes between him and Laera. Of course she'd be nettled by this crotchety old git dismissing her lifetime of experience, not to mention her own connection to the Jedi Exile.
  8. Goodwood

    Goodwood Jedi Master star 5

    May 11, 2011
    Chapter Three

    Throughout the afternoon, Master Vrook took me through an excruciatingly exhausting regimen of physical Force training. In addition to taxing my newfound telekinetic abilities to their limits, he instructed me on how to utilize the Force to speed up my body, so that I could run faster than I had ever thought possible. The enclave courtyard's perimeter, which ran for about three kilometers, became an impromptu jogging track and obstacle course as I pushed myself to the very edge of physical exhaustion and beyond. As twilight descended and the Jedi Master ended the lesson, I felt like a sponge that had been wrung dry in a decidedly ungentle fashion, but it had been worth it. Endurance, I figured, would come later.

    That night I again slept like a rock, untroubled by dreams of any kind. The following morning I awoke ravenously hungry, and had to beat a hasty path to the mess hall before the growling of my stomach roused everyone in the sublevel dormitories. It was only after having gorged myself on nerf sausages and hashed tubers that I began to notice that the multicolored auras surrounding the other Jedi did not disappear as they left the mess hall or walked behind some other object or wall. Indeed, they only faded with distance, and not an insignificant one at that. After finishing breakfast I felt invigorated and, shelving my curiosity for the time being, I began to make my way out to the courtyard to warm up for the day's activities.

    Exiting the enclave proper, I took a deep breath, filling my lungs with the sweet scent of dew as it evaporated in the rising sun. Blowing a sigh, I began to center myself in the Force as I stretched my body and limbs in a form of moving meditation that Master Vrook had described during the previous day's workouts. Vaguely, I wondered if the Jedi practiced their own brand of martial arts that went alongside their use of the lightsaber, but I was content to fall back on the standard Marine-style hand-to-hand training katas. As I finished the first set and began to flow into the second, an aura that I automatically recognized as belonging to Master Dorak began moving toward me. Continuing the routine, I opened my eyes to spare a glance in the direction of the approaching Jedi archivist, noting that his aura appeared in muted greens interspersed with glowing white spots that swirled about him.

    “Good morning, Jedi Reyolé,” he said as he approached to within a few meters of where I stretched. “That is an interesting kata, may I ask where you learned it?”

    “Standard Marine hand-to-hand combat training,” I replied, finishing the second set. “Not exactly Echani-level in its sophistication, but it works for us.”

    “I see,” Master Dorak continued. “It seems to suit you well.”

    “Thanks,” I said, taking a seat on a nearby stone. “What's that you have there?”

    The elderly archivist picked another nearby stone to sit himself onto, then placed the small object he'd been carrying on a bare patch of ground between us. “This is a holocron,” he said, indicating the greenish, semi-translucent ten-centimeter cube. “It is a specialized device that allows for the storage and retrieval of data relating to the Force, and is only accessible by those attuned to it. These are among our most valuable learning aids.”

    I peered interestedly at the cube, letting my mind and sense stretch out to it. I had heard of holocrons before coming to the enclave, but only in passing while Jedi discussed them amongst themselves. Despite its appearance, the object that Master Dorak had set between us didn't feel inert; instead, it hummed with its own resonance within the Force, which seemed to whisper gently, at the very edge of hearing. “I can feel it,” I said in hushed tones.

    The historian nodded sagely. “Reach out with the Force and tap its upper surface,” he instructed.
    I did so, and almost at once, the top of the cube glowed with a bright white light. A greenish apparition, similar to a hologram, erupted from it, growing to about eye-level from where we sat. It took the form of an insectoid that I vaguely recognized. “Greetings, Jedi,” it said in a reedy voice. “I am Vodo-Siosk Baas, gatekeeper for this holocron.”

    Master Dorak smiled, then spoke to the gatekeeper. “Master Baas, please explain to Jedi Reyolé the power called 'Sense Aura.'”

    “Ah, yes, a powerful ability,” the gatekeeper began. “A Jedi is trained to perceive and manipulate the Force in three different ways. The first way, Control, is the awareness and mastery of one's self and connection to the Force. With it, a Jedi can run faster, jump higher, and increase the velocity of his movements. The second way, Sense, is more difficult, but it allows the Jedi to become much more aware of her surroundings, discerning the presence of living and nonliving things. With it, she can feel what others feel, gleam snippets of the future or discern the import of momentous events, or detect the presence of the dark side. The final way, Alter, is the most difficult. With mastery of Alter, a Jedi can manipulate the objects and minds around it, allowing them to do as it wills. This is also the most dangerous art, as it can more easily be used in service to the dark side.”

    Part of me marveled at how the gatekeeper explained itself. Its lecture was reminiscent of the theory reading I had done, so this information wasn't entirely new to me, but nevertheless, its way of speaking had me enthralled.

    “Sense Aura, as its name implies, falls under the second realm,” Master Baas continued. “The power itself cannot be taught; it is made manifest in only a few Jedi. In addition, Sense Aura is difficult to describe in general terms, as, like the Force itself, it is unique to each being who wields it. Described alternately as 'seeing shades' or 'veils of light,' users who master it are able to sense the life-essence of other beings, allowing them to perceive their feelings more readily and at greater distances, as well as to affect their minds with greater ease. Some practitioners have been able to extend the awareness of these auras across astonishing distances; the drawback to such farsight, however, is the inability to separate individual auras, which becomes more acute the further out one extends their awareness.”

    The gatekeeper fell silent, and I fixed Master Dorak with a smile. “I guess I'm just lucky that way, huh?” I remarked.

    “In my experience, there is no such thing as luck,” the archivist replied with a smile of his own. As if in agreement, the insectoid gatekeeper nodded, its head bobbing in an exaggerated motion.

    “The Marines have a similar notion,” I retorted. “To the new recruits, we say that 'luck is the difference between a good battle plan going bad, and a bad one going well,' meaning that you can't tell which is which until after the fight is over. Most of the more superstitious ones usually don't listen at first.”

    “Have a care, Jedi,” the gatekeeper intoned. “You are a servant of justice, yes, but violence is to be used only as an absolute last resort.”

    That wiped the smiles from both our faces as I glanced from the holocron gatekeeper to the Jedi Master who had brought it out here. While I didn't necessarily disagree with what the ghostly insectoid said, I had always felt that it was better to be proactive on the battlefield rather than reactive. What Master Baas was proposing sounded more akin to being a counter-puncher as a fighter, which was fine, but that meant you had to get hit first before you could return the favor. I assuaged my philosophical differences by the simple expedient of silently declaring that I wasn't here for debate class, but to develop my skills in the Force. Either way, the gatekeeper was correct; I did consider myself a servant of justice.

    “Thank you for showing this to me,” I said at last. “It helps to know that I'm not going crazy.”

    “You are welcome,” Master Dorak replied, reaching out with the Force to deactivate the holocron. The image of the gatekeeper seemed to melt back into the cube, which ceased its glowing as the archivist retrieved it from the ground and stood up. “You may wish to meditate on this for a while. Master Vrook will be occupied elsewhere for the next few days, so use that time as you will.”

    — — —

    I spent the rest of the morning working on channeling the Force to enhance my movements, resuming the exercises from the previous day. After twenty-plus years in the service, I could go on a ten kilometer run in full armor and pack at the drop of a hat and come out of it looking only mildly winded, or else blaze through an extensive obstacle course despite having no familiarity with its layout. Physical exertion was second-nature to me, and I had long since become knowledgeable about what my body could and could not do. However, tacking on the Force and what it could enable, took my potential to a whole new level.

    The average running pace for an unladen Human is about ten kilometers per hour; Marine training bumps that up to anywhere from fifteen to twenty. With the Force, however, I found that I could double, or even triple, my top speed in short bursts, but this had the drawback of leaving me barely able to run at all for the next several minutes. After a few hours of putting myself through “dash drills,” as I called the process of enhanced running, resting, then running again, I was able to reduce the time it took for me to get my energy back. There still remained the problem of not being able to do much of anything during those periods, but as I'd said to myself the previous night, endurance would come with time and effort.

    That afternoon, I took Master Dorak's advice and meditated, letting my mind intermingle with the Force as I pondered where I was going, and where I had been in my life. During boot camp on Corulag, I had earned commendations for exceptional marksmanship, tactical awareness, and improvisation when out in the field. This was on top of the already high level of quality that Marine training demanded; our drill instructors pushed us hard, and settled for nothing less than our best. After boot, I'd qualified for a number of advanced training courses, including scout/sniper school and close-quarters combat specialization class, as well as the Enlisted Leadership Program, which was the Marines' way of fast-tracking potential non-commissioned and commissioned officers. Not wanting to miss out on anything, I'd taken all three, earning excellent grades in each. After being assigned to a line unit, I'd worked my way up the ranks, making corporal within six Standard months, and sergeant within another year. By the time I was old enough to imbibe in adult intoxicants (twenty-one Standard years of age, within Republic space), I was a staff sergeant with the recently-established First Marine Battalion's Aurek Company, working as a squad leader. My time with that unit, which had been set up in garrison on Onderon in the wake of the Beast Wars and Kun's insurrection, had provided ample opportunities for hazardous-environment training, and I'd often taken my squad out into the jungle to play tag with some of the less lethal predators.

    After two and a half years there, I had been promoted to gunnery sergeant and assigned to the Marine Corps Recruit Training Depot at Carida as a drill instructor, where I had spent the following three years taking six successive classes of recruits through their own basic training. During that time, I'd earned a reputation as someone who could coax results out of even the most borderline candidates, and my classes had had some of the lowest dropout rates on record. I had accomplished this not through the use of brute force, yelling my head off at the recruits, or issuing brutal punishments for lack of effort, but by a combination of positive reinforcement and leading by example. Though my own run through boot had been arduous, I had so thoroughly enjoyed it that almost immediately after arriving at Carida, I'd torn my way through their famous obstacle course, nearly setting a record in the process though I'd nearly broken my leg doing it. So it had been with each training class; every time they faced a new stage in their training, I would personally take the lowest-performing recruit through the course while the rest looked on. Nearly every time this happened, the one who I had guided had jumped in their proficiency scores, so that each new phase meant that I had taken a new person under my temporary wing. This record of continued and consistent excellence had caught the eye of the training base's commander, a Rodian captain named Teeklak Sookanado, who had given “Gunny Reyolé” his personal recommendation for Officer Candidate School.

    Part of me had wanted to stay on Carida and continue to drill new Marines for the rest of my career, but another part, which in my meditations I discovered had been an unconscious whispering from the Force, had told me that I was destined to become a combat leader. So I took the class, which was held on Anaxes, and two years later I emerged as a junior lieutenant, bypassing ensign thanks to my years as an enlistee and noncom. By the time I had completed officer training, the Mandalorians had been sacking worlds beyond the Outer Rim for several years, and I had been assigned to the frontier outpost at Bad Alshir, a barely-habitable planet in an unremarkable star system situated along one of the old Tarisian hyperlanes. Once there, I had taken over one of the four platoons of Cresh Company, 21st Marine Battalion, that had been garrisoned on-planet. Duty on an isolated world was not exactly fun, but I had made the most of it; fortunately for us, the post's compliment had been augmented by the Fifth Marine Squadron, which flew the ubiquious Aurek-class starfighters, as well as a company of combat droids.

    Knowing what could be in the offering if the marauding Mandos turned their attention toward the Republic, I had begun drilling my platoon in defensive fighting. Making good use of the droids, I had equipped them and my troops with low-powered weapons, setting up simulations where they would face anywhere from double to quadruple their number in simulated enemies. Seeing what I had been trying to accomplish, the other platoon leaders had been quick to follow my example, and, working together, we and the post commander had come up with a battle plan for use in case of a spaceborne invasion. Though several years passed in relative quiet, I had kept at it, determined to prove that no Mandalorian force was a match for a well-trained and -prepared force of Republic Marines.

