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Osetto
03.17.2014 , 12:52 AM | #31
Chapter Twenty Four: Paths (Part Two)

Early morning. The time of preparation for students and teachers throughout the temple. But as others formulated lessons and mentally planned for the day ahead, certain Jedi were taking much more specific actions.

Gazing into a large but economical traveler's bag, Torzin ran through a checklist in his head. Food. Water. First aid kit. All the essentials for the trip ahead. Folding a flap over the sack's top and securing it with a pair of buckles, the backpack was soon cinched and ready to go. Beside it, a sleeping bag had been rolled up, waiting to be strapped atop the camper's rucksack.

The Mirialan took a deep breath as he knelt beside his belongings. All was calm within his Master's domicile. All was calm within the Padawan.

"Have you packed everything?" Dehros called out from behind.

Torzin secured his sleeping bag to the top of his backpack before standing, pausing to look upon his work. Scratching his smooth chin, the young Mirialan stared at the sack as he double and triple checked his thoughts.

"Everything's here," Torzin relayed.

"Not everything," Dehros calmly replied. The Mirialan turned around to see his training saber in his Master's hands. The Padawan's eyes narrowed as Dehros held out the weapon, urging Torzin to take it. "Tython is still a dangerous place."

"I thought the ridge we were camping on was safe," Torzin commented.

"Compared to the lands beyond, very much so," Dehros admitted. "But that doesn't mean you shouldn't be prepared. You and the other Padawans must be able to defend yourself should the need arise. Whilst I don't expect you to start swinging at every animal you see, one must be wary of threats where they exist."

"I understand, Master," Torzin softly declared with a respectful dip of his head. The Mirialan took hold of the weapon, gazing upon the tool he had become so familiar with the past month. Scrapes and scratches marred the metallic rod that made up its blade, but it's structural integrity remained fully intact. It wasn't pretty, but it was durable. The energy arrays extending from its hilt stood ready to fire at its wielder's behest.

Torzin returned to his bag, slipping the training saber through a loop in the backpack's side. The kit was complete. Food. Shelter. Protection.

"Are you looking forward to your trip?" Dehros inquired, his interest masked by his stoicism.

"Yes, Master," Torzin quickly replied. "While I might not have enjoyed the thought of communing with nature a month ago, I understand the importance now. We've been focusing so much of our attention on internal aspects… this is our chance to focus on things external to us, isn't it?"

"An astute observation," Dehros confirmed. "But like all things, it is not a just one or the other. It is about the relationship between the two. Look to your surroundings, but look to yourself as well. Do that, and the answers will readily come."

"Answers to what, Master?" Torzin wondered. "What questions am I supposed to be asking?"

"Besides that one? Which path you intend to follow," Dehros declared. "A Jedi is a great many things. And while it is our duty to be understanding and multifaceted, it is to our benefit to focus our efforts. Do you walk the path of the swordsman. Do you follow the path of the Force-user. Do you protect the light? Do you shun the darkness? You've still much time before you're ready to become a Jedi Knight. Much more still before you're expected to choose your specialization. But realizing your strengths and weaknesses now can make clear the path you intend to follow."

"I understand, Master," Torzin dutifully replied.

"Learn from nature. Learn from yourself. But also, learn from your fellow students," Dehros detailed. "It is a Padawan's duty to honor and respect their Master and the code, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't look elsewhere. As an initiate, you studied histories and practical skills. You learned of things inside and outside our Order. Where there is a beneficial source of information, you should do your best to learn."

Torzin was about to offer another acknowledging bow when his Master spoke up again.

"But be wary," Dehros warned. "Not all sources are beneficial. There are things you can learn from your fellow students, and not all of them are good."

"What do you mean?" Torzin inquired.

"These other Padawans… they do not possess the wisdom of their elders. Nor their patience. Nor their caution," Dehros proclaimed. "They are still unfocused. Undisciplined. The other Masters and I won't be there, so I need you to keep an eye on them."

"Me?" Torzin muttered.

"Yes," Dehros confirmed. "I trust you to make the right decisions. The others, however…"

"Does that… does that include Ryska?" Torzin asked, head lowered.

There was a pause as the Human remained silent. "She is a capable student, albeit perhaps too much like her Master. But my concerns rest more with the other three you will be traveling with. Can I trust you to keep them safe, even from themselves?"

"I…" Torzin stuttered. The Mirialan didn't know what to say. The silence hung heavy as his gaze drifted toward the floor, but out of the corner of his eye, he saw his Master begin to move. Looking up, he saw Dehros reach to his waist an unclip his lightsaber. The teenager puzzled as he watched his Master, and became completely befuddled as he saw him hold the weapon out.

"I trust you Torzin. So much so that I am giving you this," Dehros calmly stated, holding the silver hilt out with the flat of his palms.

"Your lightsaber?" Torzin mumbled.

"I want you to have it for this trip, with the promise that you'll only use it for emergencies," Dehros detailed. "Keep it hidden. Do not show it off to the others. Do not use it unless absolutely necessary. Do you understand?"

Torzin gazed with bright, wide eyes upon the simple, yet magnificent hilt in his Master's hand. Carefully, he reached out, wrapping his fingers around the cylinder and taking it from Dehros' palm.

"I do, Master," Torzin dutifully stated.

"Good," Dehros stoically offered. "The others should be gathering in the grounds out front. We should head there soon."

Loftily gripping his Master's lightsaber in his hands, the Padawan struggled to maintain his calm. He had been given more than a weapon. He had been given a physical representation of trust. Tightening his grip, the Padawan quickly returned to his bag, opening it and burying the item deep into the backpack.

Picking up the camper's kit, the Mirialan slipped his arms through the straps, bearing the weighty burden with relative ease. As his Master made his way toward the door, the student followed shortly after, a bounce in his step.

----------

Gazing onto the training grounds in front of the temple, many of the dueling squares were already occupied by instructors and their students, lashing away at each other and practice dummies in the dim glow of the early Tython sun. As Torzin and Dehros made their way down the temple steps, the sight of eight figures immediately caught their eyes.

Four adults. Four teenagers.

Four Masters. Four Padawans.

The last pair to arrive quickly moved to join their fellows, eager to begin. As they neared the group, Torzin saw his training partner standing beside her Master. The Cathar wore conservative Padawan attire and her traveler's bag upon her back, same as he. The girl appeared sluggish, not yet fully awoken. That is, until she saw Torzin arrive. Immediately, she perked up, offering a wave of her hand as the Mirialan and his Master made their final approach.

"Welcome, Torzin," Osetto called out. "Looks like everyone's here."

Torzin and Dehros merged into the circle of Jedi. The Mirialan and Cathar exchanged wordless welcomes in the form of smiling nods. As Torzin tore his gaze away, he was almost shocked to see the motley group that had been assembled.

"Torzin, these are Masters Thun, Genn, and Thazen," Osetto introduced, moving his hand toward the Kel Dor, Human, and Togruta respectively. The Masters themselves were a wide range of colors and features, but they all possessed a consistent air of wisdom about them even at their youngish age. Their Padawans, however, possessed little similarities between them.

