To anyone new to the series, you can start from here, however, you may be confused by certain changes to the timeline that has taken place in earlier books.

For my returning readers, welcome to the 3rd book in the ANPitF series.

Regardless of which group you fall into, to help you prepare, there is a crawl for the book. The link for it is (minus the spaces):

youtu. be /O0xXCNFInaU

... ...

A/N: Thanks to those helping me write and plan out this story and checking it for continuality and logical errors.

This chapter was released at the beginning of the month to those who support my writing (with every level above tier 1 having seen a draft version, and the highest level seeing the redrafted form, around 2 months ago), and then about 2 weeks ago to those on the story's Discord server. Or at least those who are sufficiently active enough to have the required rank to see early bird releases.

Links for supporting my writing, or joining the Discord server, are at the end of the chapter.

3.01 Evolution and Adaption

… …

I stood in silence, leaning against a wall in the training room aboard the Raven. Originally one of the ship's two sizable cargo holds, Bo had swiftly transformed it into a training space, a modification I chose to keep. At the moment, my role was merely that of an observer. In the centre of the room, Anakin was diligently practising a series of basic Jedi combat techniques that I had taught him sporadically over the past few years.

The situation had evolved since those early days, most notably because he was now my Padawan—a fact unbeknownst to the Council. The primary change in his training regimen was his use of a blinded helmet, forcing him to depend on his other senses to navigate the intricacies of the combat form. Demonstrating proficiency under these conditions was his gateway to training in the two Mandalorian martial Arts, Beskar'pel and Beskar'rev. The former was based on mobility and was generally used by children and adults of smaller physical builds. The latter was based on strength and was generally the form used by males.

Typically, a Padawan wouldn't be introduced to a non-Jedi style of combat until their teenage years. However, Anakin was an exceptional case, which is why he was undertaking this exercise as a form of Moving Meditation, or Alchaka, as Fay and the Jedi formally referred to it. My decision to have Anakin engage in this particular exercise was driven by a need to help him divert his attention from his mother's death—his grief was palpable, even without the aid of the Force. This need became especially pressing after Dooku shared a story with me just before the invasion of Naboo.

My old Master had sought Anakin out for a training session that the boy hadn't arrived for when he was meant to. He had found Anakin in one of the hangar bays on Mtael's Gift. However, instead of instantly berating the boy for missing a session, Dooku had watched Anakin as the boy disassembled, cleaned, and then reassembled various blaster rifles belonging to the Lokella. In and of itself, that wasn't surprising, as Anakin, like his mother, had a knack for technology and often improved it in slight ways others might miss.

Dooku had paused as he'd sensed the Force moving around Anakin, being drawn upon by the boy as he concentrated on nothing but his work. My Master had asked the boy about this later, to which Anakin had been surprised as he'd not actively drawn on the Force, instead saying he simply found it relaxing to do simple tasks like cleaning blasters repetitively.

That was, in essence, what Alchaka was, which was why, only a day after leaving the Naboo system, I'd already altered his training schedule to include the advanced form of meditation. And it seemed, as he pushed through one velocity and flowed gracefully into the next, that it had been the right call.

While I'd been on Naboo dealing with the Jedi Council, Palpatine, and other matters, Bo had begun teaching Anakin the basics of Beskar'pel and had been insistent that I continue my son's training. Instead of doing that right away, I was trying to find a balance in his training. While most would be, for now, centred around Jedi techniques, I allowed some time so Anakin could begin his Mando'ade training.

Bo hadn't been overly pleased with that but accepted that An'ika – her nickname for the boy that meant Little Ani – was mine to train and that he needed training as both Jedi and Mando'ade. Her need to give him a nickname, along with an insistence to be kept in the loop regarding his training and our adventures let me tease her about having a soft spot for the boy. Though when I'd suggested that she might like a child of her own, she'd denied it and demanded a spar to settle the matter.

As with every other spar we'd had since Zonama Sekot, that had ended with us sparring in more personal ways after I'd proven my dominance once more. Though the sounds she made in the personal section of the spar made it clear she didn't mind losing to me or letting me dominate her.

I was broken from thoughts of Bo, and the smile that thinking about her brought on when I spotted a mistake. "Stop," I said as I pushed off the wall. Anakin did so, and turned my way, though he remembered to keep the visor that restricted his vision in place. "Your arm should be slightly higher," I explained, my hands moving the offending limb to the correct position, feeling the rapid beating of his heart from over an hour of the exercise. "This allows you to flow easier into the next element of the velocity."

With his arm in the correct position and my words heard, I stepped back.

"C-can. I. Stop?" He asked, taking long, deep breaths between each word.

"You can still talk, correct?" I asked, a wicked smile creeping onto my face. He couldn't see that, but he did nod in affirmation. "Then you've not finished the exercise." A faint groan slipped from his lips as his shoulders slumped. "Be mindful of your stance. Now, resume."

He did as I said, and continued from where he stopped as I continued to move back.

I turned before the door opened, and saw Simvyl in the doorframe. He waited until I'd approached, taking soft, quiet steps, before speaking. "You're sure you're not pushing him too hard?"

"This is nothing compared to what Master Dooku and others subjected me to," I replied in a hushed tone, careful not to distract Anakin. "Besides ensuring his mind isn't preoccupied with thoughts of his mother, Anakin is special—far more than others perceive me to be. He has a pivotal role in the impending darkness, and I am determined not to fail in my duty to prepare him for what lies ahead."

My eyes never left the boy as I spoke, and I watched as he moved fluidly, cleanly now I'd fixed the slight mistake, through the velocity. As I'd said to Simvyl, Anakin was important, but the first reason – that of distracting Anakin – was my primary reason for pushing him so much this early on.

Done correctly, Alchaka required complete focus and mentally and physically drained a practitioner. The practitioner emerged from the meditation refreshed with their mind cleared of distractions. Now, I'd not truly experienced that, as the Interface prevented me from truly sinking into the Force, but others had seemed that way while working through various forms of Alchaka, and I hoped it would do the same for Anakin, though it would only be a temporary measure.

We were on our way to the ShaDo system to attend the funeral of several members of the Lokella, with our focus being on Shmi. However, before we could initiate the last leg of the journey, we'd stopped for a refuel. The short voyage here had seen Anakin distracted by his feelings toward his mother. I'd pushed him hard in his training, though until we'd started using Alchaka there'd been little success in distracting his thoughts.

I had considered taking him to find a lightsaber crystal, but I dismissed the idea quickly. The logical place to go was Ilum, and that required clearance from the Council; something I wished to avoid. There were other worlds to find a crystal on, and I had several in my Inventory, but I also felt it was better to wait for such an important moment in his training until he'd moved past the death of his mother.

"The engineers report we're fully fuelled and cleared to depart whenever you wish," Simvyl said, revealing the reason for his arrival, though he could simply have called over the intercom, or to my vambrace which I still wore. "The local officials have a desire to ensure we were serviced quickly and leave with haste."

I chuckled at that, sensing his confusion and concern regarding the situation. "Most officials, be they from a Core world or one deep in the Outer Rim, like to keep the Order happy. For some, it might be because they respect the Order, but I think for most it's to get us away from whatever they're involved in that they wish to remain hidden. Regardless, I'm not going to turn down preferential, and essentially free, service."

"While I wasn't with the Rangers long, I'm enjoying the faster service, though if we didn't have other business to attend to, I feel we should stay and see just why the locals want you gone quickly."

"I have little interest in sticking my nose in everyone's business-" Simvyl snorted, suggesting he didn't believe me, "-but I agree that, if time allowed, at least a cursory exploration of the station might be interesting. However, we do have other matters to handle," I added as I watched Anakin continue his moving meditation. "Keep an eye on him and let him stop when it's clear he can't go further. However, make sure either you or Fenrir are with him." The tuk'ata was, from what I could sense, lazing around the central area – likely resting on one of the sofas after pushing many, if not all, of the cushions off it.

Simvyl nodded, accepting my instructions, and I turned and slipped past him, leaving the training area. While he was a capable pilot, Raven was prickly about who she allowed to fly her. The only people other than me and Simvyl that she allowed to pilot her were Fay and Bo. Fay, because she shared a bond with Raven – though it would be some time before my former Master would get the chance to sit in Raven's cockpit as she was still searching for Tython – and Bo because she was close to me and had spent a lot of time on Raven. That said, like with Simvyl, Raven disliked allowing Bo to do anything but the simplest of actions.

