It was war.
The Clone Wars had raged on for over three years. The known galaxy had been engulfed in the conflict, leaving almost no planet unaffected. The Galactic Republic and the Confederation of Independent Systems battled back and forth, each vying for a victory that could start bringing about the end of the struggle.
The cost had been high on both sides of the contest. While the Republic had countless worlds to drawn on and the mighty Clone army, the Separatists had numberless droid to throw at their adversaries in battle after battle. The illustrious Jedi Order had taken on the duty of leading many of the Republic’s forces against the Separatists. Because of that, the Jedi lost more and more members of their Order with each battle fought.
In the coreward territories of the Western Reaches, the Jedi had a boon in their allegiance with the Jinsai Order. The Jinsai, a society of warriors that upheld many of the same beliefs as the Jedi, were able to reinforce their contemporaries throughout the Levrian Expanse in the Inner Rim. Among the Jinsai, there were the Jinsai Gai’din, Force-users that were nearly parallel to the Jedi.
The Jinsai hailed from the Antrixian Commonwealth, a sovereign territory of the Republic that was governed by a High Lord and the noble houses of the Antrixian Landsting. The four sectors making up the Commonwealth, in addition to the surrounding areas, gave the Republic a much needed fortress area in which they could resupply and build up. The Jinsai and the Antrixian Defense Force only bolstered the Republic in the Levrian Expanse. It made the Expanse a very difficult target for the Separatists.
The Jinsai and the Jedi had been allies for countless years prior to the Clone Wars. It was during the Engstrom Conflict, many centuries before, that the two orders first came into contact. It was because of that contact and the similarities between the two that the conflict had ended. Since then, the Jinsai had always aided the Jedi when it came to matters that involved the Levrian Expanse.
Before the Clone Wars, the emissary for the Jinsai Order had started a course of action that would have changed the Jinsai and had each future Gai’din train as Jedi. In essence, the Jinsai Order would have been merged into the Jedi Order.
Marissa Strykia was the consular for the Jinsai and the emissary who began the change. In order to achieve the merger, she had been willing to give up the strong family bond with her own Force-sensitive twins. The family bond and attachment had been just one of the things that had always kept the Jinsai separate from the Jedi.
Graydon and Allyson Strykia had been born with strong affinities to the Force. As twins, they shared a bond through the Force that had not been seen in centuries. Their mother also saw that they had great destinies awaiting them, especially for the people of the Antrixian Commonwealth.
It had been agreed upon that the twins would be cross-trained by the Jinsai and the Jedi. That had been before the Clone Wars. Before the twins could begin as Padawan learners, the conflict had pulled them from Coruscant, back to Antrixies, where their studies were focused back towards the Jinsai.
Even during the conflict, both orders attempted to keep the agreement alive by sending Jedi into the Commonwealth to oversee their apprenticeship. Marissa had initially overseen the Jinsai side of their early training, but after surpassing expectations during their brief time with the Jedi and then with her, if was decided that each twin must have an individual master.
Jedi Master Bron Holcom headed up the Jedi detachment that was sent to the Commonwealth, along with the Republic strike force that operated within the Levrian Expanse to combat the CIS operations in the Jaso Sector. With Bron came two younger Jedi Knights, assigned to take on Graydon and Allyson as padawans, while working alongside their new Jinsai masters. Bron and Marissa oversaw every part of the training in a coordinated effort.
Regardless of their training, the twins were still the children of the High Lord. Despite the Jedi code forbidding emotional attachments, the war allowed some leeway into how the twins operated as royalty. The argument was that Dooku had kept his family attachments, even as a Jedi, which allowed him to inherit his title, estate, and the power that backed him in the CIS. Both the Jinsai and the Jedi would worry about the details once the war was over.
Because of their status, Graydon and Allyson were kept away from the front lines, even as they began progressing into their individual training. There were plenty of other matters that needed attending to that would put their training to work in the field. Escorting refugees and overseeing supply lines deep in friendly territory saw the budding teen twins working for the people of the Commonwealth and the Republic. Rarely were they in harm’s way. They also needed to learn the fine art of diplomacy from tutored hands.
The Grand Festival corresponded with the New Year Feat Week. It meant a great deal to the people of the Commonwealth as a chance to celebrate the passing of yet another year. It was declared that despite the war, this Grand Festival would be bigger and more celebratory than most could remember. With the celebration came the High Lord’s Gala, an event for all the major and lesser houses of the Landsting to come to Antrixies and celebrate.