    By the time the inevitable attack had come, I had been promoted to full lieutenant, taking over as the outpost's commanding officer, where I had kept up my efforts to keep the troops sharp and our defenses ready. The Aurek squadron, which had begun to maintain a near-constant vigil at the logical approaches to the star system, had been the first to pick up the invasion force, which had consisted of a single Jehavey'ir-class attack ship escorting a dozen of their Q-carriers. I still don't know if they were coming in stupid, or if they simply hadn't expected any sort of real resistance; in either case, the Mandalorians' lack of commitment to this assault had led to the neutralizing of their escorting warship by the Marine starfighters. The transports, however, had been able to make planetfall, and within minutes the outpost had been surrounded by two assault companies worth of shock troopers. The battle that followed had been brutal, but we had managed to defend the outpost, forcing the surviving attackers to retreat in what transports remained as our starfighters harassed their rear guard.

    Deciding that our remote outpost was too exposed to warrant reinforcements, High Command had decided to pull us out and redeploy the company Coreward. The evacuation was successful, with our ships making hyperspace just as another Mandalorian flotilla descended on the planet from its other side. As a result of our steadfast defense, I was promoted once again, to lieutenant commander, and assigned to lead Besh Company of the Marines' Third Battalion. During the first year of the Mandalorians' invasion of the Republic, my company and I had been shuffled about the planes of contention, used mostly as reinforcements for planetary assaults that had bogged down, or else as the vanguards of relief forces intended to evacuate worlds deemed too costly or insignificant to hold. The fighting that we saw was sporadic but vicious, and I had earned at least two decorations for valor, along with several dunkings in kolto tanks due to battle wounds.

    When the Revanchists had joined the fight, three of the four companies of the Third Marine Battalion had been brought together to serve aboard Revan and Malak's own flotilla. It was then that I had first met Vima Sunrider, who despite her own position and the legacy she had inherited from her mother, had seen that the Jedi Order served no one by staying out of the fight. Though she, like the other Jedi who fought against the Mandalorians, had been given the rank of General by the armed forces of the Republic, Vima had treated those soldiers who served under her as friends and comrades. For that alone, I had admired and respected her, but her willingness to lead from the front had earned my trust, for she was like me in that she would never ask us to do what she would not do herself.

    After learning that I had trained in infiltration and scout/sniper tactics, General Sunrider had sought out my opinion on several occasions in regards to battle plans for the new counteroffensive that Revan was preparing. Starting with the liberation of Taris, the Third Battalion had been in the thick of it, helping to defeat the Mandalorians in other battles before the disaster at Jaga's Cluster. Most of the battalion, save for Dorn Company, had been elsewhere, while I, in the wake of the promotion to full commander given to me by Malak himself, had been assembling a team for the infiltration of Onderon's capital and only city, Iziz. Since I had served there before, I had volunteered to lead the mission; going in before the main attack force, we had fought our way through the city's infrastructure, working toward one of the power generators for the city's defense grid. It was at the height of that mission where I had met my initial demise...

    — — —

    I awoke from my meditations with a start; looking at my chronometer, I realized that I had spent nearly six hours mentally reviewing my military service. I stood and stretched, cricking my neck and cracking my knuckles—this was no way for a Marine to behave, spending her idle hours pondering the past when there was nothing she could do to change it. So what if Vima had been exiled? If I was meant to see her again, I would, and that was that. So what if I had died? I was alive again, alive and kicking, and finding out things about myself that I had never known before. Donning my cloak, I left my solitude and began mingling with the other apprentices, chatting with them about their training and what it was like for them. Doing so made me think about my days as Gunny Reyolé, and I found myself smiling at the memories despite my resolution to leave that old life behind.

    The day wound down with me discussing the war with the youngest girl, the Togruta apprentice Aewa. She had found out that I was a Marine, and had eagerly asked me about what life in the service had been like. Playing along, I decided to be gentle. “It's a lot of hard work and effort,” I told her. “A soldier's life is never easy, but it's one of the most honest paths I can think of.”

    “They tell us that about the Jedi way,” the bright-eyed girl replied. “My Master says that nothing worth doing is ever easy.”

    “Your Master is a very wise being,” I said, smiling.

    “Have you ever...killed anyone?” Aewa asked, slightly embarrassed.

    “Yes,” I said matter-of-factly, nodding grimly. “But only when they left me with no other choice. The Mandalorians were like that, and they didn't much care who they hurt.”

    “You fought the Mandalorians?” the girl asked, her eyes growing huge.

    “I did,” I replied. “When they attacked the Republic, I was on a world far from here, on the very edges of the civilized galaxy. My Marines and I were among the first to encounter them when they hit our garrison.”

    “How did you get out?” Aewa asked, awestruck.

    “Teamwork, preparedness, and constant vigilance,” I answered. “We knew they were coming, and we had worked together to make sure that we could meet their attack on our own terms. They underestimated us and our resolve, and we were able to push them back to their transports and off the planet.” Silence reigned as the apprentice took this in. I smiled and placed a reassuring hand on her shoulder. “But they are gone now, young one, you need not fear.”

    “I'm not afraid,” Aewa protested, returning my gentle look with a tremulous one of her own. “I was just...curious.”

    “There's nothing wrong with curiosity,” I assured her. “As a great Jedi Master once said, 'We are but travelers on a winding path through existence, never quite sure what we may find around the next bend.'”

    The Togruta girl giggled at that. “Thanks, Laera,” she said with a chuckle.

    “You are most welcome, Aewa. Have a good night.”

    As I lay down to sleep, I thought briefly about the future. Everything seemed to have quieted down so suddenly in the wake of the Mandalorians' defeat barely six months ago, that I couldn't help but wonder if some other threat was lurking out there, biding its time, waiting to pounce upon a Republic that was still rebuilding. The thought intrigued me for some strange reason, as though I longed to be thrust back into the midst of the hell of war, as though it were my destiny to continue fighting until the day I died, which was a charming idea in and of itself when one considered that I had already done just that. As this occurred to me, I turned over in my bed rather violently, as though attempting to cast that thought from my psyche. Stop thinking about that, Laera! I admonished myself. You're here, you're alive, and you're learning more every day!

    Settling back into a comfortable sleeping posture, I blew out a hearty sigh, and called upon the Force to help ease my troubled mind.

    — — —

    During Master Vrook's absence, I continued to train myself in physical mastery of the Force, what the holcron had called “Control” and what Vrook himself had referred to as “the Physical Force.” After a quick trip to the enclave's archives, I had soon discovered that my earlier methods had been inefficient and clunky. After running through several hours of training exercises with the Duros apprentice from my cluster, I found that my stamina in the Force had virtually doubled.

    The next day, I was able to train alongside a pair of apprentices who were housed on the other side of the sublevel. Belaya and Juhani, the former a human in her early twenties and the latter a Cathar roughly the same age, readily agreed to help hone my technique. I found myself marveling at how the two friends used the Force with such ease, tapping into it seemingly at will to do right away what took me a few moments in preparation to accomplish. But I kept at it, and in the days that followed, I was able to bring myself up to something approaching their level. With their help, I finally managed to figure out that it wasn't really a matter of pushing myself into the Force, but of allowing the Force to flow along with me. This not only made it easier to call upon, but less exhausting to use, which was a great confidence-booster.

    Brimming with pride at how much I had accomplished, a couple days later I started foraging further out from the enclave to conduct my exercises. After having completed a circuit of the Matale estate, vaulting stones, sprinting across grassland, and performing other maneuvers, I found myself alone on a small pathway between two large hills. The noises of a commotion drew me further on, and as I rounded a bend, something gripped my heart in a durasteel vice and began squeezing. His lightly-smoking landspeeder stippled with well-aimed blasterfire, a farmer was being pressed against the forward section by an armored figure, backed up by a quartet of similarly-clad humans. The styling of their suits was unmistakable—they were Mandalorian troopers, all right—and seeing them on Dantooine made my blood boil.

    "Just give us what's in the boot," the leader sneered, "and we'll send you on your way. There'll be no need to report our presence, and we can all be brothers..."

    "Alright, alright," the older man acquiesced. "Take what you need, just don't hurt me or shoot up my speeder, it's my family's livelihood!"

    As two of the blaster-toting Mando scum began poking in the vehicle's storage compartment, drawing out various items and piling them onto their own speeder parked nearby, I moved in, oblivious to the fact that I was completely unarmed and without armor. For some reason, I didn't much care; I wanted to make them pay for their thievery. Falling back on my infiltration training, I crept as closely as I could toward the nearest trooper, who seemed oblivious to any other threats. Drawing upon the Force, I tackled him, grabbing him by the helmet as we rolled in the grass and applying a move designed to snap his neck. Before I could make the kill, however, his armored elbow connected with my left breast, and I was thrown off.

    "Looks like we've got us an interloper," the red-armored leader said contemptuously as I regained my feet. "Some barely-trained Jedi woman wants to play? Too bad you forgot your lightsaber—and your brains!"

    I couldn't see his face, or those of his companions, but their auras radiated with amusement combined with the desire to inflict some grievous bodily harm. "Not just a Jedi," I growled. "I'm also a Republic Marine, and I've eaten scum like you for breakfast!"

    The officer laughed mockingly at that. "Oho," he said. "Well, isn't that just lovely. Hey boys, looks like we get to have a little revenge along with this old nerf's loot! Who's up for some unarmed combat practice?"

    One of the blue-armored troopers gestured toward me as he discarded his blaster. "Marines killed my brother on Althir," he said. "And I think this woman should answer for that. Whaddya say, sir?"

    "I say have at it, ner vod," the officer retorted...

    — — —

    I awoke in the enclave's infirmary some time later, only to be greeted with the painful sensations of barely-healed bone and organ damage. An empty kolto tank situated nearby indicated where I'd spent the intervening time, while a Quarren in Jedi robes came toward me as he recognized my consciousness. "Take care, apprentice," he said in heavily-accented Basic. "You have to let the kolto finish its work."

    Closing my eyes and letting myself relax once again, I ruminated over what had happened. The first Mandalorian bandit, the one whose brother had died in the war, had managed to do a number on me before I'd been able to knock him out. The second fight hadn't gone so well; after grappling with the raider, I'd managed to summon a burst of Force-energy that sent him stumbling backward. Taking advantage of the temporary reprieve, I'd attempted to summon one of the discarded blaster rifles, but the officer had deftly plucked it from midair, snapped the weapon over to stun, and pumped a shot into me before I could so much as acknowledge my own tactical error. " did I get back here?"

    "The Mandalorian raiders you encountered dumped your unconscious form on our doorstep, then departed in great haste," the healer replied darkly. "Something about serving as an example to any would-be heroes, I think the note said. Few of us here speak Mando'a."

    I suppressed an audible groan. I had let my emotions get the better of me and I knew it, and it was a wonder that the raiders hadn't just killed me outright. But that conundrum answered itself when I realized that, had they done so, then the Council would have dispatched a force of Knights to hunt the bandits down and either kill or capture them. That wasn't what made me feel so ill at ease, however, because when Master Vrook found out about my little escapade, I knew I'd be wishing that the Mandalorians had finished the job. But that wouldn't be for a while yet, and the healer had me back up to speed well before he returned.

    — — —

    When he finally did come back, I knew better than to ask about where Master Vrook had went or what had drawn his attention away from my training; he was a member of the Jedi High Council, after all, and even if I was his Padawan, he wasn't likely to blab. Besides, it smacked of presumption, and I wasn't about to give the man more ammunition to use in further humbling me, not on top of the beating that I'd taken as a result of my own ego and stupidity. After a stout lecture about controlling my emotions, he resumed his lessons, noting his approval at what I had learned about channeling the Force. I wouldn't soon forget the drubbing that the Mandalorian raiders had administered, and though part of me wanted to raid the Enclave's armory—which was rarely used—for something akin to a sniper rifle and hunt them like the animals they were, I clamped down hard on those thoughts. The war was over, the farmer had been released unharmed, and these bandits weren't supposed to be my problem anymore. However, the incident continued to niggle at my thoughts for some time afterward. I decided that the only remedy was to continue my commitment to the Jedi way, so that I would never again let my hot head drag me into such a perilous situation. Thankfully, the rest of the Jedi seemed to be fine with this resolution, and nothing more was said about it, at least to me.

