Book 2 Chapter 27
"This iz ridiculous! It vill never work," Senara stated, staring at the eight foot wide, fifteen foot tall cylinder made of interweaving bone-white branches, packed full of carved bits of Deathwing. The Force Adept had been able to identify what parts, like lungs and vocal chords, were valuable, while others, like their hearts, were effectively worthless.
When Anaïs had asked about spoilage, as it was a several day trip back, the white-haired woman had shaken her head, informing the Jedi that, due to the high concentration of 'Magick' contained within, that they would remain fresh for longer than normal, further boosted by a spell that the woman cast upon each item harvested. However there was still the issue of transporting it all back, which is where the Jedi came in.
"Don't worry," Anaïs said, reaching over and picking up the severed head of the largest Deathwing, stump cauterized by her lightsaber. Reaching for the Force, she ran it through her body, reinforcing and strengthening muscles, bones, and everything else. Gripping it, the Padawan kept the first technique going as she used the Force to get a hold on the head with telekinesis, pushing upwards on it. Lifting it alone that way would be difficult, but to lighten the weight, allowing her enhanced body to do the rest, it was more than enough. "It's not going to be easy, but it's certainly not 'ridiculous'."
Carrying the head over, the Jedi jumped up to the top, putting the skull on top of the filled cylinder, effectively capping it off, grabbing the free, rope-like branches that were left loose and tying them together, securing everything. Jumping down, Anaïs squatted and grabbed the two loops she'd directed her friend to create, and shifted her mental 'grip', grasping the cylinder instead. Picking up and carrying multiple things at once was a pain, but, while at the end of the range of things Lucian had forced her to pick up and carry on Uphrades through this combination of telekinesis and Force Control, accounting for the different gravity, it wasn't the worst.
It took an effort, but, reaching out to the Force, it was possible, as the Padawan lifted the entire thing up, leaning it forward slightly and stumbling, trying to balance with her new center of gravity, but still able to stand. Jumping would take a lot more effort, and tire her out after several hours, but, again, was doable.
Senara, however, just stared. "Vhat kind of training did you go through, Anaïs?" she questioned disbelievingly.
Shrugging for effect, enjoying her friend's reaction, especially after having seen the Adept use the Force in ways the Padawan had never even thought of to keep their haul fresh, the Jedi replied, "Oh, this? You should see my Master. He'd handle this easily." Which wasn't even a lie, as she'd seen the man stop, concentrate, and reposition their corvette once, moving it a few feet over and spinning it slightly so he could get to an obstructed part of the hanger he'd needed to access, on the Dark Side tinged planetoid she'd been trained on.
Taking a few experimental jumps, keeping both her techniques running, Anaïs nodded to herself. She couldn't do this and fight, the combination nowhere near 'combat ready' by her Master's requirements, but she didn't have to tell Lucian about this part of her time at the Circle. Regardless, as she prepared to move, she listened to the Force, and found not even a whisper of warning, so it should be possible.
"See you back at the treehouse!" the Jedi grinned, running for the edge of the cliff, ignoring her friend's worried, "Wait!" before she leapt off the edge, her extra mass giving her a bit more momentum than she thought, but that just meant dealing with less of the forest's nightlife on the way.
Her angle of descent started to sharpen, as she approached the treetops, the ground still several hundred feet below her, and she prepared for the third part of this technique, trying to remember how, while her Presence had been infused with fire, she had been able to manifest long limbs of force, wanting to swing through the trees. However, without the Force-filled melon's assistance, she couldn't make it work. Swiftly moving to plan B, she just reached out to a branch with telekinesis, holding on tight to the loops around her shoulders, and pulled.
The technique was unable to move the branch, easily twenty feet across, so she was pulled instead, as she kept lifting her load with a different mental hand, the Force her ally as she wove the techniques together with its assistance. One yank of telekinesis was not enough, but it started to cancel out the force of her fall, so she pulled again, and again, until she'd slowed enough to be able to take the hit, and aimed for a branch, the forest floor coming closer and closer.
