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Bloodlines Opening Crawl

Before the Empire. Even before the Sith would wage war against the Order of the Jedi and the Galactic Republic, there was the ever present struggle of the Light side of the Force and the Dark side of the Force. There were masters on both sides. Powerful beings that possessed great knowledge. That knowledge was used for both good and evil, protection and gain. Selfless and selfish.

Some would spin the tale that the Jedi began on Tython, now a lost planet hidden away from the rest of the galaxy. Other say that the Sith began on the now desolate world of Korriban. One thing is certain though. Both factions could use the Force. Their roots in the Force began elsewhere. Not on Tython or Korriban. No. Their roots started on worlds far removed from either of those worlds.

Those worlds were sometimes seeded with life by other beings. Beings that had advanced much farther than our primitive ancestors at the time. We know this much about those worlds that were seeded. Where there was life, there was the Force.

If you study the Jedi or the Sith, you will find the conflict between their ideologies. The Jedi claim to use the Force for knowledge and the benefit of others. They are the “passive conduits which the Force works through.” Yet the Jedi in the years before the end horded their knowledge. They imposed the will of their vaulted order onto countless others just because that person could feel the Force. Use the Force.

Yes, there were benevolent Jedi out there. There are those that championed the cause of justice for all free beings of the galaxy. They were true heroes and lights in the darkness during perilous times. Those are the lights that we recall in the stories of heroes and the songs of legend.

As with the Jedi, the Sith too wished to impose their will upon others. Control was the paramount of their ideologies. They wanted to control life. They wanted to control the Force itself. But they weren’t alone in their ideologies. Either sect could not claim ownership in their views and ways. They weren’t the only ones to use the Force.

*****

Even in the darkest of hells, there can be light. The light seen is usually a matter of perspective though. Sometimes, a person does not choose to see the light. Sometimes, they become content in the darkness.

The mind can be a very dark place.

Pratella was known by its inhabitants as the end. Only the worst of the worst came there, though not of their free will. They were brought to Pratella because that is where they would spend the rest of their lives.

Pratella was a prison that was reserved for those who couldn’t be housed elsewhere. It was a planet void of life, except for those that had been transplanted there. The world was isolated and never frequented. Transports coming or going were rare. Any ship coming to Pratella was escorted to and from the planet. No chances for escapes were taken.

It was the worst of the worst, or so it seemed.

But there was rumor of a place worse than Pratella.

It was just a rumor.

Imohen was approaching the forty-fifth year of his life now. He had been on Pratella for just four years. Constantly under guard, yet somehow he had made his prison his home. The tall, bald Antrixian walked with the proud gate of a true noble and warrior. His eyes still had a sparkle to them, even when his Antrixian eyes weren’t glowing brightly with a flare of building emotions.

He didn’t have the luxuries that he once had on Kaarja. He didn’t carry his adorned lightsaber anymore. And he didn’t have access to his finely crafted Warblade, the symbol of the Jinsai Order. Those that knew him or of him also knew that he didn’t need those. Even without a weapon, Imohen was still deadly. He had the Force.

His connection to the mystical energy field known as the Force had made him almost godlike. He was able to perform feats that no mere mortal could. He surpassed the average somebody with what he could do with the Force. Coupled with his Jinsai training, he was more than a guardian to the Antrixian Commonwealth. He could be death incarnate.

His failed insurrection against the Great House, House Metheyr and their corrupt ways had earned him a sentence on Pratella. He was sent to the barren rock in space to rot, for the rest of his life.

While Imohen had claimed to be acting in the interest of the High Lord and the Commonwealth, his bloodthirsty coupe had been one of selfish power and pride. He had wanted to unseat Baron Vlad Metheyr and take control of Hekarii Prime. He wanted the power and wealth behind House Metheyr as his own. He wanted to be a Lord within the Landsting.

In truth, Imohen had fallen to the Darkside. But he wasn’t the only one.

There had been others like him in the last five years. Each had been defeated by the might of the Antrixian Defense Force and the actions of the Jinsai Order. In five years, there had been five Jinsai who had fallen to the Darkside and lusted for power. More would be coming too.

Imohen wasn’t the first and he wouldn’t be the last. A shroud was falling over the Force. A shroud of the Darkside. It was this shroud that had drove the five to look towards the darker aspects of the Force. The balance in the Force had been lost.

*****

The Corellian bulk freighter reverted from hyperspace with a flash. It’s boxy body illuminated by the nearby star. The ship looked like it had seen its fair share of travel and action, judging by the carbon scoring on the hull and pitted plating.

Inside the cockpit, two humans worked the flight controls and monitored the viewscreen on the sensor readout. The oldest male cracked a tight smile across his weathered face. He was pleased that his navigation had brought the ship this far into the system. It was exactly what had been hoped for. He nodded to himself before turning in his chair to face the rear of the cabin.

“OOM-18.” The grizzled human said. “Inform our guests that we’ve arrived and we can start the operation.”

The elongated head of the droid nodded and answered “Roger, roger.”

The man watched as the B-1 battle droid turned and walked to the cabin door and exited the cockpit. He shook his head in disgust. The battle droids were only good for cannon fodder as far as he was concerned.

“Cap!” The younger human manning the controls suddenly said. “I’d say the gig is up. Picket ship is tryin’ ta hail us. Bloody sods have even launched a flight o’ fighters our way.”

The younger human’s voice was thick with the accent of the Engstrom Trust. It was close to a Core accent, but a lot more foul and rogue. The old man just looked at his younger co-pilot and gave him a smile.

“Send back a coded message saying that we have a reactor leak that is playing havoc with our communications and navigation.” The captain responded.

“Aye, cap.”

“Once they start focusing their sensors on us, they’ll know it’s a ruse.” The old captain turned back around to his console. “I think we better convince them otherwise until it’s too late.”

The co-pilot followed orders and sent the message as instructed. While he worked, the captain reached for a switch and flipped it. Within a second, a clank happened somewhere below the cockpit and series of warning lights began to flash on the control boards.

“Now that we’re leaking, we should be able to mask our surprise for the Antrixians.”

