A little longer than the usual, but I think you'll enjoy the extra length anyway.
[Force Persaude] @ Hallucination: Just skip those last 10 paragraphs. Nothing for you to see there....
Edit: Thanks for the betas, Jiara and Emperor Devon!
Chapter 22: The Meetings
“Come, please,” Master Vandar motioned to the three of us. Masters Vrook, Kavar, Vash, and Supat sat in their customary places in the circle of chairs. Sunlight streamed through the lofty windows that soared to the top of the spire. The rays glinted off metal, warming the amber carpet and ivory colored furnishings, lighting up everyone except Vrook. Jolee strode past the tall white center stone and we followed, stopping in the center of the group of Jedi. We all bowed slightly to them.
“Happy to see you, too,” Jolee quipped at the stern Master.
Vrook waved a hand irritably. “Let's get to business. Master Jolee informed us of the visions you've been having, Jae, and Talin's claim that this Sith Lord is using the Xi-ro form.” Vrook scowled at Talin. “Any good student of mine would remember how little it's used, and how very unlikely it is that any Jedi is still using it, much less a Sith Lord.”
“I understand your concerns, Master, but it's the only possible conclusion I can make for that particular pattern of moves,” Talin said.
Kavar noted, “Enough Jedi fell to the dark side in the last forty years that it's entirely possible that form has been passed on. Not that many have ever learned it, however. We might be able to track the Sith Lord this way.”
Vrook snorted. “We'll see. Show me this form, Jae.” I wove through the complex pattern, lightsaber whirling. I stopped and repeated moves as Master Vrook directed. He rubbed his chin in thought, then said, “Well, it is
Xi-ro as you thought, Talin.”
Jolee said, “I don't like this one bit. Xi-ro's a dangerous form. Nasty, nasty moves. Hard to defend against, too, since the high-powered strikes come so fast.”
“Jae's form is terrible, too, though to be fair, she's only learned it through a vision. Jae, you'll work with me on it, then.”
“I'm not sure how long we're staying, Vrook. We just got a summons from our nemesis to return his toys.” Jolee held up the holodisk with the message.
Vandar pressed a button on his chair and a holoreader appeared. “Let's see this message, please.”
Jolee walked over to the reader and inserted the disk. The faceless black-shrouded figure appeared. He laughed low, oozing evil. A chill ran down my spine. “Really, Jolee, I would have expected you to remember such a simple message....”
Images flashed before me. The Sith Lord laughing low. Toying with parts of the disk. White flash!
I ran to the holoreader and slapped the control to eject the holodisk. I grabbed it and dashed to the window, holding my hand up and sending a wave of the Force out. The tall window shattered, and I threw the disk away as hard as I could. It exploded in a brilliant white light. The sonic force rattled the windows and pounded through us as I ducked. Then there was silence, and I opened my eyes again and saw only a large cloud of smoke. There was no damage to any other structures. I let out a deep breath in relief and turned back to the other Jedi. Worry flickered momentarily through Talin's eyes as they met mine. I smiled slightly at him and looked over to Jolee. He walked over to me, looking me up and down.
“I'm fine,” I assured him.
“Quick thinking, there. I could kick myself for not anticipating a trap like that,” Jolee said.
Vrook got up and joined me on my other side. The breeze fluttered our robes as he squinted up into the sky and then peered at the courtyard below. “Hmph. Looks like everyone is safe and there's no other damage. Next time, Padawan, just open the window.” He walked back to his seat, sitting down and arranging his robes around him while.
Jolee rolled his eyes. “Vrook, you have a funny way of saying thank you to someone who just saved you from a butt full of shrapnel.”
I choked back a laugh and grinned at Jolee, who grinned back. “Actually, Jolee, I 'saw' the Sith doing something to the disk and then the explosion. I thought I'd better get rid of it before it blew.”
“Well, the message he sent on the holodisk told us he wanted us to meet him on Telos. Obviously the real
message is 'I want you dead,'” Jolee told the group as we returned to the center of the room. “We know he's working out of Telos. We need to fly out there and see what we can find.”
“I'm sure my uncle would like to help, too,” I said.
Jolee quipped, “I'm sure Carth will want to lock you up in a stateroom to keep you out of harm's way, too.”
Kavar sat still, frowning thoughtfully before looking at me. “This Sith Lord is aggressive. He acts and uses Xi-ro aggressively. Defense is often lacking when someone is constantly on the attack —use that to your advantage.”
Vash nodded agreement. “You need to go quickly to Telos and take him out before he can gain do any more damage.”