    Under Master Vrook's supervision, I began to run even faster, jump much higher, and maneuver with more alacrity than ever before. For the next two months, we alternated physical training with lessons designed to increase my sensory abilities, as well as my skill with telekinesis and other powers of that nature. The elder Jedi also introduced lessons in diplomacy, the so-called Form Zero, or the art of "fighting without fighting." This was something utterly alien to me, because as a Marine, the only diplomatic discourse I'd ever known was how best to drag information out of an uncooperative prisoner—not that I'd ever had that much practice in that regard, either. Nevertheless, it was an interesting journey; like many other aspects of Jedi training, it involved learning by doing, and I was sent, along with Master Vrook, on a number of errands to Garang itself in order to gain first-hand experience in resolving disputes. The first such effort involved settling a bar brawl at the spaceport cantina, which got off to an auspicious start when a piece of flying furniture nearly bashed my face in. I just managed to catch the chair in a Force-grip, returning it to the floor unbroken. That had gotten everyone's attention, and I'd proceeded to sort out who had started what and, thus, was liable for the damages. The aura of the guilty party, a drunken Devaronian, had stuck out like a sore thumb, and it wasn't so much getting him to admit to the deed as it was getting past his drunken advances. If my Master hadn't been there, I might have slapped the man, but I managed to center myself and resolve the situation to (nearly) everyone's satisfaction.

    I was feeling more confident by the day, my connection to the Force becoming increasingly more natural. In short, it was as though I was truly waking up once again, truly coming back to life after having died. One balmy afternoon, I finally unpacked my duffel, washing and pressing my Marine uniforms which, by that time, had gathered a rather unpleasant smell about them. As I arranged my clothes and armor in a neat stack next to my desk, I noticed the DL-3 blaster that I had brought with me. Picking it up, I hefted it in my hand, idly wondering how the Force might be used to enhance my aim. I was a fairly decent pistol shot, though not nearly as good with them as I was with blaster rifles and their more high-powered, longer-ranged brethren. Still, there was no harm in a little experimentation, so that evening I sought out an isolated spot where I could stake out an impromptu firing range that would be safe from accidental intrusion.

    Before setting up, I had traded my khaki robes for the comfortable BDUs that I'd long since grown accustom to, only to notice that I had at some point unconsciously adapted to the itch-inducing fabric of the former garments. Still, it felt more appropriate to be wearing a Marine uniform while undertaking an activity that was decidedly unorthodox for a Jedi to be doing. Making sure that no sentient or beast lurked in the vicinity, I readied my weapon, firing off a few test-shots at a stone outcropping approximately fifty meters out from where I stood. As could be expected, my grouping—the distance between sequential shots aimed at the same target—was fairly decent. It wasn't expert-level by anyone's reckoning, but it was good enough for me, especially since I hadn't technically fired so much as a spitwad in nearly two years. Just to make sure I was establishing a credible baseline, I picked out another spot on the same stone and readied myself again, this time adopting the methodologies practiced by the Marines instead of just snap-aiming. My grouping this time was markedly better so, satisfied that I was doing things right, I let the Force flow into me.

    I turned to my right a few degrees, picking out another stone that was about two hundred meters away, near the edge of the DL-3's effective range. Technically-speaking, the pistol was good for another fifty meters, but that was only ever attempted in bench-tests or in competition matches. I let the Force extend from my body to the weapon I held in my hands, letting it become almost an extension of my own self. At the same time I aligned the weapon's sights with my right eye and, listening to the whispers of the Force, gently tapped the trigger three times. Three shots rang out, each one impacting the stone at precisely the same spot. Jogging over to it, I noticed that the volley had drilled a centimeter-deep hole into the rock that was wide enough for me to stick my index finger into. Smiling broadly, I brought the blaster's barrel to my lips and blew into it in a theatrical gesture. Not bad, Laera, I thought to myself, not too bad at all...

    I spent the next half hour fine-tuning my Force-enhanced aiming, so that by the time dusk approached, I was able to consistently strike solid groups into stones that were in excess of four hundred meters out, and with a stock blaster at that! Though my accuracy at such distances was impressive, I realized that making such astonishing shots took time, more time than it would have were I firing my favorite battle rifle without calling upon the Force. Despite this, I figured that there still might be need of such skill, and used the last of the available daylight to further refine my technique.

    As I holstered my blaster and made my way back to the enclave and my dormitory, I considered the idea of practicing what I'd done on moving targets. To be sure, they would have to be closer, and I'd have to have help from someone else to do it right, but the idea intrigued me. I thought about asking one of the apprentices if they would be willing to assist me, but I didn't really want to risk offending their own Masters as well as Master Vrook. Fortunately, that particular issue resolved itself as Aewa greeted me. The girl, who had turned fourteen the week before, was reading a datapad when I entered the common area of our cluster. “Jedi Reyolé!” she piped up, noticing my change in attire. “Is that your Marine uniform?”

    Smiling, I sat down next to her. “Sure is, kid,” I said. “This is our casual uniform, what we wear from day-to-day.”

    “Is that your blaster?” she asked, noticing the weapon holstered to my thigh.

    “You're a curious one, aren't you?” I asked playfully, patting Aewa on her crown. “Yeah, that's my blaster, standard issue for Marines. I was just out practicing with it; it's been a while since I last fired one.” I took it out of its holster, made sure the safety was on, and, holding it by the barrel, held its grip out for her. “Here, get a feel for it.”

    The girl looked ecstatic as she held the weapon in her hands. I had half-expected her to balk slightly at the weight, but she held it safely and with confidence, which I figured had been borne of her own training. “This is the safety-catch,” I said, pointing to the lever above the grip on the weapon's left side. “You must never, ever take a blaster off safety unless you intend to use it.”

    Aewa smiled at me in an I-know-this-stuff-already way, which prompted a grin of my own. “My Master tells me the same thing about lightsabers,” she retorted mildly. “She says 'never draw your lightsaber unless you intend to use it, and never use it without just cause.'”

    “Indeed, your master is wise,” I replied, but then an idea took hold of me. “Is she around? I'd like to ask her something.”

    “No, she left for a while,” Aewa answered, sounding as though she missed her Master already. “I'm supposed to find something constructive to do, but I can't think of anything.”

    “That's alright,” I soothed, gently taking my blaster back and reholstering it. “In fact, I think you might just be able to help me...”
  9. TrakNar

    TrakNar Jedi Grand Master star 5

    Apr 4, 2011
    At times, it seems as if Laera is allowing her Marine training to delude her into thinking that she can bite off more than she can chew. I doubt the Mandalorian beat-down will change her mind, either. No doubt, the minute she gets the chance, she'll be back out there, getting herself into trouble.

    The rapport that Laera is establishing with Aewa is cute, though. For some reason, I pictured Aewa to be much younger, with this high munchkin voice.
  10. Goodwood

    Goodwood Jedi Master star 5

    May 11, 2011
    Chapter Four

    The next day Aewa and I, clad once again in my robe and tunic, made our way to another corner of land on the outer edge of the enclave's courtyard. This area wasn't quite as grassy as the rest, and several outcroppings of stone extruded themselves from the ground; fortunately for my purposes, there were also a lot of loose rocks ranging from pebbles to five-kilo boulders the size of a Wookiee's doubled fists. Going over once again what I had in mind as we set up, I brought my DL-3 out of its holster, which I had attached to my Jedi-issue leather belt. “So remember, I want you to be as random as possible, at least at first,” I said. “Maybe later, if this works out, we can have some fun with this.”

    Her broad smile all teeth, the youngster nodded, and soon a number of credcoin-sized stones began to rise into the air. Nodding my approval, I began to ready myself both in stance and in the Force, as the stones rose still higher and began to loop and whirl about within a three meter area some twenty-five meters from where we stood. Relaxing into the flow of the Force, I squeezed off a pair of shots; the first missed entirely, but the second intersected the flight path of a smaller rock, vaporizing it on contact. Aewa cheered, but I kept focusing, and within fifteen seconds, I had popped off five more shots, all hitting save for the third. Though it was evident that I wasn't going to become a master markswoman right away, that wasn't the point; I was having enormous fun, but learning at the same time. As the stones continued to whirl through the air, I tapped the trigger several more times, scoring hits in rapid succession.

    “You're doing great, Laera!” Aewa squealed with glee.

    “Thanks, but let's keep at it,” I replied. “Take them out to about, oh, fifty meters.”

    Doing as she was told, the young apprentice sent the remaining stones out to twice their former distance, bringing more into the air to replace those that had been shot down. Checking my blaster's power level, I fired two more test-shots, which impacted two of the larger stones, sending them flying off into the distance. For the next hour, I continued to plunk rocks from the air as Aewa whirled them about, both of us were having a great time. It was a good thing I had secured a few extra power cells from the enclave's armory, because by the time we broke for lunch, I'd depleted two of them. “Let's grab a bite to eat,” I said as the sun reached its zenith.

    After eating our lunch on a bench near the entrance to the enclave's main level, we went back out to the same spot. “Remember what I'd said about having fun with this?” I asked as we reached the improvised shooting gallery.

    “Yep!” Aewa replied, nodding vigorously.

    “Well, here's what I want you to do,” I said, and began to explain. By the time I finished, her grin was as wide as I'd ever seen a humanoid wear. “You ready?”

    “Sure am, Gunny!” she replied happily. In a fit of nostalgia, I had talked with her during lunch about the time I'd spent training young Marines on Carida. I decided that the nickname made me feel more at home, so I'd allowed her to use it.

    “Well, let's get to it,” I said, and soon, another cluster of stones had risen into the air.
    I had barely set myself in stance and sense when the first rock zoomed in at me, nearly clipping my forehead as it did so. Calling upon the Force, I let it flow through me as the young girl's assault ramped up to full intensity. Stones began screaming at me from several directions, and I whirled about as I sensed the trajectories of each incoming missile, taking shots only when the Force told me that I'd score a hit that wouldn't endanger my helper. The fun continued for ten solid minutes before we were interrupted by a man clearing his throat loudly. As I set my weapon on safe, holstering it before turning to face the newcomer, Aewa's concentration slipped, and the stones cascaded to the ground in a cacophony of noise.

    “Just what do you think you are doing?” Master Vrook asked angrily, staring vibroblades at me. “Apprentice Aewa, return to your dormitory.”

    — — —

    “You may have been an officer in the Republic Marines, Jedi Reyolé,” Vrook said once the young Togruta had departed, his voice grave. “But you are only an apprentice here, and that means you do not meddle with the training of the younger students!”

    “Master Vrook,” I began, quite calmly, “I was not attempting to train her. I was simply enlisting her aid in training myself. I seem to recall that you were not so critical when I sought assistance from Belaya and Juhani.”

    To his credit, and my relief, Vrook's expression softened somewhat. I knew that what I had done was not, strictly speaking, proper, but I had felt sure that it wouldn't cause too much of a ruckus. “You still should have asked me first,” he said. “She is young, and has much to learn about the Force. Benevolent as your intentions might have been, you may have inadvertently damaged her own progress.”

    “With all due respect, I think that is for her own Master to decide,” I replied, standing my ground.

    My cheek was instantly rewarded with an arched eyebrow that, on previous occasions, had not boded well for that day's future events. Instead, he simply grunted his irritation, then beckoned for me to follow him back to the enclave proper. Once we had entered, he brought me to one of the training rooms on the main level; with its centrally-marked padded floor, clothes tree, weapon rack, and gear lockers, I recognized that this was a small sparring arena. Master Vrook walked to one of the lockers, opened it, and took out a small spherical object that I recognized as a training remote. I knew that such devices were utilized by various military and police forces across the galaxy for training purposes, however, the Marine Corps had been one of the major exceptions. We preferred to use a system of spotting lasers tied into a series of detectors worn as a sort of harness when undergoing close-quarters combat training (CQC for short), as this system better mimicked the realities of combat. While remotes could be programmed to simulate a reaction to aggressive behavior in its targets, it could not deal with a counterattack in the same way as a sentient being; without such natural responses, we could not as effectively learn what it was like to face down an armed foe.

