Never before could I remember seeing the Temple as empty as it was tonight.
The war was over – that much had been verified three months ago, when an armistice was signed – and yet…my spirit wasn’t at rest. Many of the Masters and Knights were as of yet on reassignment – working throughout the galaxy to begin the long road of reconstruction. The Mandalorians had wrought far more damage on the Republic than many would have thought possible, given their numbers and their minority in the face of the grand armada that the Republic had at its disposal, and many planets were left broken and in ruin. But the Jedi were playing their part, helping to restore those planets and reassure the people…but not me. I had been forbidden from leaving Coruscant – from leaving the Temple
, even – but I was not given the reason why…and thus the reason for my agitation.
It was the third night of my sleeplessness that I found myself wandering the dark, empty halls of the vast headquarters of the Jedi. It was a home, once, to me and to thousands of Padawans and students. But that had changed. Since the beginning of the war, it had become more of a fortress – a stubborn one, an inactive one, but a fortress nonetheless. The Jedi had never full engaged in the war, and so talk of battle plans were rarely ever heard in its desolate halls…but the easy spirit of knowledge and learning had evaporated in the light of our leaving. The students were solemn, the masters grave. Though none of them had lifted a finger towards supporting the front lines, the echoes of war wound constantly through the empty air of these cold, unfeeling corridors…the very stone
seemed to glare hatefully at me as I passed through on my restless way, almost as if the building itself was reproving me for doing what I had to do…for defending it, its inhabitants, and everything it stood for. This Temple, this place that was once a sanctuary had forever closed its doors to me. I was no longer the Padawan who had learned in its classrooms. I was a new person, a different Jedi…and an alien.
Though every corridor and room I had passed was dark and uninhabited, there ahead of me was a beam of blue-white light streaming out across the flagstones – and it was this beacon that brought me from my revere. A frown furrowed my brow, for it was late – and there was only one person that I could imagine staying up until this hour. And sure enough, it was the Archives that I found myself on the threshold of – and there was a single lone figure sitting at one of the work stations, a curtain of short, dark hair hiding her face from me. My footsteps were silent.
“Have you noticed what time it is?”
“The sun is just rising on Dantooine. It can be considered a reasonable enough hour to work there, don’t you think?”
Ah…of course. Nothing seemed to startle her anymore – she probably knew of my approach long before I had even realized that I was not alone in my insomnia. She didn’t look up from her work – the small stacks of datapads lay at her right, her own personal pad sitting beneath her hand as she took notes both there, and in a portable computer station that was sitting directly before her. Her right hand scratched notes across the screen of her datapad, the curling, elegant script that I knew so well carrying a new jaggedness about it – almost as if the movement of her hands were impatient, as if she weren’t working nearly as quickly as she would have liked. Her left hand held her head, her palm pressed to her temple beneath the sheet of midnight-black locks, the position making it impossible to discern her features from where I stood. But I didn’t need to see her face to know with whom I spoke. Over the many years I’ve spent by her side, I had become so in tune with her presence that regardless of where I was – a few feet away, or in a different system entirely – she was always blip in the back of my mind, a reminder that I could never ignore…not that I would ever want to.
“And I’m sure that it’s happy hour on Tattooine as well – but you don’t see me heading out to the cantinas to drink my sorrows away at this hour, do you?” I took the seat across from her, from where I could see the ghost of a smile flicker across her thin lips. Her skin was pale – paler than usual, it seemed, in the blue glow of the computer screen before her and the datapads beside her. It was a rather…eerie sight.
“Not that you would be able to, even if you meant to.” she answered. Still she did not look up at me. “How long have they decided to lock you up for?”
“I don’t know that you can really call it being ‘locked up
’, but…they haven’t given me a definite date. It feels like they’re stalling – deciding to keep me ‘safe and sound’ here until they can figure out what to do with me.”
“Until they can figure out what to do with any
of us, you mean.” she murmured as she scribbled down another note on her datapad, her eyes scanning the computer screen rather than watching what her hand was doing.
“Well, I doubt that they’re going to try and punish the very people that saved the Republic.” I answered, my hands toying gently with the leather band I wore on my left arm, the beads hanging from the straps glowing slightly with the power stored inside. My eyes idly watched the movements of my fingers, though I paid very little true attention. If she wasn’t going to look up at me, then I wouldn’t ask her to. Even so, my eyes flicked up to look at her – even for a second – only to note that the small smile she had borne until now had disappeared. She was typing away at the computer now.
“I wouldn’t quite call us saviors just yet.” she answered, her voice low – little more than a whisper. Even with the silence around us – complete, save for the hum of the workstations around us – it was difficult to hear her…a factor that made me wonder whether or not she had meant for me to hear it at all.
