Chapter 2

The voice was soft and low, but cut through the room like a vibroblade. Standing behind Knight Er'izma was a thin man who hadn't been there a moment before. Clad in a black and grey robe, hood shadowing his face, armored chest piece peeking out from its folds, lightsaber hanging from his hip, the room seemed to darken with his very presence.

"Do not worry, youngling," he reassured Jorel, his voice smooth like cyrene silk. "You shall not abandon your friend to the fate you fear. If she wills it, I will be her master, and show her the very places she longs to see."

Despite the Jedi's words, Anaïs froze as his Force presence washed over her like a dark tide. Her ability to sense through the Force was better than Jorel's, but while her friend was a Loth-Wolf Pup, strong yet vulnerable, and Knight Er'izma was a Company of Soldiers, all united with purpose but with odd variations and differences between them, this man was something else entirely. The air seemed thick with a sickly-sweet, cloying darkness, the shadows cast by the light in the ceiling swirling with potential.

It brought to mind what she'd read of the Jedi's old foe, the Sith, but something seemed to be missing. She was a bit ashamed to admit it took her a long moment to put a name to it. While she could feel the disturbances the Jedi in front of her made in the force, and likely everyone in the temple could, what it was lacking was emotion.

There was no hate, no fear, no rage like the records all agreed poured off the users of the Dark Side of the Force like water. There were no temptation to abandon her own control, to give in to her emotions for her to resist, like the veterans of the New Sith Wars warned of. There was only a deep enshrouding darkness, with the faintest glimmer of something hiding deep inside, smothered by the black mists that surrounded the man.

The sound of a lightsaber activating brought her out of her reverie, and she glanced over to see that Jorel had taken a step forward, putting himself between her and the others. "Who are you?" he demanded, the Force running through his form, prepared for a fight.

From the two Jedi's stances, neither of them saw the Padawan as a threat. "Master Lucian, youngling. Jedi Sentinel, and, likely, Master to Padawan Vand-Ryssa, if she'll have me." The man's face was still in shadow, but the grin was evident in his voice.

"I've never heard of you," the Padawan replied, not backing down. He glanced at her when she put a hand on his shoulder. She appreciated his defense of her well-being, but she felt it wasn't necessary. He shot her a worried look, but she shook her head, and he deactivated his blade, stepping back.

Anaïs turned to face the Master, and requested, politely, "Please forgive Jorel's actions, Master Lucian, but your presence in the force is. . . distressingly similar to those fallen to the Dark Side, though you lack the more. . . emotional elements." She chose her words carefully, as accusing a Jedi of falling was not something done without proof.

Instead of taking offense, the man flipped back his hood, revealing a young, human-looking face, pale skin, pointed ears, a wry smile, and deep purple eyes. Not replying to her, he looked to Er'izma while waving towards her, as if she was the answer to a long-standing argument.

"I never said you were wrong, only that you must be careful, Master," the larger man pointed out, "Only that you should be sure."

"And I am," the other Jedi countered easily, turning back to her. "So, Anaïs Vand-Ryssa, Temple Initiate, do you take myself, Jedi Master Lucian, as your Master, until you pass your Knighthood Trials?" His tone was oddly formal, as if they were standing in front of the High Council. His swirling presence stilled, the darkness reaching out towards her, but stopping short, as if waiting.

"I, I get a choice?" she asked. That wasn't how this worked. As far as she was aware, this wasn't how any of this worked. A Jedi would meet an Initiate, talk with them, perhaps see their prowess in the Force, and after a few days would take them as their Padawan, or they'd leave without saying a word. For this Master Lucian to approach her, in secret, seemed to fly in the face of the Order's protocols, though she couldn't think of a rule that forbade it. Jedi took padawans in the field without approval from the High Council, from time to time, and there was nothing that stated that the Jedi Temple itself was exempt from that.

The grey-clad Jedi nodded, tone kind, as if her question was silly, but understandable. "Of course you do. This is not a small decision, nor one you should not make lightly. Jedi do not go back on their promises, and, though we do not name it as such, the bond between Master and Padawan is a promise. One of learning, guidance, and protection."

