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Charmedseed's Avatar

08.31.2017 , 05:50 PM | #1
Welcome to the new and improved version of Luminous! After two years (and then some), I'm happy to be back in the writing spirit and hope very much to complete this tale, as it is very dear to my heart.

Some changes may be obvious, some more subtle, but I hope I've created a more coherent, polished work. Thank you, and I'm always seeking constructive criticism!

Title: Luminous
Characters: Aitahea Daviin, OC Jedi Consular; Erithon Zale, OC Trooper; Isme, OC Sith Inquisitor; others.
Setting: Shortly after the end of Chapter 3 in game.
Spoilers: Vague spoilers for Chapters 1-3, Belsavis, Tatooine, Hoth.

Chapter 1: Wear Layers

“Younglings, this way! Hurry!” Jedi Master Faron called, sweeping the children past him into a small classroom. His five – no, four - young charges scampered through the open door and darted into the shadows, feeling their minder’s urgency. Master Faron glanced down the hallway before silently closing the door behind him. Children scrambled under tables and behind benches as the Jedi Temple quaked around them.

“M-m-master Faron?” a wavering voice called.

“Hush now, younglings. We must be silent,” Faron shushed, reaching out in the Force to brush each young mind reassuringly. He felt in return fear, confusion, and anxiety, though it calmed minutely at his touch. Beyond their tiny study room, there was even worse: pain, anguish, and… death.

“Little ones. Listen to me,” the minder whispered, “Search your memories. Find the very happiest one you know, and meditate on it. Live in that memory.” Faron closed his eyes, a moment of regret, an instant of concern. Then he detached his lightsaber from his belt.

Master Faron hadn’t powered on the weapon in more than twenty years. He carried it as the symbol it was: to demonstrate that he was a member of the Jedi Order. He’d never had to kill, only rarely had to defend himself even at the worst of times. The empath had spent the majority of his time as a Jedi training Initiates like himself, some of the most vulnerable of Force-sensitive children.

He continued to observe his young students, settling into peaceful meditations as he’d asked. He projected one last soothing aura and then left the room in silence, lightsaber gripped tightly in his hand. They were coming. Sith.

Master Faron ignited his lightsaber; green, traditional for a Consular. He gazed into the blade’s bright glow for a moment, and then the attackers swept around the corner. The sage actually found himself recoiling from the aura of dark side energy surrounding the three Sith who approached.

“Well, well, well, my friends. What is this now?” The closest – a human female - sneered, whipping the ruby blade of her lightsaber around in a lazy circle. Master Faron shifted to a defensive stance and said nothing.

A Zabrak female, her horns tipped in black, s*****red. “It’s a minder, isn’t it? Like a nursemaid?” She edged up behind the leader, leering. “Obviously he’s protecting some little innocent Jedi younglings around here.”

Master Faron stiffened, a shock of panic racing up his spine. He felt one of his students falter in his blissful meditation, surprised and curious. The final Sith, a tall human male, lightsaber unlit, pushed past the other two and stood face to face with the Jedi Consular.

“We aren’t here to play games, you two nitwits,” he hissed, circling to Faron’s left side, away from the classroom door. The Jedi followed his movements closely, keeping his lightsaber as a ward between himself and the Sith, between his charges and the darkness.

“Fine, then, if you’re going to be that way about it. He looks too soft for me, anyway,” the first replied, shrugging and deactivating her lightsaber with a snap. The Zabrak giggled again, no mirth in the sound at all.

“You can’t protect them, you know,” the man said, gazing solidly into Faron’s eyes. The gaze of the Sith was tinged with red, just the slightest glow marring otherwise perfectly normal human eyes. Faron shook his head.

“It is not whether I can or cannot, Sith. It is what is determined by the Force. You cannot understand.”

The young Sith smiled maliciously, his eyes blazing brighter for a moment. “It’s not that I cannot, poor Jedi. It’s that I simply don’t care.”

And then he attacked. Master Faron blocked the first two blows easily, but a third seared deep into his shoulder, a jolt of fiery agony that left his weapon hand numb. His lightsaber dropped from nerveless fingers, the blade sizzling out instantly. Moments after, a vast roar sounded, the rumble of stone and mortar breaking apart. Dust fell between the two opponents as they glared into each other’s eyes. One of the younglings in the classroom screamed.

“See, Master Jedi? There is nothing you can do. We will tear this temple down atop you; it will be your final resting place. The Jedi are finished.”

Jedi Master Faron straightened boldly, facing the Sith. “Our work is never finished, young man. The Jedi live on. The galaxy will see peace again.” He paused for a moment, reaching out to his initiates, a final touch of calm and… love. “You cannot win.”

The Sith smiled bleakly, shook his head, and raised his lightsaber. “On the contrary.” His blade struck-

Aitahea shot upright, grasping the sheets to her throat. The outcry was trapped in her chest, binding her heart into a knot, painful and tight.

“Lights!” she gasped, waiting agonizing seconds until the room slowly brightened. She looked to her left, eyes automatically seeking out the silver cylinder of her lightsaber hilt on the stand next to the bed. It lay there looking solid and real, and she reached out with a trembling hand to touch it, to feel the reassurance of cool metal and crystal.

More than ten years later, and the Sacking of Coruscant still haunted the young Jedi Master. She was only a child, an Initiate, when the tenuous peace began in the wake of the Sith Empire’s attack – Aitahea now held the power and prestige that could have saved them all. Her fellow younglings and Master Faron, all murdered, and only she remained.

Wakeful but now calm, Aitahea considered the dream, taking it to pieces and examining each part without emotion. Part dream, part memories that were not her own, shared through the Force. She hadn’t been in the Jedi Temple at the time it was attacked and couldn’t know of this specific event. Saved by a twist a fate, a simple scheduling occurrence that placed her safely elsewhere on Coruscant as the temple was razed. She was the fifth youngling, the unaccounted-for child.

As a strong empath, Aitahea hadn’t needed to be near the temple to feel the suffering of her friends and teachers. Seated next to her younger sister Tember and their father as they watched their mother and wife being honored for her work as a teacher, Aitahea had gone rigid and white as snow when the Sith attack on the Temple began. The young Initiate gasped like one drowning, and in the same instant the doors crashed in. Imperial troopers flooded into the school, weapons aimed and ready.

Though not Jedi, it was Aitahea’s parents that saved everyone that day. After calming the audience, Aitahea’s mother negotiated a detainment period for the faculty and attendees of the school and the other visitors who were in attendance that evening. Rather than the devastation that could have occurred, the Daviin family kept their precious community calm, and two days later when the Treaty of Coruscant was passed, all the captives were released unharmed… including Aitahea, her Force-sensitivity and early Jedi training carefully hidden.

And she knew she owed everything to them. Her parents, who continued to teach. The remaining Jedi who whisked her off of Courscant and continued her training. Her master, her friends, and those who had perished at the hands of the Sith.

When Aitahea dreamed of the Jedi Temple, all her trials, all her knowledge, all her triumphs against the Sith felt small next to the sacrifices of those who came before her.

There was no point in lingering on the sadness of the past; that way lay the dark side. With a sigh, the Consular rose from her bed, dressing silently in the earthtone robes of the Order. She wore almost no armor, relying instead on more peaceful methods of interaction; when diplomacy failed to diffuse a dangerous situation, the light tunic and robes allowed for the agility and speed she preferred. She’d just slipped into the subtly-patterned chestnut cloak when the comm in her private quarters pinged.

“Master, are you awake?” A robotic voice called across the connection. It was C2-N2, the ship’s droid. “I’m deeply sorry to disturb your rest, Master Daviin, but there’s an urgent comm for you from Tython. Shall I send it to your quarters?”

“No, thank you, C2, I’ll be out in a moment.”

“Of course, Master.” Aitahea smiled at the earnest voice, then ran a hand lightly over her pale hair, smoothing a few flyaway back into their neatly woven braids. She left the hood of her cloak down and clipped her lightsaber to her belt before exiting her quarters. Her ship, the Luminous, hosted not only herself and the fretful protocol droid, but her friend and pilot, Prelsiava Tern, as well as several ambassadors from the Outer Rim. Already on their way to Coruscant to deliver the ambassadors, Aitahea was surprised to hear from the ancestral home of the Jedi.

In the main room, Aitahea activated the holocomm and stepped back to see Grand Master Satele Shan flicker into existence. Aitahea straightened; while she had known Master Shan since she herself was a youngling, being called upon directly by the heart of the Jedi Order was a significant occasion. The Grand Master’s features, mature but still sharply beautiful, regarded the young Jedi with approval.

“Grand Master, it’s an honor,” Aitahea smiled and offered a respectful bow.

“Aitahea Daviin, it’s wonderful to see you. You’ve been making an exceptional impression on the Council of late.” The Grand Master’s warm smile crinkled the corners of her dark eyes. “Even when you were a child, I knew you would do great things for the Republic.”

Aitahea felt a blush spread across her cheeks but simply nodded her appreciation of the praise. “I only seek to follow the Force, Grand Master. How can I be of service to the Order?”

“Gracious as always, Master Daviin. Your willingness is appreciated. We need you now to attend to an important mission. We have recently received some disturbing intelligence that a Sith apprentice has been hunting down Rakata artifacts in the Outer Rim.”

Aitahea nodded gravely, her delicate features drawn. “I’ve had firsthand experience with some of these relics. They can be exceptionally dangerous.”

“Just so, Master Daviin. Both the Jedi and the Sith have made extreme efforts to locate and retrieve these ancient technologies, but this artifact’s powers are distinctly troubling: the Sith are seeking a generator or focus of some kind that can – through a gruesome ritual sacrifice – empower a single Force-user to epic proportions. Invincibility, even immortality, or so the rumors state.”

An icy shiver raced up the Consular’s spine as she listened to the Grand Master. “That is without a doubt a tool of the dark side, Master.”

“Which is why we must locate and secure it first. Allowing the Sith to use this technology to create such a living Force weapon is unacceptable.” Master Shan appeared to pace restlessly in the holo, arms folded and posture tense. “You’ve proven to be an exceptional investigator when it comes to relics like this one, and in the case of it being found by this Sith apprentice first, we trust in your diplomatic skills to sway her to give the generator up. And as a last resort…”

“Of course, Grand Master,” Aitahea nodded, reluctance in her voice. As a Consular, she was a gentle voice of reason first, a warrior second – though she was as equally accomplished with her lightsaber as she was in diplomacy. She regretted the few lives she’d been compelled to take, but lived in the solace that it was for the benefit of the Republic and the galaxy… she hoped.

“In addition to the focusing artifact, we suspect there will also be a Rakata-Sith holocron with instructions on how to use it. They may be found in the same location, but it’s more likely they were separated and lost at some point, whether by accident or with intention.”