For the propaganda efforts, the twins had to look their best and attend. Their masters would be there too, showing just how united the Commonwealth was with the Republic. It meant that their simple robes and clothing wouldn’t be appropriate. Graydon and Allyson had to look the part of the High Lord’s children, along with being celebrities within the Commonwealth.
Graydon fidgeted as he stood in front of the mirrors in the High Lord’s palace. The room used to be his Aunt Shanna’s room and looked far more regal than he felt. The gilded walls and fixtures were too opulent for him. Graydon, even at thirteen, preferred simple and useful. Now, having to be fitted into a tailored uniform made him feel even more uncomfortable.
The palace tailor worked on the hem of his pants as Graydon let out a long sigh. He wasn’t just uncomfortable, he was also feeling frustrated. The Gala wasn’t where he needed to be. Graydon wanted to be studying or training. Public Relations was not in his vocabulary.
Graydon glanced over at his Jedi and Jinsai masters, respectively. Both of them had amused smirks on their faces. The flash of the blue glow in Graydon’s eyes let them know that he wasn’t in the mood for their humor.
Rennar Stanrich, the Jinsai Gai’din known by the honor name Flintheart, spoke up first. “Come now, Blade.” Rennar said casually, addressing Graydon by his Jinsai name. “You’re going to look simply dashing.”
While Rennar may have been trying to use humor to deflect Graydon’s serious-ness, it didn’t work. If anything, Graydon’s look turned into a glare. It was Glann Atllin’s turn to try and get Graydon to loosen up.
“Graydon.” Glann began. “I know you are uncomfortable. But I also know that you know how important tonight will be to the Commonwealth and the Republic. Not to mention the Orders. You and your sister are in the spotlight, regardless if you like it or not. And because of that, you have a responsibility to serve anyway that may be required. Unfortunately, this is required.”
The Jedi’s logic hit Graydon right in the moral stomach. He cast his eyes downward, knowing that his master was right. Graydon’s sense of duty was always his biggest weakness. Glann gave Rennar a gentle nudge with his elbow. It was a bit of a contest sometimes, the Jedi and Jinsai masters trying to show that they could train and keep the young apprentice in line better than the other.
“You’re both right. In a way.” Graydon finally said, although there was still some frustration in his voice. “I have to do this but I don’t have to like it.”
Despite Glann trying to be serious and Rennar being flippant about the situation, the two masters began laughing as Graydon finished speaking. A half-cocked smirk appeared on Graydon’s face and soon he was laughing with his Jedi and Jinsai masters. That made the fitting a little more tolerable.
Entrance to the Gala had been a nightmare for Graydon. The walk up the aisle with throngs of people lining either side caused him to feel embarrassed. He never liked being in the spotlight. He preferred simple over elegant. It was one of the things that had him so endeared towards the Jedi and Jinsai masters of both orders. Graydon forsook material gain and possessions over knowledge.
Once inside, Graydon still had to endure the introductions to countless dignitaries and military officials present. He searched in vain, looking for his eldest brother, Dontaine, hoping that the older Strykia could whisk him away from the mass of public displays for a chance to sit down and talk like normal people. Dontaine was nowhere to be found. Draygan wasn’t around either. That left him standing next to his mother and Allyson. He noted that Allie looked just as uncomfortable as he did.
It seemed like an eternity was passing before Graydon finally saw a way out. Near the stairs that led to the balcony, next to the foyer entrance, Graydon saw Shasharra Draydess. Their eyes met from across the room. With a quick motion that definitely spoke of Jinsai training, Shasharra beckoned to Graydon to follow her.
It was one of the rare times when Graydon felt like he didn’t have control over himself. He was entering manhood and he took notice of girls more than ever. He was a handsome teen too, so the girls also took note of him. Having hit a growth spurt, Graydon was finally taller than his sister and beginning to broaden across the shoulders. His once unruly brown hair seemed to have finally found its place on his head and his features were starting to change into the man he was set to become.
Graydon had taken his training very seriously and was more athletic than most teens his age. Coupled with his Jinsai and Jedi conditioning, Graydon looked older and was built bigger than his contemporaries. It was probably part of the reason why girls his age took notice of him.
