Thanks to blaze1992 for some quest concepts and spit-balling ideas.
To the backroom group for their help with SW related issues, arc ideas and betaing the chapter
To WarriorsCre3d for creating a custom image for the story.
A/N: Yup. May 4th and a new chapter. What a coincidence :P
Anyway, this chapter carries a warning.
A character in it gets very badly injured, though who and how you'll just have to see for yourself.
As before, if you wish to talk with me and the backroom team, you can find us on the server for this story in particular, and Star Wars in general: discord .gg /UM89QfyQk3
Or in Shiro's Gaming Omniverse: discord .gg /wd3tUYWVCd
Regardless of if you join one, both or neither...
Current date: 5 years until the Invasion of Naboo
Akaan'lor – Fighting Champion
Beskar – Mandalorian Iron
Cin Vhetin – White Fields
Di'kutla – Useless/Stupid/Worthless
Diryc – Lower (class)
Dral'Han – The Mandalorian Excision
Evaar'la Verd Fund – Young Warriors Fund
Haili cetare – Tuck in!/Enjoy! "Fill your boots!"
Haran – Hell/Damn
Ijaat'akaanir – Honour-Duel
Jagyc'kovide – Dickheads
Jare'la – Stupid
Jetii – Jedi
Laamyc – Upper (class)
Parjirr be te kih tracy'uur – Winner of the Blaster Pistol
Parjirr be te ori tracy'uur – Winner of the Blaster Rifle
Shab – Shit
Shatual – An animal native to the Planet Mandalore that the locals enjoy eating.
Tiingilar – A Mandalorian dish described as an intensely spicy casserole.
Traatik'lore – Team Champions
verd'goten – The traditional rite of passage of Mandalorian culture.
"Oi, Shan! What's this I hear about you needing soldiers for a war?"
I turned towards the voice and saw that Rook Kast was leaning over Gar to speak with me. The rest of her team were all looking over at me as well, and I suspected the two trainees to my right – Sebbi Eldar and Nonx Beroya, who were the top-ranked trainees for the pistol and rifle respectfully – had done the same.
"Not a war. Just a… niggling feeling that something is going to happen in a few years. Something big." I replied slowly even as I realised that Gar had told Rook, at least, about one of the things we'd spoken about at the end of our fight.
"More Force-based nonsense from the Jetii." Responded Nonx dismissively from behind me. I knew it was from him as the voice was male and Sebbi was female, yet I paid him no attention, choosing to keep my attention on Rook, Gar, and their team. If he wanted to be dismissive then fine, but Gar and his team were good fighters, and I knew I'd need such people in the decades to come.
Rook's eyes narrowed as she glanced passed me, likely glaring at Nonx to get him to shut up. As she returned her attention to me, her face relaxed. "How sure of this are you?"
I shrugged, trying to make it seem like I was uncertain even though I wasn't.
When I'd mentioned my ''suspicions'' to Gar yesterday after our fight, it had been in response to him stating a wish to see us fight side-by-side. He was curious about how effectively a Mandalorian and a Jedi trained as a Mandalorian could work together.
I hadn't directly mentioned Naboo or hinted that I'd had a vision – such a thing would've likely made him dismissive of what I was saying – but I had told him that I had a feeling that something was going to happen. Probably either a large battle or a civil war on a world that would garner attention from the Republic at large. I'd added that whatever it was would likely fan the flames of the growing problems in the Republic and could even lead to war on a scale not seen since before the Dral'Han.
I explained this again to Rook and the others in earshot, with several members of her team leaning closer as I spoke about a war to come. There was a small, idealistic part of me that wondered if me using my knowledge to influence people to fight and likely die for my causes was wrong, but the larger, more realistic part of me knew that it was better they died for my cause than against it.
As I explained all this, I heard Nonx scoff behind me, but I continued to ignore him. The boy was clearly not interested in considering what I said – likely he still felt that me and Serra should never had been allowed to attend the Institute – and that was his choice. My attention was on Gar's team as they were the best team at the Institute and would only improve over the years before the invasion of Naboo and the Clone Wars. Having them willing to fight by my side was worth the effort.
"These are Jedi visions I take it?" Rhiox asked after I had explained my feelings.
"No. While Jedi can catch glimpses of the future, and I have seen some of war, this is more just a feeling that something major is going to happen in the next few years." I replied. "I'm not certain of it, but a… feeling in my gut tells me that something major is going to happen, likely before I'm in my twenties." I shrugged after saying that. "Though this is just a feeling, so I can't say for certain." While I knew my mere presence was causing ripples – large and small – I doubted the invasion of Naboo wouldn't happen. It was the event that, as far as I knew, propelled Palpatine to the Chancellorship.
"Useless." Nonx muttered in a voice just loud enough for me to hear. I felt my fingers tighten, forming into fists, but I resisted the urge to shut him up. Causing a scene, while probably enjoyable, would undermine the effect I was having on Rook and the rest of Gar's team. And it might make them realise I was subtlety using the Force to persuade them to understand and agree with me.
"From what you said yesterday, I thought about it and did some research." Gar began, turning my thoughts away from ways to shut Nonx up.
"Is that what we're calling it now?" Rook blurted out to cut of Gar with a playful smirk. As she rested a hand on Gar's chest, she winked in my direction. "Think Cameron here enjoys research?"
It took all of my self-control to stop myself reacting to her joke. I'd rather avoid having her ask questions, or suggest things, that I didn't want to deal with.
"If something is to happen, it would likely be in the Outer Rim, probably to a mid-sized world with a direct representative in the Senate." Gar said, ignoring Rook's teasing, and seemingly her hand as it began to move. "Anything closer to the Core would draw too much of the Senate's attention. The Mid Rim and Expansion regions are possibilities, but the larger and more populated planets there have decent enough defence forces to protect themselves, while the smaller worlds are generally under the protection of their larger and more powerful neighbours."
"Add in that I've heard my mother and uncle talking about rumours of the Trade Federation and other mega-corporations arming themselves – and not just their ships but with droid armies – and it would make sense that they'd make a move in the Outer Rim where their power is strongest; and the Republic is weakest."
I lifted my hand towards my chin, only to stop mid-motion. That was not something I'd done before, at least not before joining the Jedi. Damn them for doing that every time any of them wanted to think.
"Umm, yeah. That does make sense. Didn't think you'd figure so much out so soon though." I said dumbly as I lowered my hand. I was genuinely surprised at how much work Gar had done in determining where my feelings of a battle would take place. Surprising and impressive.
While his description was nothing more than a brief overview, I had a feeling that if I'd asked for more details, he'd have been able to provide them. Force, he might even have a few possible locations for a likely flashpoint that weren't Naboo but could be places that helped fan the flames of those who would one day join the separatist cause.
Rook's smirk had grown into a full smile at my words and apparent confusion at Gar's research, and she leaned over and wrapped her arms around his neck. "Hey! He may look like a big dumb Gamorrean, but he's smarter than anyone in the Senate or those jagyc'kovide in Sundari."
Raising my hands in a gesture of surrender, I responded. "Not saying he isn't. I just didn't expect him to do such a thorough job running down ideas. Certainly not in a day, and definitely not because of me. No offense Gar, but…"
"I understand." Gar said as I stopped to think of how to phrase things.
"I doubt we'll ever be friends, but after yesterday I do want to see how well we could fight together. To see a Jedi, one who is Mando'ade, in actual combat is something worth the discomfort of fighting beside a person I dislike."
"I'm not Mando'ade."
"Not yet, but you'll be one of us soon." Countered Rhiox Loc. He was the cousin of Lanze Loc, so him showing a willingness to talk to me would've been surprising, if not for the fact that Observe let me know that he was relieved that I'd allowed Lanze to remove himself from the ijaat'akaanir and offered a message of support to limit Lanze's punishment. Yet, to hear him so certain that I'd succeed in my verd'goten was unexpected.
"You may be young Shan, but you have the heart of a Mandalorian. Soon enough that will be official," Gar offered in agreement as he locked his eyes on me. "Deny it all you wish, but I know how much you enjoyed our battle yesterday. Your blood was singing like mine as we fought, and I saw your smile as we exchanged fire. Your heart yearns for those perfect moments when everything fades away and all that remains is you and your opponent battling for victory. That is the call of the warrior that beats within you and to deny it is to deny that the stars burn."
I stared at Gar as I processed his words. Had I smiled during our fight? A quick review of the fight told me that I may actually have done so, yet at the time I had no knowledge of doing so at the time. One thing that I couldn't deny was that Gar was right about me enjoying the fight. It felt good to be able to cut loose and draw on all training, as both a soldier and a Jedi.
What may have helped was that the fight wasn't to the death, but I knew it was one of the rare times since being reborn when I'd felt the adrenaline flowing. To be able to go all out – or close to it as I hadn't wanted the fight to be over quickly or embarrass Gar – had been fun.
Every time I'd been on an op in my old life, I'd been calm, in control. Yet, I didn't deny that – like most of my squad mates – I'd gotten a rush out of what we did. The danger and risk heightened the experience, though I'd never enjoyed the violence or carnage we had occasionally unleashed.
Yesterday, I'd felt my blood pumping for the fifth real time since coming to this galaxy, yet there had been something more. Something that reminded me of those old ops and the rush I'd felt after the mission was over.
I felt my brow rise as I realised that I had enjoyed the fight and felt my mouth slip open in surprise.
A finger pushed my jaw upwards, and I saw that Rook had leaned completely over Gar and was using a single finger to close my mouth. The smirk on her face and the glint in her eyes made me suspect she had a fair idea of what I'd just realised.
"Better not stay like that, I doubt your girls will like you sitting there slack-jawed while staring at me." She offered with a wink as she pulled back. As much as I didn't want to see it, I saw her fingers dragged across Gar's thighs as she slowly returned herself to her seat.
On what I'd later claim was purely instinct, my head began to turn, to see if Serra, Bo or Naz had seen my behaviour.
The trio were sitting with their respective teams at different tables that were arrayed around the hall. I'd met Bo and Naz's teammates at various moments during the session. All had been generally accepting of Jedi studying at the Institute – particularly since the ijaat'akaanir – though only one Ursa Wren, had sought me out directly.
Ursa had asked for some help on the range as, while she was a decent shot, she felt she wasn't up to the standard she should be and had seen the improvement of my team from my mentoring. Since she was Bo's friend, I saw no harm in helping her, though I ignored her subtle - and occasionally less-than subtle – hints that she was interested in me as more than just a tutor.
"Busted." Rook stated and I stopped turning my head as I felt a burst of heat in my cheeks. She and a few others chuckled at my actions.
"I thought Jedi couldn't have… fun." That statement came from Anno Hark, another member of Gar's team and the one who I had the highest reputation with; he was the only member of the team that actually liked me, though I had no idea why.
"Um." I mumbled out as while it was technically true that Jedi could have sex, it was if an attachment was formed from such relations that the Jedi frowned upon you. Which amused me greatly as it sounded as though the Jedi approved of one night stands yet might draw the line at a friends-with-benefits situation.
My non-answer drew another round of laughs from Gar's team, and I was a little shocked to see a small smile creep onto Gar's face.
Thankfully, I didn't have to try and come up with an answer to Anno's statement, at least one that wouldn't result in further teasing, as the background noise in the room dropped. Almost as if someone had hit a mute button.
I turned my attention back to the hall and saw that the reason for the silence was the arrival of the staff and several guests.
Commandant Kraviss was leading the group in, while Duke Adonai was a step behind her. I felt myself instinctively grip the edge of the table tighter at seeing that he was escorting Fay in; her hand resting on his forearm.
Behind them came the senior members of the Institute's staff then other invited guests and the finally the rest of the staff such as Nia and other new Instructors.
Among the group of guests were the heads of Clans Ordo, Wren, and Dur, though I only knew that because all had spoken with me after the Akaan'lor final.