    When he also retrieved a twenty-five centimeter metal tube that I instantly recognized as being the hilt of a lightsaber, my heart skipped a beat. “Your unorthodox training method seems to have proved its point, if there ever was one,” Master Vrook said, his manner not quite sarcastic. “You know what these objects are, I trust?”

    Nodding, I accepted the lightsaber he held out for me. “ this one real?”

    “Of course not,” the elder Jedi said, his voice dripping with disdain. “Do you honestly think I would trust you with a real lightsaber, as reckless as you are? No, this is a training weapon; it will sting, but it will not burn or cut.”

    “I suppose that's better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick,” I said with a shrug.

    Master Vrook did not reply, save for an exasperated grunt, and I pushed the lightsaber's activation stud. With an unmistakable snap-hiss, a meter-long shaft of purest yellow light shot out of the tube's business end, reaching up at an angle away from me. I had seen these weapons in action, but no Jedi had ever let me hold one—of course, I had never asked—so I was taken aback by the near total lack of mass in the blade. Treating the hilt like that on an incredibly thin, impossibly sharp vibroblade, I took a few experimental swipes, culminating in an infinity loop that I repeated in the opposite direction. Even I could recognize that my technique was nonexistent; it was rather like waving a glowrod, its beam wobbling about no matter how smoothly one moved it.

    “Mastery of the lightsaber is at the core of the Jedi tradition,” Master Vrook began after a few minutes of watching my experimentations. “Every Jedi Knight knows at least one form of combat beyond the most basic, Shii-Cho, and many know multiple techniques. Before you may truly call yourself one of us, you must prove that you have the skill to wield our most prominent symbol.”

    The Jedi Master then activated the remote, which zoomed out of his hand and began to bob and weave about near the room's ceiling. “With the Force, you can feel the blade of the lightsaber as you would that of any other melee weapon. Simply extend your awareness into the hilt, and follow the currents of energy to the blade's tip and back again.”

    Closing my eyes, I did as instructed, and as it had occurred with my DL-3, I soon felt the extent of the weapon from blade tip to pommel cap. Now I knew what I held in my hands; without prompting, I launched into a furious velocity that I had first learned more than twenty years ago in boot camp. Breathing a sigh, I opened my eyes once again, then executed the same velocity, but in reverse. Master Vrook nodded his approval.

    “I see that your Marine training has paid off once again,” he said grudgingly. “Still, your technique is sloppy, your form in its infancy, but you will learn.”

    “Thank you, Master,” I said, holding the lightsaber up in salute, then deactivating it.

    “Don't thank me yet,” he replied, calling the remote back to him. “This training lightsaber is now yours for the time being; be sure to wear it at all times. In your room, you will find a new set of datapads. These contain instructions and diagrams illustrating the basics of lightsaber combat, including the velocities and katas for Shii-Cho, the most elementary form. Study them well, my Padawan.”

    And with that, Master Vrook put the remote away and left the room.

    — — —

    I returned to my quarters to find that the common area was empty save for Aewa, who sat cross-legged on a chair close to my door. She looked up at me, half abashed, half curious, but my reassuring nod put her at her ease. “Thanks for the help, kid,” I said with a smile, tucking back my cloak just enough so that she could glimpse the pommel of the training saber clipped to my belt.
    She grinned, dismounted the chair, and left the dormitory at a trot.

    As I opened the door, I soon noticed the stack of three datapads that had been left on my desk, as well as the fact that the ones I'd kept on the shelf had been replaced as well. After checking to make sure the first pile contained what my Master had said it would, I thumbed through the second set. These turned out to contain further readings on the philosophies of the Order, including one that was dedicated to the five-line Jedi Code and its many applications and subtexts, and three others that covered the three paths of the Jedi. Deciding that it was better to delve into the lightsaber-oriented stuff while the experience was still fresh in my head, I began reading the first datapad, which contained information about the basics of utilizing the lightsaber.

    It was fascinating reading, but also a bit difficult to take in, at least at first. Learning the many marks of contact, the ways in which a Jedi could inflict harm upon another being with their lightsaber, was challenging, as there were so many variations. Annotations had been appended to each description and diagram, indicating the Jedi philosophy regarding their use; some were considered ideal, if difficult to pull off, while others were thought to be too brutal, and thus avoided if at all possible. Admittedly, I felt confused as to how a stab directly to a foe's heart was felt to be more ideal than depriving one's opponent of their hands, particularly with the availability of excellent prosthetic limbs. At least with the latter method, the other person would still be alive and able to reconsider her actions.

    But that wasn't for me to judge, at least not at this point in my training. Later, perhaps, once I'd learned how to use the damn thing without endangering myself, I could devote more thought toward what sort of style suited me best. With that in mind, I continued on, finally finishing that first datapad as the rest of the apprentices in the cluster were filing in from their own training. Poking my head out of my door, I noticed that the youngest apprentice was holding court, gabbling happily on about how she'd helped “Gunny Reyolé” shoot rocks out of the air. I couldn't help but chuckle; though the girl was obviously happy to have played her part despite the rather abrupt end to the activities, I noticed that she did not exaggerate or attempt to make her role seem more important. True Jedi humility, I mused to myself with a sigh. Something we Marines could probably learn from...

    I spent the next two days reading over the learning materials that Master Vrook had given me, wanting to make absolutely sure that I'd done my homework before engaging even a training version of such a deadly-effective weapon. This was partly due to force of habit, as during Marine training I'd often spent at least a day or two reading through the background material before taking an unfamiliar weapon to the firing range. But the additional responsibilities that went with the proper handling of a lightsaber were so much more ingrained into the psyche of the Jedi Order, and so I felt that my treatment of this weapon had to be extra-respectful. On the third day, I tucked the three datapads into my robes, sought out an isolated spot not far from the courtyard's edge, and began to put these teachings into practice.

    It was difficult at first, remembering how each basic maneuver was supposed to be executed before doing it myself, but through perseverance, I started to gradually refine my technique. Shii-Cho itself was much less difficult, as this simplest form still resonated with the elements of ancient swordplay upon which it was centered. Building upon my training with vibroblades, I managed to make my way through the first few velocities and katas without falling flat on my face. This was helped by use of the technique Master Vrook had taught me for “feeling” the blade of the lightsaber and assigning “weight” to it through the Force. As I began to put myself through the intermediate aspects of this first form, I felt the approach of two familiar auras; the sun-yellow of Belaya and the pastel blue of Juhani. Not wanting to become distracted, I continued the kata I had begun, then went through its accompanying velocity; by the time I'd finished, the two friends had stopped a few meters shy of where I was practicing.

    “First day on the job, Laera?” Belaya asked, smiling and gesturing toward the weapon in my hands.

    “You could say that,” I replied, lowering the blade and pressing the activation stud to retract it.

    “Your technique is good for so little practice,” Juhani remarked in her accented Basic. “You have prior training in melee weapons and combat, yes?”

    I nodded in reply. “You two out here to practice as well?”

    The two younger women exchanged an odd sort of look that I found confusing, but as they nodded, I dismissed whatever significance it might have held. What two friends do in their own time was none of my concern, Jedi or no. By way of actual response, both of them unhooked their own lightsabers, showing them to me pommel-out so that I could see that they were armed not with training weapons, but real ones, ones that they had wrought themselves. “Very nice craftsmanship,” I said, and meant it.

    By mutual consent, the three of us stepped into line, each standing approximately three meters apart from the others to leave ample room to maneuver. I stood at the center, so that I could see and sense from both sides what the other two were doing. As one, we activated our blades, holding them straight up and outward at a forty-five degree angle; Juhani's was blue, Belaya's, like mine, was yellow. After nodding our readiness to one another, the two Jedi led off, going through the katas of Shii-Cho as I followed suit. With their performance as a benchmark, I was able to gauge where I stood in terms of potential talent, which wasn't bad as these things went. They obviously knew the form like the backs of their hands, and it was a wonder that I didn't lag so far behind that I disrupted their routine.

    After a good half hour of exercises, they had taken me through the intermediate katas and on into the advanced ones. Despite my lack of practice, I managed to stick with them for most of the way, dropping out of formation only at the last one, which was a three-sixty spin that ended with the blade pointing out from centerline and parallel to the ground. “I'm sorry,” I said by way of apology. “I think I almost fell over on that one.”

    “There's no need to apologize,” Belaya assured me, and I could feel her sincerity. “I should apologize for using a live saber instead of a practice one.”

    “That's alright,” I said. “Hell, I've already been filleted once, and it wasn't so bad.”

    That got a laugh out of Juhani, who nodded toward her friend. “If you would like, we could acquire training lightsabers,” she suggested. “These velocities are much easier to learn when one has a partner.”

    “Besides, you seem to have a good grasp on the basics,” Belaya put in with a grin. “I think we can trust you not to cut out a wall...”

    — — —

    Fifteen minutes later, and in the same room where I had first received my training lightsaber, I was engaged in a furious velocity with Belaya as Juhani looked on. These partnered versions consisted of two participants running the same routine as they faced one another, with one going through it in reverse. The object was to increase the speed of the velocity with each repetition, stopping only when blade and body made contact, or when one of the participants uttered a special codeword. It was the former condition that necessitated the use of the stinging variety of lightsaber, but since there was no real way to tell the difference between a blade that could cut and one that could not, this mattered little in actual practice.

    The match finally ended when Belaya's blade tapped me on my right upper arm, which immediately jerked in pain and nearly caused me to lose my grip on my own weapon. As she stepped back, we exchanged a bow, and I nursed my (slightly) wounded arm as Juhani and I exchanged places. The two friends then began their own velocity, which was more complex, and I looked on in awe as I watched them abandon their conscious selves and commit to the routine with all that they were. Their blades flashed and twirled like controlled lightning, and within minutes they had gone beyond my eyes' ability to follow. By tapping into the currents of the Force, however, I began to sense how they did it, and took in what data I could. Finally, after their velocity had gone on for nearly twice the length of the one I had conducted with Belaya, each of them cried “Solah!” at exactly the same moment. With astonishing control, the two Jedi halted their dance of blades, bowed, and separated.

    “That was incredible,” I said, my voice low with awe.

    “I think that you could do just as well, if not better,” Belaya said, standing beside her friend. “I can't recall seeing someone who could keep up with the kind of velocity we did on their first day of practical lightsaber training.”

    “Beginner's fortune, I can assure you,” I replied, shrugging off the compliment as I parked myself on a nearby bench. “Marine vibroblade training can't hold a candle to what I've seen Jedi do, in practice and in combat.”

    “You've witnessed Jedi engaged in combat?” Juhani asked, her tone slightly disbelieving.

    “During the war, yes, more times than I care to remember,” I said, my voice growing somber. “It was from another life, really...”

    “She fought alongside the Revanchists,” Belaya explained in an undertone that nevertheless carried to my ears.

    “Begging your pardon, Belaya,” I said, a hint of resentment creeping into my voice, “but you've got that a little backward. I was fighting the Mandalorians long before Revan and his followers came on the scene.”

    “Please forgive me,” she apologized. “That was perhaps in poor taste.”

    I waved the apology away. “Forget it, it's my own fault for being so damn touchy about it. Ask me again some other time, maybe I can explain it better later.”

    “As you wish, Laera,” Belaya offered. “We could leave you alone if you'd like.”

    “No, that's alright,” I said. “I need to learn this stuff, and like Juhani said, it's easier when you've got a partner.”

    I spent the rest of the day exchanging routines with the other two Jedi, becoming more and more comfortable with the attacks, parries, and maneuvers of Shii-Cho as time went by. Since Belaya and Juhani were familiar enough with each other's styles that they needed little further practice, they took it in turns to face off against me. I ended up taking several more stinging hits to various parts of my anatomy before learning to recognize when things were going badly and exclaiming “Solah!” to end the velocity before contact was made. None of these duets ended in me landing blows or forcing either of the two to submit, but since that wasn't the objective, it didn't bother me in the slightest. Finally, exhausted and nearly panting for breath, I called an end to the exercises, and the two Jedi departed, having barely broken a sweat.