Bracing herself, she hit the road-sized limb, forced to her hands and knees as the sheer momentum of her load passed through her body and into the wood, a thunderous crack heard as the timber broke, just a little, but she had stopped. The Jedi could feel the damage done through the Force, and let her 'backpack' rest as she reached out to the tree, using what she'd learned of the Plant Surge technique to repair the harm she'd done with a chagrined, "Sorry," as she regrew the damaged limb.
Picking her load back up, recentering herself, she looked around, to find the forest oddly. . . quiet. It was only an hour until dawn, so perhaps everything had gone to sleep? Regardless, re-upping her techniques, she took a few steps before leaping, careful to distribute the force of her Push downwards to not re-damage the tree, almost landing on the next branch, having to instead throw up a physical hand and grab onto the wood, the other holding tight to her load, hauling herself up until she was on top and safe again.
"Right," the Jedi said to herself. "I'm a lot heavier."
Re-adjusting her ideas of how much force she'd need, she tried again, with a bit more oomph, and managed the jump to the next branch, then the next, and the Padawan took off, heading for their safe haven, able to feel her friend starting to move in the same direction, though the Adept's Presence was quickly hidden against the ambient Force in the area.
Pressing onwards, the Jedi made good time, moving about as fast as the two of them had before, but she was absolutely feeling the strain when she finally got there. Sitting with a sigh on the branch leading to the treehouse, she was unable to physically see it, but knew it was there. Feeling out in the Force, at first all Anaïs could perceive was the tree she sat on, a hundred feet above the ground, but she'd been inside the odd structure of weaved Force, and felt the focus' energy, which, at the very edge of her senses, still hummed.
It was a subtle thing, and, even though it was directly in front of her, she couldn't pin down its location in the Force at all. Meditating, and giving herself a chance to rest after carrying her prize, she tried to pierce the effect, but she didn't know how.
She could, however, detect Senara quickly approaching, the other girl's attempts to hide herself not nearly as good as her safe house's protections. Even though the white-haired girl was silent, her mantle of winds wrapped tightly around the Adept's body, lowering her weight, in some ways similar to how Anaïs had lifted her backpack, the Jedi still could detect her friend in the force, and so cracked open one eye as the Adept arrived, smiling as she remarked teasingly, "Took you long enough."
Her friend sputtered in shock, rallying with, "Are all Jedi zis mad? Or iz it just you?"
Taking a moment to visibly consider it, still channeling her mentor a little, the Padawan idly commented, "Some are worse."
"Mother have mercy," Senara prayed, shaking her head.
Standing up and stretching, the blonde girl looked around. "I do have one question," she said, waving to the silent forest. "Where is everything? Last night the forest was practically abuzz at this time. Or is it just that this section is quieter?" The Adept gave her an incredulous stare. "What?" the Jedi asked, honestly confused.
The white-haired girl waved to the cylinder full of preserved parts, wrapped up with the wing membranes, bulging slightly through the smaller gaps in the branches, and topped with a severed head. "Zey are hiding! You come in, vith your Aura unsuppressed, smelling of ze blood of Dreadwings, vhat did you think zey would do?"
Anaïs turned back to her cargo, not having thought of that. "So they think I'm. . . what. Some sort of 'alpha predator'?" she questioned, remembering her Master using the term to describe the two of them on Uphrades. From her friend's look, the answer was obviously yes. "But, aren't there worse things out there?"
Senara sighed, "Yes, zere are, but zey do not come out at night. Vhich is why ve will need to move under ze cover of darkness coming back. I can hide zis vhile we rest, but not moving. Because vhile the things here vill hide from us, ze things zat walk about during ze day will only smell blood, and a free meal."
"Oh. . . yeah, that would be bad," the Padawan nodded, finding that she had to suppress a yawn. She was a bit tired, not having slept in, with dawn starting to break, a full twenty-four hours. "I guess I could use a nap," she offered, smiling a bit more as her friend stared at her in disbelief before the white-skinned girl threw her hands up in disgust, and opened a hole in the illusion barrier with a short incantation.
Re-establishing her Force techniques, the Jedi lifted the heavy cylinder behind her, and followed her friend inside.
After a quick breakfast of rations, as well as their last fire melon, they left their treehouse as the sun set, immediately running into a problem. Infused with fire as Anaïs's Presence was, she had to carefully keep that additional Presence out of her lifting of her cargo, or else she'd manifest the very same 'fire arms' she had before, which would in turn burn the wooden frame that was keeping everything together.