After the Commandant had arrived next to Gar and myself after our duel and loudly declared me the new Akaan'lor – which set off another round of cheering from the crowd, centred on the Diryc stands – those guests, and several members of the staff, had come over to speak with us.
Most had simply offered their congratulations – and Observe picked up no hints they were anything but genuine in that – though a few had been more… reserved in their approval. After that, I was truly sick of hearing people say how amazingly skilled – or something of that ilk – I was for someone so young, and again found myself counting down the days until I was an adult once more.
However, it was when Fay had taken me aside to that things had become interesting.
She had offered her own congratulations and was satisfied that I held back enough to ensure that the fight did not embarrass Gar Saxon. However, she suspected that Dooku would have several critiques about my actions in the fight and I'd felt a cold shiver at the 'corrective teaching' Fay hinted Dooku would arrange for me. Like most Jedi, Dooku was not a fan of blasters, though his disdain was far more… refined. As was his dislike of Ataru so I knew he'd have a comment or two to offer regarding my failed attempt at a hawk-bat swoop.
After smiling in amusement at the fear I must've leaked into the Force, she introduced me to Duke Torrhen and Lady Asta, the heads of both the Clan and House of Ordo.
The pair had first offered their thanks that I'd turned their nephew Thur away from Death Watch – Asta referred to the group as an insult to everything a true Mandalorian should be – then explained that he had told them about the Jedi Padawan who had defeated Girk Saxon in single combat and was a confirmed descendant of Revan.
They then said they'd only come to Keldabe after hearing that a Jedi, one with the same family name as the one who turned Thur away from Death Watch, was competing in the Akaan'lor tournament. While they hadn't said anything else to explain their being here, I'd suspected that there was more to it; a fact backed up what Observe revealed after they'd finished talking with me.
Upon learning that I was the same Jedi as the one Thur had met, they'd re-extended the invite for me to visit planet Ordo. That the planet and system bore the same name as their clan, sounded like something that the clan took pride in while also being a source of constant confusion to outsiders like myself.
While I was a little unnerved by the almost worshipful way they spoke when mentioning Revan, I'd accepted on the condition that Fay or Dooku accompanied me. I'd considered politely declining, but a gentle breeze had passed over us and something (a nudge from the Force perhaps?) made me think that going to planet Ordo would be useful, thus I'd accepted.
Before taking their leave, they'd asked if I could tutor their youngest son, Ebbe, should he be accepted into the Institute next session. I'd agreed but made it clear that the next session would likely be my last as after my verd'goten I would likely be leaving the planet with Master Fay.
They were fine with that and took their leave, though not before I was able to use Observe on them.
Both descriptions hinted at them wondering if I would be the one to open something they referred to as 'Vault of the Preserver.' Since I knew that Canderous Ordo had been called Mandalore the Preserver, it held to reason that this vault was linked to him. Though why they felt I could open it wasn't clear, unless it held something of importance to Revan.
I hadn't mentioned that directly to Fay, though since she would've felt me use Observe, I told her that they were hiding something. She replied simply that everyone was hiding something, though she suspected that in this case, it was something linked to me.
Later last night Fay had said she was comfortable with me staying for another session, though she informed me that she'd be spending more time in and around Mandalore, to ensure that she was on-hand in case I found myself in further trouble with the locals.
I'd argued that I didn't go looking for trouble and she'd retorted that I didn't need to as my very existence drew trouble to me. She'd jokingly wondered just how things would've gone if I'd never managed to arrive in this time which made me wonder how and when she had died in the timeline I knew of. The Interface didn't generate a Changing Fate quest for Fay there, though that was likely because I'd already done enough to remove how she died as a viable option, or it was tied into another of my quests that dealt with altering someone's fate.
"Haran, that's your master?" Another member of Gar's team, Trushrul Frka, asked in a voice barely above a whisper drawing my attention from Fay and the other adults.
He was leaning forward, staring intently at Fay.
"One of them, yes." I growled out, annoyed with his ogling of my master. While it was a common occurrence, it was not something I enjoyed seeing.
"She doesn't look much older than us." Anno stated. "Wonder if she likes research?" He asked with a chuckle and I glared as the faintest of whispers told me to put him down for his lack of respect.
"Master Fay is far, far older than any of us." I replied with a growl, though it sounded more like a baby's whine since my voice hadn't yet dropped. "And way, way out of your league. Look somewhere else." I added as I instinctively activated Force Compulsion.
"Uh… yeah." Hark mumbled out as I noticed him shiver before looking away and refocusing on someone else.
[Cameron? Is everything alright?]
I turned my attention from the boy to Fay and saw that while she was being escorted up a small flight of stairs towards the highest table by Adonai, her focus was on me. Her brow had narrowed and there was the barest hint of a frown threatening to mar her features.
The high table that she was being escorted to was the only one above the table I occupied with the other champions and was used by the staff and any guests during meals. The only time before this that the table I was sitting at had been used was during the opening feast of the session, when it had housed the former champions.
[Yes, Master.] I replied, wondering if she'd sensed my annoyance at the comments about her. [Just keeping some juvenile hormones in check.]
Her brow raised for a moment before smoothing in realization as a smile threatened the corners of her mouth. [Hmm. Very well. Though be mindful of your emotions and don't allow the words of others to upset you.]
[Yes, Master.] The smile became more prominent, and her brow softened before she turned her attention back to Adonai, who was speaking with Commandant Kraviss as they passed by my table.
"Hmm, has someone got the hots for their teacher?" Rook quietly asked and my head whipped around so fast I swore I heard something crack. Rook's smirk grew at my reaction. "Oh, I don't blame you. I prefer males, but even I'm curious as to just what she's hiding under those jare'la robes. Plus, I wouldn't mind learning how she looks so young."
"The Force." I replied, ignoring the image of Rook and Fay that flashed through my mind. "Master Fay has a strong and deep connection to the Force which slows her aging; even more so than most Jedi." Well, that was my working theory as I'd never actually asked her how she looked so young while being so old. That was not a question one should ever ask a woman, especially one as powerful as Fay.
There was the chance that some of her ability to age so gracefully was due to her Sephi heritage as that race had an elf-like ability to keep their looks well into their second century, with the elders often living past two hundred. However, the records I'd perused suggested that it was rare for a Sephi to live past three hundred, with none known to have made it passed four. Since Fay was in her mid-seven-hundreds, she had to be enhancing any natural boost to her lifespan and graceful looks with the Force.
"If I may have everyone's attention," Kraviss began, drawing my attention back to the room. Since she was at the high table directly behind me, it forced me to turn almost entirely around – not a comfortable thing to do while seated – and look up. Hopefully this speech, like her others, would be short.
"Today, we here in this hall, staff and trainee alike, along with our honoured guests," she paused to allow the group of about twelve to nod, wave, or in Fay's case smile in that enigmatic way of hers, to the trainees. "We gather to celebrate the end of another session and honour our newest champions."
"Stand and be recognized, Parjir be te Kih Tracy'uur Sebbi Eldar." Kraviss said, and the older girl stood, earning a round of applause from everyone, including myself. Sebbi quickly sat down again, either not wanting to overdo the cheering or because that was the standard.
"Stand and be recognized, Parjir be te Ori Tracy'uur Nonx Beroya."
"Stand and be recognized, Traatik'lore Orchid-Six."
Each time the Commandant said this the relevant champions stood and received a round of applause from the hall. As far as I could tell, no-one was disingenuous in their approval, but with over eight-hundred people in the hall, it was hard to be sure.
"Stand and be recognized, Akaan'lor Cameron Shan."
As I stood, I almost banged my knee on the table. Not because I was too close to the table, but because the cheer that went up this time was louder. Someone whistled loudly, drawing my attention, and I saw Naz standing in her chair, fingers in her mouth.
She winked once she realised that I'd seen her and hopped off her chair. I caught sight of both Bo and Serra glance her way as I quickly sat down. The cheering didn't stop as it had with the other champions, which was embarrassing, though a glance from the corner of my eye showed that neither Gar nor his team were irked by it.
When everyone had cheered for me yesterday, I'd honestly thought most of it was just the trainees going through the motions. Bar a small number, I didn't think anyone was truly happy about me winning. Yet, from what I was seeing, the reaction yesterday had been genuine. The applause and cheering were louder from the tables where Diryc trainees sat, but even those from Laamyc seemed to be sincere in the approval.
"You are the first-ever Diryc Akaan'lor. Jedi or not, that is historic." Gar explained, his voice just barely reaching my ears above the now slowly dying applause. "That you respected our ways and fought with honour only elevates the respect many now have for you."
While I wanted to say something to Gar in reply to his reasoning – which I could understand – I was cut off by the Commandant speaking once more.
"With the new champions recognized, I declare the session ended. Haili cetare!"
Several doors along the sides of the hall opened, ones which I knew led to the kitchen area, and the staff began to push out repulsor-lift trays of food. While I didn't recognize most of the dishes, some reminded me of meals from my former life, I caught sight of several repulsor-lifts carrying in roast shatual, and the unmistakable smell of tiingilar slowly began to drift across the room.
I turned my attention from the food to the array of quest completion notices that appeared in my interface. With the Commandant ending the session, all my training quests came due. I dismissed them quickly, though the roughly 8,500XP that I earned from them took me close to level 25, at which point I'd be able to take a new Player Power.
I'd reached level 24 last night when the three Institute-linked quests had come due and the various bonus objectives that I'd met had resulted in me gaining the most XP I'd ever gotten in one go – around 30,000XP.
For my new perk at level 24, I'd taken Enhanced Regeneration. That doubled all my regeneration values, meaning my FP regenerated at 624FP per minute. This resulted in a full restore of my FP with about four minutes of meditation. Which was frankly insane. My Stamina and Player Power (PP) regenerations also doubled, which meant that, if the need arose, I could have Player's Mind active constantly without any drain on my PP.
Funnily enough, even if I'd had worn the Force Suppression bracers during the match, I doubted I'd have lost. I barely needed to use any Force Power beyond Precognition and the few moments where I'd used another power - such as Force Jump or Force Speed - wouldn't have bothered my FP total; never mind the increased FP regen I now had.
I had intentionally kept the few abilities I used at lower levels than I could have. Primarily this was to give Gar a good fight, as even if he was the best the Institute had to offer, he was still young and inexperienced in real combat. However, there were a few other reasons that convinced me to heavily limit myself. First, it was to allow those watching a good show, as my entire reason for coming to the planet was to build the beginnings of a combat unit that I could call on for the wars to come.
Additionally, by holding back I made sure that any of the audience that were possible threats - such as Pre Vizsla - would likely end up severely underestimating my abilities. While I had in no doubt that Pre had plans for taking me out, if I could make him think I was less of a threat than he realised, then his attempts against me would be lacking in the fire- and manpower they'd need to be a true threat. As long as they were prominent enough to ensure presentable truth upon confronting Vizsla after the fact, that was enough.
Plus, the more he fixated on me, the less he would be able to spend on reunifying Death Watch or recruiting people like Bo and Naz.
While using the Force at all had cost me a bonus condition for the Alpha Dog quest, it was a worthwhile price to pay to confirm myself as Akaan'lor, earning myself 4400XP for taking the crown.
As a large helping of shatual was placed in front of me, I put aside thoughts about my levels and what potential Player Power I'd take and picked up my knife. Now wasn't the time to consider my unique abilities, but to enjoy the fact I was a champion.
And from tomorrow, I'd begin to prepare for Serra's verd'goten. I was curious about how the planet was picked; was it random chance or was a shortlist of options given to the adiik? And beyond a knife, what other supplies was one allowed to take?
Tomorrow, I hoped to find out the answers to those questions and a few more.
As another blast of hot, arid wind battered her, Serra bit of a grumble of annoyance. This planet, or at least the region she was in, seemed to be nothing but dry, dusty plains where the wind never stopped. Nor did the regular rumbling of distant thunder as lightning struck the ground.