    — — —

    Once again I slept like a rock, too exhausted to do little more than remove my robes before flopping down onto the bed and drifting instantly off to blissful unconsciousness. And, once again, I awoke to a stomach that begged loudly to be filled with food. After securing a heaping helping of morning chow, I returned to my room, the previous day's activities sloshing around my head as I attempted to read about the Jedi Code. I eventually gave it up as a bad job, picked up my training lightsaber and, after calling up the notes pertaining to Shii-Cho style blaster deflection, took it and the datapad to the training room. I pulled one of the remotes from its locker, set it for a simple pattern, and let it fly about the room. As it did so, I activated my weapon and relaxed myself into the Force, feeling for the movements of the small automaton

    I was just beginning to sense the oscillations of energy within the device when its capacitor charged up to fire a stinger bolt in my direction. Reacting on instinct, I turned to face the attack, bringing my lightsaber in line to block the small plasma packet. The pinprick of energy sparked as it glanced off the blade, and I felt it vibrate ever so slightly with the impact. The Force help me if I ever have to block a laser cannon with this thing, I thought to myself as I brought my blade around in an arc to pick off a second bolt.

    The remote took its time in acquiring me as a target, so that I got used to the idea of attempting to predict its movements. However, after five minutes of its leisurely pace, I began to grow bored; calling it back to my hand with the Force, I bumped up the difficulty a couple of notches. Upon its release, the small metal ball began to dart about with more alacrity, increasing the complexity of its movements as well as the frequency of its shots. As a result, I began to miss shots that I would have picked up on the first setting, but at least none of them got through to tag me. After several rounds with the higher setting, my abilities began to catch up, and I was soon stippling the walls with deflected low-energy packets.

    Satisfied that I was doing well enough with my eyes open, I closed them, and the exercise took on a new dimension. The remote itself did not possess an aura, which I decided was a good thing, as it would have negated its value as a training aid. Part of me wished I'd had a squad of Marines with spotting lasers firing at me; that would have been a real, not to mention extremely delightful, challenge to undertake. Alas, such fun and frivolity was not to be had, so I contented myself with following the motions of the remote and picking off stinger darts, increasing the difficulty yet again after an hour's worth of practice.

    By lunchtime, I had worked up to the remote's highest difficulty setting, though in the process I'd gotten stung at least twice. After the noon meal, I decided to take the remote outside, to the grove near the ancient ruins that some Jedi liked to use for deep meditation, so that I could practice deflecting bolts from ranges higher than the confines of the training room allowed. This time, much to my chagrin, the remote started to use the terrain to its advantage, hiding behind small boulders, trees, and other obstacles before it would close in to launch a multi-directional flurry of stingers. The first time this happened, I missed every dart, and each one impacted one after the other up and down my left leg, toppling me to the ground. Following its programming, the blasted thing came right at me, aiming for my head; it was all I could do to get out of the way, let alone bring my blade into line to intercept the shots. I finally managed to summon up the focus to catch the thing in a Force-hold before it could attack again, turning it off as I struggled to regain my composure.

    As if things couldn't get any worse, Master Vrook chose that moment to show up. “I had intended for you to practice with the remote before moving on to training with the other apprentices,” he said wryly as I moaned inwardly. “As a result, you've fallen into bad habits, ones that you'll have to train extra hard to break out of.”

    And with that, the Jedi Master released another remote into the air even as he reactivated the first one. I had no time to complain, vocally or subconsciously; I closed my eyes and slipped once more into the Force, asking, begging, cajoling it to come to my aid in my time of need. As the two remotes, acting in concert, sprayed darts in my direction, I threw myself at the grass, tucking into a roll that brought me up to my feet just as the damned machines swooped over me. Whipping about, I spun my blade in a tight arc that sent several darts spitting off into the air while several more bracketed my position. The remotes then extended, zooming out in different directions. “You must extend your awareness outward,” Master Vrook instructed. “Anticipation, not reaction, should be your mantra. Only by feeling where the remotes are going to be can you know where and when the darts will come.”

    Attempting to do as my Master suggested, I let my awareness flow outward, encompassing as broad an area as I could. At the very edge of this cloud, I could feel them, they were coming at me from opposite sides. Feeling that they would zoom straight at me, I jumped to the side, turning about in midair as the remotes attempted to correct their orientation. This resulted in both of them facing me, their darts lancing out at me along similar trajectories. Those that I couldn't block outright I was able to dodge, and I even managed to send one of them zipping back at my antagonists, which passed within a few centimeters of the right-handball. There was no respite to be gained, however; both remotes zoomed in at me again, weaving into one another, and I was forced to cartwheel out of their way.

    Once again, the remotes changed tactics. While one of them hung back at about twenty-five meters, launching the occasional barrage of shots as it hovered out of range, the other would swoop in close to peel off a volley of darts from a different angle, attempting to catch me in a crossfire. I countered this tactic by attempting to keep an obstacle between the far remote and myself while I dealt with the darts from the second. This proved to be mostly successful in that only occasionally did I have to divide my attention between the two, and only once more did they manage to tag me with their stingers.

    — — —

    For the next solid week, Master Vrook continued to drill me with the remotes, adding a new one to the mix every subsequent day, so that by the end, I was facing eight of the infernal contraptions at once, all set at maximum difficulty, and ranging out to one hundred plus meters. It was one of the most hellish weeks I had ever endured in my entire life, above and beyond Hell Week at boot camp by an order of magnitude. It got so bad that, on the sixth day, I was rendered nearly catatonic by flashbacks of my last battle. One of the remotes, screaming in at me with all the subtlety of a charging bantha, suddenly took on the appearance of a grenade, and I began to hyperventilate as I clutched at the spot in my chest where a real explosive, hurled by a dying Mandalorian, had torn through my flesh. Dropping my lightsaber as I fell to my knees, the other remotes closed in and I was bombarded by stinger darts. But this was no time to let up; after another night's stay in the infirmary, it was right back to it, and more intense than ever. Finally, on the eighth day, after batting aside fusillades of stinger darts and nearly destroying one of the remotes in the process, Master Vrook decided that I'd had enough.

    That brutal week of exercises proved that I still needed time for my mind to heal in the wake of my fatal ordeal. I spent the whole next day in deep meditation within the grove, trying to center myself once again in the Force, craving calm, clarity, and peace of mind. It was difficult in coming, and even as I felt the embrace of the universe upon me, I knew that full psychological well-being would still be a long time in coming. On the upside, however, the unforgiving nature of these exercises had forced me to incorporate all that I had learned thus far during my training, and despite the reopening of not-so-old mental wounds, I came out of it feeling as though I had finally mounted and vaulted a great hurdle.

    In order to give me a little break from the physical and psychic exertions of the previous weeks, Master Vrook had given me time off to study the Jedi Code and the three paths of service within the Order, Sentinel, Consular, and Guardian, so that I would be able to pick a path to follow when the time came. I spent the next week in reading, contemplation, and meditation, resting tired muscles, learning more about Jedi traditions, and allowing myself to explore the Force both within my being and the environment around me. I realized almost immediately that I identified very well with the traditions of the Jedi Guardians, though the Sentinel path offered some intriguing opportunities. In the end, I chose to dabble in each, incorporating the subtlety of the latter with the bold, decisive combat styles of the former. The perfect combination for a Marine, I thought.

    A technique which I had found to be greatly appealing involved the ability to sense where a target was least likely to focus their perceptions, and using that to get close enough to spring with full force upon them when they were most vulnerable. On the defense, this same technique could be used to hide myself from an advancing attacker, waiting for them to pass by and exposing their flank. When I told Master Vrook of this discovery, however, he responded with a lecture. “You should know by now that Jedi do not attack. We use the Force for knowledge and defense, nothing more.”

    “Yes Master, I realize that,” I countered. “But when an enemy has already announced its intentions, whether they be through words or action, then the time for worrying about such things has passed.”

    “Even in the face of open hostility, not everything is as it appears," Master Vrook replied, his tone somber, his countenance pensive. "You are not the only one who knew a Jedi that fought with the Revanchists. My previous Padawan also joined the war against the Mandalorians, despite all I could do to persuade him to see the wisdom of restraint. He fought them on battlefield after battlefield, and even before his death at Malachor, I could feel glimpses of his gradual descent into darkness.”

    At that point, I could feel the sudden emotional vulnerability of the Jedi Master who sat before me. Here was a man who had spent so much time watching out for the well-being of others that, perhaps, he was afraid of opening himself up. He walled himself off to protect himself from the possibility of his pupils, his friends, and his allies falling from the light, and becoming affected by the resulting tumult of emotions. I had seen this happen in other officers, who cared so deeply about the troops under their command that, after a battle, they would lock themselves away to avoid the pain of comrades lost. Part of me suspected that this emotional protection was what made Master Vrook appear to be so insufferably irritable, and it was a surprise to see him like this. Inexplicably, these thoughts brought forth the mental image of General Sunrider, who even now made her way through the stars, utterly alone and friendless. It made my heart ache to think about her like that, but instead of closing myself off from the feeling, I did my best to embrace it, make it a part of me, and move on.

    This was how I continued to cope with my own death, after all, for better or worse.

    “Sometimes, no matter how right an action may seem at first, you have to step back and look at the bigger picture,” Master Vrook continued. “Perhaps if they had seen the wisdom of the Council, Revan, Malak, and the soldiers and Jedi who went with them would not have become lost to the unknown.”

    “Master, with all due respect, I disagree,” I said, trying my utmost to maintain an even demeanor. “The Mandalorians were pushing into the Core Worlds. If Revan had waited for the rest of the Jedi, our enemies would have been on Coruscant's doorstep, and by then it might have been too late. If the whole of the Order had come together and led a united front against the invaders, how many worlds would have been spared the destruction they wrought?”

    “You do not understand,” the Jedi Master replied, his tone becoming heated. “Something was lurking out there, beyond the Outer Rim. We could feel it, a darkness that had propelled the Mandalorians to war. If the entire Jedi Order had gone out to meet it, it might have devoured us all!”

    Master Vrook's reply hit me in an unexpected place. Memories of what Commander Onasi had said about the Jedi “changing,” and how the effect had spilled over to the soldiers, pilots and crewers under Revan's command, swam to the forefront of my mind. I recalled that the younger officer had seemed agitated at our first meeting, as though he had just had an unpleasant chat with someone, and I wondered if that had had anything to do with what would later become of the Fleet. I found myself wondering what would have happened to me if I had not died and spent so many months being reconstructed. Would I have ended up like them, twisted and corrupted by whatever it was that had infected all the others?

    “This...darkness of which you speak...” I began, unsure of what I was asking, or if I really wanted to hear the answer. “How can I tell the dark from the light?”

    Master Vrook looked at me, and I could feel his mental gaze on my inner being. “When you are calm, at peace, centered within the Force, you will know,” he began. “Your life has been spent in service to civilization, to the Republic, and if you aspire to nothing else, then, I feel, you will find yourself well-insulated against the dark side.”

    I spent the rest of the afternoon contemplating the conversation between myself and Master Vrook. His vulnerability, temporary as it might have been, had startled me, and I found myself wondering if I was really as safe from the dark side as he claimed I was. He had been correct, after a fashion, when he had said that I aspired to nothing more than service to the Republic. It hadn't been easy to reconcile the Marines' version of service with that of the Jedi, and I still had some reservations as to whether I should stick with the Order upon the completion of my training, or return to the military. Part of me knew that, whatever path I chose, I'd be well-placed to do my utmost to fight for those who could not fight for themselves, and after being a soldier for so long, that was all I ever really wanted, the only life I knew. I had never liked war; that fact, at least, would never change. Still, if war was inevitable, it was better to be prepared.