Girls made him go off kilter though. Graydon was always polite, but never forward. Girls, on the other hand, seemed to be forward with him. Rennar said that they simply wanted to “steal a kiss from the handsome young prince.”
His cousin Therryn said that girls caused Graydon’s stabilizers to bust loose. There was one girl that he was comfortable with, but still nervous around. Shasharra.
Shortly after she was born and before the agreement for Graydon to be trained as a Jinsai and Jedi was made, Graydon’s father had arranged a marriage agreement with Shasharra’s father. It was no secret that Artur Strykia and Leeto Draydess had been lifelong friends. The Draydess family and the Graydon’s family were often so intertwined that they were practically one family already. So it was no surprise that the two men would want their children to cement the relationship between the two families.
Graydon and Shasharra were betrothed to each other. Even though it was an arranged marriage, the two youth felt at home around each other. They were close. One might say that Graydon was just as close to Shar as he was to Allyson. There was chemistry there.
Despite the Jedi’s rejections of attachments, Graydon had some leeway. When he was ready to take the trials, either as a Jedi or a Jinsai, he could choose to go with one order over the other. It was because of this choice that Marissa encouraged Graydon to remain close to Shar. If Graydon chose to stay with the Commonwealth and the Jinsai, then he would be set to marry and go on to serve Dontaine in some capacity when the elder Strykia child rose to the High Seat. In some ways, Graydon thought that his mother, Marissa, saw that Shar and he had a relationship that was akin to when Marissa and Artur were betrothed.
So now, at the Gala, Graydon gave Shar a slight nod, acknowledging her signal. He then politely excused himself from the reception line. Allyson eyed him warily as Graydon pushed through the crowd and disappeared up the stairway across from where he had been standing.
There was always some type of competition between the twins. This one turned out to be who could get away from their obligations at the Gala first. Graydon had won.
Graydon flew up the stairs as fast as he could. He was eager to get away from the handshakes, salutes, and bows. On the landing, he looked both ways across the wrapping balcony before he spotted Shar leaning against the railing, watching the spectacle below her. He centered himself as best he could and started towards her.
It had been a while since Graydon had seen Shasharra. Now that they weren’t engaged in some type of childhood play or Jinsai training, he had a chance to see that she was changing into a woman. It caught him off guard a bit, seeing her in a new light. This caused a lump in his throat and broke his calm. The nerves came back.
That stabilizer had broken loose again.
Sharsharra Draydess was already a pretty girl, even at thirteen. It showed that she would grow up to be a breathtaking woman. Her beauty paralleled her mother’s, who was said to be one of the loveliest females within the Commonwealth. Shar had long, dark hair and piercing blue eyes that contrasted with the fiery red glow that her Antrixian biology produced when she was emotionally charged. Shar’s smile was also endearing and beautiful. Some might say that Dontaine’s betrothed, Fara, was the most fair within the Commonwealth, but right then, Graydon found it hard not to think that Shasharra was.
He nervously took a mirrored stance next to her, leaning on the rail and doing everything he could to look away from her and watch the events happening below them. His training was failing him, though. He couldn’t help not stealing glances at her as they stood there.
“What a show of pompous asses.” Shar finally broke the silence between them.
Graydon was glad for the distraction of her words. “Our parents are down there.”
“Oh, I know.” Shar snorted. “I wasn’t referring to them. But everyone else down there is here to show off and rub elbows. Republic officers. Nobles from the other houses. Even our military officers!”
“It’s politics, Shar.” Graydon responded.
“I know it is.” Shar replied back. “Haven’t you ever gotten sick of it? I know I have. We’ve grown up around this our whole lives. We’ve watched nobles from almost every bloodline play the ‘Game of Houses’ around our fathers. It gets old.”
“I guess I’ve had my training to distract me from most of it.”
“It’s times like this when I watch these displays and think that I want to run away and live a normal life somewhere else.” Shar said. “Don’t you?”
“My life can be pretty simple.” Graydon answered. “I train, go with Master Atllin or Master Stenrich, or study with my mom. There’s not a lot of time for politics in that.”
“I envy that.” Shar said, giving Graydon a gentle nudge to the shoulder. “Still, don’t you ever wonder what life would be like outside the Commonwealth?”
“Right now?” Graydon asked back. “Not so great. The Seps have the Republic in chaos. The whole war has everything in chaos. This, right here, is as close to normal as you can get when you try to get away from the war.”