She did, however, offer a small thanks that she'd been allowed to wear her Jedi robes over the basic combat suit she'd been forced to wear for her verd'goten. The robes offered her protection from the wind, and the swirling dust it kicked up, which wouldn't have been the case with just her combat suit. Force, the suit was even less armoured than what she'd worn at the Institute, though at least it was well ventilated otherwise she'd be at risk of heatstroke.
From far behind her, a distant howl carried to her ears on the wind. Whatever had howled sounded large, and her hand instinctively tightened around her only weapon. The knife she had for this hunt was given to her by Cam, the one he'd been given after killing Girk Saxon, and she was glad to have the beskar blade instead of a regular durasteel one.
Whatever she would have to kill would have to be taken down with the knife as, thanks to the Sith-cursed suppression bracers, the Force wouldn't be much of an ally during her trial. She could still sense the Force, mainly because of Cam's training on pushing past the interference the bracers generated, but it just wasn't the same. Gone was the all-encompassing feeling of the Force surging around and through her, and in its place was nothing more than a trickle, as though someone had drained an ocean until only the barest of drips from a tap remained.
Still, thanks to Cam's lessons, she knew she could force that tap open, no pun intended. While doing so with her negative emotions, and thus tapping into the Dark Side, or at least what she felt was the barest touch of the Dark Side, was easier it always left her feeling tainted afterwards. As though part of herself had been damaged by, if not lost to, the Dark Side of the Force. And the tiniest of voices from deep within her mind, the one demanding she take what she wanted, always seemed to grow louder during the moments when she brushed against the Dark Side.
She knew this voice, these desires, were her baser instincts, her animalistic side trying to assert dominance. She knew that giving into those instincts was dangerous, and led to the Dark Side taking control, yet a part of her wondered if some of the things she'd been taught about the Dark Side was wrong. There were certain abilities, mainly older ones that seemed to be linked to the Sith, which were labelled as dark, yet she wondered if they were truly infused with the Dark Side, or if the Jedi banned them because the Sith commonly used them. She'd asked Cam about this, and while his answer had been infuriatingly vague, she suspected he agreed, and that he was being vague so as to not influence her own decisions.
Using her happier emotions, and the Light Side of the Force allowed her far more control but took longer to achieve and it didn't feel as powerful. After thinking on that, and talking with Cam more, it had made sense. To Serra, happier emotions generally left someone more in control and alive while when someone was angry, especially when they went into a rage, they were more dangerous but often had far less control.
When she opened that tap with her happier memories and feelings, it felt as if the Force itself was allying or merging with her in a way that felt more profound and powerful than anything her Master or any other Jedi had hinted at.
As a second howl, this one from far to her left, answered the first, she hoped she didn't need to force open her connection to the Force with the Dark Side. Yet, if the moment came and she had to, she wasn't going to deny doing so if it was the difference between her living or dying.
As her grip on the knife tightened further, her thoughts turned to the one who'd shown her how to push through the interference of the bracers. Her thoughts about Cam were more conflicted than they'd been before coming to Mandalore. She was less sure about what she really wanted from him, yet at the same time she felt more certain about who she was, and what she wanted to be.
Most of that was due to the challenges she'd faced on Mandalore, but a large part was also due to Master Fay. The ageless Jedi's opinion had quickly come to matter to Serra almost as Cam's and Master Drallig's opinions did. She had talked daily with Master Fay before they had entered the Mandalorian Institute.
Those talks had mainly been about how to handle Serra's blossoming feelings and how to not let them dominate how she behaved. Unlike other Jedi that had taught Serra, Master Fay didn't deny that everyone had feelings or claimed that they were something to be feared. Master Fay felt that emotions were what reminded them that they were alive, and that all of them, good and bad, should be accepted as a part of themselves. Though Master Fay had been firm in explaining that for the next few years, if not the next decade, it would be hard to understand and control those growing feelings. The trick, according to the elder Jedi, was to learn to take a step back and think about what one really wanted, or needed, and if pursuing those needs and wants placed others in danger.
It had taken Serra a few months to understand what Master Fay had been saying, but she felt she was finally gaining a decent understanding. Watching Naz Vizsla as she gazed at Cam – or the glimpses she'd caught of Bo looking similarly at her – had let her see those wants in others and confront several problems within herself.
Before they'd come to Mandalore, Serra had been… almost obsessed with Cam. She's referred to him as hers, grown angry when others had taken his attention from her and wanted to lash out. Now, having seen signs of that from those girls, she could see how close she had been to losing control to her inner darkness; something she didn't realise she had until after the bracer training sessions with Cam.
Bo and Naz, while showing far too much interest in her and Cam respectively, hadn't let the targets of their desires rule their lives, nor had they grown angry when someone else was close to her or Cam. Force, the two girls seemed to spend as much time with each other as they did with her and Cam. Though she wished they'd learnt to close the kriffing doors when they wanted to… do things together.
She'd tried to talk with Cam about how to control one's feelings and desires, but every time she wanted to bring the topic, it had been awkward as kriff. When they'd finally talked about those sorts of things, she'd been surprised with how… patient he'd been. Master Fay had told her that most growing males could become pushy about trying new things, yet Cam hadn't tried to push. Which was a good thing as she doubted she would've said no.
Instead, they'd spoken at length and decided to remain friends, good friends, until they were older. She hadn't pushed for what exactly he'd meant by older, but to her, it meant they'd both be adults. More specifically, adults by Republic standards. As much as a part of her – one linked to that darker voice – wanted her to treat them both passing a verd'goten as them being adults, she knew better.
Again, she had to thank Master Fay for helping with that as after the session at the Mandalorian Institute had finished, Serra had resumed her daily talks with the wise Jedi Master; even spending time with Master Fay while they travelled to Kiffu, the world Serra was now stuck on for her verd'goten.
While the Mandalorians would likely claim that the selection of Kiffu was just random chance, as a Jedi she knew better. The Force wanted her to go here, to complete her trial on this world, but why was sadly not something the Force had chosen to explain. Which from what she knew, was something it rarely, if ever, did.
Still, even if she didn't know the reason the Force had guided to Kiffu for her verd'goten, she found it amusing that the Force had chosen the homeworld of Aayla's master Quinlan Vos, for her trial.
A third howl, this time from where the first had come from, reached her ears. While it was louder than the initial howl, it was quieter than the second. Hopefully that meant the beasts weren't heading towards her, but it was hard be certain with the way the wind continually changing directions. She'd have to stay alert to be sure her hope wasn't misplaced.
As the wind shifted and smashed into her righthand side with enough strength to catch her unawares and make her stumble, she cursed the weather on Kiffu. For four long, monotonous days she'd been wandering the flats of Kiffu, searching almost aimlessly for something that was worthy of being her verd'goten kill.
While a part of her was still uncomfortable at killing for a hunt, she'd been reassured by Duke Adonai and Bo-Katan explaining that whatever beast was killed for the verd'goten would be harvested for the celebration of one becoming Mando'ade. They'd also explained that, if possible, the remains of the beast were sold with the credits going to what they called the Evaar'la Verd Fund. That was designed to help people adopted into the Mandalorian way – mainly children, but with the odd adult as well – settle into the culture. The ruling government in Sundari didn't approve of this fund, but Serra found it oddly reassuring that whatever she killed would help those in need.
Bo-Katan and Naz had wasted no time in telling the members of Serra's team that she planned to attempt the trial, and the group had spent a good amount of time wondering what she would hunt, and what sort of sigil it would result in.
Truthfully, Serra wasn't that bothered about what she killed – save for her unease about killing in a hunt – or a sigil that she'd never really need as a Jedi. What drove her to do this was a need, one that could almost be called a desire, to prove that she wasn't weak. That those boys who'd attacked her had been wrong to think she was.
She accepted that she was not, nor would she ever be, as strong as Cam, but that didn't make her weak. She was strong in her own way and this hunt would prove that to those who doubted her.
Though it was hard to find anything to hunt and kill when the wind on this farkling planet never seemed to ease up!
Almost as if the wind wanted to spite her, it grew stronger, and she stumbled again as it shifted direction once more. Even with her robes to protect her, the sand and dirt that was swirling around with the wind began to sting as it was slammed into her by the now wailing wind.
She hissed as something larger than a grain of sand grazed against her cheek. With the wind now beginning to kick up in speed – and fling larger pieces of dirt and possibly even small rocks around – Serra had no choice but to ignore the spark of pain in her cheek. She pulled her robes tighter around her, leaving her eyes as the only area of her body not covered by them – though those were covered by goggles – and kept walking forward.
If the wind behaved as it had over the last few days, and as the reports she'd read about the planet suggested, it would get stronger quickly, reaching a point where it would be all but impossible for her to keep going. It should then die down within a few hours, but if she couldn't find somewhere to use as a partial shelter her tent would be next to useless.
Over the last few days, she'd been able to use small patches of trees that huddled together to protect themselves the wind, or outcroppings of hard rock that could weather the wind as windbreakers. However, so far today she hadn't seen anything on the wind-whipped horizon. Thus, she was forced to trudge onwards, placing her faith in the Force to guide her to shelter, and her own skill to keep herself safe all while hoping the building storm didn't grow too quickly or become too powerful.
Several hours later, and Serra was still walking forward. Or trying to.
The wind had picked up as she suspected, but it was stronger than she'd ever experienced, leaving her all but blind and deaf to the world around her and showed no signs of lessening. It almost certainly also guaranteed that she was hidden from the orbiting ship where Cam, Master Fay, and Duke Adonai were watching her progress.
The increased strength of the wind resulted in larger objects slamming into her and she swore the one that struck her left shin had been the size of her fist. Though she had no time to stop and check if that or any other hit had drawn blood as she all but dragged herself forward. Each step barely longer than her own foot in length.
Plus, if the howling beasts from earlier were around, she'd never know until they attacked. Though she had to suspect that they, and likely ever other creature in range, had hunkered down to wait out the storm.
Booming thunder came from somewhere nearby as another bolt of lightning struck the ground nearby, though again with the wind limiting almost all her vision, she had no way to judge how far away the strike had been, or even where it had landed as she couldn't even see the flashes of lightning as they danced their way to the ground.
She tried to lick her lips, but her tongue was almost as dry as her lips as the wind ripped away any moisture the moment she opened her mouth. If she could find some shelter, she could take out one of her two remaining water bottles – the others were empty, and she hadn't found anywhere to refill them since yesterday morning – but doing so now would be foolish. The sand, dust and dirt in the air would quickly get in her backpack, and the water bottle, which wasn't something she wanted to deal with.
Now, if she'd had full access to the Force, she could use that to sustain herself, but the di'kutla bracers prevented her from doing that easily. Never mind that focusing on the Force in the middle of a large distraction was not something she had any training in.
Her foot caught against something and she stumbled, but thankfully didn't fall over. A quick glance down helped her see that she'd clipped against some exposed stone, and she growled; not that she heard herself do so.
Any anger she felt at almost tripping died as she realised this was the first exposed rock she'd found since the storm had really started and she felt hope rise up as she saw the exposed stone lead off in one direction.
Focusing on the direction the jagged link of exposed rock went before it vanished into the wind, she began to slowly walk that way and, as the wind dropped for a moment, she swore she caught sight of something reaching upwards hopefully not too far in the distance.
A small seed of hope blossomed as she saw that, and with renewed determination she moved forward. Even if it was nothing more than a single spear of rock reaching up into the sky, it was the first sign of natural shelter she'd seen in hours and would likely be enough to work as a windbreaker for her tent.
On her first day, she'd ignored something similar, thinking – even after studying up on Kiffu's weather – that the wind would die off, and had kept walking. It had felt like days before she'd found something else to use as shelter, so there was no way she was going to commit the same mistake twice. Any shelter in the constant windstorm was better than hoping for something better and pushing on.