As my hand ran along a wall, Raven reacted by having the lights around my fingertips blink and pulse in soothing patterns. I wondered how the bond I shared with her – and others – would change after the Interface had evolved and the Force was freed from being filtered by it.

… …

… …

"I miss her."

"I know," I replied as I walked with Anakin back to Raven. It was a few hours after the cremation service for Shmi and some others had taken place, and we'd just come from the wake. While it had been a sombre affair, the fact that the Lokella chose to celebrate the lives of those lost, and not mourn them had, I felt, helped Anakin greatly.

While we'd left Naboo after Validus and the Lokella, who had chosen not to stay for the celebrations, we'd arrived before them, even when considering we'd stopped for a refuel in the Core. That had given Anakin about a day to spend with Ferox and his sister, Lia Skywalker.

The ceremony itself had been a quiet affair, the bodies burned in groups though separately so those who wished to spread the ashes of a loved one could do so. As the bodies burnt, Baalta had read a eulogy for them all, talking about how they may have lived and been born slaves, but they had died free. She spoke of how their souls had returned to the Great Spirit, which I assumed was a Togrutan name for the Afterlife or the Force. Those words, and the promise that so long as everyone at the ceremony remembered them, then those who had perished would never truly die.

This was further assured by the names being added to a large display the Lokella had crafted not long after they'd won their freedom. The display, which took up almost an entire wall, dominated the bay in which I'd fought and defeated Girk Saxon. The mural that had been painted there remained, but now in front of it was a statue - one made of marble - showing a variety of races fighting against an unseen threat.

That statue replaced the previous one of my battle with Girk - which had been moved down to Gaia - and dominated the bay that had been converted into a memorial for all who had fallen in defence of freedom. After the most recent attack, every new name had been added, each getting a small plaque to mark their passing, and commemorate their live and death.

Baalta's words, the plaque for his mother, spending time with his sister, and the remembrance wake had eased some of Anakin's pain, and I felt he'd begun the journey to accepting and moving on from Shmi's death. Though I knew it would be some time before he was able to not dwell on his feelings regarding her death, or showing anger toward those who'd taken her from him.

Before the ceremony, Baalta had inquired whether I would speak, but I declined. Although I played a significant role for many of the Lokella, I wasn't personally close to any of the deceased, including Shmi. Moreover, while the original Lokella members held me in high esteem, I was aware that the later arrivals attributed some blame to me for the unfortunate events—a sentiment I understood and accepted. I hoped this might moderate the excessive reverence held by the group's longstanding members towards me.

During the wake, Anakin spent considerable time with Lia while I engaged in conversation with Ferox. Despite Lia lacking the potential to fully harness the Force—her capabilities being roughly equivalent to Bo's—she remained Anakin's sister. I had no intention of depriving him of time with his mother's last remaining connection.

As we sat in reflective silence, occasionally interrupted when someone approached to offer their condolences, Ferox shared his decision to step back from combat operations. With a daughter to raise, he planned to dedicate his time to training the Lokella warriors. However, he made it clear that he would rejoin the front lines when the moment arrived to confront Decca. This was in line with my expectations, and I assured him that, barring a galactic conflict, Anakin and I would stand with him in the fight against Decca and those complicit in orchestrating the attack on the Lokella.

I'd not commented on the fact that, with Anakin by my side, I'd also be stepping back from battle for a few years. Mainly because I knew that, regardless of my personal goals, The Force would have plans for me. As might TPTB, though I hoped both would allow me time to train Anakin so that when the time came to take him into battle, he was ready for it. He might be a child now, but I knew that within a decade he'd be involved in war, so the more battles he saw between now and then, the more prepared he'd be for the chaos and carnage of warfare.

What I had promised Ferox was that, when we could, we'd return to the system so Lia could know her brother. I was sure the Council, if they learnt of this, would blow a gasket, and claim it was infringing Anakin's training as a Jedi, but given what fate awaited the Order – something I wasn't sure I could truly stop – and that I'd adopted Anakin as my son, they'd have other things to concern themselves with. It also depended on when they learnt about Anakin, as I had zero intent of going anywhere near Coruscant in the next few years.

The other side was that no matter who trained him, Anakin was the sort of person to seek out, make, and protect his friends and family. While many Jedi would have issues with that, and it was how Sidious wormed his way into the boy's confidence, I didn't. Force, I would probably strengthen it as it was a 'flaw' that I also held. Plus, I'd accepted recently that I'd never be a good Jedi; at least not how the council and many of the Order would define one.

I was drawn from my thoughts as we entered the small hangar housing Raven, and I sensed a familiar presence nearby – along with one I'd rather not face again. "Go on," I said to Anakin, letting go of his hand and gently pushing him toward Raven. "I need to speak with someone before we leave."

Anakin looked up at me, confusion in his eyes, though that faded as I sensed him reaching out through the Force. A moment later, his gaze shifted behind me, toward the entrance where I knew Dooku was approaching. After returning his gaze to me, he nodded, wiped his eyes with the sleeve of his robes, and then walked toward our home.

Once he was on board, I turned and headed toward the door, my hand instinctively reaching for the hilt of my beskad as it swung open to reveal Dooku and Vosa. The former leader of the Bando Gora, responsible for the suffering I had endured at their hands, stood a step behind Dooku. Her hands were clasped in front of her—likely at Dooku's instruction—and her gaze was cast downward. However, this did little to quell the surge of fury that overwhelmed me upon seeing her for the first time since my escape from the Bando Gora.

The temptation to use the Force to drag her across the bay, to me, and crush her throat with my bare hands was overwhelming. A thousand other methods of making her pay for the agony she had inflicted upon me flashed through my mind. I could hear the faint, unmistakable whispers of the Dark Side, promising the power to achieve everything I desired—and to inflict even greater suffering on her and anyone else who had wronged me. It urged me to shatter their minds, bodies, and souls for having the audacity to harm me. Only when they fully comprehended the gravity of their mistake would I grant them the mercy of death. Yet, such mercy would be neither swift nor clean.

I closed my eyes, inhaled deeply, and pushed those desires, those thoughts as far away as I could. If I was a good Jedi, I'd let them go, but I couldn't, and not just because of Eidetic Memory but because they were mine and I refused to let them go. Thus, I did all I could to silence those voices, and those requests, and push them back into the small, isolated section of mind where they dwelled.

When I opened my eyes, I saw Dooku had approached, and thankfully Vosa had remained near the door, though there was an odd look in her eyes. Putting that aside, I bowed as Dooku came closer. "Master."

"Cameron, I hope this is a respectable time for a conversation. I had avoided you and your Padawan earlier to not intrude on his period of personal reflection." His voice carried a slight tone, but its cause was unclear to me.

"Anakin has returned to Raven," I replied, which elicited a small nod from Dooku. "We're planning to leave shortly."

"How is the boy?" Dooku inquired.

"He's managing as well as could be expected," I responded. I gestured towards a path leading away from Raven and Vosa, and Dooku agreed with a slight nod. "He's grieving for his mother, and I've been trying to find activities and training exercises that will both challenge him and help distract his thoughts as much as possible."

"A wise decision. While he, like you, possesses great potential, he is more prone to forming deep connections with those around him, to the extent that I fear he might prioritize their lives over his own, regardless of the situation."

"That's a concern I share, Master," I said with a smirk. Although Dooku hadn't spent much time around Anakin, he had seen enough to identify what was, in Jedi terms, the boy's most concerning issue. "The saving grace is that Anakin has a way of getting along with most people, even if it sometimes means going to great lengths to help them."

"A noble trait that many Jedi share. However, his propensity to form bonds and place those he trusts above his own well-being is something you'll need to monitor closely during his training. I sense that the loss of his mother has inflicted a deep wound within him. One that, if not properly addressed, could fester and lead him down paths we'd both prefer he avoid." He paused as we reached the bay's wall, an area devoid of workers as they had chosen to find other tasks upon our approach. "I assume this concern influenced your decision to adopt him?"

"I know it's not the usual Jedi way..."

"Something you have never been, nor shall you ever be," Dooku interjected.

"...but it felt like the right decision," I concluded, choosing to overlook Dooku's soft, almost teasing remark.