Aitahea confirmed, sending a brief message detailing the change of course to Prelsiava over her datapad. “I’ll start the search immediately, Grand Master Shan.”

“Thank you, Aitahea. I’m sending the intelligence we’ve already gathered to you now.” Aitahea’s datapad chimed, and she spared a glance to the information that began scrolling across the screen. “And we aren’t sending you alone.”

Aitahea’s head shot up, eyes surprised. “I expected this to be a solo mission if it requires such strident confidentiality, Master.”

Grand Master Shan gave a brief smile before retreating to her typical stoic expression. “The Republic military has a vested interest in this artifact being recovered and secured and has extended their own offer of assistance on this mission.”

Aitahea genuinely appreciated the skills and efforts put forth by the Republic military in several of her recent assignments. She had been sent frequently in the past to add the support and expertise of the Jedi to particularly troubling or unusual missions, and for the most part had seen nothing less than the fiercest and most selfless of warriors, sacrificing much for the good of the Republic.

Nevertheless, even in the years after the Sacking of Coruscant, the Jedi still found themselves mistrusted and even despised by certain factions in the Senate, and distrust and distance from the military forces as well. While military members seldom shared the ire of those in high places on Coruscant, the Order was considered more of a convenient and powerful tool than the wise council it had been.

“Of course, Grand Master. Any help is welcome.” Aitahea meant it wholeheartedly. An investigation of this sort always benefited from extra sets of eyes.

“Excellent. You’ll be rendezvousing with Major…” Satele’s eyes ran over a datapad briefly handed to her from outside the holo, “Erithon Zale. He’ll meet you at Aurek Base on Hoth. Our last piece of intelligence indicated that the Sith apprentice is headed there. She may already be planetside, so you’ll have to hurry.”

“I’ll have Prelsiava drop me at the orbital station; she can continue on to Coruscant with the ambassadors we have on board.”

“Very well, Master Daviin. Your companion is already en route; you’ll meet him on the surface.” Master Shan paused meaningfully, tilting her head with a brief but amused smirk at Aitahea. “Wear layers, Master Jedi.”

Lunafox's Avatar

09.01.2017 , 04:38 PM | #2
I'm so happy you're back and that you're rebooting Luminous, I remember enjoying its previous incarnation and look forward to what's ahead with Aitahea.

I really enjoyed how you transitioned from the past with the dream to the present. Really nicely done.

Charmedseed's Avatar

09.11.2017 , 10:19 PM | #3
Quote: Originally Posted by Lunafox View Post
I'm so happy you're back and that you're rebooting Luminous, I remember enjoying its previous incarnation and look forward to what's ahead with Aitahea.

I really enjoyed how you transitioned from the past with the dream to the present. Really nicely done.
Thank you so much! I'm so happy to be writing again; I've missed it terribly.

Charmedseed's Avatar

09.11.2017 , 10:21 PM | #4
Chapter 2: Part of the Force

Major Erithon Zale clenched his teeth against the chill and hunched up his shoulders under his armor. A grumble of discomfort sounded from the shuttle pilot, setting Erithon chuckling. “Problem?”

A barked laugh came as reply. “Not a thing, Major, if you don’t mind the ends of your fingers freezing off.”

“That’s not the only thing you’ll freeze off on this planet, pal.” Hearty laughter erupted from the pilot, and even the major had to smile.

“Good to have a laugh, sir, thanks. It’s been bitter out here, and I don’t just mean the cold.” Erithon nodded; border skirmishes, back and forth claims of treaty violations all over the galaxy, and Sith and Jedi at odds around every corner. The galaxy was not a kind place right now. Laughter was in short supply, so even an unsophisticated jest was welcome.

“We’re about to land,” the piloted noted, gesturing at the sensor panel – Erithon glanced over them, then attempted to peer out the front viewport. There was nothing out there but blind, swirling whiteness.

“If you say so, there’s no telling from here.” Erithon chuckled, nodding at the shuttle pilot who cautiously moved the craft through the icy flurry. Their course was turbulent but steady, until suddenly the ship plunged and veered, alarms shrieking. Both Erithon and the pilot strained against their safety webbing.

“I thought you said you’d flown on Hoth before!” Erithon called, fumbling for another joke while grasping at the straps and trying to stabilize his own movement.

“Sir, we’re being fired upon!” the pilot hollered back, attempting to control their suddenly disturbed descent.

Erithon jerked to his left as the transport swerved and dropped violently. “What? By whom?” Even in the midst of the fierce motion, Erithon took a moment to wonder who out there was that good of a shot in a storm like this, and he almost chuckled. The ship bucked again, this time clearly a direct hit.

“Unknown, sir! Hang on, we’ve lost propulsion – we’re going down!”

Isme dropped her arm and found herself trembling. It wasn’t with chill – no, she had plenty of technology-infused layers as well as her own Force skills to keep the cold from her skin – but with the effort. It was simple enough to seek out the two life forms coming into the atmosphere in the Republic shuttle. She knew the shuttle was going to be headed this way, and Republic boys all had the same pallid, soggy presence in the Force. But giving the focus to the pirate she’d borrowed, showing him the appropriate aim, taking the shot; that took effort.

She didn’t like forcing others to do her dirty work. She didn’t like forcing others at all. A throwback to being a slave, she supposed, but now that she was Sith it was simply duty. She would learn to do it, or she would be destroyed, one way or another.

Yet another reason she was on this frigid iceball called a planet; in service to her master. She was still a slave at the end of the day, and it stung. It burned and *****led and made Isme furious. But the faster she did this task, the closer she came to her own freedom – true freedom. She would be granted her title, her rightful place among the Sith, and then she would be beholden to no one.

Just as this pirate thought he was. He was fighting her Force-control again, grimacing and grunting in his own effort to raise the powerful sniper rifle toward her head. She’d been able to use his natural skill with the weapon to take down the shuttle carrying one of the agents sent to stop her from finding the artifact. She sensed the other approaching, a Jedi by her strong, clear presence in the Force. Isme would have to move quickly.

The apprentice sighed, Hoth’s icy wind stealing the breath away instantly. She didn’t bother to use her lightsaber – that would leave telling marks – and instead pulled her fingers into a fist, shattering a small but vital part of the man’s brain, an injury that would be invisible to all but the most thorough of medical droids. The body flopped unceremoniously to the frozen ground where it would be buried quickly by the whirling snow. If it weren’t scavenged by the wampas that were hunting nearby, that is.

“Poor fool. At least you are free now.”

Despite all the warnings, Aitahea gasped as the first draft of stinging Hoth air hit her face. For a split second she thought something was wrong – the air seemed to scorch her skin. Then she realized that it was simply so blisteringly cold as to invoke a burning sensation.

She swept the sensation of numbing chill to the back of her mind and ignored it enough to concentrate, taking caution to leave adequate consciousness in place in order to avoid any irreparable damage. Even inside Aurek Base, ice and frost coated the walls, climbing like a living thing through cracks in the durasteel plates. Aitahea decided to keep a brisk pace as she moved through the base.

Like most Republic military bases, Aurek was bustling with activity, although the ever-present chill and creeping ice slowed conventional labor. Everything had to be modified to work in the sub-zero temperatures, from speeders to computers to weapons. There was no lack of work to be done, and the Jedi could feel the urgency that permeated the atmosphere.

“Master Jedi, thank the stars you’re here! We had an unexpected complication,” The Aurek Base commanding officer was dashing toward Aitahea as she turned the corner into central command. She raised her eyebrows and rushed forward to meet the harried commander.

“I was under the impression I was here to help indeed, Commander, just not so soon. What’s happened?” Aitahea asked calmly, her presence bringing a sense of serenity into the frantic room.

“The shuttle with the Major has been shot down, north of our location. They were on their way in when they crashed.” The commander led Aitahea to a console where a holoprojection of the area displayed the base and the crash in reference to each other. “We believe they’re here, Master Jedi, at the base of these ice cliffs.”

“But you don’t know for certain, Commander?”

“I’m afraid not. We lost contact just as they were entering the atmosphere because of the storm, but our projections indicate they should be in that area. We’ll send a rescue team out, but it’ll take a while to go around those cliffs.” The man shook his head, reaching up to rub his face with gloved hands.

“I can reach them faster, Commander.” Aitahea stood back from the projection, folding her arms. “And it would be best to be sure there are survivors before we put another team at risk trying to reach them. I’ll leave immediately.”

“Thank you, Master Jedi. I was hoping you’d say just that.” He looked relieved. “But I have to warn you; we suspect they were shot down by pirates or another unidentified enemy. You could be heading into dangerous territory.”

Aitahea nodded, dropping her hand to the lightsaber on her belt. “What part of Hoth isn’t dangerous, I wonder.”

“As you say, Master Jedi. I’ve taken the liberty of requesting a snow speeder and as much emergency equipment as it can carry – if there are survivors, they may need shelter and medical assistance.” The commander shut down the projection before turning back to the Jedi. “They’re waiting for you at the speeder pad. Did they supply you with sufficient cold-weather gear at the station?”

“Yes,” Aitahea replied, pulling back a sleeve to reveal the close-fitted bodysuit under her Jedi robes. She tugged her hood a little closer around her face and nodded. “I’ll be fine – and I’d best be moving quickly.”

“I’ll take you to the entrance now, Master Jedi. You have my apologies - we didn’t plan to have your expedition begin like this.”

“Not at all, Commander. We do what we must,” Aitahea paused, reaching out in the Force for a moment, a brief suspicion whispering through her mind. “Was there any additional intel on the Sith apprentice we’re searching for? Is it possible she’s the one who shot down the shuttle?”

The Commander shook his head as they walked down the corridor. “I’m afraid I can’t say either way. The storm was interfering with much of our sensor equipment. You may be able to discern from the wreck.” The commander swallowed uncomfortably, shaking his head. The commander and the Jedi approached the hangar bay, busy aides adding the few last items to a speeder that was ready and waiting.

“The Force is with us, Commander. I’ll contact you as soon as I can.” Aitahea swung astride the speeder, checking the navigation briefly, and soared out of Aurek Base toward what she hoped would be survivors.

Aitahea flew in as straight as route as the terrain allowed, moving swiftly toward the cliffs on the map. She would be able to climb directly down in a fraction of the time a rescue squad would take to navigate around the frozen cliff face. Besides, she felt movement in the Force; it seemed unlikely that the shuttle would have been shot down by pirates. Haste would be necessary.

The Jedi’s brief study of the situation on Hoth during her trip there had indicated the strong presence of several pirate groups, scavengers, as well as Imperial military, but there were few major conflicts near any of the areas each group had claimed for their own. Skirmishes happened more frequently over unclaimed territories and even single ships in the interstellar graveyard that the ice-bound planet had become.

