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It Cannot Be Helped

AlyxDinas's Avatar

01.01.2012 , 06:13 AM | #1
Author's Notes: This project was started before the forum wipe and I'm very glad to be resuming it. It is also my pleasure to have this work be part of the Forged continuity. It features, with permission, the character Verra So'Quan from Gestahlt's work The Barely Legal Jedi.

Please enjoy! Constructive feedback is appreciated!

The Girl stands within an immeasurable emptiness. Uninhibited by the petty trappings of both time and space, the Girl cannot tell where she ends and it begins; her body inseparable from the achromatic abyss about her. She stands no more distinctly from the space around her than a wave can be said to break free from the ocean it was born in. For the Void is just that: a sea, and the Girl is little more than a single drop. She knows this place well. It is her home. It is her. She smiles, wistfully recalling the fear that once defined her time here. She is far beyond that now.

In the past, she would have raged desperately against an indefatigable riptide before sinking into the cold mire of the Void. Now, the Girl floats within a warm current. She does not struggle. She does nothing. The Void does everything. She knows that "they" will be here soon. Without fail, they always arrive to perform their pantomime. It always occurs at the same pace, unfolding with the synchronized efficiency of a labor droid's programmed routine.

The Girl blinks. They arrive. There is no grand entrance or triumphant fanfare to herald their arrival. The Girl blinks and they arrive. She is surrounded by a wall of shadowy figures, wispy imitations of life. They drift within the Void like oil within water, encircling the Girl in a hastily made corral. From their midst, a single ghostly form steps forward, pausing in front of the Girl. The Ghost holds a weapon in its hand: an ersatz replication of a sword.

Suddenly, the Girl is holding one as well. She feels the barely perceivable change of weight as the shadowy duplication assumes its assigned place in her hand. Instinctively, she places her other hand on the weapon's grip, holding it directly before her and assuming a diplomatic stance. The Ghost gives a small flourish with its weapon, circling it and leaving the blade pointed down. It is the stance of a duelist: weapon in its right hand, left arm tucked behind the back, feet shoulder length apart. The Ghost exhibits all the poise of a trained dancer. The Girl stands her ground. She is not afraid.

The two face each other, waiting. Neither moves. She does not know why but the Girl is determined to stand her ground. She is compelled, destined even, to wait. To respond. She does not wait long. The Ghost lurches forward, taking a miniature hyperspace jump towards her. It takes a sweeping cut at the Girl's stomach. She parries, swinging her weapon inward across her left side in a quick parry. Their blades clash, sending a wail of thunderous sound through the Void.

Eager to riposte, the Girl twist her weapon down towards her opponent's legs. This action is answered with astounding ease, her ethereal adversary doing little more than loosening its grip on its weapon and letting the blade fall down into a smooth block. The Girl shoves the obstruction of out the way and brings her own sword up, rushing inwards and offering a swift stab towards the Ghost's head. A hint of sadness fills her heart as she mentally prepares for the fight's end.

Her opponent answers her attack, blocking upwards. Instantly, the Girl rebukes this, twirling her sword in a semicircular motion around her enemy's weapon. Her body acts without her willing it and yet she immediately understand the motion. It is a sun djem, a move of disarming. The motion brings the Ghost's blade down and she prepares to follow through. To drive the Ghost's blade out of its hands. She does not get the chance. Her opponent brings their free arm up and lays a devastating blow to the Girl's jaw. The world around her spins and she tumbles backwards.

A sudden numbness shoots through her body. Her mind becomes sluggish. Confusion grips her heart in a vice. What was happening? The Girl feels ill, a creeping weakness coursing in her veins. Had the Ghost done this, and without striking her with its weapon? She does not want to believe it even as she accepts that she has lost. The Girl teeters backwards and falls into the Void. In her mind, she struggles to find a meaning. The message that the Ghost and its silent collaborators meant to tell her. She finds nothing.

Descending deeper and deeper into the depths of the Void, she knows only one thing for certain: it is time to wake up.

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01.02.2012 , 03:55 PM | #2
Zahira Talu-Song awoke with a shout as all the self-composure that she had felt in the dream world was immediately torn from her during the abrupt transition from the Void and back to reality. Her panicked yelp echoed through the high ceilings of the classroom. Yet, all she could hear was the pounding of her heart; it boomed within her chest, the sound of its blaring alarum rising up and saturating her eardrums with noise.

Initiate Talu-Song? Zahira?

Somewhere, within the clamor of her own mind, a voice was calling out to her. Tranquil and serene, it seems to be coming from within, filling Zahira up with calm and slowly drawing her back to her senses. It was as if the voice was exerting influence over her emotions, extinguishing her terror and replacing it with clarity. The classroom around her drew back into view, the din in her ears subsided, and she was suddenly aware that everyone's eyes were focused solely on her. Heat rose to Zahira's cheeks, mixing with her naturally green skin. Her eyes darted about, trying desperately to find any angle that did not connect her eyes with any of her fellow students.

"Initiate Talu-Song, are you alright?" a woman's voice called out to her, edged with concern. Jedi Master Lyn Orus stood at the front of the class besides a holoprojected diagram of a chiral molecule, which the Xenobiology teacher had been using to explain the internal processes of species with dextro-amino acid based biology (which was about as exciting as it sounds) before Zahira had fallen asleep. The Jedi Master's face, with its pointed features and stark eyes hidden beneath wisps of sagacious gray hair, was the model of wisdom. However, any apparent sternness was overruled by the care of her voice.

Apprehensively, Zahira rose from her seat and stood before the class. She wondered for a moment which was stronger: her embarrassment or the Force itself. She took a moment to find her voice. "Please forgive me, Master Orus." she said. "I must ask your permission to excuse myself from the lesson."

Master Orus paused for a moment and in that briefest of seconds, Zahira feared that she had offended her teacher. However, the august Jedi Master merely gave a knowing nod. "Permission granted, Initiate Talu-Song." she answered.

Briskly, Zahira made her way to the classroom door, still aware of the the ever present stare of her peers. She stopped for a moment, offering a curt bow towards Master Orus before demurring out into the hallway. She eased her way down the corridor towards the temple's main entrance hall, her footsteps clomping against the cold crag of the stone floors.

Stepping into the grand entrance hall, Zahira was greeted by a crowd of of students streaming towards the general announcements board. She kept her gaze down, gliding through the multitudes and ignoring whatever excitement it was that had captured their attention. She passed through the wide arched entrance to the Educational Center and out into the lush wilderness of Tython.

The expansive green grounds of the Jedi Enclave, with its cool clean air, was a marked change from the Temple on Coruscant where Zahira had spent most of her Jedi training. The high skyscrapers of the city were replaced with tall great trees and the lifeless durasteel platforms were supplanted by wide fields of budding grass. As Zahira walked around the Enclave gardens, she could not help but be amazed at the contrast.

It wasn't that she didn't feel a connection to the now ruined Jedi Temple of Coruscant, it was simply that Tython was something so vastly different that she could not help but find it refreshing. In fact, when Jedi Master Satele Shan had discovered the world and it came time for the initial handful of Jedi and students to transfer to their new home, Zahira was amongst the first to volunteer, eager to aid in the maintenance of the new Jedi Library's archives.

The planet had an energy to it that Coruscant did not. It was vibrant but not in the same way that the city was. The energy was more natural, soothing, and held an odd edge of charisma to it that bordered on the seductive. And nowhere could she feel it more than at the banks of the garden's reflecting ponds. Zahira stood at the water's edge, wanting to look into the pool and perhaps catch a glimpse of a dartfish or silver-backed scalefish. All she could see, however, was her own reflection.

The young Mirialan's emerald face stared back at her, rounded and full of youth. Thin lips and eyebrows made her face look small. Perched above her nose, a pair of wide eyes gawked at her through the water.

They were full of a despondent melancholy that took Zahira aback. She drew forward, examining herself more closely. Her eyes were drawn to the facial tattoos that hung upon her cheeks, which she had added years ago once she had graduated further in her Initiate training. It was a Mirialan custom and although her emotional connection to her people was tenuous at best, she thought it proper to carry on their traditions. Such was the reason that her head was covered in a priestess headpiece. She had started cutting her hair short around the same time she gave herself her first pair of tattoos as a means of discouraging vanity, leaving her head covered instead in order to give off an image of modesty.

She fell back from the pond, sitting on a small patch of grass a few feet back. I can't believe this, she thought. Had she really just had a vision in public? How long had it been since that had occurred? She often would see things if she meditated but it had been years since anything came to her in her sleep. Wasn't her training supposed to keep such things in check? To teach her how to call upon her abilities when she needed them. Evidently not, she concluded.

No. That wasn't it. She had stumbled. It wasn't her training; it was her. That had to be it. She had made a mistake. It was her fault. Other Jedi held a strong talent for Farsight as well and they never made such fools of themselves. Zahira thought of Master Shan, whose talent for precognition was said to be second to none. She never had any trouble.

So, what am I doing wrong?

It was reflexive. She could not help but blame herself. Her only memories from her life before the Jedi were tied up in her "gift". Zahira could see the memories as they played in her mind's eye. She was young, barely a child. She was trying to warn her parents that the boy was going to die. She had seen it. They wouldn't listen. She was running to the boy's father. He wouldn't listen either. The sun was setting. The boy had died; he had fallen out of a tall tree. She was hiding in her house. She could hear the boy's father talking to her parents. He was calling her a "witch". She stared at the same wall for months, ashamed.

