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Gestahlt
01.11.2012 , 10:27 AM | #10
Chapter Eight: Verd’goten.

I had never been in this part of the forest before, and I knew that I would have to rely on the few tools I had to survive. My father had given me two weapons: a dagger that I now wore about my neck on a thin cord, and an antiquated blaster rifle that he said my mother had used during her verd’goten. I knew that the dagger was not the sharpest, nor the rifle the most accurate. I was going to have to rely on the only other thing I had at my disposal:

My training.

This was what the last ten years had been all about; this was what everything came down to. Every sacrifice that my mother and Astra made culminated at this point. The legacy of the Clan Daue depended on my ability to be resourceful and bold, and as I refused to do anything other than continue that legacy I knew that there was but one option. I was going to survive and complete my initiation.

Father gave me a single directive before he left me in the middle of the forest: kill the most dangerous creature that you can find. The meaning behind it was simple and powerful. I could be the type of person that didn’t look for a challenge and killed a rabbit, or I could be the type of person that hunted down a worthy opponent and slew it for the honor of my family. Both options could be seen as Mandalorian choices: being clever and focusing on the words ‘can find’, or being brave and focusing on the words ‘most dangerous’.

As a member of Clan Daue I knew that I could only select the latter. To do anything but would be a disservice to those that had come before me and greatly diminish their sacrifices. A crying girl had been left outside of the forest: it would be a strong woman that emerged from within.

I did not know where I should look; I knew only that I should look. The forest was foreign to me and I felt through it as a blind person might a new room. There were vague similarities to the one near my home: the trees were similar, the shrubbery could be considered related, but for every similarity there was also a stark difference. To further compound the situation I felt a constant cold chill racing through the area. I had nothing but a thin tunic and a pair of pants with which to protect myself from the elements. The trace amounts of sunlight that streamed through the treetops told me that it was not yet noon. The best I could hope for was that I completed my mission before night fell. Then, the cold would become unbearable.

Futilely, I tried to convince myself that I needed only to worry about the present and not what was going on outside of my verd’goten. I wanted to believe that I could rise above my concerns and focus only on that which pertained to my graduation as a warrior, yet with each second that passed I found my mind pulled back to the outside world. How were we going to be able to overcome the combined might of the Vacians and Hundarii if we had already lost most of our warriors? How would we be able to avenge Mother or Cassir if we didn’t have tools with which to fend off the invading tide?

The chirping of birds penetrated my awareness, but did little to draw me away from my thoughts. At that moment, Astra, Vasmus, and the others were marching in search of supplies. Father was back at home, preparing it with his workers for whatever was to come our way. All of my life I had thought that we would continue in Grandfather Regimus’ steps, and in a matter of months that had changed. We were at war, and there would be nothing that could change that until the land was saturated with blood once again. Clan Daue no longer needed farmers, it needed warriors.

I would become a warrior.

I came to a sudden halt as I heard something in the distance. It was a minute rustling that slipped through the din of the forest and touched my ear. When I looked in the direction of the sound I saw a shrub moving slowly, and then saw the head of an iriaz emerge from within. Although they were naturally native to Dantooine, Grandfather Regimus had imported some of additional food supplies for roaming Mandalorians and the predators of the forest. It looked at me, bleated once, and then took off in the opposite direction. An iriaz would not do for my kill, anyway. Even with its spiraling horns and powerful legs, it was more game than opponent.

Somewhere in the forest there was an adversary worthy of my skill and when I found it, I would emerge victorious. I had not been given any food rations when I left, but I knew which things could be eaten from the forest floor. Mushrooms were always dangerous, but they also supplied the most nourishment if properly selected. Berries, also, had a good deal of toxicity to them, but the rhymes that my mother had taught me assured me that there were some that were harmless.

Red and blue; nature’s wealth. Red and black; depletes your health.

