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Old 01-12-2009, 02:55 AM   #1
The Doctor
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Scion of Darkness ~ Episode One: Fear Leads to Anger

After multiple attempts to launch this idea in multiple forms, I have recently decided that this story is simply too large and intricate a project to do on my own - yet too detailed and character oriented to come to life properly in a role-playing environment.

To that end, I present the ultimate rendition of my long lived and sadly under-realised story in full and equal co-operation with one of the most talented writers I've had the pleasure to work with: Endorenna, whose kind and cooperative nature have made for amazing late-night writing sessions. I'd also like to thank Adavardes for his contributions, and wish him luck in his future projects as we part ways with him at this point.

=-=-=-=-=

Star Wars
Scion of Darkness: Fear Leads to Anger

After nearly 400 years of mass lawlessness, plague, and starvation, the Galaxy is slowly crawling towards a new dawn. The GALACTIC ALLIANCE OF WORLDS, a benevolent government body, has taken shape on the mid-rim world of Retalia, spreading to many of the surrounding systems.

The knowledge of the old times, the period before the Great Dark Age following the collapse of the second Galactic Empire, is slowly being recovered and re-distributed through one of the most important places in the entirety of the new Alliance: the Galactic Doctryna Academy.

Now at the dawn of a new age of peace, prosperity, and re-education, the students of the Academy carry the future of the entire Galaxy on their young shoulders - a responsibility they will be forced to bear far sooner than any of them expect...


§ Chapter I §

The spires of the Galactic Doctryna Academy shimmered against the mighty transparent domes of Retalia, the sunlight tinted yellow within them by the planet’s toxic atmosphere. The many labyrinthine corridors, tunnels, and walkways bustled with the footsteps and conversations of the many thousands of students who lived and studied beneath the immense durasteel structures that shielded the seven cities from the harsh conditions of the surface proper, the result of hundreds of years of bombing raids and chemical and biological warfare. The Academy Dome was one of seven nearly identical shelters dotting the surface of the planet, shielding almost two billion people from the toxic air and irradiated landscape.

Amongst the many students moving between the buildings and spires, the classes and dormitories, Tawnos Rashel fought his way towards a mid-size building in the eastern-most end of the Academy Dome that housed the many lecture halls making up the Historical Studies department. He was rather pleased with his luck, in that his assigned dormitory was only a few minutes’ walk from the history tower, where the majority of his classes took place - apart from his Galactic Literature class, which took place in one of the central buildings nearest the administration spire. He had spent his free time during his first week or so on campus learning his way around the Academy grounds, and now felt confident that he could walk from one end of the dome to the other blindfolded.

Travel beyond the domes was impossible, of course - the only way to move between them was through the maze of caverns dug into the ground over the course of the centuries. These caves had once served as the only shelter the people of Retalia had from the terrors of war and plague. Almost a billion people still lived within these tunnels, though now out of desire to do so and having access to multiple city-domes, rather than out of necessity. To his annoyance, however, he hadn’t managed to find the time to explore these catacombs yet, and between his increasing workload and growing reading list he didn’t foresee a point where his free time would be any more abundant.

As he gazed up at the mighty spires that nearly scraped against the apex of the dome, sparkling in the filtered sunlight, he couldn’t help but think about how fitting it was that this world should be the heart of the first interplanetary government body to rise in the Galaxy in nearly four centuries. Retalia was in many ways a symbolic representation of the Galaxy itself: a barren world, ravaged by four-hundred years of war, famine, and disease; but beneath the death, and the fear, and the chaos felt during the Dark Age, the spirit of life itself had survived and even prospered while buried beneath the sickness and the despair. And now, at the dawn of a new age of peace, people from all over had risen from the ashes and begun to rebuild, bound together by a single driving sentiment: hope. And the city domes of Retalia were a near perfect symbolic representation of that rebirth.

It seemed as if life would press forward, and the species that inhabit the Galaxy, ever indomitable in their quest for betterment and peace, would remain the vigilant figureheads of a new tomorrow. Knowing the histories of what had been, and understanding all too well the horrors and violence that had become commonplace, Tawnos knew that, with the constant reminder of their follies and fallacies before them, the Galaxy had a new source of understanding, and would no longer be destined to repeat the mistakes of the past. Whether the new Alliance would crumble or not, at the very least, it was a step in the right direction, and a change for the better in transition from a darker, harsher reality, to a new era of learning and cooperation. There would always be the evils, the corruptions of society, lingering in the dark places of the hearts and minds of sentients everywhere, but perhaps with the new light and attitude of renewal, the flames of the proverbial phoenix that was the Galactic Alliance would burn away those darker thoughts... and hold high the beacon of change at long last.

§

Celeb moved through the hallway with a determined pace, his movements stern and regal, a march-like gait honed and perfected in living with a military father for most of his life. Though he kept his eyes dead-set on the end of the long corridor, seeing other students and teachers only through peripheral vision, the young man’s mind was clouded with extraneous thoughts, whirling around him with doubt and fear in his latest exploits. Celeb had lived on a small, relatively unknown planet that had a strong military presence throughout its government. The planet, known for its stern isolationist policies and lightning-fast reaction times to crises, had allowed it to survive the plague relatively intact. It was this fact that lead to such a vested faith in military strength, and inevitably, an almost entirely martial social order. Most boys, when they reached the age of 19, were shipped off to training camp to learn the strategies and physical conditioning required for surviving and even conquering live combat. For Celeb, it would have been no different, and in fact, more was expected from the boy than the regular recruits, because of his father’s considerable reputation.

Colonel Torvald Mendari had always been spotless in his duties as chief security officer of the Northern Hemisphere’s patrol unit, but unfortunately, he was an underappreciated officer at best. Many of his old Academy mates had moved up through the ranks and surpassed him, while Torvald’s temperamental and often egotistical ways had detracted from his efficiency and talent as a soldier. He was a brilliant tactician, and if anyone deserved the High General rank, it was him, if not for his showboating nature and tendency to ignore the opinions and advice of subordinates and superior officers alike, even when said advice tended to turn out as the best course of action. He had tried and failed to attain his most sought after treasure, the rank he felt belonged to him and nobody else. Now, on the crux of his retirement, and in turn, the defeat of his ambitions, Torvald turned to his son to avoid waving the white flag of surrender in his family’s name. Celeb, however, had different plans. Though he had grown up learning how to fight and shoot, and how to handle himself in survival environments, his interests as a young man had changed quite significantly.

Looking at his future, and the future of the Galaxy, Celeb saw more in himself than just the military leader of some backwater world, as his father had envisioned for him. He had looked up at the stars, into the murky black speckled with pinpricks of life, and had seen nothing but boundless potential, and a life unfettered, without dictation or certainty, without structure or order, or commands or regulations. He saw a life without uniforms and salutes and weapons and pawns. His entire life had been defined around the squares of a chess board, a huge, unwavering pattern that heralded a life untouched by the spontaneous or the unplanned. What Celeb saw in the brilliant night sky, he wanted, more than he had wanted anything else in his life, but most of all, Celeb wanted to love. His mother, who had died in childbirth, had nearly been the death of Torvald’s career, causing his performance to slip for months afterward, and even following the grief, the chief officer had been harsh and commanding of Celeb, all the way into adolescence. Still, Celeb cherished what his father had taught him, as it had helped him be strong and ready to pursue his dreams, no matter how unwanted they were by family or friends. Thus did he pack up and head for the Academy on Retalia, to gain an education and get a pilot’s license to see the Galaxy in his own ship, however he saw fit.

Snapping himself back to the land of the living and out of his daydreams, Celeb caught sight, out of the corner of his eye, of something powerful enough to make him crane his neck and unglue his eyes from his intended destination: a young woman, with dark blond hair, and entrancing, deep dark brown eyes, passed him in the hallway without so much as a glance. Celeb had discovered, once leaving his planet, that not all women were muscular and domineering in manner and personality, as were the commonplace traits of women back home. Seeing the soft, supple, and elegant beauty of many girls at the Academy had caused Celeb to be somewhat… fixated on the subject of the opposite sex. Unfortunately, his blunt and rather predictable come-ons had not garnered much affection from his ladies of interest, but he had high hopes that eventually, one of the women would give him the chance to experience a more secular pleasure still eluding his efforts. Turning on his heel to follow the young woman, Celeb matched her speed and looked at her with a bold grin.

“You look like you’re in a hurry.”

The girl rolled her eyes slightly and continued walking. Without looking at him, she said, “I am. I don’t have time to talk.”

Keeping his stride in both gait and spirit, Celeb looked casually at his watch.

“Well, looks like I have some extra time until my class starts, so I could walk with you, maybe keep you company.”

She sighed, and cast him a sidelong look of disdain. “And what makes you think I want company?” she asked venomously.

“Well…” Celeb looked down at the floor with a mock-serious gaze, his eyes slowly sliding back up, from the girl’s rear, up to her chest, then back to her eyes, “Everyone needs someone… sometimes.”

She pulled a face as she saw his gaze fall to her body, and suppressed a mirthless laugh as he spoke. “You really are delusional, aren’t you?” she chuckled darkly.

“Slightly, yes. But in a lovable, don’t-want-to-like-him-but-can't-help-it sorta way. Don’t you think?” Celeb said, his cocky smile returning to his face. “So what do you say to some java after school, the old café down the street, 5 o’clock?”

She cast him another look of barely suppressed loathing. “I’m busy,” she said shortly.

“Maybe some other time, then!” Celeb called after her as he stopped walking, then turned on his heel and headed back the way he had come. It wasn’t like he hadn’t experienced rejection before; in fact, this was just the third of the day, and it wasn’t even noon yet. He always enjoyed a challenge, and didn’t enjoy getting something he hadn’t earned properly, so being denied was always a welcome twist. Smiling to himself in spite of his failure, Celeb rushed forward to make it to his next class.

§

Ashalle sighed wearily as the boy moved away. He had seemed unusually resistant to the scathing tone that had quickly cowed many males over the past few years - most men backed down immediately when she shot them “the look”, but it didn’t seem to have dampened this one’s spirit at all; on the contrary, he had seemed encouraged by her outright refusal of his advances.

She was used to being pursued, of course. She had always been a pretty little girl, and had blossomed earlier than most girls her age, drawing the unwanted attention of nearly every boy at school. She had spent more of her high school life dodging hopeful young horn-dogs than she had studying, and she hated it. She hated being treated like an object; she hated being looked at for just her physical appearance; she hated the way men of varying ages leered at her as she walked down even her own street. She had hoped she could escape that kind of objectification here on Retalia, but she still caught the occasional side-long glance from a male in the hall, no doubt thinking he was being subtle enough to escape her notice - or in some cases, even the notice of whatever female company they happened to be entertaining at the time. It was exactly such lewd behaviour that lay at the root of her distaste for the male gender. She had dated in high school, of course, but only on the insistence of her friends. She had never enjoyed the company of men, the only possible exception being her brother, when they had been children. They had always played well together in their earlier years.

She felt a pang of guilt as her twin crossed her mind. They had been very close as children, and even in their earlier school years they played with the same circle of children. But as time moved on, and social groups evolved and changed, she had left her brother behind. She never stopped caring about him deeply, of course, but her actions from that point on - the past few years in particular - certainly didn’t show it. Her brother hadn’t been the most popular of young people back on Gwellin, and she hadn’t exactly been the shining example of a good sister once her own popularity had grown. She had tried, in the past year or so since they had finished school back home, to make up for the way she had treated him, but his trust in her appeared to be completely shattered. They had only spoken twice since arriving at the Academy nearly eight months ago, and their conversation had been terse at best. She resolved to find him after her next class, if only to catch up after nearly three months of silence between them. The problem, she realised, would be finding him in a talkative mood. Both times they had spoken since arriving, he had given short, non-committal replies to anything she said, and only half-heartedly committed to speak with her again later - but she was determined to rebuild some form of relationship, regardless of his resistance.

Satisfied with her plan for the time being, she unconsciously shifted her bag on her shoulder and pushed through the crowd towards her class slightly more content since her encounter a few moments ago - though she was sure her relatively good mood would not last long.

§

Gherion strode clumsily through the hallway toward lunch, his footing haphazard and inelegant in its progression. He was not one for physical ability, even in the everyday activities of walking or running. Hell, there were even a few instances in his life where sitting had been a difficult task to assume with grace. This mattered very little to the half-Echani philosopher, however: it was of little importance to him how well he handled himself in front of others, regardless of the resulting costs in bruises and sprains. His priorities rested solely with knowledge, and the ever-expanding thirst for it he possessed. It seemed like Gherion could never learn enough, could never come to understand the higher mysteries of the Galaxy to the total best of his ability. It was almost as if a huge piece of the puzzle were missing, like a massive sum of knowledge was kept just out of reach, no matter how far he delved into the libraries of the Galaxy. Sometimes, Gherion’s chosen occupation as Historian and Philosopher seemed like a constant struggle for something neither within reach, nor tangible to the possibility of gaining. Indeed, his quest for ultimate understanding did have an air of hopelessness about it from time to time, but he supposed that the Galaxy made sure he had a challenge.

Gherion’s mind turned to a topic that had intrigued him more than others lately: the all but lost and forgotten Jedi Order. This interest was partly due to the fact that the curriculum of the Academy’s history program had been fixated on the topic of late and partly because of his own curiosity and long-endured research on the warrior monks of ancient times. There was little doubt in his mind that the missing pieces of the puzzle lay with their knowledge, and their teachings. After all, for millennia, they had been the leading philosophers, religious leaders, and often the leading politicians of the Galaxy’s government body. Their constant battles with the Sith had most likely forged an understanding of the Galaxy now lost or scattered to obscure places in the Galaxy left uncovered. They were mentioned in several texts, but never ventured into fully, mostly because the rough entirety of their holocrons and records had disappeared since the plague, as if purged completely from existence, no debris to be found or components to show their fate.

Suddenly, the bumbling half-Echani withdrew a datapad of his schedule from within his bag, smoothing through his spiked silver hair with his hand and holding the datapad within inches of his face, obstructing his vision. He had Creative Writing after lunch, then Republic Philosophy 101. That left him just enough time to squeeze in a holo-novel in the library after school before heading to his apartment and doing some more research. Gherion rarely slept, and when he did, it was lightly, and only for a few hours. His body was not well-equipped for the activity, and he viewed rest as a waste of valuable time during an already all-too-short life. He had little interest in the needs of the flesh compared to the needs of his starving intellect - he ate when he was hungry, and quenched his thirst appropriately, and to him, that seemed sufficient. As he walked, his eyes caught the figure of a girl walking in the opposite direction as him. Gherion paused for a moment, lowering his datapad into his bag. There were other females crossing him, walking past him in a cacophony of sound and movement commonplace with the passing of classes at the Academy, but for some reason, this girl struck him more than the others.

Needless to say, Gherion was rather confused. His mind had never really been allowed to drift to base lusts, or thoughts of other women in his life. He simply did not view sexual activities as a priority, and as such, had never considered romantic feelings for another. Ever since he had been young, Gherion had kept an emotional distance from other sentients. This wasn’t to say that he didn’t feel compassion for them, it was just that his mind worked on separate levels of consciousness, making it hard to relate with others. He refused to see anything but the big picture, and never really stopped to consider the smaller instances of life in distress, the more minute wellsprings of knowledge that he had yet to tap. But now, for whatever reason, he felt drawn to this girl, her long dirty-blonde hair flowing down her back, her rather attractive face fitted with two deep pools of brown. For whatever reason, she meant more to him than just a face in the crowd, and when her datapad dropped from her bag, Gherion did not hesitate to scoop it up and hand it back to her.

“There you go, miss. Might be something important, you never know.” Gherion mumbled sheepishly as she took the datapad from him.

She took the datapad gingerly, and looked him up and down. “Uhm... thanks...” she said slowly, a look spreading across her face as if she were trying hard not to laugh.

Gherion smiled goofily, not noticing the slightly mocking tone in the girl’s voice. He instead reached out a hand. “My name’s Gherion. Gherion Aldos.”

She glanced down at his hand for a moment, the smallest of wrinkles forming on the bridge of her nose. “Ok,” she said, and instead of offering her own hand gave a little wave. Then, she turned on her heel, and began walking down the hallway once again.

Gherion began walking with her, unsure of why he was doing it. For some reason, he wanted to know this girl. “So, where are you headed? I’m going to lunch, but I was wondering if you might have any classes wi-“

The girl stopped dead in her tracks, and rounded on Gherion. “Look, Ghorial, I’m trying to be nice about this, but if you’re not going to take the hint, then...”

Gherion was taken aback by her distasteful attitude. He shifted his stance to an offensive position, and furrowed his brow in frustration. “It’s Gherion, and there’s no need to be rude. What possible purpose do you have for treating another sentient with such disrespect when all he’s trying to do is show a little courtesy?”

She glared at him. “Whatever your name is. I tried being subtle about it, but you’re too thick to take a hint. Call me a schutta if you want, but I don’t have time for pigs like you chasing me around.”

With that, the still-nameless girl turned and stalked off, leaving Gherion seething. His intuition must have been totally wrong, because that girl was neither at all someone he wanted to associate with, nor ever come into contact with himself. Turning with a huff and walking with an angrier gait to lunch, he contemplated how foolhardy his attempts at social interaction had been. The first time he had reached out to someone else, and he had swiftly been reminded why he hated the average person. Calling him thick, she was clearly the completely idiotic one. He was brilliant beyond her wildest imaginings, undoubtedly ten times smarter than she could ever hope to be, and he had been kind enough to try and get to know her, perhaps because something about her seemed right to him. He reminded himself that it was foolish to expect anything less of those that proved themselves to be complete imbeciles, and pushed the anger out of his mind as he reached the lunchroom. He quickly and roughly claimed a plate of food, paid the cashier, and found an empty table. He sat, and began eating in silence, re-reading his notes from history, the thought of the girl he wished he had never met still fresh in his mind.

§

Osay quickly clicked through her history notes on her datapad as she got her food. Ugh, if only this were animatronics class! Then she could make sense of these notes! She gave an impatient sigh. So much for her 4.0 average. If this stuff didn’t start making a lot more sense soon, she wasn’t going to make a good grade.

But right now, she needed to eat. Osay stuffed the datapad back into her purse and looked up, her eyes scanning the room for empty seats. Most of the room was filled, but there was one table near her that had only one seat filled. She approached it, and recognised the silvery hair and sharp eyes of the man already at the table. Well, wasn’t this a coincidence - one of the history geeks! An idea crept out of the shadows of her mind. Perhaps he could help her with her history homework, and in return, maybe she could help him with one of his other classes, if he needed it. He didn’t look like he was an ace in physical education, by any stretch of the imagination.

She slid into the seat across from him and said in the friendliest voice she could muster, “Hi.”

The pale young man looked up from the disgusting food he was ingesting against his better senses. “… Hello,” he murmured, a tone of disinterest and dismissal etched into the word.

Osay bit back the sharp retort that almost slipped out of her mouth and replied evenly, “I saw you in history class today. Nice job.”

“I wouldn’t call it ‘nice’. I was simply informed. History doesn’t really require a lot of effort to understand.” He turned back to his food and began chewing unceremoniously, grimacing with great dislike at nothing in particular.

Osay speared a forkfull of the salad in front of her. “The same can be said of any subject, depending on the one who says it.”

“Not philosophy.” The young man shot her an ugly look before refocusing his attention on what looked like a cubed kath steak, continuing to speak. “History is simple: a sum of knowledge to be memorized and recited on demand. It requires no sense of creativity, insight, or abstract thought of any kind. In other words, it’s more than simple - it’s child’s play.”

Osay’s throat tightened, and it was all she could do to keep a pleasant expression on her face. “I was hoping you could help with my history. For you, it may be child’s play, but I’m afraid I’m not as lucky as you are.”

The male across from her shifted in his seat and sighed in exasperation before looking at her properly for the first time. “You came to the wrong person if you expect me to aid you in anything. If you need help in something like history, it's either due to the fact that you haven’t studied properly, or are incapable of memorisation. In either case, I won’t be involved. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I seem to have finished my meal, and I'm about to head back to performing my duties as a student of this school properly. Unlike some. Have a wonderful day.” Without further preamble, he stood and walked away, giving his tray to the lunch lady and turning on his heel to leave.

Osay’s back stiffened, and her jaw tensed. She focused her eyes on her plate, trying to ignore his burning words. Who did he think he was?! The arrogant—huh, if that was the way he acted normally, it was probably far better that he’d refused to help her...

§

Gherion walked briskly away, his head held high as if expressing disgust for all those around him. There was one thing he felt less inclined to doing in all the activities in the Galaxy, and that was assisting his fellow classmates in their work. For a large portion of his life, Gherion’s vast intellect and efficiency in whatever he pursued had been exploited by peers of all ages, shapes, and sizes, without any sort of accreditation or compensation to his person. It was only after his fifth exploitation on an Alliance cargo freighter that the half-Echani began to realize that when given freely, his work was abused and stolen. Because of this, Gherion failed to see why he should be their scapegoat for effort when it benefited him in no way, and only lessened the already inferior minds of those that came to him, so he began to deny, aggressively, any requests for aid. This lead to a loss of popularity in the eyes of his colleagues, if they could truly be called that, but this mattered very little to him. He was not a creature of the status quo, and found those that were to be mindless drones of a singular mind and purpose. His work, which was planned to span the length of his life, had a much higher purpose than that. Discoveries in the field of philosophy, new theories rationalizing the universe, and society, answers to burning questions etched into the stars. Why we were here, what our purpose truly was, how life seems interconnected in all things, from one person to another, in a glorious current of energy yet unidentified.

He was more than they could ever hope to understand, and in that fact, Gherion found comfort, solace from their idiocy and pathetic lives, convoluted with meaningless, petty activities that had neither substance, nor relevance in the grand scheme. This girl was no different; she was too “obligated” with what boys she wanted to date or what makeup to wear tomorrow to trouble herself with meaningful studies on history or philosophy. Her life, and it’s primarily vapid contents, took precedence over the search for understanding, and thus did she come to Gherion, who treated his priorities properly, for another shortcut in a long line of apathetic choices that would lead to a meaningless life with a useless end. Very few had ever proven to Gherion that they, too, were of exceptional intellect, and thus possessed the proper attitude for all-too-short lives, though there were some that had done so. It took a lot to impress the young philosopher, as his work had already been excessively acclaimed by some of the top professors in the Academy.

Before he had even reached the entrance to the school, he bumped into a young man whom Gherion had seen many times in class - Tawnos Rashel, a person he had never properly interacted with, but whom professors he had befriended spoke well of. Still, he hadn’t shown anything of his worth to Gherion, and the half-Echani wanted no more to do with others today.

“Please get out of my way,” Gherion said sharply, looking Tawnos directly in the eyes.

Tawnos reached out an arm as the noticeably larger Gherion tried to brush past him, his jaw set and his eye dark and cold—a look that excellently hid the utter terror within him as his heart beat roughly against his rib cage. “What the hell is your problem?” he asked, cutting right to the chase. Gherion realised that he must have witnessed his encounter with the girl. He was proven correct almost instantly: “That girl was asking for your help, and you completely tore her down. What gives you the right to treat her—or anyone else, for that matter—like that?”

Gherion’s thin, pale lips pursed and his strong, if somewhat thin, features tensed as he clenched his jaw tightly. He did not like this one whatsoever, and for whatever reason, Tawnos just seemed to rub off on him the wrong way, although that could have just been his already foul mood. “I have the right to say and do whatever I please, and I do not have the patience to instruct her. That is my personal choice, regarding myself and the young woman in question, meaning that it has nothing to do with you. Now, if you please, step aside.”

Tawnos grabbed Gherion's arm and spun him around as he again tried to brush past him. “I don’t give a damn about your patience. At the very least, you didn’t have to treat her like she’s beneath you. Keep up an attitude like that and you’ll find yourself alone around here.” He released his arm, and glared at him.

“I think I’d prefer being alone. I have no need for other sentients, to be honest,” Gherion spat, his eyes widening in barely controlled anger. “Now, if you don’t mind, I’m going to my next class, where I'll hopefully be free of your brutish manhandling.” He shoved past, and headed for the hall.

§

Tawnos watched the man go, a disgusted look on his face. He turned to face the room, and saw that the girl who had been asking for his help was still sitting at the table. He hesitated for a moment, his heart in his throat as a wild idea crossed his mind. He had watched the drama from a few tables over, and had found himself half wishing that it had been he, and not Gherion, to whom she had come to for help in class. He walked over and slowly took the seat that Gherion had vacated. “Hey,” he said, so quietly that he even had a problem hearing himself.

She glanced up at him and swallowed, replying in a polite, if perfunctionary, tone. “Hello.”

He hesitated again before replying. “Look, I heard the way that guy treated you, and... well, I... wanted to see if there was anything I could do—I do fairly well in history myself, and I’d be more than willing to help you out, if... if you... want," he finished lamely.

She cocked her head slightly and studied him for a short moment, as if considering him. Was she surprised, after being treated so harshly by the last history student she had talked to, to be receiving an offer to help? After a moment, she seemed to make up her mind. She smiled at him and nodded once. “Thanks, I’d like that a lot. What’s your name?”

He smiled back shyly. “Tawnos,” he said. “Tawnos Rashel.”

The girl set her fork down on her plate and held out her hand. “I’m Osay Katran.”

He took her hand, going slightly red. “Nice to meet you, Osay,” he said.

Osay shook his hand firmly. “Same to you.” The girl pulled her hand away from him just as some beeping came from her purse. She yanked her datapad out and silenced the alarm. “I gotta go, my next class is in a few minutes. Could I meet you somewhere later to go over that history?”

“Yeah, uhm…Yeah. I can give you my call number," he said, without thinking. "Just give me a call when you’re out of class, and we can set something up.”

Osay nodded. “That’d be great.”

Tawnos reached across the table for one of her datapads. “May I?” he asked, and without really waiting for a reply, he flipped it towards himself and punched in the ten-digit call number that would allow her to reach him. “There you go.”

She collected her datapad and stuffed it back in her purse. “Thanks, Tawnos. I’ll see you later.” She stood up and collected her lunch tray, then she quickly strode away.

He turned to watch after her retreating back for a moment, then returned his attention to the now empty seat across the table from him. He smirked slightly, oddly proud of himself - he had not only stood up to an arrogant prick, but had also come to the aid of a rather attractive girl - who, for once in his life, didn’t look at him as if he were something slimy sticking to the bottom of her shoe.

He had never had much luck with people, male or female. He was treated by other males in a way that made him yearn for second-class treatment, and spent most of his school years back on Gwellin dodging fists and trying - and failing - to ignore the names and petty insults thrown at him on a daily basis. He had always been essentially ignored by anything without a Y chromosome, never able to either stand up for himself - much less others - or make himself noticed.

He suddenly noticed that the room had thinned out significantly, and realised with a start that he was already late for his second class of the day. He grabbed his bag, and made a dash for the door.

As he walked the now familiar path to the Historiography hall, his mind began contemplating the prospect of the offer he had made, and exactly how daunting it would be. He had never thought about what it would be like to share his knowledge, to teach someone else what he knew. His mother had told him that he had inherited what she called the “teaching gene” from her own father, but Tawnos had never really considered the idea properly before. In fact, he didn’t really have any idea what he did want to do. All he knew was that History fascinated him, and that it was the only thing that he was really good at.

He supposed what was bothering him most was the odd attraction he felt towards Osay that had made him make her the offer in the first place. Sure, she was attractive, and seemed to be nice enough, but it was more than that. Something about her drew him to her, and had compelled him to stand up to a guy significantly taller than him, and then - even more amazingly - actually bring himself to talk to her and offer her his help. He couldn’t explain, even to himself, why this was. He had always been nervous around women, and the way he had been treated throughout his life by them increased his anxiety tenfold. But he hadn’t really been all that nervous when speaking with Osay; in fact, he had actually been rather calm, all things considered. As if all the anxiety that had built up over his lifetime had simply fallen away.

The corridor outside the lecture hall was deserted, and the door to the hall itself was closed. He cursed under his breath, and checked the door panel; the class was in session, and the door was sealed. He couldn’t get in. He swore again, and looked helplessly down the corridor. He sighed, and reached into his pocket for his timepiece. He decided to spend the remainder of the afternoon in the archives, gathering work and preparing for his tutoring session later that night. He shifted his bag on his shoulder, cast one last forlorn look at the lecture hall door, and began the trip towards the archive chamber.

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Last edited by The Doctor; 02-25-2009 at 09:29 PM.
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Old 01-12-2009, 02:56 AM   #2
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Ashalle thrust her datapads into her bag absently as she forced her way through the throng of her fellow students towards the lecture hall exit. She knew she had missed at least a third of the more important notes for the lecture, but she wasn’t all that worried about it at the moment. She squeezed between two slow-moving - not to mention slow-thinking - jocks, barely aware of their catcalls and jeers as she moved through the door and into the hallway. She glanced at her timepiece anxiously, wondering where her brother would most likely be - he hadn’t bothered to share his class schedule with her, so she wasn’t even really sure she’d be able to find him.