That was when the Jedi had finally come to take her away. She couldn't remember what they looked like. Even her parents' faces were lost to her. But she did remember how calm she felt, even as a child, as she left one life behind her for another. She could barely hear a low, deep bass of a voice telling her that everything would be alright.

Zahira let out a long sigh before rising to her feet. Perhaps the answer to her problem was somewhere within the Library archives. As a junior archivist, she would be needed their soon enough for her practicum hours. She cast one more look into the pond back at herself and resolved that the next time she gazed into the waters, she would see someone she was proud of.
'Jeos Dinas'-Ebon Hawk
Manager, The Ebon Hawk Bounty Board
"Perception Problem."

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01.06.2012 , 10:49 PM | #3
The Jedi Library on Tython might not have been as large as its fathomless predecessor in the Temple on Coruscant but it was not, by any stretch of the imagination, "small". Within its confines was held the collective knowledge of the Jedi Order or at least what amount of that collective knowledge remained after the attack on Coruscant. Its high, tower-like shelves carried innumerable volumes of Jedi lore contained in holobooks, datasticks, or even (if you could secure the permission to examine them), ancient scrolls made of crumbling reams of paper. If one was patient, they could find the answer to any conceivable question that taxed their mind.

That said, having an intimate familiarity with the Library's layout and classification system made the process considerably easier, Zahira admitted to herself with a sly smile. It was a benefit of working as a junior archivist. One of the few, if she was honest with herself. True, the halls of a library did not hold the same excitement of the training grounds or the Forge but you had a direct line into the minds of the great Jedi Masters of the past: Nomi Sunrider, Zez-Kai Ell and Kavar, Odan Urr, Arren Kae. This alone made Zahira certain that all of the time she'd spent as one of the library's caretakers was worthwhile. Master Gnost-Dural was often fond of reminding her of this.

"Maintaining the Archives can seem like a daunting task." he would say to her. "But our work is what keeps this Order alive. Wisdom and knowledge is the very life blood of the Jedi; we must do everything we can to preserve it."

Up until now, Zahira had thought that the old Kel Dor master was being over-dramatic. The Force was the life blood of the Jedi, was it not? It was what both set the Jedi apart from "normal" individuals, while also paradoxically connecting them to everyone and everything as well. Now she understood what Master Dural truly meant. 'What good is the Force if you've no idea how to properly use it?' Zahira had never truly consider the question before. However, her relapse had brought it to the forefront. Indeed, what use were her gifts if she could not use them effectively?

"Of course," she admitted to herself as she made her way through the library's shelves. "A competent Jedi wouldn't even be asking themselves that question. Would they, Initiate Talu-Song?" She spoke the word "initiate" as if its very existence before her name was abhorrent. Twelve years and a war and here she was still trying to complete even the first part of her training. To gain control over abilities she had ever since she could barely talk.

She had just managed to hunt down a holobook entitled An Adept's Guide to Precognition, which was one of an extensive series of "Adept Guides" (the most baffling of which was An Adept's Guide to Pressure Cooking). Turning to make her way down from the top of the durasteel ladder upon which she was perched, Zahira was about halfway down when she heard a host of rising whispers coming from the other side of the shelf.

"Isn't it exciting?" one of them said with an almost conspiratorial air. A boy. "There hasn't been one in years."

"There wasn't any time," another replied, matter of fact. A girl. "The Sith saw to that. If you were ready, someone would take you. Remember when Master Kina took Ameen a few years ago? One day he was in class and the next, he was gone."

"But a selection tournament?"

Zahira let out a small gasp, stepping backwards as a rush of exhilaration shot through her body...and right off the ladder. As she fell backwards, all Zahira could manage to say was a meager "Oooooh!"

She tried to call out with the Force, reaching towards anything as she tumbled to the floor. A handful of the "Adept Guides" shot off their place on the shelf, nose diving after her. Zahira met the ground with a muffled crash, as if the library's floors were doing their best to keep the noise to a minimum. She felt a flash of pain blare through her and gave out a squeal of pain, closing her eyes as she winced and opening them just in time to see the rest of holobooks before they connected with her face.

There was the stamping of feet as the two conspirators from the other side of the shelf ran around to see what the sudden noise was. "Are you all right?", Zahira heard one of them say from underneath the pile of books.

"I'm all right." she said, popping her head out from the holobooks. She tried to best not to seem too flustered. Putting on an air of superiority, she spoke up. "But I was distracted by your talking. As junior archivist of this wing, I am going to have to ask you to keep your voices down, please."

By now, she had finally made eye contact with the pair. One was a short Zabrak boy with deep ebony skin and a sheepish smile. He seemed a bit younger than Zahira, although by how much she could not tell. The other was a Kiffar girl. Long raven hair fell past her shoulders, silhouetting a well sculpted face of fair complexion which was adorned with a qukuuf tattoo line right across the girl's chin. Zahira recognized her as Nema Traylant, a classmate of hers who was said to be amongst the most promising of the Initiates. Her ivy green eyes looked down at Zahira with bemusement. She did not say anything. She only offered her hand down and helped Zahira to her feet.

"We're sorry, Archivist." the Zabrak spoke up. "We meant no harm."

Zahira nodded and began to dust herself off. "Of course not. Still, you need to be more mindful of where you are."

"This coming from the girl who just fell off a step ladder." Nema offered dryly as she took a closer look at the small mountain of books at Zahira's feet. The comment hung on the library's air, bringing an uncomfortable silence to the trio. It was Zahira who broke the silence.

"I don't mean to pry," she began cautiously. "But I couldn't help overhearing. You were talking about a selection tournament?"

The young boy's face lit up with shock, as if Zahira's question could not possibly be real. "You havn't heard? There's going to be a Padawan selection tournament next month. All the Masters and Knights returning from the war are going to be there to take on apprentices. Nema here is going to win the whole thing!"

Nema didn't deny it. "I'm going to to my best." she admitted. "That should be more than enough."

Zahira couldn't challenge the claim. Nema almost certainly had her choice of master going into the tournament. The added benefit of winning was probably little more than an afterthought. Zahira hadn't even thought that far. "Is there a place where I could sign up as well?" she asked.

"You?" the Zabrak declared, his voice full of confusion. "Aren't you in the EduCorps? I see you in here all the time."

The question numbed Zahira over. She could barely manage it but she offered back a weak "No."

"Be quiet, Genti." Nema shot at the boy. "She's in my class. Sign up form is posted in the training grounds."

"Oh." Zahira murmured. "Thank you." At this, she stooped down and began to place the books up on the bottom of the shelf. She could reorganize them later. She tucked her copy of An Adept's Guide to Precognition under her arm and began to walk away. Nema's voice stopped her.

"Why did you leave class today?" she asked.

Of course, the simple answer would have been 'I had a bad dream". But Zahira thought it over for a moment. Why did she leave class? She answered truthfully, before walking away. "I don't know."

She did not look back. Walking through the library, she took a turn down into the ancient language section and found a nearby table. With a halfhearted motion, she dropped into a seat at it and placed her book down. She wanted to sink into the chair. To become it and fade out of sight. In one instant, her hopes had risen up and come crashing down. "Aren't you in the EduCorps?" She could hear the question echoing in her head.

It was true that Zahira was getting older. At twelve and a half, she was amongst the oldest of the initiates in the Temple, although there were a few older than her. She was right on the cusp of being passed over entirely for Jedi training and transferred to one of the Jedi Service Corps. Even though the Order had no real standing age restriction for Initiates, each student was only alloted a certain quota of time to become a Padawan. It was common practice for those who couldn't find a master to be assigned to one of the four branches of the Corps. The Educational Corps was the scholarly branch, comprised of those who had failed to become Jedi and instead worked for the Order as teachers, scribes, or archivists in the Library.

She could see it in her mind, her future. Weakly ambling through the Great Library, a small, pruned antique of a woman squinting at the young Padawans who asked her for directions to one section or another, stress lines having etched small canyons into her face. She still bore only her two facial tattoos, having never been given occasion to add anymore to commemorate any grand achievements. She would scowl bitterly at the young Jedi and in a cantankerous tone tell them that if they wanted to talk "there were much better places to gossip than in my library."

It wasn't fair, was it? Didn't she have some of the highest grades out of all her class? Wasn't she one of the smartest? It wasn't arrogance if it was the truth, right?

She cracked open the book before her, hoping that she would be able to lose herself in it and possibly find a remedy to at least one of her problems. The introduction lay before her:

To say that precognition is one of the most complex, labyrinthine, and problematic of the Jedi arts would not even begin to fully articulate the sweeping difficulties that surround it. To see the future is not simply to peek at events yet to come. To see the future is to break away from our limits as sentient beings and to see, if ever briefly, the universe through the very eyes of the Force. It is an honor that some never achieve in their lifetime and yet, for some, it is an ever present reality of their daily lives. For ones such as these, it may be easy forget that each vision is a secret from the Force itself. It is a gift, a mark of trust. The only proper thing to do is to receive it gladly with no exception. To accept it and to honor that trust by not acting upon pride, greed, or other base emotions.

For that is the trap of precognition: to abuse the Force's trust. To place your desires over its and use that secret knowledge for personal gain. Only through humility can we fully grasp the larger meaning of our gift, to enact whatever truth the Force wishes to express to us as instruments of its will. The true seer's mind is supplicant. Above all else, it is willing to forgo its own desires in order to achieve whatever end the Force demands. What will be, will be. It cannot be helped.