“Ah-ha. There’s the Jedi talking.” Shar said, giving Graydon a wide smile.
“No, it’s not.”
“Could have fooled me.” Shar snorted. “Sounded like you drank the blue milk coming out of Coruscant for a second there.”
“It’s not propaganda, Shar. It’s the truth.” Graydon tried to be serious. “And it sounds like you’re siding with some of the opposition within the Jinsai ranks. Why are we being so resistant about merging with the Jedi?”
“Now you sound like your mom.” Shar had drawn back a bit, taking on a different tone. “I know, I’m just a kid in a lot of eyes still, but I have my opinion. You Gai’din will get to run off and play hero and savior if this merger goes through. The ones that can’t use the Force will be merged into the ADF and all but forgotten.”
“So you’re saying that the Jinsai will fade into obscurity?” Graydon was serious in his question.
He’d never really thought about it. For Graydon, training to be a Jedi Knight or a Jinsai Gai’din was all about serving the Force. He’d never really thought about the social ramifications of merging the two orders into one. Citizens of the Commonwealth tended to be very traditional in their ways. The Jinsai Order as a whole was no different. Without the Gai’din within the Jinsai, helping define them by upholding the traditions that had stood for thousands of years, they would be nothing more than a specially trained military unit of another Republic territory.
“Shasharra, listen.” Graydon turned towards her. “I haven’t accepted the Jedi as my path yet. If I have any say in it, the Jinsai will never fade away. They are too much of who we are. The Jinsai are too much of what the Commonwealth is. That includes the Gai’din. The Jinsai will never go away.”
“I hope you’re right, Gray.” Sharsharra said in return. “I really hope you’re right.”
“I will never let that happen. Especially for you.”
It was probably the first time that Graydon had ever said something that pertained to his future with Shasharra included in it. His words had an immediate effect on the young girl. Her eyes flared with their brilliant red glow. She locked eyes with Graydon at that point.
That gaze was more than anything that had come before, for both of the young Antrixians. As nervous and as unsure as Graydon could be around girls, his words had had an effect on the teenaged Shasharra that went beyond a crush or star-struck awe. There was admiration and passion there. There was a fire being kindled in Shar’s heart that was blooming into more than just a marriage agreement. She would truly love Graydon and follow him just because.
Shar’s gaze had Graydon frozen in time. The disturbance he felt wasn’t emanating through the Force. It was the internal feeling a person has when there’s passion and desire between two people. Her look transmitted all of that. It was a look that was different than anything he’d ever experienced. When she leaned in and kissed him on the lips, he nearly jumped into orbit. If she hadn’t gently placed her hands on his shoulders, he may have achieved the upper atmosphere.
He closed his eyes and went with it. Allyson had told him that’s exactly what he needed to do when the moment happened. His sister might have been his biggest rival, but she was also his biggest support when it came to being sociable.
Down on the reception line, Allyson was watching the events unfold. She had been since Graydon had excused himself. At first she was mad at her twin for bowing out of the obligatory duties that she had to suffer through. Once she saw that he was with Shasharra, she quickly hoped that her brother’s intended would at least make Graydon hold hands.
Allyson almost blurted out a “Yes!” as she watched Shasharra lean into Graydon and kiss him. She was completely absorbed in watching the balcony, ignoring her mother and father as they greeted nobles from the other houses of the Landsting. Perhaps it was no secret that Allyson was on Team Shasharra when it came to Graydon.
Shasharra was like a sister to her. Despite Graydon and Shasharra being promised to wed, Allyson had always gotten along with Shar quite well. Even if there were long periods where the two girls didn’t see each other, they were always able to pick up their friendship as if there was no interruption when they finally reunited.
It would be years before Allyson realized that she wanted her friend as a sister. What better way to make that happen than by having your brother marry her. Shar would be part of the family then if that were able to happen.
Allyson was caught up in her thoughts as she witnessed the kiss. She was so caught up in her daydream that she didn’t realize the slight commotion that happened next. It was Marissa touching her shoulder that broke her away from her thoughts and back to reality.
Allyson quickly looked at her mother, immediately noticing that Shar’s father, Leeto Draydess and several ADF officers had converged around the Strykia family. Her Jinsai and Jedi masters were also hastily coming towards her.
“We have to go.” Marissa said, trying to remain calm.