She had spent most of class rehearsing how she wanted to open the conversation. He had always responded best to concise dialogue with as little preamble as possible; but whenever she tried to talk to him like that, she always felt as if she were interrogating him. And if he began to feel the same way - which he often did, she found - he was just as liable to become frustrated with her.

When did it become this hard to simply talk to my brother? she thought. Even the most normal of conversations seemed a daunting prospect when she remembered the way he scowled at her while she spoke, or how his voice brimmed with barely controlled anger when he replied. She couldn’t blame him, of course, but the idea of her brother actually hating her was painful.

Before she had properly gathered her wits, or even before she had begun to actually look for him, she saw him at the end of the hallway. He looked much more tired than he had the last time. There were bags under his eyes, and his hair was a mess - a mess not helped in the least by his habit of running his hand through it when he was stressed. He didn’t seem to notice her as he made his way down the hall, unknowingly drawing closer to her. She waved her hand to draw his attention, and called out his name.

He turned at the sound of his name, and his shoulders sagged slightly when he noticed who had shouted it. He pushed his way through the crowd towards the way, where the traffic was thinner, and waved her over with a resigned look on his face.

She forced her way through the steady stream of people towards him, and smiled when she reached him. “Hi,” she said, forcing more happiness into her voice than she really felt.

“What do you want, Ashalle?” he asked wearily, running his hand characteristically through his hair as he spoke.

“Well hello to you too,” she said. Then, remembering her goal to avoid irritating him, she changed tactics. “How are your classes going so far?”

“What do you want?” he repeated, ignoring her question.

She was slightly hurt, but not surprised by his words. “I have to want something to talk to my only brother?”

He shrugged. “Why break the pattern of a lifetime?” he asked, turning from her and moving down the hall away from her.

She rushed to keep up with him. “Tawnos, come on,” she said, grabbing him by the arm. He turned around, an exasperated sigh escaping him as he did so. She ignored it, and with an effort kept herself from rolling her eyes at him. “Look, we’ve been here for months now, and we’ve talked twice.”

“And how is that all that different from back home?” he asked. “We were never really that close to begin with. I don’t know why you’re suddenly so keen on us being best mates.”

“That’s a load of ****, and you know it,” she spat; but her anger evaporated instantly as she reminded herself that he had every right to hate her. “For dark’s sake, Tawnos...” She looked around cautiously, but she needn’t have - the crowd had thinned out considerably, and the halls were now all but deserted. “I know you... had a rough time back on Gwellin. And... I wasn’t much of a sist--”

“I don’t want to talk about that,” he said sharply, his temper flaring.

“I know, I know,” she said quickly. “I just...” She decided to skip the rest of what she had practised, and plowed on without thinking. “I want to make it up to you. Maybe... get to where we’re supposed to be.”

He shook his head. “It’s a little late to try to build a relationship now, sis.” He seemed to find the use of the familial term ironic, as a dark smile crossed his face as he said it, and vanished just as quickly.

She sighed. “Can’t you at least let me try? Like it or not, I’m the only family you’ve got here, this far from home.” He didn’t say anything, and she took that as begrudging assent. “What are you doing tonight?” she asked.

He ran his fingers through his hair again, ruffling it slightly when he reached the back. “Professor Tavik is testing us next week on the Palpatinian Era. I’ve put off the reading for his course for far too long now.”

“You know that stuff like the back of your hand,” she said dismissively - and it was true. Tawnos knew more about the Galactic Civil War than anyone else she knew, though she had always been bewildered by his fascination with history. “What would you say to a walk tonight?”

He was silent for a moment, staring at her as if sizing up the look on her face. He seemed to decide that her intentions were genuine, and he nodded. “Fine,” he said at last. “I’ll come by your building later tonight - I’ll give you a call when I’m on my way.”

Her face split into a smile. “Great. Well, I should get going - I’m already late for Experimental Psychology. I’ll talk to you tonight.”

He grunted in reply, then turned on his heel and walked hurriedly down the hall. He rounded the corner, and her smile widened. Satisfied with how the conversation had unfolded, she turned herself and walked the opposite direction.

§

Celeb revelled in the feel of the soft, heavily padded punching bag yielding to the impact of his fists. For the first time all day, he felt as if he were in control of something. He had been late for his first class, his others had not gone well, and he had been shot down by one of the few women at the Academy that seemed to be able to catch his interest. He hadn’t had the kind of day he would have liked, though it all seemed to fall away as he turned his attention to the training dummy - the steady delivery of blows cleared his mind in a way nothing else could.

In his mind, he replaced the training bag with a flesh and bone opponent, and imagined him taking up a defensive posture. He blocked an imagined attack to his stomach, and at the same time drew his left arm into a fierce uppercut. The bag didn’t move, but his imagined opponent did, swiftly dodging his attack. His mind’s eye saw a series of blows aimed as his abdomen, and he blocked them expertly - and that’s when he saw chance, a weakness amidst the imagined blows. He twisted his hand to grasp his attacker’s own arm, and drew him forward into his other fist.

The bag heaved under the weight of the punch, and he straightened, steadying the bag as he calmed his breath. He wiped the sweat from his brow and exhaled heavily, gazing idly around the room. He observed his classmates’ techniques for a moment, before his eye fell on the back of a strikingly familiar person. He smirked as he took in the blonde hair reaching down to the figure’s shoulder blades, but the grin slid from his face as she turned, and he realised that it was not in fact the girl who had so disappointingly denied him conversation that morning - though she was probably just as attractive, if not more so. He took in her sharp, attentive eyes, the gentle curves of her face, and the flattering way the room’s lighting glistened on her face.

As she turned away from him, he moved across the room towards her, glancing at the chronometer on the front wall - they had ten, almost fifteen minutes left for free-style warmup. Plenty of time to put on the moves.

He took up position at the station next to her, and adopted an expression on innocence. “Hi,” he said, injecting as much naivety into his voice as he could.

The girl glanced up at him and smiled politely. “Hello,” she said.

He threw a series of jabs at the training dummy, paying unnecessary attention to his form. She didn’t seem to be paying any attention. “I’m Celeb,” he said, making an effort to avoid looking at her in an attempt to remain aloof.

The girl replied flatly, “I’m Osay”. She assumed an offensive posture for a moment, then spun into a flawless sequence of attacks on the dummy.

Celeb watched her move, admiring the grace and accuracy of her efficient blows. “Nice,” he said encouragingly. “You certainly seem to know how to handle yourself in a fight.” He grinned teasingly and somewhat suggestively, dropping his air of naivety. “Any chance you’d like a sparring partner?”

Osay paused her movements and straightened, studying the look on his face. He could tell she’d seen it before, and that it annoyed her as much now as it ever had. Still, he knew someone with her skill wouldn’t pass up the chance for a half-decent sparring partner. She put her hands up defensively. “I’m always up for a fight.”

His grin widened, and without further conversation he dropped into a fighting posture himself, and immediately spotted a flaw in her technique. He thrust his right arm towards her chest, snatching the wrist of her blocking arm in his hand and raising it to the side. She struggled against it slightly, futilely grasping at his forearm. He made to bring his left arm into her stomach, but she dodged. He then realised that she had succeeded in grabbing hold of his arm and spinning around, thrusting her elbow backwards into his abdomen. She took advantage of both his momentum and breathlessness, and brought him into the air with amazing ease and threw him bodily to the ground.

He wheezed on the ground for a moment, unable to draw breath. Once his lungs began working properly again, he gasped, “A lucky dodge.” He struggled to his feet, still breathing heavily. “You’re a lot stronger than you look.”

Osay smirked and lifted her hands. “Care to try again?”

He returned her smile. “I’m done going easy on you, girly,” he teased. “No more mister nice guy.”

Her eyebrows rose. “Am I supposed to be scared?” she asked.

He smirked for a moment, then his face became a passive mask. Moving
quicker than his deceptively slow attacks had been earlier, he made several light strikes to the abdomen in precisely calculated locations, all but one of which Osay blocked with no effort at all. The weakness of the attacks caused her to let her guard down ever so slightly, allowing for the final blow to make contact, and opening her stance for his onslaught. Landing several smooth and powerful jabs to his opponent’s stomach, Celeb moved in for the kill, and gently, if not forcefully, grabbed the young woman by her neck and, knocking her legs out from under her with a sweeping kick, forced her to the ground, incapacitating her. Thinking the fight over, Celeb laughed and loosened his hand from around Osay’s neck, but realized too late that he had made a fatal mistake. Seeing his grip slacken, the beautiful young fighter spun on her back and twisted her legs firmly and gracefully around her attacker’s torso, throwing him cleanly and vigorously over her and into the wall closest to them.

He lay on the ground panting, slowly becoming aware of the applause and jeers from their classmates at the sight of their match. He smiled as she moved forward, looming over him, her hands on her hips and a triumphant smile on her face. “Best three out of five?” he gasped.

She crossed her arms, shaking her head. “Nah, don’t think so.” A smirk appeared on her face. “After all, I might accidentally bruise your ego next time.” She held out her hand to help him up.

“A little late to be worrying about that,” he joked, taking her hand and righting himself again. “Where’d you learn to fight like that?”

Osay replied matter-of-factly, “I’ve been studying Echani combat for several years. You?”

He shrugged. “I was raised in a military home. My father put me in basic combat training when I was a child, and I just stuck with it. My father was even expecting me to sign up for the planetary militia, but I wanted to come here instead.”

Osay smiled. “I’m glad you came here, then - I was afraid I wouldn’t have any good sparring partners!” She laughed out loud.

Before Celeb could reply, the instructor called for attention, and his sparring partner moved away with a polite nod and a smile. He smiled back, and turned to listen to the ripple-muscled man at the head of the room with a sense of satisfaction - at last, something had gone right today.

§

Osay flipped her hair over her shoulder and strolled down the hall. Her classes had gone relatively well. So far, it looked like history was going to be her main problem this year. That reminded her, she needed to call that guy from lunch. What was his name? Tawnos? Yeah, that was it. She pulled her datapad out of her bag and quickly accessed the file in which she'd saved his number. Once she’d found it, she dug around in her purse for a few moments and finally came up with her comm unit. She punched in the number and impatiently waited for a response. His voice broke over the speaker suddenly, making her jump slightly.

"This is Rashel. Go ahead."

“Hi, this is Osay,” she said. “I just finished my last class.”

“I'm in the Academy Archives, getting some books that should help you. Nothing too heavy, don't worry. Want to meet me here?”

“Sure, I’ll see you in a few minutes.” She clicked off her comm unit and shoved it back into her purse as she started striding down the hall. The Archives were on the other side of campus, so it would take at least ten minutes to get there. Her stride lengthened. Tawnos seemed like a pretty decent guy. She didn’t want to keep him waiting any longer than necessary.

§

Tawnos did one last quick scan of the database, keeping an eye open for any more helpful works. A rather small volume on the ancient Jedi Order caught his eye, and after a moment’s consideration, he transferred it to yet another datapad provided by the Archive. He tucked the smaller book at the back of the decent-sized stack in his hands - if he started the night talking about the Jedi, they’d get nothing else accomplished; he had always loved the tales of the legendary Jedi Order, and revelled in sharing his knowledge and ideas with others.

He made his way to a small table near the back of the cavernous archive chambers, and pulled his comm unit from his belt once more. He recalled the last number from which he had received a call, and saved it to his list. He glanced at the numeric workstation identifier, and programmed a message to Osay, so she would be able to find him in the maze of data-towers that housed the collective surviving works of each member-race of the Alliance; literally billions of books, from every genre imagined by nine different species, surrounded them, coursing through the room like a life-blood. He gazed around the room, and smiled at the symbolism. The combined knowledge of millions of different people from vastly different cultures pulsing through this place, the largest structure on the world that was the very heart of the Galactic Alliance - all made available to anyone and everyone who wished to seek it out. This was, without a doubt, the most brilliant aspect of such a cooperation between races, and his the one place in the whole Galaxy that he felt the most comfortable.

§

Osay ran into the Archives and slowed to a halt at the first workstation. Tawnos had probably left a locator so should could find him. Let’s see... it was workstation 153. She exited the console system and started making her way through the maze of file banks.

Tawnos saw her approaching, and raised his hand to flag her down. She made her way across the room towards the station, and he broke into a small smile. “Hey,” he said, as she sat down. “How was class?”

“Fine,” she replied, returning the smile. “It was easy enough. Yours?”

“Well, I, uhm...” he shifted embarrassedly in his seat. “I was late, and the Prof. locked the door on me.”

Osay’s brow creased slightly. “I’m sorry, that was my fault. You were busy talking to me instead of going to class.”

He waved away her apology. “My own fault,” he said dismissively. “I knew sticking around would make me late, but I had more important things to worry about.” He grabbed the stack of datapads, and tipped it over so that they fanned out awkwardly between them. “Anyway, since I didn’t make it to class today, I spent the afternoon going through the archives looking for some of my own favourite works on a few different aspects of history.”

Osay picked up one of the datapads nervously. “Thanks. Where do we start?”

“Well, that depends. What sort of trouble are you having? Just difficulty memorising facts, or is it a problem understanding them, what they mean, and how they relate to each other?”

She considered for a moment. “Mainly, it’s the whole Jedi/Sith thing. I dunno what it is about that particular part of history, but it’s very... confusing.”

Tawnos turned slightly red, and fished a datapad out from the bottom of the pile. “Well, I’ve studied both the Jedi and the Sith at length, and your confusion is completely understandable,” he said. He took a deep breath, and plowed on. “Many of the Galaxy’s most infamous Sith came from the Jedi Order, and there are plenty of well known names, such as Jolee Bindo, who were technically neither Jedi nor Sith but have been labelled as both over the years.”

He activated the datapad, and slid it across the table towards her. “This volume is a brief history of the Force Orders, going from the Great Hyperspace War and the first of the many Orders calling themselves Sith up to the Jedi Civil War. There are plenty of other works that go further towards the Dark Age, not to mention dozens of others that cover the same era - but this is one of my favourites. It tells it much like a narrative, rather than a historical text.”

Osay grinned and picked up the datapad. “Good. The only subject that makes a good textbook is mechanics.”

Tawnos smiled himself, then continued. “The thing that trips up most people when it comes to the Jedi is the distinction between the Jedi, the Sith, and what’s come to be called the “Grey” Jedi - Knights who associated with neither Light or Dark, and served neither Order.”

He watched her gaze at the datapad he had handed her for a moment before carrying on. “Then there’s the inconsistency within each Order itself. Both Light and Dark sides underwent dozens of regenerations and incarnations over the millennia. The most well known of the Jedi Orders was, of course, the last one - the Order Luke Skywalker planted after the Galactic Civil War. The Sith have had so many faces over the course of history that they all sort of... blend together, in a way.

“But once you realise that, things become a lot easier. There is no one single Jedi Code, or a sole structure that the Order followed. There have been many organisations calling themselves ‘The Jedi Order’.”

Osay nodded slightly. “I kinda get it... I guess I just need to study this.” She waved the datapad slightly. “Thanks for giving me a good background to keep in mind as I read.”

“Closing up!” The vociferous voice of the archivist cut off any further conversation as the crotchety old woman strode down the middle hall. “Everybody out!” She continued her rounds through the Archive, repeating the sharp lines over and over again. Osay sighed in exasperation and muttered, “We better get outta here before Ironlady gets back. She gets annoyed when she’s kept in her library for two minutes after closing time.” She stuffed the datapad in her hand into her bag. Her other hand started gathering up the stack of datapads scattered across the table. “I’ll help you clean these up.”

He rose from his seat, also grabbing a number of datapads in his own hand. He hesitated for a moment, then said, “I don’t have any classes tomorrow, so I don’t need to get to bed just yet. If you want, we can go somewhere else and keep going?”

She picked up the last of the pads. “Sounds good to me," she said happily.

Tawnos nodded, and straightened. “All right, well, I know a little diner place that’s open for a few hours longer still - I know I missed dinner already. You hungry at all?”

Osay laughed. “Are you kidding? I’ve been running from class to class since lunch.”

“Well, let’s get going then,” he said, smirking. He moved aside, allowing her to pass, then fell into step beside her. “So, do you have any questions so far?”

“Nah, don’t think so,” Osay replied. “Until I have a chance to read up on the Jedi a bit, I can’t really ask anything.”

He nodded. “Well, what do you know of the Jedi already? What’s your understanding of the Order?”

Osay shrugged and dumped the datapads in her hands into the ‘return’ box to be wiped. “I’ve heard that they and their counterparts plunged the Galaxy into war many times, and I can draw the blueprints of a lightsaber from memory, but other than that I don’t know anything.”

He sighed. “Well, I guess common knowledge about the Jedi is rather limited. Unless you’ve taken an express interest in them or the Sith, there’s very little fact to be heard on the streets. I can tell you, though, that most of what you’ll hear you should research yourself or ignore. Most people don’t even acknowledge a difference between the Jedi and the Sith.”

“That’s one of the reasons I’ve never bothered to learn anything about them. There are so many mixed opinions on them, it’s impossible to pick out the truth.”

“Well, that’s why in my own studies I sought only information about the excavations of Jedi temples and locations, and built my own conclusions from there. Sure, I’ve read many other ideas, and incorporated ideas about them that make sense to me - really, that’s how one should go about studying history in general”

Osay laughed. “You’re right, I should, but quite honestly, I’ve never been that interested in history.”

“Then why bother taking the course?” asked Tawnos, as they stepped into the artificially-cooled evening air.

“What with the Alliance and all, I figured I better learn more about history than I learned in high school. That teacher was lousy.”

“Well, luckily, my schooling was exceptional, compared to the galactic average - Gwellin has a pretty decent school system, so my history teacher actually knew what he was doing. Hopefully I can help repair at least some of the damage your teacher’s done,” he said with a grin.

Osay suppressed a chuckle and replied wryly, “Yeah, well, that can’t be hard. Riss isn’t known for its wonderful schools. I’m convinced there was only one good teacher on that whole stinkin’ rock.”

Tawnos considered her words for a moment. He knew, of course, that his own home world was fairly well-off in comparison to the vast majority of the Galaxy. Gwellin had been one of the first planets to gain a foothold in the Galaxy after the Dark Age, and their economy, schooling, and standard of medical care showed it. He sometimes took for granted the gift of being born on such a well-to-do world.

Out loud, he said, “Well, all it takes is one teacher to inspire you. If it hadn’t been for my music teacher in high school, I’d never have considered attending the Academy in the first place.”

Osay grinned. “That’s true. So, you’ve studied music?”

For the first time since their conversation began, Tawnos’ discomfort became clear. “Well... yeah, I’ve... studied some of Gwellin’s own composers, and... yeah. I’ve kind of studied a bit of Randonian orchestral works, but... nothing too serious.”

Osay immediately picked up on his ill-concealed uneasiness and quickly changed the subject. “What’s the name of this diner we’re doing to?”

§

He didn’t know quite how it had happened, but by the time they had sat down and ordered their meal, all thought of discussing Galactic history had dropped clear from their minds. Instead, the conversation had turned to their own personal histories.

“What made you decide to come to the Academy?" he asked, picking slowly at the food in front of him.

Osay swallowed a bite. “Well, a few years ago, I decided that I wanted to have a decent life, so, I saved my credits, and here I am. Hope your story’s more interesting than mine.”

Tawnos shrugged, and looked at the table - he had hardly been able to meet her gaze all night. “Not really. I just... felt I needed to come here. Before my grandfather died, though, I never really imagined myself leaving Gwellin for any reason. But afterwards, it just felt... necessary. As if it was what I had planned to do from the beginning.”

Osay replied quietly, “I know the feeling. The death of relative tends to change life in general.”

Something about the tone of her voice tugged at him, and before he could stop himself he blurted, “Who did you lose?”

Osay stiffened perceptibly. “I--it was my mother.” She relaxed slightly. “She died several years ago.”

He looked right at her for one of the first times all evening. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to...” He trailed off. “I’m sorry.”

The girl opposite him smiled wryly. “No, I’m sorry. It happened a long time ago. I should have thicker skin.”

“Well, I should have more tact than that,” he replied sternly. “I didn’t think before I spoke, and...” He trailed off again, and was silent for another moment before changing the subject. “What do you plan on doing after you graduate?”

Osay smiled, seemingly glad for a change of subject. “I’m going back to Riss. One of the police officers in my city offered me a job. He said the place would still be open once I finished at the Academy.”

Tawnos frowned. “From what I’ve heard of Riss, you’ll certainly have your work cut out for you in law enforcement.”

“I certainly will,” she replied. “But I need to try to clean up the dirt a little bit. What are you planning to do?"

He shook his head. “To be honest, I don’t even know. I only came here because I felt I needed to. I don’t have any real goals in mind. I’ve considered teaching - that’s what my Grandfather did, and that’s what he hoped for me to do as well, whether he said so or not. But...” He thought for a moment. He wasn’t really sure how to explain his feelings on the matter to himself, much less to anyone else - particularly someone he had just met that day. Especially a woman.

“I want to make a difference,” he said suddenly, without thinking about it. “I just don’t know how I could go about doing anything to make any sort of change, though.”

Osay picked up her glass. “Well, what all are you particularly good at?”

He shook his head again. “I dunno. I’ve always done well in history, of course... but there’s not much one can do career-wise that involves history. Other than teach it, I mean.”

Osay narrowed her eyes and tapped her chin thoughtfully. “You could go help excavate the Jedi ruins that have been found recently. You seem to know quite a lot about them already.”

Tawnos shrugged. “I could,” he agreed. “I just... I don’t know. It doesn’t appeal to me the way it should. I guess I’ve just spent my whole life doing what people expect, and now that I’m free to choose, I...”

He stopped, and furrowed his brow. He had never thought of things that way before. He shook his head and returned his gaze to the woman across the table. “I don’t know,” he said again.

“Well, your decision’s gonna affect the rest of your life. Not knowing is only natural.” Osay sipped some water. “You still have a few years to think about it.”

“I suppose,” he said, though he was still uneasy. He cast a glance at his watch, and his heart skipped a beat - it was getting late, and he had all but forgotten that he had agreed to meet with his sister. “Frack,” he cursed. “I was supposed to meet my sister tonight, and I completely forgot about it."

“I should be getting to bed soon myself anyway,” she replied, draining the last of her drink and setting the cup on the table. “Maybe we could get together again later in the week, and go over the Galactic Civil War? Parts of the era still confuse me.”

“Yeah, sure,” he answered, not really wanted to cut their conversation short. “Give me a call sometime, and we’ll work something out.”

She smiled, and stood. “I will. Talk to you later.”
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Old 01-12-2009, 02:57 AM   #3
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“Time to leave. The archives are closing.”

Gherion looked up from his holo-novel and into the kind, warm eyes of the Academy’s librarian. She was an older woman, though little evidence led to that fact: her eyes spoke of youth, and her features retained the smooth, supple complexion of a teenager, but her graying hair, coupled with the thin lines around her eyes and mouth, gave away the secret of her wisdom. Though Gherion did not particularly care to indulge others, he had a fondness for this woman, built over several hours spent together in the dusty confines of the Academy’s archives. He smiled warmly, and pointed to the display screen.

“I only have a few more chapters to go. I won’t be long, if you could just give me a half hour …”

The woman sighed, her hands on her hips, but her face was framed with an encouraging smile - she tended to be cold to most anyone with the audacity to access her beloved database, but she seemed to have taken a liking to Gherion. “Alright, Mr. Aldos, I’ll let you finish up. But I’m only giving you a half hour!”

“Understood, ma’am.” Gherion called after the librarian as she bustled away to finish closing up the data records. Since his most recent musings had been over the Jedi Order, he hadn’t been able to get the burning answers surrounding them out of his mind. It was chiefly the loss of all their knowledge that had kept him preoccupied on the particular topic, and why it had disappeared. In an effort to once again understand that which he could not, Gherion had ventured into the archives to find some data on the long since dead warrior monks, and maybe a clue as to how their wisdom disappeared from what seemed like life itself. Maybe if he could recover what they knew, and learn it himself, he could bring the temperance and composure back to an otherwise chaotic Galaxy, still reeling from the greatest disaster ever to befall it. The Alliance’s efforts were impressive, and promising, but the bolstering figureheads the Jedi supplied would do much to bring about peace once more. It was an irony of a sort: when the Galaxy needed the Jedi most, not a trace of them were to be found.

At first, Gherion’s expeditions into the coreward database had lead to inconclusive results. Little was to be found on the Jedi, and what scarce resources were listed, Gherion had already read and re-read several times over. Disappointed, but undaunted, Gherion widened his search from non-fiction historical to include biographies and autobiographies as well, leading to the discovery of a little-used holo-novel called the Adventures of Jolee Bindo. After locating the disk in the archives contents, dusty to the extent of seeming like it hadn’t been touched or read for years, Gherion cleaned it off and popped it into his datapad, and began reading. The two individuals he had blown off during lunch had spent some time there, but he had avoided their notice by sitting in the back of the room, and continued reading. For hours, he had immersed himself to the world of a man so wild and legendary he almost didn’t seem real. Gherion was amazed at how long his story had managed to survive, as the time of his life had been thousands of years ago, pre-dating many of the most monumental wars the Galaxy had ever seen, allowing him to participate in many pivotal conflicts, such as the Jedi Civil War.

The Jedi adventurer’s story was not a typical one, nor was the included attitudes and philosophies towards the Jedi Order contained in his writings. After facing heartbreak and losing a cherished lover to the teachings of the Sith, the young Bindo had left the Jedi Order in protest to a lack of punishment. His ideas on both extremes, of the Jedi arrogance and the Sith blood thirst, were both condemning and explanatory. It would seem that the force for good in the Galaxy had its own flaws to compare with that of its arch nemeses, which made the Order seem much more realistic, more human. Perhaps they were not the perfect religious faction, and perhaps that was what led to their downfall. If Gherion could find the flaws in their wisdom and rectify them, then perhaps he could even usher in a better philosophy for peace and diplomacy than the first time around. It would take a great philosopher to change the face galactic social theory to that extent, but the half-echani felt that he had what it took.

Reaching the end of the holo-novel, Gherion slipped out the disk and ran up to the front desk just as the clock signaled the end of his 30 minutes, handing the sum of Jolee’s legacy carefully to the librarian. She smiled and placed it on the sorting tray behind her.

“You’d best be on your way, dear. It’s getting late, and you don’t want to risk getting caught on school grounds after hours.”

Gherion nodded wordlessly, hiked his bag up on his shoulder, and turned toward the door. As he reached the dark, cool metallic hallway and headed for the west exit, the philosopher basked in the gloom and silence of night. It was one of those rare moments in his hectic, and somewhat lonely, life that gave him some sense of solace. It felt like he was the only person in the world, free from the looks and jeers of his fellow classmates. The pale, tall young man had reached a point in his life when, after suffering so much loss and ridicule for his intellect, he learned that it was best to simply ignore it. And ignore it he did, a practice he had all but perfected and honed, but perhaps it was all just a ruse, to both others, and himself. The insults still hurt, as much as he willed them not to, and at other times, his emotional distance and harsh attitude toward others made him dislike who he had become. Still, he had a lot of potential in his future, and saw nothing but success and acclaim for the rest of his life, so although he wasn’t the most well-liked individual, he was still one of the smartest. As he reached the much cooler night air outside, his mind turned to other things, namely the impressions he had received from the opinions and perspectives of his literary friend, Jolee Bindo, on the Jedi Order.

As he mused, Gherion snapped back to reality when he heard the sound of light footsteps behind him. Nobody besides the librarian had been in that school with him, and she lived on the other side of town. Crime was nonexistent in the Academy grounds due to security precautions, so the half-Echani wasn’t necessarily frightened to turn around and glimpse the source of the sound, but he did experience a shockingly high level of panic when he found nobody behind him. Gherion had excellent hearing, and knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that he had listened only moments ago to footsteps behind him. Searching his psyche for answers, he came to two conclusions. Either he was losing his mind, hearing things that did not truly exist, or he was being followed by someone fast, quiet, and who did not wish to be seen. Since Gherion felt fully in control of his mental state, he opted for the latter clarification. Carefully placing his hand on the blaster concealed underneath his coat, Gherion turned around and continued walking toward his apartment. He had no idea what this person wanted, but he did know that he had only once fired a weapon, and was not sure he would have the courage or will to do what he disdained above all else again. Slowly, and faintly, the pitter patter of light footsteps behind him once again became clear. Instinctually, the young philosopher quickened his pace, eager to escape his stalker, until he burst into a full run, a run that did not last very long.