"Yes, I was there and sensed the shift in the Force when you made your decision. Because of that, and a feeling that it was the correct one, I chose not to question it at the time. With space to meditate on the matter, I can see why you feel it was the correct choice, and how it might help the boy. However, I caution you to be mindful that the bond you share with Anakin doesn't draw out your shared tendencies to find yourselves in dangerous situations."

"I'm aware of that concern, Master. I hoped that having someone to train and protect might temper my more… rambunctious tendencies."

"One can only hope." The response was dry and entirely devoid of emotion. Yet, I ended up chuckling at it and his delivery. "I won't ask you of your plans, as that is between you, Anakin, and the Force, but I hope that all we've spoken of, ever since you first became my Padawan, remain in your thoughts as you train the boy and yourself into the beings I believe you both should be."

"They will, Master, and thank you for all the advice you've given. Even the parts that, at the time, I failed to understand, or am still working to decipher."

Dooku gave a nod, indicating the matter was settled. He then turned and looked toward where he'd just come from, and where Vosa still stood, her eyes watching us – watching me – intently. "I am aware of your opinions on Komari, and that you feel unready to face her given what you endured. However, she was adamant to see you and Anakin depart." My brow rose at hearing of her interest in Anakin, and my remaining hand went to my beskad. "When she met you, as… shall we say, unbalanced as she was, she saw something in you. The same spark that I and Master Fay saw. Since the death of Shmi Skywalker, Komari has become convinced that the same spark of potential resides in the boy. She has even spoken of seeing… glimpses, visions perhaps, of you and him when you're both older. As much as it pains you to hear this, those glimpses align with those we, Masters Sifo-Dyas and Nilas, and others have glimpsed."

"That is concerning," I muttered, feeling the need to remove Vosa from the board growing stronger, regardless of Dooku's opinion on the matter.

"Yes, it might well appear that way. I, however, sense it might also present an opportunity." He held up a hand, stopping me from commenting. "Before you concern yourself, I'm not suggesting you allow Komari to accompany you." If he had, I'd have made sure she was jettisoned into space once we were far enough away from the station that she couldn't somehow return. "Since she glimpsed Anakin's potential, Komari has gained a new, seemingly controllable, focus. It is almost as if she feels she might have some role to play in what is to come, to work toward bringing about what she'd seen in her visions."

"That," I paused, taking a moment to collect my thoughts before I said something I couldn't take back. "I will trust your judgement in the matter, Master. However, I have grave reservations about allowing her anywhere near myself or Anakin."

At first, I'd wanted to dismiss the idea entirely, but then I remembered my intentions regarding Maul. Even if he only became a source of information on Sith activities, he could be of use, and there was a chance – however small – that Vosa might also have some use. That didn't mean I was willing to listen to them now, however, nor might I ever be. But as I'd said, I was willing to trust Dooku on the matter. He had hoped to turn Vosa into something of use, so if this was what allowed him to achieve that, then I wasn't going to deny him the chance.

"I expected you would. However, it was something that you needed to be made aware of. In addition, you should also know that, as Shmi Skywalker was one of the few Lokella to offer Komari kindness without sympathy or dismissal, Komari had an interest in protecting her during the battle. Because she failed, Komari now sees that interest transfer to Shmi Skywalker's children; with a greater focus on Anakin because of his Force potential."

I kept my gaze on Dooku, not wanting to let my eyes drift toward the deranged bitch that stood far to my left. "I… I cannot stop you from trying to redeem her, Master, nor have I ever tried to do so. That said, I know that I'm far from ready to face her, let alone allow her near my… near Anakin. However, I know that, if he wishes to speak to her whenever we return, I won't deny him the opportunity. Though I will insist that you remain present for any such meeting."

"I admit, that is a far more considerate response than I expected. A sign of maturity coming from having a Padawan, I suspect." The corners of his lips twitched, suggesting he found the fact I wasn't rushing to judgement amusing. "That you are willing to at least consider allowing her the chance to speak, and that you can stomach being in her presence – even if it is at some distance – is a sign you are slowly recovering from your ordeal. That, perhaps, is something I am more grateful for than your acceptance of Komari's wishes." He looked behind me, toward Raven. "Have you given any consideration to where you will take your Padawan to begin his training?"

"I have, though I have several errands to run first," I raised my arm, the one missing a forearm, ignoring the phantom pain that came whenever I thought about the limb. "And even then, I can't say with certainty where we will head."

I could've told him my plans, or at least the general ideas of it, but I felt better not doing so. It was unlikely the Council or the Sith would try and force that information from him, but if either wanted to know where I was and couldn't locate me, Dooku and Fay would be their first port of call. With Fay somewhere in the Deep Core, Dooku would be their primary source, thus it was better to simply not give him any information.

"That is often what the Force wishes; regardless of how it can often leave us searching to determine the purpose for our movements," Dooku said, unaware of the momentary consideration I'd given to revealing my plans to him. He stepped forward and after giving me a look over, nodded. "While you have far to go in your training, you have travelled a great distance already, and I am proud of my role in helping shape you into the man you are slowly becoming. Wherever you go, may the Force be with you, Cameron."

"And with you, Master," I replied, smiling.

With that, we turned and walked to our separate destinations. I could've continued talking with him, as there were things I might enjoy discussing, but Anakin was waiting for me on Raven, and the longer I dallied outside, the greater the chance he might emerge and seek to speak with Vosa. Until I was ready for that, or for her to be in my presence, that would be something I'd be avoiding.

… …

… …

"Will there be anything else, Master Jedi?"

"No, that will be all. Thank you for your help," I replied to the Rodian custodian who had guided me to this private terminal room. I settled into the seat in front of the terminal.

"Very well. I will head over and keep an eye on your Padawan and pilot." I waved almost dismissively at the Rodian as I examined the terminal in front of me. It was modelled on the ones in the Temple—or perhaps they were modelled on it—so figuring out how to use it wasn't a problem.

Currently, I was in the Celebratus Archive on Obroa-Skai, a place widely regarded as the foremost library in the Republic…at least outside of the Jedi Temple or the Senate library, though having enjoyed exploring the Archives' public displays – and some of the private ones – with Anakin for a few hours, I wondered if perhaps Coruscant was overplaying the importance of the facilities on the Republic capital.

The Archive had hundreds of relics, many of which were Jedi or Sith in origin – though several of the ones I'd Observed had been mislabelled as Jedi when they were Sith, or vice versa – and there appeared to be more here than in the Temple. However, I did wonder if perhaps many of the more interesting relics and the like, both here and in the Temple, were restricted to Jedi Masters.

Those mislabelled artefacts and a few others had been added to a datapad I kept stored in my Inventory in case the chance to research and examine them later was ever possible. This was the same datapad that held, among other things, the hyperspace routes to Dromund Kaas and other Sith worlds that I'd taken from the nav-computer during my trip forward in time.

It was still odd to me that, during the fight with the Sith Acolyte, the only part of the controls that had been damaged was the Hyperspace regulator, which was what regulated temporal control while in hyperspace. Or that such a small, seemingly insignificant part of the system was vitally important. Still, the fault – or design if the Force and TPTB had been involved – had given me coordinates to worlds that, in this day and age, were either lost or restricted, though I couldn't be sure of which was the case as the details of those worlds were restricted to even Jedi Knights by the Council.

I planned to return to the worlds of the former Sith Empire, the same one my many-times grand-niece had helped defeat, within the next five to ten years, and not just because failure to complete the quest linked to Dromund Kaas would result in Sidious growing even stronger. While the technology there was undoubtedly old, given it had been thousands of years since that Empire ruled half the galaxy, I had a feeling that information there was lost to the wider galaxy. Perhaps even to the Jedi and Sith.

Activating the terminal, I confirmed that whatever I searched for would be destroyed when I logged out. The Custodian had assured me of that, saying that absolute privacy was assured for those the Custodians deemed worthy of using a private terminal. But even seeing the evidence of that on the terminal, I had to wonder if that was the case. Computers, even with their memories wiped, could still, in theory, have the data recovered if no one reused the sections that had previously stored information, which was why I had plans to ensure most of my searches wouldn't be linked back to me.

Reaching out with Detection, I quickly sensed Anakin. He was with Simvyl back in the public areas of the Archive. We'd spent a few hours exploring the Archives before I'd left to carry out my research, and the boy was enjoying the information at his fingertips. Hopefully, Simvyl and the Custodian would ensure my ad didn't get into any trouble.