*****

On board the picket ship, the Javelin, Commander Ardes watched out the side viewscreen as two fighters streaked from his ship towards the distant freighter that had suddenly entered the system. Nothing felt right about this.

“Commander.” The Comm officer spoke. “The freighter says they have a reactor leak that’s caused a malfunction in their communications and navigation.”

“Sensor readings?” Ardes asked, looking over at one of his sensor operators.

“Sir, we’re just beginning to show a spike in radiation emanating from the ship.” The operator responded.

“I don’t like this.” Ardes said aloud. “Contact Pratella control and alert them of our situation. Comm… Also tell our fighters to relay their sensor readings to us.”

Ardes walked over to the comm officer just as he was beginning to carry out his orders. Over the speaker, a response from the fighters quickly came back.

Javelin, we copy.” One of the two pilots said. “Holy frak! What the-”

Ardes quickly looked up from the communications station in time to see two bright flashes come from the direction that the fighters had been traveling. Suddenly there were smaller flashes.

“Sir! The freighter just turned into multiple contacts!” The sensor operator quickly yelped.

“What are they?” Ardes stiffened.

“Sensors show at least seven Trade federation Vulture droid fighters! Our fighters are gone!” Came the response.

“Shields up!” Ardes yelled. “All hands to battle stations!”

Before the Javelin could come alive for combat, the droid fighters streaked in to attack. Moving fast, the nimble fighters were within weapons range in moments. The Vulture droids quickly split their wings apart to launch deadly concussion missiles at the Antrixian ship. The Javelin’s shields wouldn’t matter much to the missiles.

Far below, in the subterranean cell, on Pratella, Imohen paused from the sketch he was idly drawing while resting on his bunk. Unnoticed by his guards, Imohen looked towards the ceiling of his cell. His eyes lit with the glow that was common to the Antrixian people.

It was time.

From the void of space, he felt the call of a dark master. He knew that plans that had been laid down years before were coming to light. Freedom was calling to him. Power was calling to him. Revenge for the wrongs in his life were calling to him.

*****

The hustle and bustle of the galactic capital across the vast cityscape of Coruscant never ceased, day or night. The droid-controlled lanes of traffic crisscrossed the entire planet, on multiple levels, even down into the deep valleys of the mega buildings that made up the upper surface of Galactic City. For centuries, this was how Coruscant had been. And for years following, it would remain the same, regardless of the conflicts that were to come and go.

In the Senatorial Apartment Complex, not far from the Republic Senate building itself, the normally empty penthouse of the Antrixian Senator was once again occupied. Since its inception into the Republic, the Antrixian Commonwealth had strived to become a distinguished sovereign state within the Republic. Its senator, Luaran Royce, was a busy-body, constantly on the move and eager to work with his fellow senators, especially as an emissary out in the galaxy. That was a rarity for an Antrixian.

For many centuries, the inhabitants of the Antrixian Commonwealth had been content remaining within their borders and leading a traditional lifestyle that they had known for the years since the Commonwealth’s inception. The Antrixians themselves were one of the oldest colonist species within the Inner Rim regions of the galaxy. Before the dawn of the Republic, the Antrixians had existed, evolving from mere Human slaves to the Near-Human species that existed today. The real difference between them and the Humans were the glow that emanated from the whites of Antrixian eyes. That glow was only very noticeable when strong emotions were present in the Antrixian. Most individuals that didn’t know of them would never know that they weren't Human unless that telltale glow happened to be showing.

Over twenty-three thousand years before, the descendants of the Antrixians landed on Antrixies and began living there. The Antrixians had journeyed from what was now considered their homeworld, Antrixies, to the various planets around it, colonizing and growing as a people. Soon afterwards, the Antrixians had made contact with and befriended the Knyden people, the wolf-like Lutrin, and the large saurian species, the Herras. Together, these four species formed what was now known as the Antrixian Commonwealth. As the Commonwealth grew and stabilized, it eventually added the Human colony of Iberia into the mix along with the feline-like Zi’rathii from Zythrae. Governed by the major family Houses of the Commonwealth, the Antrixian Landsting, the people had only recently merged with the Republic within the last one thousand years.

Marissa Strykia, the High Lady of the Commonwealth and the Consular of the Jinsai Order, leaned back in her seat, taking a break from typing at the table computer terminal. She gently rubbed her neck to ease a knot that was growing there from her time of working at the computer. She inhaled slowly and then exhaled in a slow practiced manner, closing her eyes and relaxing herself. Years of training allowed her to remove tension very quickly and easily. Once she felt that the minor aches that had come on with her working leave, she opened her eyes and took a look at her surroundings.

Her sight came to rest on her thirteen year old son, Dontaine, who was outside on the terrace, speaking with a young girl almost the same age. The transparasteel windows that separated the main room from the terrace might as well have not been there as far as Marissa was concerned. While she wasn't worried about the behavior of her son, she knew that females around his age tended to be foolish and impulsive around him. That was part of his boyish charisma that so often led him to mischief. He was still her apprentice, though, and as his master, she wanted to make sure he was keeping within his bounds.

Marissa closed her eyes and let her mind drift free, finding the currents of the Force easily. The very close proximity of Dontaine made him easy to locate with the Force. He radiated the powerful, mystical energy himself. But not so much as the other two beings in the next room. They were shining beacons within the Force, even without training. Marissa’s youngest children, the twins Graydon and Allyson, lay napping in the next room. Even at barely two years old, the twins stood out in the currents of the Force.

But they weren't Marissa’s focus. She pinpointed Dontaine and observed the area surrounding him. As always, he was calm, that much Marissa could sense in him. With that calm, there was also an underlying arrogance, which Marissa never seemed to get the boy to lose.

He was proud of his celebrity when they came to places like Coruscant. The girls always seemed to know when he was here, too. Without fail, one of them would seek him out, in a young, bravado of trying to act adult, but all too awkward in courting ritual displays. Dontaine would simply laugh it off later, telling his mother he had no interests in girls that only saw him for what he was and what he would become. He wanted a real relationship. Marissa hoped that his recent betrothal to the young Fara Corisso would give him just that. Perhaps it would settle him down too.