Suddenly, a sharp, blunt force hit him in the back, knocking him forward and sending him skidding across the cold, hard ground underneath him. As Gherion tried to stand and collect himself, he realized he could no longer breathe, as if an invisible force were choking him. He attempted to stand, but failed, collapsing to the ground in a heap. He fought against the invisible force, his mind struggling to come to a solution, but the more he fought, the more darkness came to him, until slowly, reality whirled out of vision, and Gherion fell unconscious.

§

Osay strode down the street, practically ignoring everyone around her. It’d take her about twenty minutes to reach her dorm, and then she could change into some casual clothes and start reading the document Tawnos had given her. She’d continue until she fell asleep, like she always did. Thank goodness she was lucky enough to get an empty room—she didn’t have to put up with any annoying roommates.

The young woman was soon walking through the campus. It was deserted now; nearly everyone had retired to their rooms to study by now. Osay glanced up at the ‘sky’ high above and frowned. It got dark here earlier than it did on Riss, and the night came on faster. She didn’t like it; it was just so—

What was that? Osay’s attention snapped away from the local weather patterns. She’d heard something behind her, similar to a stealthy footstep—it had been close. There; she heard it again. The girl glanced behind her. No one was there. She was completely alone. Her imagination had to be running away with her, that was all. She straightened up and continued across the campus.

There it was again! Osay whirled, dropping automatically into a defensive stance. Nothing. The girl stood once more, her mind working. Someone was following her, she was sure of it. She needed to find out who it was. Maybe she should ready her vibrodaggers; she could feel their comforting weights in the backs of her boots. No, she trusted her hands more than her knives. The teenager turned and continued walking slowly. The sound drew closer. Osay kept walking. The skin on the back of her neck began tingling, like it always did when something bad was about to happen. She waited a few more moments. He was coming closer, closer...

Osay spun around, her left palm coming up under where her stalker's chin should have been while her right hand slammed into his rib cage. She stumbled forward. No one was there! Something tightened around her throat. The girl choked on her scream and fell to her knees, her fingers trying to pry away whatever was strangling her. This couldn't be happening! Nothing was touching her! It was impossible--!

Osay fell to the ground, unconscious.

§

Celeb walked briskly down the gloomy path that lead to his dormitory, rubbing the back of his neck with both hands against the light cold of night, mulling over the day he had just experienced. It hadn’t been too bad, all in all. His sexual advances had been defeated expertly by several girls, something that had become the norm for him, he had been late to a few of his classes, which had put him under considerable stress when added to the other usual academy-related hassles, but his sparring session with the young woman… Ohay, or something to that effect… had been a welcome break from those minor nuisances of everyday life. Ever the indomitably cheery type, Celeb wouldn’t let the little things get him down, so he would head home, rest up, as he was rather tired, and face the new day with hopefully renewed vigor. After all, when you used to live in a world like Celeb had, it was a good day to not get shot on sight for breaking one of the many strict laws he once abided by, which included loitering, spitting, desecrating planetary monuments by touching them, or standing incorrectly. Here, he had more freedom than he had ever experienced before, and even at the worst of times, there were still so many good things to take pleasure in for him. In fact, he had chosen to stray behind the typical hustle and bustle to get to the dormitories so he could have the walk to himself, and benefit from the things that he could not have enjoyed anywhere else.

As he ambled silently among the towering buildings that made up the student dormitory complexes, alone save for the sound of vermin inhabiting the back alleys, subsisting off of garbage made by the many unauthorized parties that took place in the rooms above, he realized just how beautiful Retalia was at night. Turning his head upward to that big sparkling sky, Celeb was met with a similar, yet unfamiliar, landscape of stars and gloom intermixed in a beautiful artistry of the heavens. He reminded himself that every dot of brilliant white, silver, and gold had a name, and possibly even lives, millions stacked upon millions, screaming their existence through waves of darkness along gossamer strands of brilliant color and verve. It was wonderful, magnificent, complex, yet so delicate and transient, and Celeb stopped and allowed himself to soak in the moment, to bask in the majesty of what anyone could behold, yet what so few actually did. For one who prized control and routine so highly, it was difficult for the young soldier to let go of his thoughts and feelings, and become one with something larger than himself, yet it was what he wished to do above all else, and so he allowed himself to meld into a greater whole, a grander purpose, something larger than the rituals and exercises of his life. He feared a loss of control above all else, yet loved how it felt once control was free of him, and in that way, he was curiously contradictive in his own right.

Then, rather abruptly, an odd sound, only out of place in the silence that was a school night on Academy grounds, pulled Celeb away from his spiritual musings with the sky above. The sound was akin to the patter of footsteps, more deliberately slow and meditative than that of an animal’s, and lacking the scurrying commonplace with such a source. Calling upon his extensive training in stealth identification, Celeb knew immediately that the footsteps belonged to a bipedal sentient, but the unusual weight distribution and uncannily light reverberations that the footsteps produced made gender or species unidentifiable. Celeb’s hairs on the back of his neck stood upright as he realized that whoever this was, they knew how to remain undetected, and at the present time, they were attempting to do so. In moments, the young fighter’s mind clicked into defensive mode, and hundreds of counter-incapacitation techniques ran through his psyche, preparing himself for whatever attack he would face, ready to compensate should the opponent be more adept at hand-to-hand than he himself suspected. He did not think about who would wish him harm, or why, he merely braced himself for the worst, recommenced his walking with a quicker gait than previously, hoping to make it to his house before being forced into a confrontation.

Before he had made it more than a few feet away, Celeb was knocked cold to his feet by a force that felt neither bodily nor corporeal, but rather had come from thin air. Confused and disoriented by the power of the strange attack, Celeb took a moment to gather his thoughts, then sprang to his feet and turned on his heel to meet his attacker in offensive position, who… was nowhere to be seen. A moment later, another burst of aggressive force slammed into Celeb’s chest, again knocking him to the ground with relative ease. As Celeb prepared to again lift himself to a defendable position, he realized that he could no longer breath, and felt invisible hands clasped around his neck, choking the air supply to his lungs. He fought and struggled against what he could neither see nor stop, writhing on the ground, face up, staring at the stars he had been acquainted with only minutes before. It had been so easy to resign himself to a lack of control, yet now, as he faced what that meant with deadly reparations, he realized how much that control really meant to him. His mind still whirling for an explanation to the strange attack, and its wholly outlandish nature, the young, bold cadet was feeling the life drain from him, and as the sky faded from his vision, the pinpricks slowly being snuffed out, his last thought before losing consciousness was simply that he would have given anything to be home.

§

By the time he had reached Ashalle’s building, the sun had completely fallen, and the street lighting had activated. Tawnos pulled his portable communicator from his belt, scanned the dozen or so contacts he had - mostly school related - and found his sister. He activated it, and spoke into it.

“Ashalle, I’m outside. You almost ready?”

He heard her reply not through the communicator, but from the front steps of the building. “I’m here,” she said, pulling a dark grey knee-length jacket around her shoulders. He began walking back down the walkway before she even caught up, leaving her jogging to reach him.

“What did you want to talk about, Ash?” he asked her, as he slid his communicator back onto his belt.

“Well, we haven’t really had a chance to talk since we arrived,” she replied, still doing up her jacket. “I thought maybe we could just catch up.”

He rolled his eyes, but she missed it in the dark. “Ok,” he said after a moment. “How have things been going for you, then?”

“Pretty well, actually,” she said. “I was terrified that I wouldn’t be able to keep up with my schedule, but I think I’m doing alright so far - how about you?”

He considered for a moment. “Well, my Ancient Galactic History class began this year,” he said. “I’m expecting that to be an easy credit,” he said stiffly.

They were silent for a while, turning a corner into a much darker side-street. Ashalle sighed. “Maybe this was a bad idea after all...” she said sotto voce.

“What was your first clue?” he asked darkly.

“Well excuse me for wanting to improve our relationship!” she snapped. “In case Mum and Dad never told you, we’re supposed to be brother and sister. I hear siblings sometimes talk, and share, and even grow to care about each other. Especially twins.”

He shook his head. “We’re only brother and sister by chance, and we’re twins by biological oddity. That doesn’t mean I’m obligated to be close with you, or share my deepest feelings with you.”

“I just don’t see why you’re so afraid to open up with me!”

“I don’t want to ‘open up’ with anyone!” he hissed, whipping around to face her. “Why are you acting like it’s suddenly so important to you?! We’ve been siblings for 21 years now and you’ve never shown an interest in being any more than we are now. If you care so much about our relationship, where were you whe–”

She decided to ingore his twisted view on history, and plowed on. “Tawnos, I know I’ve been terrible to you,” she said, trying to calm him down. “I should have been there for you when you needed me, and I let you down. I’m just–”

He raised a hand, and for a startling moment she thought he was going to strike her. But he stood stalk still, his head tilted to the side, as if straining his senses. “Tawnos, wh–”

“Shh!” he snapped. He reached towards his belt again, this time pulling from it a small blaster pistol that he made a point of bringing with him when he ventured out at night - despite the Academy campus' almost non-existent crime rates.

A noise, like the sing-song whine of a breaking window mag-seal, caught Ashalle’s attention as well. She reached into her boot and extracted a small, slim dagger. Tawnos looked at it incredulously for a moment - he had never known her to carry a weapon back on Gwellin.

An odd, computerised beeping and whistling was emanating from a nearby alley, though they couldn't make out what was causing it. It couldn't have been a droid, Tawnos thought; all droids on Retalia were programmed to return home and shut down at sunset, to avoid theft. Tawnos moved in closer to the alley.

He motioned for her to stay put, and moved towards the alleyway. “Hello?” he called, his voice level. He gave Ashalle a dark look as she moved up beside him, holding her dagger at her side.

He put his back against the building to the right of the alley, a few feet away from its mouth. He held his hand on the butt of his blaster pistol, and closed his eyes, straining his other senses. He could smell the bitter scent of disposed-of food; the stench of a dead yelt rat; and he heard, unique from the natural night-time sounds and distinctly apart from the droid-like beepings, the sound of laboured breathing. He opened his eyes.

“I know someone's there,” he called, a little more quietly this time. “We’re both armed. Come out with your hands above your head, or I’m calling campus security.”

The sounds ceased suddenly, and the air was still for a moment. Then, without warning, Tawnos felt the air forced out of his lungs as he was flung to the ground by some unknown, chest crushing force, his blaster pistol sliding into the deserted street. He rolled over on his back, the better to see his attacker, but all he saw was a tall black figure and a blur of swift motion, and he heard Ashalle scream and drop to the ground. He called out her name to be sure she was all right, but there was no reply.

He didn't have time to worry about his sister, though. He rolled back onto his feet, and assumed a defensive crouching posture. He made sure to stay within the light of the streetlamp overhead, and scanned the darkness of the alley for movement. He heard nothing, save for the sound of his own panting, and struggled to silence his breathing. He felt he was being watched, and slowly moved back into the street towards his blaster. He bent down slowly to retrieve it.

A strong pair of arms wrapped around his torso, but he was no longer a helpless, over cautious Academy student - he was an armed target. He brought the butt of the blaster into his assailant's gut, and felt his captor's grip weaken. He spun around and kicked out, and his foot made contact with the face of a rather large brute of a man, clearly a member of one of the many rival gangs that plagued the planet. They didn't often venture out from the underground catacombs, but when they did it was normally in numbers - and sure enough, he suddenly became aware of at least half a dozen other men closing in from all sides, creating a rough circle around himself and his sister. The only avenue of escape seemed to be the seemingly empty alleyway behind them, but he didn't trust it. He held his blaster level, aiming it at the man who had grabbed him. The man gave an oily laugh.

"Looks like a feisty one, boys," he said mockingly. His eyes fell to Ashalle's prone figure, and his smirk widened. "What have we here...?" he asked slowly. "Pretty girl like that would certainly keep us warm on the lonlier nights beneath the surface."

Tawnos gripped his weapon tighter. "Go for it. I dare you."

The man laughed again, and waved his arms around him, indicating the rest of the slowly closing circle. "Think your trigger finger is fast enough to get us all, boy?"

Tawnos hesitated for a moment - a moment too long. The thug leapt forward, and forced Tawnos' weapon hand upwards before he could fire. The blaster discharged uselessly into the air, and he felt a searing pain as the man tightened his grip, forcing him to drop his only means of defense. He brought his free arm around the thug's neck, hooking his head in the crook of his arm. He twisted sharply, but his hold wasn't strong enough to deliver a serious blow: the thug merely yelped, more likely out of anger than fear - and released Tawnos' other wrist. He brought his now free arm up, then down again to deliver another blow to the man's back with his elbow, knocking him to the ground.

The rest of the thugs shouted in anger. They advanced, each pulling out a small hand stunner and brandishing it threateningly. He felt them closing in; he could smell their unwashed bodies; hear their breathing, laboured by the copious amounts of drink. The eyes of the nearest one flashed dangerously as he lunged forward, aiming for Tawnos' chest...

All of them were thrown backwards with the force of a heavy blow to the gut, and they fell to the ground. Tawnos, bewildered, turned around without thinking - and he himself was knocked to the ground by the familiar rib-crushing force. He struggled to stand, but felt as if someone were sitting on his chest. He couldn't draw breath, nor could he reach his fallen blaster. His head began to spin, his vision blurred, and an invisible force pulled him towards unconsciousness. The last thing he remembered was the sight of three of the thugs, having managed to right themselves, lift the lifeless body of his twin sister from the ground, and run, flat footed and screaming, from whatever force it was that had incapacitated Tawnos. He tried to shout her name, but could only manage a strangled rasp. He never heard a reply - for seconds later, his vision faded, and the world around him went black.

Last edited by The Doctor; 01-12-2009 at 09:44 PM.
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Old 01-12-2009, 03:46 AM   #4
DeadYorick
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Very, very, very well written. Very nicely detailed and extremely interesting. I can tell through the writing that it was brilliantly collaborated. I hope to see what the next episodes contain


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Old 01-12-2009, 07:12 PM   #5
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Very very excellent work!! I'm loving the story right now, I hope to see more soon! No corrections as of late, excellent work!


you very much
If a tree would fall in the woods.....would the other trees laugh at it?
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Old 01-12-2009, 09:43 PM   #6
The_Catto
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Very nice work all three of you. A wonderful read.
I'm actually surprised that I made it through all of it because, as Saber once pointed out, I dislike 'the large wall of text' ... Admittedly, I do. But, after I started reading, I couldn't help but finish at the very end.

I am VERY interested who is doing this to all the students.
I like how all of them are interconnected and perhaps that may be a clue? Hmm ... Interesting.

Tawnos is my favorite character so far. Gherion I am finding it hard to relate to. Osay reminds me of a person I know so that's why I like her character, lol. Celeb on the other hand .. He kind of reminds me of Mical. Not really sure why though. [By the way .. How do pronounce his name? I'm saying it like it's Caleb, or Seleb, but I think both of them might be absolutely wrong]

Oh, and I am also wondering what is going to happen to Ash. Being taken off like that? Is he going to be alright? Will Tawnos be able to get her back? Will that help salvage their relationship? WHO KNOWS!!!! I certainly don't lol, but I'd like to ... So yeah ... *Implementing Dark Lord of Annoyingness mode* ... Hurry up and post the next piece of awesomeness!

Quote:
Originally Posted by The Doctor
but he was no longer a helpless, over cautious Academy student - he was an armed target.
Not sure if that was meant to be there or not, but anyways I'm letting you know just in case.

Quote:
Originally Posted by The Doctor
She crossed her arms, shaking her head. “Nah, don’t think so.” A smirk appeared on her face. “After all, I might accidentally bruise your ego next time.” She held out her hand to help him up.

“A little late to be worrying about that,” he joked, taking her hand and righting himself again.
Hahaha, I liked that part. The spar was brilliantly executed.
Keep up the great work guys! Can't wait to see the 'invisible' stalker!

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Old 01-12-2009, 10:02 PM   #7
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Actually, there's been arguments between us on how to pronounce Celeb's name. I myself prefer "SAY-leb", while Adavardes prefers the more technically accurate "SELL-eb". I suppose nothing is set in stone, what with it being Star Wars and all - standard English language conventions don't always seem to apply in the beloved universe.

We're well into the second chapter, and it shouldn't be more than a few weeks away, at the most - though I'm not making any promises. I'm glad we've already got a good number of readers after less than 24 hours from posting it!
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Old 01-12-2009, 10:16 PM   #8
The_Catto
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It's an amazing piece of story-telling and I'd be surprised if you hadn't recieved amounts of recognition fo rit.
In fact, I think it deserves more than what it already has recieved.

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Old 01-12-2009, 11:01 PM   #9
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Gherion I am finding it hard to relate to.
Just a quick clarification. Gherion is intentionally lofty, arrogant, and difficult to relate to: the architecture of his personality is that of an intellectual that lacks wisdom or patience. During the course of the peice, he will progress slowly into his final permutation with the assistance of key plot points in the story, and hopefully that version of Gherion will be more appealing. :P



It is all that is left unsaid upon which tragedies are built.
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Old 01-13-2009, 01:21 AM   #10
Bee Hoon
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Whoa, that was long! I strongly suspect that the Jedi/Sith are finally showing themselves, although it's a shame that Ashalle got kidnapped D: Cue dramatic rescue mission! All in all, it was good with nice descriptions and a good variety of characters. I could tell that Gherion's antisocial tendencies were being played up, but you all did a good job of it (judging by how I would liike to smack him until he has a paradigm shift ). Good job, all of you!



The sun goes down and the sky reddens, pain grows sharp.
light dwindles. Then is evening
when jasmine flowers open, the deluded say.
But evening is the great brightening dawn
when crested cocks crow all through the tall city
and evening is the whole day
for those without their lovers

-Kuruntokai 234, translated by A.K. Ramanujan

[Fic] Shreds of a Dying Belief
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Old 01-13-2009, 10:14 PM   #11
The_Catto
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(judging by how I would liike to smack him until he has a paradigm shift )
Haha, couldn't have said it better myself.

I'm intrigued as to how this change for Gherion will take place and what comes of it.

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Old 01-15-2009, 06:54 PM   #12
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read


'To argue with those who have renounced the use and authority of reason is as futile as to administer medicine to the dead.' Now who said that?

From the one who brought you;
What we die for...
Acceptance
KOTOR excerpts
Star Wars: The Beginning
Star Wars: Republic Dawn
Return From Exile
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Old 01-20-2009, 04:09 PM   #13
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Alright folks, here it is: Chapter Two. Huge props to Andurilblade, our beta reader, for getting her notes back to us so quickly this week. Thanks a million, mate!

EDIT: I also need to thank Bee, who sent me her notes on the same day - it just went to my spam box, for some reason, and I didn't find it until now. Thanks to you too, Bee!

§ Chapter II §

His head hurt. His back hurt. His ribs hurt. Everything just hurt.

Tawnos groaned involuntarily as his brain began to shift slowly and labouriously into consciousness. He did a quick physical inventory – two arms, two legs, one fully intact head, and no open wounds. That was good. He gave a dry, heaving cough as he steadily became aware of his surroundings. He was lying, fully clothed, on a low, soft bed in a small, dimly lit room. His memory slowly caught up with his senses, and he remembered the street brawl that had presumably led to his current predicament. He remembered with a jolt that Ashalle had been with him, and he peered into the darkness around him to find her. There were four other beds in the room, one on either side of his own and two on the opposite wall. The beds on either side were occupied by two unconscious men, one of whom Tawnos recognised: it was the tall, silver – haired young man he had confronted earlier that day – or had it been yesterday? Truth be told, he had no way of knowing how long he – or rather they – had been unconscious. The other man Tawnos could not immediately place. He was a little taller than Tawnos himself, with close – cut dark hair and sharp, narrow features. Only one of the beds across from him was occupied, and as his eyes adjusted to the darkness he noticed that it was Osay.

He struggled into a sitting position on the edge of the bed, and shook his head to clear the fog from his thoughts. He took in the rest of the room, and his heart began to beat faster as he registered the fact that there was no discernable exit – he, and the three people with him, was trapped. “So, quick recap,” he muttered to himself darkly. “I’m trapped with a bantha’s ass, a gorgeous woman, and a guy I’ve never met before in my life – and my sister is missing.” He tried to stand, but his legs screamed in protest until he allowed himself to fall back onto the bed, panting. “Just perfect.”

He heard movement on the other side of the room, and his head cleared instantly as adrenaline began pumping once more. Across the room, Osay winced and gave a quiet groan. She pushed herself up onto her elbow and studied her surroundings hazily. “W– where...”

Tawnos forced himself to his feet and moved stiffly over to her bedside. He practically fell into a kneeling position by her side, and spoke quietly. “It’s Tawnos,” he said, in case the darkness prevented her from seeing him clearly. “How do you feel?”

The woman stared at him for a few moments before the information registered. She rubbed her head ruefully and sat up. “I feel like I just got beaten within an inch of my life, actually. I don’t suppose you know where we are?”

He shook his head grimly. “Your guess is as good as mine. My guess is we’re underground somewhere – there are no windows. But there’s no way to be sure. I don’t see any sort of exit, either.”

Osay’s lips pursed, and she growled, “Whoever attacked me had better hope so. If I get my hands on him...” She cut her tirade abruptly. “Sorry. I take it you were attacked, too?”

“My sister and I, yeah. One of the underground street gangs cornered us.” He furrowed his brow in concentration. “The last thing I remember is struggling with one of them, and... something happened, I... I don’t know what it was. Something... something hit us. I was knocked to the ground, and I couldn’t move.” He shook his head ruefully. “They must be holding her somewhere else.”

Osay’s eyes narrowed, and she muttered, “A street gang...” She looked back down at Tawnos and asked harshly, “What does your sister look like? Tell me!”

He was slightly taken aback by her urgency, but answered her question. “She’s about... average height, shoulder--length blonde hair – eyes just like mine. Why?”

“Did they act like they knew her at all? Could she be mistaken for me in the dark?”

He shrugged. “I suppose. But they didn’t seem to think they knew her at all, no. They just said a girl like her would ‘keep them company’ down there.” Anger burned in his chest at the thought of what those beasts could possibly be doing to his sister. “Why, why would they be looking for you?”

Osay breathed a small sigh of relief. “There’s only one gang that has access to the Academy grounds. They waylaid me a few nights ago and threatened me, and I was forced to kill a few of them.”

Tawnos reeled at these last words, not sure whether or not he believed them. He couldn’t imagine a situation where someone as kind and seemingly innocent as Osay could even seriously discuss an act as vile as taking another life, much less actually commit it. He simply couldn’t see her long, elegant fingers wrapped around the butt of a blaster, or the hilt of a sword, and using it to kill another sentient being. He looked into her eyes as she spoke, not really listening to her words. He admired the strength that pulsated from her very being ----she had been raised on one of the reputedly roughest planets in its sector, contending with gangs and warfare. Not only that, but he now knew she had fought for her very life right here on Retalia, where they were all supposed to be safer than they could be anywhere else in the Galaxy.

He realised she was still speaking, and brought his thoughts back to reality. “The others ran off, but I know how most gangs work,” she was saying. “You kill one, and you’ll be on their hit list for a very long time. Your sister isn’t safe, but at least she’s probably alive. If they thought she was me... well, she wouldn’t have a chance.” She bit her lip hard. “Sorry I brought it up.”

He was about to reply with a gentle word to ease her concerns despite himself, but was interrupted as the young man whom Tawnos did not recognise groaned loudly, sitting upright with surprising ease and ruffling his hair, squinting against the darkness of the room. “Ugh, my head feels like it’s been driven through a hive of kinrath with a piece of day – old ronto meat strapped to my ears... Where am I?”

Osay peered at him and asked in surprise, “Celeb, is that you?”

The young man Osay called Celeb slowly stood and walked over to sit on the edge of Osay’s bed. Seeing who was talking to him, his face lit up with a small grin. “It’s you! The girl I sparred with! Osay, wasn’t it?”

The girl returned his grin. “Afraid so.” She glanced down at Tawnos. “I don’t suppose you two know each other?”

Tawnos shook his head mutely, rising to a standing position. He wasn’t sure why, but something about the young man rubbed him the wrong way. Perhaps it was the familiarity he shared with Osay, or his chiselled physique and smart features that seemed to consistently bear a smug grin. “Nice to meet you, Celeb,” he said, somewhat stiffly and not altogether truthfully. “I’m Tawnos.”

Celeb lightly, but almost unnoticeably, cocked his head to the side at the sight of Tawnos, his grin slackening ever so slightly. He nodded a Tawnos with a harsh, somewhat reluctant courtesy. “Celeb Mendari.” He turned back to Osay. His eyes, though bloodshot and farigued by his recent experiences, showed intense sympathy. “Why are you here? Did you get kidnapped by that... thing too? Are you hurt?” he asked softly, placing his hand on Osay’s shoulder in a concerned manner. Tawnos felt a harsh wave of contemptuous dislike rise and bring bile to his mouth.

Osay shrugged. “Nah, I just have a headache. If by ‘thing’ you mean something invisible that can hit or strangle without revealing itself, yea, it got me too.” She glanced at the walls and added, “As far as why we’re here... well, your guess is as good as mine.”

“Hold on,” said Tawnos. “Neither of you saw anyone when you were taken? No circle of thugs, or anything like that?”

Celeb looked at Tawnos with controlled irritation, removing his hand from Osay before turning to face him. “No. One minute I was admiring the night sky, and the next, I was on my back struggling to breathe.”

Tawnos nodded, doing his best to ignore the other man’s tone. “Then clearly, something either went wrong when my sister and I were attacked, or...” he paused for a moment, considering. “Or there’s more going on here than just a group of street thugs looking for a ransom.”

Standing with a stern, naturally militaristic posture, Celeb crossed his arms, his brow furrowed. “I’d say so. This isn’t a normal situation, but I’ll be damned if I know what to think of it.”

Osay stood as well and placed her hands on her hips. “Does anyone here besides me have any enemies on Retalia?”

Before either of them could answer, the fourth and final of the students jerked out of his slumber, shooting up to a sitting position with a sharp sound emitting from his throat that seemed to be a cross between a grunt and a scream. Whirling his head around to see where was, the pale young man slowly calmed himself down, began breathing regularly, and caught sight of his three new forced bunkmates. There was a pause that lasted a few strained moments during which the room was silent, the newly conscious silver-haired man looking at Tawnos, Osay, and Celeb in turn, and all three staring back at him in shock from his rather violent arousal. Then, rubbing his eyes impatiently and adopting a foul grimace of extreme dislike, he said, “Great, I get kidnapped by a spectre, or some other strange entity I have yet to identify, and I have the pleasure of seeing you two.”

Tawnos glared at him. “Believe me, neither of us are too pleased to see you either. But we’ve got more important things to worry about right now.” He turned to the other two, ignoring Gherion. “Whoever or whatever it is that’s got us, they may not be counting on us being conscious,” he pointed out. “And they must need us for something, or we wouldn’t be here to talk about it.” He jerked his head towards his newly revived peer. “Now that Silvermane here is awake, we may be able to overpower them.”

The disgruntled and blatantly irritable ‘Silvermane’ barked out a short, mocking laugh at Tawnos. “Are you really suggesting that you are capable of even comprehending what has incarcerated us together in this little underground hovel, let alone know enough about it to plan a logically sound attack strategy to ‘overpower’ it? Ridiculous.”

Tawnos didn’t look at him. “You got a better idea, other than lying in bed and waiting for whatever it is to do with us what it pleases? Or do you expect us to just sit back and submit to who knows what?”

The slim young man moved to a sitting position, slinging his legs over the side of his bed and sighing exasperatedly. “I say that rushing into a situation with a vast amount of unknown variables and a half-cocked plan by our bold, fearless leader here is a good way to get us killed, nothing more. This thing incapacitated me, and I’m guessing you three as well, with little to no effort, using some sort of power that allows it to render us unconscious without using any physical means. How, exactly, do you plan to fight or kill something so wildly strange and potent, Tawnos? Hm? Are you just gonna take it by surprise and pound it to the ground with your big bad fists?”

Tawnos didn’t know how the man knew his name, but he didn’t particularly care at the moment. “I still don’t hear you offering up any better suggestions, yelt-brains.”

Osay gave a frustrated sigh and snapped, “Oh shut up, both of you!” She stepped between them, crossing her arms and turning her fierce glare from one of them to the other. “We need to find a way to escape whatever abducted us, and we aren’t gonna do that by yelling at each other! But Silver’s right. We can’t just rush out without a plan.” She turned to the silver-haired man. “I’m pretty sure the rest of us are planning to leave. Now, are you coming with us, or are you gonna wait here until your ‘spectre’ arrives?”

“It’s Gherion, not ‘Silver’, so I’d appreciate it from now on if you made sure you rectify that particular error,” Gherion snapped at Osay. “But yes, I would like to be free of this place and back to my studies as soon as humanly possible. I would prefer, however, that we do so in a way that avoids whatever it is that got us here in the first place, if at all possible.”