A pirate or even Imperial military attack this close to the Republic base was extraordinarily unlikely, even without the whispers of Force presence. Aitahea was left suspecting it was their Sith quarry, attempting to sabotage her pursuit before it had even begun.

A few hours of bitter travel on the snowspeeder brought Aitahea to the edge of the icy cliffs. The storm had cleared, but she understood how the base wouldn’t have had a clear assessment of where the shuttle had crashed. The base stood on a frozen plain ending in sheer cliffs that dropped hundreds of feet to a surface of crumbled ice and snow below. The drop ran to the horizon in either direction, meaning a speeder would have to spend a significant amount of time diverging from the straight path the Jedi could take.

Aitahea crept close to the edge, cautious of any loose ice or snow, and peered over the precipitous edge. The height was dizzying, but the wreckage of the shuttle could be seen easily through the lazy flurries. Wisps of smoke still rose from the craft and, with a rush of relief, Aitahea found she sensed human life near the wreckage. She sent a brief message back to the base via her comlink, confirming survivors and notifying Aurek Base that she would be descending the ice cliffs to attend to any needs they had.

She didn't wait for a reply before preparing to rappel down the sheer drop. The speeder had been packed efficiently; Aitahea had only to don the pack that had been strapped down and she was ready to set up a secure, warm camp for the survivors. Getting down the cliff face was another matter. Aitahea found climbing gear in the included equipment and quickly set an anchor. She took one last look over the brink, noting some movement around the crashed shuttle. Someone was still mobile down there.

Aiding her movement with the Force, Aitahea gently eased herself over the edge and began her decent. Within moments she found herself dangling in the freezing void, spinning slowly in a recess in the ice. She shuddered once before she could clamp down on the fear and right herself, continuing to drop slowly but steadily toward the crumbled ice and snow below.

The Jedi quickly discovered that the length of cable provided for her wouldn't be long enough to reach the frozen ground below. There were still over a hundred feet between herself and the floor of the ice plain. Aitahea frowned; this would cause a problem not only for the remainder of her journey down but also any chance for climbing back to the speeder and safety with survivors. Unfortunately that plan would have to come later; her priority was reaching the transport.

Steeling herself for the drop, Aitahea dangled carefully at the end of the cable, measuring the distance with her eyes. It would take an extraordinary use of the Force to control and cushion her fall, but it would be necessary. With a shuddering breath of chill air, Aitahea released the cable and opened herself to the Force.

The feel of it was like… there was nothing to compare to. She was flooded with power and fought to keep it in check, overwhelmed with a sudden insight into the universe around her. She felt at once insignificant, yet entirely precious and unique. She sharpened her focus, imagining the shape of her own form in reference to the planet, and the safety of the ground still far beneath her.

It felt like an eternity. Aitahea left her eyes closed; the Force gave her a sense of the ground rushing toward her and allowed her to stay upright. Her robes fluttered around her, frigid air cutting through the cold weather gear and chilling her to the bone. She waited until she was several dozen feet away from the ground before slowing and gingerly touching one foot to the ice below. Finally she was safe on the ground, trembling in the wake of her charged journey.

A figure climbed out of the damaged shuttle, raising an arm in greeting. Aitahea raised her hand in return and moved quickly to close the final distance. The being's presence in the Force - a human male - was relieved and grateful, with an undertone of frustration and brittle helplessness.

Compared to the fall from the rope, the dash across the snowy plain to the shuttle was short and easy. The man walked to meet Aitahea as she approached, pulling off a trooper's helmet as they met.

"Master Jedi? Didn't expect to see you so soon," he tried to joke. "Major Erithon Zale." He gave a lopsided smile, but his blue eyes were rueful.

Aitahea nodded in greeting. "Aitahea Daviin. I wish we'd met under better circumstances, Major, but it seems our investigation has already begun. Is the shuttle still intact? I brought a shelter with, but the shuttle would be preferable."

"It's still all right, mostly. But the pilot..." Erithon glanced back over his shoulder. The Jedi nodded; she'd sensed only Erithon when she was looking for survivors.

"I'm sorry for your loss, Major." Aitahea radiated comfort and gentle regret into the Force, echoing the sound of the sentiment in her voice. Erithon hesitated a moment, as if he wanted to speak, before he shrugged and turned to face the shuttle. He waved for the Jedi to follow.

"Thanks. Comes with the job, as I'm sure you know, Master Jedi. The backup power is still working in the shuttle, so we have heat. We'll plan better if we're warm."

Erithon had been more than a little astonished to see the tiny figure floating down the cliff face, and after a brief moment of panic, opted for the binoculars rather than a blaster. It was a Jedi, not pirates, Imperials, or worse. He was on edge, and it wouldn’t be wise to jump to conclusions now.

He initially felt hard-pressed to be grateful or gracious to the woman who'd approached - he almost wanted to call her a girl. Even with the layers of traditional Jedi robes over the same cold weather gear he wore, she was a head shorter than him, all huge green eyes and pale face inside the hood.

She followed him quickly to the shuttle, noting with a moment of silent reverence the human-sized bundle wrapped in plastifiber slightly behind the grounded shuttle. Erithon turned to wait for her, leaning on the portal frame, silent and appreciative.

He didn't know much about Jedi. He'd served with a few Knights during other missions and had always been grateful for their help. They were skilled warriors, to be sure, but more often than not held themselves away from the rest of the enlisted troops. He didn't get the impression at the time that these Jedi thought they were better. They simply did... Jedi things. Meditated. Whatever.

But this woman seemed different right away. He knew from her file she was a Consular, a talented diplomat and empath, but even in the scant few moments they'd spoken, she had struck him as very different than the other Jedi he'd met. He watched her drop from that cliff face like a professional climber, never mind the flat-out drop at the end when she'd run out of line.

And when she approached, he'd felt warmer all the sudden. That dangerous edge he was feeling earlier dulled. A well of hope had sprung up in his mind, easing the bitter regret and frustration of losing yet another fellow soldier. There'd been many, every one still weighing heavily on his heart, but when Aitahea paused meaningfully by the body of the pilot, Erithon felt better. Easier.

Erithon Zale waited anxiously as the Jedi remained motionless in the bitter Hoth air. He wanted to reach down and clasp the woman’s shoulder, draw her away and offer some comfort. What a ridiculous idea, he admonished himself, shaking his head. She’s seen just as much of this kind of destruction as you have. Probably more. She doesn’t need you. Does she?


To his surprise, the Jedi had her gloved hand on his arm, gazing into his face with evident concern. “Are you all right?” Aitahea asked. Erithon blinked rapidly and shook his head.

“I… I was going to ask you that,” he muttered, belatedly adding, “Master Jedi. But of course you–”

“-understand the process of death the same as everyone, Major Zale. It is never easy. It is simply a part of the Force, as is he now.” She smiled tightly, whether from emotion or chill he couldn't say. "But we are alive and well, if somewhat cold. Let's warm up and plan our next move."

Lunafox's Avatar

09.11.2017 , 10:41 PM | #5
A beautiful chapter, Charmed. I do enjoy your descriptions and the way you turn a phrase. Your dialogue is natural and well done. I seem to remember from the previous story the convergence of forces on Hoth, and I look forward to see what will transpire between Aitahea, Erithon and Isme.

This line was especially beautiful to me and captured the nature of frost.

Even inside Aurek Base, ice and frost coated the walls, climbing like a living thing through cracks in the durasteel plates.
I'm looking forward to the next installment.

Charmedseed's Avatar

09.12.2017 , 07:01 AM | #6
Quote: Originally Posted by Lunafox View Post
A beautiful chapter, Charmed. I do enjoy your descriptions and the way you turn a phrase. Your dialogue is natural and well done. I seem to remember from the previous story the convergence of forces on Hoth, and I look forward to see what will transpire between Aitahea, Erithon and Isme.

This line was especially beautiful to me and captured the nature of frost.)
Thank you! These first two chapters aren't too different (I did have an unhealthy obsession with ellipses, heh), but later on there will be more obvious changes. I'm so glad you're reading!

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09.18.2017 , 10:25 PM | #7
Chapter 3: Its Own Kind of Harmony

Aitahea made a quick assessment of the shuttle as she and Erithon entered. The power was clearly still functioning, providing a vastly more comfortable temperature than outside. A small hole – now patched against the cold – and accompanying spider-webbed crack in the viewscreen affirmed what had happened to the pilot. The Major latched the door behind them and turned around, following Aitahea's gaze to the viewscreen.

“It was a direct shot, Master Jedi. Whoever was shooting at us either had really good aim or was exceptionally lucky. Not so lucky for the pilot.” Erithon shook his head, a fresh surge of regret in his voice.

Aitahea reached carefully to touch the damaged viewscreen and frowned. She felt a brief pulse from the Force again, the same intuition that had brought her to ask about the Sith at Aurek Base. “But you were safe, Major. How did you control your descent?”

Erithon nodded, moving past the Jedi to access the controls. He stood as clear as he could from the pilot's seat, also covered with plastifiber. Aitahea moved gently out of his path and to the rear of the bridge. “He did it. The first shot took out the stabilizers, so we were already going down. I think we would have both made it in one piece if not for that last shot.” He looked stricken, stumbling over the words.

“The pilot saved your life.”

The trooper nodded, swallowing thickly. “His name was Garret. From Vento.”

"Did he have family?" Aitahea asked.

"Not really sure, Master Jedi,” Erithon answered brusquely, focused intently on the control panel. “I'd known Garret for just a handful of moments. The length of the shuttle flight."

Aitahea allowed the silence to stretch out, waiting patiently while Erithon adjusted the remaining functions of the shuttle. The trooper's sorrow was palpable to her, practically a physical ache to her empath's sensibilities. She found herself taken aback; she knew from Erithon's file he was no stranger to the loss of comrades. Yet she could sense the memories of those he'd lost weighing on him like beskar.

Despite the grief he was feeling, beneath it the Jedi could sense a solid core of will and strength, a determination to persevere, and a sense of duty Aitahea had seldom encountered. She wondered what Grand Master Shan had known about this young man and left for Aitahea to find out.

When Erithon was finally satisfied with the shuttle's readings and a little recovered from the Jedi's questions – he was starting to believe the rumors about mind-reading Jedi - he turned back to give her an update.

She had pulled off her gloves and was just pushing back the hood of her cloak, expanding on the brief glimpse of delicate features he'd seen outside. She had bright, deftly bound hair, a pale burnished platinum in the low light of the shuttle interior. Her skin was just as light, but for the cold-born blush across her cheeks and the end of her nose, making her look youthful and radiant. Sage-green eyes were intensely observing Erithon, seeming to lay bare his thoughts and feelings. Expecting to feel edgy and unnerved by such a gaze, Erithon was surprised to find himself ready to share anything he was thinking with this lovely woman.