"This is my Padawan, Torg," Breya introduced. Standing beside the Kel Dor stood a massive student, taller and bulkier than any who stood around him.

Torg, Houk male. The teenager stood roughly two meters tall, his frame thick with a bulky musculature. His head was large and rounded. His face was orange and noseless. His scalp was bald and bumpy. The massive student seemed barely contained within his Padawan robes, and the pack upon his back seemed an almost nonexistent burden. But despite his intimidating presence, the Houk wore a wide grin upon his face, and offered a polite nod at the mention of his name.

"This is my Padawan, Zarin," Genn introduced. Beside the clean cut, aged Human, stood almost his polar opposite.

Zarin, Human male. The teenager stood at an average height with an average build, but he still managed to stand out from the surrounding examples of Jedi propriety. His appearance was dominated by a scruffy countenance, dark unkempt hair worn with messy intent. A thin beard lined the Padawan's cheeks, the kind only a teenager could be proud of. The robes that he wore seemed intentionally offset and loose. Similar to the Houk beside him, he wore a beaming smile, only his carried an underlying smarm to it.

"And this is my Padawan, Aesa," Lara introduced. Standing next to the Togruta was the smallest of the bunch, due more to her posture than frame.

Aesa, Human female. The teenager stood close to her Master, head only reaching her shoulders. The girl kept her head dipped, shying away unlike the two men beside her. Her light hair was restrained in a braid behind her back, but some strands were allowed to fall in front of her face, acting as a frame. The girl's skin was fair, but of two colors. Along her chin and extending to her neck, her skin was pinkish and spotted, as if the area had suffered from burns. The most noticeable aspect of her, however, were her hands. Politely held at her sides, they were not made of flesh, but rather prosthetics beginning at her elbows. The mechanical digits were civilian grade, rather than military, composed of almost skeletal plastics of the same colors as her robes.

"Good to meet you," Dehros stoically declared. "This is my Padawan, Torzin."

The Mirialan passed his eyes from student to student, from Master to Master, trying to make sure it didn't look like he was staring at any particular one.
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Osetto
03.23.2014 , 12:35 AM | #32
Chapter Twenty Five: Paths (Part Three)

The Padawans remained silent as they surreptitiously studied their fellows. Amidst the peculiar gathering, none saw themselves as the odd one out.

"Now that everyone is here," Osetto began, rustling through the interior of his robes. As his hand returned from the folds, it held in its grasp a rolled up piece of parchment. "This… is a map of the Tythos Ridge. It details the area and the path you are to follow."

"You made a physical printout?" Zarin balked. As the scruffy teenager scratched his head, the other students seemed just as puzzled. "Has the area not been geoscanned? Why not just give us all a holomap?"

"Because you could stand to go without technology for a few days," Taro teased his student. "I know that might be a hard concept for a Corellian, but-"

"Says the man who spent most of his life on Coruscant," Lara teased her fellow Master. "Had your feet even touched soil before setting foot on Tython?"

There was a light snickering amongst the Padawans as they attempted to conceal their laughter. The elder Human folded his arms, shooting the Togruta a warm arch of his brow. Containing his own chuckle, the Miraluka attempted to regain control of the proceedings.

"Yes, the area has been scanned and scouted countless times," Osetto detailed. "In fact, all of us surveyed the area back when we first arrived on this planet. It was actually one of the more pleasant wilderness excursions we embarked upon. But we thought this map more in line with your journey. Plus, this way, you only get the one. So… which of you wants to be responsible for keeping it?"

The Miraluka held out the rolled sheet, giving it a provocative shake. The five Padawans looked to each other, each wondering who would be the first to speak up.

"Well," Torg bluntly began, shifting the straps looped over his shoulder. "If any of us needs to be luggin' anythin' extra, it might as well be me."

The Houk's voice matched his frame, heavy and boisterous even with the calmest of words, gravelly and deep even with its owner's youth.

"It's a piece of paper, Torg. Not exactly a burden," Zarin playfully dismissed, gently jabbing the massive Padawan's sizable gut with his elbow. "Plus, didn't you lose a training saber last week?"

"Only for a day or two," Torg replied with a joking tone, placing his hand upon the weapon strapped to his waist. "But yeah, I see your point."

"Aesa, you did very well in your cartography class, maybe you'd like to keep the map?" Breya softly suggested as she placed a gentle hand upon her Padawan's shoulders. The young girl looked up for only a moment before dipping her head, rubbing her arms as she gazed toward the ground.

"No… no, that's okay," Aesa spoke up, almost a whisper. "It'd be better if someone else held onto it."

"I can do it, Master," Ryska declared, shooting a bright-eyed look toward the Miraluka.

"Ehhh…" Zarin muttered, a measure of disapproval in his voice. The Cathar sharpened her eyes toward the teenage Human.

"Got something to say, scruffy?" Ryska pressed, continuing to glare at her fellow Padawan.

The unkempt student let out a restrained chuckle. "You're not that clean-cut yourself, furball," Zarin teased. "But, no, if you think you can keep it safe, you'll find no objections from me."

The Cathar snatched the map from her Master's clutches, holding it close to her chest. "Oh, I can keep it safe."

"Can you read it?" Torzin calmly inquired.

"Can I read it!" Ryska balked. The Mirialan tensed, only now aware he had insulted his fellow student. Furrowing her brow, the Cathar began unraveling the map. "It's got one less dimension than normal, how hard can it be to… wait, what are these lines?"

There was another round of snickers from the pair of jovial Padawans. Ryska snapped a sharp glare toward the chuckling duo, only just noticing another student standing right beside her. Aesa had moved closer without making a sound, quietly gazing upon the map in the Cathar's hands.

"Um, the rings denote changes in elevation," Aesa quietly explained, directing one of her artificial hands toward the paper. "See, there are peaks here… and here. And this is our path."

The young girl followed a trail with her thin, plasteel finger before withdrawing her hand and shying away. With her second look, the map suddenly began to make much more sense to the Cathar.

"Oh. Thanks Aesa," Ryska acknowledged. Though her head was lowered, a slight curl could be seen on the bashful teenager's lips.

"As you can see, you all have something to learn from each other," Osetto warmly declared. "Each and every one of you has something to offer your fellow students. Never forget that."

"He is right," Breya added with her electronically tinged voice. The Kel Dor placed a hand on her Padawan's tall shoulder. "Each and every one of you possesses a unique background. A unique perspective. So often in our studies we become so focused that we cannot view things from other perspectives. And where other perspectives present themselves, we often dismiss them out of our own predispositions."

The Houk looked down to her Master, a wide smile upon his face.

"We're ready, Masters," Torzin confidently declared.

"Yeah we are," Zarin added, matching the Mirialan's enthusiasm.

The Miraluka released a hearty chuckle. "Your enthusiasm is appreciated. But remember, this is still a journey of introspection."