“What is it, mother?” Allyson quickly asked.
“There’s been an attack.”
For three months, the twins had been holed up within the High Lord’s palace on Antrixies. Even with a Jedi Knight and a Jinsai Kyudan present, both Graydon and Allyson were under the escort of the Grey Guard at all times. They had access to the palace, but nowhere else.
The night of the Gala might have been a fateful one indeed. A great many things had occurred. Graydon had truly won Shasharra’s heart. It was because he spoke to her and let her know that she was important to him. He had let her know that despite everything happening with his life, he was still an Antrixian and a Jinsai. He had essentially promised to make sure she would remain important throughout his life as long as he was able.
It was also the night that the revelations of betrayal came to light. There were three and they would shake the very foundation of the Commonwealth with repercussions. The revelations would be the start of the very thing that Marissa had feared for so long.
Eight years prior to the night of the Gala, Draygan Strykia had bested his brother in the High Lord’s Tournament on Odya. That day, Draygan had also made his true intentions towards Fara Corisso known. When Draygan gave the ceremonial Warblade to Fara, it was because he loved her. It wasn’t an act of trying to honor Dontaine even after Draygan had beaten him fairly. Draygan and Fara had connected on a level that stories were written about. They had fallen in love despite the fact that Fara was betrothed to Dontaine.
The week before the Gala, Fara had secreted away with Draygan to Knydia. There, they had been wed. It was a legal and binding ceremony. There was no reversing it without political ramifications and an affront to the honor of House Strykia and House Corisso.
Three days before the Gala, Artur Strykia, the High Lord of the Antrixian Commonwealth, had found out what his second son had done. Artur had two choices. He could strip Draygan of the family name and exile him, taking his son’s rights away or he could null the marriage arrangement with House Corisso and House Strykia. Artur knew that he’d have to have House Strykia pay amends to House Corisso and that the effects would last for years if he voided the agreement. The compassionate man that he was wouldn’t allow him to send his son away.
Artur nulled the marriage arrangement, quickly bringing about political heat within the Landsting. Another factor in everything was that Draygan had been betrothed to Jehna Metheyr. By dissolving the agreement with House Corisso and allowing Draygan and Fara to remain married, the agreement with House Metheyr also became void.
Two days before the Gala, Dontaine Strykia had learned of his brother’s betrayal. A young man that was already being tempted by dark influences learned that his own flesh and blood had stolen away the girl of his dreams. Fara was set to be Dontaine’s High Lady someday.
The problem that Fara had had with that was that Dontaine treated her more like an object than a person. He objectified her by saying he was set to marry the most beautiful woman in the Commonwealth. Draygan treated her like she was a person, not an object to be had. And it was all true. Dontaine viewed Fara as a trophy because of his position. He felt that he had a right to marry her because she was a lovely young woman and he was going to be High Lord.
Like a spoiled child, Dontaine lashed out when he heard the news. He allowed dark thoughts to overtake him. He allowed the Dark side to take a foothold within his being.
Master Metheyr and Dontaine had been on Ibera, finishing up a campaign against the Separatists on the Commonwealth world. An agent of the Separatists had given Dontaine the news, along with enough evidence to convince the young Strykia that it was true. The Separatist allied Vian was cornered and about to be slain when he told Dontaine. The Vian had had nothing to lose at that point.
Through the Force, Dontaine knew. Somehow he could feel the shift in his family, some light years away. Perhaps Master Metheyr knew also. That was probably why Dontaine murdered his master on Ibera. The Vian was slain also.
Dontaine fled Ibera, yet somehow he didn’t go to Antrixies, looking for his brother. Instead, Dontaine went to Kaarja, the seat of House Corisso within the Commonwealth. On Kaarja, Dontaine found Baron Corisso and Baron Metheyr. From there, Dontaine led a military detachment of the two major Houses and their supporting lesser Houses to Landris, the homeworld of House Strykia.
For the past three months, the Antrixian Landsting had been broken and divided. The Houses of Metheyr, Corisso, and Xingus had rallied behind Dontaine, warring against the Houses of Strykia, Draydess, Fendrin, and Lexander. The other seven major Houses had closed off their worlds and were attempting to stay neutral.
The Antrixian Civil War was the first internal conflict within the Commonwealth in over five thousand years. No one ever thought that a threat to the Commonwealth would come from within. Tales of the War of Shadows were just that: tales. Despite the Clone Wars raging on, the Commonwealth now had to turn inward, hoping to preserve and survive.