When I had learned the song I thought that it was childish and silly, but thinking of my mother singing it then made me feel a bit warmer. I knew that if I thought for too long on her though, that I would become distraught and lose my focus. Unwittingly I began to hum the tune to myself and by the time that I realized I was, was too engaged in the activity to bother stopping. It made me feel less scared. It made me feel more like a Mandalorian.

I tore a strip from the bottom of my tunic and used it to fashion a pouch. Carefully, I collected the berries that I saw that were not poisonous and picked up a few that were. Their utility would come in handy later, but that was something that I tried not to concern myself with for the time being. As I walked, I popped a few of the healthy berries into my mouth and chewed soundlessly. I’d need my energy not only to stay alert, but also to keep warm. Until noon rolled around I was going to be doomed with cold, and when evening fell I’d be shivering for certain.

At the latter end of autumn, animals were beginning to search for hibernation chambers. This meant that the larger creatures like bears and tigers were more than likely already sleeping, although the possibility that some were still foraging for their last meal presented itself. It was wise to remember that I may have been a hunter, but that I was also potentially one of the hunted. There were creatures in the forest that not even a squad of Mandalorian veterans could overcome, and if I drew the attention of any of them I was surely going to die.

After the berries had all been eaten, I used the pouch I had created to crush up the poisonous one I’d found. Once they were made into a paste, I unsheathed my dagger and stabbed it into the pouch. With the bag folded around my hand, I coated the dagger as best I could and then removed it. The faintly red and black sheen attributed to the blade was all that I could hope for. If I had to use my dagger I was more than likely going to die, but the irritant that the poison offered might give me a second longer to prepare for that eventuality. With the pouch now empty, I placed it in my pocket and resheathed the dagger.

Walking about aimlessly was going to burn away my entire caloric intake. I decided to climb a tree and see if I could spot any signs of potential predators or larger fauna. The forest was sparse in one direction, but I knew that there was also less chance of encountering anything within it. Any predator that was still around would be lurking deeper in the forest, and the only way to get to them would be braving the shaded groves and praying that I saw them before they saw me. If it was the other way around, I was doomed.

I descended from the tree and made my way toward the darkened patch of woods. If I ran I’d burn too many calories, and if I walked I’d become too cold. Jogging proved the best means of movement, and it also gave me just enough awareness of my surroundings that if I needed to sprint away I could without my muscles being cold. By the time that I made it to the woods the sun was higher and thus they were just a little bit brighter. Shadows still lurked, but I could at the very least see where I was going.

This was a world different from any I had seen before. While the majority of the forest was unknown to me, the deeper parts of it were unprecedented. I stood still and looked around, admiring the majesty of the wilderness. Once more the chirping of birds sounded, and as I looked up a pair flitted over head and deeper into the darkened area before me. There was a certain degree of vibrancy – of life, to that secluded patch of trees that I could not have anticipated until I stepped within and although I knew I was going to encounter shadows, I did not expect for those shadows to be bursting with life.

My right hand fitted against my rifle’s stock, no doubt an attempt to bolster my resolve as I began walking forth. Somewhere in this part of the forest, I knew, was my quarry. The only problem was that this was not my territory; I had no advantage when it came to the hunt. While some may have continued to search, I instead thought back to the iriaz I had seen. I had to do more than aimlessly wander about. I needed to do more than think like a Mandalorian. I needed to be a Mandalorian.

The dagger that hung around my neck was removed and I turned my attention to a nearby tree. Noon was fast approaching and the most time I would have to work with light had arrived with it. I used the edge of the dagger and began stripping away pieces of bark, bit by bit. It was going to take hours before I had even come close to completing what I wanted, but preparing seemed better than wasting time hopelessly searching. With long pieces of bark on hand, I sat against the tree and placed my rifle to the side. What was to follow was nothing short of mind-numbing.

When I was doing it I did not want to think about braiding the bark into rope, so now I hardly want to revisit the moment. It is safe to imagine that a thirteen year old, working with little light, and afraid that at any point in time an animal would leap out and eat her, was hardly the most careful of workers, but I was the most driven. With the light that noon gave me I continued to toil at my task, carefully braiding and pulling as my mother had shown me countless times in the past. My plan was going to require more than a simple thin piece of rope, though. It needed to be tough and thick enough to stop a moving target. This meant that every fiber had to be braided again, and each piece of length strengthened with a solid knot.