As if to confirm her intentions, three loud, roaring rumbles of thunder echoed around her and the wind seemed to be tinged blue. While she tried not to react, the fact the wind shifted colour – if only for a moment- meant those strikes had been close, and she cursed this planet for the fact that even when the wind fell to nothing but a strong breeze, lightning strikes continued to pepper the surface.
Still, she had to give the locals credit. Not only had they survived on this planet, but they'd thrived and learnt to use the environment to their advantage. Kiffu was energy sufficient as the constant electrical storms and lightning strikes were channelled to power their settlements and factories. Every building in the city where they'd landed – and from which Serra had begun her verd'goten – had a lightning rod on the roof and there were arrays of collectors encircling the city.
It took her a while, but eventually Serra reached the rock formation and, when the wind died down for long enough that she could look, she realised the outcropping looked like a large hill made entirely of solid rock. The side she was on had a steep slope, but one worn smooth by the constant winds. A few moments later she'd found a small part of the rock-hill that would provide the best cover from the current wind and moved to set up her tent.
Thanks to having done this several times over the last few days, Serra was beginning to get the art of putting up a tent in the wind down, and after making sure it was secure, she slipped inside and sealed the door. Ignoring the way the wind was buffeting one side – something that had been constant no matter where or when she'd put up the tent – she quickly scooped up the sand and dust that had blown inside and pushed it to one corner. While getting it out would be preferable, the first time she'd tried that the wind had pushed more dust in than she was able to get out, so now she just left the collected debris until it was time to repack the tent.
While the tent wasn't the greatest, and didn't look particularly strong, it was covered in di-chrome and had thermal layering to help regulate the internal temperature and a null-layer to protect her in the unlikely event a lightning bolt stuck the tent. Plus, having the tent was better than not having it as she doubted that she'd have been able to survive four days in the constant storms without the portable shelter.
Reaching into her backpack, she pulled out a small, sealed bag. The smell that emanated from it made her stomach turn, but she knew she had to eat something solid and with a weary sigh, she reached in and tore off a piece of the charred meat inside. This was the remains of a small rodent-like creature that she'd manged to kill the day before last when it'd snuck into her tent. With her initial rations now gone, this was all she had until she either found something else to cook or competed her verd'goten.
Closing her eyes, she imagined the meat she was chewing was roast shatual, then washed the lingering aftertaste down with a few mouthfuls of water. After putting the resealed bag and water back into her backpack, and manoeuvring that to serve a pillow, she settled down.
While she doubted she'd get it, a peaceful sleep where she wasn't woken by the wind battering her tent would be nice. Almost as if to tell her that wouldn't happen, the tent rocked as the wind smashed against it, dust and other debris scraping harmlessly – she hoped – against the side.
She awoke with a start. Her eyes large as they snapped from side to side looking for danger as she unsheathed her knife.
The Force, even cut off from her as it was by the bracers, had screamed a warning to her. That she had still easily heard the warning was both a good and bad sign. Good in that it meant her connection to the Force was strong even with the Force blocked by the bracers, and bad because whatever was about to happen was exceedingly dangerous.
Though she'd worry about that after whatever was about to happen was over.
The wind sounded as though it had lessened, and behind the wailing symphony it constantly generated, she heard a new, ominous sound.
She was just able to hear something that sounded like knifes scraping against stone coming from the front of her tent. As that sound grew louder and closer, it was joined by something skittering.
She tensed as she heard the sounds grow louder and closer to the tent. With whatever it was approaching from the front, she was trapped inside. She couldn't risk opening the covered doorway to see what it was but staying inside risked her becoming trapped in the tent if its moorings were ripped up or the tent was sliced open.
One moment it sounded as though the skittering was coming from her left, then the next as if from behind her. She felt fear grip her heart as a large, ominous shadow grew and danced over the entrance of the tent. She couldn't tell what it was, but it was large and had, if the shadows weren't playing tricks on her, several long appendages sticking up into the air.
Making the shadow seem even scarier, and increasing the tightness in her chest, a menacing clicking came from the shadow as it drifted over the right-side of her tent.
A part of her considered tapping into her raw emotions. She knew from her training with Cam that, if she wanted to, she could break through the restraints of the Force Bracers using powerful emotions, like the fear she was experiencing. She also remembered the feeling of freedom and power that came with it. That wonderful feeling that she could do anything, accomplish anything, if she would just allow herself to release control, and give full reign to powers that she'd never truly utilized to their full potential... Yet the better part of her understood that was the lure of the Dark Side, the gratification and delight it offered to tempt one to keep using it.
She tried to ignore that part of her that wanted to feel that again even as the skittering, clicking and scrapping sounds became so loud they began to drown out the wind.
Another large shadow flashed against the left side of her tent even as a new, threatening tinging sound came from the right. Her grip around the knife tightened as a third shadow appeared, this one staying still for a moment against the right side of the tent.
More and more shadows danced around the tent and the sounds became so loud that she could no longer hear the wind.
Her eyes kept darting around, trying to see whatever was outside as she started taking small rapid breaths. Her heart seemed to beat so quickly that she felt it would explode out of her chest and the voice deep inside her grew louder and louder.
As the shadows grew in size and number, she once more had the urge to lash out, to feel that instant, almost overwhelming faith in herself that the Dark Side offered. Yet again, she resisted the temptation.
Yet, she knew she couldn't. Doing so would cost her everything. Her friends, her family, her future. But she couldn't deny that the darkness she sensed in herself was a part of her. Ignoring it felt wrong, but indulging it felt worse.
"Emotion, Yet peace." She began to whisper to herself as she gripped the knife as tightly as she could. "Emotion, yet peace. Emotion, yet peace."
She repeated the Code to herself, over and over, but unlike before, it didn't bring her solace. Didn't help to centre herself. Even as she kept whispering the words, a part of herself knew it wasn't right.
"E… I am the heart of the Force." She mumbled, as the words of the ancient Je'daii came to mind. "I am the heart of the Force."
While that still didn't bring her as much comfort as the Jedi Code had used to, it felt… better. Closer to what she truly needed to say. Yet she knew now was not the time to dwell on those thoughts and so she closed her eyes and continued to chant that line of the Je'daii Code over and over.
Time seemed to melt away as she found a semblance of balance, drawing on the Force, even with her weakened connection, to help her centre herself. The Force seemed to soothe and relax her as she chanted the ancient mantra, and she felt a warmth grow inside to counter the darkness her fear had created.
When she finally felt centred, she stopped repeating the mantra and listened.
The shadows that had been dancing on her tent and the clicking, tinging, and skittering sounds that had accompanied them were gone. Replaced by the strangely reassuring sound of the wind buffeting against her tent as thunder echoed in the distance.
Slowly, ever so cautiously, she moved to open the tent's door. While there was no screaming warning from the Force, there was always the chance the bracers were dulling a general sense of unease. Her knife hand stood ready as she slowly unzipped the tent.
With the door barely a quarter of the way unzipped she froze.
Somewhere outside, she could hear the skittering of whatever had been there before. Her heart began to beat faster as the skittering was joined by the tinging.
Without moving, she took several deep breaths, and mentally repeated the Je'daii line until her heart was calm again. Then, she listened carefully. Unlike before, there was only the single source of the sounds and she found that oddly reassuring.
She listened intently as whatever was making the sound wandered around, moving from the left side of her tent to the right then back, almost as if it was circling her.
Several loud, rapid thunderclaps echoed in the air, and the skittering paused for a moment. It then stayed constant, at least in direction. Whatever was making the sound seemed to be moving away.
Feeling more confident, Serra resumed unzipping the tent and offered a silent thanks to Duke Adonai for insisting on the primitive sealing method. A more modern tent would've had an electronic lock which would've hissed loudly as it unlocked, and she wouldn't have been able to stop it unlocking once it started.
"Sithspit!" she spat out as sand and dust began to rush into the tent. The wind had clearly shifted direction while she was inside and, as it bounced against the rock-hill she'd used as a wind break, was now aimed directly at the tent's entrance.
She grabbed her goggles, annoyed that she'd forgotten to put them on before opening the tent, slipped outside and resealed the tent. That should keep her backpack and supplies safe while she investigated her surroundings.
Visibility was still limited, but the storm from earlier had clearly passed and she could see for, perhaps, five-hundred metres. Her attention shifted from the weather to the ground around her tent.
The rock was scarred with scratches, as though thousands of knives had been dragged across it, though her head popped up as she heard a faint skittering sound. In the distance, she saw a – thankfully small – energy spider scurrying around.
Her breath caught in her through as she realised that the sounds from earlier had been a swarm of those spiders. She realised just how fortunate she'd been that the swarm that hadn't ripped her tent. If they had… she shuddered as she knew that even with her lightsaber and full access to the Force she'd have been hard pressed – ok, she'd have stood next to no chance – to take on a swarm of energy spiders alone, especially in a sandstorm.
The single remaining spider began to move quickly towards the edge of the rock-hill and, fearful that it the swarm was still close, she looked to see where it was heading.
Those fears disappeared as she saw another creature, perhaps three-hundred metres away from her, with the spider being closer to it than her. From the guide she'd read on the way here, she was able to identify the new creature as a static tree.
While not actually a plant, the creature's long gangly limbs waved in the wind like branches while its six legs that shuffled over the ground bore a passing resemblance to the roots of a tree. Though what set it apart from a tree was the way electricity coursed around the limbs, encircling the creature. That lightning-like effect was generated by the passing wind interacting with small blub-like protrusions that dotted its skin. The creature then used the electricity to manage the wind and protect itself from predators, both local and imported; with the latter being the case with energy spiders.
The spider was moving very slowly towards the tree – likely because it was heading into the wind – which was another relief for Serra. Without her lightsaber or the Force, even a single spider would be a challenge.
She knew about both species – one local, one imported – as she'd studied up on the local flora and fauna while travelling to Kiffu, and a thought came to her. While the static tree was a local species but not something that would suffice for her kill, mainly because the electricity it generated was only a danger to a sentient if they were struck by it for a sustained time, the spider certainly would be a worthy kill. And with it distracted by the static tree, she felt she had a decent chance to take it down and get off of this Sith-cursed planet.
Pulling her robes tight around her, she cautiously began to approach the two creatures. While the spider didn't hunt by smell, she still made sure to keep herself downwind so it would remove that problem and limit the chances of the spider spotting her approach.
Lightning seemed to dance in the air, but she didn't hear any thunder meaning it was likely just bolts travelling around the sky and not striking the ground.
While the part of her that was raised in the Jedi Temple was uncomfortable with thinking like a hunter, the greater part of her psyche knew that to not do so was an unnecessary risk. That made her thankful for the stealth and tracking training she'd received at the Institute on Mandalore.
She also knew to take short, quieter steps to limit any sound reaching her target. Which became a useful thing as, moving after the two creatures, she rounded part of the rock-hill and the wind slammed into her. Visibility dropped to only a few hundred metres, but that was just enough to track the tree and more than enough for the spider.
She frowned as the tree began to move around an edge of the hill. She couldn't remember seeing that before, but it was likely something that was hidden by the wind. As it began to disappear from sight, the air began to tinge blue, and she heard thunder echo off the rock-hill. The spider had closed rapidly, likely having realised its target was within striking range and didn't want to lose its meal and was no more than ten metres behind the tree while she was maybe a hundred from both.
Serra began to pick up her own pace, only to slow again as she realised that the spider was in full hunt-mode now, with it moving in for the kill. While un-Jedi-like, it was smarter for her to wait until just after the spider struck. That was when its guard should be down and would give her the best chance of landing a critical strike before it knew she was there.
Still, she kept moving closer.
The tree had disappeared entirely now, and the rumbling of thunder was intensifying. Yet, Serra was confused as this sounded different. Normally the thunder on Kiffu was deep, seeming to reverberate around the sky. Now, the lightning seemed to crackle and echo heavily from where she'd last seen the tree. Perhaps the tree had entered a small crevasse or cave?