Returning my focus to the room I was in, even as I carried out my first search – looking up information on Onderon – I probed my more immediate surroundings, determining the locations of anyone else within a few hundred metres of me. Based on the floorplan that I'd seen, and what was added to the minimap as I was escorted to this room, it appeared there were several floors of private terminals. Most were empty, but the fact there were so many was something that would be useful.

Using Force Sight, I examined the power and data lines in the room and the walls around me. As promised, there wasn't anything that stood as a recording or monitoring device, meaning I was truly alone in the room. Save, perhaps, if someone was monitoring my searches and how long I spent on any given file.

After browsing the records on Onderon I closed the file and powered down the terminal. I then turned it back on and confirmed that, at least publicly, the search history was gone. I reopened the files on Onderon and resumed skimming them even as I downloaded everything there to a datapad I'd entered the room with.

While that was happening, I pulled up the data on Ossus, before standing and stretching my legs. Or at least it appeared as if that was what I was doing. What I was really doing was planning out my next few steps and ensuring that there were no motion sensors in the room.

When nothing caught the attention of Force Sight, I knew I was clear to proceed with my plans. Sitting back down, I browsed the files on Ossus, the location of the Jedi Temple before it was moved to Coruscant when the surface of Ossus was seemingly destroyed in the Great Sith War; something that happened before Revan.

Nothing there was particularly interesting, save that the world wasn't as destroyed as had been believed, though any plans to go there were shelved as it was monitored closely by the Republic and Jedi. Many had tried, and failed, to locate Jedi relics. Still, it was another world that, if I could do so without attracting attention, I'd like to explore.

As the data on Ossus was downloaded to the datapad, I opened files on Kashyyyk, though once they were displaying, I moved toward the wall to my left, and after confirming the room next to mine was empty, Phased through the wall. There I found another terminal, this one turning on when I sat in the chair.

At this new terminal, I began the first of my true searches, looking up everything available on Dagobah; my first choice of where to store the Scimitar. The world had managed to hide Yoda from Sidious and Vader for decades, so it was a logical place to consider when seeking a place to store a vessel with strong Dark Side connections. Yoda might not have been using the Force while in exile, but it had hidden him from the searching tendrils of the Emperor. The Scimitar would, in theory, be similarly well hidden from any efforts by the Sith to locate it. At least until I was ready to devote time to searching the vessel's databanks and capabilities.

Dagobah, it seemed, wasn't a world naturally strong in the Force – like Ossus or Ruusan – but the survey team had claimed it was teeming with life. So much so that it was odd the planet wasn't ecologically unbalanced. That abundance of life must've been what Yoda used to hide, and while not perfectly what I was after, it certainly made the world a good candidate. However, it wasn't the only world I was going to consider or search for from this terminal, and after transferring the data about Dagobah to a pad – not the one given to me by the Custodian, but an empty one that had come from my Inventory – I searched for Yavin IV.

I already knew that Yavin IV had been a base for Exar Kun during the Great Sith War – something I'd discovered by accident while a Padawan and randomly searching the Jedi Archives – but discovering that the world had been cleansed in fire by the Jedi was unexpected. The Jedi records said merely that Kun's bases had been destroyed, but the Celebratus Archive stated the Jedi and Republic had scorched the planet.

The planet had recovered in the millennia since, but it was an interesting thing to note and meant that the Dral'Han wasn't the first, or I suspected last, time that the Jedi had gone to such extremes.

As before, I chuckled when I read about Revan's connection to the world, during the time of the reconstituted Sith Empire. The reference to him being called 'Reborn' was odd, and as I read deeper into it, accessing files I'd not been able to view at the Temple, I sighed in annoyance. "That… that ruins so much," I muttered as I shook my head.

Learning that Revan had a connection to a Sith Emperor – the same one who'd led the Sith Empire several hundred years later during Satele's era – and that this Emperor, who seemingly had different names and bodies, was the reason for Revan's fall was upsetting. It made much of the reasons Revan turned for, which I'd referenced in my Knights of the Old Republic series, seem meaningless, if not downright wrong.

I'd believed Revan had turned to protect the Republic, to strengthen it against a greater threat. That the threat turned out to be the Sith Empire led by this Tenebrae, was fine. Yet here it was stated that he hadn't done so initially, only changing tack after breaking free of whatever whammy Tenebrae had unleashed on Revan and Malak's minds. According to this file, that was believed to be the reason Malak turned on Revan, but I wasn't so sure, as there were a lot of details missing, and several gaping holes left in the logic and reasoning of these reports.

"Kind of wish you'd show up and explain all this," I said to the empty room, half-hoping he'd appear, but knowing that that was a fool's hope. Force, since the cave on Ilum he'd not appeared again, but that was about what I expected from a Force Ghost.

Since I had time, and since this Sith Empire and their emperor came up in my family's history more than I'd expected, I opened the files on them and began reading. There was a lot about this particular Sith empire, which given it had lasted for several centuries, and at one point had controlled Coruscant, wasn't a surprise. Most other Sith empires lasted nowhere near as long, save the chaos brought on by the New Sith Wars, though there, the Sith had united and fractured several times over the millennia.

This Sith Empire had been united from its formation to fall, with most of that time spent under the rule of Tenebrae, at least until his apparent defeat though the files hinted at him reappearing as Emperor of another group – The Eternal Empire – as another person. Force, as another species. That was odd and interesting, and wanting to read on this further, I pulled an empty datapad from my Inventory and then attached it to the terminal.

The files I'd be downloading would take time, so I slipped through the wall returning to my assigned terminal. After spending a minute browsing the files on Kashyyyk, downloading them to a datapad I'd entered the room with, I opened the files relating to Coruscant and covered everything about it from its history and evolution, to what it was now and every rule, no matter how seemingly insignificant. That was then set to download into the datapad here, and while I didn't expect to ever need the information, I wasn't going to turn down the chance to borrow every record I could think of.

That was why, as the download began, I stood and reached out with the Force. Sensing the room below was empty, I Phased again, dropping through the floor to another terminal. At this terminal, which again activated when I touched it and was without monitoring, I began searches with orders to download the data to another datapad, for various worlds that, for various reasons, I'd not examined carefully at the Temple.

Mandalore, Kamino, Ruusan, and a half-dozen worlds that I'd known of before arriving in this galaxy, or had come across at the Temple but avoided delving too deeply into their history and lore for fear of drawing the Council's attention. The data on each world I listed in my search was added to the download queue for another datapad, one that already contained the hyperspace coordinates for Kamino, Korriban, and a dozen other worlds that had been freely available to anyone willing to pay a few credits for them. That, like many of the datapads I was using today, was stored in my Inventory so that no one else could ever know what I knew or planned.

Reaching out with Detection, I located those in the terminal rooms and outside. So far, no one was heading toward the first room I'd shifted to for some unsanctioned downloading, but I knew it was only a matter of time until a Custodian came to see what was going on.

Because of that, I located a nearby terminal room that was occupied, though I didn't Teleport directly there, instead arriving in an empty one next to it. I stumbled as the Teleport faded, having misjudged the floor, and appeared around half a metre above it.

Once I was ready, I walked toward the wall and Phased partially through. Using Observe on the Twi'lek sitting there, I confirmed they were nobody of consequence with negligible Force Potential. I then, while remaining in the wall, used the Force to stun them before entering the room. Taking note of what they were browsing, I lifted them from their seat and accessed the terminal.

With this terminal, I began searching for various Force sects that existed outside the control and close monitoring of the Jedi. Once Natural Evolution was taken, I'd need to relearn how to use certain Force Powers that I was reluctant to lose. Combining that with a curiosity about what else the Force could do, what I might teach Anakin, and the potential to learn abilities that neither the Jedi nor the Sith focused on, meant that this was one search I wanted to not be linked to me, and why a patsy was selected.

The first of the sects to appear was Dathomir, though I blinked as I read the entry to the file regarding the planet and its witches. Unlike what I'd remembered, the planet wasn't composed solely of a tribe of Dark Side-aligned witches, nor was it a red, seemingly dead world. The Nightsisters did exist, and their part of the world appeared barren, but there were multiple tribes on the planet. While that drew my attention, the planet was removed from my list of places to visit due to the various tribes all considering males little more than slaves and breeding stock.