My fingers bled; my eyes hurt from straining against the darkness, but I did not give up. Once I had finally completed a respectable piece of rope, I wound it over my shoulder and began with the length back into the lighter parts of the forest. There were still iriaz around; I could feel it. I laid the rope against the ground and tied one end against a tree, then stepped away and allowed the other end to remain slack. My stomach growled, but the berries that I found had to be put to better use. I ground them up with my hands and smeared them along the surrounding trees, then placed the remnants on the floor. To sate myself I licked at my stained fingers, but that did more to whet my appetite than appease it.

Now was the time to wait. I had been waiting for thirteen years to become an adult; I told myself that I could wait another few hours. If there were any iriaz about, which the dropping I had seen and the scent on the air told me there were, then they would have to be drawn to the happenstance smorgasbord that I created for them. If luck favored me it would not be a buck that made its way past me, but perhaps a young doe or even a fawn: anything that wouldn’t take too much of a struggle to bring down. Crouching behind a tree, I tightened my hold on the rope and tried my best to be patient.

I thought again of our home, which was now absent everyone but my father. The thought of our dinner table, once so full and gay, did not leave me without bittersweet memories, but the accumulation of tears brought with them tinges of joy. They were remembrances to cherish, in which our family had been complete and whole. There were dark days ahead of us, yes, but there too was a brightness in the past that could help guide us through them.

I did not need to think of Astra marching with others, because I could remember when she had shown me how to fish. I did not need to think of my mother’s death, because I could remember when she taught me the rhyme I’d used to identify berries. Father wasn’t a warrior – he could still be a farmer, tilling the land with as much dedication as anyone. Cassir and Polus didn’t need to be dead: they were still my older brothers, fighting endlessly and yet at the same time expressing their love. I didn’t need to be terrified, because I was doing what they all wanted of me.

Another pair of birds flew over head, this time chattering more gaily than the previous had. I broke away from my memories and saw that in the distance an iriaz was sniffing the air. More than likely it caught my scent, but more importantly it was enjoying the promise of berries. The few that I had gathered were perhaps some of the last in the forest, and with the wind flushing the forest with their scent; it had to be a draw. It was a bit larger than I would have liked, but not so large that my plan was doomed to failure. So long as it took my bait, I would be in business.

The chirping of the birds was all that punctuated the low, doleful whistling of the wind as it wound its way about me. The iriaz could easily turn around and render my plan useless. Furthermore, if it did then I would be without any means of recovering the time lost. I had to hope that luck was on my side and that it would come my way. I remember grinding my teeth as I waited and hearing my heart in my ears. More than anything else, I needed this to work. My clan needed it to work.

I almost cried with joy when I heard the soft galloping of the iriaz’ hooves against the ground. My trap had worked in enticing it. With the berries a few meters beyond me it was going to plod as quickly as it could to the bounty. My fingers were alive with energy as I drew my breath in and counted the sound of each clopping stride. The closer it came, the more I prepared myself for impact.

And then it was in position.

I pulled with all of my might against the rope and brought it ripping up from the ground. The iriaz was in mid stride when it was caught and its hind legs struck soundly against the cord. I heard it bleat in dismay, before it toppled over. There was still struggle to it, and I could feel the rope sliding away from me. I dug my heels into the ground and pulled back, every trained muscle group I had responding to my call. The crunches that Astra forced on me came back as my core strength proved to be enough to further upset the iriaz’ balance, and after bucking again, it fell onto its side. I had to act and I had to act quickly.

With the animal disoriented, I lifted my blaster rifle and rushed to its side. It was getting back up when my rifle’s stock descended upon the side of its head, crashing with enough force to cause it to bleat again before toppling back down. Still it struggled to rise, and still I hit again. I did not want to kill it, but the animal had to be subdued. With the third strike it remained down. I checked its breathing and then quickly set to the next part of my plan.