The spider skittered forward faster, moving in for the kill, which forced Serra to increase her speed. She needed to be close, but not too close, when the spider attacked the tree.
Just as the spider reached the last place Serra had seen the tree, it paused and reared back, lifting its sharp, blade-like claws high above its head. She thought she saw something shoot out from the spiders' mouth – likely its webbing – towards where the tree should be.
However, if the webbing had hit the tree became moot as the tree came flying out into the wind from what Serra was now sure was cave. And attached to two of the tree's limbs by its mouth was a massive flying snake-like creature.
The tree landed on its side, and began to roll, which made the flying snake release its grip. As it pulled back and opened its mouth Serra saw rows of razor-sharp teeth, though her attention shifted to the tree as the lightning began to encircle around then expand from it.
A shockwave of lightning exploded out from the tree, and before she could process what she was seeing, the wave struck the spider then her.
She was knocked off her feet but the strength of the wave – which reminded her of a shockwave from a seismic charge that she'd in a recording – then tumbled over a few times as the wind caught her.
"AGH!" she cried out as first her thigh, then her lower back, were sliced as they caught jagged patches of exposed rock as she rolled head over feet before she was able to stop herself.
Doing her best to ignore the pain from those two big cuts – and the various little grazes and bruises she felt all over her body – she snapped her head around as she heard an inhuman groan.
Quickly realising the sound had come from the creatures, she focused on them, though given the energy wave had knocked her back nearly ten metres and the wind was strengthening, it wasn't as easy she'd like.
As she began to move closer once more, she watched in morbid curiosity as the flying snake ripped its head back from the tree; tearing one of the tree's limbs clean off and sending blood flying everywhere. She heard the inhuman groan again and she realised it was the tree making the sound as it cried out in pain.
As the groan was carried away by the wind, Serra noted that the lightning around the tree was all but gone, though given that something similar was encircling the snake, she doubted it would make much difference. Though seeing that lightning around the snake helped her realise that it was a spark-dragon. Like the tree, it could generate its own version of lightning as an offensive and defensive measure, which was why the tree's attack had done nothing to the dragon.
Serra gulped hard as she realised that she'd stumbled into the lair of one of the apex predators of Kiffu, and how close she'd made camp to such a beast. Thankfully for her, though not for the tree, this dragon looked to be on the smaller side, at around four metres in length.
From the guide she'd read, these dragons could grow up to ten metres in length and when she'd read that, she silently asked the Force to help make sure she didn't run into such a beast. It seemed the Force had answered her, but only by making the creature in front of her a smaller, and thus younger and less intelligent, version of its fully grown brethren.
The spark-dragon reared back, preparing to attack the tree again, only for something to ignite against the lightning that danced around its body. Serra suspected that had been the spider – which standing again – had launched webbing at the dragon, and the dragon seemed to agree as it turned its attention to the spider.
For a moment, Serra's eyes met those of the dragon and she swore she saw the glint of predatory enjoyment before its focus turned to the spider.
"Kriff." Serra cursed as the two predators faced off. A small energy spider was something she felt she had a chance to kill, particularly if it had just taken down its prey. But not a spark-dragon, and definitely not both at the same time. She was out of her depth.
Yet, as the two beasts hissed and clicked at each other, she wondered if maybe she'd have a chance to take down one once it had killed the other. Though that would only work if somehow the spider was able to hurt the dragon.
Still, with the thought that her moment was approaching, she took a tentative step forward, hoping to be in range with a chance to exploit that rare chance.
Her plan depended on the two beasts being preoccupied with each other and not noticing or caring about her. However, as she took a second step towards the pair, the dragon squawked and flapped its upper – and smaller – set of wings.
Serra's stooped as she saw lightning coalesce around those wings before her eyes widened in shock as that lightning hurtled towards her.
Ignoring the complaints from her body, she dove to one side and rolled. Her right leg grazed against a rock edge, but she didn't complain as she smelt the ozone as the bolt flew through where she'd been standing.
As she came out of her roll, she looked towards the predators and blinked in surprise. The dragon was missing one of those smaller upper wings. Clearly, the spider had used the shift in the dragon's attention to her to attack, though given the whisps of smoke coming two of the spider's claws, it hadn't achieved the attack without taking damage to itself.
A page from the guide she'd read about Kiffu's fauna flashed through her mind. While the strike of a static tree was generally not fatal – unless someone was struck by multiple bolts – and would normally just numb a limb for a few hours, the lightning from a spark-dragon had the capacity to burn and kill with a single strike.
Behind the two now wounded predators, Serra saw the tree begin to drag itself away; though with one limb missing and another two bleeding profusely she doubted it would get far. That was proven true as both predators reacted to its movement.
The tree groaned in pain as the dragon snapped at it while the spider drove one of its non-smoking knife-like legs into a working tree limb.
While the beasts were all distracted, Serra hustled closer. She could've turned tail and ran, but with the dragon already knowing she was here, there was a fair chance it would come after her if it did as she expected and killed the spider.
That meant she'd have to get closer, bide her time and strike with the hope she could find a way to kill one or both beasts before they could hurt her. It was far from her ideal plan, but it was the best one she had at the moment, and she knew she'd have to be very, very careful about how and when she entered the battle.
The dragon drifted closer to the spider, which forced it to pull its claw from the tree and swing two of those lethal looking edges towards the dragon. The dragon was seemingly unconcerned by the warning, and drifted closer still. However, the spider clicked madly and pulled the claws back, and Serra saw and smelt that one of the claw-limbs was burnt.
Her grip on the knife grew tighter as she continued to slowly, warily closed the distance between herself and the two monsters.
Suddenly, the dragon hissed and lunged forward headfirst. To avoid the rows of razor-sharp teeth the dragon exposed, the spider skittered back. Though in doing so, it came close enough to Serra that she could attack, which she did; slashing one of the spider's rear legs just above the joint deep enough that blood came flying out of the wound.
The spider seemed to hiss and began to turn to face the new threat, only for it to stumble. As its only remaining undamaged claw came around, Serra shuffled back, barely avoiding a wild swing of the claw.
However, trying to attack Serra while stumbling had exposed the spider to the dragon, and there was no way an apex predator like that wouldn't take advantage.
The dragon lunged forward, opening it maw, exposing so many razor-sharp teeth in its massive mouth that Serra felt a fresh jolt of fear race up her spine, momentarily paralyzing her.
She gasped at the sight and took an instinctual step back as she realised that the largest of those teeth would easily go through her arm if given the chance or rip off her entire head in a single bite.
The frightening maw closed around the spider's thorax and drove its teeth deep into the spider's body. The spider hissed loudly, even as it lost it balance and rolled onto its side only a few metres from Serra.
The dragon didn't let go, and instead began to coil its long, powerful body around the flailing spider, aiming first for the claw-like limbs that might be a threat before pulling them tight against the spider's body. As the dragon began to squeeze, Serra morbidly wondered if the spider would die from the bite wound or by being crushed to death.
The air began to smell as smoke drifted away from the spider's body as Serra realised that it was now also being cooked alive by the dragon's lightning. Even if it would've killed her if given the chance, Serra felt a prang of sympathy for the spider, though she made no move to help it.
Yet, her brow creased as she watched the two creatures tumble around as, unexpectedly, the lightning around the dragon began to lose colour and strength. She swore she spotted that, even as its flesh burnt, the spider, in a final act of defiance, had manged to drive its fangs into the body of the dragon.
A feeling told her that this was her moment, and she moved. Closing the short distance between herself and the two struggling beasts, she braced her arm and drove it forward, aiming for the dragon.
She hissed in pain as her hand and arm pushed through the dragon's lightning field even as she felt her muscles lock up, but she kept going and was rewarded as she felt her blade lodge itself into the dragon's skull.
The dragon's head whipped back, and it roared in pain, yet Serra kept pushing forward. The combined actions drove the blade deeper into the skull. She felt the pressure suddenly lessen as the dragon jerked.
Even as she realised that she'd pierced the predator's brain, a massive electrical explosion erupted.
Serra barely had time to realise that it had come from the dragon before she was slammed into the side of the rock-hill.
"Oof!" She blurted out involuntarily as the air was driven from her lungs before she slumped forward.
Pain exploded throughout her body as she landed on the ground face-first and felt something slash her cheek.
"Argh." She mumbled out, and then, with far more difficultly than she could comprehend, she lifted one arm and pushed herself over onto her back.
Her eyes began to close as the pain threatened to overwhelm her body. Though as the wind roared across her face, and she felt a familiar presence approaching through the Force, she turned her head.
It took her far longer than it should have, though that might just be because the everything was spinning, but she eventually turned enough to see the two predators.
Neither was moving, though there was a lot of smoke rising from the spider while the dragon wasn't moving; likely due to the knife that was buried up to the hilt in its skull.
Even though it strangely hurt, Serra smiled at the sight. With a groan she moved her hand to her belt and slowly, painfully, pulled her communicator from a pouch.
Activating the communicator, she lifted it towards her mouth.
"I'm. Done. Come. Down." Each word hurt to say, took far longer to say that it should have, and her voice sounded weak and hoarse, but she sent the message.
She felt the device vibrate, indicating an incoming message, and a hologram appeared. Without even looking at it, she knew it was Cam and her smile grew, though it again hurt to do so.
Whatever Cam said was too quiet for her to hear over the wind as it whistled around her, but she didn't care. She'd proven to herself, to Cam, to everyone, that she wasn't weak. That it wasn't the Force that made her special and she could what she wanted without it.
The pain from her arm became too much and it gave out, falling to the ground; making her lose her loose grip on the communicator.
Part of her mind was able to understand that the burnt smell wasn't just coming from the spider, but her robes as well, but she didn't mind. She'd competed her verd'goten.
Her last thought as her remaining strength deserted her and her eyes closed was why the brunt meat smell of the spider was so strong when the creatures weren't directly upwind of her.
I was pushed out of my meditation as fear seemed to tear at my very soul as a great pressure grew around my heart, and if not for the fact I was sitting, I suspected I'd have fallen over.
It felt as though the Force was screaming a warning in my head and I saw a flashing red notice in my interface; one that did nothing to help me regain control of the almost nauseating wave of panic that gripped me.
A bonded individual is in grave danger.
Serra Keto [High] is in danger.
[Serra? Serra?] I called out with Telepathy before remembering that the range of both that and the bond were insufficient for me to establish a connection.
When Serra had ventured out from the city of Khefstin, the ship we had arrived on – which was Duke Adonai's personal cruiser, the Cin Vhetin – had returned to orbit, which made the distance too great for me to attempt telepathic communication. And that was without the bracers being active.
Adonai had informed us that it was common practice for an adiik's family and sponsors to watch the hunt from orbit, so that they were close enough to monitor what was happening, but far enough away that no one could accuse them of interfering. However, with Kiffu been all but permanently covered in sand and lightning storms, all we could see was the brown hue of the planet as the sand and dust swirled around in the storms below.
"Shab!" I cursed as I shifted my legs.
I ignored the glances the nearby bridge crew gave me as I stood and I took the few steps needed to move from the corner of the bridge to reach the station that handled sensors. Since we'd returned to high orbit, I'd claimed that corner as my own and had only left to eat my meals or go to the toilet.
"What…" I began to ask, only to stop as another wave of fear smashed into my mind. One hand drifted to my temple as I closed my eyes to shake off this latest surge of terror.
Whatever was happening to Serra on the planet below was making her so scared that even with the distance between us, and the bracers active and limiting her ability to call upon the Force, that I was being overloaded with feedback.
Before the fear could fully overwhelm me, I activated Empathic Shield. As the tsunami of fear crashed against the mental barrier I'd erected with the Force, I opened my eyes and took a deep breath to centre myself. While Empathic Shield stopped be from being consumed by her fear, it did nothing for my own, which was still growing thanks, in no small part, because of the still flashing red notice in the Interface.