“I have a contingent from Dantooine arriving in a couple days, so I can't go to Telos to fine-tune Xi-ro with you,” Vrook said. “Talin will go with you then. His skills in Xi-ro are adequate enough to teach you. However, you will have to work hard with him to learn it well, Jae.”
“Yes, Master Vrook. I have plenty of incentive, believe me.”
“I'm sure you do,” Jolee drawled. I shot him a sideways look which he ignored.
Vandar turned to the Ithorian healer. “Master Supat, any information from your patients?”
He slowly shook his large head. “No, not much. Dycen'a will be in kolto for several more days. The only thing we could get from the mercenary, even after his mind was opened, was that he'd been hired by Norelden and the Exchange on Telos.”
“That meshes with the information our science team has gleaned from the data you brought from Li'adin,” Vash said to us. “Dycen'a made jumps in time to just before the Ossus supernova. He also made stops at Li'adin, naturally, as well as Coruscant, Nar Shaddaa, and Telos. We sorted the data and cross-checked it with all ship dockings to see if there were any other ships coming in at the same time--he had to have met with this Sith Lord. We didn't find any matches, but there were about 20 suspicious registries. You should be able to find more about the Telosian ones, at least, when you meet with Captain Onasi.”
“The Sith Lord probably changed his ship registry,” Jolee mused. “Mik'oth might be able to help with that, too”
“For a price, no doubt,” growled Vrook.
“I'll tell him to send you the bill,” Jolee retorted, and Vrook rolled his eyes.
Vandar said, “We'll interview Dycen'a as soon as we can, but don't delay leaving for Telos for that. Jae, you'll study Xi-ro with Vrook while here the next couple days, and then with Talin on your journey. All three of you must concentrate on the Scourge defense. We'll contact you with any additional information the moment we have it. All of us sense great danger with this Sith Lord, but everything is still shrouded in darkness and the future is very unclear. Use great care when you contact him. May the Force be with you all.”
We bowed and left the Council chambers.
Jolee rubbed his belly. “I'm starving. I think we ought to take a little trip over to the Eloni Cantina.”
“Talin's in for a treat,” I grinned.
Talin lifted an eyebrow. “Oh? Should I be concerned?”
I grinned even wider. “You'll see.”
“I think I should be scared now.”
“Fear leads to the dark side, Talin,” I said.
Talin shook his head before smiling. “It's never a dull moment with you two.”
* * *
As Jolee opened the doors of the Eloni Cantina, the music pounded and the laughing chatter rushed past us. The gem-colored lights whirled and flashed as we stepped into the warm, night-dimmed main room and searched through the crush of sentients for Mik'oth. We found him and waved when we caught his eye. He waved back, then pressed his way past the patrons of many different species. There were Zeltrons in neon colors, brightly-dressed humans and Arkanians, and the sensual Twi'leks in glittering outfits as they all danced on the dance floor or moved around their tables or the main bar. He smiled and said a few words to many of them before he finally reached us.
“Ah! Lekku-less wonder! How wonderful you're here! What kind of trouble do I need to extricate you from this time?” Mik'oth exclaimed over all the noise.
“Ha! I'd have to rescue you!” Jolee retorted, giving the blue Twi'lek a bear hug.
Mik'oth looked over at me and his face lit up. “My favorite Padawan! Come, let me greet you properly!” He took both my hands and made a great show of kissing both cheeks loudly. “My cantina is blessed with your beauty. I hope you're staying for awhile, though I might have to beef up security to keep your many admirers at bay.” Talin looked at me in amusement and I just shook my head at Mik'oth, smiling broadly.
Jolee said, “Mik'oth, this is Jedi Knight Talin Kayl. Talin, Mik'oth.”
Talin bowed slightly to the Twi'lek. “A pleasure to meet you.”
“My pleasure, to be sure. Friends of the Lekku-less wonder are always welcome here.”
Jolee looked Mik'oth up and down. He was wearing a shiny navy suit with glowing green stripes, and sported fluorescent green rings, vest, and a silk tie to match. Jolee said to him, “You're dressed sedately today.”
Talin coughed back a laugh.
Mik'oth gave him an airy wave. “Well, you know, when the tax man comes, you have to dress conservatively to make a good impression. I decided to turn off the dancing light feature on the stripes and just go for a solid glow to avoid looking gaudy. But you didn't come here to admire my superb taste in clothing.”
“I never underestimate your ability to make an impression with your wardrobe,” Jolee grinned.
Mik'oth tucked my arm under his, patting my hand. “Come, my dear, only the best table for you. Everyone should see how blessed we are with your presence.” He started to weave his way through the brightly-dressed crowd of sentients who were laughing, drinking, or dancing to the fast-paced music.