    And if what Master Vrook had said about that ethereal darkness was true, then the peace that lingered in the wake of the Mandalorians' defeat might be short-lived indeed.
  11. TrakNar

    TrakNar Jedi Grand Master star 5

    Apr 4, 2011
    Aewa is absolutely adorable. And Vrook is a stuffed shirt. You've captured the stuffiness and holier-than-thou attitude of the Jedi Order very well. He's starting to remind me of Jorus C'Baoth, in that his at times belittling demeanor is actually beginning to irk me. Though, that's not a bad thing, mind you. It takes some skill to write a character that one loves to hate.
  12. Goodwood

    Goodwood Jedi Master star 5

    May 11, 2011
    Chapter Five

    Having chosen my path within the Jedi Order, I began to train with Master Zhar Lestin, the red-skinned Twi'lek who sat on the Enclave Council along with Masters Vrook, Vandar and Dorak. He took me through a series of exercises designed to test my proficiency with the Shii-Cho form, after which he announced that I was “good enough to proceed further.” For the next month, we worked together in exploring the other forms of lightsaber combat; I eventually figured out that I favored a two-fold style that incorporated the defensive katas and parries of Form III, called Soresu, with the powerful strikes and counterattacks of Form V, known as Shien. The combination of styles seemed logical enough to me, since as a Marine I could be called upon at any time to either defend a world under attack, or liberate a planet that had been conquered, often switching from an offensive to a defensive orientation any number of times along the way.

    I soon discovered that Makashi held little appeal to me, as it seemed to be useful only against opponents who were also armed with lightsabers. Ataru was too flashy in my opinion, and it lacked the power that I knew my highly-trained body could deliver to devastating effect. Niman, a balancing-act that incorporated elements from all the other forms, was a weak option, while Juyo, the aggressive form, was far too wild and reckless for my taste, which seemed ironic when I recalled that Master Vrook had referred to me in just that way not that long ago. I was happy with the third and fifth forms because they seemed to mesh with my own approach to melee combat, honed through my years of experience as a Marine: keep the enemy at bay long enough to find an opening, then strike fast and with every erg of energy.

    Even as I continued to learn more about the traditions and philosophies of the Order, I spent another month practicing the basics of Soresu and Shien, and how best to combine them, before Master Zhar set me up against a succession of apprentices in mock bouts intended to test our skills against one another. My first two duels were against Belaya and Juhani, respectively, and despite their superior experience in their own chosen forms, I ended up defeating them rather handily. They were polite about it, of course, as was I; no one wanted to get too worked-up over such friendly contests. They were, after all, intended to be learning experiences for everyone involved, including the younger apprentices, who would gather around the duel circle's edge to watch.

    In the week that followed, I extended my duel winning streak to eight, having faced some of the best apprentice-level swordsbeings at the enclave. Each match had been different, and each had held unique challenges, and at least three of my opponents had very nearly triumphed. The last bout, in which I faced off against a talented Ataru-user named Dak Vesser, was overseen as usual by Master Zhar, but he was joined that time by my own Master, who watched with an interested eye. As the Twi'lek Jedi Master signaled the beginning of the match, Dak immediately leaped forward in an acrobatic sidespin, his violet blade weaving a spiral through the air as he flew toward me. Ducking, I rolled out of range of his attack, coming up on his flank and swiping at his knees in a downward Shien counterstroke. Dak jumped the riposte, spinning in midair and sending a flurry of jabs at me, which I picked off as I backed up into a Soresu kata. I let the young, dark-skinned Jedi back me toward the edge of the ring, making him think he was winning, before I interrupted his offensive with a powerful uppercut that locked his blade high overhead. The two of us pressed for advantage over the saber lock, but it soon became clear that I was the stronger fighter. I continued to push his blade down toward his face, eventually using my leverage to break the lock and snap a quick jab that tagged Dak in the center of his chest. The resulting shock caused him to stumble and drop his lightsaber, which switched off as it fell. Extinguishing my own blade, I knelt down to help him up, but he waved me away with an angry gesture. As I backed off, I caught a glimpse of Juhani, who was shaking her head at Dak's behavior, her aura prickling with sympathy and irritation.

    I partly expected Master Vrook to be angry with me for having done so well, despite my sporting attitude. To my surprise, he was smiling—a very rare thing for him to do—and, after taking me aside as the audience broke up, he announced that he would then begin training me personally, using real weapons. Though the idea gave me some pause initially, I was determined to acquit myself well against the veteran Master, though at the same time, I was in awe of what he could do. After practicing for a week together, we had our first—and only—exhibition duel in that very same arena. This would prove to be the most memorable fight I would engage in while at the enclave...

    — — —

    "Are both combatants ready?" asked Master Zhar, who was once again serving as referee.

    By way of answer, both I and Master Vrook ignited our blades, saluting one another by bringing the tips up to hover near our temples.

    "The contest begins now," the Twi'lek announced, stepping back to the edge of the ring.

    Master Vrook and I began to pace the circle's edge, sizing each other up. Through my earlier bouts, I had learned that, sometimes, Jedi liked to open these sorts of matches not with any technique of the lightsaber, but instead by calling upon the Force itself in some manner. Keeping my senses keen, I began to rotate my weapon in the classic Soresu defense even as Master Vrook held his verdant blade vertically, the hilt slack in his hands. For what seemed like a solid hour, we stared into each other. Finally, and for the first time, I took the initiative, advancing rapidly even as I increased the speed of my blade's spin. With a flick of my wrist, I snapped the blade out and down from the height of its arc, intending for Master Vrook to catch the powerful Shien stroke on his own blade. However, with astonishing speed, the Jedi Master side-slipped the attack, so that it missed by a meter.

    The elder Jedi immediately launched into a precisely-measured counterattack, forcing me back into the middle of the circle. He sent a quick jab at my midsection, which I parried wide to my right. I slashed back in a follow-up crosscut that locked the two blades together, with both of us pushing for the advantage. "Running in with a shield before you isn't the way to take your opponent by surprise," Master Vrook admonished, grunting slightly as the blades hissed and spat as they ground against one another. "If you must attack, it must be with a clear goal and purpose."

    I took in this advice with one part of my mind as the rest concentrated on levering the locked sabers away. I was surprised to learn that we were almost equal in strength, which meant that I had to find a way to break the stalemate before my opponent came to the same conclusion and seized the offensive. "That's how it was with the Mandalorians," I shot back. "When going head-to-head with them, you had to bring a really big shield, along with a can-opener."

    With every ounce of strength that I possessed, I concentrated on the spot where Master Vrook's green blade intersected with the borrowed yellow lightsaber I was wielding, pushing harder and harder, until his blade slowly began to turn to the left. Shifting tack at lightspeed, I whirled my entire body away from the grappling contest, sweeping my blade in a broad arc in the opposite direction, catching Master Vrook's weapon on its other side even as he began to recover from the suddenness of the reversal. To his own great surprise, the backhand blow nearly knocked the weapon from his hand, forcing him to back off. I recognized then that this particular Jedi Master favored the Niman form, which was probably the sole reason why he hadn't been able to overpower me during the saber lock. Throwing myself fully into Shien, I began to rain blows upon Master Vrook's defenses, driving him back toward the edge of the ring and defeat. He responded by mustering a reserve of Force power that I hadn't even known existed, and I found myself flying through the air toward the other side.

    Dimly aware that I had been subjected to the classic response of a cornered Force-user, I tucked into a shoulder roll, coming up on one knee scant few centimeters short of the edge, my weapon held in my off-hand and pointed to the side. I looked up from the floor to see that Master Vrook, who was still standing, had not moved, his weapon held at a downward angle. "The match is a draw," Master Lestin announced, entering the ring and using the Force to collect my borrowed weapon, extinguishing the blade as it flew toward him.

    I smiled inwardly satisfied with my performance during the duel. Master Vrook, however, was scowling. "You...are dangerous," he said reprovingly, his tone and sense in the Force broadcasting irritation. "I cannot recall ever having been pushed so far by a student. You should be aware that, had we been dueling as enemies, I could have deprived you of your hand, your arm, or your leg. You must never take for granted the nature of your opponent."

    "As you say, Master," I responded humbly, my head bowed.

    — — —

    I arrived back at the dormitory cluster to find that the other girls and young women were huddled by the door, waiting for my return. As I entered, all five of them began chanting loudly. “Gunny Reyolé! Gunny Reyolé! Gunny Reyolé!”

    “Alright, alright, that's enough,” I admonished, though the effect was ruined by my own laughter. I couldn't help myself—the ridiculousness of the apprentices cheering me on had caught me off-guard. Eventually, the gaggle of students dispersed and resumed their daily activities, but Aewa insisted on rehashing the match with me.

    “You did great, Gunny,” she said, giggling a little. “I'd never thought that an apprentice could fight a Jedi Master to a standstill like that!”

    “It wasn't as easy as it looked, kid,” I assured her, smiling and shaking my head. “I think the only reason that I did so well was that Master Vrook is a Consular Jedi, while I'm following the Guardian path, mixed with a bit of Sentinel. I don't think I could have knocked him off his feet the way he'd done to me.”

    “But still, you got back up, and inside the ring!” Aewa insisted. “That's got to count for something, right?”

    “Sure does, kid,” I said. “It counts as a draw instead of a loss. Even so, I think we all learned something.”

    Later that evening, after getting a quick bite to eat from the mess hall, I did some light reading in preparation for an exercise to take place the following afternoon. Masters Vrook and Zhar had arranged for a number of volunteers from the nearby farming communities to visit the enclave the following afternoon, where they would offer their services as learning aids for the apprentices. The object was to provide the students with the opportunity to practice using the Force to probe another's thoughts. Since I was already well-versed in this subject due to my natural affinity for Sense Aura, which was augmented by my empathic sensitivity and life experience, I was to attempt some more difficult powers. Affect Mind, or what most folks simply referred to as “Jedi mind tricks,” was what I'd be concentrating on developing. The idea behind it was to use the Force to help in making another being agree with one's own point of view or objective, or else to do things that they ordinarily wouldn't do, such as deactivating a force cage or providing the entry code for a locked door. I knew that overuse of this kind of technique, as well as its more powerful variant (called Dominate Mind, which was off-limits to apprentices), was to invite the dark side into one's self, but there were simpler applications as well. For instance, while infiltrating a military base, I could make a patrolling trooper think that she had seen or heard something off in the distance in the direction that I wanted her to go, leaving a path open for me to sneak by. Oh, how useful that would have been back on Onderon, I thought ruefully to myself as I continued reading.

    Though Master Vrook was hesitant to allow it, Master Zhar had also wanted me to attempt Alter Mind at least once, in case Sense Aura proved to be a gateway ability that allowed me to access higher-tier mental powers more readily. In the end, the two Jedi Masters had agreed to let me try, and so I read up on the theory behind it prior to turning in for the night.

    — — —

    “Just relax, Miss Sandral,” I said to the dark-skinned young woman who sat on the opposite side of the small, private table out in the enclave's courtyard. “Close your eyes, and try to empty your mind of thoughts.”

    “Yes, ma'am,” she replied, nodding and doing as instructed. Her aura, the color of melon, was a spiky sort of current that oscillated about her like a groundquake recorder. As she followed my advice, I noticed that the peaks and valleys relaxed slightly, and I began to match my own sense with that of hers. She was the second volunteer I'd seen thus far; despite the fact that she was visibly nervous, I could sense that she was determined to be a good assistant. Flowing into the Force, I teased my way into her thought patterns, which offered little resistance, and began the process of making her think that the red farmer's dress she wore was in fact yellow. After a few short minutes of gentle manipulation, I carefully backed myself out from her thoughts, though I maintained a few strands of connection in order to hold the image I wanted her to see.

    “Alright, Miss Sandral, please open your eyes.”

    Her lids fluttered open, and she began looking at herself. She gazed at me with shock as she realized that her red dress was no longer red, but then she smiled. “You know, I think I like this color better on me,” she said.

    “Unfortunately, it's only temporary,” I said, letting the connection go.

    “Ah, damn,” the young woman said in mock disappointment as she realized that her dress had gone back to its original hue. “Well, I suppose Dad wouldn't mind buying me a new dress in that color.”

    “Would you feel comfortable with another try?” I asked, smiling at her remark. We had been encouraged to solicit the volunteers for as long as they were willing to put themselves up for practice, and this had only been the first time I'd made contact with Rahasia Sandral. My first volunteer, a middle-aged businessman from Garang who regularly visited these events to prove that his mind was unreadable, had taken only two mental interfaces to prove how wrong and arrogant he had been in his claims. First, I'd made him agree that Dantooine was quite a populous world, and would need to do something to control the population lest something terrible happen to the native ecology. The second time, I'd succeeded in making him think that a young kath hound was sitting on his lap. That had made him jump, and he'd left the event in high dudgeon.