It would be a lie to say that I was not grinning from ear to ear at that moment. I used the end of the rope to the Iriaz’s back feet together, and then undid the knot by the tree and drug it behind me. The conditioning and training that I had been through made it seem like the act of dragging a 45 kilogram animal was not at all a difficult thing. When considering I barely weighed more than that at the age of thirteen, it went a long way to explain just how vigorously I had trained. The unconscious critter slid against the ground easily, and I took my prize back to the darker part of the woods.

I did not stop where I had been before. Loitering on the outskirts of the shaded grove was not going to get me the results I wanted. Each meter that passed as I moved deeper into the woods seemed to imply a new level of bravery. It was when I could no longer see the lighter forest that I stopped and set to work once more. Nearby trees were robbed of low-lying branches. I used my dagger to get the healthiest stakes possible and pinned them into the ground, then after cutting my rope in half, tied one end of it to the iriaz’ forelegs and the other to its hind. I checked its breathing to make sure that it was still alive, and then slipped back into the darkness. Rather than wait on the ground floor, I climbed another tree and removed my rifle from my shoulder. It was another waiting game, but I knew this one would not take as long.

The iriaz slowly began to awaken, its bleating at first disoriented and then alarmed. It struggled against the stakes, but I had been smart enough to wedge them deep into the ground so as to prevent its surging muscles from purchasing any real hold on the earth. I watched it struggle feebly and could not help but feel some degree of sorrow. I made the mistake of looking into its eyes and saw that they were large and innocent, pleading in despair. To prevent that from going any further, I looked away and tried my best not to listen to its frantic bleats of protest.

I wondered if the iriaz had a family somewhere. I wondered if it was foraging so that it could feed its young. I knew that I should never identify with my target, but it was easier to be told that than to abide by it. My smile went from wide to dim, from dim to nonexistent. It was truly pathetic to hear it struggle, and I was only glad that eventually it exhausted its strength and lay still once more. I used the scope of my rifle to make sure that it was still breathing and then scanned the darkness again.

That rifle was in no way a work of art; in fact, I am certain that it was probably the worst one I had ever held. My mother did well to keep it up to date, but as I held it I could already tell it wasn’t properly fashioned and more than likely had been handed down to her from her mother. An heirloom was nice to look at, but much less utile when a person was waiting to shoot something and claim their adulthood. Yet in thinking that some time ago my mother had been in a similar position, thinking a similar thought, with the same brought a smile to my face. I thought of that small smile she’d given in the holo-recording and pressed the stock to my shoulder once more.

I was going to become like her, no matter what it took.

Something happened that completely changed my surroundings. Where once there had been the sound of birds flying about or small fauna rustling for food, now everything was silent. Only the wind dared to play through the area, and even then it brought with it a distinctive chill that seemed separate from the temperature about me. I looked back to the iriaz and saw that it was struggling again. When it bleated, there was urgency to it that denied its previous attempts to escape. It was not content to surrender; it thrashed so mightily that I could see its bones beginning to strain against muscle. I looked through my scope and instantly understood what had happened.

That coldness that I had felt, the chill that was carried on the wind, was indeed caused by something different than a drop in temperature. The sun was beginning to set and the woods were much darker; however, I could make out the outline of something moving toward the iriaz. Slowly and with purpose it prowled; its body low to the ground. Each shadow that it passed presented a band of beige fur to my eye, and to counteract the shade I flicked on my infrared input in the scope. That primal chill became just a bit colder: I was scared.

Sneaking as it was, the nexu was within a dozen meters from my bait. I could tell from the tension in its haunches that it could clear that distance in a single bound. I remembered seeing a similar creature with my father, although to my credit this one seemed to be an adolescent. Just as I was out hunting to become an adult, so too was it. I felt myself seizing up with fear as my finger refused to fit against the trigger of my blaster rifle. Was the weapon reliable enough to fire and clear the distance? If not, could I get off another shot before the nexu lunged for me?