"What is going on do there?" I asked the sensor operator, finally able to get my question out.
"The storm's picked up. Again." The male Togruta replied without lifting his head from his station. "And I'm detecting an increase in electrical activity."
I rolled my eyes at his answer. While that was a suitable answer to what I'd asked, it wasn't what I'd meant, and he had to have known that. Though this was likely the Togrutan's way of getting back at me sitting so close to his station of the last few days.
Initially, it had surprised me to discover non-Humans working on the Duke's cruiser, as I had expected a human-only crew, but I quickly remembered that being Mandalorian was not about being Human, but a creed. An ideal.
The original Mandos hadn't been humans, instead being a now-extinct race known as the Taungs, so I really should've expected to encounter non-human Mandos. Though the four in the crew – 3 Togrutas and one Zabrak – were the first non-human Mandos I'd seen since arriving on Mandalore.
"What about Serra?" I prodded, batting down my irritation at the lack of useful information he given me.
"With all the electrical activity in the skies, it's hard to get a good reading, but her vitals are…" he paused as he focused on one readout in particular. "Her heart rate just spiked and I'm reading an increase in adrenaline."
"Take us down!" I snapped at the officer of the deck as I turned and looked at the female lieutenant in the command chair.
The woman snorted. "Not without direct orders from the Duke."
I growled and took a step towards the officer. I knew that she was only following orders, but my friend was in danger – so much danger that the Force and the Interface were both warning me about it – and she was more interested in following those orders than helping. It was infuriating to still have to deal with Mandalorians who didn't want Jedi here. We'd proved ourselves in the Institute, with the ijaat'akaanir, yet still many – even those loyal to House Kryze – were dismissive of our presence.
"Cameron!" I stopped mid-step and turned to see that the doors to the small bridge had opened. Master Fay was now standing just inside the room, her face marred by the knitting of her brow.
"Master. Serra's…" Fay raised a hand, silencing me mid-sentence.
"I felt it too. However, threatening the crew isn't the way we handle the situation." She remarked, a single eyebrow raising as she shifted her gaze downward.
I glanced down and felt my eyes widen as I saw my hand was gripping my lightsaber. I hadn't planned to do that, nor even realised I had. Yet, as my concern for Serra and anger at the officer of the deck's lack of interest in helping had flared, my hand must've drifted there on instinct.
"I… sorry." I muttered as I removed my hand from my hilt and felt my shoulders slump.
Fay smiled softly as she closed the distance between us. "It is quite alright. Being concerned for your friend is admirable, however be mindful that that concern doesn't make you more… aggressive in your need to help."
"Now, what can you tell me?" She asked even as she turned her gaze to the scanner station behind me.
"I awoke with…" I paused as I felt the Force shift.
The sense of danger was still there, but now there was something else. Something that made the Force alter its reaction.
On a hunch I stopped powering Empathic Shield and smiled as I felt, under a now diminished sense of fear, the barest whisps of calmness coming from Serra. There was something else there – confusion maybe, or unease – but it was harder to sense. Those kriffing bracers getting in the way of our connection.
"I sense it also." Fay said, drawing my attention from trying to interpret what I sensed from Serra though our bond back to my master. "The danger is still there, but Serra is more at ease with herself."
"She's calm." I said, expanding on what Fay had said. "There's still fear, but a sense of calmness is beginning to smother it."
Fay smiled again, though this time there was twinkle in her eye, hinting at her amusement. "Indeed. Still, even if young Serra now has her emotions under control, it would perhaps be prudent to lower our altitude."
"I already told them to do that."
Fay chuckled. "Yes, but this is not a Jedi vessel. We are here as guests of Duke Adonai." She explained before she turned towards the lieutenant. "Can you please summon the Duke?"
The woman turned and nodded. "Certainly, Master Jedi." Her eyes caught mine and she smirked before she tapped a button on the command chair. I realised that she hadn't been acting to spite me, but was merely respecting the chain of command, something I was all too familiar with from my former life.
"While there is no shame in being concerned for your friend, please remember that we should not let our… connections drive us to commit rash actions." Fay said as she turned back to face me.
As mentally reviewed the last few minutes, I was embarrassed about how I'd behaved. I knew going into this that Serra would be in danger, but the combined warnings from the Force and the Interface had sparked a concern for her that I hadn't expected. Serra was important to me, but the fear I'd felt – and still felt though it was less prevalent now – at the idea that I might lose her… It was unsettling.
I stood beside Fay in silence, sensing Serra's emotions through the Force as the warning it gave slowly began to settle. The notice in my Interface slowly began to shift as well, turning from red to a dark, then light orange.
More than likely she was reciting the Jedi Code to centre herself, and the vague, distant sense of confusion I was picking up was likely just her continued uncertainty about how effective the Code was. That was all my doing, and while I was glad that she wasn't blindly trusting the Code any longer, I wished that, for this moment at least, she could find something to fully place her faith in.
I was still standing there, with Serra's fear now all but entirely subsumed by her new-found serenity, as the bridge doors hissed open, and Adonai strode onto the bridge. He wasn't in his full armour – just the breastplate and thigh guards – but he looked more than ready for battle if the need arose.
"There's been a change in the adiik's situation?" He asked as he moved towards the lieutenant, who jumped from the command chair and clasped her fist to her heart.
"Her vitals spiked, likely in fear, and the other Jedi seemed to sense this." The female officer responded, her unease with the Force clear to hear in her tone. "Her vitals are still elevated, but not enough to suggest she isn't in imminent danger."
"While that may be the case, the Force is still warning of danger to Padawan Keto." Fay added as she drew Adonai's attention to her. "We both feel it would be prudent to descent partially."
"You want to fly into that?" Adonai asked, pointing to the viewport. The planet below was nothing more than a dusty brown colour as, like every day since we'd arrived, it was almost entirely engulfed in sand-filled lightning storms.
No matter how much the Mandalorians felt that it was nothing more than simple chance to how a planet for a verd'goten was selected, I believed – as did Fay – that the Force had guided Serra here. Though why that was wasn't something it felt like revealing to either of us; nor did my Interface want to drop me a hint.
"Yes. I sense that the moment is nearing." Fay said in that typically mysterious way that Jedi sometimes spoke. Now, since I could feel the Force, sense it in every living thing, I understood why they spoke that way. However, to those who couldn't sense it, that style of speech must've sounded a little… insane.
As Adonai stroked his beard, I saw the lieutenant frown at Fay's words. "While young Keto is my ward, she is one of your Order." Adonai stated after a moment's consideration. "Therefore, I'll follow your lead. Helm, take us into a lower orbit."
"Yes, my Duke."
The lieutenant returned to her station – the main tactical board – though not before I caught sight of her brow creasing further.
As the planet began to fill the entire viewport, I barely managed to keep a smile from creeping onto my face. The ship seemed to hum as the power core increased its output and a low rumble vibrated through the deck as the repulsor lifts on the underside of the hull powered up; taking the strain as we began our descent.
[Be safe.] I sent to Serra. Even if she couldn't hear me because of the distance and the bracers, I felt she'd sense the intent behind the words.
As we entered the upper atmosphere, the ship shuddered as the wind in the upper atmosphere began to batter the shields. No one lost their balance, but anyone in their sleep cycle would likely be jolted awake by the constant rocking we were now experiencing.
The shuddering and rocking of the ship continued as we descended further into the atmosphere, and soon we vanished from orbital view and been engulfed by the never-ending storms of Kiffu.
"My Duke, we are receiving a hail. The locals wish to know why we've begun to descend without permission." The comm operator reported.
"Tell them it is official Mandalorian and Jedi business." Adonai replied as I saw the corners of his mouth twitch upwards. "If that isn't sufficient reason, remind them we have permission from the Sheyf to land whenever and wherever we like."
"Yes sir." I couldn't see the man's face, but I was certain the comm operator was smiling that Adonai's words. If the situation was different, I likely would've too, but my mind was focused on Serra, and the danger she was still in.
"Engineering reports that due to the debris in the air, we'll only be able to stay here for about an hour before we'll be forced to land or return to a higher orbit." Another member of the bridge crew reported after we'd been descending for about ten minutes.
"Understood." Adonai replied, before he turned to face me and Fay. "Has there been any change?"
Fay shook her head. "Yes and no. While we can still sense that there is danger, I believe that Padawan Keto is able to handle the situation. Still, the closer we are, the more able we are to help if there is a need."
"True. And hopefully what your sensing means that she's close to finishing the hunt." Adonai replied before turning and looking out the viewport; though there was nothing to see as wind was full of dirt, sand and debris which limited our visibility to maybe five metres. "The sooner we can see the back of this dust-ball the better."
I supressed a chuckle at the Duke's words as I knew that his desire to leave wasn't due to the time it was taking Serra to complete her verd'goten, but because of the local government.
Once they'd learnt that the ruler of the Mandalore sector was in orbit, the ruling council of Kiffu – led by a person known as the Sheyf who happened to share the same family name as Quinlan Vos – had been in almost constant contact with the ship.
The Duke had spent most of the past few days dealing with those calls, and whatever the Sheyf wanted, in his quarters. Fay had also been contacted several times, though she had far more patience than the Duke, or she was better at hiding her annoyance, as she never seemed to be bothered by the various requests that came in. She also never bothered me with them. Even if I had been asked to help or to use them as distractions, I suspected I'd have done a piss poor job of helping with my mind preoccupied by Serra and her hunt.
Time seemed to crawl to a stop as I watched the shifting patterns in the brown sky outside the viewport and I wondered just how much longer we'd have to wait until we broke though the storm. Standing around and not doing anything while she was in danger was not something I was enjoying.
"Engineering reports we have thirty minutes left." Someone said and I blinked.
Either I'd been staring at the weather for far too long and become lost in my thoughts, or something had happened, and I'd lost a chunk of time. A quick glance at the bridge chronometer confirmed it was the former, which was probably for the best.
How much longer is this going to take?" I heard someone mutter from behind me and I turned to respond only to stumble and fall to a knee.
"Argh!" I grunted out as a wave of pain shot through my bond with Serra.
Quickly I reengaged Empathic Shield – I'd left it down to sense the moment anything happened to her – and pushed myself back to my feet.
"I'm fine Master. It's Serra…" I let my words trial off as I stopped answering Fay and turned back to the screen and cursed the fact that the view was still obscured.
With even a partially clear sight of the ground below, I could've abused Teleport, Telekinesis and Levitation to reach the surface faster; though it would've drained a fair amount of FP to do so. However, even then it would've been difficult to manage due to the winds on this planet. Thus, I was forced to wait around uselessly as Serra felt excruciating pain.
"How bad?" Fay asked. She was now close enough that she could place a hand on my shoulder in a gesture of support.
"Bad." Fay gave my shoulder a squeeze even as she turned to face Adonai and the bridge officer.
"Land the ship." Fay all but demanded.
"You heard the lady." Adonai said, earning a small nod of thanks from Fay. I'd have done the same if I wasn't preoccupied with worry about Serra.
If not for Fay's reassuring touch, I'd have started pacing so instead I glared at the viewport, all but demanding the storm broke so I could see what was happening with my friend.
The shaking and rattling grew louder as we descended further and faster into the storm. Lightning exploded as it crashed against the shields, and I heard a few people call about the effects the weather was having on the cruiser. Yet all I cared about was getting to Serra, to be able to do something, anything to help.
I felt impotent, useless, as I did nothing while Serra was subjected to such immense pain that I'd felt it so easily through our bond.
[Be at ease Cameron. The Force will guide us to her.] Fay said telepathically, sparing me from any public embarrassment about my feelings for my friend. Though I doubted the Mandalorians would see my situation as embarrassing. More likely they'd be surprised to see a Jedi so concerned with the life of another, even a friend.
[I know, master. I just hate feeling so… useless.]
[I understand but remember that Serra is strong. Perhaps stronger than any of us realise, and the Force is with her. Always.]