Erithon stopped up short. A Jedi, he corrected himself. A beautiful Jedi, but still a Jedi. Even so, that admonishment didn’t fully stop his imagination. Maybe he wouldn’t want to share everything he was thinking with her, after all.

Seeming to notice his discomfort, Aitahea considerately turned away to the comm panel and tapped in a brief command. "The base ceased to receive your distress signal once you fell below the edge of the cliffs, Major. I've let them know you're safe, but in case your assailant is listening maybe it's best we went to comm silence." She glanced his way briefly, brows raised and fingers suspended over the keypad as she waited for his response.

"Oh. Sure. If they aren't getting anything anyway, no point letting anyone else know we're here." Erithon nodded, folding and unfolding his arms, unable to find a reasonable position to stand in. He settled for leaning on a bulkhead, awkward in his bulky armor.

Aitahea resumed her efficient typing, giving no sign of having observed his lack of grace. "It's not ideal, of course. The speeder I arrived on is still at the top of the cliffs, but it will have to do.” As the Jedi pressed a last key, the comm responded with a quiet, final beep and lapsed into silence.

“I think that’s all we can manage for now, Master Jedi.” Erithon straightened and turned his head to glance out the viewscreen, indicating with a nod the swiftly deepening shadows. “With night coming on, we’re going to have to stay put. The temperatures on Hoth drop to levels even the cold weather gear can’t deal with at night.” Erithon fought the grin that was slowly creeping onto his face. Stay put. In a small transport shuttle. With a pretty human female. Huh.

“Of course. If that’s the case, we might want to use the last bit of light to set up a perimeter around–” Aitahea suddenly turned back to Erithon and tilted her head as she noticed his diverted expression. “What is it?”

Erithon chuckled and waved a hand at her. “Nothing, nothing. Sorry, Master Jedi. It's been a long day."

Aitahea smiled interestedly, giving Erithon another penetrating look. Then, suddenly, she laughed. Erithon’s initial grin was replaced by a stunned expression. He was pretty sure he’d never seen a Jedi laugh before. He hadn't even been sure it was possible – all the others he’d known had been so stoic and reserved. It surprised him, but even more, he liked it. Liked the sound of her voice. Liked the delighted expression on her face. Liked that he had caused it, somehow.

So Erithon chuckled, too, shaking his head in wonder. Laughter in the midst of a life-threatening situation wasn't a new thing, but like Garret had said, it was rare and good to have.

"Sorry, sorry, Master Daviin –" Erithon began, raising his hands, but Aitahea shook her head in return and settled into a friendly smile.

“Don’t be, Major,” The Jedi’s face remained warm and open, green eyes glittering. “Laughter is its own kind of harmony.”

About an hour later, perimeter established, the body of Garret secured, and the pair feeling relatively safe and sound inside the shuttle, Aitahea was soundly defeating Erithon in their third game of sabacc. The trooper tossed yet another losing hand onto the table and flung himself back into his seat.

“Thank the stars Jedi don’t play for credits,” he grumbled, folding his arms. “You sure you aren’t playing any of those mind tricks on me?”

Aitahea arched an eyebrow at Erithon as she scooped up the cards and proficiently shuffled them back into the deck. “I doubt any Force influence would work on you. You’re too self-aware,” she stated. Erithon harrumphed, feeling a mix of embarrassment and pleasure at the indirect compliment. Aitahea canted her head and continued, “And of course it simply wouldn’t be fair. Or fun.”

“Fun, huh? I didn’t think Jedi had fun. Come to think of it, I didn’t think Jedi played sabacc, either,” Erithon replied, watching as Aitahea deftly dealt a new hand.

“Most don’t.” She smiled wistfully, a brief hesitation before she set down the next card. “Play sabacc, that is. I learned from my younger sister.”

“I thought Jedi children were separated from their families when they’re really young.” Erithon wondered aloud, picking up his cards. Aitahea nodded a confirmation as she contemplated her own hand.

“Most are, and few see their families again, especially if they came from offworld. It’s that way far more often now that the Temple is located on Tython.” She paused a moment to consider a card, watching it flicker to a new suit. “Since my family lived on Coruscant, I had quite a few opportunities to engage with them.”

“That would have been before the Treaty was signed, then,” Erithon commented, making a clumsy attempt at insight. Like all children of the Republic, he knew the history surrounding the Battle of Coruscant and the treaty – if you could call it that – that resulted. If she’d been on Coruscant and at the Jedi Temple…

“Yes,” Aitahea preempted, voice hushed. “I was away from the Temple with my parents and sister at that time.” Her green eyes were fixed on the cards in her hand, though she didn’t appear to be seeing them.

Erithon watched the Jedi’s pensive expression for a long moment, half wishing he hadn’t dragged up what was clearly a bad memory for her. But at the same time a sense of solidarity seemed to sink in. It looked like neither of them had been left unscarred by the war, no matter how cold either side insisted it was.

Aitahea cleared her throat meaningfully and sorted the cards in her hand. “My sister’s name is Tember. She’s a starship captain now, I suppose what one might call a ‘privateer.’ We continue to correspond, a relationship most would consider unusual for a Jedi.”

Grateful for her redirection, Erithon drew a last card and scowled at it. “Well, unusual or not, seems like getting to know your sister was pretty good for your sabacc game. Forget it. I fold.” He tossed his cards to the table and sighed dramatically as he cradled his face in his hands.

The sober mood inside the chilly shuttle suddenly evaporated. Aitahea broke into a peal of laughter, and Erithon peered up in mock-dejection. “Sure you’re not cheating there, Master Jedi?” A mysterious smile remained on the Jedi’s face.

“If I were, do you think I’d tell?”

"Master Faron, how do we not have emotions?" the youngling asked. He was Rodian, star-filled eyes a constant source of mystery and beauty to tiny Aitahea. Her young clan had been listening to Master Faron recite the Jedi Code for the first time, surrounded by the presence of the ancient and majestic Jedi Temple.

There is no emotion, there is peace.

There is no ignorance, there is knowledge.

There is no passion, there is serenity.

There is no chaos, there is harmony.

There is no death, there is the Force.

Aitahea considered her classmate's question in silence. She felt emotions all the time. She felt love for her parents and baby sister, and she missed them when she was at the Jedi Temple – even though she loved being at the Temple, too. She had been afraid before she had met Master Faron, before he had hushed the clamor of thoughts and feelings that overwhelmed the young empath. She felt emotions like joy when she learned a new skill or fact with her clan mates.

"Aitahea, you seem very thoughtful," Master Faron commented, kind eyes on the fair-haired girl. The other younglings looked expectantly at Aitahea, who flushed a little at all the attention. But she surprised herself, wanting – needing even – to share her idea.

"I think we still have emotions, Master Faron," she began, "but we can choose to have peace that sort of... goes over it."

"Very astute, little one," Master Faron praised. Impressed, Aitahea's classmates nodded solemnly at her. Their teacher continued. "We are all sentient. We are thinking, feeling beings. It is one of the requirements for connecting with the Force. Does that mean that non-Force sensitives are not? Of course not."

A little Miraluka boy, his mask covering the smooth expanse where his eyes would be, piped up. "I don't have physical sight. But most sentient beings do. Not having eyes doesn't mean I'm not sentient. I’m just different."

"Well done. We are all very different, even among our own species," Master Faron agreed. "Force sensitivity is the same. Just because another being lacks a sense you have, they are still fully capable of emotion - that which makes us sentient."

"Are emotions bad, Master?" queried one small girl. She'd arrived at the Temple just days ago, a delicate-looking human girl with flyaway brown hair and mahogany eyes. She rarely spoke during discussions, and Aitahea had heard her crying at bedtime in their sleeping quarters. She didn’t even know the girl’s name yet.

Aitahea found herself startled and curious at the youngling’s question. Carefully, she opened herself to the Force, just as Master Faron had taught her. The elder Jedi had helped Aitahea to understand her connection to others as an empath when she first came to the Jedi Temple and instructed her how to set up a “shield” of sorts so she wasn’t constantly bombarded with their feelings. All of the members of her Jedi clan were empaths, as was Master Faron. Together, Aitahea and her clan mates had learned to be very careful about sensing others’ emotions. Feelings were very personal and private; most of the time what others were experiencing was their own business and no one else’s.

But an empath could use her talent carefully to better understand and help them, and that was what Aitahea tried to do now. Concentrating, she moved her imaginary shield out of the way just a little, enough to share a fraction of what the other child was feeling.

The girl was guilty and frightened. Her emotions were strong, too, pushing hard at Aitahea’s mental defense. This scared Aitahea, and she quickly slammed her shield back into place, jarring the serenity of the Force around her. The Miraluka boy flinched and turned to face Aitahea, tilting his head in a silent question. Aitahea just huddled deeper into her robe and looked away.

Master Faron spared Aitahea only the slightest of glances, instead directing his attention toward the other little girl. “Emotion is neither good nor bad; it simply is. What is important is what you do with it; how you react to it. Your reaction can be the cause of great good or terrible evil. So choose your actions carefully, with compassion. That is what it means to be a Jedi.

“Well done, younglings. Let our discussion end here for today. Please go and attend to your other duties. Off with you!” Master Faron added pleasantly, offering a gentle smile. The children scattered away to other parts of the Temple for their various activities, but Aitahea lingered and watched as Master Faron approached the anxious newcomer. Their Master knelt and spoke quietly to the shivering girl, who calmed almost immediately. Aitahea didn’t need her empathy to understand the sudden change in the girl’s demeanor.

After a few more words, both Master Faron and the girl turned to approach Aitahea. “Aitahea, I think you should spend some time with our new arrival. It would do you both much good, I believe. Take some time to yourselves in the Temple gardens, why don’t you?” he suggested, briefly touching each girl’s shoulder.

“Of course, Master Faron. I’m Aitahea Daviin,” Aitahea said, offering a tiny hand to the other girl. The newcomer smiled uncertainly but placed her own hand in Aitahea’s.

“Nice to meet you. My name is–”

Aitahea jerked awake, startled. She’d been dreaming again, this time a half-recalled moment from her youth at the Jedi Temple, no doubt as a response to the night’s earlier discussion. But this memory refused to linger, slipping through her fingers. She was trying to remember the name of the other child in the dream when heavy footfalls approached.

“Master Jedi?” It was Major Erithon Zale. Aitahea rose from the bunk, finding her companion leaning into the passenger cabin, eyes worried. Erithon had taken the first watch and given Aitahea an opportunity to rest after her harried journey across the ice. “We have to move.”