Celeb took up position between Tawnos and Gherion as well. “Tawnos had a good point too – if we’re not going to fight our way out, we need to have another plan. One that limits the amount of violence required. The best thing we can do is look around – I know this chamber isn’t much, but we may be able to– “

Celeb was cut short as the lights in the room faded suddenly, leaving them in near total darkness. Tawnos could just make out the four shapes of his fellow captives, their bodies tense as the sound of scraping metal filled the room. The long wall to his right seemed to shudder, and a large section shifted upwards. A pillar of light washed over them, a lone stooped figure silhouetted in the bright doorway. Tawnos squinted against the bright bluish-white light, his hand raised in a futile attempt to block as much of it as possible. He moved forward curiously despite the fear clawing at his chest, his eyes adjusting enough to the steadily lowering light to lower his hand. There was a long moment of stretched silence that Tawnos broke himself.

“Who are you?” Tawnos asked, his voice surprisingly calm and even despite the fear rising in his chest. “We’re prepared to defend ourselves.”

A warm male voice spoke in reply. “That will not be necessary, Mr. Rashel,” it said. The figure stepped into the room. “I assure you, you are in no danger here.”

Osay moved forward, taking position behind Tawnos. “Who are you?” she asked, repeating Tawnos’ question.

The man raised his hand, and the door into the room slowly sealed behind him. The lights faded back on, though the figure remained partially hidden. From what could be made out, he was an older, slightly timid looking man with a greying, balding head. His eyes shone from the shadows with a stark blue light, looking out at them with a calculating look that at the same time filled one with an odd sense of safety and serenity. “I am the Master of this facility,” he said. “My name is Erussa,” he said simply.

“Facility?” asked Gherion, also taking up a position beside Tawnos.

Erussa bowed slightly. “Forgive me, mister Aldos,” he said. “This is a place of learning. Not too different from the place you were taken from.”

Tawnos glared. “That’s another thing – why have you brought us here? And how do you know our names?”

Another bow. “I have been watching you – all of you – for some time. You have all demonstrated abilities that make you unique – far more so than you would ever believe.” He raised his hand again, and the hatch out of the room opened once more. The room was filled with light once more, though this time it was much less harsh, though still just as bright. “All will be explained, my young Students,” he said elusively. He stood in the door once more, again silhouetted against the light from the hall. He reached out a hand towards them. “Come with me.”

§

Random shouts and laughter pierced her skull like blades, steadily growing louder and louder as the darkness slowly began to lift. She tried to lift herself up by her arms, but they wouldn’t carry her weight. Ashalle lay limp on the rough stone floor, allowing her body to catch up with her quickly reviving mind. The acrid stench of sweat mingled with the smell of old booze and stale smoke, stinging her nostrils. She coughed up a mouthful of dirt, soaked in blood from the blow laid on her by her initial captor that had knocked her out in the first place.

She forced her arms to lift her up this time, and brought herself into a tangled sitting position. Her breath came in ragged gasps, and a sharp pain in her side told her that she had a broken rib or two. She felt around for any other injuries, and gasped out in pain when she reached her leg – the leg that she now realised was broken at the knee. She let her weight fall against the near wall of the small cell she seemed to have been placed in, and fought back a wave of tears as the true nature of her situation came to bear. She was alone, injured, and trapped beneath the surface of Retalia, with an unknown number of death-stick junkies and street thugs between herself and any hope of rescue or escape.

She remembered with a start that there was a good chance Tawnos was down here with her. Her brother was smart, and certainly a lot tougher than she was – he may even be unharmed.

“Tawnos?” she called, her voice cracking from she didn’t know how many hours without use. There was no reply. She called out again, this time louder – and was met by a harsh voice from beyond the barred wall at the far side of the cell.

“Shut up!” it yelled groggily.

She couldn’t see the speaker, but he did not sound like the most pleasant of men. She dragged herself towards the bars, suppressing a cry of pain each time she put weight on her broken leg. She pulled herself into an uncomfortable standing position, supporting most of her weight against the bars. “Where am I?” she asked, forcing as much authority and contempt into her voice as she could muster through the pain.

A large, beefy man with very little neck and a crooked nose rose from a rough-hewn chair beside the cell door, his eyes flashing with a cunning viciousness that belied the rest of his oafish features. “I said shut up, girl!” he shouted angrily, pounding the butt end of his stunstick against the bars of her cell.

She stared back at him defiantly. “I demand to know where I am, and when I’m due to be released,” she said scathingly.

He chuckled darkly. “You’ve got spirit, girlie, I’ll give you that. The lads like a spirited little lady.”

She glared back at him in silence for a moment. “Where’s my brother?” she asked. “What have you pigs done with him?”

He shook his head, and for a terrifying moment she thought he was going to give her news of her brother’s death. But instead, he said, “The little man you were with last night was left behind – from what I hear, something spooked the boys real good, and they booked it before taking him. Campus Security’s probably got him by now.”

She sighed. At least Tawnos was safe, even if he couldn’t help her. “What’s supposed to happen to me, then?” she asked. “You and your boss have to know that if Tawnos has gone to Campus Security, it’s only a matter of time before they come down here to find me.”

The thug gave her an odd look, as if sizing her up. When he spoke, it was in a surprisingly gentler tone. “That’s up to the boys, lass.”

§

The old man – Erussa – led them through a small corridor, similar in lighting and colour to the room they had been held in. After a short while, they passed through another doorway into a much more open space. Tawnos moved into the room far enough to allow the others entrance, but did not step any further. Erussa, however, continued on, moving to the opposite side of the room. He turned to them.

“Please,” he said, indicating a number of cushions neatly arranged on the floor.

Tawnos cast a look at the others, his eyes lingering for a moment on Osay, before moving cautiously towards the centre of the room.

“Welcome,” Erussa said warmly, once they had all seated themselves on the floor in front of him. “Before anything else, I must tell you that as long as you are here, in my care, no harm can come to you. This place is to be a haven; a refuge for young people like you across the Galaxy who share your unique talents.”

Tawnos spoke, though the others looked as if they had only been beaten to the punch by a matter of seconds. “What do you mean, ‘people like us’? What makes us so ‘unique’?”

Erussa smiled at him. “The five of you,” he began. “Share a common gift. A natural affinity for control, strength, and intelligence. You all have specific talents that place you above your peers.”

“Five of us?” said Celeb, his brow furrowed. “There are only four of us.”

Tawnos stared at the old man for a moment. “The fifth is Ashalle, isn’t it? My sister.”

Erussa nodded, his face passive. “I’m afraid that I was taken by surprise by the arrival of so many of Retalia’s rare criminal organisations. I was unable to bring her here in your company, Mr. Rashel.”

Osay sprang to her feet and exclaimed, “We’ve got to rescue her, now!”

Celeb shook his head. “We have no way to know whether or not she’s even still alive, Osay,” he said grimly. “It’s not worth the danger.”

Tawnos felt anger claw its way up his chest again, and he stood, staring down at Celeb with a disgusted look etched across his face. “You’re a coward,” he spat viciously. “That’s my sister you’re talking about, and I’m sure as frack not just giving up on her!”

Osay turned to Celeb, her hand planted squarely on her hips. “I’ve seen what happens to girls caught by gangs on Riss. Unless Retalia has higher grade gangs than I’m used to, it is worth the danger, even if it wasn’t Tawnos’ sister!”

Tawnos felt a surge of affection for the woman, despite himself. He hadn’t expected to feel so strongly about the threat of losing his sister, after everything she’d done to make his life miserable at school.

Gherion, who had been stroking his goatee thoughtfully in silence, sat forward on his seat. “I hate to break up this little disagreement you three seem to have brewing, but there are two key issues that have yet to be addressed, and for which I would appreciate an explanation from Mr. Erussa here.”

Tawnos rolled his eyes at Gherion’s rampantly egotistical interruption. He gave an impatient sigh, but the silver-haired chin continued to wag undeterred.

“First, what precisely do you mean by ‘specific talents’ – how exactly are we ‘gifted’? And second, what do you mean to do about our number five, since it’s obvious that you intend to add her to our little group here, and not allow her to spend the rest of her days as an object of lust and physical violation for a gang’s carnal desires?”

Tawnos turned to Erussa, grudgingly admitting that he raised an excellent point – did the old man have a plan to rescue Ashalle, or was it up to him to figure out how to save his sister from the kind of life that loomed at her door?

The old man replied quickly and concisely. “To the first, I can only say that at this point, to discuss your talents and abilities would be counter-productive. We must first ensure the safety of Ms. Rashel.

“To do so, there is only one logical course of action: you must venture into the heart of gang territory and extract her from their prison, and return with her here.”

Silence stretched between them for a long moment. Tawnos broke it. “Well then, what are we waiting for?” he said, impatient and unnecessarily loud.

“Hold on,” Gherion said loudly, though not shouting. Standing up and looking at Tawnos, he began, “As much as I know you want to save your sister, as a supposedly intelligent person, you need to calm down and think about what you’re saying.” Tawnos glared at the special inflection he put on the word “supposedly”, but allowed him to continue. “We’re dealing with a gang of violent, armed, possibly drugged-up criminals, who most likely outnumber us by quite a bit.” He turned to face Erussa. “You managed to capture four young students on campus grounds, and get us back here relatively unharmed, without being detected. Why don’t you save her yourself?”

“Unfortunately, bringing the four of you here without harming you has taken an extreme toll on my strength,” he said, a hint of regret touching his voice as he spoke. “I’m afraid that I would not be able to survive an altercation with as many of the gang members as I would no doubt encounter.

“No, I’m afraid it must be the four of you who go in search of her, and return her here. Your sister is being held in the heart of gang territory, in the catacombs directly beneath the Academy Dome,” he continued. He raised his hand, and the lights dimmed. A stone in the centre of the room lit up, and a holographic projection flashed to life. He stepped forward, and the four of them gathered around it.

Tawnos examined it for a moment before recognising what it was – it was in part a map of the Academy grounds, though there were a series of paths and walkways that stretched beneath the ones he was familiar with.

Gherion stared thoughtfully at the layout for a moment before speaking. “There are some points where the pathways lead to dead ends, and some that are just incomplete interpretations of the actual tunnels, but I think I could use this readout in tandem with a life-signs scanner to avoid as many of the gang members as possible.”

Tawnos nodded, and pointed to a specific series of pathways near the centre of the display. “It looks like there are two places they’re most likely to be holding her: one here, where pathway XJ6 meets MT4 and hits a dead end, or here, where PP4 slopes down towards the core and ends. We should split into two teams and check each location. We can scramble our comm units to mask our presence for as long as possible, but still keep in contact in case one team meets trouble.”

Osay nodded in agreement. “It’s a pretty good plan. Someone on each team needs to be ready for some killing if he runs into an enemy.” She crossed her arms and glanced at Erussa. “Now, if Erussa will be kind enough to give me back my weapons, I’m sure I can handle anyone my team stumbles into. Celeb, you up for a real, honest-to-goodness him-or-me situation?”

“No, no no,” Gherion interrupted suddenly, folding his hands over his chest, “As much as I dislike the idea of doing something so dangerous and stupid, it looks like I have no choice – but I won’t be doing it in teams. Splitting our forces in an unknown, hostile situation is far too risky. It adds the possibility of one group running into more guards than they can face. Instead, what we need to do is stick together, stay low, keep quiet, and if we meet a deadly scenario at least the full force of our group will be able to respond.” He turned to the map, and traced a path through the tunnels with his finger, illustrating his next point. “If we take this route, one group can check both locations. If the first is empty, then we move on to the second.”

Celeb nodded in agreement. “Gherion is right – as much as splitting up would save time, we don’t know how many opponents we’ll meet. Strength in numbers is the best policy in a situation with so many variables.”

Tawnos bristled indignantly, but failed to see how he could argue against a united front from the others. He sighed resignedly. “Fine,” he said grudgingly. He turned to Erussa. “But either way, Osay’s still right – we’ll need whatever weapons you took from us returned.”
He nodded. “I’ve taken the liberty of bringing the few possessions you had with you at your time of capture, as well as replicating a fresh set of clothing for each of you – I believe you’ll find them most adequate.”

“As long as we have the weapons,” Osay replied flatly. “Where are they?”

Erussa raised a hand once again, and the hologram deactivated as the lighting returned to normal. “I will show you to your quarters. Follow me.”

§

Ashalle gingerly touched her left knee, inspecting the break. It didn’t appear to be too severe – she could probably set it herself. She had seen it done in emergency response facilities back on Gwellin, during the last of the bombing raids she had witnessed as a child dashing about on errands for the volunteers at the medical facilities. She knew it hurt – she had held the hand of an old woman she had known her entire life as her mother had set a broken limb, and had felt as if her hand were caught in a vice.

She wrapped her hands around her knee, and gritted her teeth. She took a few deep breaths, bracing herself, and took the plunge. She screamed in pain as the broken limb shifted back into place, and continued to breathe in laboured gasps after the job was done. She pulled the sheath for her confiscated dagger from her belt, groggily tore a strip of the arm of her tunic, and wrapped it around her knee tightly with it, hoping the make-shift quasi-splint would at least help to keep the bone in place until she was able to receive proper medical treatment. She lay back against the wall of her cell once more, exhausted by her efforts.

A rough cough caught her attention, and she realised that the guard had been watching her from beyond the cell door, leaning his chair back against the far wall. She mustered as much malice as she could in her exhausted state and spoke. “What are you looking at?” she asked, her voice weak in her dry throat.

He grinned wryly as he replied. “I was wondering how long it would take you to work up the courage to do that. You’re an hour or so later than I expected.”

“I’m sorry I couldn’t accommodate you,” she said bitterly, shifting her weight so that more of it rested on her one good leg – but she stopped, since moving sent a stab of pain through her ribs, causing her to grimace.

An odd look of something almost like concern crossed the guard’s face, and he rose from his seat. He picked up a grubby-looking leather pouch and tossed it through the bars. It landed a few feet short of her hand and slid the rest of the way, just within her reach. She eyed him suspiciously for a moment, then grasped at the package and brought it into her hands. It was an animal-skin water flask. She cast him another dark, suspicious look, and opened it, sniffing its contents. After a moment’s hesitation, she brought it to her mouth and drained it.

He nodded satisfactorily and returned to his seat, leaning it back to lean against the wall once more.

Ashalle, feeling slightly stronger after having something to drink, pulled herself up onto her good leg and made her way to the cell door, bracing herself against the wall as she went. She allowed the cell door to support her weight as she spoke. “Have ‘the lads’ decided what they want to do with me yet?”

He eyed her for a moment before replying. “Oh yes, they’ve got a number of ideas.”

“Then why am I still locked up in here, instead of waiting tables or something in one of your cantinas – not that I’m complaining, of course.”

He was silent for a long moment. “I’ve told them you’re not up to any sort of... labour,” he said awkwardly.

“... why?” she asked, taken aback by his tone.

He glared at her. “You saying you’re up to even the best of tasks you’re imagining having to do on that leg of yours?” he asked, suddenly harsh again. “‘Cause I’m sure the boys would be more than happy to let you go earlier than I told them you’d be ready.”

She stared defiantly back, but said nothing.

“That’s what I thought.”

She watched him for a few minutes, pondering his words. This one guard had been present whenever she was awake – she had yet to see any other guard, in fact. And while these weren’t exactly the most stellar of accommodations she could hope for, she thought she was being treated rather well. She couldn’t have been imprisoned any longer than a day, and she had already been given three meals – though she had yet to see her ever-present guard eat at all.

She turned back into the cell, and sighed exhaustedly. She had yet to sleep at all since regaining consciousness, and her whole body screamed for her to lie down. She slowly brought herself to a horizontal position, lying on her uninjured side – which happened to put uncomfortable pressure on her broken leg, but there was nothing for it. She closed her eyes, and within a few minutes she drifted into a listless sleep.

§

Gherion walked ahead of the group through the dank metallic confines of the outer city catacombs, his progression the ordinary unrefined and clumsy gait he usually sported, his face buried in the soft blue pastel glow of a datapad he held directly in front of him, showing him a full layout of Retalia’s streets, alleyways, and even catacombs. Due to his considerable expertise with astrogation and chart programming, a particular skill he possessed that had been honed over years of flying with dozens upon dozens of cargo freighters as their navigator, Gherion had been trusted with leading the group through the maze of tunnels and warrens that wove through the city like an intricate spider web, the stench of sewage and waste matter filling the air, following a faint red line that was leading them to the unspoken location of the headquarters where one of the most notorious street gangs on Retalia resided, which also happened to be directly under the Academy. While the others swiveled their heads about, looking for any simple predators that they might encounter along their way, Gherion kept his speedy pace toward the red spot at the end of his trail, his mind musing on other things as he read and instinctively followed the instructions before him. Questions whirled around in his mind, all driven by a new sensation in the pit of his stomach, one he had not felt for a very long time: optimistic anticipation. Ever since Erussa had spoken to them about their talents, Gherion had searched in his mind for an answer as to the nature of his words, in particular, his use of the term “Knights”, and had come to but one logical conclusion: the old man was a Jedi, and wished to preserve the Jedi through these young individuals by teaching them of their lifestyles and beliefs.

The young philosopher had, of course, heard of the Jedi. It was observably a logical inevitability that, given his occupation of choice, he would come across the greatest source for spiritual philosophy and religious practice ever to exist in the galaxy, most likely more than just in passing. He had read the basic histories, understood their role in ancient galactic society, even looked up to them in many aspects for their masterful comprehension of life, and its delicate interconnectedness. It was a sort of irony that only moments before his incapacitation, Gherion had been looking to study the Jedi further, curious about what they had known and what he could garner from them, eager to tap that vast sum of knowledge, and now he was facing the possible, if not totally probable, opportunity to learn from one. But was it merely irony, or could it have been something more? Perhaps he had been unconsciously driven by some higher authority to study from this man, pushed forward by impulses created in the grand design of a power so far beyond his comprehension, yet so palpable to his intellect. Remembering Erussa’s words, and how he had declared them to be “uniquely gifted”, Gherion now realized what he had been searching for all his life, his starving desire for more and more knowledge moving him to study and study, in no fruition greater than what this strange man was almost certainly offering him. He was thrilled to the core by the opportunity, wanted nothing more than to understand a figure for good and decency in the galaxy, and would be happy to do so, given his assumptions about Erussa were correct, as they could have been wrong. But, before then, they had a mission, however reckless and foolish Gherion thought it to be, so the slender, pale young man pulled himself into the present, and focused on the datapad before him.

Gherion had taken a moment when the old man had handed him the small digital display to marvel at the intricacy and startling accuracy the map defined, each and every back passage and alternate course mapped out in crystal clarity and absolute precision, a quality that the young half-echani had only ever seen in government-commissioned planetary maps. It was clear that this Erussa person had spent many, many months, possibly even years, scouring the less reputable areas of the city, staying in places only ventured when one did not wish to be seen, and taking meticulous notes and data of everywhere he went. Gherion mused for a moment, and thought that perhaps the man had done so for the sole purpose of having such a useful tool for the four of them to locate the fifth, as he knew that Jedi sometimes held prophetic powers. Taking a moment to glance around at his fellow companions, Gherion could not help but wonder at Erussa’s judgment in regards to their enrollment as students. None but Tawnos seemed to possess a sliver of cleverness, and even he was grotesquely simple in the way he operated, with no erudite dignity about him whatsoever. While he knew that the Jedi were required to be both warriors as well as monks, and that the physical attributes of the two others, Osay and Celeb, might be useful in preserving those aspects, but they still lacked a certain wisdom he expected of recruits for such prestigious circumstances, and Tawnos seemed to have neither the cultured intelligence nor the physical capability requisite for the education. Perhaps Erussa saw some untapped potential he could not, but Gherion had severe doubts about that. Still, if he would have to work with these three, and the fourth individual he had yet to meet, in order to bring about new knowledge for the Galaxy about the Jedi, then he would muster up the will, and push through as best he could. Learning to be more cooperative with the group, even leading them, however frustratingly idiotic they tended to be from this point onward, would become Gherion’s new primary objective.

Last edited by The Doctor; 01-23-2009 at 11:45 PM.
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Old 01-20-2009, 04:10 PM   #14
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Removing as much condescension from his voice as he could, Gherion announced to the others, his face still sunk into the screen, “We’re only a few more metres away from the gang headquarters entrance. From there, the map becomes less reliable. Large portions of the complex are inexplicably missing from the readout.”

“Is that going to be a problem? I mean, are we going to be down there, running around in circles?” Celeb asked, his movements sharp, keen, and alert as he addressed the bumbling, clumsy philosopher.

“It shouldn’t, really. There are only five main halls to the entire compound, and, luckily, all the storage and prison rooms are on the first and second halls, near the back door, which we will be entering from.” As Gherion finished, pulling his eyes away from his datapad, he stopped in front of a large durasteel door, grimy and tarnished, with words in bizarre languages Gherion was not familiar with etched into the frame. Turning slowly on his heel, Gherion faced the others, waiting for their response.

“Alright, from this point onward, everyone stay close, stay low, and be as quiet as possible,” Tawnos announced in a voice barely over a whisper, “Be ready to fight if we have to. Gherion can move us around the attackers, but he can’t predict their movements, so let’s make this a fast mission. In, out, and back to Erussa.”

“If we survive, that is.” Gherion whispered scathingly at Tawnos, whom he had grown to enjoy the presence of less and less. Osay had been tolerable, and Celeb was the typical athletic type that the slender young intellectual ignored routinely, but Tawnos had not only been a complete disappointment to his considerable reputation, he had been a thorn in Gherion’s proverbial posterior the moment he had awoken in the middle of Erussa’s little sanctuary.

“How about a little optimism, eh?” Osay replied softly to Gherion, her hand on the hilt of her weapon, “We can do this, so let’s do it.”

“Whatever.” Gherion hissed dismissively, turning to the door to open it. Looking at his datapad, he registered three small green orbs, representing identifiable life signs, in the vicinity of the door. Waiting a moment, Gherion watched as the small orbs moved away from the door and moved down the corner to the mess hall, where all the other orbs seem to had collected. It appeared they were eating a meal, or something to the effect. Not waiting for them to come back, Gherion pressed hard on the button to open the door, and, as the mechanism hissed and popped open, hurried quickly inside.

§

Ashalle woke to the sound of a loud, angry argument resonating from up the hall. Her guard was nowhere to be seen, and after a moment she realised that one of the angry voices belonged to him. She moved to the cell door, the better to hear the conversation.

“You want her to drop to the floor in the middle of a dance, Dirk? I don’t think your patrons would appreciate seeing a bone sticking out of her knee while they’re drinking.”

“Then she can work in the kitchens until it heals,” said another voice, this one slower and duller than the first. “Fact is, she’s been down ‘ere too long, and Yart doesn’t wanna wait for ‘er anymore – he thinks you’re jus’ keepin’ her all fer yerself, and he ain’t lettin’ you have her no more.”

“I don’t care what Yart thinks; this broad isn’t ready for his perverted men to be pawing at her, and I won’t be sending her up a minute before she is. He doesn’t like it, he can shove his thumb up his a–“

”Careful what you say, Jar’vic. Wouldn’t want to offend Yart – not when he’s... so close to home...”

There was a long, pregnant silence. The unfamiliar voice broke it. “Yes, as I suspected. Have little Ashalle brought up in time for dinner tomorrow night – the boys will be expecting her.”

She heard footsteps drawing closer, and her guard – Jar’vic – returned to view. He didn’t seem to notice that she was up, and didn’t look towards the cell until she spoke.

“What was that about?” she asked.

He jumped slightly, but recovered quickly and turned his back to her. “None of your business,” he said shortly.

“Sorry, I guess I was thrown off by the mention of my name,” she said sarcastically. He didn’t reply, so she pressed on. “I didn’t think street thugs cared about their slaves being injured. I’d’ve thought that–“

She barely ducked in time to avoid a well-aimed food dish careening towards her head through the bars of the cell door. “Shut up!” Jar’vic bellowed, his face red and his eyes bulging in sudden rage.

She shrank to the back of the cell, startled by his temper. He glared at her for a moment before turning his back on her again. She stared at the back of him for a moment, as if she could somehow open a window in the back of his head and read his thoughts.

He was a very odd man – at least, not at all what she expected a hardened criminal to be, even one from a planet as tame as Retalia. He had not once raised his voice with her before now, nor had he delivered any of the threats she had been expecting – torture, rape, even death. He seemed almost protective of her in a contradictingly paternal sort of way, though she couldn’t imagine why. But something in the way he looked at her led her to believe that he wasn’t all he appeared – or attempted to appear – to be.

She considered all he’d done, and all that she’d guessed he’d done, to help her over the past two days. Two of the three meals she’d been given had seemed to be rather more lavishly prepared than the other, which had been a simple bowl of a greyish mush. She had a sneaking suspicion that those two meals had been meant for her guard – she had yet to see him eat anything at all. Now she had learned that the other members of the gang claiming ownership of her were beginning to become restless waiting for her to be released – an event that seemed to depend mostly on the man standing only a few metres away from her.

“Thank you,” she said quietly, still cowering at the back of the cell.

He made no reply.

§

Osay strode a few feet behind Gherion, her eyes darting around and her ears pricked for any signs of danger. She flexed her long, slim fingers nervously. Before when she’d fought this gang, there’d only been seven of them—they’d been no problem. This time—very few people who went into a gang’s territory came out again, if this place was anything like Riss. Still, they had a chance. Celeb had military training, so he’d be fine, and Tawnos looked fit enough, but Silverm—Gherion—looked like he could stand a few weeks in the gym. Her lips pursed in annoyance. He looked like he was part Echani, and from what she’d seen, she was a far better Echani than he was! Just from the way he moved, she could tell he had barely enough physical discipline to run straight, not to mention holding his own against a crazed junkie!

The young woman frowned and tugged at her sleeves. This outfit wasn’t nearly as comfortable as her old one. It was a trivial matter, but it was annoying. Almost as annoying as Gherion, in fact. No, nothing and no one were as annoying as Gherion had proved himself.

The group rounded another corner, and Osay suddenly became more alert. They’d entered a scummier part of the city, and the entrance to the gang’s lair was near. She licked her dry lips. This territory she knew – at least, if the Academy map was correct. Either way, it was a maze of narrow side streets and cul-de-sacs, dirty and often wet. A slight snort escaped her. Retalia might have a lower crime rate, but its slums looked the same. She’d found that out from firsthand experience.

Osay glanced at some graffiti on the wall. A couple days after she’d gotten to Riss, before the semester had begun, she’d been exploring the city, taken a wrong turn, and ended up in this part of town. It hadn’t been long before a few of the ‘locals’ had found her. Back on Riss, no one had ever managed to corner her, but here, in unfamiliar territory…well, as ashamed as she was to admit it, they’d forced her into a dead end. They’d closed in on her, and it hadn’t been long before she’d been forced to defend herself. Just a few movements of her hands, and three of them had lain dead on the ground, their necks twisted at odd angles. The remaining four had run for their lives. Osay cursed inwardly. To tell the truth, she still wasn’t convinced that the gang hadn’t thought Ashalle was her. She’d just told Tawnos that to try and allay his fears somewhat after she’d been idiotic enough to bring up the possible mistaken identity in the first place. If only she hadn’t been stupid enough to wear her school uniform out and about! They wouldn’t have known she was from the Academy if she’d just worn her casual clothing!

Osay inwardly kicked herself again. Here she was, trying to keep an eye out for danger, and she was berating herself for something she couldn’t change. And, of course, then she had to berate herself for berating herself! She didn’t have time for this! The young woman tore her mind away from her guilt and back to her surroundings.

§

Silence echoed perpetually through the dim, musky confines of the cell, mingled with the sounds of happiness wafting in through the walls. Ashalle would have given anything to have felt happy, or optimistic, about anything at that moment, been given the opportunity to enjoy herself, but all she could help but feel fear for what she knew would undoubtedly become of her. Though she had hopes, in the back of her mind, that the Academy guard would come looking for her, or Tawnos would make sure she would be free, there were doubts, in the back of her mind, as to whether or not she would ever escape. A resignation toward her possible, if not probable, fate washed over her, engulfing her in a sense of hopelessness.

She turned her attention to her guard, his form crudely outlined by the poorly lit fixtures of the room, his head nodded forward in complacent boredom. She knew, in the back of her mind, that had it not been for him, she would have been waiting tables with a gimp leg and a battered body, more than likely causing more damage to herself than she already had. She was curious as to why he cared so much about her; why a man willing to be a criminal would feel pity on her, even if the pity was such a minuscule thing at times. She couldn’t help but to feel grateful toward him, maybe even harbor a feeling of affection. He was her saviour, if not a saviour of somewhat viler means, and though she hated him for who he was and how he treated her, she knew that there were worse fates in the world, fates that she didn’t have to face thanks to him. Gathering up her courage, Ashalle slowly limped over to his side of the cell, and sat down.