-Jedi Master Jacor Loqu

Zahira sat in the silence until it seemed that she had sat for all her life. She did not know who this Master Loqu was; she did not know what life he had lead. All she knew was that he was right. She was certain of it. What use was it to bemoan the life the Force had given her so far? What use was it to rail and rage against the Heavens or to fret about thing yet to come? If the Force meant for something to happen, it would. If not, it wouldn't. It was her job to act, nothing more. And she knew full well what she was going to do next. What would follow after that? She would see for herself.


Zahira knocked on the dormitory door with some trepidation. She waited, unsure if anyone was even there. Finally, a voice answered from beyond the door.


The voice was not hostile or agitated but rather soft and curious. Zahira took a deep breath. "Hello? My name is Zahira Song. We met at the library earlier today. May I come in for a moment?"

"Door's open."

She gave the door a small push and it swung inwards. Zahira stepped into the room, blinded by the setting sun that gleamed through a large window across the way.

"Nema Traylant?" she spoke, barely able to see her peer through the glinting sunlight. "I've come here to ask if you would help me train for the selection tournament."
'Jeos Dinas'-Ebon Hawk
Manager, The Ebon Hawk Bounty Board
"Perception Problem."

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01.15.2012 , 01:59 AM | #4
Meet me there at midnight.

That was what Nema had said. Well, she was 'there', it was midnight, and Nema was nowhere to be seen. The training grounds were empty, save for Zahira. The air was cool and soothing, a light breeze caressing her cheek as if it could feel the young girl's anxiety and wanted to send it soaring into the twilight. All else was silent. Yet, for all the lack of activity, the night was not wanting of life.

Zahira could feel them all. Small, glowing grains of luminescence in the desert of the dark. It was like feeling heartbeats in your chest that were not your own. Animals were little more than barely imperceptible flutters but each of her fellow Jedi added their individual pulse to her own. Nema was in there somewhere.

"If only she was here." Zahira groaned, trying her utmost to prevent her impatience from turning into ingratitude. Nema didn't have to do this. To help her train. To help a fellow competitor. It wasn’t as if she doubted Nema’s intentions or even her capacity for generosity but Zahira had to admit to herself that if the positions were reversed, she was not sure she would be as charitable.

The thought made her uneasy. The idea that she would place herself over another was anathema to everything she had ever learned. All she knew was that, more than anything, she wanted to be a Jedi. Not just a student but a genuine Jedi. But why?

She certainly didn’t have the answer. It was never a question that Zahira ever bothered to contemplate and she wasn’t going to bother at the moment. “No distractions,” she chided. “Focus on the now.”

Zahira sat down in the middle of the training grounds, cushioned by the soft grass, assuming a basic lotus position and resting each of her feet on their adjacent thigh. Mindful to keep her spine straightened, she closed her eyes and began to breathe deeply. Her mind threatened to rebel, to lead her astray with superfluous thoughts and tangents.

She thought of the Void. Her mind was a type of sea, just as the Void was. Her thoughts, like sediment or mud. When active, the sea churned up the depths and muddied the waters. When calm, those particles drifted to the bottom, settling and fading away. With each new breath, the waters of her mind were calming. Eventually, peace washed over her and she was adrift. Through the darkness of her trance, she could see someone. It was her. Her sight had somehow escaped her eyes, fleeing her body altogether. She was both spectator and participant.

Zahira knew, in the furthest part of her mind, that she was actually sitting. Resting like a stone in the middle of the training grounds. Yet, here she was before her eyes, standing at the ready. It was clearer than usual. Zahira could see herself. She wore the same brown robes that she was wearing now but was armed. A training saber was grasped tightly in her hands, held high before her like a torch. She was facing down an opponent, muscles tense and resolve strong. Beyond, from the dark, it emerged. The Ghost. Zahira could tell that it was the same spectral being from her last vision. Without reason, she simply knew.

Its assault started immediately. Raising its own shadowy blade up high, the Ghost darted in and swung a sweeping blow towards Zahira’s neck. She did not move. It never connected. Somehow, the attack paused before it could reach her body, as if Zahira had blocked it even though she stood still as a statue. The Ghost’s blade had clashed with an invisible force that Zahira could not see. Not to be deterred, it tried once more, cutting low at Zahira’s thighs. Again, the Ghost was repelled by whatever shield was protecting the girl.

The Ghost drew back, pulling its weapon back and then stabbing towards the girl’s stomach. For each attempt, the Ghost could not break through to strike its foe. The stabbing motion gave way to a rising slash. The Ghost’s blade rose up, clashing with the unseen wall that protected Zahira. There was a burst of light and the Ghost fell back, somehow defeated even though she had never lifted a finger. She could still see herself, standing tall, as the Ghost faded back into the gloom.

“Hey!” a voice cried out in her ear. Her eyes snapped open and she groggily was drawn back to the training grounds. Her eyesight cleared and she could see the voice’s source. Nema Traylent stood right beside her, dressed in simple training garb. She stared quizzically at Zahira. “Oh, you’re awake.”

“I am now.” Zahira offered, rising to her feet and offering her fellow Initiate a curt bow. She had not noticed the switch from meditation to dream, if there really was one at all. Coming back to her senses felt jarring. Looking over Nema, she noticed that her new teacher was holding two training sabers in her hands. Nema walked away from her, leaving a few yards between them, before tossing one of the sabers at her. It tumbled through the air, colliding awkwardly with Zahira, who scrambled to catch it.

“Well, wake up more.” Nema said, smirking at the other girl’s uncoordinated display. “We’ve got work to do.”

“Right.” Zahira nodded, switching her training saber on and feeling its weight in her hand. It was barely noticeable at all. The soft yellow glow of its energy basked over her and although it was contained by a small metal caging, it felt remarkably like a normal lightsaber.

Zahira had only used a real lightsaber once or twice but it hadn’t felt much different than a training saber. Some of the more conservative of her teachers could often be heard complaining that it was not the same thing, often muttering something about “gyroscopic effect” and even some of her fellow students had been known to complain that they didn’t have “the real thing” but she couldn’t notice any major difference between her training saber and a normal lightsaber. The treated durasteel cage around its blade was lighter than a feather, yet stronger than most other metals. The means to create it were known only to the Jedi, even if the galaxy were filled with remarkably similar analogues. She gave it a quick flourish, cutting the air before her.

“Before we begin,” Zahira started, looking at Nema, who was also getting a quick feel of her weapon. “I want to thank you for this. Your kindness is quite remarkable.”

“Don’t mention it.” Nema replied. “So is my modesty.”

Zahira tilted her head at this before commenting. “I’m not sure that a Jedi should-”

“Relax, bookworm.” Nema said, dismissing Zahira with a casual wave of her hand. “I’m joking. You know what a joke is, right?”

“Well, yes, of course I know what I joke is. It’s something said or done to evoke laughter or amusement.”

Nema gave a sigh. ”You get that definition from one of your books, bookworm? Ugh. Nevermind. Now that I have your attention, we might as well begin. This will be a simple sparring session. Contact is allowed, alright? Don’t worry about me. We want to treat this like we want to treat the tournament so don’t hold back. Now, let me see your opening stance.”

Immediately, Zahira snapped her feet together, standing poised. She brought her training saber down before her, its tip pointed towards the grass. Nema observed her for a moment. “Niman?” she questioned.

For some reason, Zahira felt self-conscious. As if her fellow initiate was pointing out a mistake already. “Yes.” she confirmed. “Kind of silly, right?”

“Not at all.” Nema stated. “Being well balanced isn’t ‘silly’. Jedi face all sorts of challenges on missions. Focusing too much on one thing makes it hard to react to anything else. Sure, you don't have a specific focus but when you’re a Jedi, you’ll be well prepared for most challenges.”

When you’re a Jedi? Had Nema actually said that? Zahira couldn’t help but smile. All this time spent doubting herself and Nema spoke as if it was a certainty that they’d both become Jedi. Her confidence was amazing. However, as Zahira smiled, Nema spoke. “Don’t grin too much.” she warned, misreading Zahira’s gesture. “I said ‘well prepared’, not unbeatable. Like I said, other people might have an edge on you. People like…me.”

She gave her saber a flourish and assumed her own opening stance. Her saber rest in her right hand, her thumb pointing down the length of the blade. It was elegant, masterful. “Lightsaber combat is my focus, you see.” Nema explained with a small hint of pride.

“Well, I guess that I am fortunate to have your instruction. You’ll have plenty to teach me, right?” Zahira chimed sanguinely, drawing on some of Nema’s confidence to prepare herself for their match. “Are you ready?”

“When you are.” came the reply.

Zahira paused, taking a quick breath. She did her utmost to focus solely on Nema. The wind seemed to settle. All sound seemed to cut out. There was only the two Initiates. The archivist and the warrior. The teacher and the student. Zahira darted forward, her saber her at the ready. It took only a few quick steps to close the distance toward Nema. Deftly lunging headlong towards her, Zahira drew her blade back and stabbed right at Nema's sternum. Nema stood in place. Zahira's attack was graceful and strong, her form well balanced.

Yet, for all of this, Nema did little more than engage in a casual semi-circular parry, bringing her own training saber up and engaging Zahira's in a bind. There was a flash of light and a burst of sound as their blades connected. Zahira felt her nimble advance shift into a clumsy stumble as Nema forced her blade aside. She felt the shocking crack of Nema's blade against the back of her neck as she staggered past her and tumbled to the ground.