It was Knight Er'izma's nod of agreement that forced her to point out, "But Jorel didn't get a choice."

"Yes, he did," the dark-skinned human countered. "He could choose to accept me, or to reject me. What he could not do was force me to take you as a Padawan. Jorel, do you still not wish to be my Padawan?"

The young man in question looked unsure, glancing towards her. She nodded, telling him without words that she'd be alright. He sighed, hanging his head slightly, "No, I'm okay with it."

"Only okay?" his Master asked, amused. "I see I have my work cut out for me. And you, young lady. Do you wish to be this man's Padawan?"

She looked at Lucian, who barely seemed ten years her senior, and closed her eyes, trying to feel the will of the Force. If she ever needed guidance, it was now. She'd struggled with the technique, only ever receiving the slightest hints after deep meditation. She could feel the presence of the man before her, the darkness he exuded almost churning the Force around him. While odd, almost distressing when compared with the calm state the Force naturally rested in, she could make out something through it. The impressions were quickly covered once again, never a complete picture, but flashes of. . . something.

She saw hints pain, and evil, and the Dark Side if she went with him, but also of peace, and hope, and the Light. If she didn't, the same picture presented itself, only dimmed, the contrast lowered, the darks lighter, but the lights darker as well. It was no obvious 'go here' or 'do this' as the Masters spoke of when they claimed to hear the Will of the Force, but it was something. There was no correct choice here, no way the Force directed her to go, only two paths, one of extremes, and one of safety, both balanced, in their own ways. The decision was not clear, but she would make it, and face the consequences with her head held high.

"I do," she stated with a confidence she didn't feel, opening her eyes and meeting her Master's. "I do wish to become your Padawan."

At her words, the darkness roiled as it burst forward, covering her as the shadows poured over her own presence in the Force. But, rather than drowning her, they seemed to wrap around her own presence protectively, stilling and thickening in places, a glint of something else passing through its umbral depths, something warm, but resolute. Pulling away, the shadows receding back from where they came. a small amount remained, a thin line of shining darkness leading back to their source, though the presence no longer felt dangerous, but comforting, like the safety of one's unlit room after a trying day.

Blinking, she looked at Jorel, who stared back concerned and more than a little worried. She felt a breeze, and realized the windows of the room had broken, only a few clear shards remaining. Knight Er'izma coughed politely, commenting, "Master, I believe your control slipped a little."

From one moment to the next, Lucian's force presence disappeared, as if it was never there. It was only her connection to him that let her feel his presence in the Force, and that presence felt. . . embarrassed? "Ah, yes. Well, I believe it's time to leave then. Wouldn't want any more. . ." he trailed off.

"Misunderstandings?" the Knight supplied, dryly.

"Indeed," her Master agreed, quickly changing topics. "Do either of you two have any friends you need to say goodbye to, personal effects to gather, things of that nature?"

"A Jedi must be above attachments to physical objects," she replied. It was hard, at times, but such connections only served to tie one down and allow emotions a hold over a force user. Looking at her friend, who was suddenly looking anywhere but her, she sighed. "Jorel."

"Meet us at the entrance in five minutes, Padawan," Knight Er'izma instructed. "Move like the wind, I have a feeling we won't be allowed to tarry long."

The young man took off like a shot, barely waiting for the doors to open as he ran with Force-gifted speed.

The Knight started to walk out, motioning for her to follow, her Master falling in step with him. "Do I know how to pick 'em?" the larger man asked.

"You certainly have enough practice," the younger-looking Jedi replied caustically, though she could feel the words were meant in jest.

A feeling affirmed as the Knight laughed with easy confidence, "That I do."

They'd made it almost down the hall when the sound of several pairs of pounding footsteps came from around the corner. Slowing to a stop, the three waited as none other than Master Halrol, flanked by two temple guards, rounded the bend in the hallway, only to stop as they looked upon the other three.

The Jedi Master, and member of the Council of Reassignment, stared at her for a long moment, before glaring at Knight Er'izma. "What are you doing here?" he demanded coolly.