"We understand, Master," Ryska proclaimed with a dutiful nod. "We'll not forget why we are doing this."

"Very good," Osetto offered with a smile. "Now, your trip should take four rotations. Suitable campsites have been listed, which you should have no trouble reaching in the time you've been given. You need not rush. Take the time to walk. Study your surroundings. Immerse yourself in nature."

The five students offered a series of understanding nods.

"Alright. In addition to your current belongings, there something else I'd like to give you all," Osetto detailed. Stepping behind his Padawan, the Miraluka lifted the flap of the Cathar's bag. Reaching into his robes, the Master retrieved a small metallic disk and placed it amongst his student's belongings. "I am giving you each an emergency beacon. Activate this distress signal and we will know exactly where to find you."

"We won't actually need something like that… will we?" Ryska wondered, a hint of trepidation in her voice.

"It is always good to be prepared," Osetto reasoned, closing his Padawan's bag before taking a step toward Torzin. "The galaxy is a dangerous place and Tython is no exception. This is just a precaution."

Reaching into his robes once more, the Miraluka retrieved another of the handheld devices. About to circle around the young Mirialan, the Padawan quickly turned to intercept him.

"That's okay, Master Osetto," Torzin spoke up with a peculiar urgency. "I'll take it."

"As you wish," Osetto conceded, placing the small item in Torzin's hand.

One by one he approached the remaining Padawans, gifting them their emergency distress signals. With that, the five students were ready to begin their trek.

"I believe that takes care of everything," Osetto declared. The Miraluka passed his eyeless gaze over each of his fellow Masters. "Is there anything else?"

"Everything seems in order," Dehros calmly stated, before turning to his student. "Remember what I've said, Torzin. I trust you'll do well."

"You too, Aesa," Lara softly told her Padawan, gently patting her shoulder. "You're amongst friends. Everything will be alright."

"Try not to cause them too much trouble, Zarin," Taro advised his Padawan. "You may find your fellows lack your Master's patience."

"Come on, when have I ever let you down?" Zarin coyly asked. The elder Human offered the silent arch of his brow, staring at his student. The younger one scratched the back of his head as it slowly dipped.

"I trust you'll cooperate with your fellow Padawans, right Torg?" Breya inquired of her Padawan, looking up to meet the Houk's gaze.

"You don't gotta worry 'bout nothin' from me, Master," Torg boisterously declared, jutting a thumb toward his chest.

"Of course I don't," Breya confirmed.

Removing themselves from their Masters' sides, Torzin and Ryska moved forth together as the others exchanged their goodbyes. The remaining Padawans joined soon after as the students separated from their teachers. A small gap divided the two groups as they looked to one another one last time, exchanging a series of waves and parting looks.

Turning their backs on their Masters, the five students put their feet to the path, setting out on their excursion into the Tython wilds.

"Would you look at them go," Osetto commented, a spark of pride in his voice.

"I still have my concerns," Dehros stoically declared.

"They are rough around the edges, but I think they'll surprise you," Osetto replied.

"Trust is a strange thing amongst students like them," Lara commented. "But I believe them fully capable of working together."

"It is not the Padawans that concern me," Dehros admitted. "Or rather, they are not my greatest concern."

"You're afraid of the wilds, aren't you?" Breya suggested.

"Indeed," Dehros plainly replied. "We all remember what this planet was like when we arrived here. Tython is strong in the Force. Light and Dark. There are dangers here we do not fully understand."

"None of which rest within our reach," Osetto reasoned. "Tythos Ridge is safe. It's one of the more well-scouted areas surrounding the Temple. Master Bestros even wants to build a meditation retreat there."

"Plan on making your Padawans help build that outpost too?" Taro joked.

"I'm sure I could design a lesson around it," Osetto warmly replied.

"Well, if you need a helping hand, you know where to find one," Taro added.

"You know, it's been a while since the five of us had the chance to interact like this," Lara commented.

"We haven't had the time," Breya detailed. "Our focus has rested solely on our Padawans."

"Hopefully not to our, or their, detriment," Lara offered, a hint of worry in her voice. "We cannot remain so focused that we blind ourselves to the paths ahead."

"But neither can we leave our students unprepared," Dehros countered. "The path of a Jedi will always be one of sacrifice. We cannot hold our friendships in higher regard than the good of the Order."

"The Jedi are one," Osetto declared. "We cannot neglect old bonds for new ones. We must lend each other our knowledge and strength. Depriving ourselves for the sake of our Padawans does not make the Order stronger. In all things, we must strive for balance."

"Hopefully our students recognize the same," Taro commented.

"They shall, in time," Osetto proclaimed. "I believe each of them capable of becoming great Jedi."

"Regardless, they are out of our hands for the next few days," Breya declared. "What shall we do with ourselves?"

"I'm sure we'll figure something out," Osetto offered with a smile.
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Osetto
05.07.2014 , 03:06 AM | #33
Chapter Twenty Six: Paths (Part Four)

The five Padawans had set out upon the dirt path before them, putting the last vestige of civilization behind them. As the hills rose and interceded, the sights and sounds of the Temple and its denizens faded from the senses entirely. Hands tightly wound around the straps of their traveler's packs, the motley group of younglings progressed in loose formation, no sense of direct organization between them.

Torg and Zarin marched side by side, reveling in each other's company. Ryska and Torzin stayed close, both directing their attention toward the map in the Cathar's hands. Meanwhile, the consistently shy Aesa kept her distance, occasionally bouncing between the two pairs, but never uttering a word.

"Alright, I think I've finally got this," Ryska spoke up, a touch of fire in her voice. "From the look of things, we've got a lot of leeway between the camps. So we can either take our time getting there… or get there quick and have some free-time."

"Free-time to do what, exactly?" Zarin called out with nary a turn of his head. "I mean, do you really want to stop and take in the sights?"

"I'm just saying we don't have to rush to stay on schedule," Ryska replied, soft but firm in her delivery. "And besides, nothing wrong with enjoying the journey so long as we're making it."

"Still not seeing where the enjoyment comes in," Zarin dismissed.

"Look around us," Ryska pressed. "This is the kind of place tourists would pay good credits to have a nice getaway in."

"Yeah, but we've seen all this, haven't we?" Zarin bemoaned. "Oh look, trees. Oh look, a river. Oh look, rocks. We could have seen this stuff from the Temple."

"It's not just about seeing, it's about understanding… appreciating..." Ryska explained.

Before Zarin could offer a response, he felt Torg deliver a playful jab to his shoulder. The innocent blow was enough to knock the Human off-balance, sending him scampering as he tried to stop himself from falling.

"Don't worry, he's just a little slow on the uptake," Torg offered with a booming chuckle. "Guy only joined the Order a couple months ago."

Zarin recovered from his momentary stumbling, reaffirming his stance and giving the Houk a cordial jab of his own. "Shut up, you lump."

"You first, scruffy," Torg countered.

The pair were all smiles as they continued their friendly exchange of jabs and name-calling, to the subtle bewilderment of the other Padawans.