Senara thankfully regrew the charred sections, and with a bit of careful focus, the Jedi managed the technique, allowing the 'fire' to enhance her own body, but not her other techniques, not wanting to possibly set every branch she jumped from alight by taking off in a blazing explosion, which also threw off how far she'd move based on her weight, something she was now having to constantly keep track of. Before she'd become a Padawan she'd have thought what she was attempting to do impossible, having to balance everything, and move, and keep track of her environment, and pick out her path through the branches of the trees she leapt through.
After her time with Lucian, this was just training.
A thought not shared by her companion, who was pushing herself just to keep up with the Jedi.
"You have no subtlety, Anaïs. I hope zat you know this," the Adept informed her, as they took a break to rest, both of them needing a moment to recover before pressing onwards.
"And you need more endurance," The Jedi informed her friend right back, smiling, though she was breathing a bit hard herself. To tell the truth, she couldn't have kept this up, if it weren't for the elemental assistance she was receiving, and she was doing her best to take full advantage of it while she still had it.
Not that moving forward was all she was doing, paying careful attention to how it enhanced her, the way the flaming Force Presence wrapped around her, infusing her body in a way that was completely different from how Force Control worked, but functioned in tandem with it, in ways she didn't quite understand, though she was starting to.
Similarly, she was paying attention to her friend's technique, how it functioned to let the Adept almost drift from branch to branch, silent as the wind. It was in some ways like a Force Barrier, though not as. . . solid, more like a net of energy that spread out, a bit like a parachute, but one that was constantly twisting, almost flapping when the other girl jumped, like invisible wings, only small ones that encircled her instead of spreading out.
"Is there a bigger version of your wind thing you could use?" the Jedi asked, her friend looking over in confusion. "That way I wouldn't have to stop so often, waiting for you to catch up."
The deadpan stare she received told the Padawan that her friend wasn't amused by her request, but the Adept sighed, and nodded. "Vhen I meet my sisters, I'm telling them zat their stories of vhat Jedi are like are completely wrong. Because you, Anaïs, are ridiculous."
"You should meet my Master," the Padawan smiled. "He's worse."
"Of course he iz," Senara muttered, before starting to chant, calling upon the spirits of her ancestors as they wove together a larger, much less subtle version of the same technique, green swirling winds surrounding the girl's body, fading a little as they settled but still lighting up the dark branch they stopped on, and very apparent in the Force.
Turning a mocking look towards the Padawan, the white-haired girl smirked. "Now lets us zee if you can 'keep up'," she challenged, taking off with a soft gust of wind and flying off into the night.
Taking a moment to make sure her techniques were stable, then pushing her Force Control even further, her body heating up to the edge of being uncomfortable, and her breath steaming, Anaïs smiled and launched herself after her friend.
They were both exhausted when they reached their stop for the night, having managed to cover twice the distance they had travelling towards the mountain, technically more since they had to skirt around the infernape's territory, but it was well worth it.
After sleeping, with just a bit of a healing trance to help soothe aching muscles, the two prepared to take off again when Anaïs put her theory into practice. Without any more assistance, this was going to be a much harder trek, but perhaps not as hard as it had to be. Her paired Force Control and telekinetic hold on the wooden frame were established, before she closed her eyes, feeling out in the Force, and trying to recreate what she'd been watching all day yesterday, but in her own way.
It was only because Lucian had forced her to work with her Barriers as much as she had that let her even try this, but she thought she had a handle on it. Centering Barriers on herself was something she still had trouble with, though seeing how Senara's Wind Mantle had hung on her had helped a little. Not enough to replicate that aspect of the technique, but, like how the Padawan had created a windscreen for her speeder, attaching it to a different object, especially a larger one, this was something she could manage.
With a deep breath, she reached her hands out, then up, focusing on the cage, and wrapping it in the same kind of pseudo-barriers the Padawan had seen before, spiraling down its length, except for the portion where she was connected to it by its straps. Hearing the indrawn breath of her friend, the Jedi kept her focus, adding another layer of 'wings' around it, wanting to make a third, but with the feeling of a Force-born warning, knew the technique would collapse if she did.