“What do you mean, Major?” Aitahea frowned, feeling the trooper’s anxiety trickling like icy water into the Force.

“We’ve got company, Master Jedi. Pirates, I’m pretty sure.”

Aitahea passed her hand across her eyes and cleared the haze of sleep from her mind, taking a moment to reach out in the Force for their immediate surroundings. Erithon was a solid, bright presence quivering with worry and just a touch of frustration. Beyond him there were a dozen or so other beings, focused stealth barely covering simmering violence. Their target was clearly the shuttle Aitahea and Erithon currently occupied.

“I see,” Aitahea’s calm voice belied the plummeting anxiety she suddenly felt. “Do you have any suggestions, Major?”

Erithon motioned for her to join him in the cockpit. “I’ve been working while you were resting. Got a surprise for you, and them, too.”

“You said we needed to move.”

“I’m planning on it, Master Jedi.” Aitahea followed Erithon onto the bridge of the shuttle where the trooper sat in the copilot’s chair. The controls had all been routed to that side and parts of the boards were a tangled mess of wires and electronics.

“I rerouted several of the systems; wasn’t able to do anything about the stabilizers from inside the ship, but I think…”

Erithon punched a few buttons in succession as the Jedi looked on. The man’s enthusiasm and hope were infectious, and Aitahea leaned forward in anticipation.

“…we have engines.”

The shuttle roared to life and flung itself violently into the air, knocking Aitahea off her feet. “Major?” she cried, clinging to a nearby console.

“Sorry! No stabilizers!” Erithon bellowed back, fighting the shuttle for control. The ship continued to rise at an unsteady pace. The viewscreen was dark save for flashes of blaster fire. It was impossible to tell if any of the shots struck the ship as it rocketed wildly higher. “Hang on, this might get bumpy!”

Aitahea could sense the ice – and the pirates – dropping quickly away. They seemed close to reaching safety; the shuttle had nearly reached the top of the same cliffs Aitahea had rappelled down the day before.

“Jedi, can you give me a hand here?”

Erithon was struggling with the controls, the wheel fighting him like a living thing. Aitahea scrambled to her feet and pitched forward to hold tightly to the copilot’s seat, leaning over Erithon’s shoulder.

“What do you need, Major?”

“Hold the stick. I need to get us propulsion or they’re just going to shoot us down again while we hang here.”

“I’m coming around,” the Jedi replied, winding one arm through the crash webbing and reaching for the controls with the other. She placed her own hand lightly over Erithon’s and then nodded at him. The trooper nodded back and quickly slipped his hand away, in one motion releasing the crash webbing and diving under the console to tangle with more complex controls.

Aitahea gasped and found herself relying on the Force to augment her strength. The control wheel twisted wildly in her grip; she braced herself firmly between the side panel and the flight chair and grasped both handholds on the stick.

“Just one more second… there!” Erithon shouted, and the shuttle launched forward and upward in a spectacular arc. Erithon flung himself back into the seat, snapped into the crash webbing, and added his strength to the Jedi’s, pushing the stick forward. Aitahea gasped as they angled toward the ground.

“Hang on, Jedi!” Erithon whooped. He reached across the console with one hand to press a button, swore vehemently, then reached further down to simply tear wires from the control panel. That action seemed to be effective, as the shuttle began to both lose what little altitude it had and slow its speed. The control stick suddenly went slack under the Jedi’s hands, and the trooper let go only to pull Aitahea into his arms.

“Sorry, but this landing might be a little–” Erithon’s last words were lost in the grating screech of durasteel on ice. The crash webbing held Erithon in place, and his grasp kept the Jedi from flying through the viewscreen. Aitahea shut her eyes tight and held on.

Long moments later, the sickening motion of metal sliding over ice stopped, and Aitahea opened her eyes. Erithon was curled over her, his face pressed into her hair and arms pinning her tight against him. She remained half out of the copilot’s seat, her legs off to the side while his were still wrapped in wire from the console. A console that had begun sparking.

“Major!” she exclaimed, struggling to untangle their entwined limbs. “Fire!”

Erithon, dazed but aware, released the Jedi immediately and unsnapped his crash webbing so he could stand. Aitahea was up in a moment and raced to grab a portable fire suppressor. She turned and tossed the container to the waiting Erithon, who activated the suppressor and doused the sparking console in fire retardant.

The next few moments were punctuated only by the gasping of the shuttle occupants and the creaks and crunches of the damaged craft. “That was well done, Major,” Aitahea commented between inhalations.

“Thanks. I’m usually a better pilot,” Erithon acknowledged, “but under the circumstances, I figured you’d look past the rough landing. Are you in one piece, Master Jedi?”

Erithon eyed the Jedi as she took a moment to run her hands over her arms. During the unexpectedly frenzied flight and subsequent brutal landing, her hair had come partially loose from its plaits and now framed her face in silvery waves. The trooper started, suddenly realizing that the tactile memory of softness on his face was from when he’d grabbed the Jedi to protect her during the landing. Held her in his arms, his cheek pressed against her hair.

Erithon was flushed when Aitahea looked back up. “I’m uninjured,” she confirmed with a nod. “What about you?” As the Jedi stepped forward, a hand outstretched, Erithon quickly turned away and set about untangling his feet from the console’s nonfunctioning wires.

“Fine, fine,” he muttered, “just let me get out of this mess.”

Aitahea paused and pulled her hand back to herself, concerned. It wasn’t an unusual response to hide one’s injuries; she’d seen it frequently enough when deployed with other beings. Some feared the appearance of weakness, some even feared her Jedi “powers” when it came to their person. Under the circumstances, any injuries Erithon might want to hide could only slow them down and endanger them further, so Aitahea felt compelled to apprise his condition despite his protests.

Reaching out in the Force, she was relieved to find nothing but minor bumps and bruises, but something else caught her attention. Aitahea noticed a slender but strong thread of emotion running through his thoughts. It would have been barely noticeable, if it didn’t deal directly with Aitahea herself. She blinked, caught off guard, and found herself reaching up to smooth a hand over her hair, loosened from its usual braids during their escape. She hadn’t even realized it.

“Master Jedi?” Erithon asked, breaking Aitahea’s reverie. He had turned back, disentangled from the console’s damaged electronics, and was about to add an embarrassed chuckle when the whole shuttle juddered around them, settling onto the ice. Aitahea stumbled and Erithon reached out to catch her by the hand.

“You keep ending up in my arms like this, Master Jedi, and I’m going to start getting ideas,” Erithon jested, offering stability while Aitahea regained her footing. Their hands still clasped, an astonished Aitahea stared at the trooper, perplexed. Just a moment ago he’d been fighting to conceal this feeling from her, then immediately made light of the same.

Even more surprising was that she found herself smiling in response.

Erithon released the Jedi’s hands, almost reluctantly it seemed, and looked around the shuttle. “Well, I think we’ve about done this poor little ship in.” The interior lights shuddered relevantly and Erithon sighed. “We have a few hours until dawn and the temperatures get tolerable enough to travel. We shouldn’t be far from your speeder.”

“Understood,” Aitahea replied, nodding. “You need a chance to rest as well, and I can sense anyone who might attempt to approach in the meantime. I’ll keep watch.” The Jedi didn’t mention that she also wanted some quiet contemplation in which she could address the strange collection of emotions gathering inside her.

Erithon stifled a yawn with one hand and nodded his agreement. “Appreciate it, Master Jedi.” He moved to the cabin hatch and paused, looking as though he wanted to speak. After a moment, he merely smiled. “Thanks.”

“Of course, Major. Rest well,” Aitahea added. It wasn’t until well after Erithon had left the bridge that she began braiding her hair back into place.

Charmedseed's Avatar

10.10.2017 , 10:54 AM | #8
Chapter 4: I Believe It When You Say It

Isme knelt in silence, reaching through the darkness for power. It was near, so very near. But it was cold, and the search went slowly.

After slowing down her pursuers and abandoning the dead pirate, Isme had sought shelter from the freezing nighttime temperatures. A wampa’s den, once secured from its dangerous occupant, served well.

But there was scant time for rest. Isme knew that while she may have slowed down the Republic hunters who tracked her, they would not be stopped so easily. She needed to move swiftly.

So she sat, wrapped in the darkness of the Force, seeking her prey. She felt it, traces of dark power like ripples in a still pond. It felt like the final breath of air before losing consciousness, like the last trace of pain before losing all sensation to numbness. She sought echoes of control, the teachings of ancient Sith and powerful Rakata, blended into the perfect weapon.

The target of her search was not so far from where she knelt, but the depth was the issue. The ancient temple was buried deep, frozen solid perhaps. Isme let out a hissing breath and reached, striving to place herself – or at least her senses – in the buried temple.

Feeling rather than seeing, Isme noted that the massive central chamber was clear of ice. The air would be stale and freezing, but breathable. The dark side energy was palpable. Whether it was bizarre Rakata technology or the formidable spark of dark Force energy smoldering in the space she couldn’t tell. At least not from so far above. But her path would lead to this place and she would unlock its secrets, whatever it took.

The Sith girl broke contact and found herself slammed back into her own body, painfully cold and shivering. Swearing colorfully, she plunged her hands into the sleeves of her robe and used the Force to warm herself. Searching for the entrance to the submerged temple would have to wait until light and safer temperatures.

Apprentice Isme huddled closer to the form of the unconscious wampa, appreciating the warmth it provided. She allowed herself a slight smile, pleased that it hadn’t been necessary to kill the creature. It would have been a waste, and Isme despised being wasteful. It would sleep peacefully through the frozen night, dreaming of devouring tasty Republic soldiers and tauntauns.

So Isme smiled and closed her eyes, awaiting the dawn.

Aitahea was kept busy through the final hours of night by the death throes of the failing shuttle. She had rewired the heating systems twice, obliged to use schematics from the emergency kit to supplement her limited knowledge of life support systems. Despite her lack of experience regarding electronics, the shuttle remained warm enough to keep them safe and allow Erithon Zale a chance to rest.

The Jedi also passed several quiet moments in contemplation of the new ally she’d gained. He was a conscientious soldier and an affable fellow. Already she trusted him and was impressed with his ability to improvise; though to be frank, his sabacc skills needed improvement.

Despite her close relationship with her family, the Jedi had few personal relationships. She knew and appreciated many allies, teachers, and colleagues but rarely had she delved much deeper than a professional fellowship. She felt a sincere affection for the soldier that outpaced her usual regard when working with a partner.

Speaking of which… she sensed Erithon waking. The Jedi allowed herself a final moment to catalogue and set aside her thoughts. The sun would be rising in mere minutes, warming the icy planet to tolerable levels, and the companions would have to abandon the deteriorating shuttle and make for the Republic base. They had a mission to complete.