In response, the Knight just smiled, though it had an edge to it. "I'm taking a Padawan, of course. I know, my chaotic schedule can cause problems. I will seek to be more regular in the future, Master Jedi."

Master Halrol's scowl deepened, "Initiate Vand-Ryssa has been spoken for."

Knight Er'izma looked around the hallway. "By whom? I wasn't aware she had a Master when I arrived."

"Master Skaa has selected her as his Padawan, Knight," the councilman stated coldly. "He has for half a year, and will be here for her in three months' time. Pick another."

Anaïs had to work hard to keep her expression neutral, staying quiet even as she tried hard not to feel upset. She'd asked Master Halrol a month ago, and he said to 'Trust in the Will of the Force.' She'd thought he had some insight and was guiding her to find it for himself, not that the Jedi Master had known the date her 'master' would come, but he'd decided to not tell her, for some reason.

She felt amusement, and understanding, from her Master, and looked over to ask him what he thought was so funny, only to find he wasn't there. She could feel he was nearby, but his presence was nonexistent, and she couldn't see him. Trying to focus on him as the Knight and Master before her argued about her as if she wasn't there. She could follow his presence to. . . Master Halrol?

Looking at him, she could almost see a ripple behind the three, only for her Master to silently slip out of a shadow that wasn't there. Looking at her, and raising a single finger to his lips, he reached down and turned the intensity of Master Harlol's lightsaber down to training levels, doing the same to both guards as well, before taking a silent step back and leaning against the wall.

"So, let me see if I understand this completely," Knight Er'izma said, with a tone of dawning understanding, bereft of any negative emotion. "You are saying that Padawan Anaïs Rand-Vyssa is in fact an Initiate, but one who another Master has said he is going to take on as a Padawan, but she isn't one now, and while there's no rule that says one can claim an Initiate in advance, you state that Master Skaa has achieved this feat, somehow, and despite her currently being an initiate I cannot take her as a Padawan, despite that being how the system explicitly works, and has since the Ruusan Reformations?"

Anaïs could practically see the vein throbbing on Master Halrol's temple. She'd never seen the normally cold and superior Jedi so unbalanced, and she didn't know how to take it. "I'm glad you finally understand why you cannot take Initate Vand-Ryssa as your padawan, Knight. If you are looking for someone more your. . . caliber, I have some suggestions."

Knight Er'izma smiled beatifically. "No need, I've already taken a Padawan. Come along Padawan," he called, turning his back on the councilman, and she moved to follow.

"Knight Er'izma. I command you to stop," Master Halrol ordered. When the Knight turned to look at him, he spat out, "You cannot take her as your Padawan."

The other man blinked, looking to her and the Councilor member. "What? Oh, you thought I was taking her? Oh, this entire conversation makes so much more sense now. Why didn't you say so?" he asked with perfect honesty.

Anaïs looked at the man, as did the others, while her Master just shook his head. Knight Er'izma had told Master Harlol he was taking her as his Padawan, hadn't he? While her real Master effectively disarmed the temple guards. Or had he?

"No, I've taken Jorel Drettz as my Padawan. He's meeting us outside. No, another Master has taken Padawan Vand-Ryssa as his own, which is why I was so confused about your statements about Master Skaa, as she already has a Master," The man explained, with the air of someone who has found the last piece of a puzzle. "We're all four leaving together."

"She has no master other than Lanchu Skaa!" Halrol practically yelled. "She has been chosen, and that is the end of things. As a Master of the Order, I command you, Knight, to leave here, without her."

If the Knight was bothered by this, he didn't show it, his expression, body language, and presence in the Force only displaying unmoved solemnity. "No, I'm fairly certain she has a different master. They've formed a Padawan bond and everything. You can confirm its presence in the Force, if you doubt the word of a lowly Knight such as myself."

With a withering look to Knight Er'izma, Master Halrol stepped forward, coming right up to her. Staring at her, almost through her, she could feel his presence, quick and sharp, reach out to her, only to draw back as it brushed against the shadows that drifted protectively around ehr. His look darkened, a snarl twisting across his face as he turned, staring at Master Lucian. "You!" he accused, as if it were a curse.