An uncomfortable silence fell between us. She continued with her work, her eyes careful to avoid even the smallest of flicks up to mine, her hands moving quickly as she diligently went about her work – which, as of yet, was a mystery to me. However, as I watched, the suspicions I had been drawing over the past week or so were beginning to stir themselves. I recognized this pattern of behavior, a detail that had my stomach sitting uneasily. Sure enough, as she shifted the pile of datapads to pick out another, one slid off the top of the pile and clattered to the table top before me. The data entry accessed was one of a starchart.
For the first time since I’d entered the room, her dark blue eyes flashed up to meet mine – and even through the glare of the light that reflected off the lenses of her square-rimmed glasses, I could see that her look was not an entirely kind one. She quickly launched forward out of her chair to snatch the datapad away from me – though I could tell from the look in her eyes that she knew it was already too late. She knew that I had seen the contents of the datapad, and that I had drawn my own conclusions about the subject of her research. Even so, she said nothing…and for several moments, neither did I.
She returned to her work as if nothing had happened to disrupt it, and I leaned back in my chair, steepling my fingers. I looked at her, my brown eyes studying her features. For several long minutes, the silence overwhelmed us…and then, compelled by the new tension that electrified the air, I broke it with a question. “You’re leaving again, aren’t you?”
The rhythmic tapping of the keys stopped as her hands paused their typing. Her eyes didn’t move…and neither did her lips. She stared straight ahead…but I could see that she wasn’t watching the screen, or reading anything she had written. Her eyes were empty and hollow…almost as if she were trying to decide how to respond. Finally, her words came. “I’m afraid I don’t know what you’re talking about.” And she went right on typing.
Her indifference sparked a flare in me – though what emotion it was exactly, I had know idea. I pushed myself out of my seat, no longer able to sit still. I paced away from her. “Don’t give me that – I’m not a fool.” I answered, and though my voice was flat, there was no anger in it. “You’re not eating, you’re barely sleeping – I hardly see hide nor hair of you all day, and when I do, you’re here
, lost amongst your datapads and holobooks!” I turned to face her, my body waking up more and more every second. I had been in a fog up until then – but now, I felt as if I were once again aboard one of the flagships, preparing for a battle that I was standing right on the edge of. My senses heightened, my muscles warmed. “Don’t think that I don’t recognize it – you were the exact same way on Dantooine, before you left for the Wars! You did your research then, too. You became distant, unwell – and yet, the same fire lights your eyes now as it did then!”
Her eyes were carefully directed at the screen all during the time that I spoke, her work continuing on as if she didn’t hear me…but at these last words, she stopped and looked up. Her gaze was softer now than it had been a moment ago. It beckoned me closer, regardless of whether she meant it to or not, and I was powerless to resist. Slowly, I began to return to her side.
“My job isn’t done.” she answered, her voice quiet and faint as it had been before. Her voice was like a lullaby to me, her gaze a sedative – and even as my spirit settled itself, I cursed her for the effect she had on me…had always
had on me. “The might be over, and the Mandalorians might no longer be a real threat – but there is more sitting on the horizon, and I fear that the Republic – weak as it is – won’t be able to stop it.”
I frowned as I looked at her, uncertain of what she meant. “More? More like what?”
She shook her head, and averted her eyes from me once more. “I can’t be certain. There’s just…a hunch
, call it, I don’t know. It’s like…every time I cast my senses out to the edges of the galaxy, it’s as if there’s a cloud, a fog that I can’t see past – and I don’t like it. I’ve never felt it before now, and it has me at ease.”
“And what do you plan to do about it?” I asked, the words coming out hotly – perhaps a bit harsher than I had intended. I stood directly beside her now. “Go out and fight it by yourself? Explore the Outer Rim and beyond for its source on your own?”
“Of course not.” she answered, her voice turning sharp in response to my tone. She turned and began typing again.
“The Republic needs to be defended.”
“And just how
do you think you’re going to do that? The fleet is still suffering – we have no army left! The Jedi have already shown that they won’t support another war. The economy is struggling – there’s no money left to spend on defenses that seems pointless to create now!”
Silence…and then, “We both know that there’s another way to raise an army, Azrael.”
I was immobilized for a second, her words catching me off guard. However, the meaning of what she said was hardly lost upon me. “No.”
“You know that it’s the only way—”
“No! No, no, no!
” I paced away a moment, my jaw set, fingers clenched into fists. Finally, I turned on her. “You know
why the Star Forge has been erased from the records! You know
why no one is supposed to know of its existence! It’s power
“Could mean the difference between the life and death of the Republic!” she stood from her chair, crossing to where I stood. Though her words were assertive, her face was gentle, touch soothing. She set her hands gently on my upper arms, the warmth of her skin tangible through the thin fabric. “You have to understand that what I sense is no ignorable thing! It’s true that I don’t know what it is, and it’s true that I can’t be certain what it means – but I can’t just sit around and wait until this new enemy decides to show itself!”
“How do you know that there even is
an enemy??” I asked sharply in return. “I sense nothing, the Masters sense nothing – how can you be sure that you aren’t just—” I bit my tongue, cutting my sentence short. It didn’t matter – she knew what words were waiting on my lips.