Yawning, Erithon entered the cockpit just as Aitahea was adding a few last items to her pack and closing the bag securely. Her pale hair was securely braided again, slender hands encased in gloves; the Jedi looked ready for travel.

“Good morning, Major,” Aitahea greeted, glancing up at Erithon with a brief but gentle smile. Despite keeping watch, she looked rested and serene. Erithon scrubbed a hand through his unkempt hair and returned the smile. Technically, he was ready as well – like all soldiers, he needed to be ready to deploy at a moment’s notice – but still a little rough around the edges.

“Did I miss any excitement?” While waiting for her answer, the trooper inspected the tiny shuttle galley panel, hoping against hope he’d still be able to get caf. They were in luck – the module still had power and a small stash of supplies. He set to making them both something hot to drink. They’d be thankful for it with the chilly journey ahead of them.

“No. We’re secure and not far from my speeder, as you expected. We should be able to reach Aurek base before midday if we hurry,” Aitahea replied. Securing the last buckle on her pack, she stood and regarded Erithon with quiet eyes.

Erithon felt a stab of regret at the idea of being surrounded with more people again. The hours with Aitahea had been enjoyable, despite the danger. He’d liked having her all to himself. Stars, he thought, you sound like a new recruit, fresh from the academy.

The caf dispenser beeped softly, and Erithon started. Reverie disrupted, he filled two mugs and offered one to Aitahea. She accepted the hot drink with a thankful nod.

“I have an idea of where our Sith quarry has gone,” Aitahea offered. “I sensed her last night. It was hard not to; her use of the Force was like a beacon.” The Jedi paused for a moment, eyes troubled, and took a sip of caf.

Erithon grimaced. “I’m going to guess not the kind of beacon you really want to see. Or feel, I guess.” He drained his cup and dropped it into the galley recycler. “But it’s still good news. We can move to find her quickly.”

Aitahea nodded before handing her half-full cup back to the trooper. “We just need to report to the base and gather supplies; then we can go after her.” She punctuated her statement with a grim look. “She’s got quite the head start on us, and I’m nearly certain she’s the one who orchestrated the attack on your shuttle, without a doubt to slow our pursuit.”

A spike of rage pierced the relative serenity of the Force between them, and Erithon turned away from the Jedi quickly, sealing the caf station with trembling hands. Aitahea had anticipated this reaction and reached out to touch Erithon’s arm, touching her fingertips delicately to the cool plasteel of his armor. He allowed it, hands pressed against the compartment doors, and took a deep breath before replying.

“So she’s responsible for Garret’s death,” he seethed. His helpless fury grated against her empathic senses, but she pushed the discomfort aside and tried to offer a sense of peace. She abruptly found herself wishing that she could embrace him, anything to draw him away from this dark wrath. Instead, she leaned forward to speak quietly over his shoulder.

“She will find justice,” Aitahea murmured, and Erithon relaxed a fraction. Taking a deep breath, he reached to cover her hand with his own and offered a wan smile over his shoulder.

“Thanks, Master Jedi.” Erithon turned, catching Aitahea’s left hand in both of his and closing the distance between them. The Jedi’s pulse quickened, but Erithon didn’t seem to notice. “Somehow I believe it when you say it.”

How does she do it? Erithon wondered, gazing into the earnest eyes of the Jedi whose hand he clasped. Was it a Jedi thing, making everything okay again with a word and a touch? Or was it just her, just Aitahea?

An unexpected wash of light passed over Aitahea’s face, and she turned away to shield her eyes. Suddenly self-conscious, Erithon dropped her hand before stepping back and clearing his throat awkwardly. “Hey, sunrise,” he muttered, glancing out the viewscreen. “Well, I better get prepped so we can get going. I’m gonna go do that. Yeah.”

Aitahea watched him retreat from the bridge with a pensive expression. Something is at work here, but what? she thought, studying the closed door of the passenger compartment. Turning back to the viewscreen, Aitahea shaded her eyes while she looked at the glittering sunrise, the brightness at odds with the dark path they were set to follow.

Charmedseed's Avatar

11.06.2017 , 11:12 PM | #9
Chapter 5: A Stupid Question

They left the demolished shuttle thirty minutes later, protected against the freezing air by additional layers of gear, and made for Aitahea’s abandoned speeder. The consular glanced at the wrecked ship as they walked away, feeling a new sense of appreciation for Erithon’s piloting skills. Judging by the shape – literally – of the shuttle, neither of them should have survived that crash, let alone the first one that Erithon had weathered alone.

The added gear made the brief journey back to Aitahea's speeder significantly more comfortable. Both were relieved to have the cold weather suits they wore beneath their respective uniforms, as well as the helmets and mufflers that offered more protection for their faces. A direct comlink between the two helmets allowed them to speak easily, if not exactly clearly.

Night's passing had left the speeder none the worse for wear, and it sputtered to a reluctant start when Erithon activated the engine. “Ready to go?” he asked, voice laced with static from the connection.

“I am. You should drive,” Aitahea added, securing their last few supplies to the rear of the vehicle. “I suspect you’re the better pilot, Major.”

Erithon's laughter crackled in her ears. “Well, thanks. I'm not sure last night's trip qualifies as proof, but I'll take what I can get.” The trooper climbed onto the speeder and adjusted a few settings before turning around and patting the space behind him. Aitahea caught a cheeky grin through his visor and broke into a smile of her own.

She mounted the vehicle quickly, settling her boots onto the footboard securely before reaching for Erithon. Aitahea hesitated for an instant before grasping tightly to his armored waist. Erithon was unusually silent as they started off toward the Republic base.

“Master Jedi?” the trooper broke in a few moments later. Aitahea started and had to readjust her grip.


“So... is it true Jedi can read thoughts?”

Aitahea couldn't help the laugh that pealed into the comm. It took her another moment to gather her wits and her breath before answering. “That's a complex question, Major.” She felt rather than saw him blanch, then redden again with embarrassment. “It's a gift some possess, but it is generally only used with permission or in extraordinarily dire circumstances.”

“But you’re an empath, right? Your, uh, superpower is reading minds?”

This set Aitahea laughing again, a sound which marginally eased Erithon’s nervousness. “Not precisely. I have a natural ability to sense moods and emotions, but I expend more effort in shielding myself. Many Jedi learn these skills to a small extent; most can perceive living creatures through their presence in the Force. I can also observe and influence thoughts and feelings - reading minds, as you say - but I only do as a last resort.

“I’m not reading your thoughts, Major, if that’s what you’re asking.”

Aitahea heard a self-conscious chuckle come through the comm. “Yeah, I guess so. I don’t really know a lot about the Jedi, and I figure asking a stupid question is better than jumping to an even more stupid conclusion.”

On a sudden impulse, Aitahea leaned her helmeted head forward, resting her forehead against the trooper’s armored back, and closed her eyes. “Thank you, Major. That’s a kindness I haven’t often been afforded.”

Since the Sacking of Coruscant, the Jedi Order had struggled to rebuild not only their numbers but also their relationship to the galaxy. Nevertheless, this endeavor didn’t stop people from remembering – or blaming the Jedi for – the hardships of the Imperial attack and occupation. Aitahea and her contemporaries were both revered and doubted in equal parts on many worlds. Erithon’s generous trust and innocent questioning touched a poorly healed wound in her heart. It soothed and stung all at once, leaving Aitahea puzzled and striving to disentangle the bewildering reaction.

“Oh, and… it’s Erithon. Just Erithon. You know, titles like that with just the two of us, kinda pointless.”

“Erithon. Thank you.”


The remaining flight back to Aurek Base was uneventful, and the handful of techs and soldiers waiting for them at the entrance cheered when the Jedi and the trooper arrived safely. Erithon was grinning and clapped Aitahea companionably on the shoulder after dismounting the speeder. The Jedi laughed cheerfully, much to the surprise of their curious onlookers.

The commander rushed into the hangar to meet with them, pulling on a thick coat as he came in. He welcomed Erithon with a handshake and bowed politely to Aitahea. The base had fared well in their absence. The initial rescue team sent prior to the Jedi’s arrival had been able to be recalled within hours due to Aitahea’s quick access to the downed shuttle. The commander looked especially grateful when Erithon mentioned that they’d almost been ambushed by pirates overnight.

“Commander, the shuttle is in a safe place now, and someone should be sent to recover the body of the pilot,” Aitahea added gently. Erithon nodded in agreement.

“Thank you, Master Jedi, I’ll be sure it’s done as soon as possible. We’ll be checking out the pirate activity in the area as well, based on your report. Speaking of reports, Major - ” The commander glanced apologetically at Erithon, who grimaced but nodded.

“Yes, sir. I’ll need to talk to the quartermaster about another speeder and additional supplies, too. We need get back on the move as soon as we can,” the trooper explained. “Our quarry is still out there.”

The commander shook his head. “It won’t be for at least a day, Major. There’s another massive weather system coming in. Unless it changes course unexpectedly, we’ll be shutting everything down for at least the next twelve standard hours. Which should have been done yesterday. It was a mistake, and you paid for it.”

Erithon’s expression hardened. “With all due respect, sir, I paid very little compared to the shuttle pilot.”

Even without the Force, Aitahea could sense the tension between the men growing. Her eyes flickered between the two officers before she cleared her throat meaningfully. “Forgive me for interrupting, Commander, but we need to leave as soon as possible. The Sith may be making progress even now,” Aitahea insisted, expression grave. The commander shrugged sympathetically.

“There’s nothing to be done for it, Master Jedi, I’m sorry. Take the time to rest and recover. I’ve arranged private quarters for you. Just wait it out with the rest of us,” he finished, turning away. “I’ll leave you to your work.”

Aitahea nodded cautiously and Erithon let out a long breath, watching the commander walk away. The consular touched his arm and offered an encouraging smile. “It’s not ideal, Major, but we’ll make do. Come, show me what we need to do next.”


Several hours and pages of paperwork later, Erithon tracked Aitahea to the stateroom she’d been issued. Finding the door open, he knocked politely on the threshold frame to let the Jedi know he was there. Aitahea turned from the datapad she was working on and waved the trooper into the private quarters.

Erithon had left his armor in the barracks with the rest of his gear, now swathed in an overstuffed jacket that helped to ward off the chill inside Aurek Base. It was by far better than outside, but he still felt like the cold would be settled in his bones forever. Then Aitahea smiled at him, and he filled with warmth.

“I’ve been updating the Jedi Council on our progress, as well as searching the archives for any additional information about Rakata influence on Hoth,” she explained, offering Erithon one of the utilitarian chairs that occupied the room.