“Mik'oth, a more secluded table might be in order. I have some business for you.” Jolee sniffed the air and closed his eyes in appreciation. “A little of whatever that amazing food is that I'm smelling would be terrific, too.”
Mik'oth was the master of the Twi'lek pout. He sighed dramatically. “All right, if I have to squirrel you away, we'll use my office suite. You know the way, Jolee. I'll go find us some dinner.”
Jolee led us up to the far more sedate office seating area, done in deep, understated tones and rich fabrics. A large, extravagant desk filled one corner with only a few datapads breaking the smooth surface. The darkened mirrored windows lining one wall allowed a discreet view of the main room below while maintaining privacy. Brightly colored Twi'lek art hung on the other walls, preventing the room from being somber. Jolee sat down on one of the small dark leather couches. I sat across from him on another, and Talin slid into the space next to me. “Mik'oth will just have to settle for sitting with Jolee,” he said to me.
“He'll be disappointed,” I smiled.
“No doubt he will.”
Mik'oth walked briskly into the office, closed the door, then perched on the sofa next to Jolee, fingers laced over a crossed knee. Jolee settled back into the couch, an arm draped over the back, and looked back and forth at Talin and me. “So, what really
happened? I've been around the galaxy enough times to know that when a man and a woman go walking around in romantic gardens, it's not generally to study pollen measurements.”
I put my head down in my hand. “Nothing happened,” I groaned.
?” Mik'oth asked incredulously, eyes wide.
After I shook my head, Jolee sighed. “Talin, you take my Padawan into a beautiful garden and nothing
happens? What is wrong
with you, boy? Are you waiting for Hoth to thaw or something?”
Talin flushed and cleared his throat. “Well, the Sith happened before anything else could.”
Mik'oth had a confused look on his face, so I explained the events at the garden.
Jolee said, “I suppose that does put a bit of a damper on things. Then we had the meeting with the Jedi Masters.”
“Oh, they're just beyond stuffy with their silly rules that suck the joy out of life,” Mik'oth replied. Then he looked over at the Talin and me for a long moment. We glanced at each other and looked back at him. Mik'oth rolled his eyes. “Oh, for heaven's sake.” He got up and walked over to us. “Give me that hand, Talin,” he commanded, holding out his. Talin slowly raised his hand and Mik'oth grabbed it. He pointed at me next and waggled his finger for me to give him my hand as well. He made a great show of putting our hands together. “Now, stay that way,” he ordered. He returned to his perch on the couch.
I felt the warm flush creep across my cheeks and looked at Talin, who returned my gaze with a small smile.
Mik'oth sighed to Jolee, “Ah, young love. It's a beautiful thing.”
“Maybe it will be, some time this millennium,” Jolee snorted.
“Well, now, you didn't come to my humble cantina for me to solve Jedi love problems, Jolee. Tell me why you're here.”
“I have something for you, Mik'oth,” Jolee said, pulling out a datacard and handing it to him. “We can't get any information through official channels. The ship registries don't match anything in the government records, and we have about 20 each to go through from Coruscant, Nar Shaddaa, and Telos.”
Mik'oth slipped the card into a datapad. “Obviously they're not going to match anything. You avoid 'official' entanglements by using a false registry. The Senate could clamp down on this kind of thing. Of course, then our good galactic citizens would learn about their little jaunts to their mistresses or spice resorts. So, they'll never enforce the rules. All the better for us, then!” Mik'oth skimmed the data. “Most sentients make the mistake of only using one fake registry. It makes them very easy to track. The true professionals have multiple registries and change them often. I'll have my contacts nose around and see what they can find out. Let's enjoy dinner in the meantime.”
Later, one of the well-built, scantily clad serving girls brought us all caffa and handed a datapad to Mik'oth. He waggled his eyebrows at her as he thanked the green Twi'lek girl, and she winked as she left the office. Mik'oth reviewed the data. “Well, aren't you lucky. Three ships fit the data best.”
“That's lucky?” I asked.
Mik'oth peered over at me. “You're lucky that it's only
three. Two are from Telos, one from Nar Shaddaa. Looks like the Telosian ships have docked at Norelden's base several times. The Nar Shaddaan ship is part of Vogga the Hutt's 'unofficial' fleet.” Mik'oth handed the datapad to Jolee.
I nodded understanding. “Ah, stolen.”
Mik'oth poked Jolee in the ribs. “She learns fast, in spite of having you for a master.”
“Hilarious, Mik'oth. It's a wonder you never survived stand-up comedy.”
Mik'oth made an obscene hand gesture at him. “How was I supposed to know those Rodians had no sense of humor after their credit clips disappeared? I ran out of jokes to tell them.”
Jolee chuckled. “On that note, we need to get going. We have a lot to do before leaving for Telos. We appreciate the help very much.”