“Why do you really spare me from them?” she asked after a moment’s silence.

The guard didn’t move or speak for what seemed like forever. He stared at the ground, his stun stick held slack at his side. Then, he began, “I have a young daughter, close to your age. She looks a lot like you, but she has red hair, her mother’s colour.” His voice was soft and gentle, something Ashalle had not suspected.

“What’s her name?”

The guard looked at Ashalle for a moment, his face forming into an annoyed grimace as if to tell her to shut up, but then softening slightly. “Tet’yana. It’s Twi’lek for ‘Little Flower’.” Jar’vic’s mouth tightened as he cast his gaze back down to the floor. His voice, when he next spoke, was filled with a harsh sadness, holding some of the usually crude tone, “Sometimes, I lie awake at night, thinking of what I would do if she were ever stolen from me, taken and put into slavery because of some fracking mistake I made. When I look at you, I see her staring back at me.”

Ashalle stared at the wall opposite her sitting position, thinking about what he had said. Then, she turned back to Jar’vic, and looked him over carefully before speaking with a cool, angry tone, “If I remind you so much of your daughter, why don’t you help me escape, free me?”

“Because orders are orders!” Jar’vic spat at Ashalle, his face becoming the typical visage of anger, “And I can’t play hero with some little schutta because she wants to go home. If I were caught helping you escape, it would be my little girl that paid the price, so shut up and stop asking questions!”

Ashalle was taken aback by the sudden return to the old Jar’vic, and scooted promptly back to the other side of her cell, still staring at him from a seated pose. He was such a curious man, and seemed to have so many opposing sentiments, that Ashalle couldn’t help but feel pity for him. Stuck in a situation he hated, seeing her, and how she embodied all his fears for his own daughter, and knowing that he can’t do anything to help her because it would mean the possibility of his daughter being put in her stead. Though she had no idea what the future meant, Ashalle did know one thing. If there was anything to thank for her lasting this long, it was the brute of a man that had guarded her for the past three days, a man that, she guessed, was a wonderful father.

§

Celeb moved gracefully and near-soundlessly through the dark hallway, following Gherion’s rapidly increasing lead, his hand gripping the sword Erussa had given him lightly. He knew two different stances and styles for swordplay that had been taught in basic training back home, and could easily hold his own in a fight. Turning every so often to check the back of the group, Celeb paced himself effortlessly, making the act of shifting from forwards to backwards walking at such a harried pace look almost simple, but deceptively so: each time he spun on his heel, a series of precise muscle movements and redistributions of weight were executed to keep him on form without falling to the floor and making a fool of himself, as well as producing too much noise to be tolerated in the current situation. Their surroundings were stark and metallic; the lights dimmed low to the point of being nonexistent, the smell of piss, juma juice, and death stick smoke filling the air, choking Celeb to the point of tears. Sounds of laughter and merriment reverberated through the halls from the mess hall, where he could guess the captors were toasting themselves and their foul work.

Celeb had always possessed a strong sense of justice, and the idea of these vile, loathsome monsters stealing and molesting, even violating, this poor young woman sickened him to the very core. He would not hesitate to maim, even kill, one of the indecorous worms on the spot, if given the chance. Turning to face the others once again, Celeb moved his vision slowly over the others, registering them in turn. Tawnos was running officiously, his gaze set directly ahead of him with determination. Celeb was not particularly fond of the way he seemed to take charge of the situation and make himself seem like the bold hero, but then again, he had issues with most authority that he kept to himself, a deep-seated, yet respectful dislike created by the years of his boyhood spent with an equally domineering and commanding father. Plus, it seemed that the man was attempting to butt in on his interests in Osay, whom he had grown fond of during their recently shared interactions, and was quickly becoming the main focus of his romantic feelings. He cast his glance at her elegant form slightly in front of him, moving with the same grace and poise he imagined a dancer would. He watched her powerful legs move with ease and precision for a few moments, but it was not long before he had set his sights on her firm, shapely buttocks, flexing with the action of walking.

Smiling impishly to himself for a split second, then wiping the grin away, Celeb next turned his attention to Gherion, whom he harboured feelings for in similar ways to Tawnos, and for the arrogant, incessantly condescending manner in which he addressed the others. He was intelligent, firm, decisive, and quick witted, but had the tendency to treat others like dirt, and elevate himself above them in his carriage. Watching his clumsy, bumbling manner with a tinge of spiteful humour, Celeb took a moment before asking in a hushed whisper, “How much farther until the first room?”

Gherion let out small sight before shooting a passive, unconcerned look at Celeb, then stopped and turned to a door on the left. “This should be the first location.” Looking on his datapad, he shook his head slowly, “No life-signs…” slowly pressing the opening mechanism, Gherion peered in as the doors opened, “… and no body. Let’s move.”

Tensing his body suddenly, Celeb recognised the faint sound of footsteps growing, as if from a distance, and spun around to look behind them for approaching gang members. Before he could warn the others, five members rounded the corner, and caught sight of the group. A Twi’lek with orange skin and a strong build shouted in a deep, dulcet tone in his maiden language down the hall he had just come from as the others began charging towards them.

“Frack, RUN!” Celeb shouted, and without hesitating, pushed off in the other direction and down the hall.

§

Ashalle was woken up from a light nap by the sounds of blaster fire and shouting in the distance. She sat bolt upright, her heart pounding in her chest, driven by thoughts of optimism and hope. She was sure that someone had come to rescue her, that she would be free of this place, and given proper medical treatment, along with a nice hot meal and a comfortable bed in the Academy clinic. Jar’vic also reacted to the sounds, jumping up and running to the door, not opening it, but listening intently with his ear to the metal. Then, suddenly, he ran to his seat, withdrawing some rope and cloth from a small compartment, and moved to the cell door. With a speed Ashalle had never seen him sport, he unlocked the door, and rushed inside, binding Ashalle with rope before she could protest, and gagging her with a cloth that tasted of sweat and blood from unknown sources.

Putting himself eye level with Ashalle, only inches away from touching noses, Jar’vic hissed in a barely contained whisper, spitting on Ashalle, “Don’t make a fracking peep, or I’ll make sure the boys get you a day early.”

Ashalle nodded in agreement, and seeing this, Jar’vic turned on his heel, moved out of the cell, and locked it. Then, he moved to an aggressive stance, switching on his stun stick, ready to face whoever barged through the door. In a way, this made Ashalle feel safe should this merely be an attack from a rival gang, and not a rescue force, but also filled her heart with dread at what would become of an Academy policeman who barged through that door to face the brick wall of a man that was Jar’vic. Also, in the back of her mind, she worried for the safety of her protector, her guard, and feared that a stun stick would not be enough against a sword or a blaster. Ashalle sat and waited silently, ready for whatever came through that door, unsure of the outcome, but fearing every possibility.

§

Gherion dashed down the dark hallway, the datapad ahead of him at a considerably longer distance away from his nose, watching the green orbs fly out of the central mess hall and flood the digital pathways like a sea of violent lime. His heart hammered in his chest, his mind whirling through every possible scenario that could happen in the not-so-distant future, each one less and less appetizing to his psyche. The young philosopher had no reservations toward admitting to himself that he was a blatant, irrefutable coward; in fact, he held it as somewhat of a badge of honour in its own intellectual sense. He was a pacifist by nature, abhorring violence merely through personal predisposition and a past he kept completely exclusive to himself. To him, such attitudes and philosophies toward the ultimate safeguarding of life stood as the elevated, enlightened perspectives in a society rife with anger, hate, and blood thirst. While he was sure his fellow compatriots, being of a rather unrefined and physically inclined, would most likely bear no unease about killing to defend their lives, for Gherion, it was slightly more difficult to imagine himself doing. He knew the fundamentals of all sentient life, that when forces beyond mortal control came to climaxes that held the fate of a being in limbo, the mental constructs and courtesies of civilization tended to melt away, and the life would either fight or flee to protect itself, and survive, the main goal of all life, ingrained by centuries and millennia of genetics. Gherion had never faced his own death, and thus could not know how he would react, but he had strong inclinations to believe that the latter of the two options, to make expeditious retreat, would be his mode of self preservation. If that meant abandoning his new bunkmates to the swords and blasters of those cretins now moving towards his position, then it would be a sacrifice he would learn to live with, though not with any simplicity. He would gain no peace of mind with the lives of others weighing on his spirit, yet still, if it meant his life, they were expendable.

Though he neither liked nor accepted that alternative, he held it in a realistic light to be the most probable outcome of their little adventure to save the loved one of Tawnos Rashel. Until then, he hoped with genuine sincerity that nobody had to die, and that this could all end with the entire group, plus an alive, if not bruised and scraped, Ashalle Rashel in tow. He wished death on no man, and would do his best to avoid seeing another individual perish from the Galaxy a second time. As his mind ran its paces at lightning speed, a blaster shot rang out through the hall behind him, and a burst of bright green energy streaked over his shoulder, coming so close to making contact that he felt the warmth of the bolt on his earlobe. The shock of the occurrence caused his heart to pound louder against his ribcage, bellowing its own steady rhythm of terror, announcing, it seemed, to the rest of the world that the body it resided in, most notably the mind, would have liked nothing more than to cease being where it was.

“Go get Ashalle, we’ll hold them off!” a voice called, though Gherion could not distinguish the source, nor whether or not he was the addressed party. It barely mattered, however: he had no intentions of stopping any time soon. Following the shout, the petrified half-Echani heard running footsteps behind him cease, and the sound of metal grinding against metal as the swords of Osay and Celeb undoubtedly met others of a malcontent character. Skidding to a halt at the door to the second location, the breathless and exhausted young philosopher looked quickly down at his datapad, and registered two green orbs in the considerably narrow confines of the room ahead. Wasting no time to speculate as to what the second orb could be, Gherion withdrew his blaster from underneath his baggy grey coat, and opened the door, rushing inside, away from the battle, and, upon viewing his new surroundings, into what appeared to be a novel, horrifying realm of evil. Casting his eyes quickly over the horrible scene, he saw immediately the gruff, bulky form of what appeared to be a guard the gang had utilized to make sure the young Ashalle did not make an escape. Though the young intellectual knew instantly upon glimpsing the man that his current predicament had become troves more complicated, he felt dread tighten into a heavy knot in the bottom of his stomach as he spotted the activated stun-stick held in the man’s meaty grip, pointing dead centre at Gherion, undoubtedly modified to kill if necessary. Darting his vision toward the contents of the cell itself, the pale young student observed the gagged and haggard form of a young girl with dark blond hair, her brown eyes flung wide, filled to the brim with glistening tears. Gherion’s heart leapt with alarm as he realized where he had seen such a person before, and remembered the rude young woman who had attracted his vested interest so easily the day of his capture. Pulling his eyes back to the guard in question, Gherion’s mind whirled with notions intermingled with confusion, fear, and passion for this girl, whom he still felt strongly for against his better judgment and without rational cause. Knowing the others were unavailable to him, and seeing no further alternatives to the action he was about to commence, the gaunt young man set his face into a determined glare, and pointed his blaster, sternly, and calmly, at the man’s head, though he felt much the opposite of those same physical traits.

“I’m going to have to ask you to drop the weapon, free the girl, and step away from the door. If you fail to comply, I will shoot.” Gherion bluffed, his very being screaming for him to turn and run away. He ignored those basic impulses, however, regardless of the fact that they aligned with his superior sense.

The guard puffed out his chest, his face serious and his voice grim as he spoke. “I’m afraid I can’t do that, sonny boy,” he growled.

“Please don’t force me to do this. I have no desire to spill your blood, but I will not be leaving without that woman.” The gaunt and weak young philosopher, a stark opposite of the man he was now threatening, focussed and composed his mask of false determination, waving his free hand at the door behind him. “My cohorts are finishing off your accomplices as we speak. You have nowhere to run, no friends to save you. Give up, live to see another day.”

The guard shook his head. “Not happening,” he said. “I can promise you, lad, that it’s you who won’t live to see another day if you challenge me.”

Gherion quickly pointed the blaster to the floor without moving his eyes from their dead-set position, firing a shot into the durasteel plating just in front of the thug’s feet. Wasting no time, he immediately pulled the blaster back up to point squarely at his opponent’s forehead. “Do you really think you’re fast enough to get to me with that stunner before I can put a bolt from this blaster in your head?” He threatened, his voice cracking ever so slightly, nearly giving away his true feelings toward what he had just done, and the fear that had flashed through his mind.

The guard smirked, but there was a touch of something else there – regret, perhaps? “I can’t just let you take her, son,” he said, his voice cold despite the odd smile. “If you want her, you have to go through me first.”

Gherion nodded, his grim composure breaking as he fired a shot into the leg of the guard; next occurred a whirlwind of actions that seemed to happen both rapidly and in a time frame much slower than the norm. Bellowing in an amalgamation of pain, anguish, and unadulterated rage, the thuggish guard charged at Gherion, his stun stick raised high, a contorted visage speaking of the worst creatures Gherion’s nightmares could produce. The young philosopher’s mind became blank, the world slowed as he felt the butt of his blaster, sitting apathetically in his hand, his finger pressing ever so lightly on the trigger, firing. Light, sound, and in a moment that felt as if it were an eternity, the crumpled form of a man he had spoken to only moments before fell to the floor in a lifeless heap, his forehead scorched and burned from the entry point of the blaster bolt. Immediately, Gherion fell to his knees, his hands on the ground as his blaster flew away from him, his mind whirling with a mixture of both revulsion and disbelief in the work he had just committed. Visions of the ghosts in his past, combined with the images of his present sin, spun in a vortex of emotion around his psyche, spiralling reality around him out of control, until his corporeal form, feeling the collective strain of running, terror, and disgust, finally broke down, and Gherion opened his mouth, his eyes filled with tears, as if to speak, and vomited.

§

Osay ducked a clumsy swing from the sword of a drunk man and inserted her knife into his gut, spilling his blood over her hand. A blaster bolt from Tawnos killed a large, muscular Rattataki rushing her just as Celeb skewered a Bith with his sword. The woman caught a descending sword with one of her knives and slashed the legs in front of her with the other, severing several muscles. Osay slammed her elbow into the wound, making the man fall back into the throng, slowing them. The sound of a blaster bolt came far down the hall. She cursed silently – that was where Gherion had headed. Alone. If he was dead... sure, he was annoying, but she didn’t want him dead! She darted away from the amassed gang and shouted to her two companions, “Fall back! Gherion’s in trouble!”

Tawnos’ blaster sprayed red energy into the line, causing further confusion and giving Celeb an opportunity to back away. The threesome turned and ran down the hall, Osay taking up the rear. Twenty yards or so further, she stumbled over a piece of metal sticking three inches above the floor. The woman skidded to a half when she realised what it was; it wasn’t a random pipe, it was a door track! She slammed her hand into a panel, and a metal door slid into place. She flipped her bloody vibrodagger over in her hand, plunged it into the panel, and activated it, effectively frying and shredding the circuitry – dang, she loved these insulated handles! She silently thanked her father for pressing her into buying these more expensive weapons instead of some cheap knives as she yanked her blade out of the sparking wires. That would buy them some time – and it’d only taken her a few seconds. She ran down the hall again, catching up with Tawnos and Celeb just as they noticed that she wasn’t behind them. Two more blaster shots rang out from Gherion’s direction, and the three students lengthened their strides even more.

Fifteen or twenty seconds later, Tawnos halted abruptly. Gherion was doubled over in the floor of a side room, obviously recovering from a sever bout of nausea. A wave of relief washed over her; he’d lived to annoy the Galaxy another day. And, what was more, the young woman who looked a lot like Osay was lying in a cell, bound and gagged, but quite alive.

Tawnos was the first to move, pushing past Gherion and making a beeline for his sister. He knelt beside her and pulled the gag from her mouth. “Are you alright?” he asked.

She stared, wide-eyed, at the body of the dead guard laying a few feet from Gherion. She didn’t answer.

Celeb ran past Osay to check the body of the guard. Osay stepped closer to Gherion and asked brusquely, “You get hit by a blaster?”

“No... I’m okay...” Gherion murmured quietly, his eyes, like Ashalle, focussed on the smoldering corpse of the guard. His tone was surprisingly empty of the typical condescension. “I just... I’m not used to death...”

Tawnos lifted Ashalle bodily from the ground, and though he offered to help support her while walking, she refused. He gazed down at the guard and knelt down, placing his hand on Gherion’s shoulder. “We have to move, Gherion,” he said gently.

Celeb stood, his sword clutched firmly in his hand, his eyes set with grim resolve. “He’s dead.”

Tawnos spoke from his kneeling position next to Gherion. “Then leave him. We need to get out of here, before his friends show up.”

Gherion looked at the ground silently for a moment, his mouth forming the words “no choice” in repetition. Then, as if only just then realising that Tawnos had spoken to him, voice came to him. “Yes, let’s get out of here, now.” Using Tawnos’ help, he came to a standing position, and though he looked as if he could topple over at any moment, he insisted that he was fine to walk by himself.

Osay glanced at Ashalle and saw that her leg was injured, and she was obviously having trouble breathing. She gave an impatient sigh and asked in annoyance, “Oh please, would someone stop trying to be stupidly brave by not accepting help? Celeb, you support Gherion; Tawnos, carry your sister. Hurry, that door’s not gonna hold forever!”

Both men threw each other an odd look before immediately moving to carry out her orders.

Osay flicked the sheath on one of her vibrodaggers on and stuck it in her belt as she leaned down to pick up the datapad Gherion had dropped. She tossed it to the unsteady Echani and ordered him, “Find a safe place and set that blasted thing to guide us there. The last thing we need is to be lost in this part of town!” She glanced at Tawnos. “You’ve been here longer than I have; don’t suppose you know of any particularly good places for us to go within walking distance?”

He thought for a moment, setting Ashalle down on the ground after having lost a brief argument over the subject of her mobility though still refusing to leave her side. He nodded slowly, then stole a glance at Gherion’s datapad. Then he spoke, “Yeah, my apartment is only about ten minutes away – though we’re slowed down, so it may take us longer than that to get there.”

Osay nodded curtly. “Great. You tell the datapad where to take us.” Her ears pricked slightly; she could hear them battering on the door. “They’re almost through.”

The four others quickly did as she said, Tawnos handing her the reprogrammed datapad before hurrying up the hall at a slow jog. Osay took up the rear, silently willing everyone to go faster. She pursed her lips. At this rate, the gang would catch them very soon,. Unless they happened to run into another open door, there was only one way to stall them

A minute later, the five students emerged on the surface. Osay listened intently and cursed silently. They’d broken through, and they were coming fast. She turned to Tawnos and said crisply, “Keep going as fast as you can. I’ll catch up as soon as I’m done here.”

Tawnos grabbed her arm as she moved to head back into the tunnels. “No way,” he said, his voice etched with concern and even desperation. “They’ll tear you apart down there. You’re not going back there alone.”

Osay pulled her arm away from him and shook her head. “I’ll be fine,” she said, meeting his gaze. “And yes, I’m staying here alone.” She positioned herself beside the tunnel entrance. “I’ll stay right here. It’ll be a lot less dangerous that way.” She looked into his eyes for a moment. “Go.”

He gazed at her for a moment, but the sound of approaching thugs from below seemed to force him to realise that he had no other choice while carrying his sister. “I’ll come back for you,” he said softly.

Osay grinned with assumed confidence. “Don’t worry, I’ll meet you on your way back,” she replied in the same tone, brandishing the datapad before sliding it into her pocket. “Now scoot, Brown-eyes.”

He smirked, and turned his back on her, half-dragging Ashalle behind him.

§

Osay watched him for a moment, then her head snapped back towards the entrance. Her ears pricked, and her heart rate rose slightly as she tucked one of her knives into her belt. Having one hand free would be useful. She could hear them running towards her. There were ten…twenty…twenty-five men, at least. This was more than she usually handled, but at least there weren’t as many as had been behind the door—some of them had probably gone to look for more intruders in their base. Osay smiled slightly. It didn’t matter, really. If she could keep them from getting out the entrance, she could handle them two or three at a time. Her grip tightened on the wet, slippery handle of her knife, and she pressed herself against the wall. They were almost here. The girl tensed and silently counted as the distance closed. Three...two...one...

Osay’s knife plunged into the heart of the first thug to emerge. She flicked on the knife. Hundreds of tiny vibrations ran up and down the blade, sending blood flying into Osay’s face and onto her hair and shoulders. The girl yanked the knife out of the man’s chest. She instinctively ducked, somehow avoiding the blaster bolt that flashed through the air where her head had been. Her knife flew from her hand, into the face of the Mirialan who had fired the shot. Osay darted back and to the side; she was on her feet in an instant. Her forearm flew up and blocked a man’s forearm as his knife descended on her head. She pushed back, spinning under his arm. Her other hand went around his head. A sharp jerk was all it took to snap his neck like a twig. Osay whirled to meet the next two, both of them obviously junkies from their wild eyes and sallow faces. Her hand slammed into the right one’s chest at just the right spot, and a few of his ribs cracked. The woman gave a cry of pain as the other junkie’s fist hit her in the jaw. She allowed herself to stumble back out of the way of his other fist, and then her other knife sliced across his throat.

Osay was a whirl, her hands flying, causing necks to break, throats to crush, bones to shatter. She felt like she was moving without thought, feeling strength and power flow through her, making her feel as light as air. Her second knife cut patterns through the air as her hand skilfully guided it to its target. Suddenly, Osay stopped in mid-motion, the knife in her hand dripping red. There was one left. He was behind her. His knife was slashing at her. She started to turn to defend herself, but it was too late. The razor sharp blade cut her upper left arm to the bone, then it scraped up the bone two inches. Osay gave a blood curdling scream as intense pain flooded through her, almost throwing her into shock. She mindlessly reversed her spin, keeping the knife from cutting more of her flesh from her. The girl went three hundred sixty degrees around, causing her knife to slice all the way through his trachea and carotid artery.

Osay fell to her knees, and she numbly dropped the knife to the bloodstained ground. Osay, get control. Slow the bleeding, she told herself. Her shaking hands managed to rip a four inch wide strip from the bottom of her shirt. Now, around the top of your arm. She twisted the strip into a rope, and her right hand got it around her arm in a slip knot. Pull it tight, as tight as you can. Don’t mind the pain. Osay screamed again as she yanked the end of the bandage as hard as she could, cutting the blood off from her arm. She somehow tied it off without loosening it, considerably slowing the blood flowing from her wound.

You have to get to the apartment, now. Tawnos can help you. Osay mumbled, “Have to get to Tawnos.” Her hand groped on the ground until it found her knife, then she stumbled to her feet. The pad. Her hand pulled it out of her pocket. Numbly, her feet took one step, then another, and another after that, her eyes fastened on the map in front of her.

Ten minutes later, Osay’s clammy hand slammed her knife into the apartment door, point first. Her cheek pressed against the cold metal. She shouted hoarsely, “Open up! It’s Osay!” A few moments later, she heard a click, and the door opened. Osay fell inside, covered with blood, cold sweat, and tears.

Last edited by The Doctor; 01-23-2009 at 11:46 PM.
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Old 01-21-2009, 09:53 AM   #15
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Originally Posted by The Doctor
Gherion nodded, his grim composure breaking as he fired a shot into the leg of the guard; next occurred a whirlwind of actions that seemed to happen both rapidly and in a time frame much slower than the norm. Bellowing in an amalgamation of pain, anguish, and unadulterated rage, the thuggish guard charged at Gherion, his stun stick raised high, a contorted visage speaking of the worst creatures Gherion’s nightmares could produce. The young philosopher’s mind became blank, the world slowed as he felt the butt of his blaster, sitting apathetically in his hand, his finger pressing ever so lightly on the trigger, firing. Light, sound, and in a moment that felt as if it were an eternity, the crumpled form of a man he had spoken to only moments before fell to the floor in a lifeless heap, his forehead scorched and burned from the entry point of the blaster bolt. Immediately, Gherion fell to his knees, his hands on the ground as his blaster flew away from him, his mind whirling with a mixture of both revulsion and disbelief in the work he had just committed. Visions of the ghosts in his past, combined with the images of his present sin, spun in a vortex of emotion around his psyche, spiralling reality around him out of control, until his corporeal form, feeling the collective strain of running, terror, and disgust, finally broke down, and Gherion opened his mouth, his eyes filled with tears, as if to speak, and vomited.
Brilliantly written that was! Absoutely fantastic. In that single paragraph it gave me a new view of Gherion. It made me somewhat sympathetic to his usual arrogant self, lol.

An amazing chapter once again guys. I have a feeling this story will end up being one of the best I have read in the last few years I have been here.

Nice work. And definitley awaiting the next installment.

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Old 01-22-2009, 02:15 PM   #16
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Thanks. I was kinda worried that I hadn't done enough with that sequence, but I'm glad you liked it.



It is all that is left unsaid upon which tragedies are built.
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Old 01-23-2009, 11:55 PM   #17
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Ok folks, there was a bit of a mix-up with the second chapter, which lead to a grossly weakened Gherion segment at the end of the first post. That segment has been edited for completion's sake, but due to length restraints I was forced to split the completed segment between the two posts.

Below is a complete re-posting of the affected segment, as well as the one right before it and right after it, for context's sake. The corrected segment is in bold.

Sorry for the error, ladies and gentlemen. Enjoy!

Quote:
Originally Posted by Scion of Darkness ~ Episode One: Fear Leads to Anger; Chapter II

Ashalle gingerly touched her left knee, inspecting the break. It didn’t appear to be too severe – she could probably set it herself. She had seen it done in emergency response facilities back on Gwellin, during the last of the bombing raids she had witnessed as a child dashing about on errands for the volunteers at the medical facilities. She knew it hurt – she had held the hand of an old woman she had known her entire life as her mother had set a broken limb, and had felt as if her hand were caught in a vice.

She wrapped her hands around her knee, and gritted her teeth. She took a few deep breaths, bracing herself, and took the plunge. She screamed in pain as the broken limb shifted back into place, and continued to breathe in laboured gasps after the job was done. She pulled the sheath for her confiscated dagger from her belt, groggily tore a strip of the arm of her tunic, and wrapped it around her knee tightly with it, hoping the make-shift quasi-splint would at least help to keep the bone in place until she was able to receive proper medical treatment. She lay back against the wall of her cell once more, exhausted by her efforts.

A rough cough caught her attention, and she realised that the guard had been watching her from beyond the cell door, leaning his chair back against the far wall. She mustered as much malice as she could in her exhausted state and spoke. “What are you looking at?” she asked, her voice weak in her dry throat.

He grinned wryly as he replied. “I was wondering how long it would take you to work up the courage to do that. You’re an hour or so later than I expected.”

“I’m sorry I couldn’t accommodate you,” she said bitterly, shifting her weight so that more of it rested on her one good leg – but she stopped, since moving sent a stab of pain through her ribs, causing her to grimace.

An odd look of something almost like concern crossed the guard’s face, and he rose from his seat. He picked up a grubby-looking leather pouch and tossed it through the bars. It landed a few feet short of her hand and slid the rest of the way, just within her reach. She eyed him suspiciously for a moment, then grasped at the package and brought it into her hands. It was an animal-skin water flask. She cast him another dark, suspicious look, and opened it, sniffing its contents. After a moment’s hesitation, she brought it to her mouth and drained it.

He nodded satisfactorily and returned to his seat, leaning it back to lean against the wall once more.

Ashalle, feeling slightly stronger after having something to drink, pulled herself up onto her good leg and made her way to the cell door, bracing herself against the wall as she went. She allowed the cell door to support her weight as she spoke. “Have ‘the lads’ decided what they want to do with me yet?”

He eyed her for a moment before replying. “Oh yes, they’ve got a number of ideas.”

“Then why am I still locked up in here, instead of waiting tables or something in one of your cantinas – not that I’m complaining, of course.”

He was silent for a long moment. “I’ve told them you’re not up to any sort of... labour,” he said awkwardly.

“... why?” she asked, taken aback by his tone.

He glared at her. “You saying you’re up to even the best of tasks you’re imagining having to do on that leg of yours?” he asked, suddenly harsh again. “‘Cause I’m sure the boys would be more than happy to let you go earlier than I told them you’d be ready.”

She stared defiantly back, but said nothing.

“That’s what I thought.”

She watched him for a few minutes, pondering his words. This one guard had been present whenever she was awake – she had yet to see any other guard, in fact. And while these weren’t exactly the most stellar of accommodations she could hope for, she thought she was being treated rather well. She couldn’t have been imprisoned any longer than a day, and she had already been given three meals – though she had yet to see her ever-present guard eat at all.

She turned back into the cell, and sighed exhaustedly. She had yet to sleep at all since regaining consciousness, and her whole body screamed for her to lie down. She slowly brought herself to a horizontal position, lying on her uninjured side – which happened to put uncomfortable pressure on her broken leg, but there was nothing for it. She closed her eyes, and within a few minutes she drifted into a listless sleep.