    But Rahasia was still game. “Yes, that would be interesting,” she agreed, again closing her eyes and relaxing her mind. Once again, I made the mental connections, making sure to be gentle about it. This time, however, I delved a little deeper into her mind, implanting an image of herself as a Rutian Twi'lek, complete with lekku, headscarf, and wrappings, though she still wore the same dress. The process took a bit longer, particularly since I forced myself to avoid causing any possible discomfort to my partner. After five minutes of mental work, I withdrew myself; this time, though, I had to maintain a stronger connection to make the image stick.

    The young woman opened her eyes when I touched her outstretched hand, and again looked herself over. This time, the effect was more palpable, and she burst out laughing. “Oh, but this is no good at all,” she said after finally calming down long enough. “This shade of red doesn't work at all with this blue skin color! Still, the head-tails are a nice touch."

    Joining in the mirth, I withdrew the connection once again, letting the image fade. “Well, I think that's enough for now, Miss Sandral,” I said, not wanting to put Rahasia through too much mental manipulation. “If you still want to participate, I'm sure some of the other apprentices would be willing to attempt a reading of your sense.”

    “I'll do that, thanks,” the young woman replied. “I really enjoyed seeing myself as a Twi'lek, though, that was a riot!” Smiling, she got up from her bench and began to wander about the courtyard, eventually settling opposite Aewa. Still chuckling a little, I began to walk amongst the people gathered around, watching the other apprentices as they practiced their abilities in the Force. Occasionally, I was able to catch glimpses of various mental conversations between apprentices and their volunteers, more than once picking up on the frustration from a student as he or she failed to make contact. Most of the apprentices, however, were able to achieve some measure of success by the end of the event, and the volunteers gradually trickled back to their own homes.

    After Rahasia Sandral, though, I had taken no further attempts, and returned to the enclave to report my results to Masters Vrook and Zhar, who were both suitably impressed by my efforts. “Quite an eventful afternoon for everyone involved,” the Twi'lek remarked with a satisfied smile.

    “Was it really necessary to spook Mr. Lusoff like that?” Master Vrook asked, the vehemence in his voice ruined somewhat by the slight smirk he wore. “I doubt he'll be coming back here, at least, which is actually a relief. He was making my life difficult enough as it was without his having apprentices bursting into tears.”

    “It was my pleasure to help, Master Vrook,” I said, bending over in a theatrical bow. “In any case, I'm fairly tired, so I'd like to turn in early.”

    “Of course,” Master Zhar replied, smiling. “Learning these abilities can sometimes be taxing.”
    “You should know, however, that Affect and Alter Mind become much more difficult when the target is unfamiliar, hostile, or distant,” Master Vrook advised. “You will understand if I ask you not to practice these aspects while you are here.”

    “I understand,” I replied with a nod. “We have a similar saying in the Marines: just because you can bomb a planet into slag doesn't mean you should, or that it is the best course of action. Goodnight, Masters.”

    — — —

    Despite my early bedtime, I awoke later than usual the next morning, feeling decidedly unrested. Groggily I dressed, only realizing that I had accidentally donned my armor's black body glove after I had reached down to zip it closed. Part of me recoiled in horror at having made such a silly mistake, but the rest of me either laughed at my own stupidity, or chalked it up to some subconscious desire to do...something different. After staring down at myself for several minutes of increasingly frustrating silence, I flippantly began tacking on the individual plates that comprised my Republic-issue Marine battle armor. Unlike the red, blue and gold armored uniforms worn by regular Army soldiers and officers, Marine armor was white with red and black trim, and emblazoned with the Marines' crest in gold on each shoulder. It was thicker and heavier, too, but more effective, and it contained more extensive plating that provided better overall coverage; the suit as a whole was actually on par with the armor worn by the average Mandalorian line trooper, which is saying something.

    After hitching the last of the straps and snapping on my utility belt, I pulled my DL-3 and its holster from where I kept it in my desk and snapped it onto the belt as well. I ended up wasting another minute or so deciding whether or not to clip on my training lightsaber, finally choosing to go all out and hitching it to myself alongside my sidearm. Smiling cheekily at my helmet, I decided to leave it sitting on my desk as I left the dormitory (which was, thankfully, empty save for me) and strode toward the mess hall. The weight of the armor felt good on me, grounding my sense in a way, and I began to recall some of the more pleasant moments from my years of service. Several Jedi stared at me as I passed them, but I paid them no heed.

    The dining area, too, was empty, save for three Jedi—I couldn't help but grin when I recognized that they were in fact the very same human, Bothan and Falleen trio that I'd encountered at the start of my first full day at the enclave. As I collected a plateful of food, I made sure to make myself known to them, smiling like a drunken Gran as I sat down at a different table and began to eat, oblivious to the clicking noises caused by the movement of my armor's numerous plates. Once again, the three men stared at me, but this time I didn't bother to inquire after their intentions. Until, that was, I began to pick up the subtle tang of the reptilian's notorious pheromones. “D'you mind capping that?” I asked Fezor, arching a brow in his direction. “It's spoiling my breakfast.”

    Startled, the Falleen bolted down the rest of his food and beat a hasty retreat as his fellows did the same. Men! I thought furiously to myself, resolving to return for my helmet before I went outside to begin practicing for the day. At least it had olfactory filters, though they were intended to block out poisonous gases and other airborne hazards, usually caused by enemy munitions. I managed to finish eating most of the platter before giving up and putting it into the recycler and returning the plate to the cleanup section. It hit me then that this was the first meal at the enclave that I didn't finish, and that made the feeling that something wasn't quite right, which had been present as I had risen from sleep, become more acute. A minute later, however, such thoughts were swept aside by the sudden presence of Master Vrook. “Going somewhere, Jedi Reyolé?” he asked tartly.

    “Just a minor mixup, sir—I mean, Master,” I said, shaking my head in embarrassment. What is wrong with you today, Laera?

    Master Vrook looked me over, taking in my attire from armored boots to shoulder pads, his brow arched in frank curiosity. “And what prompted you to don”

    “Just a feeling,” I said in a would-be casual fashion.

    “Well, your feeling seems to be quite astute this morning,” he replied gruffly. “I've got a 'mission' for you, and that getup you've got there might just mean the difference between success and death—a permanent death, I might add.”

    “Yes, Master?” I asked, dumbstruck. Vrook Lamar, I had learned through the course of my training, was not the kind of person who made these types of pronouncements without just cause. For him to be sending me out to do something that could just as easily kill me—again—was not like him at all.

    “There is a cave near the Sandral estate,” he began, striding back and forth before me. “The end chamber is filled with crystals that can be used in the creation of lightsabers. Your task is to enter this cave and retrieve for yourself a focusing crystal and come back here, where you will begin the meditations necessary to commence constructing your own personal weapon.”

    I knew a mission briefing when I heard one, and I didn't waste time trying to wrap my head around this particular assignment. “Threat assessment, sir?” I asked, snapping to attention without thinking.

    “Heavy,” he replied, not missing a beat. “The cave is infested with kinrath, a species of insectoids that are highly territorial and very aggressive.”

    “Any other intel?”

    “None,” Master Vrook said with mundane finality. “And you'll not need those.”

    Before I could react, he had yanked my sidearm and training saber free of their mountings—the latter, of course, being useless anyway—and caught them, tucking them into his own belt. Understanding what he had in mind, I fired off a crisp salute before returning to my quarters to collect my helmet.
  13. TrakNar

    TrakNar Jedi Grand Master star 5

    Apr 4, 2011
    I enjoyed the stabs at the more flowery fighting styles. The excessive and needless flourishing have proved pointless in battle with an opponent who will use the opportunity to just take some cheap shots. And Vrook is as crusty and arrogant as anything. How dare Laera buck the dress code as she did and parade around in her armor rather than drab, itchy robes!
  14. Goodwood

    Goodwood Jedi Master star 5

    May 11, 2011
    Chapter Six

    Ten minutes later, I was marching in cadence along the perimeter of the courtyard, helmet firmly secure and all of my armor's systems activated. Part of me had thought that Master Vrook might just forbid its use, but he hadn't, and that selfsame part thought that perhaps the only reason for this was that he had been unaware of what a Marine's helmet allowed her to see and do. It was really a wonderful contraption; aside from sealing my armor and making it vac-rated, its visor contained a heads-up display that tracked movement, low-light and thermal vision modes, as well as an auto-polarizer and sound-dampener that negated the effects of flashbang grenades. It also had an internal comlink/loudspeaker as well as small reservoirs of pure water and nutrient paste, and it could crack open a humanoid skull like an overripe breadfruit.

    Musing to myself about what it would be like to fend off meter-high insectoid creatures, unarmed, in full Republic Marine battle armor, I began hiking toward the cave. I knew that the outer edge of the Sandral estate was at least five klicks from the enclave's perimeter, and that the cavern's entrance was on the far side. This amounted to roughly eight kilometers of walking, but I was so used to making such trots that I didn't even feel winded as I set off at double-time toward my objective. I didn't even have to call upon the Force to sustain or refresh myself, and that very fact made me feel even more confident. Though I now considered myself a Jedi, as the run progressed, I felt my roots as a Marine taking hold, as though my inner soldier was finally waking up after a very long nap.

    As I approached to within sight of the cavern entrance, I slowed to normal marching speed, took a bite of nutrient paste and a sip of water, and closed the distance as I prepared myself for what lurked inside. Deciding then and there that I was going to do this right despite my earlier bravado, I used my helmet's tongue-switches to flick off all of its enhancements and extra features. Almost immediately, and even through several meters of stone, I could pick up the diffuse auras of the kinrath that lurked closest to the cave mouth. Tapping into the currents of the Force, I used it to deaden my footsteps and the clinking of my armor, as well as my scent, hoping to make it as far down the subterranean crevasse as possible before the creatures inevitably picked up on my presence. My armor proved to be an asset in doing this, as its vac-seals prevented my own body's odor from leaking out. Now I just have to get in there, I mused as I crossed the threshold.

    Several meters in, the cave made a sharp bend to the left, which I followed, plunging into darkness after several more paces. With the help of the Force, I could make out the uneven terrain of the cavern floor, which was studded here and there with small stalagmites. The walls, however, were unnaturally smooth; this I chalked up to the local fauna maintaining their habitat. Working my way still deeper, I picked up the auras of still more of the creatures, which surrounded them in a barely-discernible halo that matched the color of their skin. As I worked my way toward a T-junction, I caught the sense and sound of a cluster of the little beasties as they made their way through the long axis of the cavern, from my right to my left. Crouching behind a boulder lodged between the wall and the floor, I sensed rather than watched them as they passed, realizing as they did so that I didn't have a clue where I was going. Not wanting to be stuck wandering aimlessly for hours, I extended my awareness, backtracking the route that the insectoids had taken up to the next-closest branch point. Here I stopped to center myself, seeking out which passage felt “right.”

    The left fork, I thought to myself as I resumed my trek, turning right at the junction and proceeding with caution, my senses prepared. Taking the indicated fork after walking several dozen meters deeper, I caught the barest hint of a glow at the end of the passageway. Wondering what could possibly be emitting such light this far underground, I crept forward in a crouch-walk, taking extra care to minimize noise. After another ten meters or so, the back of my neck began to tingle; closing my eyes, I could sense that at least a dozen life forms of various sizes awaited me at the source of the diffuse illumination. This is going to get ugly, I ground out as I crept ever closer.

    Finally, I reached the bend in the cavern, and the light source became readily apparent. Miniature mountains of crystalline formations lined the walls and floor of this chamber, with more poking out of a central column that had formed at the center. As I took this in, a chitinous rattling met my ears, which was interrupted by the screeching of several insectoids. In the wake of the apparent battle-cry, the dozen kinrath surged toward me, the nearest one leaping at me as it came to within striking distance. Reacting on pure instinct, I rolled to my left, lashing out with a wall of Force-energy that deflected the flying creature, sending it careening into a cluster of rocks. As the rest of its fellows joined the fray, I charged, jumping over the wave of kinrath; kicking out as I landed, I sent another tumbling off into the darkness behind me. Before the swarm could regroup and come at me again, I sprinted into the chamber itself, surging my awareness into the mounds of crystals, which, to my amazement, echoed back with their own senses. Wasting as little time as possible, I let the Force guide my hand as I felt for the most natural-feeling crystal, finally finding one that seemed to glow with an inner blue light. Taking care though I knew I didn't have much time, I extracted it, tucked it into a pouch in my utility belt, and began to assess my exit options.