Even if I wasn't planning to visit the planet, the files might be of use, and I had them downloaded to another datapad – once more, pulled from my Inventory – while I began searching for other sects. While I knew of a few from random searches in the Temple, there were more listed here than I'd expected, so I programmed the terminal to download everything it had on each of the sects and the worlds where they were based.

After checking the Twi'lek was still stunned, I Teleported back to my initial room, confirmed the terminal was still downloading, changed the display to another section of a file on Telos, and then Phased through the wall. The terminal there had finished downloading my research to that datapad, and I slipped the device into my Inventory before returning to my initial room and then Phasing through the floor. The terminal in the third room was still running and had time to go, I figured I'd head to another room.

Teleporting back to the room with the Twi'lek, I Phased through three walls, and at the terminal in this last room, or so I hoped, I pulled up another list of worlds. These had come from HK's memory banks and were worlds he knew of that I didn't, nor had considered. This list included Lehon, the home system of the Rakata, and the location of the Star Forge. The system was restricted, something I'd learnt in the Temple, but here I could at least determine details about it along with rough directions to the system.

There were also other worlds, including a few I'd come across when skimming Revan's file earlier that had been prominently displayed. Once again, I set the terminal to download the files for those worlds and sectors to the datapad before Teleporting back to the second room.

The terminal there was finished, and after collecting the datapad and sliding it into my Inventory, I returned to my assigned room. Once more, I spent time browsing the details of the world currently there – that being Nal Hutta – and sat down. The other downloads would take time, and it was better to remain where I was for now.

I could've easily carried out all these searches on this terminal, but not trusting that the records would be properly expunged, and not wanting to leave an obvious trail of breadcrumbs, I'd devised the plan for using multiple terminals. The fact each was inside a secured private room only made it easier for me to carry out my research at seemingly random terminals.

Sensing movement toward the second and fifth terminals I'd accessed, I Teleported to each, removed the datacard – each having completed their downloads – turned off the terminals, and Teleported to the fourth room. There, the Twi'lek was still unconscious though the download was nearing its end.

Once it was completed, I returned the screen to the one it had been on when I'd Stunned the Twi'lek, placed him back in the seat and then Phased into the wall. Just before I left, I used the Force to wake the Twi'lek and then departed.

Once back in my assigned terminal room, I sat down in the chair and allowed myself a smile. From what I could tell, everything had gone as I'd intended and my research, or at least the initial stages of it, was completed. However, not wanting to seem uninterested in the room after requesting one, I sat back and began reading the file currently being downloaded.

That was data about the Empress Teta system, where Serra's family were figures of importance. I had little interest in the system or her family, but harmless searching was precisely what I wanted it to look like I was doing. The various datapads with my true research were now stored safely inside my Inventory for review later.

It was possible that, from browsing those files I might require further data from the Archive, but if that was the case I knew I could gain it without having to ask for a private terminal. Or even enter the Archive officially. Teleport was now in the Savant range, which granted me a range of six kilometres. While that wasn't a large enough range to enter these rooms from outside the building – this place was a marvel stretching over ten kilometres wide though most of the more impressive artefacts, relics, and all the private terminals were located centrally – it would only take a double usage of the power to get here and back.

As such, while I wouldn't be spending too long on the planet, I did plan to delay my departure a few days; at least until I'd managed to browse most of what I'd downloaded. There was enough here, including a Jedi enclave that I was planning to avoid, to keep Anakin busy during the day. At least when I wasn't training him.

Now, I might be acting paranoid, but after Naboo, I knew the Jedi and Sith would be carefully monitoring me; the latter pair more than the former group. Palpatine and Damask would be attempting to track my movements and plans, as I felt they hadn't expected me to gather the force that I did to liberate Naboo. They wouldn't want to make such a mistake again, which was why I was doing my research the way I was.

Now yes, they could, through official and unofficial channels, potentially gain access to everything I'd downloaded today, perhaps everything that was downloaded from every terminal. However, by spreading the research out, and using the Twi'lek as a patsy for some of the work, I should at the very least, delay them from knowing my intentions. Haran, if they only used the data from my terminal, it would lead them on wild goose chases.

With time to kill before I was due to meet Anakin and Simvyl, I took one of the datapads from the Inventory and returned to a topic that had caught my interest earlier, placing another down so I could enter notes of anything else I might want to search for in relation to what I was about to read: the history of the Eternal Empire, their founding Emperor, Valkorion, and their role in the war fought between the Sith and Jedi during Satele's lifetime.

… …

… …

I watched Anakin as he swung the low-powered shoto lightsaber and suppressed a sigh. "Be mindful of your balance," I commented, even as I used my beskad to tap his blade downward. The movement caused him to stumble forward, showing he had over-extended in the attack, leaving himself exposed to an elementary counter. "When you attack, always be mindful not to overcommit. It will often leave you exposed to a quick counter by a skilled opponent."

Anakin grumbled, his annoyance easy to sense, as he reset his position. The velocity he was working through was an early one for Form 1, and I had already shown him before. That he was struggling with it wasn't a surprise, though, as he had only started using a lightsaber for the velocities in the last few weeks. He attacked again, and this time when my beskad blocked his swing downward, he retained his balance; his blade and arms remained closer to his body.

"Better," I said as I took a step back. "Again." As he repeated the move, I began walking around him. "While Shii-Cho is the first, and in many ways, the simplest form a traditional Force User will learn, it's not without its strengths. The Form is based around blade work and thus teaches the importance of good footwork and balance, something that carries over into every other Form you'll learn. However, as you're aware, its nature as the first Form means that not only does every lightsaber wielder know it, but they can also exploit the various issues the Form has because its base lies in weapons fundamentally different from a lightsaber. Now, that isn't to say that a skilled practitioner can't overcome those limitations, and the more advanced velocities of the Form help in that regard as well. However, it will be some time before you learn those velocities or those of other Forms."

I'd given this speech, in differing forms, to Anakin several times over the years, though now he was my Padawan and Ad, their meaning and importance grew. He was now my responsibility and knowing what was to come, I wasn't going to be lax in my training, even if that meant pushing him further and faster than he might otherwise be.

In the other timeline, Anakin had used a Djem-So base, and I felt that would still be the case with him in this timeline, but I wasn't going to assume. Before he reached the point of creating a personal style – in about four or five years I hoped – he'd have solid bases in every one of the six base Forms, their variants, and anything else I trained him in. From there, the choice of style would be his alone, though I'd continue to nurture and guide its development to overcome any flaws I saw within it. And, if the worst happened, know how to overcome him.

A beep from the intercom in the training area drew my attention and I moved toward it. Anakin would continue as he knew to not stop unless told to do so; the times he had in our first week together ensured he understood the consequences of assuming. "Yes?" I said as I answered the call.

"They're here," Simvyl responded from the cockpit.

I resisted the urge to say 'finally'. We'd been in orbit of Dagobah for three days now, waiting for HK and R2 to arrive with the Scimitar and I was beginning to fear they'd gotten into trouble. Or more accurately, HK had incited trouble to amuse himself. "I'll be there shortly," I said before closing the channel and turning to Anakin. While he'd not stopped, he had slowed his movements. "You, however, will remain here training."

"But I want to see HK and R2," he half-whined, though credit where credit was due, he didn't stop.

"I'm aware you do, but life, and the Force, rarely give us what we want, when we want it. Now continue your training." I walked toward the door, not letting him get in a reply, and exited the training area. "And you'll train every day as I instructed until I return," I added before the door closed behind me.

Anakin knew I'd be spending a few days on the planet, though like the others he thought I'd be meditating. Through the Force, as I quickly neared the central area of the ship, I sensed his disappointment and annoyance. However, he didn't dwell on them, which was a good sign.

Passing through the central area, I spotted Fenrir lazing – as usual – on one of the sofas. He lifted his head as I passed, allowing me to give him a quick scratch, but stayed there as I passed. Entering the cockpit, through the viewport I saw the faint, but growing, sight of an approaching vessel, though my attention ended up on the holo-display.

"Query: Might I ask why you chose this pitiful, empty planet to meet, Master?" Even as a small, blue hologram, HK retained his snark and presence.