“I’ve got the supplies we’ll need, along with two speeders this time,” Erithon replied with a chuckle, hiding the twinge of disappointment he felt about flying solo despite the practical need for the gear. “Did you find anything useful?”

The consular shook her head and passed the datapad to Erithon. “Only a little. It could perhaps help us if she finds the location of the artifact first, but none of it will help us to track the apprentice herself more efficiently right now.” Aitahea crossed her arms and paced aimlessly, face drawn.

“So what am I looking at here?” Erithon scanned the datapad. “I knew the prisons on Belsavis were related to the Rakata, but I can’t say I know much about them otherwise.”

Aitahea blew out a long breath. “The Rakata had control of the galaxy long before the Republic was established. It’s a long, terrifying story.

“The Rakata were a bloodthirsty, cruel race of Force-sensitive beings. Nearly thirty thousand standard years ago, they built what they called the Infinite Empire, stripping planets of resources and enslaving the inhabitants. Echoes of their occupations remain on almost every planet, hidden dangers and mysterious technologies, all of them powered by the dark side of the Force. They taught the Sith the art of creating holocrons, a technology that even we Jedi now use.”

“Did they know about the Jedi?”

Aitahea shook her head. “Our order was still in its infancy during that time. We were learning to understand and seek balance in the Force on Tython. Our history tells of just one encounter, but Tython was protected by the Deep Core, just as it is now. Grand Master Satele Shan only rediscovered the planet after much searching after the Sacking of Coruscant.”

“So what happened to the Rakata?”

Aitahea smiled ruefully. “Their conquest of the galaxy was nearly complete when power struggles and discord started to fracture their society. It’s believed they instrumented their own demise in developing more and more virulent weapons and eventually a plague that decimated their populations.

“That was the beginning of the end. The enslaved beings began to rise up - even the Sith fought against their control - and they eventually lost their connection to the Force.” The Jedi shuddered, clearly unnerved by the very idea. “As the sentients they had subjugated took their planets back they destroyed what was left of the Rakata technology, but much still remains. Rumors start to circulate, and it’s become a race to see what is truly there, if anything. Sometimes the discovery is accidental, like the Imprisoned One on Tatooine.”

“That thing Czerka found?”

“Yes. We were fortunate the Republic could recover it before the Empire, or who knows what may have resulted. Even so, it’s only one of the pieces of technology that utilizes the dark side. We have no idea what else may be out there. There are entire groups of Jedi who study and search for these artifacts, simply to keep them out of the hands of the Sith.”

“Wow. No wonder we worked so hard to keep a hold on Belsavis.”

“Yes. Belsavis is one of the few places where Rakata technology – and prisoners – are concentrated. Even their worst enemy, the Esh-kha, were placed in stasis there until the prison systems deteriorated enough to allow for their escape.”

“That’s a good history lesson on dead civilizations – thank you – but what about now? What do we do about that Sith apprentice?” Erithon reined back the anger that accompanied thoughts of their quarry.

Aitahea paced the small room a few times before answering, fingers steepled against her lips in deliberation. “I can track her through the Force, but it’s risky,” she replied. “It gives away our position, though being here at Aurek generally guarantees our safety. One Sith apprentice isn’t a match for an entire Republic base. Besides that, unless we’re in her way I suspect we aren’t of interest.”

“I should hope not,” Erithon quipped, eliciting a minute smile from the Jedi. “Does it cause any other problems?”

“Not specifically. Connecting with another Force sensitive is always uncertain, and dark side users pose unexpected threats,” she explained, fingers dropping to reflexively brush the hilt of her lightsaber, secure at her hip as always. “It isn’t the same as facing one in person.”

The trooper set aside the datapad and stood, opening his hands. “Anything I can do?”

Aitahea turned gazed at Erithon for a long moment, face expressionless. The trooper struggled against the desire to fidget or crack a joke, his usual go-to in uncomfortable circumstances. This was business. His partner needed help, and his job was to be there for her.

And beyond that, he wanted to protect her. The thought was laughable, a grunt like him guarding a Jedi Master, a woman whose skill and power he could barely comprehend. But that was what he did, who he was: a soldier, protecting what virtue and justice was left in the galaxy.


Erithon started, jerked out of his reverie by her response. The Jedi was smiling quietly at him, gratitude shining in her eyes. “Oh,” he stammered, recovering. “What?”

Aitahea stepped back, finding the center of the room, and motioned for Erithon to sit again. He obliged, giving her his full attention. “Just stay,” she proposed. “Watch over me, in case something unexpected happens.”

“Done,” he agreed without hesitation, watching as she slipped off her gloves and stowed them on her belt. He noticed her hands trembling but didn’t say anything.

“This shouldn’t take more than thirty minutes, depending on how far away she is and how well she shields herself.” She raised a hand towards the door controls and the portal hissed closed, locking with a soft click. “It’ll be easier if we aren’t disturbed,” she added when the trooper raised an eyebrow. The Jedi gave him a last uneasy smile; he returned a confident nod.

Erithon watched with interest while Aitahea knelt, robe flaring around her, and settled into a meditative position. Eyes slipping closed, she clasped her hands on her lap and exhaled steadily. Her expression was beatific, displaying a remarkable focus, and even the Force-blind trooper could sense a subtle change of the energy in the room.

Long moments passed as Aitahea remained immersed in her meditations. Erithon leaned his elbows on his knees and examined the Jedi’s serene face. It wasn’t like she was dreaming; her eyes didn’t move beneath the closed lids. Erithon even thought he could detect a shimmer in the air around the Jedi, more visible in his peripheral vision than straight on.

The trooper became restless as more minutes passed and vacated his seat, glancing regularly at Aitahea while he paced. Her expression had changed subtly; brows drawn together and lips pursed. Her posture stiffened abruptly, and Erithon dropped to one knee next to her.

“Jedi? Aitahea?” he breathed. He didn’t dare touch her, afraid the contact might disturb her further and cause irreparable harm. Helpless, he watched while her head dipped and her hands clenched.

Unexpectedly, Aitahea’s eyes flew open and she staggered precariously to her feet. Erithon followed her up, hovering a hand just under one of the Jedi’s elbows. Aitahea took a deep breath and touched her fingertips to her forehead.

“I found her, but she was… expecting me, apparently.” Aitahea dropped her hand. Her gaze slid anxiously around the room, looking for something she couldn’t seem to find. “She isn’t far. We should move quickly.”

“Are you sure? You don’t seem quite yourself yet. Besides, command says there’s a storm coming? Remember?” Erithon questioned, searching her face carefully. “Everything is shutting down. We won’t be able to travel until tomorrow at least.” The Jedi was ashen and her eyes unfocused. The seemingly endless moments of meditation had diminished something in the peaceful consular. What had the Sith done to her?

She shook her head, dispelling the vacant expression. “No, you’re right, Major. Erithon. If a storm is moving in, she won’t be able to progress either.” The Jedi’s expression suddenly hardened, a determined look stealing into her weary eyes. “We won’t lose her.”

Aitahea tried to step away but stumbled instead, pitching forward with a soft cry. Erithon, ready and waiting, caught her and lowered them both to their knees. Keeping one arm securely around her waist, he cupped her face with the other hand, examining her exhausted countenance.

“I’m fine,” she murmured, but nevertheless leaned into his hold, eyes slipping shut.

“Like blazes you are,” Erithon growled, shifting their position to deftly lift her up. The motion elicited a faint moan from Aitahea, but she didn’t protest further. She felt slight and fragile in his arms.

The small stateroom had a bunk, and Erithon carried the fatigued Jedi to it and settling her gently onto the cushion. He thought for a moment about calling for one of the medics, but a glance at the locked door changed his mind. Instead, he studied Aitahea’s face again, watching for any other signs of illness.

She was paler than usual, long lashes starkly black against her cheeks. But her breathing was calm, and when he checked her pulse it was only slightly elevated and rapidly returning to normal. He had a fairly solid knowledge of field medicine, and without the opinion of another Force sensitive, what the Jedi seemed to need more than anything was rest.

“Erithon,” she breathed softly, surprising the trooper. Aitahea lifted a slender hand, and Erithon quickly pressed it between his own, clasping her chilled fingers. She blinked wearily, eyes opening briefly as she offered a weak smile. “Stay.”

“Of course, Master Jedi,” he whispered, watching as her eyes drifted shut again. He wondered again at what it must have taken to incapacitate this formidable woman, one who could drop from a cliff face with little hesitation. Yet even with all her apparent strength gone, it seemed like he could still see the depth of power she had. Impulsively, he reached up with one hand to brush his thumb gently along her cheek.

“No,” she murmured, and Erithon froze, heart in his throat. He cursed inwardly, berating himself for not just letting her rest, daring to give into the temptation to touch her face.

“Master Jedi, I–”

“No,” she repeated, quieter now, lashes fluttering briefly before settling once again. Erithon didn’t dare to breathe.

“Just… Aitahea.”

Thanks all! Please feel free to leave comments and/or feedback. I'm so grateful.

Charmedseed's Avatar

12.01.2017 , 01:49 PM | #10
Chapter 6: One Memory

[AN: haha, so the website is censoring some words needlessly. Oops. Also please forgive the lack of italics in proper places.]

“It’s, um, a wampa? Wearing a dress!” Isme rolled onto her back, shaking with laughter at the ridiculous vision her friend had shared. The other girl giggled and grabbed Isme’s hands, pulling her back to a sitting position.

“I thought it was pretty funny! Your turn!” the girl encouraged, focusing on Isme’s face. Isme grinned and swiped her chestnut hair away from her eyes, concentrating.

Her companion pursed her lips and narrowed her eyes, fighting to focus. The pair had created a game, taking turns projecting and reading the most humorous images the other could conjure.

Isme’s friend tilted her head, considering. “Master Faron?”

“Yes, but…” Isme giggled and redoubled her efforts.

“With- with a green beard!” the other girl laughed hysterically, clapping her hands with delight.

"Don't tell!" Isme warned playfully, tugging at her friend's thick ashen braid.

The other child giggled and patted her hair. "Master Faron would think it was funny, too," she grinned mischievously, "but I won't tell. Promise."

Isme smiled gratefully and reached forward to hug the other girl, who returned the embrace. For the first time in months, Isme felt welcome and valued, warm and safe. It was due to Master Faron and her new friends at the Jedi Temple, especially this girl. Her newest companion seemed to understand her better than anyone.

Though she was well behind the other Initiates in their clan, Isme had nonetheless demonstrated a powerful connection to the Force and a determined spirit. Being an orphan on Dantooine remained her secret; her memories of scrambling for her very existence until the Jedi rescued her were painful and frightening. She was endlessly grateful to have been pulled from the wreckage of the besieged world, but months later she still suffered nightmares and harbored fears of abandonment. The terrors had only recently begun to abate, after spending time with her new friend. Isme was unspeakably thankful.