That was another difference in the Antrixians. They had founded the Jinsai Order on par with the Jedi Order. But where the Jedi shunned personal attachments and possessions, the Jinsai held the family and the honor that went with it in high regard. The Jinsai, regardless of Force-sensitivity, held home and family foremost, allowing it to ground them and give them purpose in their mission as guardians and protectors of the Commonwealth. It was one of the things that set the Jedi and the Jinsai apart and had barred anyone from the Commonwealth becoming a Jedi yet. The Jinsai were that integrated with the Commonwealth that their practices carried over in the traditions of the people they served. But that, perhaps, would eventually change. There were exceptions within the Jedi Order. The members of the Commonwealth might one day be one of those exceptions if Marissa’s future plans went accordingly.

Marissa focused on the young, blonde Human girl that leaned against the railing of the balcony, grinning playfully at her son. She was a knot of jumbled thoughts, too excited about being near Dontaine to be in total control of her faculties. It was almost like a fan truly meeting a celebrity. Part of Marissa wanted to chastise her son, allowing the girl to act that way and not being forward with her. He should tell her where his heart truly was, instead of letting the poor thing fawn all over him.

“Mistress Strykia?” Came the smooth, calm voice of Marissa’s personal assistant droid, T-3C1. “There is someone here to see you.”

Marissa withdrew from the Force, allowing herself to focus on her surroundings, leaving Dontaine to his teenage flirting. “Yes, of course, Teethree. Send them in.”

The droid motioned to the doorway of the foyer of the apartment and a man with brown hair and a beard appeared. Dressed in the brown and tan rough-spun tunic and pants, covered by a long robe, the man broke into a smile as he rounded the corner and made his way towards Marissa.

Marissa quickly rose to meet the man. “Master Obi-wan Kenobi. This is a surprise.”

Obi-wan stopped in front of Marissa and gave a deep, well-practiced bow. “High Lady Strykia, I’m honored to be in your presence.”

“Stop it.” Marissa blushed and her blue eyes flashed a quick blue glow. “There’s no need for formality here.”

“As you wish, my Lady.” Obi-wan said with a wide smile as he straightened from his bow.

“Please!”

“It’s good to see you, Marissa.” Obi-wan stepped closer and embraced Marissa in a quick hug.

“I'm surprised to see you, Obi-wan.” Marissa said as she broke away from the embrace.

She motioned for the Jedi to have a seat near her chair. Ever since her friend Qui-Gon Jinn, who was also Obi-Wan's former master, was killed on Naboo, Marissa had fostered an informal relationship with Kenobi. Having Obi-Wan available to contact gave her an inside with the Jedi, but it also felt like Qui-Gon was still there in a way. Obi-Wan was the closest thing there was to Jinn having a son and maintaining a connection to his memory.

“I heard that you had petitioned the Council for a meeting tomorrow when I arrived back on Coruscant a couple of hours ago.” Obi-wan said as he sat down on the couch near Marissa’s chair.

“Yes.” Marissa replied. “I've been thinking that it may be time to revisit the issue of the Jinsai and the Jedi merging once again. With all the turmoil going on in the galaxy right now, I think we might be wise to seriously consider it, on both sides.

“The council’s only reservation has always been the Jinsai’s militaristic training.” Obi-wan said. “I don't know if they'll give much ground on that.”

“I won't be asking for an immediate merger.” Marissa smiled. “I have a proposition for them concerning two, future Jinsai that may also qualify to be Jedi.”

“Two Jinsai?”

“They're not Jinsai yet, but what I want to propose would have them serve as a bridge to unite our two Orders even closer, perhaps laying the groundwork for a unified future.”

“I’m afraid I had a momentary flash of my old master there, trying to change the council on a whim. Who are these two?” Obi-wan asked.

“My twins.” Marissa calmly answered.

“Your twins? Really?” Obi-Wan had heard that Marissa had given birth to two children with exceptional, innate abilities within the Force.

“Yes.” Marissa responded. “Even at this early age, they show considerable latent talent in the Force.”

“But why your own children?” Obi-wan asked.

“They're special. I can sense that in them. Plus, I have concerns that the Jinsai way may not totally be the correct path for them. There is more at stake than simply training future Jinsai or Jedi. There is a destiny being woven around them. I can feel it.”

“Now you do sound like Qui-Gon.” Obi-wan gave Marissa a sad smile. “I thought you prescribed to the Living Force?”

“I do.” Marissa answered. “Still, I also know that when the Force speaks to us, we should listen. If I can arrange it, the twins could lead the way for our Orders to grow and become one, rather than split into two different parts. There are other sects of Force-users within the galaxy that should be joining us on a path of unity, not separation. Qui-Gon mentioned the same thing the last time I saw him. He felt that united, the Orders would stand, but if we continued divided, eventually both Orders would fall. He called it a clash of principles. I know he’s right. This has to be done.”

“I suppose you're right.” Obi-wan said, looking into the distance with introspection. “I wish you luck.”

“Thank you.” Marissa smiled. “I fear that I'll need all the luck I can get.”

“I stopped only to say hello.” Obi-wan began to stand. “My Padawan and I are due for a debriefing soon. I would enjoy being able to talk again before you leave to return to the Commonwealth, though.”

“My husband might get jealous, but I believe we can call it a date.” Marissa said, a hint of mischievous sarcasm in her voice.

“I look forward to it, then.”

*****

Marissa found herself standing in the middle of the Jedi High Council chamber, surrounded by some of the most venerable Jedi of the time. Jedi Grand Master Yoda, Jedi Masters Mace Windu, Plo Koon, Shaak Ti, and Jedi Knight Ki-Adi-Mundi were but some of the names she had come to know personally. As the Jinsai Order’s Consular to the Jedi Order, Marissa had had a fair amount of dealings with the esteemed Jedi when it came to matters of the Antrixian Commonwealth and the happenings in which the Jinsai and Jedi might be involved in.

This meeting was just one that Marissa had been determined to take on. Since she was a young girl, just starting to blossom into the woman that she would become, Marissa had been able to see things through the Force that might happen. It had made her very mindful of her actions and the consequences of those actions. She prescribed to the theory of the Living Force in much the same way that her long dead associate, Qui-Gon Jinn had during his life in the Jedi Order.