"Wait, you've only been a Jedi a couple months?" Torzin spoke up. "And you're already a Padawan?"

"What's weirder is that he was even let into the Order in the first place," Ryska added. "Don't we have age restrictions?"

Zarin placed his hands on the back on his neck, interlocking his fingers as he continued alone the dirt path. "Yeah, I heard them say somethin' about relaxing limits on recruitment because you guys were hurting after the war. Or maybe I was just too great a Force-user to be passed up. I think the word 'prodigy' may have been used once or twice."

"Ugh," Ryska loudly exhaled.

The Human in front release a soft chuckle. "Relax, I'm only kidding. I'm in the same ship as you all."

"And what ship would that be?" Torzin asked.

"You know, taking part in that Apprenticeship Day thing, pairing Master with Master-less student," Zarin said.

"Except we lost our Masters to the war," Torzin declared. "That means whatever you might have felt those during those few weeks of not knowing if you'd find a Master, we endured for over two years. And you didn't have to deal with the loss."

The link between Zarin's hands broke as his arms fell heavily to his side. Continuing his forward march, the Human turned his head to look at the Mirialan. "Hey, I had to give up a lot more than you when I was inducted into the Order. And you weren't the only person to lose someone to the war."

"Guys, it's… it's behind us now," Aesa sheepishly spoke up. Marching alongside the others in her own distant way, the teenager's eyes traced the ground ahead of her feet. "We should just… try and forget about it."

"It's not exactly an easy thing to forget," Ryska bluntly said.

"Yeah…" Aesa mumbled after a beat, rubbing her arms with her prosthetic hands. "I know…"

The girl's pace slowed, until she eventually stopped. The group fell silent as they focused on the stalled Padawan.

Ryska's eyes grew increasingly wide. "Oh… oh, I'm so sorry! I didn't mean to-"

"No… it's okay," Aesa said, almost a whisper.

The Cathar's eyes relaxed, before offering a soft squint. She bit her lip, a mixture of regret and concern overtaking her visage. "Coruscant?"

"Yeah…" Aesa softly answered, strand of hair falling in front of her dipped face. "There was a fire and-"

"Whoa, hey," Ryska interrupted, her voice soft and calming. Removing herself from Torzin's side, the Cathar placed a gentle hand upon the Human's shoulder. "You don't have to talk about it if you don't want to."

There was a pause.

"Thank you," Aesa eventually replied, eyes still glued to the dirt path.

"Guys, Zarin had a point," Torg spoke up, his normally boisterous voice momentarily restrained.

"About what?" Torzin asked.

"About being in this together," Torg replied. "There's no point in arguin' over who's different or who's done what an' when. I mean, we're all Padawans. We all want to be better Jedi. We've all been through some stuff. That should bring us close together, not push us apart."

Zarin released a soft sigh. "The big guy's right. We got nothing to prove to one another. This trip's going to sour right quick if we keep going like we've been. The last thing we want is to return to the temple in a worse state than when we left."

"Agreed," Torzin offered.

Aesa offered her own silent nod, and the Cathar cracked a smile.

"Yeah, the Masters sent us out together for a reason," Ryska warmly declared. "We obviously still have a lot to learn and understand. Not just from them, or from nature, but from each other."

"That's the spirit," Torg called out, returning to his usual boisterousness. "We ready to move forward?"

The motley group of Padawans supplied a series of nods and put their feet to the dirt, continuing their hillside trek amongst the rustling trees and gentle breeze. As they marched forward, following the path detailed on the map, the teenagers moved as one. Five individuals, each different, each unique, and yet the same. Within each Padawan's mind, dark memories of dark pasts resided. But a light shined on through toward the future. One worth following.

Walking side by side, the students pressed forward with an uplifted gait, one free of troubles or physical burdens. The packs upon their backs were almost weightless as they embraced the presence of one another, their auras melding with one another's, with the world around them. The trail they walked had been the same trail as before. The dirt the same dirt. The trees the same trees. But from that point forward, there was change.

As the teenagers looked out toward the distant horizon, the Houk wore a wide, beaming smile. One that went undeterred as an elbow playfully dug into his side.

"Look at you, yah big lug, bringing everyone together," Zarin teased. "You've the makings of a Consular yet."

The Houk released a heavy chuckle. "Yeah right. I doubt anyone could take me seriously as a diplomat. Plus, I'm more of hands-on kind of guy. If I'm going to be staring down a Sith, it ain't gonna be over coffee."

"I think there's more to diplomacy than inviting your enemy over for coffee," Ryska offered with a light giggle.

"What? That's not what your master does? He seemed the Consularly type when we met him," Torg replied, all smiles.

"I'll admit, Osetto can be pretty sagely at times, but he's a fighter too," said Ryska. "He can hit just as hard as any other Jedi."

"I don't know, Master Norrida can hit pretty hard," Torzin muttered. "He's proven as much."

"Yeah, but that's because he channeled the Force through his fists," Ryska replied. "Channeling the Force is pretty much a Consular's thing, so imagine if Osetto did the same. He could probably go around, chopping boulders in half, finding shatterpoints, all the while keeping that smile on his face."

"So that's a no on the coffee diplomacy," Torg joked.

"Oh, no, I'm sure he'd be up for that too," Ryska said, lips almost curling into a smirk.

"You really look up to him… don't you?" Aesa spoke up, soft, but no longer distant.

"Well, if it weren't for him, I don't know where I'd be right now," Ryska answered, almost whispering. "He didn't have to take me on as a Padawan. But he did. He took a chance on me when no one else would."

"I know that feeling," Torg offered. The others supplied their own agreeing nods.

"Does that mean you want to be a Consular? Follow in his footsteps?" Aesa asked.

"Well, I don't know about that," Ryska admitted. "I'm like Torg. Hands-on. As good a teacher my Master is, I don't know if I have the patience for Consular duties."

"So what? Guardian? Sentinel?" asked Zarin.

"I'm not sure," Ryska confessed. "I have enough trouble with the one saber. Two might be pushing it. But I do kind of like the idea of it. Blade in each hand, going toe-to-toe with the forces of darkness. What about you Torzin?"

"I've always had my mind set on becoming a Guardian," Torzin admitted. "The stalwart protector, both hands secured around a saber hilt."

"A shining knight in armor," Ryska warmly suggested.

"Something like that," Torzin offered with a bashful smile.

"How about you Torg? Guardian?" asked Ryska.

"Most likely," the Houk quickly replied, before releasing a hearty chuckle. "Then again, they'd have to find a set or armor that fit me first."

"You could always ask the quartermaster to start looking now," Zarin said with a playful shrug. "Unless you plan on getting any bigger, that is."

"Pfft. Expectin' a small Houk's like expectin' a calm Sith," Torg joked.

"You'd better not?" Zarin proposed.

"You'd better not," Torg confirmed. The walking Padawans shared a quick laugh, loud and soft expressions mixing with one another in the mutual revelry.