Hazily turning to look at Nema, Zahira was amazed. Her fellow Initiate stood tall, her saber in hand. To the casual onlooker, it would not be extreme to say that Nema was born with her saber in hand. Zahira rose slowly, propping herself up with her traning saber. Nema lowered her weapon and grinned.

"Why did I win?" she asked, a playful light to her eyes. Zahira felt a flash of annoyance grip her heart like a fist. Had Nema only agreed to do this in order to please her own ego? To prey on a weaker enemy for base gratification? No. That wasn't right, was it? Zahira winced as she spoke up.

"You're better than me." she stated.

Nema shook her head. Her grin had dropped almost immediately. "Even if that were completely true, that isn't why I won that exchange. Think again."

She did. Running over the brief match in her mind, Zahira focused on Nema's simple parry. "It was your form. Makashi. It is superior in lightsaber combat. You were able to take me off balance."

"Wrong again." Nema scolded sagaciously. "I'm going to tell you a secret: lightsaber forms mean nothing. Combat isn't some big dejarik game where certain pieces only move a certain way. Everything I said back there before we started? Meant to prove this point: It doesn't matter. The only reason that I won was because I couldn't lose."

Zahira scoffed. "What does that even mean? Because you couldn't lose? Of course you couldn't! Not against me. You're a little full of yourself, you know that?!"

Nema raised a finger, silencing Zahira. "And you're a little judgemental, bookworm. Not just of me either but of yourself. As long as you keep thinking that you can't beat me, I'll keep winning. I didn't win because I was better or because Makashi has an advantage over Niman or anything like that. You lost because you thought you would. Now, get up and we're going to keep doing this until that changes."

And they did. Match after match. Round after round. Zahira would engage, Nema would reply. No matter what she did, Zahira could not best the other girl. For each advance, a riposte. For each thrust, a response. For every action, a feint. Again and again, Zahira was beaten effortlessly. No matter how hard she tried to picture herself victorious over her opponent, how much she willed Nema to falter. It was only by their twelfth exchange that Zahira finally felt something. A small ripple in the back of her mind. A quiet nudge. You know you can do this., it told her. You know.

"We can continue tomorrow, if you like." Nema offered kindly. "There's no need to kick yourself in the rear over this, y'know? Some things just take longer for certain people. Nothing to be ashamed of."

"Again." Zahira ordered.

Falling back into her opening stance, she held her position as Nema rushed in to close the gap. She shot her sword arm out, slashing at Zahira's...neck.

Recognition gripped her mind. She did know that she could do this. She had seen these motions only minutes ago, played out in the depths of her mind like a holorecording of what was to come. Zahira launched her saber upwards, blocking the strike before immediately dropping her blade down toward her thigh. Nema followed up her attack by drawing back and cutting low. Pushing back against the other saber, Zahira dropped her blade, letting it fall to the ground. Nema did not pause, she spun and cut at Zahira's belly. She ducked, dropping to the ground and letting the blade pass only inches above her.

This was it. Nema switched her grip, slashing upwards. Zahira stepped aside, the blade passing right before her face. As it arced upwards, she shot out an elbow right to her fellow Initiate's chest, knocking her down and launching the training saber out of her hand. It clattered to the ground next to her, its low powered energy singeing the grass.

"How did you do that?" Nema Traylant coughed from the ground. Her eyes were wide with shock.

Zahira thought back to the sea of her mind. She thought of the Ghost. Of her standing before it, safe from each of its attacks. She smiled naughtily, like a child caught in the act. "Isn't it obvious?" she remarked. "I can't lose."

Privately, a seductive and exhilarating notion crossed her mind, if only for a moment: The Force is my ally.
'Jeos Dinas'-Ebon Hawk
Manager, The Ebon Hawk Bounty Board
"Perception Problem."

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01.17.2012 , 11:18 PM | #5
Camaraderie. Zhaira knew what it meant but she had never really understood what it actually was. Two weeks of training with Nema had improved more than just her competency with a lightsaber, although she had to admit her skills were still relatively amatuer; it had actually given rise to something resembling a social life. She did not know, even now, if the walls that surrounded her were involuntary or self made but she did know that they were starting to crumble away. It was a little thing, really. It came in the most modest of expressions. A quick nod from someone when she was walking down the hall, a curt "Hey Zahira" as she sat down in the classroom.

Acknowledgement. That is what it was. Recognition that she was, indeed, part of something larger. Most people probably knew her as "That smart, quiet girl who was friends with Nema Taylant" but Zahira did not mind at all. For the first time in all of her studies as a Jedi, she felt a sense of connection to her fellow students outside of the reality that were all a part of the Force. It was a sublime catharsis, marked by a wider understanding. There was more to reality than to merely exist in it and that was to share in that experience with others. It was the difference between simply subsisting and thriving. Zahira wanted to thrive.


Zahira gave a barely noticeable exhale of breath, the most polite expression of annoyance that she could allow. Maybe 'thriving' would have wait. She gave a forced smile, shaking her head. "Close, but not quite. C'mon Harlanis, we've been over this. You know the answer."

Across the study table from her, Harlanis Thrialo narrowed his eyes in deep thought. Zahira could almost see the servos spinning in the young human boy's mind, processing and shifting through the contents of the repository that was his brain. Confusion reigned on his handsome face as he mentally wracked himself for the answer. Harlanis' mental datacards appeared to not be properly filed by any system of classification. To be fair, Zahira had only been tutoring her fellow Initiate for three days now but she could certainly see why Nema had referred him her way to begin with.

They sat in silence for a moment at their table, the Library's glowlamps casting their warmth down from the high ceilings, Harlanis' admirable features accentuated by the perfectly and presently distributed light. Neither spoke. Finally, she took it upon herself to rescue the poor boy from his predicament.

"Galia. Queen Galia. Don't worry, Harlanis, you'll get it all straight. Here, it's simple if you think of it this way: Galia starts with a G and she was queen of Onderon during the Great Sith War, right? Talia starts with a T and she was queen of Onderon during the Dark Wars, which included the climatic battle of....?"

She left the statement hanging in the hopes that her struggling student might have a chance to redeem himself but it was to no avail. Instead, she was treated to another dull stare. This time, she did sigh. "Telos IV. There was a huge battle at Telos IV. Like really big. T for Telos. T for Talia..."

Harlanis rubbed his face. "Couldn't we just say that grek come before trill in the alphabet? That seems easier."

"Umm..I suppose you could. But it's important you know all the details too" Zahira explained. "Now come on let's try this one more-"

A quick motion caught her eye, a small flash of movement from behind a bookcase over Harlanis' shoulder. Less than a split second of displacement in the air. Very deliberately, a Kiffar girl had shot her head around the corner, a surreptitious grin adorning her face. It was Nema Traylant. She did not say anything, she gave her head a half tilt. A flash of curiosity hit Zahira through the Force. 'Well?' it seemed to say. "Hmmm?'

"Actually,'ve been working really hard tonight. Why don't we call it an evening?" Zahira said.

The boy's eyes grew wide with gratitude. "R..really?!"

"No need to sound so excited about it." Zahira scolded, somewhat hurt. She looked over Harlanis with an assiduous gaze before softening. "But yes, really. Get some rest and look over your notes before we meet again tomorrow. I'll know if you've not done it so no slacking."

Harlanis rose from his seat and gave her a quick nod. "Thanks, Zahira!" he spoke, his voice approaching something of a shout, before turning to rush down the nearest aisle.

"Library!" she hissed back, though the boy was half way out of sight. Turning to the bookshelf that Nema was hiding behind, Zahira was somewhat flummoxed to see that her friend was not there.

"He was kinda cute. " Nema said from her new position sitting on the study table, cross-legged. "Do I spy the start of a new Force bloodline?"

Zahira rolled her eyes at her friend, although her face felt a little warm at the question. She walked over to the other side of the table. "First, would you get down from there please?" she asked, dismayed at Nema's lack of formality. "And secondly:, you don't."

Nema hopped down from the table, a small chuckle escaping her lips. "A remarkably eloquent and unexpected denial. Before we know it, you'll be petitioning the Council for approval to..well, you know."

Zahira burned scarlet at this. Grabbing her history book from the study table, she tucked under her arm. All the while, she cast an austere look at Nema. "Please. The writings of Master Atris are very clear on the matter. A Jedi has no time for such things. Their only duty is to the Force."

"Bookworm: you've got a long way to go before you understand sarcasm." Nema remarked. "C'mon. Let's go."

Nema took off through the Library, running with a spritely bound to her steps. Trailing behind her friend, Zahira scurried to keep up. Her eyes darted around the Library, searching for anyone who might see her. Particularly, she was praying that Master Gnost-Dural did not catch her rushing through the Library with Nema, frantically racing towards the exit from her far hidden study spot in the building's deepest regions. She should have been paying more attention to the actual and not the possible, though. A small misstep and her foot caught on the low hem of her robe. Stumbling forward, her history book fell out of her hands right to the dusty stone floor of the Library.

However, either by reflex or by virtue of her continued training, she regained her balance and kept moving forward. Nema had not seemed to notice, still bolting towards the exit like a flash of lightning. With an almost wistful glance, Zahira looked back toward her fallen book. She was seized by a desire to run back and grab it so that she could place it in a collection bin but resisted against all her overwhelming compulsion. Finally, she passed through the high arc of the Library's entrance and stopped beside her friend.