More and more, though, Marissa had a feeling that there was something bigger, something much grander, set to happen. The ideology of the Unifying Force seemed to be at work. There appeared to be a destiny that was set to happen. Her visions and dreams that came to her through the Force all pointed to that.

Years ago, when she discovered the Desmora Prophecy, she felt that she had somehow found the answers to her mysterious visions. The Prophecy only added more mystery and darkness to her visions though. In those visions, a great darkness came and threatened the galaxy. The galaxy would be plunged into peril and the Commonwealth along with it.

It was only by the hands of the children that the salvation from this great darkness could come for her people and the Commonwealth. She had borne twins, Graydon and Allyson. They were the first set of twins born within the Commonwealth in many years that had significant abilities in the Force right from the start. They could be the twins mentioned in the prophecy. She knew there was a growing darkness in the galaxy. There were even whispers that the Sith had returned. If that were true, then the twins had to be the ones and they had to be prepared. There had to be unification though. If this prophecy foretold a coming evil that threatened the galaxy, then the Jedi Order and the Jinsai Order had to stand as one. All servants of the Light side needed to stand united.

The issue was the differences in the ideologies of the Jinsai Order and the Jedi Order. The Jedi espoused a doctrine of peace, knowledge, and no emotional attachments. Their focus was on the knowledge of the Force. The Jinsai held attachments, especially to family, as a paramount part of their theology. The Jinsai Order also held prowess in combat to the highest regard, sometimes setting themselves above the Jedi as warriors.

The Jinsai had formed a code of honor that put family and relation as an intricate part of their existence. The Jinsai were also focused on maintaining a physical prowess that sometimes exceeded a Jedi. Martial skills were an intricate part of a Jinsai acolyte’s training. One last thing was that the Jinsai allowed non-Force-sensitives into their Order. The Jedi did not.

So now Marissa stood in front of her contemporaries and was about to ask for the debate on the unification of the Orders. She knew that there were proponents and opponents to this matter on both sides. This was more of a political battle than an ideological one. The how and when of the merger could be worked out later if everything went the way she hoped. Still, she expected resistance, which she knew would happen. She was prepared for that. She had “an ace in the hole” as Dontaine was fond of quoting.

“Master Strykia, you come before us with an intriguing offer.” Master Mace Windu said as the other Council members watched. “For many years, the Jedi have counted on the support of the Jinsai Order in matters of the Force and the security of the Republic. Many of us have had close dealings with your Order and have become well acquainted with you and your fellow associates. There are, however, many reservations that come to mind about this possible unification.”

“I am well aware of the differences that our individual Orders have, Master Windu.” Marissa responded. “Only closed-mindedness and prejudices bar this unification from happening. The Jinsai and the Jedi have both learned from each other over the years since introductions were made during the Engstrom Conflict. We have supported each other in times of need and darkness without reservation. The Antrixian Commonwealth has even joined the Republic as a sovereign state member. The joining of our Orders is only logical at this time.”

“Certain, are you, Master Strykia?” Master Yoda interjected. “Ready are the two sides to become one?”

“Yes, Master Yoda.” Marissa answered. “This is something that we all need to be ready for.”

“Why?” Ki-Adi-Mundi asked in his short, brief, usual style.

Marissa didn't hesitate, turning to address the Cerean Jedi. “It’s no secret among the Jedi and the Gai’din of the Jinsai. There is a growing darkness in the galaxy. The Separatist movement is just part of it. If the Sith have truly returned, then we all need to present a unified front to defeat them yet again.”

“We don’t know that the Sith have returned.” Windu interjected. There was some heat in his voice.

Marissa paused, bowing her head for a moment. When she looked up, she focused on Mace, knowing that going toe-to-toe with one of the strongest Jedi in the whole Order could be foolish, but her determination wouldn't let her back down. She slowly took two steps forward as she began again.

“Don’t deny it, any of you.” Marissa let the heat creep into her voice also. Her eyes also flared with their blue glow. “There is a darkness that is clouding the Force. It’s growing. I feel it. You all feel it. I want to ensure that a united front stands to oppose this darkness. The Republic is facing a time that is far worse than anything it has faced before. It’s almost as if there’s a storm coming, the likes of which we've never seen. If Qui-Gon’s killer was a Sith, it means that they have returned and this darkness is coming with them. We must be prepared!”

The Council was quiet for a time after Marissa finished. Perhaps she had had the desired effect on them. Mace Windu, instead of sitting forward with an arm resting on his leg and other hand free to motion with, had sat back in his chair. He had even cast his eyes downward as Marissa spoke.

“Many truths you have spoken.” Yoda finally broke the silence. “Yet one thing remains: The Jinsai. Are they so ready? To join with us, their ideals they must leave behind.”

“An exception could be made.” Marissa answered. “The Cerean Jedi are allowed to maintain relationships with their family-”

“The Cerean species needs that exception, for the whole of the species.” Master Plo Koon interrupted with his electronic-aided voice. “The Commonwealth will not fall into endangerment because a Force-user from there cannot procreate.”

“Master Strykia… Marissa-” Adi Gallia spoke up. “-The Council would like nothing more than to see a unified front from all who serve the Light. But there has to be some give here. The Jinsai, especially the non-Force-sensitives, can maintain the customs and traditions of their forbearers. The ones able to use the Force would have to adopt the practices and codes of the Jedi, although I think they would also be able to still study and practice some of the traditions that do not conflict with our Order’s ways.”

“Perhaps you are right, Master Gallia.” Marissa nearly let her shoulders slump, knowing she was trying to move an immovable wall. “The current Jinsai will not be willing to give up their ways, myself included. Perhaps there is a crossroads, though. A juncture in which everyone could benefit and it could set the precedent for the future.”

It was time to play her “Ace in the hole.” Marissa continued on. “My youngest son and daughter are both gifted in the Force. Perhaps we can pave the way for a new era by having them cross-train, maintaining a code close to the Jedi and that of the Jinsai.”

Marissa watched as each member of the Council turned to look at one and other, surprise on their faces. She knew she had “hooked them,” as Dontaine was also fond of saying.