§

Gherion walked ahead of the group through the dank metallic confines of the outer city catacombs, his progression the ordinary unrefined and clumsy gait he usually sported, his face buried in the soft blue pastel glow of a datapad he held directly in front of him, showing him a full layout of Retalia’s streets, alleyways, and even catacombs. Due to his considerable expertise with astrogation and chart programming, a particular skill he possessed that had been honed over years of flying with dozens upon dozens of cargo freighters as their navigator, Gherion had been trusted with leading the group through the maze of tunnels and warrens that wove through the city like an intricate spider web, the stench of sewage and waste matter filling the air, following a faint red line that was leading them to the unspoken location of the headquarters where one of the most notorious street gangs on Retalia resided, which also happened to be directly under the Academy. While the others swiveled their heads about, looking for any simple predators that they might encounter along their way, Gherion kept his speedy pace toward the red spot at the end of his trail, his mind musing on other things as he read and instinctively followed the instructions before him. Questions whirled around in his mind, all driven by a new sensation in the pit of his stomach, one he had not felt for a very long time: optimistic anticipation. Ever since Erussa had spoken to them about their talents, Gherion had searched in his mind for an answer as to the nature of his words, in particular, his use of the term “Knights”, and had come to but one logical conclusion: the old man was a Jedi, and wished to preserve the Jedi through these young individuals by teaching them of their lifestyles and beliefs.

The young philosopher had, of course, heard of the Jedi. It was observably a logical inevitability that, given his occupation of choice, he would come across the greatest source for spiritual philosophy and religious practice ever to exist in the galaxy, most likely more than just in passing. He had read the basic histories, understood their role in ancient galactic society, even looked up to them in many aspects for their masterful comprehension of life, and its delicate interconnectedness. It was a sort of irony that only moments before his incapacitation, Gherion had been looking to study the Jedi further, curious about what they had known and what he could garner from them, eager to tap that vast sum of knowledge, and now he was facing the possible, if not totally probable, opportunity to learn from one. But was it merely irony, or could it have been something more? Perhaps he had been unconsciously driven by some higher authority to study from this man, pushed forward by impulses created in the grand design of a power so far beyond his comprehension, yet so palpable to his intellect. Remembering Erussa’s words, and how he had declared them to be “uniquely gifted”, Gherion now realized what he had been searching for all his life, his starving desire for more and more knowledge moving him to study and study, in no fruition greater than what this strange man was almost certainly offering him. He was thrilled to the core by the opportunity, wanted nothing more than to understand a figure for good and decency in the galaxy, and would be happy to do so, given his assumptions about Erussa were correct, as they could have been wrong. But, before then, they had a mission, however reckless and foolish Gherion thought it to be, so the slender, pale young man pulled himself into the present, and focused on the datapad before him.

Gherion had taken a moment when the old man had handed him the small digital display to marvel at the intricacy and startling accuracy the map defined, each and every back passage and alternate course mapped out in crystal clarity and absolute precision, a quality that the young half-echani had only ever seen in government-commissioned planetary maps. It was clear that this Erussa person had spent many, many months, possibly even years, scouring the less reputable areas of the city, staying in places only ventured when one did not wish to be seen, and taking meticulous notes and data of everywhere he went. Gherion mused for a moment, and thought that perhaps the man had done so for the sole purpose of having such a useful tool for the four of them to locate the fifth, as he knew that Jedi sometimes held prophetic powers. Taking a moment to glance around at his fellow companions, Gherion could not help but wonder at Erussa’s judgment in regards to their enrollment as students. None but Tawnos seemed to possess a sliver of cleverness, and even he was grotesquely simple in the way he operated, with no erudite dignity about him whatsoever. While he knew that the Jedi were required to be both warriors as well as monks, and that the physical attributes of the two others, Osay and Celeb, might be useful in preserving those aspects, but they still lacked a certain wisdom he expected of recruits for such prestigious circumstances, and Tawnos seemed to have neither the cultured intelligence nor the physical capability requisite for the education. Perhaps Erussa saw some untapped potential he could not, but Gherion had severe doubts about that. Still, if he would have to work with these three, and the fourth individual he had yet to meet, in order to bring about new knowledge for the Galaxy about the Jedi, then he would muster up the will, and push through as best he could. Learning to be more cooperative with the group, even leading them, however frustratingly idiotic they tended to be from this point onward, would become Gherion’s new primary objective.

Removing as much condescension from his voice as he could, Gherion announced to the others, his face still sunk into the screen, “We’re only a few more metres away from the gang headquarters entrance. From there, the map becomes less reliable. Large portions of the complex are inexplicably missing from the readout.”

“Is that going to be a problem? I mean, are we going to be down there, running around in circles?” Celeb asked, his movements sharp, keen, and alert as he addressed the bumbling, clumsy philosopher.

“It shouldn’t, really. There are only five main halls to the entire compound, and, luckily, all the storage and prison rooms are on the first and second halls, near the back door, which we will be entering from.” As Gherion finished, pulling his eyes away from his datapad, he stopped in front of a large durasteel door, grimy and tarnished, with words in bizarre languages Gherion was not familiar with etched into the frame. Turning slowly on his heel, Gherion faced the others, waiting for their response.

“Alright, from this point onward, everyone stay close, stay low, and be as quiet as possible,” Tawnos announced in a voice barely over a whisper, “Be ready to fight if we have to. Gherion can move us around the attackers, but he can’t predict their movements, so let’s make this a fast mission. In, out, and back to Erussa.”

“If we survive, that is.” Gherion whispered scathingly at Tawnos, whom he had grown to enjoy the presence of less and less. Osay had been tolerable, and Celeb was the typical athletic type that the slender young intellectual ignored routinely, but Tawnos had not only been a complete disappointment to his considerable reputation, he had been a thorn in Gherion’s proverbial posterior the moment he had awoken in the middle of Erussa’s little sanctuary.

“How about a little optimism, eh?” Osay replied softly to Gherion, her hand on the hilt of her weapon, “We can do this, so let’s do it.”

“Whatever.” Gherion hissed dismissively, turning to the door to open it. Looking at his datapad, he registered three small green orbs, representing identifiable life signs, in the vicinity of the door. Waiting a moment, Gherion watched as the small orbs moved away from the door and moved down the corner to the mess hall, where all the other orbs seem to had collected. It appeared they were eating a meal, or something to the effect. Not waiting for them to come back, Gherion pressed hard on the button to open the door, and, as the mechanism hissed and popped open, hurried quickly inside.


§

Ashalle woke to the sound of a loud, angry argument resonating from up the hall. Her guard was nowhere to be seen, and after a moment she realised that one of the angry voices belonged to him. She moved to the cell door, the better to hear the conversation.

“You want her to drop to the floor in the middle of a dance, Dirk? I don’t think your patrons would appreciate seeing a bone sticking out of her knee while they’re drinking.”

“Then she can work in the kitchens until it heals,” said another voice, this one slower and duller than the first. “Fact is, she’s been down ‘ere too long, and Yart doesn’t wanna wait for ‘er anymore – he thinks you’re jus’ keepin’ her all fer yerself, and he ain’t lettin’ you have her no more.”

“I don’t care what Yart thinks; this broad isn’t ready for his perverted men to be pawing at her, and I won’t be sending her up a minute before she is. He doesn’t like it, he can shove his thumb us his a–“

“Careful what you say, Jar’vic. Wouldn’t want to offend Yart – not when he’s... so close to home...”

There was a long, pregnant silence. The unfamiliar voice broke it. “Yes, as I suspected. Have little Ashalle brought up in time for dinner tomorrow night – the boys will be expecting her.”

She heard footsteps drawing closer, and her guard – Jar’vic – returned to view. He didn’t seem to notice that she was up, and didn’t look towards the cell until she spoke.

“What was that about?” she asked.

He jumped slightly, but recovered quickly and turned his back to her. “None of your business,” he said shortly.

“Sorry, I guess I was thrown off by the mention of my name,” she said sarcastically. He didn’t reply, so she pressed on. “I didn’t think street thugs cared about their slaves being injured. I’d’ve thought that–“

She barely ducked in time to avoid a food dish careening towards her head. “Shut up!” Jar’vic bellowed, his face red and his eyes bulging in sudden rage.

She shrank to the back of the cell, startled by his temper. He glared at her for a moment before turning his back on her again. She stared at the back of him for a moment, as if she could somehow open a window in the back of his head and read his thoughts.

He was a very odd man – at least, not at all what she expected a hardened criminal to be, even one from a planet as tame as Retalia. He had not once raised his voice with her before now, nor had he delivered any of the threats she had been expecting – torture, rape, even death. He seemed almost protective of her in a contradictingly paternal sort of way, though she couldn’t imagine why. But something in the way he looked at her led her to believe that he wasn’t all he appeared – or attempted to appear – to be.

She considered all he’d done, and all that she’d guessed he’d done, to help her over the past two days. Two of the three meals she’d been given had seemed to be rather more lavishly prepared than the other, which had been a simple bowl of a greyish mush. She had a sneaking suspicion that those two meals had been meant for her guard – she had yet to see him eat anything at all. Now she had learned that the other members of the gang claiming ownership of her were beginning to become restless waiting for her to be released – an event that seemed to depend mostly on the man standing only a few metres away from her.

“Thank you,” she said quietly, still cowering at the back of the cell.

He made no reply.
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Old 01-24-2009, 10:47 AM   #18
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EDIT: I also need to thank Bee, who sent me her notes on the same day - it just went to my spam box, for some reason, and I didn't find it until now. Thanks to you too, Bee!
I knew I deleted my hotmail account for a reason!>:[ You're very welcome, and good work, y'all!



The sun goes down and the sky reddens, pain grows sharp.
light dwindles. Then is evening
when jasmine flowers open, the deluded say.
But evening is the great brightening dawn
when crested cocks crow all through the tall city
and evening is the whole day
for those without their lovers

-Kuruntokai 234, translated by A.K. Ramanujan

[Fic] Shreds of a Dying Belief
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Old 01-28-2009, 06:53 PM   #19
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Going to update any time soon? This fic is fantastic and I can't wait for the next installment.
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Old 01-28-2009, 10:38 PM   #20
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I've been without stable internet for the past few days, but Addy and Endo plowed on without me. We're only a little bit behind. I'm not promising anything, but we should have an update posted by Monday. Don't get your hopes up too high, though.

EDIT: Ok, so I lied. I only just got the chance to read over the pre-beta tonight. I've sent it off to our beta readers, and expect to hear from them over the next few days - ideally tomorrow (though there's certainly no guarantee of that). I've asked them to get back to me by Friday at the latest, so this weekend should see the posting of Chapter III.

Last edited by The Doctor; 02-03-2009 at 12:36 AM.
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Old 02-06-2009, 04:50 PM   #21
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Sorry for the delay, but here it is folks - almost a week after I expected to have it posted. It took longer than I anticipated to get the chapter Beta ready. My bad. Enjoy!

=-=-=-=-=

§ Chapter III §

Celeb stumbled inside the dark confines of the apartment, Gherion holding on to him but supporting most of his weight on his own. Blinking against the darkness in an attempt to rush the adjustment from the bright street lamps outside, Celeb was slowly greeted with the outline of a reasonably-sized apartment, as compared to his own, that seemed to be very normal in its decorum. The walls were unadorned and the furniture from standard Academy provisions, yet everything in the kitchenette and living room seemed to be in pristine condition, almost as if they had remained untouched by the occupant. The desk alone, which sat in the far corner opposite the kitchenette, seemed to be well used. Datapads lay strewn across the simple metallic surface, dotted with the rare occurrence of papers and paper-copied novels, which were extremely difficult to find and typically were only procured through oddity or antique stores. His mind, while consciously observing the surroundings, was subconsciously dominated by a fear for Osay’s well-being. She was clearly able to handle herself well enough in a fight and certainly seemed to have no hesitations about killing when required, but even if she was not as fragile or feminine as she first seemed, not even Celeb could hold off the number of gang members that were rushing them as they made their escape. She needed help, and she needed it fast.

Tawnos pulled Celeb out of his thoughts with a stiff, somewhat overly forceful tap on the shoulder, which he answered with a glare. Tawnos, still supporting his sister - the young girl that Celeb had made a pass at earlier the day they had been captured - jerked his head towards the bedroom and headed through the small doorway, Celeb following wordlessly. As Tawnos gingerly laid Ashalle down in the morass of unmade blankets and comforters that was his bed, Celeb sat the unusually pale and limp Gherion down in a chair next to her, moving away and turning to Tawnos to speak to him. The young military-raised Celeb knew that he had to be the one to go back for Osay; that Tawnos, while capable and strong-willed, would not be able to fend off that many enemies, as he simply did not possess the training or physical ability Celeb did. He also knew, however, that Tawnos would not give up the role easily.

“Osay can’t hold back those enemies forever. There’s too many of them, she needs help.” Celeb snapped forcefully, his hands at his sides, his legs shifted into a position that looked as if he were ready to dash to her aid.

Tawnos nodded, his eyes blazing. “My thoughts exactly. Stay here with Gherion and Ashalle - I’ll be back with Osay as soon as I can.”

Celeb shook his head in disagreement, a firm stare filled with resolve set on Tawnos. “You aren’t going anywhere. Those guys were crawling out of the tunnels from everywhere, and you don’t have the capability to hold them off long enough to get her out of there.”

“I promised her I’d go back,” he said stonily. “And I’ll be damned if I’m leaving her behind, dangerous or not.”

“There’s a difference between keeping your word and committing suicide. I’ll go back for her; you stay here and tend to your sister.” Celeb said in a tone that sought to end the conversation.

Tawnos would have none of it. “Your concern is touching, really, but I can handle myself just fine, thanks. I made a promise, and I intend to keep it.”

“How will you be keeping your promise if you get yourself killed along with Osay because you had to be the one to play hero?” Celeb spat angrily, his fists clenching. He didn’t have the time for this nonsense; Osay was in danger, and he had to get to her.

“I’m not the one desperate to play hero - and as I recall, you were the first one running away from the fight in the first place, while Osay stayed behind.”

Celeb’s contorted his face into a glower of pure fury, opening his mouth to speak, but Gherion cut him off before he could say another word. “Stop it, the both of you! If you so feel the desire to swing your bravados around and argue about who gets to be the valiant saviour, do so somewhere else. Ashalle needs rest.” His bright silver eyes were set with an authoritative glare, in spite of the fact that the rest of him seemed barely composed.

Tawnos shot him a dark look, but conceded, glaring at Celeb before turning his back and moving into the next room. Taking the opportunity to cool himself off, Celeb marched out into the room where Tawnos was standing. His left eye twitched involuntarily as he heard the grinding sound of the bedroom door closing behind him, undoubtedly done by Gherion to shut out any and all commotion caused by the fighting. Sighing in a way that revealed how exhausted he felt, both physically and mentally, Celeb buried his face in his hands, then pulled them away and looked at Tawnos.

“Osay is facing a life or death situation, and we’re here arguing the night away. The fact is this: I’ve been trained from childhood to fight, kill, and handle myself against multiple enemies in a live combat setting. My experience far outstretches yours in this area, so I need you to just let me do what I do best, and get out of my way.”

“I don’t care,” Tawnos replied stubbornly - though his voice was much less hostile, and his eyes spoke of immense exhaustion. “I don’t know why we’re arguing - odds are, we’d be better off both going anyway.”

Celeb, taken aback by this suggestion, nodded in agreement. “There’s strength in numbers, and those two seem safe enough here,” Celeb muttered, pointing his thumb over his shoulder at the back room, “As long as you don’t slow me down, both of us should go.”

Tawnos bristled slightly at these last words, but said nothing of it. He nodded curtly. “Then let’s go, before there’s nothing left of her to go back for.”

As if on cue, the door immediately behind Tawnos opened sharply, and Osay fell through it, shedding precious blood onto the carpet beneath her.

§

Tawnos’ heart leapt into his mouth at the same time as his arms thrust forward to catch Osay’s limp body as it crossed the threshold. He hoisted her into his arms with a strength that belied his seemingly lithe frame. Celeb moved forward to help, but with a single barked order from Tawnos he moved out of the way, granting him access to the couch in the centre of the main room. He placed her head gently on the rough, scratchy pillow and knelt beside her, his hand instinctively moving to her throat to check her pulse.

“Osay, can you hear me?” he asked loudly, wiping a smear of blood from her forehead with his sleeve only for the pool of fluid to reform afresh seconds later.

She winced as the cloth brushed across her forehead. “Yeah. T-they’re all dead--won’t be coming here.”

He gave her an incredulous look, temporarily struck dumb - this elegant, endearing young woman had taken on a small army of grown men, hardened by crime, and managed to come through it in - more or less - one piece. He chuckled dryly despite himself, and shifted a strand of her hair that threatened to enter the large gash on her brow. He turned to Celeb, who was standing behind him.

“Bring me some water - there’ll be a fresh canteen in the cold-storage in the kitchenette.” As the taller man moved to grudgingly obey, Tawnos continued. “Bring me a cloth and a bowl, too,” he shouted. “Her wounds need to be cleaned.”

Celeb muttered something under his breath, but Tawnos was too busy tending to Osay to care. He took the water, cloth, and bowl without further comment, pouring a liberal amount of water into the bowl and dipping the cloth in it. He began cleaning the wound on her head first, then spoke to Celeb again.

“Bring some blankets - she’s lost a lot of blood, and her body temperature is going to drop drastically because of it if we don’t keep her warm.”

Celeb glared for a moment before moving off again wordlessly. Tawnos bent over Osay. “How do you feel?” he asked.

Osay swallowed hard and shivered. “I-I’m cold.”

He nodded, and removed his battered leather jacket and gently draped it across her as best he could. He wiped blood from her forehead with the cloth again, doing his best to keep from forcing the deep wound open any further. He sighed as he washed the cloth for a third time. “What were you thinking, staying behind like that?” he asked, though his voice was gentle, more concerned than reproachful.

The young woman grinned weakly. “Worked, didn’t it?” she said, giving a soft laugh that quickly became a harsh cough. Tawnos picked up the canteen on the floor next to him and brought it to her lips. She drank thirstily and leaned back against the pillow, seeming to be at least a bit stronger than before.

“I should have stayed with you,” he said, shifting the jacket to tend to a large gash running from just beneath her collar bone to her shoulder. “Leaving you alone was a stupid decision. I’m sorry.”

She grimaced in pain. “It was the only way to get everyone back alive,” she said. “How’s Ashalle?”

“She’ll be fine,” he said. “A broken leg and a few bruises - nothing all that serious.” He grimaced himself as he uncovered another deep gash in the meaty part of her upper arm. “Which is more than can be said for you...” he muttered, tearing the sleeve of her tunic to have better access to the cut. “You look like you’ve been sleeping with vibroblades in your bed...”

She laughed dryly. “Not too far off, wise guy. Gherion pulled himself together yet?”

Tawnos shook his head. “No idea,” he said. “To be honest, I... well, I was... more worried about going back for you than I was about him.” He flushed red slightly, but said nothing more.

She opened her mouth as if she were about to reply, but gasped in pain instead as he touched the damp cloth to her forearm. “I’m sorry,” he said quickly, pulling back quickly. “But it’s going to sting a little bit: it looks like this part’s in danger of becoming infected - I wouldn’t expect guys like that to clean their weapons very often, so it doesn’t surprise me.” He touched the cloth to her arm again, and she flinched, sweat breaking out on her brow as if she were in the heat of battle once more. He took her hand in his own without thinking and squeezed gently, allowing her to squeeze back to brace herself against the sting of the cloth. His chest pounded at the momentary touch, but it was over all too soon for his liking as Celeb returned with an armful of blankets.

“I brought as many as I could find,” he said, tossing Tawnos’ jacket to the floor and replacing it with one of the thicker blankets he carried. Tawnos shifted the blanket irritably so he could have continued access to her wounded arm. Celeb sat on the floor next to him, taking Osay’s hand himself. Tawnos felt anger rise, but said nothing.

“How are you?” Celeb asked her.

“She’ll be fine,” Tawnos answered for her quickly, not bothering to look at him. “She’ll need some rest before we can take her back to Erussa. Hopefully the old man will be able to treat her properly - I can clean and bandage her cuts, but some of them are far too deep. A few of them will need to be stitched shut, and I wouldn’t be surprised if she’ll need a proper dermal regenerator if she wants to avoid scarring.”

Celeb nodded, but looked at Osay as if she had answered herself - though her eyes were closed and her breathing shallow.

Tawnos cursed. “You’re in the way, Celeb,” he said shortly. Celeb released Osay’s hand and stood, moving back, not taking his eyes off the prone figure on the couch in front of them.

“Gherion and Ashalle will want to know how she’s doing,” he said, his hands on his hips. “You should check on your sister, too.”

Tawnos did not want to leave Osay’s side, but he couldn’t just ignore his sister. He sighed and handed the cloth and now nearly-empty water bowl to Celeb. “Get a clean cloth, get it damp, and keep it on her forehead. She should drink whenever she’s thirsty. We can get moving again tomorrow afternoon.”

Celeb shook his head. “We should leave sooner than that,” he said. “Erussa’s complex is hours away.”

“Osay and Ashalle both need the rest.”

“And they’ll get it - once we get back to Erussa. If we leave too late in the day, the caverns will be crawling with thugs just itching to get back at us for invading their turf and killing their buddies.”

“Then we’ll take a different route back,” replied Tawnos stubbornly. “I’m willing to take an extra hour or two to get back if it means letting my sister and my friend recover their strength.”

Celeb pursed his lips but nodded slowly. “Fine. I’ll work with Gherion to plot a new route back to the compound.”

Tawnos nodded. “I’ll let him know you want to speak with him.” He looked back to Osay for a moment. She seemed to have fallen into a peaceful sleep. A small smile spread across his face, and it was only now, after making sure that everyone else was ok, that he realised exactly how exhausted he was himself. His limbs screamed in protest at every little movement, and his eyes felt as if they were supporting between them the entire weight of his throbbing head. He ran his hand through his already wild hair, and it remained upright.

He sighed heavily as he forced his legs to carry him towards the bedroom, where he had left Gherion and Ashalle. He opened the door and entered the room, to be greeted by a stony silence that seemed as if had already stretched on forever. He took up position by the bed, beside Gherion, and spoke, his voice heavy with emotion and exhaustion.

“Osay got back ok - she’s wounded, but she’ll be fine once she gets some proper treatment.” Neither of them said a word. He sat on the edge of the bed and looked at Gherion, who was staring blankly into nothingness. “We’ll be leaving for Erussa’s compound tomorrow, just after noon. Celeb wants to go over the maps with you and plot an alternate route back - one that doesn’t take us anywhere near gang territory.”

Gherion nodded slowly, his gaze not changing. Tawnos felt sorry for him, despite their differences, but knew there was nothing he could do. He turned and touched his sister gently on the arm. She too was staring into space, though she looked as if she were on the verge of tears. She made no acknowledgment of his touch. He nodded and rose. He cast one last look at the pair as he made it to the door, then turned his back on them and returned to the couch.

Celeb had Osay’s hand once more.

§

Ashalle lay on her brother’s bed, her eyes staring unblinkingly at the ceiling above her. She was quite cold and her leg hurt like hell, but she didn’t care. Her thoughts dwelled on what she had seen her brother and the friends he had brought with him do to get her out of there.

She recognised both the men who had accompanied Tawnos as those who had approached her the day she had made plans to meet Tawnos, but the young woman was unfamiliar to her. She knew Tawnos wasn’t a social creature, nor was he a man of violence - and yet she had witnessed him attack and possibly even kill complete strangers, just for her sake, accompanied by people he couldn’t possibly have known for longer than a handful of months. Had he spent three days gathering a force to retrieve his sister? She wouldn’t have thought it of him, but when she cast around for another explanation, she came up empty.

A soft sniff drew her out of her reverie, and she turned her head to find that Tawnos and one of the men - who she had been distantly aware was yelling at an enraged Tawnos - were gone, leaving her alone with the tall, pale-faced and -haired young man she had snapped at the other day - Gherion, she told herself, though why she remembered his name now, so suddenly, she wasn’t sure. His bloodshot eyes were gazing emptily at the foot of the bed, his jaw slack and his shoulders limp.

“Hello?” she asked after a moment’s silence, once his blank stare began to disturb her.

Gherion jerked and made a sound that seemed to be a hybrid of a hum and a grunt, turning his head to look at Ashalle. “Yes?”

“You were staring into space,” she said stiffly. She returned her gaze to the ceiling. “It was creeping me out.”

Gherion tensed in his seat, his face forming into a look of dislike. “For someone I just placed my well-being in peril to save, you certainly have a horrid way of showing any sort of appreciation.”

She felt tears fight their way to her eyes, and she battled them back down. “Yeah, well maybe the price you paid to save me was too much,” she said bitterly.

“What exactly do you mean?” Gherion asked, his tone still cold, but less so than before.

“You know exactly what I mean,” she spat, still refusing to meet his eye. He was silent for a moment, and she pressed on. “Jar’vic,” she said simply. “His name was Jar’vic.”

Gherion’s eyes opened wide, tears welling up in them. His next words were spoken softly, a hint of resentment on each one. “He didn’t provide me with an opportunity to become acquainted with him, so you’ll excuse me if I didn’t know.”

She shook her head, tears coming to her own eyes. She could sense his regret; she could feel how sorry he was that he had been forced to kill the man. But she didn’t care. Something inside her screamed for justice for the death of a man who had risked so much for her in the name of his own daughter. “He had a wife,” she said darkly. “And a daughter. My age, he said. He was protecting me from the others, because I reminded him of his daughter.” She choked on tears for a moment, but forced down the lump growing in her throat. “Tet’yana.”

“He left me no choice!” Gherion hissed at Ashalle, tears streaming down his face, his voice crackling and breaking with sorrow. “I tried everything, everything humanly feasible, to barter with him, convince him to get out while he could! He had a daughter, and a wife, he should have gone, should have absconded with his life when he was still able to!” He stared wordlessly at Ashalle for a moment, his face set in a mixture of anguish, shame, and retaliatory anger, before dropping his head to his hands and sobbing silently.

She glared at him, but her anger faded quickly as his shoulders heaved with silent misery. Her own emotion washed over her violently, and she felt the lump in her throat break as tears poured from her eyes. Anger flared in her chest every time she saw Jar’vic fall to the ground, his lifeless eyes gazing blankly outward. She balled her hands into fists and cursed through massive sobs. “I hate you,” she spat at Gherion, her voice quivering now with not only sorrow and pain but with anger and contempt as well.

“To be perfectly frank, I’m not very fond of myself at the moment either.” Gherion wiped away his tears and looked at Ashalle in a barely-composed facade of anger that seemed as if it would break any moment, and he would once again begin to weep. “But it was either him or me. As much as I loathe the thought of ultimatums, I was facing one that forcefully placed me into the realm of murder, or led to me abandoning you to those wretches that he worked for. I refused to let you live that life, and so I was left with no other choice. Hate me if you must. I don’t have the energy to care.”

And with that, they lapsed into a long, cold silence.

§

Celeb heaved a lengthy sigh before moving around to the other side of the table in the centre of the kitchenette to stand next to Gherion, who still seemed unattached from the rest of the world in a traumatized sort of way, but had managed to regain most of his usually irritating properties. The brilliant sun of Retalia was rising after a long night of recuperation for the young team, Osay having stabilized, and Ashalle falling into a restless sleep. Tawnos had spent most of the night in a chair opposite the couch, wide awake, where he could see through the open bedroom door to his sister, while still keeping a watchful eye on Osay. Celeb worried about the young woman’s severe condition, and had attempted to comfort her, but the increasingly irritating Tawnos had thwarted most of his efforts expertly with passive-aggressive manoeuvres to disband any sort of contact he made with her. This had only served to put him in a rather unfavourable mood, while at the same time being forced to suffer the company of the supposedly all-knowing Gherion, who took every opportunity he could to treat him as if he were a child. While he doubted it was intentional, Celeb found it excruciatingly difficult to deal with on top of everything else, and had been tempted more than once to punch the man right across his gaunt, pale jaw.

“Well? What exactly are you standing around for, other than wasting precious moments of preparation?” Gherion said dryly, his tone weak, but still revoltingly arrogant.

Tapping quickly on the front of the readout that Gherion was holding up, Celeb made the necessary adjustments, and went back over to his own datapad, where he continued to take Gherion’s interpretations and apply them to a tactical route back to Erussa. “Sorry about that.” He mumbled, the words threatening to stick in his throat.

“Yes, well, mistakes do happen, though it would seem that you seek to prove the fact more frequently than I would like,” Gherion mumbled in a similar way to Celeb, his eyes still bloodshot and unfocused. There was a moment when the two worked in an uncomfortable silence, during which Celeb could hear the laboured breathing of Osay, sending a pang of dread through his chest and forcing him to speed up in his work. Only a few more scans, and they would have a route back to Erussa. Suddenly, Gherion broke the stillness with hushed words, almost as if he were avoiding anyone else hearing him.