"And you Aesa? Master Thazen's a Consular right?" Zarin spoke up.

"Yeah… and I'd like to follow in her footsteps, but…" Aesa began before trailing off. The Human girl slowly began bending her digits of plastic and metal. "I kind of have trouble channeling the Force. But she's training me to specialize in diplomacy."

"You sure? I think you could make a fine duelist," Zarin warmly offered, looking over his shoulder.

"Me? No… no… these prosthetics aren't military-grade," Aesa softly explained. "It's hard enough holding a training saber with them."

"I'm sorry to hear that," Zarin muttered. "I've seen some good hardware back on Corellia. It's a shame you can't get your hands on some of that… er, pardon the expression."

"No, it's fine," Aesa said, almost smiling. "I'm just glad the Order gave me anything at all."

"I don't think they could call themselves Jedi if they didn't," Zarin replied. "Still, some of the guys I knew, they preferred the prosthetics. That's how good they were."

"I don't know, I can't really see preferring them over the real things," Aesa muttered.

"What are you talking about? They are the real things! They're a part of you, aren't they?" Zarin assuaged. "I mean, they may be different, but there's nothing wrong with that. Change is change. It happens whether we want it to or not. But we can decide how to react to it. It can only hurt us if we let it."

Aesa remained silent, but slowly she lifted her gaze, no longer staring at the ground just before her feet. She looked ahead, a gentle smile upon her lips.

"And what about you Zarin? What path are you gonna take?" Torg asked.

"Don't know. I haven't exactly been thinking about it as long as the rest of you have," Zarin admitted. "I mean, I really don't even know my areas of expertise. I'm still better with a blaster than a saber. I know more about ships than the Force. I might have had an idea, but…"

"What kind of idea?" Ryska wondered.

"Well, until a few months ago, I was planning on joining the Navy," Zarin replied. "Then, I find out I'm Force-sensitive, despite the fact that I failed the first time they tested me. So back then, while my dad stayed with the Order, I stayed at home, training to one day become a pilot, knowing I'd never be a Jedi. Then, what do you know, you guys show up, say you're retesting offspring of a 'Force-sensitive lineage' because of how many Jedi died in the war. Turns out it just took me a little while longer to display Force-sensitivity. Something about the initial test didn't trigger a manifestation. So all of a sudden, I have to drop everything. School. Friends. Aspirations. All gone. Time to be a Jedi instead. I mean, I wanted to be a Jedi like my dad ever since I was a kid. But I had spent years thinking that was impossible, and planned accordingly. And now I know why you people normally have rules in place for bringing in teenagers. I had to leave everything behind and start my new life with the Order. I finally got want I wanted. What my dad wanted. Only the worst part… is that he never got the chance to see me become a Jedi."

"You mean… he…" Aesa mumbled.

Zarin released a heavy sigh. "That's right. Coruscant. Just like the rest."

"I'm… sorry for your loss," Torzin spoke up.

"Thanks. But… it's weird," Zarin muttered. "I barely knew him. He wasn't allowed to have prolonged interactions with me or mom. All I knew about him was the fact that he was a Jedi. Which meant I could have been too. I so wanted to be one when I was a kid. Not to be like my dad, but to be with him. I didn't know anything about how the Order worked. I just thought if we were both Jedi, that meant we could hang out, father and son, doing Jedi stuff together. But then I grew up. Put that all behind me. But it all came back, whether I wanted it to or not. I was expected to become a Jedi. It was my duty. Thus, no more dreams of being a pilot."

"I'm not entirely sure, but I think Jedi actually can become pilots," Torzin stated.

"What? Really?" Zarin asked, eyes wide.

"It may have been a product of the war, but yeah," Torzin replied. "The Republic ran into some trouble with Sith manipulating space battles using some technique like battle meditation. Jedi starfighter pilots were put in charge of squadrons to help alleviate the negative effects."

"So there's a chance I can still become a pilot?" Zarin wondered.

"Things might be different now that the war's over," Torzin admitted. "But if that's what you want to do, it might be worth pursuing."

"Yeah!" Ryska enthusiastically shouted. "If there's a chance you get to do what you want, take it! Change is change, right? Well, now you get to be a Jedi pilot instead of a Navy pilot. Whether that change is good or bad can only be decided by you."

Zarin released a soft chuckle. "I think I'm leaning toward good at the moment. Now the obstacle to overcome is Master Genn."

"You don't think your Master would approve?" Aesa asked.

"He's been trying to cull my dependence on technology," Zarin admitted. "I don't know how I feel about telling him I want to jump inside a cockpit."

"If it's what you wanna do and you're good at it, I'm sure he'll understand," Torg declared.

"Maybe," said Zarin as he scratched his chin.

"I could be there when you tell him if you want," Torg offered.

"Me too!" Ryska heartily added.

"Same," Torzin declared.

"We Padawans have to stick together," said Aesa.

There was a moment of silence as the scruffy teenager had no words. Only smiles. "Yeah we do."

"Say, our Masters were all friends and worked with each other. I don't see any reason why we couldn't do the same," Ryska suggested.

"Yeah, and we already have our pilot," Torg declared.

"So what, five misfit Jedi going on adventures?" Zarin offered with a chuckle.

"Who are you calling a misfit?" Torzin spoke up.

"Nothing wrong with being a little different, Torzin," Ryska warmly said. "In fact, it's kind of endearing."

The Mirialan's lips curled into a gentle smile as the five Padawans continued their trek. Following the dirt path, the group of teenagers had almost forgotten about the world around them. Forgotten about the flora and fauna. Forgotten about the sights and sounds of nature. Their senses were preoccupied with the then and now, right there. Only after the conversation had lulled, did they remember their place amongst the untouched wilderness.

The Tythos Ridge made up the rising dirt and stone of the distant horizon. But many more hours of travel rest between them and their final destination. In the meantime, they would set up camp, a place to stop and rest.
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Osetto's Avatar


Osetto
06.03.2014 , 02:37 PM | #34
Chapter Twenty Seven: Paths (Part Five)

There was a slight cooling in the air as Tython sun began to dip behind the Tythos Ridge. Rising high upon the horizon, the stretch of jagged stone was still a day's travel away, but the Padawans were perfectly content with their progress. The goal was firmly attainable in each of their minds. And as they prepared camp, the journey had grown all the more tolerable.

Under golden skies and gentle breezes, the five students stopped at a marked point on their map. A small piece of flatlands nestled between hills and forests. Balancing the open skies with floral shade, the camp site was peaceful, undisturbed but for the occasional chirping of passing birds.

One by one, the Padawans set their traveler's sacks upon the ground, those not blessed with a Houk's figure releasing a sigh of relief as they did so. They began unwrapping and unbundling their gear, laying their sleeping bags upon the grass in a ringed formation. Gazing upon their work as well as that of their fellows, none of the teenagers were inherently familiar with the camping procedure. There was a series of awkward silences and nudging of belongings as each student wondered if they were doing things right. Wilderness survival was course they were all familiar with, at least those who had been in the Order more than a few months. But none were sure if what they were doing could be labelled 'survival'.