“It would be a way to begin bridging our differences.” Marissa added. “It could eventually lead to exactly what I propose, all the while strengthening our Orders.”

“This is something that we must discuss and meditate on.” Windu responded.

*****

Back at the Senatorial apartment, Marissa stood, discussing the events that had taken place with the Jinsai Tribunal via the holonet. There was definite tension with the Tribunes of the Jinsai Order as they listened to Marissa’s report. The holo images of the Tribunes wavered here and there as they listened. There was concern on each one of their faces.

“The Jedi are unmoving in their stance on the subject.” Marissa concluded.

“I should have guessed that the Jedi wouldn’t budge.” Replied Jinsai Tribune Siras Vypress. “Allied we might be, but philosophically, we are night and day.”

Wynd, you do know that the people of the Commonwealth will begin saying the same thing as others in the galaxy if this comes to pass as you want it?” Spoke the second Tribune, Jinsai Master Korin Rystell, addressing Marissa by her Jinsai honor name. “We will be lumped in with them too. We'll be baby snatchers.”

“I know what is at stake, Tribunes.” Marissa replied. “This is important, though. This is something that has to happen for the greater good. For the protection of everyone and everything.”

“You're referring to the Desmora texts, aren't you?” Siras implied.

“Yes.” Marissa didn’t hide what she believed. She couldn't have answered in any other way, though. Her Jinsai oaths prevented her from speaking untrue words.

“Marissa… You know that you have the full backing of the Tribunal and the Clans.” The Tribune and fellow Gai’din, Master Syrria Fendrin, said. “I know you believe that the Prophecy is upon us, but not everyone agrees. You are right, though. This merger would be for the greater good.”

“I did use the offer of cross-training the twins, Graydon and Allyson, as we discussed.” Marissa said. “Perhaps it will buy us some time to approach this matter from a different, more influencing angle.”

“And perhaps the Jedi are too stuck in their ways to be able to move.” Came the voice of Dontaine from behind Marissa. She had forgotten that he was sitting behind her as she addressed the Tribunes. “Is it really any wonder why there are no other major factions of Force-users in the galaxy? The Jedi have smothered them into oblivion because they see their way as the only way.”

“Dontaine!” Marissa quickly turned, scolding her son and her apprentice.

“I can't say that I disagree with him, Marissa.” Master Rystell added.

“No, mother.” Dontaine continued. “The Jedi seek to bend everyone that comes near their Order into what they deem as right. The Jinsai Order has survived just as long as they have, using different principles and fighting for the same cause. Now you want to ‘sacrifice’ our own blood, my brother and sister, to let the Jedi have their way.”

Marissa rounded on the young Jinsai apprentice. “No! Graydon and Allyson will still serve the Force, regardless if they are Jedi or Jinsai. They will still be your brother and sister! There is more at stake than factions and ideologies!”

“We are at an impasse.” Master Vypress interjected. “It is obvious that there is division among the Jinsai on our course of action. This must be convened until we can all sit down and come to an agreement. The High Lord is recalling all available Jinsai anyway. You are to return to Antrixies to address an urgent matter. When you return, we will call for the masters and the clan leaders to meet and discuss this further.”

*****

It had been three years since that day on Coruscant when Dontaine had openly spoke against Marissa. That day had weighed heavily on her for some time. She had felt the wedge beginning to drive between them that day. As the first year progressed, that wedge was driven deeper.

It wasn’t that Dontaine was in full rebellion against his Jinsai master and his mother. It was more the fact that the young Jinsai wasn’t a boy anymore. He was maturing and he was forming his own moral compass that would lead him. Dontaine was becoming a person that was defined by his words and actions, independent from the lead of his master and family.

Marissa hoped his independence would serve him well. After all, Dontaine was marked to become the next High Lord of the Commonwealth, when Artur stepped down or left the mortal coils of the galaxy.

Her heart was heavy for many reasons, not just this one, though. She knew that an event was going to happen soon which might fracture her family. The Calhazar on Odia was going to occur and with it, some members of the Jedi council would be visiting. It was going to be a time when the twins would be tested and a determination would be made if they were to be the bridge that would eventually join the Jinsai and the Jedi. Another event was about to occur that would test the bonds of blood between brothers.

It would also be where the announcement of Dontaine’s future with the Jinsai would be made public. She had kept it from him and she hoped that one day he would understand. This was for the best, she kept telling herself.

Oh, how she wished she’d gotten more answers, years ago, when she visited the old lady in the hills of Relka.

*****

The hills of Relka were considered back country, unusual for one of the more prominent worlds of the Relkan Sector. The Tragaren Hills carried the myths of being haunted, although these tales were usually reserved for scaring children. The one local legend that had persisted for many years was that the hills were haunted by a crazy old crone that lives there. Juryssa Listor.

Juryssa was labeled a witch by the young of Relka. The tales of her eating babies and wearing the skins of brave Jinsai that had ventured into the hills to vanquish her had persisted since Juryssa had moved to the remote location to escape the hustle and bustle of the cities on Relka. Many young from the surrounding area had made the journey to see Juryssa over the years. It was considered a “coming of age” for the young, especially those initiated into the Jinsai Order. There were even Jinsai masters that brought their apprentices here to take on the task. People from all over the Commonwealth knew of the Old Crone in the Tragaren Hills.

On this day, Juryssa sat in the entrance of her hovel, watching down the hill, towards the stream that ran through the valley below her dwelling. She knew that today was the day. Events were going to be set in motion on this day that could not be reversed. She watched the path that led down to the water, waiting for the visitor that she had seen in the dream to come.

After about three hours, the sun had slid past its high point in the sky and was starting on its decent towards the horizon. Juryssa had nibbled at a small morsel of bread for her midday meal, too intent on what was going to happen today to prepare any more sustenance. She strained her eyes, gazing at the trees across the stream. She swore that she had heard voices.

After a few minutes, four figures emerged from the trees on the edge of the stream. Four girls, ranging in age from eleven to fourteen. Hair of blonde, red and brown fluttered in the breeze as the young girls crossed at a shallow point in the stream. Juryssa watched, waiting.