"Because it's such a pitiful and empty planet, in a sense," I replied as I slipped into the pilot's seat, the chair shifting to welcome me and deepen the connection I shared with Raven. "That vessel, I feel, is important. However, I don't have the time to devote to learning its secrets currently, nor do I wish to lose the pleasure of your and R2's company by assigning you to handle the investigation. And although I could give it to the Jedi," a flicker of HK's visual receptors suggested his thoughts on the matter, "I fear they'd waste the potential the Scimitar contains, or somehow mess it up so badly the vessel ends up back with the Sith."

"Observation: Given what I've discovered about this era's Jedi, I believe you are correct in that assessment, Master. Hypothesis: I would speculate that this vessel returning to the Sith is the more likely outcome."

"Aye," I replied with a chuckle. "Dagobah is, for all intents and purposes, an empty world that no one cares about. It's full of organic life, but few if any ever venture here and it's unknown or ignored by the overwhelming majority of the galaxy, like millions of others. With the system being slightly isolated, that lowers the chance anyone would come here for any reason, making it an ideal place to store the vessel until I have time to examine it fully and repurpose it. Potentially even finding someone I'd trust to fly it for me."

I did hope that Maul might be that person, but I knew the chances of that were extremely low. He'd not have any sentimental attachment to the Scimitar, but if he could, by some miracle, be persuaded to ally with me, then returning his ship would be a good way to secure his support, if not begin to earn his trust. That, however, was a pipe dream for years down the road.

"Analysis: A logical decision, Master. However, I feel there may be better locations where this vessel could be stored. Addendum: It has many enhancements that few other ships would possess. Certainly, more than the flying meat sack you choose, Master."

The lights in the cockpit flared as random, furious patterns flicked and rushed around making clear Raven disliked the comment. It was hardly a surprise though as HK had made similar comments before, but had at least respected Raven for her speed, though he put that down to her mechanical components and me. He wouldn't, however, limit his dislike of her lack of weapons, which was something I agreed with. The issue was her organic frame made it difficult, if not impossible, to add anything without risking damage to her.

The Mandalorian mechanics that had examined Raven before Naboo had agreed with my assessment, though they, like HK, felt cutting through Raven's flesh was necessary. All of them failed to understand that Raven was alive and connected to me in ways they'd never comprehend. That said, I was hoping to find someone capable of crafting a method to add weaponry, even if it was just simple laser cannons, ion weaponry, or missiles, that wouldn't hurt Raven. The issue was finding someone skilled enough to do so, and trustworthy enough to allow them that sort of access to her.

"You and R2 can debrief me on the Scimitar's special features soon," I said as my hand moved over the controls, gently easing Raven closer to the formerly Sith vessel. "Once we're closer I'll come aboard for a tour." With that, I closed the channel and spoke to Simvyl. "As planned, I'll be heading down to the surface with the droids. I don't know what's down there, but between the three of us, I doubt it'll be a challenge. Even as damaged as I am," I added, mocking my injury. "Regardless, I need the privacy, and my presence in the Force should be camouflaged enough in a place where it's so abundant to allow me to meditate on my plans."

"Should I monitor Anakin's training?"

"Yeah. He knows what he needs to do, and how long he has to practise, but like any child, he'll be easily distracted. Something Fenrir will encourage as his boredom grows."

"I suggest you speak with Fenrir before you leave," Simvyl suggested as Raven pulled alongside the Scimitar, and I programmed the docking tube to extend once we were aligned.

"Aye, I'll do that."

Standing, I walked back to the central area and found the tuk'ata still lounging around. He lifted his head when I approached this time as if sensing I wished to speak with him. "I'm going to be gone for a few days and need you to keep an eye on Anakin and Simvyl," I said as I scratched him under the chin, drawing a content growl from him. "Just don't distract Anakin while he trains, and when I've finished I'll let you have some time to see what you can hunt on the planet."

A snort was his way of agreeing, the promise of a hunt helping him accept being stuck onboard Raven for a few more days. With that done, I turned and walked toward the docking ramp. This time I'd be using the docking tube, which was the first time it had been needed since I'd bonded with Raven.

As I neared the docking ramp, I grew curious about what features Maul's vessel contained, and what information the droids had drawn from its databanks. While most would be protected, I hoped some of it could be deciphered to allow me an insight into not only where the vessel had been, but what Sidious' plans were.

… …

"Observation: I find this world reprehensible, Master. It is covered only in flawed, chaotic, organic life." R2 let out a series of low, drawn-out beeps and whistles that I knew meant he agreed. "Addendum: The astromech agrees."

"Yes, I'm aware of that," I replied with a smirk as I moved forward slowly, taking care of my footing. With only one hand to use, I had to ensure my footing was secure before taking each step. "However, for what I need to do, this is exactly what I require," I added, glancing back toward the droids, though my gaze travelled beyond them; toward the mountain range we'd been hiking away from for about an hour.

Well, it was as close to a mountain range as existed near the swamps that covered around half of the planet. The rest of the world was covered by jungles, bayous, or cold bogs with the only difference between the various climates being temperature. For the scans we'd taken in orbit, while the planet had little in the way of lakes or seas, the majority of the land was damp.

Not wanting to store the Scimitar in a swamp, and risk it suffering the same fate as Luke's X-Wing did before Yoda freed it, I'd piloted Maul's vessel down toward one of the few points of higher elevation. Closer scans had revealed some caverns, and while none were initially ideal, one had been discovered that was closer to the size we needed.

Thankfully the cave had been easy enough to enlarge so the Scimitar could slide inside – though it was a tight fit – and the cave wasn't like the one Luke had entered near Yoda's hut. Not that I had any clue where that was on the planet, nor was I interested in discovering it.

Before the Scimitar was placed inside the enlarged cavern, the datacore had been copied to three isolated datapads. Each of those had their ability to connect to nearby networks or the Holonet disabled on the off chance that accessing the data the ship stored resulted in an automated distress signal to Sidious. Those datapads were added to a new slot in my Inventory, and while I still had room if I stored the various datapads in a small sack to take up a single slot in my Inventory, I had enough room to not yet need to do that. Even after Bo had insisted I load up my Inventory on supplies that I and Anakin might need; be that for combat or survival.

The various droids on the Sith vessel had been disabled and scanned as well, and while I had little interest in interrogation or security droids – not with HK around – the probe droids piqued my interest. When time allowed, I planned to stop off somewhere and acquire several models of the small, fast-moving droids. I wasn't sure if I'd have much need for them, at least not after Natural Evolution, but it was better to have them just in case. Plus, I suspected Anakin would enjoy taking a few apart, seeing how they worked, and determining ways to improve them.

HK had pointed out the main droid onboard the Scimitar before we'd descended, even commenting that it was a worthy opponent, and maybe even a useful ally if its programming could be altered. I'd look into that in later years, but for now, it was depowered like the other droids, and as an added protective measure, disassembled and stored in different locations aboard the vessel with the head inside a secured crate that would only open when a very long code was entered into it. Or if someone used a lightsaber or similar device to slice the crate open.

The cave had been sealed first with some larger boulders I'd lifted into place with the Force before HK had used his blasters on a different setting to melt the stones at their edges, all but fusing the cave shut. Over time, the local fauna would grow and cover the clearly sealed cave and hide the location from any that might venture to the planet, and Simvyl had used Raven to lock our coordinates so when I, or someone I sent, came to retrieve the Sith vessel I'd know where to look without having to rely on the Force.

"Query: How long will this process take?"

"I don't know, which is why you and R2 will guard me while I meditate," I replied as I used my beskad to cut a branch that was blocking our path. I could've used my shoto lightsaber but had decided against it. While the plants would grow back, there was always the slim chance that someone would come here and recognise the distinctive way a lightsaber cut and burnt a target. "You're free to eliminate any threats that approach," I continued as I saw that beyond the cut branch was a downed tree; one that I'd not be able to climb over with only one hand. "That said, I'd prefer if you didn't kill everything on the planet while I commune with the Force," I added as I used the Force to jump onto the downed tree before turning back to the droids.

"Clarification: What percentage of extermination would be acceptable, Master?" As HK asked that, I used the Force to lift R2, the astromech beeping worriedly as I did so.

"Any that approach after a warning shot are fair game, but I don't want to awake to find the earth scorched around us." As I set the rules I set R2 down on the other side of the tree. At the same time, HK leapt, the servos in his legs granting him the power to leap clear over the downed tree and me. "However, if your scanners detect a large group of creatures approaching, establish a perimeter with a five-hundred-metre radius minimum around me. Once I awake, if all goes well, I'll have Simvyl land Raven and then you and Fenrir can go hunting if you'd like."