"Would it kill you to slow down for a second, Nema?" Zahira asked, catching her breath and taking Tython's evening air into her lungs. "What's the rush? We're just heading to the training grounds."

"Not tonight!" a small voice said to her side.

Zahira had been so distracted that she had not noticed that she and Nema were not alone. Genti stood beside her, looking quizzically at Zahira. The Zabrak's midnight colored skin shimmered with the new moon's basking light, blanketing him with a glow as cool and welcoming as his sanguine demeanor. Zahira, still out of breath, took a step back when he spoke, taken aback by his sudden presence.

"Hi, Zahira." he said, his childlike face luminous with high spirits. "Nema didn't tell you, I guess. Why? Is it supposed to be a surprise?"

Nema ran a hand through her raven hair in an uncharacteristically chagrined fashion. It was clear that she hadn't wanted Genti to say anything. Forced to elaborate to her cohort, Nema offered a hasty reply. "Well, not quite. But, y'know, I thought it would be a bad idea to make such a fuss about it."

"About what?" Zahira chimed in, struggling to follow their conversation. She was caught somewhere between two extremes. On one hand, she was somewhat indignant that she was being left out of the conversation. On the other, she felt like a child on their birthday. "Where are we going?"

Nema hesitated for a moment, as if she was about to reveal a deep, personal secret. When she spoke, her voice was excited, if somewhat apprehensive. "Master Traless is having a meeting tonight and well, Genti and I wanted to go but I didn't want you to feel like I was ignoring your training so we sort of thought that we'd bring you along, Bookworm."

"I suppose that I can't see the harm in listening to a Master." Zahira concluded. She had heard of Master Traless and his impressive progression through the ranks of the Jedi during the Great War. Only Master Satele Shan could claim to have a more meteoric rise. Zahira had never met him in person however, though she had seen him wandering the Temple grounds, handing out advice to students or engaged in deep discussion with his fellow Masters. If he was speaking, it must be worth hearing. Any wisdom was.

"Well, then." Nema began. "I guess we best be going. Stay close."

The trio set forth through the Temple ground, Nema leading the way. They cut straight through the training grounds, heading straight towards the the dark edge of the outlying forest. Zahira pouted. The forest was dangerous enough for a well trained Jedi during the day thanks to the Flesh Raiders; at night, it was almost suicidal to enter. Why weren't they going to the Master's Retreat or even towards the Gnarls Outpost? What would possess Master Traless to hold a meeting in the middle of Tython's wilderness at this hour?

She took a depth breath, centering her mind and trying to sense the world around her only for her concentration to be shattered like a fragile crystal as a deep yawning roar erupted from the brush far beside her. She rushed forward to Nema's side, keeping as close to her fellow Initiate as propriety would allow. Genti trailed behind, unphased and oddly enamored with a lazily glittering firefly that flew before him.

To her side, Nema gave a whisper. "Uxibeast." she identified the sound. "More afraid of us than we are of it. All animals are, really."

It may well have been true for Genti and Nema but Zahira still stayed close to her friend. Turning to Genti, she whispered through the dark. "Genti! Stay close!"

His silhouette just visible through the firefly's speck of illumination, Genti did little more than to give a non-committal shrug. "Don't worry, Zee." he said. "I'll see any trouble before it get close thanks to Jedi Master Sparkles here."

"Don't call me Zee." Zahira ordered. "Also, did you just name that firefly 'Jedi Master Sparkles'?"

"We're here." Nema announced, cutting off Genti's reply. Turning back around, Zahira was amazed to see the gaping mouth of a massive cavern, light sneaking out from its depths. The three descended down into its caverns, crisps of ancient rock pressing against the bottom of their soles. The steep slopes led further and further into the cave, giving way to a large chamber with a roaring fire in the middle.

Zahira gasped. The cave was positively full of Jedi. All ages and ranks, they sat around the fire, intensely looking towards a young man who stood before them all. Tall and well proportioned, the man's face held an almost ferocious determination, measured only by a exuberant pride. It was hard to tell which burned brighter: the fire before him or the fire in his eyes.

His gaze fell upon Zahira and her friends as they stepped into the natural antechamber of the caverns. "Who is that?" he asked with a heroic voice.

"Nema Traylant." Nema answered, her voice echoing softly off the cave walls. "I've brought guests as well. Forgive us for being late, Master Traless, my friend had an obligation to attend to."

An infectious chuckle fell from Jedi Master Oric Traless' lips. "No apologies, Nema." he stated, speaking to the girl as if they were the best of friends. "We're only about to start right now."

Nema gave a nod. Grabbing Zahira by the hand, she dragged her friend down towards the front of the crowd, Genti following behind. Assuming seats only a few feet away from Master Traless, they only managed to get settled when the young man began to speak.

"Friends, Jedi: you all know why were are here tonight. We are here because, even now, the Sith hold countless planets in their grasp, oppressing lives and making a mockery of not only justice but the Force itself. We are here because no matter what the politicians say, no matter the whispers that float around the galaxy, and certainly no matter what the council might want us to believe, we are not beaten. Defeat comes only when there is no one left who is willing to fight! And we are here because we are still willing to fight!"

Suddenly, the secrecy of the meeting took on a whole new light. A round of applause rang through the cave as the gathered Jedi were enlivened by Oric Traless' speech. Nema pressed her fingers to her lips and whistled loudly. For her part, Zahira did feel inspired as well. The war had been a tremendous blow to the Jedi's image and it was hard to consider what had occurred to be "just" or "right" by any stretch of the imagination.

But inside, Zahira also felt uneasy. The Jedi had helped to broker the Treaty of Coruscant and were obliged in their duty to abide by it and the edicts of the Council. Now was a time to rebuild and reconnect with the Force, was it not?

Apparently, she was not alone in her thinking. "But what recourse do we have?" a voice said from the back of the room that she knew belongs to Raan Laos, one of the Order's preeminent weapon masters. "The Council is clear on the matter. The Treaty must be maintained."

"It is the will of the Force that we act!" a voice shouted from the other side of the antechamber. "We need not wait for the Council's permission!"

Master Traless raised a hand, silencing the voice as quickly as it has risen up. He shook his head, his expression stern. "That line of thinking led our Order to the brink of extinction. I will not condone a course of action that will split this Order in two. If we are to face the Sith, we must do so united."

"If I may, Master," Nema began from her spot on the dirt caked rock. "They must know of the reputation you hold with all of us."

"We campaign for your appointment to the Council, then. Master Kaedan is already sympathetic to our cause but that is not enough." Master Raan Laos finished, seeing Nema's point immediately. "Our voice, your voice, cannot be ignored if you are amongst them. If the Council truly thinks that we must lick our wounds..."

"Then we lick our wounds." Zahira managed to spit out, the words escaping from her lips before she had realized what she'd said.

The cavern fell silent. Only the crackling of the fire broke the heavy air. Zahira was acutely aware how long the next few moments were. It seems as though universes were born, lived, and died in what was actually seconds. At her side, Nema hastily stood. "She doesn't mean that." she attempted to convince the gathered Jedi.

"Of course she does." a cool, stygian voice answered from the crowd. "Why else would she say it?"

Standing to meet Nema in front of the crowd was another young student. Tall and gaunt, with snow pale skin, the boy assumed a position of authority before the gathered Jedi as if doing so was no more natural than waking up in the morning. It was Cenak Niaka. Zahira recognized him immediately. There was only one Umbaran amongst the Initiates. And besides that, he was one of the few who was older than she, being a handful of years her elder. Cenuk, looking composed and unflappable, gazed at Nema reasonably.

"She was just joking. She has quite the sense of humor." Nema lied.

"Forgive my boldness, Master Traless." he apologized, turning to the Master and offering a curt nod. "But if there is something to be discussed, perhaps Nema's friend should speak for herself. Discussion should not be discouraged in this matter."

"There is truth in those words, Initiate Niaka." Master Traless conceded. "And who better to discuss our future than those who will rise up to inherit it? I give the floor to you and Initiate Traylant's associate."

Nema made her way over to Zahira and before she could protest, pulled the young Mirialan to her feet and shoved her out before the assembly. Cold terror filled Zahira's gut. Why did she say that? Stupid, stupid, stupid!

"What is your name?" Master Traless asked, jarring Zahira out of her frozen state. He did not appear angry but Zahira feared him more than any other Jedi she'd known.

"Z...Zahira." she muttered, her voice little more than a whisper. "Zahira Talu-Song."

"Well, Zahira," the polarizing Jedi Master began. "You have reservations about what we are discussing. That is understandable. Please, speak your mind."

"If I may begin," Cenak cut in. "I would actually like to pose a simple query to my fellow student. What is the duty of a Jedi?"

Zahira paused for a moment. It was not because she did not have an answer. She did. But that would not be enough. In the library of her mind, she searched for a reputable source to quote. Rifling through her archives, she finally decided. "That is easy enough. A Jedi's duty is to the Force. Odan-Urr makes this clear in his commentaries when he states that a Jedi should mediate on this each and every day."

"And the Force is manifest in..."

She blinked. She honestly hadn't really expected a question like that. Somewhat taken aback, she hastily replied. "I, well, um...I suppose that it makes itself known in life itself."