“How do you do it? How do you end the lives of others so easily, and without so much as the tiniest speck of remorse? What kind of strength does that require?”

Celeb was struck dumb for a moment, not by the question so much as who was asking it. He had known that killing the guard had been hard on Gherion, so much so that it had most likely shaken his perceptions to the point of some form of humility. But upon gaining some semblance of himself again, the pale young man had not shown such changes in the least, which Celeb accepted without question as a defensive mechanism to hide his pain. He found it as somewhat of a shock that the man would choose him, of all people, to show that change to now. He took a moment, stopping his work, and replied carefully.

“It’s not so much that I feel no remorse. It’s that I’ve numbed myself to the pain of killing another, avoided the thought of them as other human beings. At basic training on my home planet, they teach you mental tactics to steel yourself against the death you would cause as a soldier in live combat. They teach you to adjust your views of it, adopt a philosophy that they are no longer sentient beings when they have a blaster pointed at you. You must think of them only as the enemy, and that you must kill the enemy to survive. To doubt is to die, and to mourn is to make yourself weak.” He closed his eyes, thinking back on his life, and the strained comfort he felt for home. “We don’t show grief in the same way most sentient beings do. We feel it, and the pain is real - very much so. But for a man to cry for one he loves is unheard of. It earns you only dishonour.”

Gherion furrowed his brow in a grimace of distaste. “How barbaric. If such strength you portray is founded on those bases, then I hope that I never know it myself.”

Celeb bristled at the blatant disrespect Gherion so casually flung at him, and paused a moment to calm himself before speaking again, his tone more aggressive than he had meant for it to be. “It is the way we are raised, and it is how we have survived for so long as a culture. We managed through the plague relatively intact because we were strong.”

Gherion continued to frown disapprovingly. “Yes, but your strength may come at too great a cost. It’s the empathy for another, as well as the ability and freedom to show your emotions, which make sentient life so wonderful. Aggression is born of the same womb, yes, but you describe the aggression without emotional attachment. I find it difficult to fathom the horrors wrought from such things, but survival through such means does not seem to me to be worthwhile at all.”

Celeb turned his eyes to the philosopher, their contents filled with anger. “You have trouble following your own advice, then. You preach to me about empathy, but you do it like you would to a child. You’re nothing but a hypocrite.”

Gherion shrugged indifferently, though an emotion similar to regret flashed in his eyes for a barely perceptible moment. “Perhaps. Nevertheless, my point stands, and said point is not reliant on my personal alignment to it - or lack thereof.”

Celeb said nothing, but instead elected to return to his work with a disgruntled attitude about him. He could not help admitting to himself that Gherion did have a point about the way his cultural upbringing functioned, however. There were elements to it that he doubted were worth the price paid for them, and whether or not showing emotion really did indicate weakness. He had always been conflicted about his home world, always felt mixed feelings toward the way he had been raised and taught. It had given him strength, yet had suppressed his individuality, smothered it. Gherion’s curiosity had only served to remind him of old uncertainties left untapped for many a year that were once again coming to the surface. Still, he had other things that took priority above his own issues, and one was getting Osay back to Erussa. Pushing the thoughts from his mind, Celeb focussed on etching the path into the blue glowing web of tunnel readouts, preparing for a long trip back home.

§

The group of young students spent the rest of the day slowly making their way around the edge of the Citydome, trying to remain inconspicuous - a difficult task to accomplish, the group being in the shape they were. With one of their number unconscious and caked in dried blood and another two looking as if they could lose consciousness at any moment, they had a hard time avoiding detection as they snuck across the thinnest of the Dome’s urban landscape. Celeb and Gherion had decided the previous night that venturing into the tunnels was too dangerous, so they remained above the surface as much as possible.

By the time they reached the entrance to Erussa’s compound, the sun had risen and begun its descent, and despite the completely artificial weather conditions, Tawnos was still uncomfortably warm as they began the final stretch to the hidden turbolift entrance to the compound. He had already discarded the blanket that he had taken along with them when he had picked up Osay, which despite its light, thin fabric had been quite warm. He turned to Celeb, who alone looked as if the ordeal of the past day hadn’t had any serious effects on him.

“How are the others?” he asked, panting slightly.

Celeb looked over his shoulder, then back at Tawnos with a barely visible frown. “They’re fine. They look a little worse for wear, but they should be ok.”

He nodded, then turned to Gherion. “You doing ok?”

Gherion looked up blearily at Tawnos, Ashalle at his side. She had regained a small portion of her strength, and during the journey, Gherion was doing less and less of the supporting. In fact, they were almost holding each other up equally now “I suppose that we’re in the best condition we could hope for, given our particular unpleasant scenario.”

Tawnos didn’t reply as the ascent up the makeshift stone pathway began to steepen, and his breathing became more laboured. After what seemed like more than an hour’s worth of climbing, they reached the hidden entrance. Tawnos shifted Osay in his arms, freeing up his right forearm to activate the concealed elevator shaft. After a moment of silence, the stone in front of them parted, and they all managed to squeeze into the rather cramped pod. The door sealed behind them, and the lift began its descent into the bowels of the planet.

They met Erussa at the bottom of the elevator. Without preamble, he led them into the medical bay, where a number of beds had already been prepared for patients. Tawnos let Osay down gently, and Celeb took up position on the other side of the bed opposite Tawnos. Neither Gherion nor Ashalle had been able to get much further than the two beds closest to the door. Tawnos turned to Erussa.

“Gherion and Ashalle are ok, for the most part. Ashalle’s got a broken leg and a few minor scrapes, and Gherion’s more in shock than anything else. Osay bought us time to get to safety, but she got hurt bad doing it.”

Erussa swooped over to her bed, examining her. He placed his hand over her arm and closed his eyes. A pained look crossed his face, and he began to breath heavily. He withdrew his hand, and Tawnos saw that Osay’s wound looked considerably less enflamed. Erussa leant against the bed for a moment, then straightened.

“The medical droids will tend to her wound, and bring her to consciousness.” He turned to Celeb. “Please, return to the entrance and ensure that it has been properly sealed.” He returned his gaze to Tawnos. “Tell me what happened.”

As the droids cleaned and repaired Osay’s wound, Tawnos relayed the story of their journey to the older man, from their ascent to the surface to their return to the compound. He chose to leave out his exchange with Osay just before she engaged the gang alone, though he wasn’t sure why he was so embarrassed about it.

By the time he reached the end of his account, Osay began to stir. She grumbled incoherently for a moment as the medical droids moved off, and Erussa and Tawnos moved in around her bed again.

“Calm, child,” said Erussa softly. “Your wound has been properly cleaned and tended. You may experience some discomfort for a few days, but it should heal completely. How do you feel?”

Osay squinted her eyes in the light and stared at the old man for a moment, then her face registered a look of recognition. She replied hazily, “I feel fine.”

Tawnos’ face broke into a smile, his eyes sunken with exhaustion. “Those heroics of yours nearly cost you your arm, but you saved our skins. We owe you one.”

She laughed lightly, but seemed too tired to reply. He touched her hand gently, but she didn’t seem to notice. Erussa spoke.

“I’m sure you’re all quite tired,” he said, addressing the room at large. “Tawnos, I suggest you retire to your quarters. Osay will be released shortly, and I will direct Celeb to his own when he returns. Gherion and Ashalle will remain here for the time being, until they’ve properly recovered.”

Tawnos nodded slowly. He turned his back on the bed in front of him and stepped through the door without looking back.
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Old 02-06-2009, 04:54 PM   #22
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Gherion sat in the warm, plush cocoon of blankets surrounding him as the medical droid clicked and beeped in its computerized language, processing data about his condition, and, upon deciding he was stable enough for the present time, moved away from the bed and over to Ashalle. It had taken mere moments for the droid to patch up the wounds Osay still sported after Erussa had mysteriously healed her, and due to her relatively normal state, she was allowed to return to her room while Gherion and Ashalle, mentally traumatized, were kept to the room for the night. The pale young philosopher barely noticed the noisy contraption as it went about its dutiful programming. He was ensnared in his own psyche, the demons of his previous life spiralling throughout him like a dark, evil vortex in his mind. Images of a pale young boy, cowering in the corner, his father holding a fist high above his mother’s head, ready to pummel her into unconsciousness for what would be the hundredth time that particular week -- flashing to the boy holding a blaster shakily in his miniature, supple, soft, innocent hands -- his father turning to see him in disbelief and rage -- flashes of light, sound, smoke, and the boy’s father, a lifeless heap of bones and flesh in the form of a man lying limply on the ground. It had seemed as if an eternity had passed from that day, unique identities, matchless lives stacked upon lives, all in an effort to thrust past what had occurred that horrendous day when Gherion had committed patricide. It had taken him a decade to reach a final mental condition he could endure, to stop dreaming the dream of that day. Years of crafting the perfect mental state, however lofty and unattached it may be, the construction of hours and hours of resilience and mental will, all destroyed in moments, once again, by the firing of a blaster.

Gherion hated the concept of killing, disdained the idea of lowering himself to the grotesque means of violence and physical altercation above all else, all due to what he had been forced to do for the sake of his mother, and of his father, at such an naive age. He had worked his entire life from that point to raise himself above those around him, transcend his intellect to a level of consciousness that required no need for the war and death that had plagued the Galaxy, and had made a promise to himself that he would work to change the hearts and minds of the misguided populous surrounding him, so that blood would never again be spilled, and that the Galaxy, along with the half-Echani, would move into a new era of peace. He had thought that philosophy, the love of his life up until now, had been the answer to what he sought, but facing the actuality of what life meant, and what he had been forced to do, the Galaxy seemed wholly less simplistic than he had come to think. Gherion dared himself to a glimpse at the beautiful young woman sitting opposite him, who had been so callous and rude to him in what felt like another realm of time from which he had been torn without any possibility of return. Her pained, self-imposed eulogy to the late Jar’vic used in a harsh, elaborative manner to Gherion burned in the young intellectual’s mind, reminding him that the monster had not been a monster at all, but a man, with a love and a life in his hands, and Gherion would have to endure the suffering of those lives for the rest of his days. He wished nothing more than to express to her his regret, apologize for his wrong-doings, make the woman he clearly had feelings for understand that he was not the evil slayer she undoubtedly perceived in him. His pride, however, refused anything but to perpetually retain the memories of her coldness, ever present since the commencement of their tremulous coincidental relationship.

Although he attempted his very best to reciprocate the hatred she had expressed for him in the dark confines of Tawnos’ apartment, he could not help but hope for more with her. This was indeed a strange phenomenon to Gherion: he was not an individual with much emotional or even mental investment in others, beyond viewing their minds as canvases for his hopeful realization of a philosophical reform at his hand. Yet even the possibility of continuing his life from this point seemed unachievable, and as time stretched on in the catacombs of Retalia, everything became less certain. Gherion’s life had come to a complete and total transformation, and while part of him reviled the suggestion of relying on another of lesser intelligence to rely on for emotional support, he felt the need for someone, anyone, to fill the hole he felt forming in his spirit. He finally looked at Ashalle for longer than a moment, recognizing her soft, elegant form, still tear-soaked and angry. She was beautiful, but Gherion cared not for physical appearance. The reason she seemed so alluring, to him, was a mental connection he simply could not put into words, and a belief, that resided deep in the confines of his mind, an irrational hope, that she could be more, that she was more, and that she felt the same.

When he spoke, he could not keep his old attitude from coming to the surface, most notably the condescension. It was who he had become, and though Gherion could feel it falling away as he developed into a less unattached state than he had been in an earlier time, he had enjoyed a comfort in the persona for many a year, and thus did not fight its return.

“How do you feel?”

She threw him a cold look, but when she spoke her voice was perfectly normal. “Better than I was,” she said shortly.

“Well, I supposed we should be thankful for at least that much. We didn’t risk our livelihoods for the sake of a dead girl, but instead a very much alive one, for all your charm.” Gherion said with a casual air that spoke of a lack of concern.

“Whatever,” she mumbled, not even looking at him this time.

“Quite right,” he chided with an air of self-created superiority, “Who cares for the fact that it was due only to the sheer bravery of others – if such bravery is not in fact a guise of utter stupidity, especially in the case of Tawnos - and the sacrifice of everything I have ever believed in, that you were given security from those monsters? Just the attitude I would suspect from a girl such as yourself.”

“You know nothing about me, or my brother, so don’t pretend that you do.” Ashalle said hatefully, her eyes still threatening to well with tears at the sight of him. A mixture of both sorrow and anger welled up inside him, causing sentiments of doubt in his attraction and regret for his actions to arise in his heart at the same time. He choked back his own tears, and retorted.

“Perhaps you shouldn’t pretend that you understand my motivations for murdering that man if you wish for me not to judge you similarly.”

“I don’t need to know anything about why you did it, Gherion. Only that you did.” She replied, looking again at the wall in front of her and away from him.

He paused for a moment, taking in the fact that she had remembered his name after so many of these imbeciles, herself included, forgetting it, or replacing it with some mediocre mockery. Then, he spoke with self-righteous anger, “Perhaps if you understood, you would not find me so repulsive.”

“I don’t want to hear your justification. Nothing makes it okay. Jar’vic is dead.”

“And because of it, I’ve lost myself!” Gherion shouted at her, tears in his eyes, “Because of it, I can no longer find myself! It’s been nearly a decade since I’ve…” He stopped himself, and turned away to look at his legs, draped with blankets, to stop himself from breaking down once again.

“What? If you’re going to tell me, tell me!” Ashalle demanded harshly, though when Gherion looked at her from the peripheral of his vision, he saw that she looked more curious than upset. Intrigued, and erupting with emotion he felt needed to be translated to someone, the young philosopher composed himself and pressed forward.

“… There is an innocence in each of us, I believe; granted to us at birth, and retained only through our ability to keep our spirits pure. Some acts are inherently a source for immorality and corruption that serve only to destroy or corrupt that purity. Murder is one such act. I’ve fought, for nearly a decade, to understand the underlying issues of society, while holding my intellect to the burning questions of creation, so that the evils may be destroyed by the fire of knowledge, and answers sought from the ashes. It is very much part of who I am to detest these acts, and yet I’ve commited one for the second time in my life. It’s… shaken me. Shaken who I am. I fear I’ve... lost myself along with the life of Jar’vic.”

“If who you are remained unshaken, then who you are ceases to be important.”

The soft voice made them both jump, despite its gentle tone. They both turned towards the doorway to see Erussa framed within the entrance, his arms folded behind his back. His blue eyes twinkled, a small smile on his face. “I apologise, I did not mean to startle you.”

Gherion took a moment to collect his thoughts, the endless cascade of inquiries he yearned to pose to the old man filling up his mind, the sting of his recent past touching them with a lack of meaning. “Not startled, only vaguely surprised.” He answered simply, incredulous as to Erussa’s statement, but still curious as to how much wisdom it contained.

“Does who we are ever really matter?” asked Ashalle, her voice empty as she lay staring at the ceiling. “It didn’t matter for Jar’vic. Or for billions of people during the Dark Age.”

Erussa gazed at her kindly. When he spoke, his voice was firm, yet free of rebuke or condescension. “Who we are, Ashalle, does not cease to be when we die. Death, in fact, is an important part of discovering oneself. How, why, we die becomes an integral part of our being. For Jar’vic, he was killed obeying his superiors, who, for reasons we will never know, he respected despite their apparent nature. Therefore, his death is not something to be grieved - on the contrary, his death should be rejoiced, and his life celebrated, as he has now become one with all of those whose lives he touched - including yourself.”

Emotions still conflicting from within, Gherion pulled his mental faculties together to address Erussa’s elaborations on death. The half-Echani was familiar with many philosophies, and could call upon a whole assortment of different beliefs and ideologies, but the one Erussa seemed to be deriving his own unique brand of values on life eluded him. If this man was not a Jedi, as Gherion still suspected, he was exceptionally brilliant; a trait Gherion prized above all others. When he spoke, the fatigue and sorrow he felt poured into every word.

“Since you seem to be rather scholarly in your own respects, Erussa, let me pose to you my personal dilemma. How can one rejoice in who he is if his identity is that of a murderer? Everything I have known from youth has been built upon a confidence in my intellect, and its power to make me free of barbaric actions such as killing. Yet here I am, the blood of a man staining my spirit. What have I accomplished?”

“Have you already forgotten your objectives in the catacombs?” the old man asked. “You did not attack out of bloodlust. You did not strike out of a desire to kill simply for the sake of it. In the course of defending yourself and your allies, you were forced to deal a killing blow. The man knew that his refusal to allow you to complete your objective could quite easily result in his death. He was fully aware of the dangers posed by standing against you. The act you committed was not murder - it was defence. Of yourself, of your allies, and of Jar’vic’s own captive.”

Gherion laughed, bitterly and quietly. “You’ll find that I am not one to raise the role of murderous hero to the pedestal so many have in the past, both recent and ancient. Killing for the sake of others still implies the cost of another’s life, and bravery always seemed like nothing more than a falsification to justify the actions best left unjustified.”

“Nice speech,” spat Ashalle bitterly. “But I don’t buy your regret, or that you had no choice. There had to have been a better way to get past the guard other than senselessly killing him. What’s his family supposed to do now? His wife and daughter will probably be sold into slavery because of you.”

“I was beset with a choice between two lives: Jar’vic’s, and your own. He refused to stand down, despite the exuberant amount of times I begged him to, and had I fled, you would have been a slave-girl within the week, or dead. The prospect of one life or another is a difficult decision, one I pray you never have to face, due to the fact that I doubt you would have the will of resolve to make such a decision. I chose you, and I must live with the consequences of that choice, but there was no other way besides the aforementioned options.” Gherion spoke coldly to her, his bright silver eyes darkened.

Erussa smiled. “If that is what you truly believe, than you will come to accept Jar’vic’s death as necessary, and learn to rejoice in his union with the Force.”

“So you expect me to make peace with the guilt of his death? To accept the blood on my hands as a necessity?” the pale philosopher asked, a tinge of curiosity mingling with his words. Suddenly, he realized the last of the old man’s words, and his own came pouring out before he could stop himself. “You said ‘the Force’… that’s an old Jedi religious term… You’re a Jedi.”

Ashalle stared at the old man, apparently shocked out of her state of righteous anger. “A... Jedi?” she said slowly. “No. You can’t be. They’re extinct - died out during the Dark Age, almost two hundred years ago.”

The old man bowed his head. “I am all that remains of the ancient Order,” he said solemnly. “And I have been tasked with a mission of great importance: now that the Galaxy has begun to rebuild, I intend to create a new order of Knights. With the five of you at its heart.”

In an instant, the current mental priorities that Gherion placed precedent on melted away, and in its place came the concept that Erussa had just burned into his psyche in so simplistic and calm a manner. In a matter of seconds, the soft, dulcet tone of the old man’s voice had taken Gherion’s perceptions, his very life, and shaken them, shattered them, and reshaped them to his own design. Gherion had suspected to learn from the Jedi, perhaps learn of their philosophy, but the concept of becoming one had by no means come to him, and upon its realization, the young philosopher could not help but feel a sense of absurdity in the idea of him training to be a most pivotal member of an ancient and bygone Order filled with warriors so talented and adept at their art of combat. He was by no means a man of physical capability, and held very little stock in the practice of physical conflict. And to add to it all, he could not overcome the grief of one life, let alone learn to kill many to achieve peace. He felt as though we would soon fail to live up to Erussa’s expectations, Gherion looked firmly at him for a moment before speaking.

“The Jedi Knights were warrior monks of great strength and talent in combat. Learning to becoming a Jedi, despite the obvious attraction, would entail that I may eventually need to kill once more, and I cannot do that.”

“With the Force, nothing is impossible,” replied Erussa enigmatically. “There are many paths a Jedi may take. The most famed path is that of the Jedi Guardian, though it is by no means the only one. There are many other methods a Jedi can use to meet their ends. The Jedi Sentinel sought to discover the roots of the Dark Side and bring them into the Light. They would enter battle when necessary, but much preferred to use their other talents to settle conflict.”

The old man smiled slightly as he went on, his blue eyes staring intently into Gherion’s silver. “And the final of the three most common philosophies was that of the Jedi Consular. Consulars, seeking to end strife in the Galaxy by peaceful negotiation, drew their lightsaber only in the defence of others, and held a killing blow unless absolutely necessary. They had unparalleled control of the Force, and produced many of history’s most fabled Grand Masters. There are other styles and varieties of Jedi Knight, but I feel that these two best lend themselves to your reservations as individuals.”

Ashalle sat up, staring at Erussa blankly. Her eyes were unfocused, and her lips pursed. She shook her head, her stare unchanging. “This... this is a lot to process all at once,” she said, more to herself than anything. “I... I need... time to think about all this.”

“Yes, this is… rather shocking. I think I’ll need to mull it over as well before I can… make a decision, or…” Gherion murmured out loud, though he stroked his goatee as if he were deep in thought, his face set in a stoic stare.

Erussa nodded and bowed once more. “Then I shall leave you to your thoughts.” He turned from the room, and returned to the door. “Sleep well.” With that, he stepped through the door and was gone.

The young half-Echani did not turn to look or speak at Ashalle, a whole new multiplicity of notions swirling through his mind. There was a miraculous quality to Erussa’s words that had served to salve Gherion’s pain, and there was comfort in the death of Jar’vic that he had not been able to find himself. That aside, the prospect of becoming a Jedi had seemed all but absurd mere moments ago, but if what the old Jedi said was true, then the idea only became that much more attractive, and less impossible by the moment. His life had crumbled, and transformed into something wholly different in so little a time, and now Gherion was considering becoming the first member of a new order, ushering in an age of prosperity. This was the opportunity he had sought for so long, only to be handed to him by this mysterious man in a few moments of life-altering discussion. Though it seemed as if he were in a dream, Gherion desired nothing more than to be the figure of such amazing legends he had studied his entire life, and reach his full potential under so powerful a man as Erussa. After a few hours of consideration, involving his knowledge of Jedi coupled with Erussa’s promises, the philosopher resolved to take the monumental risk of accepting Erussa’s training, in an ambitious desire to meet his goals. Feeling for the first time in nearly a year the overwhelming need to sleep, Gherion fell into the blissful unconsciousness to which he so rarely gave himself.

§

Osay stretched leisurely and smoothed her wet hair back from her forehead. After she’d returned to her room, she’d taken a shower to finish cleaning off the blood that coated her. Thank goodness there’d been a good old water shower instead of one of those stupid sonic showers. She’d always preferred water over sound waves. The young woman tightened the knot in the belt of her bathrobe and sat down in a soft armchair. She picked up the datapad on Jedi that Tawnos had given her and leaned back. Finally, she could just relax and read, like she’d wanted to the night Erussa had kidnapped her.

The woman frowned. It was hard to remember that the ‘nice’ old man was actually a criminal. Her record wasn’t lily white either, but she’d never kidnapped anyone! She glanced at the door. She could try to escape…but, of course, then she’d probably just have to go through the ordeal of being caught again. Besides, she’d be leaving Celeb and Tawnos and Ashalle behind. She couldn’t do that, not after rescuing one of them and fighting alongside the others. Gherion—truth be told, she wouldn’t mind never seeing him again. When she’d seen him cowering on the floor after he’d killed that man, she hadn’t felt sorry for him. She’d just felt contempt. Osay bit her tongue and tried to remind herself that not everyone grew up around death and murder. He’d probably never seen a smoking hole in an enemy before, much less put one there.

Osay shook her head. Whatever. She sat down to read her book, not to think about ol’ Silvermane. Chapter One…

There was a light knock on the door, barely audible. Osay slammed the datapad back down on the table beside the chair irately. Would she never get to read that stupid book?! Osay calmed herself and stood, moving to open the door. As the metal barrier moved from the frame of vision, Osay was met by the medium sized figure of Erussa, his blue eyes vivified against the dark around him. “I apologise if I have intruded,” he said kindly, his face framed in a slight grin.

The young woman shook her head. “No, you didn’t intrude. Something I can help you with?”

Erussa nodded slightly, his smile never faltering. “Actually, I was hoping to perhaps speak to you, if you don’t mind?”

Osay crossed her arms. This ‘Erussa’ person hadn’t proven himself very endearing so far—strangling someone wasn’t the best way to earn their respect. Still, he had healed her—of course, he had his own reasons. She replied in an exceedingly polite tone, “Of course. What is it?”

The old man motioned gently towards the confines of her room. “May I come in?”

Osay gritted her teeth for a moment and stepped aside. Erussa’s smile widened ever so slightly as he moved silently past her into the room, closing the door mysteriously with a wave of his hand. Osay edged away from him slightly. That…whatever he did made her uncomfortable. She felt a slight urge to open the door again—she hated being in a room alone with anyone. “I see that you have healed nicely,” he murmured, and then with a soft sigh, sat down in the chair opposite Osay’s bed as he looked as Osay, his face bent into a light frown that gave her an impression of underplayed pain, both physically and mentally. “I owe you, in particular, a most heartfelt apology. It was never my intention to put you or your companions in harm’s way, and I regret that it became a necessity.”

The young woman remained beside the door as she answered coolly, “Apology accepted. Was there anything else?”

Erussa nodded slightly, his blue eyes shining at Osay. “Aside from my feelings about placing you in danger, I feel I must express how impressive it is that you handled so many men and survived. You have skill in combat far beyond your years.” His words were light, and came with an almost magical fluidic quality that was most pleasing to the ear.

Osay ignored the pleasant tone of his voice—she’d been taken in by pleasant voices before. Her own voice remained even and cold. “I was lucky. If I did it again, I would probably die.”

“I must disagree with you, I’m afraid. In my experience, there is no such thing as luck. It was your skill with your blades, and some assistance from your other… unique talents, that allows for you and I to converse now.” Erussa grinned, as if in approval, but then it slackened as he next spoke, the pleasing tone of his voice tinged with firmness and direction. “But I have observed you, in secret, for many years, and I must say that you could be so much better.”

The Academy student silently wished her visitor would leave. He was starting to get on her nerves. Observing her for many years? That was just creepy. “Erussa, not to be rude, but I’m doing the best I can. If you’ve been ‘observing’ me for so long, you should know that.”

“I do not mean to insinuate that you have somehow failed yourself. It’s quite the opposite, actually: you have come so far on your own with so little direction. But you are unrefined, undisciplined; you lack focus, you are driven, both in combat, and in your lifestyle, by aggression and fear. There is a desperation to everything you do, as if you are trying to escape something, always running…” The old man took a moment, gazing upon Osay, before continuing, “I understand that you have only sought to make the best of your life given the mitigating circumstances. But there is boundless potential in you, a potential that I wish to help you unlock.”

Osay’s eyes narrowed. He made a convincing speech—but, as with his voice, she’d heard many convincing speeches. This was a particularly convincing one, to be sure, but still— She shifted her weight to her left foot and sighed. “Listen, Erussa, as much as I’d like to believe what you’re saying, I’m not some prodigy. There’s nothing for you to help me unlock.”

“Oh? Perhaps you are not being entirely honest with me, perhaps not even with yourself.” As he spoke, his smile once again lit up his face, and he folded his withered old hands together and placed them on his lap. “Have you never noticed that when you fight, you can almost sense the next move your opponent is about to take before he provides you with any physical clue in support of it? Almost as if you are seeing his movements seconds before they happen in your mind’s eye?”

Osay rolled her eyes and straightened. “That’s merely a side effect of the Echani style. It’s called precognition. A lot of the ancient Echani wrote about it. It wasn’t that uncommon.”

“Yes, I am familiar with such things, but I’m afraid that this is not the technique you practice when you glimpse the future. Battle precognition is similar to the mentality of a dejarik player. They see moves ahead, envision the most logical movement in the progression, and the most likely given the opponent’s style and temperament. But it is guess work, and can often fail to be accurate when facing an opponent with skill at or above your own level. You, however, see precisely what is about to happen, every detail, as if you are viewing a holovid of the next few seconds before they happen. It matches perfectly, and when you have such vision, you are never incorrect, regardless of who you face.” Erussa sat forward, waiting politely for Osay’s response.

The young woman yawned inwardly. Now he thought he could see through her eyes. Ah, well, the best way to get rid of him for the night was to say she’d think about what he’d said. Accordingly, after a few moments of silence, she nodded her head and said thoughtfully, “I see what you mean. I’ll consider what you’ve said.”

Erussa chuckled lightly, and when he spoke, his words were light and cheerful. “You always have been a difficult one to get to. Such a hard shell built after your father’s death, to keep pain away. But I think that we may yet break that shell.” Erussa stood and moved to Osay without waiting for a response, standing mere inches from her. “You may shrug off my words, but I can see through your eyes.” He smiled warmly, his friendly, non-threatening eyes twinkling, piercing her soul.