While Fay's words were meant to help, my mind instantly drifted back to why Serra was down there. Even if she wouldn't confirm it to me, I knew that a major part of her reasoning for her attempting this hunt was because of those boys. If anything happened to her, anything permanent… I'd make sure they lived just long enough to regret their mistake.
[Cameron. Be mindful of your fears. Don't let…]
"Incoming signal!" Someone called, ending my mental communication with Fay in an instant as my head snapped to the main holographic display that sat between the command chair – now occupied by Adonai – and the helm. The display sparked to life as an image began to appear.
"By the Force!" Fay muttered out as a shimmering blue image of Serra formed in the display.
Her clothing and face had clearly been burnt while she appeared to be lying on her back, holding her communicator close to her face and I suspected that it was only because the hologram was blue that we weren't seeing the full details of the damage done. Thankfully, her eyes were fine, though her goggles were nowhere in sight, and while there was a smile on her face, her lips looked beyond dry, and her eyebrows were gone.
"I'm. Done. Come. Down." Serra managed to force for her mouth. I felt my heart stop for a moment at how scratchy and hoarse her voice sounded, and I moved towards the display.
"Serra? Are y… What happened?" I asked, cutting myself off from asking if she was ok. She clearly wasn't and it was a stupid question to ask.
Serra didn't respond beyond her smile growing, though that action had me wincing as her skin around her mouth cracked and it appeared as though blood began to seep down her cheeks.
The image suddenly shifted, flailing around until it stopped and all I could hear was the wind as it whistled passed.
"Serra?! SERRA!" I screamed, not caring if I annoyed anyone on the bridge, but no reply came.
"Get us down there now!" Adonai ordered, an edge to his voice. I felt the hum of the generators increase and had to assume the crew were following his order without question.
"Cameron," Fay began, her hand coming to rest on my shoulder while I felt her reassurance and understanding through the Force, "Serra is strong."
"But…" I paused and licked my lips. Bringing myself to comment on the state she'd appeared in was more difficult than I'd expected. "It's…"
"I understand, Cameron. We are all worried about her, but you much have faith. Faith in her to have the will to stay strong until we reach her, and in the Force to guide and protect her."
For a moment, I wanted to lash out at Fay. Saying I had to trust the Force to protect Serra sounded so empty when I could see her lying there, so gravely wounded that she was unable to process it. However, I knew that Fay was simply trying to comfort me, so I let the moment pass.
"I… Yes, master." I replied with a deep sigh. "I just feel so…"
"At times like this we all do." Adonai offered, drawing my attention. "Dorgo was wounded during his hunt, and as my ship came in to collect him, he began to fade in and out of consciousness and there were moments where I feared I'd lost my first-born. Even though he made a full recovery, and I know young Serra will too, that day was one of the most nerve-wracking of my life."
"We have a lock on her communicator." The Togrutan scanner operator stated. "It's close to a rock formation that will make landing difficult. I'd advise we land five kilometres further south."
My head flew around, ready to snap at the crewmember, but Adonai beat me to it.
"No. Land us as close you can. Mando'ade Keto needs our help." I gave him a small smile of thanks at him calling Serra that, which he accepted with a nod, before I turned back to the viewscreen.
The seconds ticked by, and even though I knew there was little I could do, I still felt impotent just standing here waiting.
"Patience, Cameron. We are descending as fast as the ship will allow." Fay said, her hand still resting on my shoulder.
That's when I remembered my earlier idea about abusing three Force powers to reach the ground quicker. For a moment I considered using my earlier idea of Teleport, Telekinesis and Levitation to reach the ground quicker, though I quickly dismissed the idea.
Even though we were now closer to the ground, the strength of the wind, and the complete lack of visibility, made such an idea foolhardy at best, fatal at worst. Still, at least being able to contemplate such a foolhardy idea helped elevate some of my feeling of inadequacy.
"Perhaps you'd like to wait near the loading ramp?" Adonai suggested. "I'll have a med-team standing by, ready to deploy as soon as we land."
"Yes, that would be the best approach. Thank you." Fay replied and she guided me silently out of the bridge.
The walk to the loading ramp was done in silence. There wasn't much to be said and it was taking a lot of effort for me to not rush around in a frantic need to do something or lash out in anger at my failure to be helpful.
"Master Jedi." The ship's chief medical officer greeted us as she saw us approach the landing ramp. "We've got a hover-gurney ready to deploy but finding her in this storm could be tricky."
"We will handle that Doctor." Fay responded. "The Force will guide us to her, and we'll do what we can to temper the storm's fury."
"Ah… Yes. Thank you." The doctor didn't sound comfortable about us using the Force but it seemed she was wise enough to not dismiss the offer.
The vessel shuddered and I had to support myself against the wall to keep my balance. One of the three other members of the medical team wasn't so lucky and stumbled to the ground.
"Krern, you alright?" the doctor asked as another of her team helped the fallen one.
"Yes, doctor. Sorry."
I ignored the conversation as a new marker appeared on my Detection-boosted minimap. It shone with a bright pulse, and since the only other person beside Fay that I had a Solid or better Force Bond with on this planet was Serra, I knew it was her.
Yet, my breath caught in my throat as I saw that the marker was red. That was a new thing, and not a good sign.
With my worry and fear about Serra overriding any common sense, I Teleported. The loading area faded away as my vision was engulfed in a silver light as the Force power activated. When the light faded, the wind slammed into me and I stumbled to my right. My foot caught on something and I fell over.
"Oof!" I muttered as I slammed shoulder-first into the ground.
"Ugh." A weak, pained groan came from my left and I turned my head and gasped at what I'd tripped over.
My tongue seemed to get caught in my throat as I saw her up close, and I dry heaved for a moment as the faintest whisps of burnt flesh reach my nose.
Her robes weren't just burnt, they'd melted into her skin, and where the flesh was exposed, it was charred badly or a sickly white. Her face wasn't in much better shape with her lips cracked and there was a small trail of blood leaking from her mouth. I could also see that, like her eyebrows, her hair was all but gone; burnt off by whatever had happened.
I felt my anger flare, as a need to find whatever had done this to her and obliterate it surged through me. Yet, as I shifted so that my legs weren't pushing down on Serra's midsection, I pushed that desire down. Right now, all that mattered was stabilizing Serra until Fay arrived with the medical team.
[Master, I'm with Serra. Hurry!] I all but shouted through the Force to Fay as I moved my hand to check the back of Serra's head. She groaned as my fingers slipped into the last, smoking embers of her hair. I sighed in relief at not feeling any wetness, which suggested she wasn't bleeding there. Still, I had to be sure of her injuries and as I squinted my eyes closed as sand blasted into my face, I cast Observe.
Health: 26% [Third-degree burns, 16% of her body. Second-degree burns, 46% of her body. Infected cut on her thigh. Internal bleeding in several locations]
Force Potential: High
Threat Potential: Low
Reputation: Honoured Confidant
Force Bond: High
Affiliation Loyalty: You (87%) Republic (60%) Jedi Order (57%)
Emotional State: Relieved/Confused
Serra is relieved that she managed to kill the spark-dragon and prove to herself that she's not weak.
Though she is confused about why the spider smells so close and why she can't move or feel the wind on her face.
For a few seconds I froze, as for the second time in less than a minute I processed just how badly hurt Serra was and my tongue seemed to get caught in my throat. Though I snapped out of it instantly when her health dropped a percentage point.
With the barest of effort, I used Force Barrier to create a bubble around us, keeping the wind back as I placed my hand over her chest and activated Force Heal.
Force Heal target [Serra Keto] has the following injuries:
3rd-degree burns [16% of body]
2nd-degree burns [46% of body]
Internal bleeding [lower intestine, liver, spleen]
[Infected cut on left thigh: Minor]
Which injury would you like to heal?
Force Heal is not high enough to heal the following injuries of the subject:
3rd-degree burns [Master:50]
2nd-degree burns [Master:1]
Internal bleeding [Professional:50]
"Fuck!" I cursed, going back to my original curse words in a moment of anger.
Force Heal was only at Professional:3 as it wasn't a power that I'd spent a lot of time trying to level-up. Though I put aside my annoyance at having not levelled it up further and focused on what I could heal, starting with Serra's concussion.
A brief notice appeared in the Interface telling me it would cost 1349FP to heal her concussion. When I'd used Force Heal with the Lokella, I'd noticed that it cost more to use the Force to heal others, which made sense. As did the fact that my anatomy skills had an effect on how long and how costly it was to heal someone.
From what the Interface had explained, I needed Adept:1 in the appropriate anatomy skill for the FP cost to base at three times what healing the same injury on myself would take. There was also the issue that healing injuries on others was more time consuming and had a higher level requirement than if I was healing the same injury on myself.
It only took about thirty seconds to heal Serra's concussion – the fading of the dull blue light that flared between her head and my hand acting as a visible indicator – and I turned my attention to healing the infected cut on her leg.
[Cameron, I need you to lower your barrier.] Fay spoke into my mind just as the blue light that indicated my Force Healing was active appeared over Serra's leg. [I have already extended one around yours, so the wind won't be an issue.]
[Yes, master.] I replied and with an almost idle wave of one hand, I depowered Force Barrier. The fact I could so easily use the Force with but the briefest of moments to concentrate, when it took others several moments to gather their thoughts and use the Force how they wanted was a benefit of my unique powers and the Interface. And in situations like this, where I needed to do two or more things simultaneously, it was very useful.
I heard one of the medical team mutter what sounded like a curse as they approached, but they were just far enough away that I couldn't hear the exact words. It was enough though for me to glance to my right to see Fay, one hand extended away from her body, leading the Mandalorian doctor and her team to me and Serra.
"She's mainly got second-degree burns, though I think some of then are third-degree, and there's some internal bleeding as well." I stated as I shuffled back to allow the Doctor access. While I didn't want to move away, the doctor could do more for her than I could. "I've healed a cut on her leg but that's all I could do." I added, keeping the fact I'd healed her concussion hidden as the doctor might want to reprimand me for healing the mind and thus take time away from her treating Serra.
"How… The Force. Right." The doctor said after a momentary pause. "Very helpful, but it's not something either me or my staff are used to." She muttered as she ran a medical scanner over her body.
She turned to face her team, who were hovering near the gurney. "The adiik's right. We need to get her on the bed."
"I've got it." I said as her team began to move the bed closer to her and gently, after making sure I had a grip on every part of her, elevated Serra with Telekinesis.
"Haran." One of the medical team muttered as Serra's body floated up. The faintest of groans slipped past her charred lips as I moved her over to, then on to the repulsor-lift gurney.
"Thank you." The doctor muttered as she turned to the small console on the gurney. She tapped at a few buttons and a panel extended out of the gurney, closing around Serra's midsection. It was followed by a soft hissing as the faint whisp of bacta's sickly sweet smell drifted towards me.
"Cameron." Reluctantly, I turned from Serra to look at my master. "While I'm not going to reprimand you for using the Force to reach Serra quickly, indeed I think your actions may have helped save her, in the future, I would prefer if you at least told me what you were going to do before you do it." Her tone was light and almost jovial but there was no smile on her face.
"Good. Now, with Serra now secured, perhaps you could carry her kills back to the ship?" Fay asked, glancing with her head behind me.
I turned and saw three creatures lying close together. Furthest from the centre was what looked like the remains of a static tree, though it was charred black and looked to be missing a few limbs. That wasn't something that Serra could've hunted for her verd'goten, but given to the other creatures, I suspected that it had been what led Serra to her kill.
Far closer together where the smoking remains of what two creatures. The first, I suspected was an energy spider. Though I postulated that from I'd learnt from my Observe of Serra as the spider's legs had either been burnt clean off or they'd been pulled in close instinctively to protect the spider then become merged with the body when the spider had been flame-grilled.
The third creature, a spark-dragon, was clearly the one that Serra had killed as it had my knife lodged to the hilt in the top of its skull.