Each one of them had all the necessities, but they also knew there was more to the trip than simple rest and relaxation. Even if they had come to embrace their trek amongst Tython's nature, they were expected to learn. But little would come from trying to force it. As Jedi, they knew these things had a way of naturally occurring, so long as they didn't work to impede them.

Their belongings set, the five teenagers gathered in the center of the ring they had created with their beds.

"Alright, you think we should build a fire?" Torzin asked, scratching the back of his head.

"Do your rations need to be cooked?" Zarin asked, raising an eyebrow.

The Mirialan slightly scrunched his face, continuing to run his fingers through his hair. "No. But it just seems like something we're supposed to do. Make camp. Build a campfire. You know?"

"Makes sense," Zarin conceded. "Though I think the Masters would be plenty mad if we accidently set the wilds of Tython on fire."

"We can prepare a spot for it. Keep it under control," Ryska confidently stated.

"What are we going to use for fuel?" Aesa softly asked.

"Could just stick a torch in the ground, business end pointing upwards," Zarin said, half-joking.

"We gots plenty of woods around us," Torg declared. "I can gather us up some branches."

"Want someone to go with you?" Torzin wondered.

"Nah," Torg offered with an exaggerated wave of his hand, a wide smile upon his lips. "Like I said, if any of us need to be luggin' anythin' around, it might as well be me."

"Alright, but we don't need anything too heavy," Ryska replied. "Look for anything dry. Anything that naturally fell. No reason to go ripping things off trees."

The Houk released a hearty chuckle. "Take only what we need. Don't go disrespectin' nature. Got it!"

With that, Torg offered a dip of his head and the wave of his hand as he ventured toward the tree line neighboring the campsite. The other four replied with waves of their own before the Padawan disappeared amongst the forest. The sounds of rustling shrubs continued to grace the campers' ears for a few moments as the large Padawan pushed through the undergrowth.

"Big guy's always gotta make himself useful," Zarin softly said with a smile.

"You two seem close," Torzin stoically offered.

"We got to know each other at that Apprenticeship Day thing," Zarin explained. "We both kind of stood out from the other Padawans, so I guess we just decided to stand out together. Of course, I was still new to the whole Jedi thing. Him? He'd been here just as long as any of the other students. But people don't exactly see 'Padawan' when they look at him. I'll admit, I didn't when we first met either. I'd seen plenty of Houks on Corellia. None of them seemed like the kind of people you'd find in the Order. But we hit it off pretty well."

"I've never considered myself much of an outsider, but being Cathar has earned me a few funny looks," Ryska admitted, losing a touch of warmth in her voice. "People think we're primal, emotional, headstrong…"

"Well, you are pretty headstrong," Zarin teased. The Cathar's eyes sharpened as they locked with the Human's own. A moment later, he released a soft chuckle. "I can assure you, it's a compliment. Even in my short time here, it can be tiring how boring some of the other Jedi are."

"A Jedi need not be exciting," Torzin firmly stated. "It's our duty to be in control of our emotions. If we are not-"

"Relax," Zarin calmly interrupted. "I know all about the code, and the importance of peace and balance and all that. Believe me, when you're a late inductee, they drill that stuff into you right quick. But that doesn't mean we have to be devoid of personality. I mean, we're still people. Even you, Torzin. You may be calm and level-headed, if a bit overzealous at times, but I'd not call you boring."

"Thank… you?" Torzin muttered after a pause.

"But some of the others, mostly the elders..." Zarin continued. "My Master talked about how the war changed a lot of people. Or rather, the end of it did. Some people didn't take kindly to the peace. A lot of Jedi had a lot of pent up anger, and no way to release it."

"It's true," Torzin mumbled. "Those two years after the war's end… we were broken. We had no home, so we spent our time spread across the core worlds and capital ships, places where the Republic could keep their eyes on us. We were split up… divided. All we knew was what was happening to our individual groups. What remained of the Council was relatively silent. Only after we began rebuilding on Tython did we realize how much we had changed… how much we had lost."

"Ouch," Zarin whispered, scratching the back of his head. "No wonder some of you folks hardened after all that."

"But it's all behind us, right?" Aesa softly spoke up. "I mean, look at all the progress we've made in the last year. We're slowly rebuilding. Slowly going back to the way things were."

"On the contrary," Ryska firmly stated. "I don't think we'll ever get back to the way things were. But I do think we're moving toward something greater. We've got the Council leading us. All the changes the Order's been making have got to be for the better, right? And it's our job to help in any way we can."

"She's right," Torzin declared. "We're the next generation of Jedi. The burden of the future falls upon our shoulders."

Zarin released a soft chuckle. "Look, it's still our first day together. I think we can hold off on talks of burdens and saving the Order. For now, let's just sit back, relax, and have something to eat."

"Fine by me," Ryska said with a grin. "Should we wait for Torg?"

"We can start without him," Zarin replied. "I've seen him down a ration stick in one bite, so he'd be finished before we even started if we waited."

The gathering of students dispersed as they returned to their belongings. Rummaging through the traveler's bags, the students looked for something to eat. That something came in the form of ration sticks, compressed rods of 'food' containing everything needed to sate the body, if not the appetite.

Digging through her bag, Ryska eventually returned with a ration stick in hand. The rod was wrapped in clear plastic, it's reddish-brown color readily visible. The geometric piece of foodstuff didn't readily appeal to any of the senses, but it served its purpose. Compact. Nutritional. Preserved.

Eyeing the ration with little glee in her eye, Ryska could hear the hushed whispering of Aesa nearby. Turning her head, the Cathar saw the Human still rummaging through her belongings with a steadily increasing pace. The muttering grew louder, until the teenager could make out the sounds of subtle cursing. Removing her artificial hands from the bag, Aesa released a quick yell as she gripped the sack's bottom and turned it over, dumping its contents onto her sleeping bag. Dropping the bag, the girl stared at the spilled belongings, head lowered, hands gripping her pant legs.

A soft whimper cut through the quiet air. Raising herself from the ground, Ryska quickly moved to join the almost crying student.

"What's wrong, Aesa?" Ryska softly asked. "Do you not have any rations?"

As the Cathar looked over the girl's shoulder, she immediately saw a number of reddish-brown rods nestled amongst her other belongings.

"No, it's…" Aesa struggled to speak. "It's just hard to find things sometimes."

Ryska continued her approach, eventually sitting beside the distressed student. As their shoulders brushed, Aesa looked to the Cathar, eye's watering.

"I can't… feel anything… with these," Aesa muttered, lowering her gaze to stare at her palms. "I still have trouble distinguishing objects when they're all bundled together."

Ryska bit her lip, struggling to think of something comforting to say. On the other side of the camp, Torzin and Zarin sat frozen in place, unsure of what to say or do. As the silence hung heavy in the air, a thought entered the Cathar's head.

"Have you tried using the Force?" Ryska asked.