"Okay." the Umbaran said, speaking just as much to her as he was to the audience before him. "So, a Jedi's duty is to the Force, which is made known through the phenomenon of living things. Is that correct?"

"Yes." Zahira stated plainly.

"Ah." Cenak mused. "Yet what of the Dark Side? Does a Jedi have a duty to this as well? After all, it is the Dark Side of the Force."

Some hushed murmurs rose from the crowd. Cenak's question was dangerous, to say that least. Zahira scoffed out loud at it. "What? Of course not! The Dark Side corrupts life."

"Exactly!" her fellow debater exclaimed. "A Jedi's duty is to life! One does not simply let a tumor be. It is cut out because it is a perversion of life. Our duty is to life itself because that is how the Force exists. The Sith, with their love the Dark Side, infect the galaxy and kill off life. The only option is to rip them out and cut them down!"

A spattering of applause rang in the cave as he finished. Zahira struggled to regain composure. "Well, yes. We must protect life. But the Council...I mean, we've seen this before, have we not? Master Traless pointed it out himself. Recall the lesson of Revan. Recall our history. War isn't going to protect life right now. We simply don't have the numbers. We would all be killed."

"There is no death!" a voice spat from the crowd.

"Indeed." Cenak agreed. "Duty is duty, Zahira. We don't act for any other reason than the fact that it is right."

"That is not for you to decide! Or anyone else here!" Zahira scolded. "We must abide by the edicts of the Council. Duty to the Force also comes from following its will. And the Council is in the best position to know what that is."

"Why would the Force not will us to protect life?" Cenak retorted. There were some heartfelt answers from the crowd: "Of course not!" "The Council has ignored its duty!"

"I..." Zahira stammered, anxiety pressing in on her heart like a vice. "But..."

No. No. They're all staring at me! she suddenly thought, terrified. She could feel their disapproval stabbing her soul like pin-picks. It was too much. Instinct broke down her Jedi training as emotion flooded to her. Tears welled in her eyes, barely contained. She ran. Barreling through the crowd of gathered Jedi, past Nema and Genti, she rushed up and out of the cavern and into the forest. Cloud cover muted the moon's glow as she passed deeper and deeper into the wilds.

She ran until her lungs, emptied of air and unable to go on, pitched her exhaustedly to the forest floor. She gasped, lying on the dirt alone. How could she have been so foolish? Why did she just sit there and nod quietly? Instead, not only had she been made to look like a fool but she had embarrassed Nema as well. She's going to kill me. Zahira thought, imagining her friends demeanor.

A low growl emitted a few feet away from her. "Not if I kill you first." it seemed to say, dripping with murder. Zahira shot to her feet, peering through the darkness. Just barely, she saw it. A grown manka cat's eyes glared at her through the night. The beast bore its teeth, a crooked lattice of sharp bone.

Winded still, Zahira stood her ground. She could not hear anything through the banging of her heartbeat in her ears. Desperately, she focused and immersed herself into the Force, focusing on a tree no more than two or three feet in front of the manka cat. She may not have been an amazing lightsaber duelist but that was not the only way that someone who knew the Force could defend themselves. It was as simple to her as flicking her wrist.

The tree crashed down falling towards the violent animal, who darted back into the darkness. Thick foliage hide the beast's form as it slinked through the night, angered. Zahira could her the rustle of bushes and the cat's eager purr as it circled her for a moment and then stopped right before her. She could see its eyes, cunning and pleased.

Without warning, there was a roar behind her as a second cat lurched from the night and leapt at her, its claw slicing the air. There was little time to react and though she twisted to provide less area, the cat's sharp daggers edged right across her stomach, digging deeply into her flesh.

She gave an awful scream as she tumbled to the forest floor, the cat melding back into the dark around her. She could hear the two beast encircling her, moving in closer and closer as she struggled to get up. They were toying with her. It would be over soon.


The sound dominated the night as a stark emerald glow beamed down upon Zahira. A lightsaber, its master obscured in shadow, stood above her. The manka cats screamed with furious rage. She heard the rustle of foliage as they darted out, saw the single fluid motion of the blade, and felt the hard thud as the cats fell to the ground, smelling of ozone and burnt fur.

"Are you alright?" a deep, bass of a voice asked her. It sounded as if it was coming from all around her. "Can you stand?"

"I...I think so." she said, slowly rising to her feet, pressing her hand against her wound. Her gaze was brought upwards and she saw her savior. A hammerheaded figure toward above her, beedy black eyes examining her just as she was analyzing them. He was an Ithorian and judging by the wispy bread beneath his massive mouth, quite old. Zahira couldn't help herself from thinking, rather absurdly, that he looked like Nature itself.

"Who are you?" she asked, unsure if what she was seeing was truly there.

"Jedi Master Ixeh Pol." the Ithorian spoke in his surround sound voice. "I am honored to meet you."

"Zahira Talu-Song" she replied, grimacing through the pain of her wound. The words felt superfluous as they left her lips. Introductions felt completely unneeded as Zahira looked upon her rescuer. She did not know why but it felt like she had known him all her life.
'Jeos Dinas'-Ebon Hawk
Manager, The Ebon Hawk Bounty Board
"Perception Problem."

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01.22.2012 , 01:44 PM | #6
Master Pol would not proceed any further without tending to Zahira's wound. Despite the girl's protestations to the contrary, her current state of being was less than unimpaired. The injured girl had only taken a few limping steps before stumbling to the forest floor as the adrenaline that had previously numbed her senses vacated her body and called up a sudden paroxysm of burning pain.

"Hold still." the Jedi Master commanded. Or was it a request? The Ithorian's rich voice lacked any pretense of authority and was instead filled with a friendliness that made Master Lyn Orus' seem downright apathetic. It held Zahira still and kept her as ease as he began to heal her with the Force.

Hands outstretched, Master Pol narrowed his eyes, focusing intently on the deep gash in Zahira's side. There was nothing else to even hint that the Ithorian was drawing upon the Force. No mystical glow or magical sound. That was reserved for the holodramas. There was just the Girl, the Master, and the Force. His focus called on its power; its power allayed her wounds and in doing so, a permanent thread was woven between the three.

Zahira could feel life itself flow back into her as the Force, through Master Pol, stunted her bleeding and brushed pain aside. She gave a soft breath inwards, drawing the world into her body.

"Thank you." she said, rising to her feet renewed.

"Unnecessary." replied the Master. "Let us proceed."

The young girl said nothing, nodding her head and remaining close to the Ithorian's side. Together, they made their way through the dark woods, ambling over unbeaten paths and trudging into the wilderness. The night was no less dark, cold, or unknown than when she had faced it alongside Nema and Genti but she felt no apprehension. The Master led the way and she followed. They walked in a long silence, basking only in their shared company for untold stretches of land.

Finally, seizing upon her curiosity, Zahira voiced the most pressing of her questions. "How did you find me?" she asked uncertainly.

The Ithorian gave a playful, contralto chuckle which echoed through the forest. "Does such a thing matter, I wonder? I found you. Would you rather I hadn't?"

"Of course not." she replied. "If you hadn't shown up when you did, I wouldn't be talking right now. I was merely curious how..."

"How is a question only less problematic than why." Master Pol mused as he cleared a path through the thick foliage ahead of them with a sweep of his hand.

"Do you have an answer for either?" Zahira said. Pol's philosophical waxing might have had some veneer of truth but it lacked anything resembling a concrete explanation.

"I've only observations." he admitted, the deep laughter rising from his throat once again as the pair pressed forward. "Not answers."

"And?" she pressed. While the Master might have found his rhetoricals and half answers amusing, Zahira certainly did not. If she hadn't be indebted to him, she doubted that she'd even consider tolerating his games.

"You spoke well before." The statement was simple enough. A meager and honest complement which held more than just friendly sentiment. Dispite what Master Pol might say, the observation was an answer in itself.

"Y, were in the cave before?" Zahira said embarrassedly, looking down and hiding her gaze from the Jedi Master. "Then you must have saw me make an idiot of myself."

"Must I?" the Master retorted, leading the girl further through the dark forest. In the distance, the faint lights of the Jedi Temple flickered through the trees, beckoning the pair onwards.

"Listen, I don't know if you're trying to make me feel better or whatever but stop it, okay?"

"I am not trying to do anything." he half apologized to Zahira, the generosity of his voice reaching its apex. "I certainly didn't see an idiot. I saw someone who was being honest."

"Idiots can be honest too." the girl murmured.

"Ho. Ho. Ho. Very true. Although I don't know if an idiot would realize that." the Master said chipperly. "Besides, I am not convinced that the fact that idiots can be honest also means that honesty is idiotic. Then again, I'm not so convinced any of us are particularly wise either."

"Another observation?"

"One I hope never changes." he admitted truthfully. "Why live if not to learn? And how can we learn if we already know? It it no different than you speaking up in the cave. You provided contrast. Variance. And it is good you did. What else were they going to do? Sit around and tell themselves how much they agree with each other? That would be...rather dull, don't you think?"

At this, Zahira managed to laugh along with the Master. Their shared amusement lightening her steps and speeding the journey. They traveled forwards towards the Jedi Temple, its light cutting through the forest and illuminating a path that had previously eluded them. As they drew closer, Zahira realized that is was not artificial light. It was dawn.

Eventually, they reached the edge of the forest and stepped on to the fresh grass of the training grounds. Cutting across the sunlit fields, the Master escorted the girl towards to the steps of her dormitory building.