Leading the way was Marissa Damodred. Her light brown hair tousled by the breeze that ran through the open ground, away from the trees. Behind her walked Jeanie Whynn, a redhead the same age as Marissa. Behind them, bringing up the rear of the group were Darie Chennal and Marissa’s younger sister, Anise.

“I’m starting to get a bad feeling again, Mar.” Anise called ahead to her sister.

“It’s not the Force, it’s your nerves.” Marissa responded.

“Yeah. Quit being a baby, Anise.” Jeanie added.

“No it’s not. It’s the Force. And maybe you’d like to come back here and say that again, Jean.” Anise said with defiance thick in her voice.

“Both of you stop it.” Marissa said as she came to a stop at the start of the path up the hill. “Look. There she is. The old crone.” Marissa pointed up the hill.

The other three girls came up to cluster around Marissa as she looked up the hill, seeing Juryssa standing in the doorway of her hovel, watching them. Marissa felt a strange tickle in the back of her mind, a tug of some memory or dream long forgotten.

“Don’t go up there.” Anise said in a hoarse voice. “I don’t like this.”

“I’m going. All the old stories are just cradle tales meant to scare us and make us behave.” Marissa stated. “This is my coming of age. I’m going to do this.”

“If she eats you, I’m not sticking around to let her have a second helping of Antrixian meat.” Darie said, shakily.

“I’m going up.” Marissa stated. Taking a deep breath, the young teen lifted her head and took a slow step forward. It was the same stubbornness and determination that would serve Marissa in her adult life that filled her. She had set out on a path, determined to finish the task she had started.

Juryssa watched the tallest of the girls, the one that appeared to be leading the small group take a step forward. The girl lifted her head, almost defiantly, as she started up the path to the small hovel, sitting atop the hill. The teen’s pace quickened to a steady gait as she walked forward. Juryssa smiled to herself. This was the visitor she had dreamed of. It was time to prepare.

Juryssa slowly turned, stepping inside her small, one-room, home. Going to the small table, she slowly sat down, feeling the pain in her joints more today than she did on most days. Her age was definitely beginning to reveal itself.

For over one hundred years, Juryssa had lived in seclusion within the Margaren Hills of Relka, away from people and technology. The century before that had been one of mystery and celebrity for Juryssa. She had enjoyed being a fortune teller of sort during that time. Ever since she had failed to gain acceptance into the Jinsai Order, Juryssa had turned her gift for the future into profit. She could sense the Force, but she couldn’t always manage it the way others, especially the Gai’din or the Jedi, did. Her mother use to tell her she was the last of a dying breed. Individuals that lived with abilities in the Force, or Gai, as she had called it, that could do things that normal people couldn’t. There were seers, wofven callers, and trackers, all able to do things above mortal men. But the blood had grown weak, her mother had said. Juryssa remembered her mother saying that she was going to be the last of her kind. After Juryssa, the bloodlines that had these gifts would come to an end. That was the first time that Juryssa had dreamt of the man with the bright blue glow in his eyes. He pushed the shadows away, and because of him, the old blood would return. She wouldn’t be the last one, as her mother had said.

Her visions came and went. Sometimes, when she focused hard enough, she could get them to come. Other times, the visions came all on their own, without her even trying. If she didn’t calm herself or got overtly excited about trying to have a vision, they went away. When she did have them, each time was accompanied by the feeling of peace, a one-ness with her surroundings. She was able to look at a person and see things that would happen. She was able to see life, death, starts and ends, with occurrences in between.

All day today, she had felt the ground beneath her as if she were an extension of it. She felt the trees brushing the touch of the wind and the animals that lived near her. Today was a day that would prove to be her greatest of all days. She would see the man with the blue glow and connect all her other visions with it.

“Greetings, young wolf. Please come in. I’ve been waiting for you.” Juryssa said as Marissa peered into the woman’s meek dwelling.

“You’ve… You’ve been waiting for me?” Marissa found that her resolve had dissolved rather quickly. So much for the great courage of the Jinsai. It was escaping her at this time. Marissa wondered at how this old hermit woman could know who she was, knowing that her father’s House Sigil bore the image of the Wofven, often called the Wolf by off-worlders.

“Yes. This is a day that has been written many years ago, destined to come to pass.” Juryssa looked up from her small table, taking in the young noble girl as she lightly stepped into the hovel. “Today we will both come away from our meeting with answers.”

“How do you know that’s why I’m here?” Marissa asked as she tried to make herself taller and reaffirm her bravery.

“Every child that has come here for the last one hundred cycles has come to find out if there was glory in their future.” Juryssa motioned to Marissa to sit across the table from her as she spoke. “Some get the answers they seek, although not always what they expect. Others leave laughing, calling foul to the legends others have made about me.”

Juryssa was beginning to feel the telltale signs of a vision coming. This time it was strong, almost completely washing over her, drowning her, taking on a control of its own.

“So, old woman. I have come here on a personal quest to make my transit from child to woman.” Marissa felt her brash, noble bloodline demeanor starting to return. The old crone wasn’t scary after all. “What is my future?” She asked.

“The She-Wolf, mother of our people, you will stand by our guard.” Juryssa attempted to regain a sense of control over herself, but the words coming from her mouth did not feel like her own. She felt as if she was being driven by an outside force. The Force, quite possibly.

“Twice, you will be of the wolf.” The crone continued. “You are to be seated to watch from above. The stars will be easily in your reach as you reach out to those that are the same, yet not of the blood. You will be instrumental before the shadow comes.”

“Shadow? What shadow?” Marissa asked, attempting to interrupt the elderly woman and get some clarification on what she was saying.

“You are both the mother of hope and the harbinger of the darkness. From you will come the steps that start the path of the return. From you, all will be lost and all will be returned. Beware that the ancients wait, but can only be contested by the seven stars. They will put holes in the night, heralding in the light. They will herald in the return. The cost will be high! Oh so high! Walk away now! Go! You are the harbinger of a great darkness!”

It felt like a day had past when Juryssa looked up from the table. The last thing she remembered was motioning the young girl to sit across from her. She had looked down to attempt to focus herself. Now, the vision was gone, along with the girl.