Her Master just waved one gloved hand, still leaning against the wall. "Hi Hally. How ya doin'?

"Seize him!" Halrol commanded the guards, who activated their yellow double-bladed lightsabers.

Lucian loosed his control of his aura, allowing it to lightly billow outwards in the Force, causing the guards to tighten their grips even though the Master only seemed as strong as a Knight now, most of his presence still concealed. Reaching out with one hand, he gently pushed the blade away with a slight sizzling sound, the guards frozen in shock. "I have broken no laws, violated no strictures, Jedi Master Halron. I have found a Padawan and, following the Orders of the High Council, I am not remaining here for more than a few hours. I haven't even been here for one. I hope you've learned the rules since the last time we met, so you know that once a Force Bond has been created between master and apprentice, the Force has decided the matter."

Halron's hand twitched, as if he wanted to grab his own saber, but he replied with words instead of action. "It's some Sith trick. Force Bonds can be severed, if the need is great enough." At that, the guards hesitated, before stepping away from her Master. "What are you doing?" the councilman demanded.

Her Master grinned, pushing himself off the wall, and walking towards them. "Those called as Temple Guards know the rules, Hally, in a way that you haven't in the fifty years I've been gone, for they respect their position. And you still have that anger problem. How did you ever become a Master?" He shook his head. "Don't worry though, with any luck it'll be five years, or more, before I darken your doorstep with my presence again."

"She can't leave," Master Halrol stated with authority as the other man approached. "She is to apprentice to Master Skaa, who is of good standing, unlike yourself."

Something the councilman said struck a chord with her Master, though he gave no outward appearance of the sudden spike of cold anger that lanced through him. Despite what she could feel, however, his presence in the Force remained undisturbed. Stepping past the other Master, not looking at him, Lucian stopped. "And people wonder why I haven't returned, if this is what the standards for the Order's Masters nowadays," he stated, voice precise. "Grandmaster Coven, may she find peace in the Force, declared my status, youngling, and Grandmaster Yoda, Doctrinal Jumping Bean that he is, would not be so petty as to revoke it without cause. I will be taking my Padawan and leaving without any more interference. If you wish to attempt to strike me down in full view of the Temple Guards, I'm sure the Order would be better off without you."

Without another word, he walked down the hall, the other two following.


They reached the entrance, Jorel waiting for them, not having said another word the entire way. "There you are," the young man greeted. "I was here on time, but I thought you might've left without me." It was said as a joke, but Anaïs could tell it wasn't.

"Sorry," she apologized, "We were held up because of me." Both her and Jorel's Masters didn't break stride, walking past them, and the two Padawans fell into step behind them.

"Not because of you," Knight Er'izma commented over his shoulder. "Because of Temple politics, which is like interstellar politics, only everyone is even more sure of their own moral superiority. Don't worry," he continued, at Jorel's pained grimace, "You'll learn how to navigate it soon enough. Now," he said as they approached the waiting airspeeder. "Who wants to drive, because it won't be me. Apprentice, you said you were a deft pilot."

"In space, sir," the young man corrected. "It's a lot harder to run into things in space. But I-"

Without a word, Lucian lightly leapt, landing in the pilot's chair. "You just wanted a chauffeur, as usual," he grumbled. "Have you ever learned to drive?"

With gravitas and grace, the other man took the other front seat. "If I have, I surely wouldn't tell you, Master. Come along," he instructed the Padawans. "He rarely wrecks his speeders."

"It was one time," the Master Jedi groused, "and I was drugged."

"Sleheyron," the Knight corrected.

"He hit me, doesn't count," the Master riposted.

"Mandalore."

Lucian huffed, "Who doesn't crash at least one speeder on Mandalore?" He glanced at the two, increasingly hesitant, Padawans. "We're sticking to the top hundred levels of Coruscant, we haven't announced our presence, and the Temple was our only stop. We'll be fine."