As I stepped closer, I saw that the dragon was missing one of its four wings, a smaller upper one, and unlike everything around it – flesh and stone – didn't show any sign of having been burnt. The skin was smoking, and looked dried out, but apart from the missing wing, the knife and a horrible looking bite near its tail, there was no real damage to the beast.
Not knowing the exact rules, I lifted all three creatures. Perhaps there was something that could be harvested from the spider and static tree as an extra bonus for Serra.
Turning, I saw Fay watching me with a wrinkled brow. "Once we have confirmed Serra is safe, I wish to speak with you privately." She said as I came closer, the three beasts floating along behind me.
"Yes, master." As said as she began to walk beside me back to the ship, the doctor and her team a good twenty metres in front of us as they moved as quickly, though not too quickly. Likely they were concerned about Serra's condition and wanted to avoid any unexpected jolts.
"And I'm sorry." I continued. "For letting my anger get the better of me."
"Your friend was in grave danger." Fay replied. "To not show concern and worry for them would make you no better than a Sith. And while you did well in controlling that anger and fear, I think a reminder in the dangers of the Dark Side wouldn't go amiss." She said softly as we walked. "Plus, it may well help distract your mind from the concern I sense even now."
While I had heard everything she'd said and agreed that meditation and talking would help distract my mind, I knew my worry wasn't going to go away. Not until Serra awoke and I could speak with her to understand what had happened.
I opened my eyes as I felt the ship begin to descend into an atmosphere, ending my meditation and stopping the five Force Powers I'd had active while doing so.
Yes, training with so many powers active at once was a bit of a cheat but given that my FP regen increased to 650% of normal when I meditated, it was also a great way to improve various powers. Though, the logistical limitation was that those powers had to be ones that ran silent, out of sight, or didn't need me to concentrate to control them like the kinesis powers.
The continued soft, gentle beeping that I'd been listening to for the last few days drew my attention instantly. Even though the technology in this universe was more advanced than my old one, the monitors here still beeped with the heartbeat of the patient in the bed. In this case, Serra.
She was resting peacefully in the medical bed, various sensors attached to her body while most of the skin was covered in bacta patches. The burns had all receded – a testament to the power of bacta – and her skin was looking a more natural and healthier colour and her hair had begun the long process of growing back, but she was still in an induced coma to help her heal.
Seeing her like this, and vividly remembering how we'd found her on Kiffu, made me frown. The time between her pain overloading the bond until I'd reached her had been the longest, and most soul-crushing, of my life. To not be able to do anything to help her while she was in such pain had felt horrible at the time.
Though over the last few days I had realised it had also humbled me. Until that moment, nothing that I'd wanted to do had been beyond me. With the Force, I'd been able to far more than any child had a right to do. Hell, I'd done more than most adults were capable of. Yet in the time before I reached her, I could do nothing but wait and pray.
When I had reached her, I could only heal her less critical injuries – and I cursed myself daily for not focusing on Force Heal as a power to level up – before allowing Adonai's medics to take over.
While the Cin Vhetin wasn't equipped with a bacta tank, it was well stocked with bacta patches and gels, and Adonai had set an immediate course back to Mandalore, stating a desire to get as far away from Kiffu, and its ruler, as he could.
Fay had suggested taking Serra to the Jedi Temple, but Adonai had been against that idea as Serra was now Mando'ade, and the Mandalorians took care of their own. I was grateful for that as, feeling as shit as I did, the last thing I wanted was to have to face Master Drallig; and the grilling the High Council was likely waiting to give me for what had happened over the last few months.
While Doctor Harvik – I'd learnt the doctor's name after returning to the ship with Serra – had taken Serra into the Cin Vhetin's medical bay for a thorough examination, Fay had taken me aside and spoken with me. As I'd expected, the talk had been about me allowing my fear and worry over Serra to cloud my judgement.
Surprisingly, Fay had then explained that while those emotions were not things to ignore and that I shouldn't deny I had them, but that I had to make sure that they were not to be used to drive my actions. Such behaviour, she said, was the slippery slope that led one to allowing the Dark Side of the Force a chance to take root within you. While she commented that there was darkness within me – mirroring Nilas' words from several years ago – she said that it wasn't something that appeared to be taking control, but I had to be cautious in moments where my fear and anger surged.
The hissing of the door drew my attention away from my resting friend and I turned to see Fay enter. Though my brow rose as I saw Dooku and Master Drallig following a step behind.
"Masters." I said in greeting as I stood and lowered my head for a moment. Normally, I wouldn't do that, and Fay and Dooku didn't mind. However, with Drallig here, and his Padawan lying in an induced coma beside me, I felt it best to act more akin to a normal Padawan.
"How is she today?" Fay asked as Drallig moved passed her to the other side of Serra's bed.
"The same. Doctor Harvik said that her wounds are healing well, and she should be fully healed in a few days. The doctor also altered the medicine to slowly bring Serra out of the coma." I replied, summarizing what Harvik had told me earlier this morning as Drallig examined Serra and the monitor displaying her vitals.
"And how exactly did my Padawan get so badly burnt that she had to be kept sedated for five days?" Drallig asked in a tone that was only a touch short of a demand. His brow had dropped, while his eyes were now locked on me and in that moment, I was glad that Deadly Sight was not a Force ability used by the Jedi.
Honestly though, he could be furious and blame me all he wanted. Nothing he could say or do could be worse than the bashing I'd already given myself over what had happened. Serra was my best friend, and someone I cared deeply for; far more than I'd even realised until Kiffu had happened. And as such, I'd spent days berating and torturing myself trying to see what I could've done better to keep her safe; or at least reached her quicker.
"She completed her verd'goten." I replied steadily as his eyes narrowed further at my answer. "It was her choice."
Drallig continued to stare at me, his eyes seeming to search for something. Finally, after what felt like one of the longest moments of my life, he lowered his head, pinched the bridge of his nose and sighed loudly.
"Force grant me strength." He mumbled as his head shook from side to side.
Slowly, he lifted his head until our eyes could meet. "This was not how I expected her time away from the Temple to go. I anticipated something happening, you have a… knack for finding yourself in situations, such as the trial by combat."
He raised a hand, cutting off my defence. "I have spoken extensively with both your masters concerning that, and I do not hold you responsible. At least, not beyond choosing to train on the planet unto which we are now landing." He paused, sighed again and looked down at Serra. "But this… This will cause problems for her when she returns. And for you as I suspect you'll be doing this verd'goten trial once you're able to?"
"Yes, Master Drallig."
He nodded, though he didn't seem happy about my answer. "Hmm. The High Council will not like this. There hasn't been a Jedi accepted by the Mandalorians since Tarre Vizsla. As you may know, he was taken in by the Order during the New Sith Wars but left the Order to lead his people. The Council will be… concerned about history repeating itself. Particularly regarding your familial tie to these people."
"I don't have any intention of doing that, master." I replied honestly. While the idea was tempting, I dismissed it almost instantly. I couldn't deny that while I was generally enjoying my time on Mandalore, and respected those who followed a warrior's code, I had no interest in becoming their leader.
Drallig glanced at Fay before he spoke again. "Be that as it may. Your actions have caused concern among many in our Order. Learning that you came here will just inflame those concerns. However, I for one do not share them. While you do tend to get into situations, your actions are those of one who wishes to help, not conquer."
"I… Thank you." I didn't know what I'd done to earn Drallig's respect, or at least a small part of it, but I wasn't going to reject it.
The faintest of smiles danced across his face for a moment. "The thanks should go to your masters. Masters Dooku and Fay are two very respected, if slightly unorthodox, members of our Order. That both would consent to train you speaks volumes about your character. As does Serra's continual support."
The smile vanished as his words took the conversation back to his Padawan.
"As you're no doubt aware, Serra's always been more… rebellious than other Padawans. Likely that was one of the reasons she was drawn to you." The corners of his lips twitched, likely remembering something Serra had said or done. "When I first learnt that you'd gone to Mandalore, I was concerned about putting her in a place with strong Anti-Jedi tendencies. A worry confirmed by the attack on her." I opened my mouth to say something, but he raised his hand to stop me.
"I do not blame you for what happened Padawan. I can even, just about, overlook the… approach you and Serra chose for handling the situation as you were isolated there. I blame the Mandalorians for allowing such a thing to be an option for settling disputes."
"Yet, just over a week ago, the Force screamed out, and I sensed fear from my Padawan. Given to the distance between Coruscant and Mandalore, I grew concerned as sensing her fear at such a range would only be possible in the direst of circumstances. Yet, when I tried to contact her directly, there was no reply. Instead, I was forced to reach out to Prime Minister Worra, but all would tell me was that she had left the planet with the other Jedi and Duke Adonai Kryze to attempt, as he put it, an archaic tradition."
"With the Minister being… vague, I decided that travelling here would be the best option, and I was fortunate enough that Master Dooku was preparing to leave the Temple that very day. When we arrived here, the Minister continued to be vague and generally unhelpful."
He paused, and I bit off a comment about vagueness being a feature of most politicians, then looked down at Serra, one hand moving towards her only to stop halfway. He then turned his attention to Fay. "Master Fay then contacted Master Dooku, though she did not explain what this tradition entailed, nor the reasons for Serra being in an induced coma."
Fay smiled enigmatically. "That was not my information to reveal. Young Serra was healing, and we were but a few days away from arriving."
"Yes, but it didn't exactly set my mind at ease." Drallig retorted, though his mouth twitched upwards as he spoke. "Though seeing her here, alive and recovering, does." He returned his focus to me. "I understand that you took a risk to reach her first and were the one pushing for others to help her. Thank you."
"Serra's my friend, Master Drallig. Not helping her just isn't something I could do."
The twitch of his lips turned into a small smile. "As I said, one who wishes to help. Still, you have my thanks young one. Though I am still curious as to why she wished to attempt such an outdated tradition as a ritual hunt."
"I know why." I replied slowly. "She's got a few reasons for why she did this, but it's not my story to tell." I finished, making clear I wasn't going to betray Serra's trust, not even to her master.
"I understand and even respect that, Padawan. Which leaves me having to wait until Serra awakens to learn her reasons." Drallig responded and we both looked at the sleeping girl.
As I looked at her, and the myriad of bacta patches that covered her skin where it was exposed, I felt that now familiar feeling of failure and helplessness return.
"Cameron, perhaps it would be best if we gave Master Drallig some time alone with his Padawan." Fay suggested, making me shift my attention to her.
"Indeed. I wish to review this tournament final you fought in." Dooku added before I could get a word in. "I am most… perplexed by several of your choices in that duel and wish to understand your reasoning for them."
I gulped. Hard.
"I, uh…" I mumbled as a cold shiver went up my spine.
Ever since the fight had ended and I'd had time to review it in my mind, I'd been dreading Dooku finding out about it. His opinion on the use of blasters, and the glaring flaws in Ataru were well known to me. Yet, I'd still a pistol in the fight with Gar Saxon, and the less said about my failed attempt at a Hawk-bat swoop the better.
"Come along." Dooku said, a vague sense of amusement coming from him and Fay at my reaction.
"I would also recommend you eat after your discussion." Fay added, her amusement creeping into her tone. "If Serra wakes while you are away, I will let you know."
I sighed. There was no way I could avoid this, so better to deal with it now and rip the bandage off, so to speak. "Thank you master. Master Drallig, for what it's worth I never wanted any of this to happen to her." I added after getting the man's attention.
"I know. Now I suggest you hurry up. Master Dooku was… displeased when we first saw a recording of your fight with the Saxon boy."
I turned and moved to the door of the medical bay. Dooku was waiting there, his usual stoic expression on his face. He said nothing, choosing instead to walk in silence. As I followed him, I silently prayed that his methods for discussing my mistakes weren't too painful or tiring.
And we're done.
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Whether you vote in that or not...
May the Force be with you. Always.