"It would seem that we must part ways here." Pol observed, his deep voice carrying a hint of discontent. "Rest. You have been through much tonight."

"I'll be okay. Thank you once again, Master Pol."

"Unnecessary" he echoed. "Farewell, Zahira."

"Good bye, Master."

The Ithorian tilted his head slightly but said nothing. He simply turned and walked away towards the main temple. Zahira smiled, turning to enter the dormitory. Walking up the stairs, she found her floor and entered her room. It was sparse, free from personal affectations or needless accouterments. Yawning, she eased herself into her bed and closed her eyes.

Thinking of Master Pol, Nema, and the other faces of Tython, she truly felt for the first time that she was home.
'Jeos Dinas'-Ebon Hawk
Manager, The Ebon Hawk Bounty Board
"Perception Problem."

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02.23.2012 , 07:03 PM | #7
The solid world dissolves and the Girl glides upon her dreams. There is neither sound nor color. There is no darkness or light. The world around her simply persists. Its heartbeat is her heartbeat. Its wind is her breath. And each breath launches her skyward. Rising and falling with the currents of her mind, the Girl tumbles into herself like a leaf upon a breeze. She cascades about the Void; her quintessence is but a feather.

Without warning, she is suddenly heavy. An anguished gravity weighs upon her shoulders. The accumulated density builds, as it always has and always will. The force shoves her down. She falls, accelerating faster and faster towards terminal velocity. With each passing second, the Girl careens further and further into the depths of her mind. Her eyes grow wide and her face shifts pale. The ground lays before the Girl, rising to meet her, eager to see her broken. And the Girl fears. She knows that she will shatter upon impact. Splinter into worthlessness.

The end approaches. The Girl shuts her eyes and prays. She knows not to whom.

"Anyone," she pleads. "Save me."

Only the darkness replies: "No. Save yourself."

The Girl hits the ground like a freshly wept tear. She is not broken. She is absorbed. The ground claims her, pulls her in, caresses her gently, and then lifts her safely to her feet. She stands, unsure of what rescued her. With a sigh, the Girl releases all of her doubts. It is just in time.

The nostalgic weight of a weapon fills her hand. Her familiar opponent stands before her. The Girl laughs. The Void laughs. The Ghost laughs. With her. At her. As her. The mere idea of defeat is so absurd that her ordeal is now a comedy. Suddenly, the Girl is aware that this is her world. Her grip tightens on her weapon. She holds it low and leaves it at her side. And then, she runs.

The Ghost charges to meet her, stampeding with the collective rage of a thousand rapid beasts. Each of its steps thunders like an approaching storm. Within moments, the Ghost is upon her. And the Girl does little more than spin, twisting her body to orbit her foe. Her blade smashes into its head. The move is simple, crude. It works. The Ghost bursts like a supernova of visible darkness, disintegrating into the Void.

And the last act the Girl achieves before melting into a warm sun's ray, is to smile. Proudly.
'Jeos Dinas'-Ebon Hawk
Manager, The Ebon Hawk Bounty Board
"Perception Problem."

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03.05.2012 , 11:22 PM | #8
Master Sierog Su had decided to hold art class outside and the mood was all the better for it. There was a strong feeling of coetaneousness throughout Tython as Zahira peacefully walked towards the end of the field where the rest of her fellow students were gathered in an small circle, as if the confidence of her dreams had leaked from the Void into the galaxy as it actually was. The young girl jogged briskly over to her classmates, dropping her book bag to the grass and claiming a small patch for herself to sit on.

Then she noticed it.

An apple hung in the middle of the field, suspended in the air as if by a string. It hovered before the class, scarlet skin gleaming in the midday sun. All around the circle, the students whispered as to its purpose.

"Uh...are we gonna draw it?"
"Maybe it's some type of prize.
"Like we answer a question and get the apple?"
"Does Master Su even know it's there?"

Zahira cast her gaze over to the Jedi Master. The Verpine was seating at what could be called the head of the circle, resting cross legged and meditating. The deep green of his carapace contrasted brilliantly with the luscious red of the floating apple. His eyes, although closed, were exceptionally large and hinted at the powerful stare that the Jedi Master was well known for amongst his students as well as his legendary artistic scrutiny. Upon hearing the last comment, the insectoid Jedi spoke up.

"Of course I know it is there." he said with something resembling annoyance to his voice, snapping from his meditation and opening his eyes with an audible snap. "How often do you see apples floating around on a day to day basis? If they are commonplace, might I suggest seeking the aid of Master Healer Yuthuma and getting your head inspected?"

A small round of laughter made its way throughout the class at the Master's comment. Zahira politely covered her own smile with her hand. She liked her teacher but sometimes she feared that he, along with a few other Masters such as the infamous Yuon Par, were often too informal.

"But why is it there Master?" a Twi'lek boy asked from the other side of the circle.

"Why indeed?" the Verpine echoed thoughtfully, his rhetorical question drawing some of his students inwards towards the apple as they leaned forward to investigate. "You aren't going to be drawing it, if that is what you were thinking."

"Told you it was a prize." Zahira heard a voice whisper off to her side. Evidently so had Master Su, judging by his response.

"It’s not a prize, either." he added with a sigh. "Although, you will be pleased to know that because of your desire to have it be a reward, we are going to be changing the final prize of the upcoming Padawan Selection Tournament to the apple."

Again, there was a meager host of laughter. The Master's jest, however, was somewhat muted by mention of the tournament, which sent a very cleat jolt of anxiety through most of the students. Master Su, to his credit, seemed to notice.

"Calm down." the art teacher began. "None of you will end up Padawan to an apple. The apple is there to help...heh, illustrate, a point. Today we will be talking about aesthetics. Now, can anyone tell me what that is...?"

Zahira shot her hand up so fast that it was a wonder that she didn't rocket up into the sky. If she were a Sith, she might have accidentally let loose lightning from her fingertips for all of the ferocity which she was waving her hand. "Master Su!" she called, sotto voce.

The insectoid's mandibles twitched into what she assumed was a grin and he gestured to her. "Yes, Zahira?"

"Aesthetics is the branch of philosophy dealing with the nature of beauty, art, and specifically with the creation and appreciation of beauty."

"Very good, Zahira." came his reply over a few groans from the other students. "We are going to be studying the apple and what makes it beautiful. Now, can anyone tell me the first step to figuring out if something is beautiful?"

There was a pause. No one spoke. Zahira thought deeply about the matter. It wasn't really anything she'd ever considered. She knew that she found certain things beautiful: a setting sun, a stack of leather bound books, a smile, Nema's captivating grace during their training sessions. However, she had never asked herself why. Or even how she had come to know such a thing.

Finally, a timid voice broke the heavy silence. It was Harlanis Thrialo, shyly sitting and absentmindedly playing with a blade of grass. "Um...looking at it?"

There were a few snickers but Master Su cut them off with a sharp wave of his hand. "Initiate Thrialo is more right that you all know. Indeed, in order to determine if something if beautiful, you must see it. And that means looking at the thing."

The Master rose to his feet, walking about the outer perimeter of the circle, whilst still focusing on keeping the apple aloft. Finally, he stopped behind a student.

"Tell me, are you looking at the apple?"
"Yes, sir."
"Do you see the apple?"
"Um, well, yeah. It is right there."
"Right there in the middle of the circle."
"I thought I told you to look at the apple."
"What? Master, I am."
"But you were just telling me about the circle."
"I don't understand."
"Can you see the person seated across from you?"
"Can you see the grass?"
"How can I not?"
"Then you are not looking at the apple."
"Master, I can see both."
"And I only told you to look at one."

The Verpine pointed at the apple and cast his finger about; making the fruit dance about in the wind like it was bobbing in water. Up and down. Down and up. Here and there. And as it moved, Zahira followed it with her eyes. Eventually, the apple stopped and returned to its original static orbit. The Master spoke once more.

"To first understand if something is beautiful, we must, as Initiate Thrialo simply stated, look at the apple. And that is more than just seeing it. When we look at something, we must look at it in all of its totality. We must outline it as something separate from the world around it. You must look at the apple and only the apple. Nothing more."

Zahira tried her best to do so. She stared and stared at the apple but always saw the world around it. She understood that she was meant to know the apple as something distinct but try as she might; it was always still framed in by the visible world it was a part of.

As if he was privy to her thoughts, Master Su elaborated. "You might notice that this is not something you can physically do. Fret not, little ones. That is an important thing to note. Many people will tell you that it is important to look at the apple alone and to always look at the apple alone. To then look at the qualities that make it the apple. Redness, skin, a stem, a core. To take all of these things and understand them as a system which makes up a thing called "apple." To find the apple beautiful as a singularity where those qualities are focused and working in tandem."

On the last world, he let the fruit drop to the grass with a muted thud. The apple lay there, cushioned and entangled in the fresh grass.

"But I will tell you that it is more important to understand the apple as something which exists distinctly, yes, but is still always as part of something larger. Observe. The apple now rests in the field like you all rest in the field. Likewise, you all rest within the Force right now. As does the apple. As do all things. So, know this, little ones: all things are beautiful in their distinctness but they are more beautiful in their interconnectedness with the greater truth that is the Force as expressed in reality itself. Come to understand the apple itself, yes. Understand its uniqueness. See it and only it. But then toss it back into the larger universe. "

From the main temple ground, there came the single tone of a deep bell. Class had ended. Some of the students got up right away, some others continued to look at the apple. Master Su gave a clicking sound which drew attention to him. "For assignment, do nothing more than just think about what you think is beautiful and why. We will discuss this more next session."