“Is the recorder working now, F3?” Tatiana Zem asked as she stepped in front of the holo recorder of the astromech droid, R2-F3.
R2-F3 tweeted an affirmative. The droid rocked forward and back ever so slightly, giving its version of a nod.
“Good.” Tatiana smiled at the small droid.
The tall, lithe Jedi Knight took a moment to straighten her tunic, adjust her utility belt, and brush her hair back out of her face. Her long, copper-colored hair was one of the traits she was best known by. It contrasted with her dark skin, but made the Jedi that much more exotic. Most men that met her found her attractive, but Tatiana had long ago given herself over to tenant of the Jedi code forbidding romantic relationships. She didn’t have time for a relationship. Especially while training her young Padawan.
“Becca, in the event that something should happen to me, I’m making this recording to be stored within your astromech, F3.” Tatiana began. “The Clone Wars are taking a serious toll on the Jedi Order and at any moment, we may be called upon by the Force to make the ultimate sacrifice in the defense of others. In defense of the innocent people of the Republic. It is our mandate. We are the guardians of peace and justice within the Republic or anywhere else in the galaxy where evil may arise.
You are progressing along in your training and one day soon, you will be taking the trials to become a full-fledged Jedi Knight. When that day comes, I want you to be confident in yourself that you are taking the trials because you have succeeded in your training. Do not doubt yourself. Doubt is a path to the Dark side. Seek out your inner peace and listen to the Force. Remember that it is all around you. The Force is your guide and will serve your needs, if the Force wills it.
Should something happen to me, I want you to seek out my former master, Master Verkaik. He will be able to take you back to Coruscant and petition the Council to either allow you to take the Trials or find a new master to finish your training. You have grown so much, my young Padawan. My service to the Force now extends through you. Be mindful of your surroundings. Be mindful of your actions. Listen to the Force. It will guide you when all else seems lost.”
Tatiana stopped and looked up, as if seeing something far away. Letting out a soft sigh, she looked back into the recording receptor.
“That’s all, F3. You can stop now.” Tatiana said.
R2-F3 tweeted back a response, its holorecorder dimming.
“Thank you for doing this, little droid.” Tatiana smiled at F3. “Store the file away and remember to deliver it to Becca should something happen to me. Secure it with the password ‘blonde hair, green eyes, and blue Lightsaber,’ F3.”
F3 twittered an affirmative.
Two Actis-class Interceptor fighters streaked in towards the growing sphere of the murky planet, Barab I. The red dwarf star of Barab was cool and easy to look at, even though it blanketed the daytime side of Barab I in deadly ultra-violet radiation.
“This doesn’t look so bad, F3.” Becca said as she watched Barab I increasing in size as they approached.
R2-F3 beeped a worried response back.
“Happy beeps, F3! We’ll be fine.” Becca responded, looking at the computer readout screen to confirm what the astromech droid had said. “Think of it this way: We can work on our tans.”
“Remember that this planet is full of danger, Becca.” Came the voice of Tatiana Zem over the comm. from the other Interceptor. “Just because there are no Separatists here doesn’t mean that the planet is safer than any other. This will be a true test of your survival skills, not to mention your abilities in the Force.”
“I remember, master.” Becca responded. “I was just trying to reassure F3.”
“I’m sure F3 and F4 can take care of themselves here.” Tatiana said in return. “It’s us that will be put to the test.”
“Why here, though?”
Tatiana was quiet for a moment before responding. “Master Noga-ta forged a treaty with the Barabels here nearly nine hundred years ago. Since then, they have a deep reverence for the Jedi and will be sure to welcome us. Their world is the perfect survival training location for you. Plus, since most traffic avoids the planet, we can look forward to no interruptions.”
“This sounds exciting.” The sarcasm was heavy in Becca’s response.
“It’s not meant to be a vacation, Becca.” Tatiana scolded at first and then changed her tone. “But this will keep us off the frontlines for a week or two. Let’s separate from our booster rings and put them in a geo-synchronous orbit. We can then land on the night side.”
“I’m following your lead, master.” Becca replied. “F3, you heard the lady. Set the booster ring up to hold an orbit with Master Zem’s booster.”