Trying to 'flap' them was awkward, as she had to do so manually, lacking the almost bird-like grace her friend had with the technique, but, spreading them out, and reshaping them slightly, she should be fine if she kept them that way, flattened and somewhat concave at the bottom, but sloping upwards on top to easily let the air flow down when she jumped, but provide resistance as it caught the wind, when it came back up, as she descended.
Taking an experimental jump, the Jedi struggled to keep all three techniques together, nowhere close to 'combat ready', but serviceable just for travelling. Falling back down, she found herself slowed, like Senara was, though not nearly to the same degree, but still landing lightly instead of with the heavy thunk she had yesterday.
Smiling, Anaïs opened her eyes, to find the Adept openly staring. Glancing upwards, the Padawan saw the constructs weren't near-invisible, like her friend's, but made of flowing silver mist that wrapped around the cylinder, shifting like they were almost two rivers of light. Still too solid? she wondered, theorizing that Senara's technique was invisible because the barriers weren't strong enough to fully be created, a feature though, instead of a weakness, but this would work for what she wanted.
Looking back to her friend, the Jedi grinned, "Not bad, right? Not quite yours, but they'll help."
"Mine. . .?" the Adept echoed, before realization dawned. "Wait, zis is. . ." she trailed off again, casting her Wind Mantle 'spell' fully, with help, and examined it, glancing back to the Padawan's construct. "Anaïs," she finally stated. "You are. . ."
"Ridiculous?" the blonde supplied.
"Impossible," Senara stated instead, shaking her head.
Anaïs just shrugged. "I've always been better at practical stuff than theory, but the Circle's uses of the Force are just too, too. . . different," she admitted. "But your techniques are easier to understand. And adapt. Not that this," she patted her backpack, the pseudo-barriers that she'd hooked into it helping to hold it up in addition to her telekinesis, "is anywhere close to finished. A good hit and it'll be gone. And it took me, what, a minute to make?"
"Five, maybe seven," the other girl offered dully, still looking surprised and impressed.
"So nowhere near good enough," the Jedi sighed, her sense of time having slipped while she'd been focusing on the Force. "But for this, it'll be enough. Ready to go?"
Senara just stared for a long moment, before she shook her head again and closed up the barrier around the shelter they'd just left. "Definitely wrong about ze Jedi," she mused, talking to herself, and leapt off the branch, heading back towards the Circle.
Anaïs made adjustments to her 'Wind Carrier' throughout the night, smoothing out the rough edges of the technique as they travelled, nothing bothering them at all, and, by the time the sun started to rise, they were only a few hours away from the Circle. Senara had gotten over her disbelief, mostly, but just shook her head when the Jedi suggested they press on.
"How are you not exhausted, Anaïs?" the Adept asked, incredulously, as they took a few minutes to rest, their cargo leaning against the trunk of the branch they were standing on. "Don't tell me zis was part of your training az well!"
"Well, it was, a little," the Padawan shrugged, remembering the few times she'd thought she was going to bed, only for Lucian to just move onto the next training exercise without stopping. "'Sometimes a Jedi doesn't have the benefit of a safe house, or the time to rest'," she quoted. "But it's probably more of the difference in techniques between you and me, than just endurance."
"I do not understand," Senara replied, frowning. "Ve are both using zis 'Force' of yours, are we not?"
Anaïs winced. "Yes. But no. You know how us Jedi believe there is a Light Side of the force, and a Dark Side?"
"Yes, and it iz a foolish belief. Magick iz Magick," the Adept dismissed.
"Except. . . it isn't," the Padawan countered, remembering her training, and what she'd seen on her travels thus far. "I'm not sure if it's just how we approach it," which is what her Master had told her, "or if it's separate kinds of the Force entirely," which was what the Temple taught, "Or if it's something entirely different. But using the Light side to empower myself, it's tiring, yeah, but the better I get at it, the more the Force helps me, not just making me stronger, but putting less strain on my body, to the point this isn't that bad. And the one time I accidentally called upon the Dark to do the same thing, it made me stronger, stronger than I even am right now, but even using it for a few seconds. . . it wrecked me, and if I wasn't healed, I don't know how long it would've taken me to recover."