“That I’m what? Not just dreaming again?” Her voice was a snarl now; her small fingers tightened around my arms. “The Jedi Masters are blind! They were blind to the threat of the Mandalorians, and they’ll be blind to this one too! Until it’s too late – because once this enemy decides to strike, there will be no defenses left for the Republic! You said it yourself! The Fleet is devastated, our defenses crushed because of the Wars! It wouldn’t take much for an enemy of the Republic to come sweeping in and finish what the Mandalorians started!”
“Then we’ll find a way to rebuild! We’ll find defenses somewhere! But the Star Forge is not
“And why not?? It can save us—”
“It will destroy
“You don’t honestly think me that weak, do you?”
I stood silently for several seconds, my hard glare matching hers unwaveringly. “The Republic won’t believe you.”
“Then let them rebuke me.”
“The Jedi won’t approve.”
“Then let them reprove me.”
“Your followers will think you mad.”
“Then let them wonder about me. I am not afraid, Azrael – I know full well the path that lies ahead of me. But I am not without allies.”
I pushed her away, breaking her hold on me. “What allies?? The Republic will think you’re a traitor if you abandon them now! If the Jedi learn of your destination, you’ll be ostracized, cast out – exiled!
“I have single-handedly saved the Republic – and I did it without
the Jedi’s approval!” her voice was raising with every word she spoke. True anger burned in her eyes now as she glared at me. “Do you honestly
think that I’m worried of what the public will think?? I’ve been a poster-girl long enough for blind fools that know not what stands ten feet ahead of their vision! If the good of the Republic rests solely on my shoulders, then I will not be the one to shrug it off!!”
“You’re willing to give up everything you’ve worked for until now??” I shouted right back, my fists shaking as I tried to calm myself – unsuccessfully, of course. “The work that’s claimed thousands
of lives – millions, even! Your friends, your followers – men and women who followed faithfully in your wake, thinking you would lead them to a victory for the greater good, even if it meant giving their lives
– you’re just going to throw it all away because of some hunch?
“If I don’t act, then all of that is forfeit anyway.”
“And your life? You do realize that your enemies still live – that they still plot for your death, every minute of the day? If they learn you are traveling alone—”
“I have risked life and limb far more times than I can count and have come out on top.”
“Then what of your soul?
” The words hung in the air like the toll of a bell, the deep tones reverberating in both of our ears with a feeling of such foreboding that it took me a moment to continue what I was saying. “You know just as well as I do that the Star Forge is a place of great evil – you know of the legends! It’s devoured more souls than any other object of the Dark Side. If you go, you risk losing yourself!”
Silence again as we stared each other down across the empty space of the few feet that separated us. I prayed silently to myself that she would listen – oh, for the love of the Force, please
let her listen! – but as the minutes grew longer, I knew that my prayers would go unanswered. Her eyes were defiant. There was no gentleness left…I could tell that what had grown between us was shattered now – there was no kindness, no attachment, no affection
in those eyes now. I was one of them
– I was against her…an enemy.
“If it is the price for the future of the Republic…” she said slowly, her voice low and dangerous, “Then so be it.”
I gritted my teeth, shaking my head violently. My eyes closed, my head hung...for I knew that I was defeated. But there was still one chance left – and despite my growing surety of her answer, I couldn’t stop myself from trying. “I won’t go with you.”
“I never asked you to.”
And there it was. The final blade through the heart. I opened my eyes to look at her, my eyes hard as I fought all emotion out from them. Even so, I could feel tears burning to escape me. I couldn’t turn back now – there was only one thing for it. I had to turn around. I had to leave her. But…there was only one question repeating in my mind. Am I strong enough?
“In that case…” I said, my voice low and words slow. “I wish you luck on your endeavors.” She said nothing in response. Slowly, so achingly slowly, I turned around…and left the woman I loved behind.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
I watched him go, more pain in my heart than ever before. I was surprised that he had actually left me…and I was even more surprised at myself. Did I really just watch him walk away? Did I really…did I really just let him walk out of my life…forever?
But…no. I couldn’t dwell on that now. I lied to myself, saying that he would come around, he would change his mind…anything to stop myself from realizing that he really wouldn’t be coming with me this time. My research was finally nearing its completion, my plans were falling into place – there were only five more pieces of data left for me to collect, and it was data that even the Jedi did not hold. With slow movements, I pulled my glasses from the bridge of my nose and stored them away, loading the files onto my datapad and storing that away as well. I didn’t bother to clean up the other datapads – I merely wiped the workstation clean of any memory of my research and any searches I had run before turning my attentions to the future.
The arrangements were made. I could leave tonight – I could leave that very minute…and in the growing darkness, I knew that I would have to. My fingers closed over the thin sheet of metal that had been sitting at my right hand side…and as I lifted it, I stared into the face that had been mine for the past several years. There was a feeling of darkness as I looked upon it now, a sense of doom that echoed through the darkness around me…but this symbol was mine – it had become my identity. And now, it would be mine again.