Tatiana checked her chronometer quick as she quietly followed the blonde human, Becca through a crevice in the hillside. She noted that they still had plenty of time until the sun began to rise, turning Barab I into an irradiated nightmare.
After they had received the report from the Barabel, Farvikk, of the hunting party that had been ambushed, Tatiana and Becca had set out. Farvikk had said that he thought that the creature that had attacked the Barabel hunters could be heading towards a cave entrance that led to the village of Berrelek in the Listian Hills. If the creature entered the cave, it could threaten the village.
Becca had found the trail of the creature with ease. It turned out to be a huge Durgolosk, one of the most dangerous animals on Barab I. After careful consideration, Tatiana had decided that in order to protect the natives, the creature must be dealt with. After tracking it for an hour, the pair of Jedi had finally come upon the beast.
The Durgolosk was huge, with six legs and two short arms. Its brown and white striped hide looked tough. That wasn’t what worried Tatiana though. It was the tentacles that grew from the arms, containing strong venom, along with the saw-like teeth. Both Becca and Tatiana knew that the Durgolosk was a keen hunter with sharp vision and an even sharper sense of smell. Those six eyes could see them in the light of day or the dark of night.
Becca drew to a stop, crouching behind a boulder. Tatiana stopped also, taking cover behind an outcropping not far from Becca. They could both hear the mighty creature sniffing the air in front of their position. Farvikk had been right. The Durgolosk was meters away from the entrance to Berrelek. Tatiana knew that the creature didn’t care what its prey was and that it would enter the cave entrance in search of Barabel flesh if it could. It was enough of a concern that Tatiana had chosen to still the beast.
Becca caught her master’s eye and awaited a signal. Tatiana nodded towards her. This would be a test of her Padawan’s skills, but Tatiana didn’t doubt Becca’s abilities. She felt the Force surge within Becca, even before the young Human leaped from cover in a Force-assisted jump.
Her springing leap carried Becca clear of the boulder and over the Durgolosk, putting her in front of the huge beast. Even before she landed, her two Lightsabers came alive with the telltale snap-hiss. The blue blades showed bright in the darkness of Barab I, momentarily dazzling the creature. Becca assumed a high guard stance with one saber while she held the other in the reverse grip, back guard.
The Durgolosk let out a roar as it moved to attack what it considered to be prey now standing before it. It saw Becca as a threat, having surprised it, but also as something edible. As it lunged forward, the Durgolosk whipped one of its tentacles towards Becca’s mid-section. Becca had anticipated this and spun, deflecting the tentacle with her rear saber, yet keeping her other one held high. It was beneficial that she had done this because the first attack was followed by the second tentacle, targeting Becca’s head.
A slight parry from both sabers sliced the tentacles in half. The severed ends fell harmlessly to the rocks on either side of Becca. The Durgolosk howled in pain and anger, lunging again. This time, it meant to bite Becca. Becca leaped backwards, into an aerial somersault that avoided the beast. She was now clear of the creature and assumed a stance with one saber held high and the other low. The creature fixed three of its eyes on Becca.
With a mighty roar, it charged again. Becca stood ready, preparing to strike and side-step. Just as she was about to move, Becca faltered. Suddenly, she was awash in a disturbance that nearly sent her to her knees. Through the Force, she felt pain and peril. The feelings of death and betrayal accompanied the other feelings. Becca’s instincts were the only thing that saved her from the attack while she was submerged in the ominous feelings coming to her through the Force.
By reflex alone, Becca threw herself to the side as her right-hand saber swung out, striking the Durgolosk in its large head. Luckily, it was a fatal blow that struck the beast’s cranium, rendering it dead almost instantly. Her move was far from graceful though. It was nothing like she had planned, but it had saved her.
The Durgolosk slammed into the ground and slid into a boulder, coming to a stop. Becca had likewise fallen to her knees where she slid across the rocky ground. Once she had stopped, she shook her head to clear it. She then glanced back. The beast gave a twitch and then fell still, the life within coming to an end. Becca thumbed both Lightsabers off and attached them to her belt.
Letting go of her connection to the Force, Becca carefully stood and examined the shredded knees of her pants. Her pants were in tatters from where she had slid across the ground and her knees were scraped with fresh blood beginning to run down her legs. Her legs were bruised and stung from the fresh wounds. Almost by instinct, Becca began reaching for the Force to help control the pain she felt in her legs, but stopped. She quickly recalled what had just happened and didn’t want to open herself up to the torrent of pain she felt coming from elsewhere through the Force. She could still feel it, even though it was muted now by closing herself off from the Force.