Senara frowned. "But, vhat little Magick I use to strengthen myself. . . it does not do either of zhose things."
Anaïs nodded. "Because you're using, well, Magick, which seems to be a bit of both Light and Dark, but more the first than the second, so it kind of supports you, but also kind of hurts you too. And, well. . . you're not that good at it."
"Excuse me?" the white-haired girl asked, a little offended. "I'd like to zee you do half of vhat I do."
"Exactly," the Jedi smiled earnestly, to her friend's confusion. "You can do a lot of things, but, at least in the things I know how to do too, you're only okay in them. You just do a lot more, over a dozen different things, learning them all, while I've probably practiced more in the half a dozen-ish I know than you have in any one technique. Variety versus specialty. And you've probably gotten 'good enough', while my Master just made me keep going because it was never good enough. Not that him doing that was a bad thing, seeing what he could do."
A thought occurred to her, and the Padawan laughed at the parallel. "It's kind of like me and Jorel, actually."
"Your friend from before you were a Jedi?" the Adept asked, the subject of Anaïs only other friend coming up from time to time.
The Padawan nodded. "He could only do, like, three things, but he did them really well, and I could almost never beat him in a spar. You and I are the same, except now I'm Jorel."
Senara lifted an eyebrow. "And you think zhat you could defeat me?"
Anaïs smiled, activating her lightsaber and turning it down to its training setting, flicking it with a finger to show the other girl it was safe. Centering herself for a second, body still thrumming with Force Control, Anaïs leapt forward, even as Senara tried to leap away, but was just too slow.
Unlike with the Mages, the Jedi's Telekinesis slid off the girl, stopping her from winning that way, but in the Force the Padawan saw the blooming red of an incoming attack, fainter than it should be, but she'd seen the technique before, recognizing the subtle formations in the Force, and it was simple to slip around it as a section of the branch exploded outwards with new growth, leaping after her friend who started to work another technique. Her opponent's Presence was starting to disappear in the Force as well, but it was too slow, and Anaïs was on her, tapping her gesturing hand with a saber while Anaïs' other hand grabbed the woman's red cloth tunic, enough to yank her to the side hard enough to break her focus, while heading for a different tree than the one her friend had been aiming for, and had started to reach out to create a technique from.
Another two taps, to Senara's chest and head, made the Padawan's point as they landed.
The Adept stared at the blonde girl, wide eyed. "I suppose I vould lose," she said, at a loss.
Taking a much gentler grip, Anaïs brought her friend back to their original branch. "You weren't ready, and you're not used to fighting close up." A thought occurred to her. "Do you and your 'sisters' spar?"
". . . no. No, zhere are enough dangers vhere we live. And some of my sisters. . . I vould not trust all of zhem to, how you say, 'pull their punches'," the Adept admitted. "Zhey would say zhat life is dangerous, so zhey should be too."
"That's terrible," the Jedi gasped, horrified at that kind of callousness.
"Zat's nature. And Magick is a force of nature," Senara shrugged, as if she didn't see the problem.
Which itself was worrying, but, Anaïs reminded herself, there was a reason that, despite their flaws, the Jedi were the Guardians of the Republic. "Well, when we get back, I'll help you with that," she decided. "You've helped me with my studies, what kind of friend would I be not to help you with yours?"
"I vould have said no, but, having seen you in action, I admit find myself interested," the white-haired girl replied with a shrug. "Vould I get one of your laser swords?"
"No, you don't-" the Jedi started to respond immediately, before thinking about it. "I, not yet. Using a saber without the proper training. . . it's not safe. And I'm not sure if you'll be able to find a good enough focusing crystal here." She paused, considering what they were bringing back with them. "Well, you might, but it won't be cheap, since it'd probably work as a Focus for someone in the Minerali sect. But I don't see why teaching you the basic techniques can't work. But it won't be easy," she warned.
"I am many zhings, but afraid of hard work iz not one of zhem," Senara replied, then glanced at the cylinder, and sighed. "Speaking of vhich, if we are going to press on, we should get started sooner rather zhan later."
Smiling at her friend, the Jedi picked up her cargo, re-applied the techniques, and took off once more.