After getting inside, Lucian waited until they buckled up before taking off. She expected, from everything she'd seen so far, for him to drive using the Force as his guide, weaving in and out of traffic as fast as the speeder would go. Instead, he joined the orderly flow of traffic, moving at a moderate pace. As if in response to her curiosity, Lucian explained, "We do not have attention, nor do we want it. If you truly wish to be a Sentinel, you must learn how to go undetected, even without the Force. Talk with your friend, Apprentice. It may very well be months, if not years before you see each other again in person."

She sat back in her seat, trying to think of what to say. She'd spent several hours a day with Jorel. Training, learning, meditating. With everything that had just happened, it still didn't feel real, though she could sense the Jedi Temple getting further and further away from her. She'd left the Temple before, as all Initiates did, to get the kyber crystal that she would make into her lightsaber, and on occasional trips to familiarize herself with the rest of the world, but since she was three she'd lived in the Temple, and now she was leaving it for, if her Master was to be believed, five years. Close to a third of her life so far would pass before she returned. What did someone say to that?

"You said there was a problem leaving?" Jorel asked, and she smiled, thankful for the distraction.

"We ran into Master Halrol," she told him. "Apparently he has a history with our Masters." Glancing to the pair in question, they were having a whispered conversation, lost to the sound of the speeder's engine and the wind which was whipping through their hair. "Remember how I said he told me not to worry about Reassignment? How it was up to the 'Will of the Force?'"

Her fellow Padawan's expression hardened. "Don't tell me, he tried to reassign you on the spot?"

"I wish," she muttered, getting a concerned look. "Apparently Master Skaa had determined I was to be his Padawan, but no one had seen fit to inform me," she explained. "He was set to arrive in three months and 'claim' me."

Shooting a glance towards their Masters himself, Jorel replied, "I see what Er'izma said about Jedi's lying. Though if you asked, I'm sure he'd say that he wasn't lying, that this Master Skaa coming is the 'will of the Force', so he was only telling the truth." Her friend had never had the best opinion of some of their instructors, but she'd dismissed his complaints as general, undirected grumbling. She wondered what else she'd missed, sure that the Jedi would always follow their own rules, the very same rules she was expected to follow without question.

Lapsing into silence once again, she tried to find something to say. "Apparently my Master is just as old as yours," she finally commented. "He knew Grandmaster Fae Coven. Said she said that he was okay, even with his. . . you know."

Jorel nodded, understanding completely. Their car dipped, heading towards a large set of hangers, several holding corvettes. Leaning forward, he asked the Masters, "Are we taking a Consular-class cruiser?"

"No, Padawan. We'll be parting ways with them when we land," Knight Er'izma called back.

They were on a slow approach towards a large hanger, in which only rested a single shuttle, far to the back, most of the space completely empty. She could barely make out two white armored figures with purple accents standing at an open boarding ramp.

She turned to her fellow Padawan, her friend, and tried to say something, the words not coming. "I. . . I. . ."

"I'll miss you," he said for her, and she nodded, feeling an upswell of emotion she hadn't expected, nor was she ready for. She shouldn't have such connections, for the emotions they created were not befitting a Jed-

"It's fine to miss your friend," her Master told her, likely knowing what she was feeling through their Padawan Bond. She'd studied them, and, while they could rarely convey hard information, they were always empathetic connections.

Landing, all four disembarked, the speeder flying on autopilot back into the city. "That shuttle is ours," Knight Er'izma stated, giving her Master a significant look.

With a small smile that bordered on smug, Master Lucian waved his hand, the air in the shuttle seeming to ripple and shift. Appearing out of thin air, easily a hundred meters long, a corvette shimmered into existence. The entire thing was painted the deep red that signified diplomatic immunity, the same as a Consular-class cruiser, though unlike that Jedi ship it seemed to be built in straight lines, lacking any kind of curves whatsoever.

With another wave, a docking ramp opened, and Master Lucian started to head for it. "You can say your goodbyes. We've got a few minutes for everything to warm up, and I'm blocking in his Master, so he's not going anywhere. Once we clear Coruscanti space, your real training will begin," he called over his shoulder. "Then we'll see exactly how well your time in the Temple has prepared you for the rest of universe."