She looked to where she had originally come from. Her eyes quickly came upon the darkened shape of her master. On her knees, Tatiana had a hand on her forehead. Becca immediately rushed to her master.
“Master!” Becca shouted as she ran to her. “Master! Are you alright?”
Tatiana moved her hand, letting it fall to her lap. Looking up, she saw the despondent look on Becca’s face. “Yes… Yes, Becca. I’m alright.”
“What’s happened?” Becca asked anxiously.
“I can feel them.” Tatiana responded shakily. “All across the galaxy… I can feel Jedi dying.”
“Oh no!” Becca cried out.
“Steady yourself, Becca.” Tatiana said as she slowly rose. She tried to put as much reassurance into her voice as she could. Her knees felt weak. Inside, Tatiana was struggling with her own emotions, her confidence close to breaking.
“What can we do?”
“Be mindful.” Tatiana calmed herself and answered. “First we must return to Farvikk. Then, we’ll contact the Temple to find out what’s happened.”
The pair walked silently back to the small subterranean village of Brekked. Various thoughts coursed through Becca and Tatiana’s mind. What exactly had occurred? The tragedy they both sensed was epic in proportion. Tatiana felt that there was nothing in her training that could have prepared her for this.
Becca was equally troubled. She had never learned of anything like this in her years training at the Jedi Temple. The Jedi just didn’t have anything to compare this to. In her mind, she couldn’t imagine a way to combat the suffering and darkness she sensed within the Force.
After three hours, the pair entered the cave entrance to Brekked and descended into the Barabel village. They were immediately met by Farvikk, their Barabel guide.
“Jedi friendsss.” Farvikk hissed in his best Basic. “Your droidsss insssist that you hurry.”
Tatiana and Becca followed the large, saurian alien to where their Actis fighters were stored. Upon entering the cavern, they were met by R2-F4, beeping and twittering loudly.
“Slow down, F4.” Becca said, feeling more anxiety now that she saw her master’s droid behaving erratically.
Becca summoned the Force to translate what the droid was trying to say. She listened carefully as the droid shot off another burst of chirps and beeps while spinning his sensor dome back and forth.
“Master, F4 says that an emergency recall signal has been transmitted from the Temple.” Becca said, looking to Tatiana.
“Something serious and grave has occurred if the Council has enabled the recall.” Tatiana replied, a distant look in her eyes.
Tatiana snapped out of her distant thoughts. “Yes?”
“What do we do?” Becca seemed to be regaining some of her composure.
“Just what the Council has asked of us.” Tatiana answered her Padawan. “We go back to Coruscant. Hopefully we’ll find some answers there.”
For three months he had hunted. For three months, his thoughts had been focused on making his brother pay for the betrayal that had cut him to the bone. He no longer cared if he was considered a traitor by some or by all. He had been wronged. His personal honor had been wounded and he wanted justice.
Even the betrayal of his brother had had an effect on the Republic forces within the Commonwealth. Tria Zalt had renounced the Jedi Order and had come over to join with him. The former padawan of Master Bron Holcom now fought beside him. She had even comforted him on several occasions.
Her passion did not lessen the sting that he felt. It did distract him and keep him from blindly jumping into a bad situation. Donatine Strykia needed someone to help steer him while he was within his rage. Otherwise he would be the rancor, set to destroy whatever was in his way.
As the three months progressed and the civil war ignited the whole Commonwealth into conflict, Dontaine had begun to resent his father too. Draygan should have been tossed out like a lowly beggar. The fact that Artur had basically backed Draygan only made it worse.
Now everything looked like it was happening for a reason, though. Dontaine’s mother and father had essentially bargained away the twins to the Jedi Order. His father had allowed an action to happen that had split the once unified Houses of the Commonwealth. Who knew what else was planned to happen.
It was time for a revolution. It was time for change.
Dontaine would be the harbinger of that change.
The past two weeks had been a logistical nightmare. The plan was in place and Dontaine had seen to it that various elements were also in place in order for his plan to work. If he was going to save the Commonwealth from treachery from the inside, he needed to make sure his pawns were set to move when he needed them to move. If he was going to save the twins from the nefarious plans of his parents, he had to be ready to act.
It was now or never.