Talin and I got up, fingertips lingering together a moment longer before we reluctantly dropped hands.
“Sometime you'll have to come in just for pleasure rather than business, you know.” Mik'oth turned to me, took my hand, and kissed my cheeks once more. “As always, my dear, you are welcome here. Talin, you'd better watch out for her. I get very upset if any of my ladies are treated poorly.”
Jolee nodded his head gravely. “Trust me, Talin. You never want to see an angry Mik'oth.”
Talin gave the Twi'lek an indulgent smile before looking at me. “I assure you, I'll give you no reasons to be concerned.”
* * *
Jolee slipped the Accipiter
out of Coruscant's orbit and turned it over to autopilot for the duration of the hyperspace jump.
“I need to meditate some on the Scourge defense, and you two need to work on Xi-ro. I’ll leave you to the sparring for now and join you later.”
Jolee went to his room to relax, and Talin and I went to the sparring room.
“All right, let’s work out the sequence slowly,” he instructed. “It starts with defending the left side head, then circle the blade over and attack the leg, then thrust to the chest....”
We worked on the sequences over and over until each move burned itself into the muscle memory.
“There are still a few rough spots as we get farther into the form.”
“I'm trying not to miss that one block.”
“Trying won't do any good if you miss that block with the Sith Lord, damn it. Let’s work on those in particular, full speed.”
Once again the lightsabers glowed, swinging around with loud hums, crackling with an electric hiss as they came in contact with each other. Talin attacked relentlessly with fierce quick slashes. As fast as the Sith Lord
“You're slowing down. Move it, Jae! I know you can do better than that!”
I grit my teeth and increased my speed again to keep pace as we repeated the form over and over, lightsabers making fiery arcs of light. The image of the Sith Lord striking down on me flashed through my memory, and I turned the wrong way, missing a block. I ducked instinctively.
He yelled “No!” as he pulled up his saber to keep from slicing across my back. It skimmed just above my head and shoulders, then there was silence. I reached for the back of my neck, feeling the fire of the burned skin.
“Oh Force! Are you okay? Let me see!” he exclaimed. He dropped his lightsaber, grabbed the back of my shirt and pulled the neck down and away, then shoved my hand aside to look at the injury.
“Talin! You're choking me!” I gurgled, trying to pull the neck of my shirt off my throat.
“Oh! Sorry!” He gave it some slack and I could breathe again.
I'm fine, Talin. You didn't hit me.”
“I pulled up as soon as I saw you missed the block, but I almost didn't make it in time. You've got some pretty good burns just the same. I’ll go get Jolee,” he said, turning to leave the room.
“No! I’ll be fine in a bit. As long as I'm not dying, all he’ll do is give me guff about learning the hard way and tell me to heal it myself.”
Talin chuckled, relieved. “That he would. At least let me help. I can’t heal like you or Jolee but I might be able to take away some of the pain.”
I nodded, and his hands cooled the fire in my skin. “You have more skill than you give yourself credit for,” I sighed in relief and reached back. The blistered skin had smoothed out and returned to normal. “I think you've healed it completely.” I put my hand on top of his.
He turned me around and gathered me into his arms tightly. His voice was roughened with emotion, “You have no idea how close I came to hurting you badly. Maybe even killing you.”
Circling my arms around his waist, I returned the embrace. “I know how close it was, but we powered down our sabers for sparring.” I looked up at him and saw his anguish. I assured him, “I’m all right, now. So are you.”
His blue eyes, darkened with emotion, held mine. The worry in them gave way to a longing look. He brushed a stray lock of hair off the side of my cheekbone with the back of his hand, and I closed my eyes, savoring the gentle touch. He leaned down, and with a gossamer touch his lips met mine for a brief kiss. My heart beat faster and I sighed deeply as the pleasure shivered through me. He kissed again, this time with an insistent passion that made it hard to breathe.
“Jae, I have a thought on this Scou--” Jolee walked into the room, looking down at a datapad.
Talin and I both stopped and looked over at Jolee. When I made a move to break away, he tightened his arms around me, saying softly in my ear, “Please, stay.”
I relaxed in his arms as Talin cleared his throat.
Jolee looked up. Open-mouthed surprise was followed by a knowing half-grin, half-smirk. He snorted, “About damn time. Carry on!” He turned on his heel and quickly left the room.
I laid my head down on Talin’s shoulder and dissolved into laughter. Talin chuckled, arms still around me.
“I’ve never seen that particular look on his face before,” I said once I caught my breath.
“You know, I was thinking that we should really follow his instructions.” He tipped up my chin with his hand and captured my mouth with his once more, holding me close.