*****

Twenty years had gone by since Marissa had rushed out of the hovel in the Margaren Hills on Relka. Sometimes she wished she’d never been there. The visions she’d had since her childhood, coupled with the destiny that the old crone had given her had weighed heavy on her mind off and on for all the years since. Little did she know at the time that it would be another four years before the telling would show to be true. When she had gone to Juryssa, she knew that she was bound to marry the future High Lord of the Antrixian Commonwealth. She and Artur had already had feelings blossoming, partially thanks to Leeto pushing at both of them. If it hadn’t been for Leeto helping kindle the young feelings of love, Marissa and Artur might be on separate paths in life. Marissa was happy things didn’t go the other way.

Marissa’s father, Duke Harrod Damodred, had made a betrothal agreement with the High Lord at the time, Lord Kayl Strykia. It was customary for the children of the nobles within the Commonwealth to be paired for marriages. It was as much for political reasons as it was for the Commonwealth to maintain sovereignty apart from the rest of the galaxy.

So Marissa had trained with Artur and their individual masters on Odya, home to the Jinsai Citadel. Prodding from Leeto Draydess, Artur’s best friend had pushed them together and helped kindle a relationship above that of their fathers’ marriage agreement. Marissa and Artur had truly fallen in love. They had wed and started a family, with Dontaine being born first.

Kayl had passed on shortly after Dontaine came into the world, making Artur High Lord of the Antrixian Commonwealth. The couple’s second son, Draygan, was born a year later. As the lives of the High Lord and the High Lady consumed them, Marissa and Artur still devoted as much time as they could to their two sons. Ten years passed and then something unexpected happened. Marissa became pregnant with twins.

By then she had risen in rank within the Jinsai to become Consular for their order to the Jedi and the Republic. She had also begun training Dontaine as a Jinsai Gai’din, a Force-sensitive within the Commonwealth’s order. It was similar to a Jedi master training a padawan learner. Even after the twins were born, Marissa maintained her duty to train her eldest son.

The Strykia’s had agreed that Marissa training Dontaine would prepare him for his eventual succession to the High Seat the best. Draygan had received training from Artur in the Jinsai ways, which was traditional with all noble-born. The second oldest Strykia child would soon be going to follow his uncle, High Admiral Edric Strykia, in the Antrixian Defense Force.

Even though things may not be ideal for her family, Marissa felt that everything that was set to happen had to happen. A mother always wants the best for her children. She also wants unity within her family. She had to trust in the Force that things were going to work out and leave her doubt behind.

Marissa looked around her and felt a one-ness within her heart. The telling of darkness could not be true. She had too much that was right for it to turn out bad. Perhaps she should do like Juryssa had said and cry foul about the phony legends that surrounded the old woman.

Here on Odya, things were happening that were cause for celebration. For the first time in twenty years, the Calhazar, or meeting of the Jinsai, was being held on the world that was said to be the headquarters for the Jinsai Order. Not only that, but her whole family was here, not just to watch the games and celebrations, but to honor the 15 Jedi that had come by invitation to watch the Calhazar. Three Jedi, in particular, were here to not only watch the Calhazar and enjoy the festivities, but also to assist in the testing of two potential Jinsai initiates. Those initiates were special, not only because they were to be the youngest initiates into the Jinsai ever, but also because they were Marissa’s children.

The five year old Strykia twins, Graydon and Allyson, rode high on this day. Marissa watched and smiled as Allyson perched on top of her father’s shoulders and Graydon rode his brother’s shoulders. Marissa was proud of her family. Young Draygan stood next to her, talking with her husband’s advisor, Magnus. Draygan was concerned on how well the Shoto fighters held up against the Starfury fighters. Dontaine was too busy tickling his brother, astride on his shoulders, both of them laughing and forgetting about their positions in life, just being big brother and little brother. Allyson was being the perfect public relations ambassador for her father, astride on his shoulders, greeting Jinsai leaders and House nobles with her ever present smile.

Marissa absorbed it all. She could have stood there the entire day, watching her family move about through their actions, enjoying life. It was a good day to be who she was. Very soon, the Jinsai Tribunal would be announcing the results of their testing of the twins. Marissa had faith that both had passed. She did not touch the Force to try and determine the outcome beforehand. This one, she decided, would be a surprise. She left it up to the destiny of the Force.

“Master Strykia?” Came a voice from behind her, which snapped Marissa out of her daydream. It was a deep, masculine voice. Turning, she found a serene Jedi, Master Mace Windu, greeting her.

“Greetings, Master Windu.” Marissa said, giving the Jedi a respectful bow.

“The Jinsai and the Jedi have reached our decisions. Could we have you come in for the results?”

“Yes, of course, Master Windu.” Marissa responded. She went and politely gathered everyone together, coaxing her family inside the pavilion in which Master Windu had returned.

Upon entering, the Strykia entourage faced two groups standing on the dais at the back of the structure erected for the Calhazar. To the left stood the three Jinsai making up the deciding council: the Antrixian Tribune Siras “Stoneheart” Vypress, the Knyden master and Gai’din, Les’sa “Firestar” Drima, and the Antrixian Gai’din Syra “Skyblade” Storme. To the right stood three Jedi Masters, part of the delegation here for the Calhazar: The Human Master Mace Windu, the exotic Human Master Depa Billaba, and the small, wizen Master Yoda. The six gave the family and their household escorts respectful bows as the group entered.

Marissa had coached the whole family on the protocols of this ceremony, even her husband and eldest son who had been through this process themselves. Today was important. It was more than just the acceptance and initiation of the youngest Jinsai in the history of the Commonwealth. Today could prove to be the first time that the Jinsai and the Jedi would agree to mutually train someone from the Commonwealth, bridging the gap between the Jinsai and the Jedi. So today was just as important to Marissa, being the Antrixian liaison to the Jedi, as it would be for Graydon and Allyson.

“Greetings, distinguished and honored guests.” Tribune Vypress spoke. “We the Jinsai and for the first time, representatives of the Jedi, have called you forth in the matter of the pledge for initiation of Graydon and Allyson Strykia. These two children, the first twins born to our society with promise in the Force in over five hundred years, have been sponsored and petitioned to join our ranks. Graydon Strykia and Allyson Strykia, will you and your sponsors step forward.”