Zahira rose from her spot, grabbing her book bag and taking one last look at the apple lying in the field before turning and walking back towards the main temple grounds. It took only a few moments, most of which were spent in absentminded thought as she tried to picture Nema's distinct and singularly unique movements as she sparred an intangible, shadowy foe. She wandered in thought for some time, trying to recall every minute movement of her friend, every captivating flourish and elegant pirouette.

She was wrested from her fantasizing by a veritable uproar of chatter coming from the training grounds. Peering towards the familiar pasture, she saw a swarm of students gathered around what appeared to be a notice which had been attached to a sign point. Curiosity guiding her feet, she joined the throng. Trying to squeeze into the crowd or peer over their shoulders to get a closer look at the announcement, she was dismayed to find she could not. And as she tried to move in deeper to see, she felt a small hand grasp her wrist and tug her out of the gathered horde.

"Hey!" she yelped, turning to her kidnapper. It was Genti.

The ebony skinned Zabrak gave a wide grin as he waved at the girl.

"Careful, Zahira!" he offered brightly. "Not gonna be able to get through that pack of wild vornskr any time soon. Not without losing some fingers."

"I don't understand. What is all the commotion? Did the war start up again?"

"Worse." he stated, with a sly and toothy smile. "They've posted the match ups for the first round of the tournament."
'Jeos Dinas'-Ebon Hawk
Manager, The Ebon Hawk Bounty Board
"Perception Problem."

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03.12.2012 , 11:58 PM | #9
“They might as well call it the Jedi Coliseum...”

Zahira could not hide the disdain from her voice. The sight was garish; the atmosphere less than befitting, especially on the Jedi’s ancestral world of Tython. Why, this was where the Force was first discovered and the Followers of Ashla clashed heroically in battle with the vicious Disciples of Bogan! The stone of the temples here was older than the Republic itself! And now? Now it might as well be hosting the world series for the Galactic Smashball League if one was to judge by the display.

“Geez Bookworm, you really know how to take the fun right out of everything, dontcha?” Nema scolded, standing right by Zahira’s shoulder. “Relax. Aren’t you excited at all?”

“Hmph.” came the reply as Zahira craned her neck to see further out of the small slit between the canvases of the tent which housed the tournament participants.

She did her best to not let her nerves show through. Nema’s question was all but rhetorical anyway. Of course she was excited. But seeing the grounds of the Master’s Retreat turned into an arena worthy of the Geonosian gladiator pits still left something of a bitter taste in her mouth. Where once there largest building was a simple meeting hall meant for rigorous study, debate, and discussion there now stood imposing parapet with ornate arras bearing the logo of the Order. Whereas the landscape was once dominated by solitary shacks meant for deep contemplation of great mysteries stood towering grandstands filled with spectators.

Zahira could see dozens of familiar faces within their ranks. Master Orus sat securely, amusement creeping into her features by the slightest upcurl of her lips; the smallest of smiles. Master Sierog Su, head bobbing occasionally over the sea of faces like a mole popping their head of out a hole in the ground. Oric Traless and Raan Laos, ever engaged in spirited discussion, awaiting the display of martial skills eagerly. Zahira tried to spot Genti within the crowd, keeping a keen eye out for his sanguine expression but she could not spot him.

There were other faces as well, those known to her and those not. She could see the contemplative face of Bela Kiwiks, the famed Togrutan strategist and poet. Her eyes seemed to take in everything around her and nothing at the same time. Near the front of the crowd, Zahira spied a stern looking woman. Her corn colored hair swayed ever to slightly in the breeze but the most remarkable feature of her were bold, deep red lips that stood out like rubies. Last, she saw the inviting face of Satele Shan, Grandmaster of the Order. The legendary Jedi radiated serene warmth that was at odds with the electric excitement of the tournament grounds. Zahira averted her eyes, looking down on the off chance they should met with the Grandmaster’s.

“Amazing, isn’t it?” a cool, euphonious voice asked behind her.

Lifted out of her reverie, Zahira turned about. Nema at her side, she wheel around to see the sunken eyes and waxen face of Cenak Niaka. The Umbaran wore a face full of admiration as he looked out to the tournament grounds. “All of the glory of the Jedi on display.”

“Cenak.” Nema greeted with a curt nod. From the corner of her eyes, Zahira could see Nema’s body almost imperceptibly tense.

“Initiate Traylent.” Cenak offered in return, doing little more than to look the Kiffar up and down. His gaze then settled on Zahira. “Initiate Talu-Song. It is good to see you both. Admiring the spectacle, are we?”

A meager sigh escaped Zahira’s mouth as she shook her head. “It seems…excessive.”

“Can you really blame everyone?” Cenak asked with a hint of sadness in his voice. “Coruscant was only a year ago. You can’t begrudge us for wanting to actually celebrate something. I think it is wonderful: the full glory of the Jedi on display.”

“What do you want, Cenak?” Nema interjected quickly, her voice defensive. If Zahira didn’t know better, her friend was trying to defend her.

“I just wanted to extend and offer of good luck to you both.” Cenak admitted with a humble expression. “I’ve been offering it to all the participants.”

“Good luck.” Nema shot back quickly. Zahira muttered her own offer immediately after.
A triumphant fanfare blared from outside the tent as bellows horns, tympanic pulsars, and other orchestral instruments pierced the air. Applause followed and the voice of Satele Shan began to speak word barely heard through the tent. Before Zahira could strain her ear to listen, another voice drowned the Grandmaster’s out.

“Alright. Gather ‘round Initiates.” a brisk and booming voice called out from the center of the tent. Liam Dentiri, one of the Temple’s foremost combat instructors stood there. Gesturing, he directed the students in the tent towards him. Zahira and Nema made their way over, Cenak not far behind. The dark skinned Jedi Master was soon encircled by students of all species. Human, Draethos, Squib, Twi’lek, and more.

“Listen up.” Dentiri called out, silencing the rush of chatter that had overcome the students. “The tournament is about to get underway. First match is between Initiates Thrialo and Niaka. Before we begin, I’m going to go over the rules. Students will face off against each other in single combat. The match will last until either one of the combatants cannot continue to fight or one yields by the standard cry of “Solah”. Additionally, the match may end if the Masters call for it to.”

Zahira looked over at Harlanis Thrialos quickly. The handsome boy looked anxious, if determined. His face was contorted in a combination of dread and stalwart resolve. She did not bother to look over to Cenak Niaka. His face was surely highlighted by imperious confidence.

Dentiri continued. “You are expected to show discretion in your matches and to abide by the expected conduct learn from your training. Don’t worry. I’m sure you all will do well. Thrialo, Niaka: come with me.”

The pair followed Master Dentiri to the edge of the tent. It was just in time. Grandmaster Shan’s voice no longer could be heard. All was silent. As Dentiri left the tent, the students rushed over to the exit to see the action that would ensure. Rushing quickly ahead of the pack, Zahira managed to kneel right at the very front of the group. Through the slits of the canvases, she could see the tournament grounds well.

Bringing the two combatants to the center of the grassy field that was the arena, he gave a bow to Grandmaster Shan and the gathered masters. “Initiates Thrialo and Niaka!” he announced grandly, gesturing from one student to the other, handing them each a training saber before slowly retreating back to the edge of the pitch. A smattering of applause rang out, composed and somewhat removed from the raucous excitement of before.

Harlanis and Cenak were little more than thirty feet apart. Harlanism saber gripped tightly in hand, inclined himself in a deep bow. It seemed less a gesture of humility and respect than an attempt to bury his head into the dirt before him and hide. Cenak, to his credit, offered a similarly deep bow, keeping his eyes on his fellow initiate at all times. Standing up proudly, he kept his weapon at his side. Somehow the gesture seemed both nonchalant and arrogant. He did nothing, his eyes fixed upon Harlanis.

That stare. Uncompromising and harsh, it seemed to bore into Harlanis’ very heart. Any vestige or veneer of confidence that the young man might have carried on his face shattered in an instant, crushed by the relentless force of Cenak’s gaze. Harlanis clutched the hilt of his training saber tight, his knuckles white and his palms sweaty. There was not a single noise across the tournament grounds. All there was, was Cenak’s glare, strong enough to stop a supernova in its tracks. More than enough to stop measly little Harlanis Thrialo.

“S…Solah!” the shaken young man called out, his shrill voice echoing throughout the pitch. “I yield!”

A spatter of gasps answered him, disbelieving cries from the audience and a few upset shouts. Master Dentiri stepped over to Cenak. “Initiate Niaka!” he called out, raising the Umbaran’s free hand above his head.

Applause finally filled the air as the audience overcame the shock and disappointment of the “match” they’d just witness. Harlanis turned away from it all and began walking back to the tent, his eyes burning with the sting of complete failure. It took everything in Zahira’s power to stop herself from running out to console him. She looked passed him at Cenak Niaka.

With his sick grin and pale skin, he look just like a living Ghost.
'Jeos Dinas'-Ebon Hawk
Manager, The Ebon Hawk Bounty Board
"Perception Problem."

Charmedseed's Avatar

04.13.2014 , 09:47 PM | #10
I love this! Your writing is excellent. I know it's been a while since an update, but I'd love to see where this story has gone.
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