There was always the choice to look for something else to kill, but my gut told me that I was meant to fight this animal, this time. I watched as its twin tails lashed contemplatively behind it. The iriaz was almost free of its bonds and something told me the nexu was waiting for it to break free so that it could pounce on it. I had to assume that it delighted in taking its prey on the run. The intelligence in that alone was enough to fill me fill even more dread, but I knew I had no other option but to continue. I fit my finger against my trigger and breathed in.

It doesn’t matter the type of predator it is, so long as you know it’s a predator.

If failed in this, I was going to become the prey. The iriaz was almost free and once it stood I was certain that the nexu would snatch it up and flee. Despite the cold chill that washed over me I could feel sweat beading on my brow; running alongside my head and dripping against my tunic. I took in another breath and forced myself to look at the nexu. My trembling finger was brought into line and I squeezed the trigger.

Nothing happened.

I heard the click of the trigger moving, but did not see any flash from my rifle’s muzzle. The nexu looked up instantly at the sound and through the scope I could see that its glistening teeth were pulled back into the same malicious smile that the other had. So eager was I to set to hunting that I forgot to do the most important thing that any Mandalorian could: make sure that my weapon was functional. Not that it much mattered at that point. The nexu saw me and knew that I was going to be a more interesting kill.

Unless you have had a jungle cat rush at you, I don’t believe it is a describable experience. The nexu tensed for just a second before it bounded into the air and toward me. I had begun to stand in the tree and the impact of its striking the tree was enough to dislodge me. Rifle and all, I fell to the forest floor and landed with enough force to jar my senses. It was instinct and muscle memory alone that told me to roll away as I hit the ground, for the nexu finished swiping at the tree and leaped down to land before me. It circled to the left and I lifted my hand to my dagger. I no longer had the ability to be afraid: I was in fight mode.

My encounter with the octopus so many years ago had taught me that I had the fight in me to survive; however, it also revealed to me that fight alone was not enough to survive. There would be no Bird the Dog to rescue me: my father was not going to be there to see me through this. The nexu’s teeth were so large and spread apart that as the rising moon caught against them they reflected light. It lowered its torso and gave its hindparts a bit of a wag as it prepared to leap again. I knew that it was faster, stronger, and more agile than I. The only thing I had to work with was my mind.

The nexu lunged for me again. I dove to my left and unsheathed my dagger. The swipe that the predator unleashed in my direction tore into my shoulder and instantly caused my tunic to run red with blood. I knew that I wanted to panic, but I held myself together long enough to fight off the sensation. My knife-fighting lessons had taught me long ago to hold the dagger so that it was against my forearm, rather than how one might hold a sword. The nexu was playing with me; I could see in its four-eyes that at any given time it could bring our fight to an end. That sadistic glint in it was all that I had going for me. As far as it knew I was just a little girl with a bloody shoulder. It didn’t know that I was a Mandalorian – that I refused to die.

Against it batted at me. This time when it did, I stepped closer and swiped outward with my dagger. The movement was enough to brush against the side of its face, and open just a bit of the skin hidden beneath its fur. It gave me an irritated shriek and rose to its hind legs to pounce on me. I rolled against the ground, using my good shoulder to my advantage. I felt its claws dig into my leg, but I pulled myself away. Now bleeding from my shoulder and leg I knew that I should have given up fighting, but my adrenal impulses were too great. The pain of training had prepared me for this: my armor was my spirit.

I scrambled for another tree and began to climb it as quickly as I could. The nexu snorted beneath me and began after me, effortlessly climbing as I tried to outrace it. I used my dagger to cut a branch, then dropped to the ground with it. The nexu fell after me. When it turned about to bite me, I thrust the branch forward and into its mouth. I can’t speak to just how much bite force a nexu has, but I can assume it’s much greater than that of even the most vicious dog. When the nexu snapped down, the branch stabbed up through the roof of its mouth.