"It's kind of hard to do without hands," Aesa mumbled.

"You don't need hands to channel the Force. They just happen to help us," Ryska explained. "Jedi have had senses damaged or lost, but have been able to replace them through the Force."

"But those Jedi aren't Padawans," Aesa softly replied. "And I've never heard some someone replacing a sense of touch."

"But the Force can replace organic senses," Ryska stated. "My Master can see, and he doesn't even have a set of eyes. Your hands don't need a set of nerves to feel."

"You're Master's a Miraluka," Aesa replied. "What he does comes naturally to him."

"It just means he's never had to adapt his sight," Ryska said, growling increasingly excited. "But you, you know what it's like to feel. You remember the sensation, don't you. You can replicate that through the Force!"

"How do you know?" Aesa wondered.

"I… I don't exactly," Ryska admitted, momentarily dipping her head. But just as quick, she perked back up. "But there was a moment, in one of my lessons. My Master had me and Torzin lifted a huge rock together. We were on opposite sides, making contact with the stone. And as we starting to pick it up, I swore I could feel his hands on the other side as if they were touching mine. So long as you're making contact with something, you should be able to feel it, regardless of physical sensation."

"I don't know," Aesa mumbled. "I've tried before. But no matter what, it just feels like these things are in the way. Like I'm separated from what I'm trying to hold."

"We have the ability to overcome separation," Ryska declared. "That's why we're able to manipulate the world around us. Because everything is connected. We don't have to touch a rock to lift it off the ground, it merely helps. You're connected to your hands which are connected to whatever you're touching. That link is more tangible that any telekinetic feat."

"But how would I even know how to act on that link?" Aesa wondered, warming up to the Cathar's words.

Ryska paused, rubbing her chin as she thought of an answer. Just then, it hit her. "We just need to provide the greatest stimulation we can."

Aesa puzzled as she stared at the giddy student. A moment later, Ryska began rolling up her sleeve, exposing the light-orange fur of her arm. The Cathar then extended her uncovered limb in front of the Human.

"Run your hand along my arm," Ryska directed.

Aesa remained motionless as she bounced her gaze between the girl's eyes and arm. Her lips parted, but no words came. She was unsure, but the utter confidence present in the other teenager's visage proved almost contagious. Carefully, Aesa extended her hand of metal and plastic, and placed in on the Cathar's forearm.

"Concentrate," Ryska whispered. "Remember the sensation of your fingertips. Feel every hair as you move your hand."

Aesa narrowed her gaze, biting her lip as she hesitated. Finally, the girl abandoned whatever caution was holding her back. She began slowly moving her hand up Ryska's arm, fingers embedded in the thin layer of fur. She did it, time and time again, going up and down the Cathar's arm. The girl's eyes were totally focused, moving side to side as they followed the movements of her artificial hand.

Eventually, Aesa's hand came to a stop, still resting atop the other girl's arm. Ryska watched as her eyes began to water, and a smile began to curl upon her lips. The Cathar was about to speak, when she found herself interrupted by the Human throwing her arms around her neck. The Human squeezed her fellow Padawan tightly, tears of joy streaming down her face.

Ryska reciprocated the embrace, running her hands along and patting the girl on the back.

There was a faint rustling as the Houk emerged from the nearby tree line, an assortment of branches held in his arms.

"Hey guys! I miss anything?"
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Osetto's Avatar


Osetto
06.20.2014 , 11:50 PM | #35
Chapter Twenty Eight: Paths (Part Six)

There was a warmth in the air, even as the Tython sun continued to dip behind the mountainous horizon. There were smiles abound across each Padawan's face, but none was wider or brighter than that of Aesa's. As the three boys moved in on the still hugging pair, the campsite was filled with the faint sounds of celebration that continued to emanate from the Human girl.

Finally did she relinquish her grip around the Cathar's shoulders, but she did not break contact. Instead, she gripped her hands with her own, interlocking fingers of flesh and plastic. Aesa continued to stare at her fellow student, eyes still watering, mouth still baring a quivering smile.

"I can't believe it!" Aesa declared, brimming with emotion, yet still somehow her soft, restrained self. "I did it! I felt something. I mean, it was different, and it wasn't much, but it was something!"

Ryska cracked a bashful smile, and had her hands not been otherwise preoccupied, she was have used one to scratch the back of her head. "Glad I could help. I honestly didn't know if it would work, but-"

"It did!" Aesa gleefully interrupted. "It did! It did!" With each exclamation, she bounced her hands up and down, bringing the Cathar's along with them.

A short distance away, the sound of rustling thuds rang out as Torg dropped the branches he had retrieved onto the ground. The other students turned to face the new sound, only to find the Houk wearing a smile rivaling those of the girls'.

"Glad things didn't get boring without me," Torg offered alongside a hearty chuckle.

Aesa perked up, just now noticing the towering Padawan's presence. "Oh, Torg! You're back! You missed it! I can feel things with my hands now! Ryska taught me!"

The Padawan finally pulled her hands away from the Cathar, raising them to flash her palms toward the fascinated Houk.

"Well, I don't know if I taught her," Ryska said, trying to retain some semblance of control over her emotions. But her bashful smile proved hard to overcome. "I figured she could already do it, she just needed a little help."

"Well, why are we out here if not to help?" Torg warmly stated. "I'm sure your Masters would be proud of the both of you." A swell of pride filled the two girls, driven speechless by the notion. "Now I don't know about you, but I'd feel like celebrating with some food!"

Zarin released a soft chuckle. "You're dedicated, Torg, I'll give you that."

"And what is a Jedi if not dedicated?" Torg boisterously replied.

The others released their fair share of laughs and giggles as they readied themselves for the upcoming meal. Torg tried to reorganize the motley heap of twigs he had dropped, whilst Torzin and Zarin returned to their traveler's bags. Just as Ryska was about to return to her belongings, she saw the scattered contents of Aesa's bag strewn about them.

"Here, let me help gather your things," Ryska warmly offered.

Aesa panned her gaze around her, just now remembering that she had emptied her belongings onto the ground. "Oh… no, that's okay. I've got this. You've helped enough."

"Nonsense," Ryska teased. "A Jedi can never help enough."

The two shared another smile as they began picking up the items around them.

On the other side of the camp, Torzin and Zarin knelt close to one another, retrieving their rations for the coming meal. As the Human picked up his rod of foodstuffs, he looked up to see the Mirialan staring back at the pair of girls.

"She's something special, isn't she?" Zarin whispered, cracking a smile.

"Yeah," Torzin softly replied. "Wait, who are you talking about?"

"Aesa." Straightening out his stance, Zarin moved to the Mirialan's side, casting his somewhat softened gaze toward the girls across the campsite. "To have gone through what she's gone through, it's a miracle she didn't just… break. I mean, we all lost things we held dear to the war, but she literally lost a part of herself. I don't know if I could keep going after something like that. And look at her now. You'd never know anything ever went wrong. That's strength. Still, if she had to go it alone…"

"A wise man once told me that we must never give up on those who fall," Torzin calmly said. "It's up to us to offer our hand, that they may pick themselves up."