I leapt down from the tree, my boots squelching into the mud, which made me grimace. While I detested sand because of events on Tatooine, my dislike of swamps went back to my former life and every training or active operation that had taken place in swamps, jungles, and the like. Dagobah would be useful for hiding the Scimitar and taking Natural Evolution, but I'd be happy when we left.

"Musing: While the tuk'ata is a quadrupedal meatbag, it is efficient at tracking and removing targets. Addendum: Though I would prefer if you would allow me to burn the world clean of offending organic life, Master."

"Oh, I know that," I said with a chuckle. "But the idea is to hide the Sith vessel on this world, not draw attention to the planet by having it be vastly different from Republic records by letting you be happy."

"Objection: I am a droid, Master, and as such superior to any organic and not ruled by emotions. For which I am eternally grateful." That drew another chuckle from me, though I chose not to teasingly respond that while he might be a droid, he was built by an organic.

My focus turned to the world around us. I'd had Detection on since we'd landed and had been using Sense Force ever since we'd entered the swamp properto find an area particularly strong in the Living Force. At the same time, I wondered if the Force itself might be trying to guide me. While I couldn't fully interact with it due to the Interface, I suspected the Force wanted the blocks between us removed as well, though I did wonder if its reasoning – if it was capable of such a thing – would be the same as mine.

That concern that after Natural Evolution I'd be open to the Force guiding me places was one that had grown the closer I'd come to Dagobah, but I knew what I was doing was the right choice. The Force had hinted to others that I, alongside Anakin, had a role to play in changing the fate of the galaxy, but I assured myself that I wouldn't become like most Jedi in allowing the Force to blindly guide me toward what it desired. Nor that I'd become like a Sith and bend it to my will. Plus, there was also the fact that if I took Player+ I'd never be able to take on high-level Council members, never mind people like Sidious, Yoda, and Windu.

… …

"You remember your orders?" I said as I settled onto a section of dry ground. That I'd found even that was a small miracle and after a few hours of trekking I'd taken it and sat down upon it in a standard meditation position.

"Mockery: No, Master, I don't. the thirteen previous times you've made clear our orders since you boarded the Scimitar were insufficient for either myself or the astromech." R2 beeped and whistled in amusement at HK's response. While not yet as snarky as he'd become in the other timeline, or even close to HK, the hints of the personality that developed over a decade were there already. Given I had no plans to wipe his memory regularly, as I wouldn't with HK, that made it even more likely he'd develop the expected personality. Not wiping a droid could be a security risk, but given HK and R2 were my personal droids, and the former was skilled in killing everything from a Jawa up to a Jedi, and the latter would learn how to defend himself and be upgraded over the next few years, I felt little concern at the idea someone might learn something I didn't want them to from the droids.

"Very well. I hope you can obey them and not reduce this world to molten rock while I commune with the Force."

After getting the final word, I closed my eyes and accessed the Interface, specifically the notice regarding the upgrade for the Interface and then selected Natural Evolution.

The Interface will be offline while the chosen upgrade is applied.
As this evolution of the Interface will involve considerable alterations to the Interface, and by extension the Player, you will be placed into what appears to be a coma or deep meditation.
How this appears depends on the Player's position and location while the upgrade is applied.

Upgrade chosen: Natural Evolution
This upgrade will render the Player unable to interact with anything around them for a period of between 75 and 150 standard hours.
The variance in time is dependent on the Player's level, age, and the various levels of their Force Powers.

By selecting
Natural Evolution, either Player's Mind or Player's Body MUST be removed, and the cost refunded.
The selection has not been made.
Which Player Power do you wish to be refunded?
Player's Mind/Player's Body?

I'd known that choice was coming as it'd been in the description, but I'd not expected it in an error message as I'd not been asked for my choice beforehand. I chose Player's Mind, as while it was a useful Power, it could be interfered with, or even overridden, when in a place strong in the Force. Since I felt I'd be heading to at least a handful of such locations in the near to middle future, and the fact that its other abilities were mimicked by true Force Abilities, I felt it was the better choice to be refunded for. While I would miss the clear-mindedness the Power brought on, so far I'd never changed a decision I'd made after reviewing it with the Power active and I felt it was the more logical Player Power to lose.

Player's Body might seem the less useful of the two in dire circumstances, but it had more obvious and useful everyday bonuses. Beyond the increased Stamina Regeneration it offered, and the fact it meant I didn't actively sweat – something several people had commented on and, if the Power was removed, they would notice – it was because of Player's Body that I was alerted when I was wounded, and was able to push on when anyone without the Power might not be able to do so. Something I'd, unfortunately, seen in a dire situation when I'd lost my forearm to Maul as without the Power, I felt I'd have gone into shock over the injury, and thus lost my duel to the Zabrak.

Player's Mind selected.
A Player Power Point will be refunded to the Player once the upgrade has been completed.

Do you wish to begin the upgrade now?

Once 'Yes' is selected, the upgrade will commence after a short countdown.
This countdown cannot be stopped, so the Player must be sure and be resting comfortably before confirming the upgrade.

That was what I'd expected, as I'd had to sleep off the last upgrade to the Interface, though there I'd not had the choice of how to evolve it. That this one would take longer was entirely logical. Unlike the last one, which seemed to just unlock and adapt a few of the various sections of the Interface, Natural Evolutionwas going to entirely remove what was in my opinion the most critical part of its function: its regulation of and control of my Force connection.

While things like this, and many of the more technical elements of the Interface, had me still questioning if I was truly sentient, and not just a puppet for some higher power to control and manipulate, I knew there was little I could do about that. Thus, I pressed Yes and took a deep breath as the text shifted around.

Upgrade to the Interface confirmed.
The process will begin in:






… …

… …

I slumped forward, jolted awake, and blinked. My eyes scanned around, quickly finding HK and R2 standing not far away; HK's blaster was held comfortably in his grasp as he and R2 watched the area. My mouth opened to call out, to let them know I was awake, only for the sound to die in my throat.

Instead, a gasp slipped from me as my mind was submerged by… everything.

The world around me was alive, and while I'd known that before, now I could feel it, sense it, experience it. My hands came to the side of my skull as my mind was flooded with the voices(?) of everything around me, of the connection between the sparks of life – be they big or small, flora or fauna, and of every possible kind – held with the Force. And now with me.

Before I'd been able to faintly sense them through the Interface and the Force, but with the former gone, my mind was experiencing the true depth and scale of what an open connection to the Force brought. It was glorious and incredible. Even though I had known that my connection to the Force was muted in comparison to other Jedi or Sith, I had thought that I still understood what it meant to be connected, at least on an academic level.

I had no idea. It was as if I had been calling myself a painter and learning all of the best brush-strokes and techniques, but without being able to actually see any of it. Or as if I had been a musician who thought himself world-class, without realising that he was tone-deaf.

I could feel everything around me as if it was me. The rhythmic pulsing of life from a hundred million creatures, some so small I'd need a microscope to see them, some longer than Raven, was rushing into my mind, overwhelming my defences as I struggled not to become swept away by this rising tide of near-sensory overload.

They were there, I knew that, yet even though the memories of my lessons on the Force over the last decade were still present, whenever I tried to focus on one, the Force seemed to push it aside. Almost as if it wanted to take me over, to become one with me. To make me a part of it.

Somewhere to my left, I felt the exhilaration of moving in for the kill, and panic as I understood something was about to die. My head snapped to that side, wanting to understand where the sensations, the feelings, were coming from.

Instead of finding something to use as a lifeline, I found my thoughts surging outward in a hundred, possibly a thousand different directions. I could feel the wind race over feathers, even as I slid through the mud, my tongue flicking out to find food. I jumped high, clearing something in my way, and then crashed into the water at the same time I experienced my legs, all six of them, moving in sync as I worked with others to rip apart something. I pushed through something thick, almost solid, yet it felt as if I was built to do so. Every memory, every experience happened concurrently as I grasped my skull with my hand.

Rolling to one side, I dry heaved, the sensations slowly drowning me even as I understood I needed this to stop. I needed to regain control before I lost myself in the sensations I was experiencing through the Force.