I’ll never forget the roar that it gave me then. I could feel my bones turning to jelly from fear, but I didn’t give up my fight to survive. Hobbling as I was, I made my way over to the iriaz and began cutting at its ropes with my dagger. Just as I freed its legs, the nexu came back for me. In what I have to assume was an act of my ancestors looking down on me from above, the iriaz kicked outward just as it came inward, and jammed its sharp hooves into the nexu’s face. It was hardly enough to stop it, but the moment the nexu turned its hatred on the iriaz gave me time to act.

As I had expected, the nexu could devour the iriaz in a matter of seconds. I listened to the sound of bone and sinew being torn asunder under the pressure of its jaws, mixed with its own feral roaring as it gorged itself. With little time on my hands, I ran back over to my rifle and looked down at it. The fastest that I had ever field stripped a rifle before was within 45 seconds. Losing blood and frightened, I knew it’d be near impossible for me to hit that mark again.

With little light and jittery nerves, I tried to think of my mother telling me how to complete the actions. The nexu was still eating and I could hear that the iriaz was no longer struggling. The takedown pins popped out quickly, and the rifle fell into two portioned halves. I had to make a split decision: the malfunction was either in the upper or the lower partition. My gut told me to look for the upper, so I did. I checked the chamber and was about to move to the lower when I decided to see how the energy convergence port was holding up. What I found inside nearly stunned me.

Glistening against the moonlight, my mother’s ring was wedged in place. My father must have expected me to check my weapon like any smart Mandalorian would have done and found it, but as I had been in such a hurry to prove myself I had not even given it a second thought. I slipped the ring onto my finger and felt its cool, metallic surface calm me. It was just as cold as my mother’s voice had been when she told me how to do a field repair. Don’t panic – focus. I could almost hear her voice on the wind that brushed by me then.

I glanced over my shoulder and saw that the nexu was near finished with the iriaz. I had mere seconds to complete the reassembly. My hands no longer shook though, and my mind was surprisingly clear. I inhaled and began fitting the pieces of the weapon back together. The stock was the last to slide in to place and the pins attached. I turned around just as the nexu rose from its position and began to prowl for me again. I knew that the weapon did not have the stopping power to simply fire blindly at the nexu, so I would have to wait for the right time to strike.

The nexu gave me another of its smiles, though this time it was far more menacing. The remnants of blood and viscera from the iriaz caused a red tint to be applied to its teeth, and as it parted the shadows toward me I knew that this would be my last chance to overcome it. I can say with pride now that my hand did not shake; that my eyes did not move away from it as it made those strides for me. Live or die, I was going to do it like a Mandalorian. There was no fear, because I was ready to accept the consequences of whatever was to come.

Seeing all of those teeth open toward me was like something out of a nightmare, but I refused to give into the primal fear that I felt. I knew that I had only one shot and that if I didn’t take it at the right moment then I was going to become a meal for the jungle cat. I found strength in thinking of my family and the pride that they would have had if they saw me at that moment.

I, Siana Daue, was a warrior.

When the nexu lunged for me, I narrowed my eyes. My finger compressed the trigger and I remember thinking for a moment that I had made a mistake in placing the rifle back together. The thought was soon dispelled from the muzzle of my blaster rifle was projected a single, red bolt that tore through the air and struck the back of the nexu’s throat. The flash from the blast was enough to light the area. I could see the madness in the creature’s eyes as it prepared to descend upon me, and I knew that it could see the determination in mine.

The nexu slammed into me. At first, I thought that I had failed and it was going to eat me, but though the force of its body was enough to pin me down, it did not move after that. I lay with the deceased predator on top of me and breathed in and out slowly. The blood that escaped its wound; the life energy that fled from it… I could feel it wash over me. In claiming its life I had become the predator. I luxuriated in that sensation for several minutes.