"Anyone can get knocked down. Anyone can get back up. But having someone to lend a hand is always a big help," Zarin restated in suitably plainer words. "Let me guess, your Master said that?"

Torzin let out a restrained chuckle. "Actually, it was from Ryska's."

"Then I see where she gets it," Zarin replied, gently scratching his chin. "She's quite the helper."

"I wouldn't ignore your contributions," Torzin warmly offered. The Human gave a curious arch of his brow. "Back when we were still on the trial, you told her that her prosthetics were as good as the real things."

"Ah, well," Zarin mumbled, scratching the back of his head. "I was just telling the truth, to be honest. Hate seeing people uncomfortable with themselves is all."

"Still, you could have just said nothing, but you chose to act," Torzin offered, somewhat solemn. "Sometimes I worry about doing too little. Sometimes I worry about doing too much. So I just wind up hesitating and doing… nothing."

"Well, the first thing you can do to fix that is just relax," Zarin teased. "No sense in being so tightly wound. Sometimes you just got to let go and wait for something besides your head to guide you."

"The Force?"

"Your gut," Zarin plainly stated. The Mirialan offered the playful arch of his brow. "What, a guy can't pick up a life-lesson or two outside the Order? You can learn just as much on the streets of Corellia as you can here."

"I don't doubt it," Torzin replied, tone carrying a warmth alongside its usual calmness in equal amounts. "But I can't just let go. Control is too important to me. Too important to being a Jedi."

"Control isn't squeezing your fist as tight as you can, it's being sure in your grip enough to know you won't let go," Zarin said.

"Is that Jedi or Corellian wisdom?" Torzin asked.

"It works with either a saber or a spanner, so both I guess," Zarin offered alongside a soft chuckle. The Mirialan dipped his head, a subtle smile upon his lips. "Besides, it's not like you've spent this whole trip doing nothing. If not for you, I'd never have known I could become a pilot."

"I'm still not entirely sure if it's possible, especially with the war over," Torzin admitted.

"Even if it's a long shot, I'm gonna try and take it," Zarin emphatically stated. "My gut's telling me it's what I'm meant to do."

"Well then, glad I could help," Torzin said. "Still, I don't think that compares with what you or Ryska did."

"Help is help. No use trying to weigh yourself against another person like that," Zarin admitted. As the Human offered a soft shrug of his shoulders, he watched the girls gather the remaining items that lay upon the ground, smiles on both of their faces. "Still, can't help but impressed by her. She's not what I expected."

"What did you expect?" Torzin quickly asked.

"I don't know exactly, but considering she's the Padawan responsible for the Holocron incident…"

"Holocron incident?"

"You mean you don't know?" Zarin asked, eyed wide. "I've only been here a few months and I've heard about it."

"I remember her and Master Osetto mentioning it on Apprenticeship Day, but I don't know the details," Torzin admitted, almost at a whisper.

"Well, it's not my place to talk about it," Zarin softly declared. "It's just knowing that, I didn't expect her to be so kind, spirited, intelligent…"

"Yeah, she's pretty great," Torzin blurted out. As the last word slipped past his lips, he froze, biting his tongue . The Human at his side panned his gaze, staring at the stilled Mirialan with a curious arch of his brow.

"What's the matter with you?" Zarin wondered, confused by the other teenager's rigid stance.

"Well, what I meant was… I mean, she's just," Torzin stammered.

"What? You can't compliment a friend?"

Torzin took a deep breath, trying to regain his nerves. "I shouldn't think of her like that. We're not supposed to develop feelings for one another."

"Doesn't mean you can't think kindly of her," Zarin balked. "Honestly, I don't get the whole 'you're not supposed to care about people' thing with Jedi. Everything we do is because we care about others, right?"

"This is different," Torzin firmly replied. "One can be compassionate without developing attachments. There's no rule against being friends, but if it developed into something more…"

"Then what? You suddenly fall to the dark side?" Zarin teased. "I don't think you become Sith because you happen to like one of your fellow students."

"No, but someone could get hurt if I were distracted… if I were careless," Torzin declared. "But even if nothing bad came from it, it's still against the rules. Do you know what happens when the elders find out two Padawans are romantically involved?"

"Yeah, yeah, they drilled that into my head on the first day in the Order too," Zarin replied, voice utterly lacking the severity of the Mirialan's. "Then again, you should have seen the look on the Masters' faces when I started flirting with some of the other students."

Torzin narrowed his gaze toward the grinning Human, baffled by his candidness. "Maybe you're the last person I should be listening to in regards to 'control'…"

Zarin released another chuckle. "Oh, lighten up. It was my first day. Takes more than a set of robes to change the kind of guy I was."

"And could you really have changed that much in the few months since then?" Torzin asked in disbelief.

"Well, when you've a Master like mine," Zarin warmly replied. There was a beat as both Padawans went quiet. Finally, the Human narrowed his gaze as he broke the silence. "So just so we're clear, you two aren't anything more than friends? Because I actually knew a Selonian back on Corellia and I have a thing for girls with fur…"

The Mirialan clenched his fists. "You-"

Torzin was interrupted by the Human placing a heavy hand on his shoulder and giving him a good shake. "Relax! I'm only kidding. I know the rules, and regardless of my beliefs I'd never go against the wishes of the Masters. You're just so easy to tease."

The Mirialan relaxed, unclenching his fists but retaining his narrowed gaze. "So that was all just to get a reaction out of me?"

"It was to get you to loosen up," Zarin declared, giving the other student's shoulder another shake.

"I don't exactly feel 'loosened'," Torzin muttered.

"Hey!" a boisterous voice called over from the other side of the camp. Looking toward the sound, the pair saw Torg waving his hand. "What's the hold up? We're ready to eat!"

Zarin released his grip on the Mirialan's shoulder and made his way toward the other Padawans without another word. After a quick sigh, Torzin followed, and soon, all five of the students found themselves situated around the unlit assemblage of branches and twigs.

The Mirialan lowered himself to the ground, taking almost a meditative stance as he held his rations in front of him. Starting to unwrap the sealed rod of foodstuffs, he was almost thrown off-balance as Ryska plopped down beside him, brushing against his shoulder.

"Oops, sorry," Ryska offered, flashing a gentle smile as she scratched the back of her head.

Torzin quickly corrected his posture, offering a smile of his own. "It's no problem."

The pair went to work unwrapping their rations, as did the other three Padawans.

"So what were you talking about over there?" Ryska bluntly asked.

"Oh, well…" Torzin muttered. His gazed panned toward the ground in front of him as he formulated his answer. "We were just talking about the future."

"The future? Like what?" Ryska continued.

"Well, Zarin's still dead-set on trying to become a Jedi pilot," Torzin replied.

"And what about you?" Ryska wondered. "Have you thought any more about your future?"

Torzin took a deep breath before slowly releasing it. "Quite a bit."
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