Osay’s eyes, however, were anything but non-threatening. He was reading her mind!? She snapped angrily, “How do you know what I’m thinking?!”

“Calm yourself, child. Answers will come with time,” Erussa chided softly, placing his hands on Osay’s shoulders. “I am the last member of an ancient Order of warriors, sworn to protect the Galaxy, and better themselves in doing so.”

Osay felt a little calmer at his touch, for some odd reason, but she refused to be completely pacified. Her jaw worked for a few moments as she tried to think up a response; then something occurred to her. She cocked her head slightly and asked. “You—you mean... you’re a Jedi, aren’t you?”

The old man beamed approvingly. “As perceptive as you are strong. Yes, I am a Jedi. There are techniques of my Order that I wish to teach you, ways to hone your mind and body in tandem with one another as tools, and weapons against your foes, and in doing so, you may overcome the fears and emotions of a very dark past indeed. I wish to teach you to become stronger, to become a Jedi Knight.”

Osay’s narrow eyebrows knit together. Her? A Jedi Knight? One of a legendary Order that was reportedly extinct? It was—possible—they were still around—after all, Erussa had read her mind, something Jedi were supposed to be able to do—but—did she even want to become a Jedi? She’d always heard they were emotionless, almost drone-like warriors who merely claimed to be peace-keepers. That didn’t sound very appealing. Erussa wasn’t exactly on her top ten favorite people list, but he didn’t seem to be all that bad. She bit her lip and finally replied irresolutely, “I need to think about this—all, it’s kind of—sudden.”

The elderly Jedi nodded in agreement, his arms falling from her shoulders and folding behind his back. “I thought you might need time to think it over, yes. I will leave you with this: you have within you the makings of a magnificent warrior, a Jedi Guardian; and I will show you the path. It is your decision, however. I shall not occupy any more of your time.” He bowed politely to Osay and moved to the door, opening and closing it quickly behind him.

Osay slowly walked back to her armchair and sat down. She’d imagined herself doing many things once she finished the Academy, but the thought of this had never crossed her mind. Sure, she could see Celeb, and especially Tawnos being Jedi, but her? This was hard to swallow.

A sigh escaped her lips. Either way, she needed to read that book. If it wasn’t for history class, it was so she’d know the basics of the Order. She picked up the datapad once more. Chapter One…
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Old 02-06-2009, 04:55 PM   #23
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Celeb sat on the edge of the small, itchy cot on the far side of his room, looking through the washroom door at his reflection in the mirror. He was scraped and dirty, his clothes stained with sweat and a mixture of blood that seemed to belong to both himself and Osay. His worn and haggard appearance was the trademark of roughly 48 hours of one stress-filled physical exercise after another, culminating in their eventual arrival back in the warm, kindly arms of their elderly kidnapper, so that he could heal the young woman that had risked her life for them properly. Celeb kept reviewing the scene directly following their escape to Tawnos’ apartment, kept thinking how, had he merely rushed back without saying a word to the others, he might have been able to save her from most of her injuries. Regret filled the crevices of his mind, a sentiment that spoke of a longing to turn back time and undo the damage that had been done. Had it not been for that fool, Tawnos, he would have been able to do something, but the insufferable romantic couldn’t help but try and play hero for the obvious apple of his eye. Celeb himself had come to find Osay rather attractive, even more than he found other women, and that was a rarity indeed, something that had caused a large amount of stress for him when facing her possible demise.

Then there was Ashalle and Gherion, both of whom seemed to be occupied in their own little worlds, unconcerned with the matters of peons such as him. Ashalle, whom he recognized immediately as the girl he had flirted with earlier the day of their kidnapping, saw a different side to her than the irritable schutta she had portrayed upon their first encounter. In many ways he felt sorry for her, but still had a sense of indignation that she hadn’t even bothered to thank them, or indeed show gratitude in the least. She was far too busy having a hissy fit over the death of her captor, whatever her reasons. Gherion, on the other hand, had pulled himself together to be of some use to the group, yet even he had become a giant heap of uselessness after killing the guard. Celeb had at first pitied him, but as he returned to his usual aggravating self, Silvermane became less and less appetizing to Celeb. The young soldier then turned his thoughts to Erussa, the strange and mysterious old man who had kidnapped them, and had yet to fully answer any questions as to why they were there, and what he had planned for them. Still, a change of pace was always welcomed by Celeb, so he planned to sit back and enjoy the ride. As he came to this mental conclusion, he sighed and laid back on his bed, looking up at the ceiling.

Suddenly, there was a knock at the door, causing him to shoot to an upright position and twist his head sharply in the direction of the sound. “Who is it?” he asked loudly.

The door opened noiselessly, and Erussa stepped across the threshold. “My apologies, Mr. Mendari, for disturbing you. I had hoped to have a word with you before you retired for the evening.”

Celeb’s eyes narrowed as he looked at the old man. He still didn’t trust him, yet he felt a compulsion to believe him, to follow him, a compulsion that reminded him of his dutiful following of his home planet’s laws and regulations. “Sure, why not.” He said finally, the entire sentence forming on a tired sigh.

The old man clasped his hands behind his back and moved towards the desk, not speaking for a long moment. When he finally turned, there was an odd look of concern stretched across his lightly wrinkled features. “I sensed a great deal of... nervous energy about you upon your return,” he said slowly. “Your thoughts are disturbed.”

The young man’s left eyebrow raised incredulously. “Interesting choice of words, old man. Still, you’re right, more or less. I just feel…” he cast his gaze to the floor for a few moments before continuing, “I guess I just feel like I couldn’t do enough.”

Erussa nodded, lowering himself into the desk chair lightly. He considered Celeb for a moment. “What more do you believe you should have achieved?”

“I’m not really sure… I think maybe I just wasn’t enough. People got hurt, and I wasn’t enough to stop it. I wasn’t enough to protect Osay, at least: she nearly died.” Celeb murmured, his gaze still cast at the floor.

“You forget, it was Osay’s choice to remain behind in the thick of battle. You completed the task required of you - quite admirably, I gather.”

“That’s just it. I always complete what is required, what is asked. I never do any more than I’m told.” Celeb dared a glimpse at Erussa, and found him, as calm and kindly as ever, staring back at him. “I’m always doing everything within the parameters of what I’ve been tasked to do. I never do more; I never go outside the box and try to be more than what others make of me.” His voice was full of longing, and emptiness.

“Ah, a thirst for individuality, then? I suppose that someone with your childhood would feel the desire for what many take for granted. Freedom, from laws and procedures, freedoms to do as you wish.” Erussa smiled fondly and twiddled his thumbs in his lap. “Yet everyone has their place in the Galaxy, and everyone must realise that there are fundamental rules to life that work towards progress. But to follow the rules, to do your best within them, is not an indication that you have no sense of self. Merely that you know your individual place in the grand scheme that is the universe we live in.”

Celeb shook his head. “But that’s the point - I don’t feel as if I even have a place,” he said, unable to keep a touch of helplessness out of his voice. “Am I really meant to just follow orders? Do what I’m told? Am I supposed to live my life in someone else’s shadow?”

Erussa mimicked Celeb, shaking his head slightly. “No, not someone else’s shadow. The laws of other sentient beings are followed only when you agree with them, and they align with your philosophies, but there are other laws, that are essential to life, and its energies, that must be followed to preserve both. You should never live in the shadow of another, but always abide by the laws of the universe. As for your role in the Galaxy, perhaps you merely have not yet discovered it.”

Celeb laid down heavily on the bed, sighing exhaustedly. His legs felt like jelly, and his eyelids drooped as if they were made of lead. Still, he pressed on. “I thought I’d found a position here, even temporarily, with the others - I’m the only one with proper military training. I thought me taking charge of the rescue mission was a given, especially when the fighting began. But then Rashel had to get up in my hyperdrive over going back for Osay. He just doesn’t seem to understand tactics, or strategy.”

“Mr. Rashel has natural leadership skills, and is charismatic, even if he may not wish to be. You simply have other strengths that are different from his, another indication of how truly individualistic you are. You need not always lead to be a leader; merely do, and many will follow by example alone. I believe your role in this life will show you that, and you have quite the monumental role ahead of you indeed.” The old man’s voice carried with it a very smooth tone, and yet his words were cryptic at best.

Celeb sat back up and held the old man’s gaze, trying to discern the meaning in his words. “What life?” he asked. “What role are you talking about, old man?”

Erussa sighed lightly, and allowed his head to fall forward a bit. “Celeb, you have within you the potential to become a Jedi, as I am.”

He stared numbly at him for a moment. He knew very little of the Jedi, apart from that which was common knowledge - he knew they had caused a lot of problems for the Galaxy over the past few millennia, under many different names. “I’m not sure I like the idea of becoming a religious zealot,” he said slowly. “There are some things that are worth waging war for. Religion isn’t one of them.”

Erussa gave a short laugh. “I should have expected as much. The name Jedi has not exactly been glorified in recent history...” he stared into space for a moment, his eyes filled with regret, before continuing. “There is much I can teach you, too much to cover in one conversation. Suffice to say that Jedi are less religious individuals, and more followers of a lifestyle. The Jedi way is multi-faceted, built to contain the individual’s own desired method of using something called the Force. Jedi to not follow a religious doctrine, but rather a code, made to accommodate the rules of the universe, while still allowing for self-improvement, accomplishment, and in your case, self-discovery. You would claim a role in the Galaxy, a very pivotal one, at that, and you may also end up find yourself.”

Celeb’s mind raced, trying to make sense of what Erussa was saying. He had been right about one thing - the Jedi were not portrayed in a flattering light by what was modernly considered common knowledge. The Jedi were viewed as little more than a self serving religious cult, bowing and simpering to the old Republic while secretly aiming to tear the Galaxy apart with their incessant squabbling amongst each other. He wasn’t sure how much truth there was in the old man’s words, though he was certainly no expert on the subject himself. “Alright. Say I play along. What kind of role, exactly, do you see someone with my upbringing playing in a new Jedi Order?”

“Well, considering your strong military upbringing, your affinity for the finesse of physical combat, and a sense of righteousness and resolve in honour, I believe you would be best suited for a class of Jedi known as Guardians. They trained their bodies to use the energies around them to enhance their movements in combat, and sought to contend and annihilate any enemies to the goodness of the Galaxy. There are variations on the Guardian, of course: the Avalonians, who achieved their goals through tactics and espionage, utilizing cunning to destroy darkness in strategic manners; and the Templars, who learned by teachings central to the Order, having the abilities of any number of classes, but most notably drawing from Guardian philosophy. However, while more disciplined and careful than other Jedi, the Templars were of a particularly dangerous stock, as they first had to experience the horrors and corruption of the darker energies of the Force first-hand.”

Erussa’s grin widened slightly, his eyes shining vividly. “Regardless of what path you choose, you would be one of the first, along with your four peers, to bring about a new Order, and bolster yourselves against the darkness that must inevitably come.”

Celeb stared into space, lost in thought. Now he thought of it, he had always had a flare for battle, even amongst his classmates. He had always been able to see the heart of an enemy’s battle plan, regardless of how intricate it attempted to be. He was a brilliant tactician, and had a knack for intricate counter attacks and detailed retaliatory campaigns - part of the reason his father had been so upset when he had decided to journey to the Academy instead of taking a place in the planetary military. He had simply assumed it was his niche, but he now realised that his own skill rivalled even that of his grandfather, who seemed to have lived for battle. He spoke without looking at Erussa. “A Jedi Guardian, huh? Protecting the innocent and battling the forces of evil in the Galaxy.” He smirked and lifted his gaze. “Sounds like fun.”

Erussa smiled encouragingly. “It is good to have an optimistic heart and good humour, for it keeps the spirit light and the mind at ease. But always temper your sense of fun with rationality and maturity, for to be too much of a joker is to underestimate the severity of some situations.” Lacking preamble, Erussa headed for the door, and, upon opening it, turned and stood in the frame. “I shall leave you to your thoughts for the time being.” Without another word, he turned, and disappeared behind the sliding metal wall separating Celeb’s room from the outside hall.

Celeb sat there for a long while, thinking about what had just happened. He had been recruited, more or less, to join an Order of warriors who had at one point of time controlled the fates of many, many lives in the Galaxy, working for a greater good. He had always thought of himself as little more than a soldier, and perhaps an individual who just wanted to have a little fun and freedom, but upon realizing his own potential, as Erussa had revealed to him, he came to understand what he had yearned for so many years at his homeworld. He had known there was more out there for him, and perhaps this was finally the answer to that longing. Perhaps he had finally found who he wanted to be. Feeling the fatigue finally catch up to him, Celeb pushed the thoughts out of his mind, and stretched out on his cot, falling asleep almost immediately.

§

Tawnos draped his leather jacket over the back of the only chair in his quarters and pulled off the dark red shirt sticking to his chest and back despite the undershirt he was wearing beneath it - though it as well was clinging to him as if were glued to his skin. A slight pain shot through his knees and shoulders as he tossed the shirt into the clothing receptacle. Ignoring the pain, he cast a half-hearted glance at the small bathroom to his right, contemplating a shower. He certainly felt filthy, but simply didn’t have the energy to bother.

He fell onto the bed, not bothering to finish undressing quite yet. He rubbed his eyes with the palms of his hands, then slid them up to ruffle his hair. It hit him suddenly that only this time yesterday - at least, so far he could judge, it had been yesterday - his biggest problem in life was making sure he showed up for his classes on time, and dealing with his sister trying to make up for lost time. The events of that night seemed like an eternity ago, and the day between them was nothing but a blur. He had never thought he would have been able to deal with such events - being kidnapped, dodging blaster shots, and skulking through the darkest parts of the world that had been more of a home to him in the short time he’d spent there than Gwellin ever really had. Yet he felt he had handled the day fairly well, all things considered - he had even managed to make it through unscathed.

His thoughts turned to those of their little gang who hadn’t been so lucky. His own sister, who he had always seen as somewhat sheltered and unworldly, had not only been forced to endure true hardship for the first time in her life, but had also been forced to witness the violent death of another sentient being; he even felt sorry for Gherion, despite his infuriatingly arrogant attitude, for having to commit such an act in the first place; and Osay, who’s pride and fiery passion had led to grave wounds that, had Tawnos not been able to patch her up before bringing her back to the compound, could have cost her a limb - or worse.

His mind began to dwell on the events that had taken place in the apartment. The unnatural desire to comfort he had felt when realising the true nature of his sister’s condition; the dark, almost pitiable look that had nested itself on the face of the man who had become almost something of a rival or even a foil to Tawnos after such a brief time; and Osay... the ball of dark emotions that had pulsed within his chest after he had left her, as if he could sense her own fear, and anger, and later her pain. Then there was the taste of bile that had assaulted his mouth when she had stumbled into the apartment, so gravely wounded that he hadn’t been sure for a while whether she would survive. He had never experience quite the same kind of fear that he had as he sat at her side - nor had he found himself so willing to do so in a very long time. It made him uneasy.

He had never been comfortable with others. For many years, his only proper friend had been Ashalle. He had told her everything, trusted her beyond all others, even come to admire her ability to get to the heart of a problem, or a conflict, better than anyone else. She had often been the one who settled conflicts before any authority figure needed to become involved, and that had ingratiated her with the people whose effort she was preserving for less menial and mundane tasks as mediating disputes between adolescents. But as time went on, she had become caught up in her reputation. She had become more interested in making people happy, and she had ceased to be the person he cared about. She found a veritable mine of potential popularity in him, though not in the way he would have preferred. As her other friends from their earlier school days became less and less fond of him, she was forced to make a choice: the friends who were leaving him behind, or her brother. She had chosen her friends. By the time they reached high school, the Ashalle he had known as a child was gone; consumed by the selfish, petty, superficial young woman she was today.

But now, he found himself trusting another young woman in much the same way he had once trusted his best friend of a sister. When he talked to Osay, he found that he was more willing to let his guard down. The barriers he had spent half his life building up against others were torn down with a single smile, or laugh - a smile he had seen only a handful of times; a laugh he had been graced with hearing a mere dozen times, at most. The thought of his defences being so vulnerable to Osay so soon after meeting her chilled him. He felt vulnerable; trapped; cornered by her ability to penetrate his protective outer shielding and bring out his deeper feelings, the sense of inadequacy and fear of failure he had been suppressing all his life.

A soft chime met his ears, disturbing his musings, and he rose, ruffling his hair once more. “Come,” he called, casting a glance at his tired, drained-looking reflection.

The door slid open with a quiet hiss, and Erussa stepped into the room. He smiled before speaking. “Good evening,” he said pleasantly, standing just inside the door. “I thought I would check in before allowing you to retire for the night.”

Tawnos sighed, and nodded. “It’s been one hell of a day...” he muttered, more to himself than anything else.

“Indeed it has. Yet you show neither relief in the completion of your task, nor any joy in the opportunity to now recuperate from your efforts. Does something still trouble you, Tawnos?” Erussa asked kindly, his face framed with gentle concern, moving farther into the room and allowing the door to seal quietly behind him.

“No, I’m fine,” he lied, rubbing his eyes. Then, speaking from behind his hands: “No I’m not.” He rose from the bed and began pacing the room impatiently. “I feel...” He struggled to find the words, but found they would not come. How could he explain the knot of emotions he felt in the pit of his stomach, or put into words the frustrating ball of feelings rising in his chest? This man had pulled him roughly from his comfortable life, and thrown him into the midst of chaos with barely a word of explanation. He mouthed wordlessly for a moment before the words came spilling out of him. “What do you want from us?” he asked, turning his eyes on the old man. “Why are we here?”

“Ah, yes, that thirst for understanding. A trait you share with Mr. Aldos, I think, along with your natural flair for leadership.” Erussa grinned slightly, almost coyly, before continuing. “I have told you that you and your four peers have been brought here because of your unique talents, but that is not the full extent of my purpose. I have been waiting, and searching, for five individuals to teach what I know, as I was commissioned to do many years ago.”

Tawnos shook his head. “All due respect, Erussa, I’m not sure I like the idea of being compared to Silvermane,” he said darkly, moving past the other man towards the bathroom. He turned on the tap and splashed cold water on his face, groaning slightly as his tense back muscles complained at the movement. “And as for being a leader,” he said, his voice muffled for a moment behind a dry towel before he tossed it aside. “I’m not so sure that’s true. I mean, sure, I got a bit commanding today, but the others didn’t ‘obey’ me - certainly not Gherion or Celeb. They just... agreed with me. Realised that it was what needed to be done, and did it. The fact that I said it means nothing, really.”

“Ah, but it is just that: they agreed with you, in spite of their dislike for both you and each other. Many will simply disagree because they are inclined to, regardless of how much truth your words carry. You, and these other four individuals, with the exception of you and Ms. Katran, all have opposing feelings toward one another, all harbor sentiments of discontent that threatened to tear the team apart from the very beginning. It was only due to your voice, your confidence, and your natural charisma, that you remained together, and cooperative.”

Tawnos considered his words for a moment. He wasn’t wrong, of course. Despite the friction between himself and Gherion, the silver haired bantha’s ass hadn’t openly challenged him. He had seemed, for the most part, to respect the fact that Tawnos had wanted to take command of the situation until his sister was rescued; and Tawnos himself hadn’t fought Gherion, either, when he had suggested a course of action, or taken the lead through the catacombs. All he had cared about was rescuing his sister - who was, as she had said, the only family he had here on Retalia, despite their differences. He hadn’t had much of a problem with Celeb, either, until the matter of rescuing Osay had come up. Anger boiled inside him as he remembered the argument - if Celeb hadn’t argued with him trying to play the hero, he would have been able to get to Osay a lot sooner, and maybe even saved her a few of the injuries she was now sleeping off in the room next door. She had been the only one of the three who seemed to have any proper respect for him.

He turned next to the rest of Errusa’s statement. “What do you intend to teach us, then, that we couldn’t learn at the Academy? And why only the five of us?”

“I suppose there is no point in avoiding the essential point with someone as learned of the subject as you, so I will venture to be direct: I am a Jedi. The very last of my kind. And it is my duty to train the five of you as new Knights of a new Order, to rise forth with the Galactic Alliance. You five have been specifically chosen due to your extraordinary affinity for the universal energies that are known collectively as the Force.” Erussa’s expression did not change, but his voice grew more stoic with each word.

Tawnos stared at him, his expression stony - but inside, his mind was reeling. He had spent his entire youth and a large portion of his childhood studying the ancient Jedi; fawning over the near mythical beings of the fabled Jedi Order. He had often dreamt of being a Jedi, bringing peace and order to the chaotic Galaxy. But in his heart, he had never dared believe that one day, he would have the chance to fulfill his greatest childhood dream, and become part of the legendary organisation that had brought both incredible good and unfathomable evil on the Galaxy.

He found, however, that he was in no way surprised at Erussa’s words. He had known all along, on some level, that this had to be why they had been brought here. A part of him had known since the moment he awoke that his life - and the lives of everyone in the room with him - were going to change forever.

He was going to become a Jedi Knight.

He nodded, staring at the floor by Erussa’s feet. “I know,” he said quietly. “I’ve always known.” He looked up at the man sitting on his bed, marvelling at how such a small, seemingly helpless old man could deliver such a life-altering blow with a single sentence. He sat in the chair by the desk, ignoring his jacket as it was jostled off its spot on the chair’s back and slid to the floor. He nodded again. “What would you have me do?”

The old man’s smile returned to its usual brightness, and he nodded. “Your willingness to train is expected, but be mindful of such eagerness: ambition is a powerful thing, and can serve as a source for progress and betterment, but may also lead to corruption and darkness. If you desire too much, or focus too heatedly, you may be consumed by your own quest for what you seek. It is patience and thoughtfulness that tempers us, lends us wisdom, allows us perspective.”

Tawnos nodded. “I understand.” He tore his own eyes from the old man’s, and looked back to the floor, not really seeing it. “I’ve dreamt of this my whole life,” he told the old man quietly. “There’s so much pain and suffering in the Galaxy... I’ve often wished that I could rise against the fear that grabs at the hearts of the people, and bring the darkness that feeds their anguish into the light. To bring an end to the constant war, and fighting, and petty rivalries between systems. To unify the Galaxy under a banner of peace and compassion.”

Erussa nodded slightly. “The goal of a Jedi is to bring light and peace to the Galaxy, though never directly. It is only through the toils of each Jedi Knight, in their dissolution of agents of a darker alignment, that we see such ends met. Many have chosen dissimilar tactics to that effect: some have fought and destroyed those that were named Sith, and variations therein, to remove their dark influence; some merely cast light into places once dark, seeking them out and revealing them. Others still search for answers in knowledge and understanding of the Force, so that darkness may be removed, or new sources of purity discovered. You are strong, Tawnos, equally in various facets of the Force. Though you may pursue but one path, many are open to you, and thus does a decision lie ahead, one that I will of course leave to you.”

Tawnos nodded to show his understanding. “You’re talking about the Jedi Classes,” he said knowingly. “Consular, Guardian, Sentinel, and all the others.” He stroked his chin and was surprised to find a sharp stubble there. It made sense, he thought. He hadn’t shaved since the morning he had fist met the others. “How do I choose between the paths, though? How will I know which one the Force intends for me to follow? How do I figure out which path to take without a map, so to speak?”

The old man again chuckled melodiously. “Answers are often best sought from within. To choose a path, you must decide for yourself which best suits you. You have plenty of time to consider your options and resolve yourself to your desired methodology, and if the decision yet eludes you, the basics of your training will make it all the clearer for you. Remember, child, patience is the most valued of Jedi traits.

“But for many, choosing a path is a simple matter of analysing one’s strengths. Mr. Aldos, for example, your equal in many aspects - despite your aversion to him - carries with him a powerful sense of justice, and holds great dislike for acts of cruelty, or violence. His desire to see conflict brought to an end through peaceful acts will no doubt lead him down the path of the Jedi Consular, which as you know lends great strength to connections through the Force itself. Ms. Katran, though she holds a similar sense of justice, does not shy away from bringing a swift, decisive end to conflict and injustice by the edge of her blade. These traits certainly reveal her to be an idyllic Jedi Guardian, who seek to extinguish the Dark Side no matter what the cost. The same path seems to be in waiting for Mr. Mendari, as well, if his upbringing is any indication.”

Tawnos turned to Erussa again. “I don’t trust Celeb,” he said suddenly, surprising even himself with the bitterness in his voice. “He’s clearly allowing some sort of hormonal attraction to Osay to affect his judgment. If he had bothered to think with the proper head instead of arguing with me, I might have been able to make it back to her before she was so badly hurt. He could have cost her her life.”

Erussa’s smile slackened and his eyes became stern, if not maintaining a gentle glow. “From what I understand, Mr. Mendari was merely thinking tactically. He has had more training in physical combat, and while his ability in comparison to your own has yet to be seen, his argument that he was the better choice between the two of you to go after her is not without merit. The wisest and most obvious choice, however, is most commonly strength in numbers. Tell me...” Erussa folded his hands in his lap and stared into Tawnos’ eyes for a moment, before continuing. “How do you feel about Ms. Katran?”

Tawnos flushed slightly, not having expected the question. “Well, she’s... she’s smart, and compassionate, and strong... not just physically - though she certainly held her own in the brawl down there - but emotionally, as well. She has a certain... fire about her, that I... I respect, and admire.”

The calm, cool blue eyes of the elderly Jedi darkened almost unnoticeably as he looked at Tawnos. “Your thoughts betray you, Mr. Rashel. I do not believe you have professed to me the full extent of your emotions. I sense much more than mere respect and admiration.”

Tawnos’ face flushed deeper, and he turned away from Erussa. He sighed. Then: “Alright, fine,” he said defensively, turning back to face those bright blue eyes, his own burning defiantly. “So I’m... attracted to her. She’s an incredible woman, and I... care about her. More than I normally might, maybe.” He bristled as Erussa looked at him, a look of benign curiosity mingled with kindly concern on his face. “But that’s different. I’ve met guys like Celeb before, and he certainly has no valid interest in her beyond a physical, animal attraction.” He glared at nothing in particular. “An animal attraction that nearly cost Osay her life.”

Erussa gazed into his eyes for a moment, and Tawnos felt as if the old man were able to see into his core. When he spoke, it was a slow, careful tone. “I fear you are travelling dangerous waters, Tawnos,” he said. “Emotion is one of the most mysterious forces in our Galaxy. A Jedi must always be on guard against his emotions - your feelings can be a useful tool, but you must always be mindful of how they influence you. You cannot allow them to cloud your judgment. A Jedi must be serene, and at peace.”

“But... in order to make peace with my feelings, I have to understand them first, don’t I?” he asked. “I can’t resolve them until I know what they mean, and where they’re coming from.”

Erussa smiled. “Your insight serves you well,” he said. “It is true that in order to make peace with your emotions, you must first know where they are seated. But as you search your feelings and seek out their source, you must be strong, and not allow yourself to be controlled by them. The answers will come in due course - do not allow yourself to be dominated by the search for their core. It shall be revealed to you when the time is right.”

Tawnos nodded. “I understand,” he said. “Thank you, Master. I appreciate your guidance.”

Erussa smiled kindly. “I am glad I was able to put your mind at ease.” He rose from his seat. “I shall bid you good night,” he said, making his way back to the door. “I must see to the care of your sister.”

“Right. Goodnight, Master,” he said. He hesitated for a moment, then continued, uttering a phrase he had wished to speak since he had first read it as a child; the phrase that had spurred him to learn as much as he could about the Jedi, and made him yearn to become a Jedi. “May the Force be with you.”

Erussa smiled at him from the door. “And also with you.” He turned, and the door sealed shut behind him.

Last edited by The Doctor; 02-06-2009 at 05:09 PM.
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Old 02-07-2009, 08:19 AM   #24
Vaelastraz
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Finally! Good update.

So..they're all going to be Jedi...
My perception of Tawnos has changed..he seems kinda irrational accusing Celeb of something he is guilty of himself. Given his strong emotional attachment to Osay, he's my early guess for a potential Darksider.
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Old 02-07-2009, 06:19 PM   #25
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Vaelastraz View Post
Finally! Good update.

So..they're all going to be Jedi...
My perception of Tawnos has changed..he seems kinda irrational accusing Celeb of something he is guilty of himself. Given his strong emotional attachment to Osay, he's my early guess for a potential Darksider.
Don't get too far ahead of yourself. This is Star Wars. Things have a way of twisting at the last moment, when you least expect it.
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Old 02-25-2009, 09:44 PM   #26
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I know this is a double post, but bear with me.

Due to events beyond our control, I'm afraid we must bid fairwell to Adavardes, who will no longer be contributing to the project. Adavardes has been an integral part of the story so far, and we'll be sorry to see him go. Due to his departure, however, the next chapter will be further delayed, while Endorenna and I search for new potential partners.

Once again, thank you for everything you've contributed so far, Adavardes. Good luck in your future projects.
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