At last I managed to free myself from the nexu and looked over the battle scene. My arm was bleeding, my leg was torn, but I had won. I ripped the sleeve of my tunic off and tied off the wound on my arm. The one on my leg was treated by removing the lower half of my pant leg with my dagger, then wrapping it tightly. I didn’t feel happy or excited. I wasn’t even afraid anymore. Passing from childhood to adulthood felt like waking up from a long sleep.

I was alive. That was all that mattered.

With my dagger as my guide, I began to pry the nexu’s teeth out of its mouth. While I knew that there was no need to bring back the entire beast, I had seen people take trophies form their defeated enemies before. In the moonlight I could see just how impressive the adolescent nexu was, and was all the more proud of myself. Alone, I had killed it. No child could do that; no mere person. Only a Mandalorian was strong enough – smart enough, to accomplish a task like that.

Once I had the nexu’s teeth in my pouch I fashioned a walking stick from a nearby branch. The art of killing the animal was only the half of it. Now, I had to find my way back to my father. I did not know which direction to walk in, but I knew that if I did not walk I would die from blood loss. It was a cold enough night already, and the thick blood on my clothing told me that if I didn’t move soon I’d simply fall asleep and not awaken again.

It was not until I had left the shaded forest that I realized precipitation was falling from the sky. Flaky and soft, the snow that decorated the area brought with it another cold wind. I recalled that my father had told Vasmus it would snow, and knew that the Clan Daue would be safe for the winter. With my walking stick, I plowed onward and continued through the forest, forever searching for a sign of my father.

I found him standing by a tree, our family’s speeder at his side. When he saw me making my way over to him I noticed moisture come to his eyes. His little girl – the last of his children, had emerged from her verd’goten. He was smiling and this time, the smile that he gave was meant only for me. It was filled with pride and joy, and did more to alleviate my pain than the medical kit he had brought with him did.

“Your mother would be so proud of you, Siana,” he told me as he finished cleaning my wounds. The kit had with it enough bacta to stabilize my blood loss and encourage me to produce more blood, but it would be a week before I was back to top condition. Once I was placed inside of the speeder, he entered as well and draped a blanket over my shoulders.

I hugged the blanket closer to myself and closed my eyes.

“When Astra and Cassir passed their verd’goten, I told them that I would answer one question for them.” My father’s words carried with them a seriousness that I had never heard before. He was naturally a stern man, but when he spoke then it was as one adult to another. “You can hold off on asking me a question or do it now. That choice is yours.”

I understood then why Astra and Cassir had known more about my father than I did. It was not that he hid the information from me, but that I had not yet earned it. Now, with a pocketful of nexu teeth and a blanket fighting the cold, I had joined their ranks.

There were millions of things that I could ask about: Grandfather Regimus, my father’s youth, why he had not gone with Uncle Valgor, what would happen to our family in the future. I had before me the chance to ask anything, and yet only one thing came to my mind. I hugged the blanket to myself more.

“A few years ago I woke up in the middle of the night,” I began. My father’s attention rested on me, undivided. “I had this… feeling to find you and so I did. When I saw you, you were sitting outside in the field and were putting your hands into the dirt.” What I was to say next felt foolish, but I didn’t want to let the chance to know what I had seen pass without being answered. “And then you made it rain, Father. How did you make it rain?”

My father did the unexpected then: he grinned. “You weren’t very good at sneaking around back then, Siana. I knew that you were out there – by the Preserver, a blind man could have followed the trail you left behind.” After he finished speaking, my father looked me in my eyes. “I didn’t make it rain, Siana – I can’t, and I doubt anyone can do that. I asked it to rain, just as I asked it to snow.”

I was not satisfied with the answer. “But how?”
“I can’t really say,” my father admitted with a bit of shame. “It’s just something I have always been able to do. I listen to the wind and speak to it in return, and sometimes it grants me my wishes. It’s a system of barter.”
“Bartering,” I repeated. “What does it ask of you in return?”

I’ll never forget my father’s answer, because I knew it before he said it. He began the speeder’s engine and I felt warm air rushing out to protect me from the cold.

“It asks only that we persevere,” he told me. “Through all that is to come, Siana, we have to persevere.”