She scooted to her friend's side and flopped onto her back, arms behind her head, and gazed at the dazzling ceiling of the Room of a Thousand Fountains, the picturesque gardens at the center of the Jedi Temple. The other girl copied her motion, landing with a hiccup and a giggle. They relaxed this way for a few moments, watching through the high greenhouse windows as speeders zipped this way and that against the blue of Coruscant’s sky.

"Here, Isme, I have another one for you," the other girl said, grabbing her friend's hand. Isme laced their fingers together, overwhelmed with a sudden effervescent joy. "It isn't exactly funny, but it makes me happy."

An image of a golden-haired toddler filled Isme’s mind, the youngling giggling uncontrollably, plump arms and legs waving wildly. Isme laughed in response.

"I don't know, I think that's pretty funny, too!"

The other girl kicked her heels in delight. "That's my little sister. I get to go see her tomorrow, and my mother and father."

Isme started, surprised at the admission. "Wow, really? I didn't think anyone was allowed to do that."

Her companion shrugged. "I'm lucky, I guess. They live here on Coruscant, too, and Master Faron thinks it’s okay." The girl rolled to face Isme, her head supported on one hand. "What about your family?"

Self-conscious and uncomfortable, Isme looked away before whispering her reply. "They're gone."

The silver-haired girl sat up suddenly, her hands at her mouth. "Oh, Isme! I'm sorry. I didn't know."

Isme remained on the soft grass, eyes faraway. "It's okay. I didn't really tell anyone. But I don't mind if you know."

“Do you remember them?”

The question startled Isme. In the time she’d spent sc****** by day-to-day for her very existence, she’d never had time for reflection, for remembrance. The fact that Jedi spent much of their time doing just that was still new to her, and she struggled with those exercises. But…

“I have one memory.” Isme sat up and reached for her friend’s hand, bowing her head to concentrate. The image took a while to materialize, but once it did it was vivid and brilliantly detailed.

It was Isme herself, a few years younger, being twirled about by a young man barely into his teens. They shared the same auburn hair, the same dark eyes. Isme was laughing with delight, and her happiness was echoed in the boy’s handsome smile. Their affection was palpable, and Isme allowed the vision to fade with a twinge of regret.

“Who was that?” her companion asked, genuinely curious.

“My brother, Tallis,” Isme replied, fidgeting with the hem of her tunic. “He was a lot older than me, but he took care of me.” She found herself fighting back tears, tears she’d so rarely had the chance to shed for her lost loved ones.

“Oh, Isme!” the other girl cried, sweeping her arms around the smaller girl. Isme sniffled and dragged a sleeve across her eyes, trying to hide the evidence of her weeping. “Hey, I have an idea. Why don’t we see if you can come with me to see my family? I don’t know what Master Faron will say, but it can’t hurt to ask, right?”

Isme blinked rapidly, shocked by the generosity of the invitation. “Are you sure?”

“Of course!” the girl replied, nodding enthusiastically. “It’s actually a celebration for my mother, a big party and speeches and everything! She’s a teacher, and they’re giving her an award for taking care of her school. She’s really nice, you’ll like -”

The apprentice jerked violently back into consciousness, suddenly and painfully aware of the howling wind at her back. There was a storm moving in, and she’d be in peril if she didn’t find cover immediately. The speeder she’d taken wouldn’t be able to outrace the storm, so she was trapped right where she was.

Fortunately, Isme’s encounter with the distant Jedi had left her so furious that drawing enough power to create a reasonable shelter would be easy. Wrenching herself to her feet and ignoring her screaming muscles, she raised her hands and unleashed a torrent of Force lightning that tore away the ice before her, leaving a sizable crater. The debris hung suspended in the biting wind.

Stalking around the beginning of her shelter, Isme clenched both hands into fists, guiding the frozen shards to create a dome that would shield her from the biting winds. For additional insulation, she piled more snow and ice atop the dome with a sweep of her hands. Drained but satisfied, she secured her speeder and brought her supplies into the makeshift shelter, sealing the opening with a twitch of her fingers.

Isme’s exhaustion came with a sense of morbid pleasure, however, recalling that she’d been able to repel the foolish Jedi’s efforts at tracking her. Physical distance meant little in terms of the power of the Force, and when Isme had sensed the seeking presence of the Jedi, she’d lashed out in full strength, attempting to drive her away, even cripple her.

She’d succeeded in shaking her pursuer, but not without taking a toll on herself. The Jedi and Sith had struggled for endless moments, the Jedi somehow able to resist Isme’s attacks, a powerful barrier in place between them. Isme had almost been impressed, until she’d found the cracks in the Jedi’s armor: doubt, worry, impatience. Fury fueling her vicious assault, Isme had driven at those weak points until the Jedi’s protection shattered.

It was certainly satisfying, but Isme had drawn too heavily on the Force, flinging herself into darkness in the same moment she had rebuffed the Jedi for good. She’d had a strange dream she could barely recall; echoes of her history threatened to break through the carefully constructed prison she’d created for them.

“Blast her!” Isme snarled, lightning crackling at her fingertips until she closed her hand in a fist. No, she thought, not now. No point in wasting her last trace of energy on thoughts of the obstinate Jedi now. Soon, she told herself, reserving her power for when she could eliminate her pursuers and be assured she would no longer be hindered.

When Aitahea opened her eyes, she was unsurprised to find Erithon next to her, slumped on the floor of the stateroom and leaning awkwardly against the bunk that Aitahea occupied. She remembered sensing the comfort of his presence throughout the night, reassuring and safe.

Erithon had curled his arm around Aitahea’s head, fingers brushing her opposite shoulder, and he’d apparently finally fallen asleep with his own head next to hers on the cot. Their foreheads were just barely touching, and though Aitahea mused that he couldn’t possibly be comfortable, he slept peacefully.

Remaining still so as not to disturb him, the Jedi closed her eyes again and reached out in the Force. Aurek was still and calm around them, most of the other occupants taking the rare opportunity to rest or relax, but beyond the walls, the storm continued to rage. They would be confined at the base for some time before the weather would clear and provide them safe passage to track the Sith apprentice.

Aitahea drew her observation close again, Erithon’s restful company soothing her frustration. This intimacy was so rare for her, but Aitahea found herself savoring it, much to her surprise. His breath brushed her cheek, and she failed to suppress a sigh of contentment.

Alerted by her soft exhalation, Erithon shifted. Aitahea hastily pulled away, face suddenly hot. The trooper groaned and sat up, scrubbing a hand over his eyes.

“You slept well, I trust?” Aitahea asked casually, swinging her legs over the side of the bunk. Erithon squinted up at her out of one eye.

“Is that what you call it?” he grunted, shaking his head and shifting to a sitting position. She abruptly realized that his armor was gone, although they both still wore the necessary cold weather layer under their clothes. “What about you?”

“Well rested.” She smiled self-consciously as Erithon scrutinized her face. “And grateful for your help.”

“No problem.” Wincing, Erithon leaned forward to place his arms on his knees. “Do you remember what happened?”

Aitahea paused to sift through the hazy memories of the evening before, her search for the Sith apprentice and her resulting reaction. “Vaguely. I found the apprentice, but she rebuffed me. Rather aggressively,” she added dryly. “But I have a connection to her now; she’ll be easier to track. I don’t think she realized the contact would result in that.”

“You seemed pretty beat after you came out of it,” Erithon replied, “Had me worried there for a minute.”

The Jedi nodded, lips pressed into a tight line. “I apologize for troubling you; I didn’t anticipate her reaction. In truth, I was hoping to track her without her noticing, but she’s quite strong.”

“I got that. How do you feel now?”

“I’m much improved, thank you,” she replied, nodding positively. “Rest was what I needed most; thank you for making sure I got it.”

Erithon nodded, winced, and put a hand on the back of his neck. “Ow… you’re welcome,” he grunted.

“Oh dear,” Aitahea sighed, moving to kneel in front of her companion. “It seems you didn’t get the same quality of rest that I did.” Erithon attempted to shrug but the movement just elicited another groan of discomfort.

“Don’t worry about me, I’ve slept worse,” he joked, surprising Aitahea once again with that charming grin. “Compared to some places out in the field, this is a palace.”

“Nonsense,” Aitahea protested. “I can help. It’s the least I can do.”

Erithon shrugged again, flinching with the motion. “I’m not about to turn anything down. Go for it.”

“Try to relax a little,” Aitahea insisted, reaching up with gentle hands. With her right, she placed two fingers at Erithon’s temple. Her left curled softly around the back of his neck, hoping he wouldn’t notice her trembling fingers.

Aitahea couldn’t help but be aware of Erithon’s surge in attraction, his pleasure at her touch – nor could she deny her own similar response. She swallowed hard, stilling her emotions and focusing on the effort of healing. Closing her eyes, she reached into the Force for strength and tranquility, conducting the energy through her hands to ease stiff muscles and soothe any soreness away. Her efforts warmed them both, and she felt Erithon’s rigid posture gradually easing into comfort.

Erithon sighed peacefully and reached up to catch the hand she had pressed to his temple. Her eyes opened at the touch. Aitahea’s fingers tightened on the back of his neck, her pulse quickening.

Their eyes met, and Aitahea sensed that he felt the same startling mix of longing and uncertainty that she did. Erithon’s gaze was ardent and inquisitive; he continued to cradle her hand next to his cheek, waiting for her response. She remained frozen in that endless moment, her carefully composed demeanor fracturing under the unexpected attention.

Aitahea gathered her wits and stood swiftly, pulling her hands away to clasp them serenely at her waist, once again all Jedi harmony and tranquility. He followed her up, casting his eyes to the side in chagrin.

“Well then. Are you feeling better?” The Jedi showed no indication of her earlier hesitation, lifting her face to offer a neutral smile to her companion.

Erithon shrugged experimentally. “Yeah, a lot better actually. Thank you.” He paused, glancing to the locked entrance, before continuing. “But, Aitahea, I–”

“Excellent,” she interrupted brusquely. “I need to contact the council and inform them of our discovery about the apprentice. We can talk later.” She strode purposefully to the room controls and unlocked the door before allowing it to swish soundlessly open.

Reluctant but compliant, Erithon walked through the entry, casting an apologetic glance at the Jedi as he passed. He didn’t seem to notice her white-knuckled grip on the doorframe.

“Later, then,” Erithon muttered, and closed the door using the exterior controls, disappearing from sight.

Aitahea, suddenly and distinctly grateful for the solitude, closed her eyes and hung her head with a sigh. There is no emotion indeed, she thought with a measure of puzzling exasperation, and moved to retrieve her datapad. She had work to do.