    I had barely begun to formulate a tactical plan when the first of the remaining kinrath was upon me, its fifth limb, tipped with a vicious-looking fang, smashing for all it was worth against my breastplate. Grunting with the effort, I pulled the creature off me, sending it skidding into a cluster of its mates with a shove from the Force. Tapping into its currents once again, I executed a Force-enhanced backflip to regain my footing, then charged once again toward the oncoming horde. Another insectoid leaped up at me as I attempted to once again jump over their line of attack, but I met it with a full-force headbutt that connected with a sickening crunch. The beast fell limply as I landed, using my momentum to tuck into a shoulder roll to put more distance between me and the swarm. Without looking back, I ran full-tilt back the way I had come, pouring on the Force-coal as more kinrath joined in the pursuit. Barely a few moments later I was dashing out into exquisite daylight, leaving the few insectoids that that tried to jump me at the cavern mouth far behind.

    I was three quarters across the Sandral estate before I let myself slow down to something approaching normal running speeds; even then, I didn't dare ease my pace, lest any plains-dwelling beasties see me as an opportune target. Finally, as I crossed the enclave's perimeter, I cantered to a halt to take stock of what had just transpired. I had, with Marine training and the Force as my ally, tackled a dozen or more hostile creatures unarmed, and come out not only with my objective intact, but not a scratch on me. Flushed with a euphoria such as I hadn't known since that first obstacle course run on Carida, I strode confidently into the enclave itself, doffing my helmet as I crossed the entryway and walked toward the stairway to the sublevel to find Master Vrook.

    “Back already?” he asked from out of nowhere.

    Whirling around to face him, I gave him my best salute, then extricated the crystal from my pouch, presenting it to him for inspection. He took it, turning it over in his fingers and regarding it with more than just his sight. “A good specimen,” he said finally. “It will make an excellent focusing crystal. Come, we have much to do.”

    — — —

    Military-grade vibroblades, I hear, can take about ten work-hours to make, depending on length. Low-grade blaster pistols, due to their ubiquitous nature, can be churned out by the airtruck-load on a daily basis. A Marine-issue sniper rifle, honed to personal perfection by some of the finest weaponsmiths in Republic space, can take a full week to customize and assemble. None of these weapons, however, can hold a glowlamp when compared to the time and effort involved in the crafting of a lightsaber.

    For a solid month I threw every fiber of my being into the task, meditating over each component so that I could comprehend its nature and how it would interact with the weapon I was assembling, all under the direction and guidance of Master Vrook. Bonding with the crystal was one of the highlights of this part of the rituals, as it seemed to embody who I was both as a Jedi and a Marine. Assembling the hilt felt more to me as though I were rebuilding my life, one bit at a time, reconciling who I was, who I had become, and who I would forever be, long after my spirit departed from my body—for the final time. The culmination of the entire process came when it was time to charge the lightsaber's power cell for the first time. I had prepared myself for the occasion by following the strict diet and meditation schedule that had been outlined by countless Jedi Masters as they passed their knowledge along to their apprentices. The task itself, which involved channeling the power from the charger to the cell through my own body, would normally have required a level of skill that none but the most powerful Master on the Council possessed, but through countless generations, it had been ritualized so that even an initiate could do it.

    On that fateful occasion, I sequestered myself in my quarters with my nearly-completed hilt and a small, portable generator. Following my Master's instructions, I touched my left index finger to the charging port on the power cell itself, left exposed by the removal of the pommel cap, then placed my right index finger on the generator's circuit lead, and, after opening myself completely to the Force, used it to touch the charger's ON switch. Almost immediately, I felt waves of electricity pass through me, and I soon left body and conscious thought behind as my spirit undertook a most important journey. At its core, the building of one's first lightsaber not only represented a coming of age, but the fusion of the many aspects of being. As the power supply received its first charging through me, I sent waves of Force energy flowing throughout the weapon, bringing its disparate components together in one rapturous whole. Everything that I had ever experienced, every facet of my personality, was brought together into solid clarity. I was a Marine, but I was also a Jedi, a colony kid, a woman who wanted nothing more than to protect those who could not protect themselves. It no longer mattered what tradition I followed, or what discipline I used, as long as I stayed true to myself. And, finally, I knew who I was: Laera Reyolé, defender of the Republic.

    — — —

    The final ritual ended two days after it had begun. Exhausted, both physically and mentally, I was brought out of my trance by the sudden absence of current flowing through my body. Thankfully, I possessed sufficient reserves of energy so that I was able to screw the pommel cap back onto the hilt and test it for the first time. Apprehensive and confident all at the same time, I pressed the activation switch, sliding it forward into locking position as a cerulean shaft of light erupted from its tip in that unforgettable snap-hiss. Grinning my elation, I inhaled deeply the slight scent of ozone that indicated that every component was working as it should, and that the bottom of the blade was not eating away at the hilt. Just to make sure, I extinguished the blade and reactivated it, and sure enough, it sprouted to life once more. Rising shakily, I once again deactivated the blade and, clipping the hilt to my belt, I left the room to visit the refresher and take in a badly-needed meal.
    The next morning, I awoke to find that I felt, for the first time, complete, whole, ready for whatever future awaited me. My strength had returned in full, and then some, and I marveled at how easily I could access the Force. I once again took in a simpler breakfast—no more heavy, greasy foods for me—then made my way to the Council chambers to present myself and my new weapon for inspection.

    "Masters, it is good to see you well," I said as I approached their seats, unclipping my lightsaber and presenting its hilt to Master Vrook, who stood up to take it.

    "Indeed," said Master Vandar, his tone light. "I see that you have completed work on your first lightasber. Your apprenticeship will soon be at an end."

    I exchanged a look with Master Zhar, who also stood. "To continue, you must prove that you know the Jedi Code," he said, his tone solemn.

    “There is no emotion, there is peace," I began, feeling the words resonating within me as I recited them. "There is no ignorance, there is knowledge. There is no passion, there is serenity. There is no chaos, there is harmony. There is no death, there is the Force.”

    “You know the Code indeed,” Master Vandar said, nodding his approval. “Your sincerity and commitment shine like a bright light.”

    Finally, Master Vrook spoke up. “Your weapon is complete, and as fine an example as I have seen,” he said, his tone grave, but with a little hint of pride. “You are no longer my apprentice. You are a Jedi in full, Padawan Reyolé.”

    As Master Vrook made to hand my lightsaber back to me, a tow-headed apprentice, his robes askew and his face wearing a pained expression, rushed into the Council chamber carrying a portable holocomm pad. Placing it on the floor between where the Masters and I stood, he hurriedly plugged it into the nearest comm outlet. As the device activated, a hauntingly familiar figure resolved itself in the air between us.

    "Greetings, citizens of the Republic," said an instantly-recognizable voice from beneath a masked and hooded head. "I am Darth Revan, Dark Lord of the Sith. As you hear this, forces loyal to me have gathered together at Foerost, and a third of your fleet there is now in ruins, while the rest belong to me. I regret that this step must be taken, but it is for the greater good. If the Senate and the Supreme Chancellor acquiesce to my demands, than this war can be ended immediately, without further bloodshed. They are but two: first, that the Jedi Order join with me, uniting our power in order to prevent a greater tragedy; second, that the Republic Senate confirms upon me the title of Supreme Chancellor of the Republic, with all the rights and responsibilities inherent therein. I await your response."

    The message began to repeat, at which the apprentice unplugged the holopad and made to return it to its proper place. A thunderous silence descended upon the chamber, and my innards felt as though they had been replaced by a young dianoga, which squirmed and slithered inside me. Without warning, I felt somehow corrupted, as though part of me had played a hand in this; denials to the contrary died in my mind almost as they formed.

    The Masters exchanged glances with one another, communing in a plane above normal conversation. Though I could not make out what they pondered, what they shared with themselves, I could sense the flurry of activity within their auras. Finally, Master Vandar broke the silence. “Fallen to the dark side, they have,” he said gravely. “Not just Revan and Malak, but all the Jedi who fought with him and lived. Taken with them they have, the soldiers, starships, and leaders under their command.”

    “I must contact the High Council,” Master Vrook announced. “Doubtless they have heard this message as well, but we must coordinate our efforts if we are to stop the Sith.”

    As he made to leave the room, I reached out and grabbed his arm. “Master, wait,” I said, grasping for words. “I fought with Revan, I knew a lot of the people he took with him. If there is anything I can do to help stop the invasion to come, please, let me know.”

    “I am no longer your Master,” Vrook said, turning to face me and placing his hands on my shoulders. “You are free to choose your own path of service.”

    The elder Jedi's hands were warm on my shoulders, and the corruption that had begun to snake through me was swept away. I closed my eyes then, and pondered my next move, reaching within myself for the answer. It blossomed forth in a wave of white-hot resolve, burning away all doubt, emblazoning my psyche once again with the seal of the Marine Corps. In a moment of perfect clarity, I knew that this was what I was destined for, this was why I had been brought back to life. I was to be an instrument of strength for the Republic, to serve as the hammer that would temper its sword, so that every sentient being might someday live in peace. My eyes blazed with triumph as I opened and locked them with the man who had been my teacher, who had helped to guide me to this one pivotal moment.

    “We Marines, we Jedi, have a new saying,” I said. “Sic Semper Tyrannis—thus always to tyrants. I will return to the Republic, and bring with me the will to resist the oncoming darkness.”

  15. TrakNar

    TrakNar Jedi Grand Master star 5

    Apr 4, 2011
    Aah, cliffhanger! XD And for once, Vrook wasn't as stuck-up and berating as he was. Congrats, Laera, on making Jedi, though. Go kick some Sith butt and hurry the next story along!
  16. Findswoman

    Findswoman Fanfic and Pancakes and Waffles Mod (in Pink) star 5 Staff Member Manager

    Feb 27, 2014
    Very much enjoyed reading this. Love the "fish-out-of-water" dynamic (and it's a very nuanced, well-thought-out fish-out-of-water dynamic) that pervades Laera's relationship with her Jedi surroundings, her gradual progression toward becoming more comfortable with her Force ability—what an incredible "character-building" experience for her in a way she never could have imagined! I appreciate the way the training in the Force doesn't just make her an Übermensch; you do a good job emphasizing that it takes extra effort on her part to use the Force to enhance things she already can do well, whether running faster or shooting more accurately.

    I also appreciate that, although she is a fish out of water, she's neither a total bungler nor a total phenom. On one hand, she's got an interesting special ability in Sense Aura; on the other, she still has to go through all the usual training—some more strenuous than her Marine training—and encounters no small quantity of struggles along the way. On one hand, she settles the bar fight and accomplishes her mission in the crystal cave; on the other, she gets thwomped by the Mandalorians, and one feels that it might have been smarter for her not to intervene (especially unarmed).

    Good job with the supporting cast, too. It's nice that we see that there's more to Master Vrook than just the (stereo)typical stuffy, dispassionate Jedi Master; in fact, it might have been interesting to learn a tad bit more about the history that caused his temporary moment of vulnerability in chapter 4.(though maybe that's already covered in official KOTOR-era material? I don't know). It was nice to see Laera's friendship develop with her fellow apprentices, especially dear Aewa—really liked her.

    And yes, wonderfully bracing cliffhanger ending, no doubt foreshadowing more fantastic storytelling to come. Molto bravissimo!
  17. Goodwood

    Goodwood Jedi Master star 5

    May 11, 2011
    Thank you very much for your comments, Findswoman. I am very glad you liked the story.

    You'd be surprised how easy it was to write Vrook. I just had to imagine the words coming out in Ed Asner's voice, with those mannerisms, and bam, instant taciturn! You can tell I played both KotORs a lot... ;)
    Findswoman likes this.