The five year-olds, acting far older than their looks or age spoke, stepped to the front of the group, followed by both Dontaine and Marissa. Dontaine, although only sixteen, stepped next to Graydon and spoke first.

“Honored council and honored guests. I, Dontaine Strykia, Gai’din of House Strykia, named “Stormfist” by honor, have pledged to sponsor young Graydon Strykia as Gai’din Jinsai.”

“And I, Lady Marissa Damodred-Strykia, Gai’din of House Damodred and House Strykia, named “Wynd” by honor, have pledged to sponsor young Allyson Strykia as Gai’din Jinsai.” Marissa followed after her son.

“Do the initiates understand what their entry into the fellowship of the honored blades means?” Vypress asked.

“We do.” Both Allyson and Graydon responded. Marissa had to suppress a smile of delight as her youngest children answered.

“This meeting of the Jinsai, held on the honored Calhazar, has found that both children have passed the tests of initiation. Not only that, but due to the honored circumstances that these inductees come to us under, we will bestow names by honor on them at this time. Graydon Strykia, the sheathed weapon that will serve your family true. Welcome, “Blade.” Allyson Strykia, the graceful tool, crafted with care and needing only to be used when needed, will serve your family well. Welcome, “Katana.” This council has rendered our decision.”

Smiles quickly appeared on everyone’s faces, except for the four that stood at the front of the group. Marissa, along with the three children that stood with her, waited as Master Yoda stepped to the front of the Jedi delegation.

“Greatly honored, we are to be here, a part of a great time for your people.” Yoda spoke, his voice gravelly, yet carrying easily through the room. “The Jinsai, strong allies for the Jedi they are. Not in history, has a Jinsai been part of our Order. Today, agreed we have, both the Jinsai and Jedi, to allow these twins to be inducted to both orders. Trained by both Orders, the twins shall be.”

Marissa looked to her youngest son and daughter, smile of pride spreading across her face. Then a realization came to her.

“Master Yoda, if I may?” Marissa said as she took a step forward.

“Jinsai Master Strykia.” Yoda responded. “A question you have?”

“Yes Master Yoda. How is this possible? To be a Jinsai requires the same amount of training that a Jedi requires.” Marissa stated.

“Master Yoda, if I may?” Mace Windu asked as he stepped up next to his companion, Yoda.

“Yes, Master Windu.” Yoda acquiesced.

“The Jedi have conferred with the Jinsai Council on the matter of inducting both of your children into our orders. It has been agreed that these twins,” Mace motioned to Allyson and Graydon “will train in five year increments with both orders, effectively becoming Jinsai and Jedi when they complete their trials.”

“I see. Thank you, Master Windu.” Marissa responded. Turning to address the Jinsai delegates, Marissa voiced her other questions. “My fellow Jinsai: While I am pleased with the outcome of your decisions, I do have some questions concerning my children.”

“What are the answers you seek, Wynd?” Vypress asked.

“Who are the Kyudan that shall train these initiates?”

“You.” Vypress answered, very plainly and as-matter-of-factly.

“But the honored council knows I already have an apprentice. How can this be?” Marissa asked.

“Your son, Dontaine, is to follow your husband to the seat of your House and more importantly, to the High Seat. Because of that, the High Lord and this council reached an accord to have the Gai’din Stormfist begin his next stage of apprenticeship with the fellow Gai’din Thunderheart, Jevan Metheyr. It is hoped that this pairing will help repair some of the rift that lies between your Houses.” Vypress finished.

Marissa looked back to her husband, the High Lord Artur Strykia, finding only a pleasant smile on his face, although he was avoiding making direct eye contact with her. A glance at her oldest son found only a calm, relaxed look. Dontaine caught her glance, to which he gave his mother a smile.

“Are you okay with this, my son?” She asked when he looked in her direction.

“I am.” Dontaine responded. “It’s almost as if this is the will of the Force. I feel energized by the decision and the chance for a new challenge.”

Marissa was mixed in her emotions. Part of her felt overjoyed by the fact that her youngest children would be closer to her than her duties had allowed recently. The twins would be able to travel with her now, especially once they were a little older and further in their training. The prospect of not having them be around for five year increments was disheartening, though. But there was an intrusive feeling in the back of her mind, speaking of a coming darkness. One that had been predicted twenty years beforehand.

The next day had dawned with revelry and celebration. Marissa had moved on, past the flurry of emotions that had coursed through her on the previous day and the events that had occurred. Today, with the twins under the supervision of their aunt and the captain of the Grey Guard, Moraine Strykia, Marissa had time to meet with her contemporaries from the Jedi delegation. Sitting in an open pavilion near the tournament grounds with Master Billaba and Master Yoda, Marissa talked idly about the daily events of the Jinsai’s Calhazar and of the growing tension within the Republic Senate. As their conversation began to wind down, Marissa used the opportunity to ask Yoda about the twins testing.

“Master Yoda, if I might ask, how did the testing of my children go?”

“Strong are they in the Force.” Yoda answered. “Sense in them a great strength, especially when together they are. Sad we are that the wait is so long for them to join us as Jedi. But know we do that the Jinsai will train them just as we would a youngling at the temple.”

“I will guild them just as I was guided and as I have guided my eldest son.” Marissa replied.

“No doubt, have we, that you will. Serves them well already, the training that their mother gave them.” Yoda closed his eyes, almost as if he was steadying himself in the Force. Marissa opened herself up to the Force and sensed some concern that emanated from the small Jedi Master.

“Is there more, Master Yoda? I sense concern from you.”

“Master Windu spoke on the twins. His gift in the Force, given him a puzzle, it has.”

“Master Windu has a rare affinity to see what we Jedi call Shatterpoints. These Shatterpoints may be part of what some would call the Unifying Force, a destiny of sorts. He saw a Shatterpoint with your three children yesterday, especially the twins.” Depa Billaba added.

“Is this troubling?” Marissa asked.

“Meditated I have on this. Connected your children are, as Master Windu saw. But divided I see them. Clouded is the Force. A shadow rising, blanketing it more, it is. Your children, I see growing. A long road I see before them, one with many perils. Dark their future might be.” Yoda answered.

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