The ground near me shook, and opening my eyes I saw HK standing over me. I knew he was speaking, and could make out the distinctive, sardonic tone of his vocal actuator, yet the words were lost in the chaotic symphony that was assaulting my senses. Yet, for all that I knew I needed this to stop, I wasn't sure how to do so. I was unable to bring forth the memories of closing myself from the Force to draw on the teachings.

A gasp rushed from me as I felt another presence crash against me within the Force. Yet this one was different and familiar. Locking onto it, using it as a lifeline, I understood in an instant that it was Anakin; the boy reaching out from orbit to help.

His attempt was rushed, unfocused, and unrefined, but incredibly powerful. Even as I used his presence to stabilise myself, I understood that this was what Anakin was. A storm slowly forming on the horizon, one that if unchecked, could bring about untold chaos and damage. Yet, as I slowly felt my mind return to some semblance of control, I saw a way to harness the Force storm that was Anakin. As if with the Interface no longer blocking my connection, I understood what I could help Anakin become, what I could mould him into.

That, however, would have to wait for later. For now, I needed control, and with my thoughts slowly returning to me, with my mind no longer being pulled in a myriad of directions and ways, I knew what I had to do. "E-enough," I growled through clenched teeth even as I sensed other presences with Anakin's; those of Raven and Fenrir.

The word had barely emerged from me before I felt everything dull down. Everything I'd been sensing and experiencing lessened, from the animals whose worlds I'd seen glimpses of through their eyes, the life flowing through the various fauna of the world, and even the lifelines that Anakin, Raven, and Fenrir had thrown me, slipped away. The Force, or at least my connection to it, was blunted and dulled once more and I sighed in relief as my mind was my own again.

I stayed where I was, looking up at the dull, overcast sky of Dagobah and taking long, slow, deep breaths, letting my body recover from what I'd just experienced. I'd known that removing the Interface from my connection with the Force was going to make things different, but what I'd just experienced… words failed to fully describe what it felt like to truly be connected to the Force. However, before I allowed that connection to resume as it should, I needed to train myself to limit the inflow of sensations. For now, the Force would remain distant while I locked myself off from it; held behind the barrier I'd managed to erect after Anakin's lifeline.

"Query: Master? Are you well?"

I turned to look up at the assassin droid, my heart rate returning to normal. "I," even saying the short word hurt and I gulped hard, trying to soothe my throat. I didn't think I'd been exposed to the full brunt of the Force for long, but perhaps it had been longer and more stressful than I'd realised. Not trusting my words for now, I nodded in response and using my arms, eased myself up to a seated position.

Once there, I saw the small flask I'd placed down before meditating, and after popping the cap, took a long but slow sip, soothing the rawness of my throat. "I'm fine, HK," I said once I felt ready to speak again. My voice was hoarse but at least it didn't hurt to speak. "It's just that when I emerged from my meditation, something had changed."

His optical receptors dulled, making clear he was curious or concerned, though the beeping from R2 was only the latter. HK was built to detect lies, so he'd know I wasn't being entirely truthful, but he also wouldn't push unless he felt it was important. Though that ability to sense falsehoods was one I planned to exploit heavily in the coming years, as if I could reach the point where I could convince HK that I truly believed the Republic was run by Ewoks – or something equally as insane – it would do wonders for my Charisma-based social skills, especially Deception. "I think I've overcome the block in my connection to the Force, but I can't say for sure."

"Analysis: I do hope you have done so, Master. While you are skilled, you lack the… flair one would expect of a Jedi. Especially for one descended from the Creator. Addendum: In many ways, the small meatbag designer has a better understanding of how to use the Force in non-mechanical ways than you do."

"Aye, he does. And thanks, I think," I replied slowly. The flask had been placed down while he spoke, and I'd moved around to begin to stand. "How long was I meditating?" I asked once back on my feet.

"Answer: Three days, twelve hours, Master."

"Bit longer than I expected but okay." As I spoke, I stretched my arms, mimicking what I should be doing but that, thanks to Player's Body, I didn't truly have to do so. At least not on a physical level. Three and a half days was around the mid-point of the time the Interface had said it would take to upgrade itself and free the Force from its filtering. "How much of the local fauna and flora have you reduced to atoms?"

"Statement: Not nearly as much as I would have preferred, Master. Most creatures kept their distance after a warning shot. A handful of the larger, more aggressive species failed to heed the caution, and I was most efficient in ensuring they learnt the error of their ways." R2 rocked from side to side and beeped wildly, the volume making me wince. "Amendment: The astromech also drove off several creatures, Master. Though he failed to ensure those creatures were removed permanently."

I chuckled at that and placed a hand on the assassin droid's shoulder. "Not everyone, be they organic or droid, can be as efficient as you, HK. Otherwise, the galaxy would be a far emptier and less enjoyable place."

"Affirmative: Yes, Master." HK looked past me and then R2 before continuing. "Assessment: While I would miss the chance to regularly remove meatbags, I believe those that remained would be a higher quality target. Perhaps sufficiently higher than the less regular combat would be acceptable. Addendum: I am, however, unsure if I would find the longer durations between combat tolerable."

"Speaking for myself, I wouldn't. I'd grow bored as shab with nothing to do."

Before HK could reply, my vambrace beeped. My arm came over instinctively to open the channel, only for me to pause when I saw the missing forearm. Sighing at making that mistake again, and wondering how long it would be until I could get a replacement limb – and if that might remove the phantom pains – I reached into my belt with my hand and pulled out a commlink. "Yes?" I said as I used the commlink, barely able to restrain my annoyance at myself for making the mistake again.

"Well, your response suggests you're at least awake," Simvyl replied, and while I'd limited my connection to nothing more than a trickle, I could faintly sense his amusement. "Anakin, Raven, and Fenrir all reacted badly about twenty minutes ago. Once I'd gotten them calmed down, or at least as much as I could, Anakin told me you were in trouble. Though before then, I'd not been able to stop Raven from descending no matter how much I tried to counter her behaviour."

I laughed softly at the idea my ship had disobeyed orders in an attempt to help. That was exactly the sort of thing I and Anakin would do, so it seemed more of my personality had merged with her than I'd realised. "Something did, and while it was a personal issue and might cause me problems in the short-term, in the long-term I feel it's the first step in overcoming several of my issues. As for Raven, it's fine. She, like Anakin and Fenrir, share a connection to me through the Force and would've sensed my confusion when I awoke." I looked up, knowing instinctively where Raven was, yet through the thick, grey fog that hung over this area of the planet – and possibly most of the surface – I couldn't see her. Before I'd had to actively think about using Detection to be certain where she or others were, but now, even with my connection to the Force restricted by choice, I knew with certainty where she was. Along with Anakin and Fenrir. "Should we remain here, or is there a clearing we should move toward?" I asked, pushing aside any thought of marvelling at the change in how the Force now worked, and how incredible it felt to simply know something without having to consider it.

"One moment," Simvyl said before the channel went silent for about half a minute. "There's a large enough clearing about five klicks southwest of your location. Sending coordinates now."

My vambrace beeped, confirming reception of the data. It then, on programming, displayed our location and our destination. "Got it. See you there. Oh, and tell Anakin I'm fine, and thanks." With that, I closed the channel and slipped the commlink back into its pouch. Simvyl would be confused about the thanks, but Anakin would understand, and it should reassure him that I was fine. Or as fine as I was going to be until I gained a handle on how to properly use and interact with the Force.

"Come on," I said to the droids. "While it shouldn't take us long to reach the RV, the sooner we leave, the sooner we can get off this world." I took a step before pausing and giving HK a wide smile. "If anything gets too close, feel free to respond without a need for a warning shot."

"Affirmative: That is most agreeable, Master. I have grown tired of having to warn such primitive meatbags about their purpose. Musing: I wonder if I might use some of my more advanced armaments. I was unable to use many upon Naboo due to your instructions to avoid civilian casualties and protection of the meatbag ruler."

"Again, so long as you don't level the area we're in, or risk giving way that we've been here, feel free to enjoy yourself."

"Exclamation: Oh, I will, Master, I will."

R2 gave out a long, low, sad beep and I reached over, patting his dome. "It's ok. I'm sure Anakin and HK can suggest modifications so you're better able to defend yourself and assist HK in future." R2 beeped happily at that.

"Agreement: Oh yes, Master. I have many ideas on how to enhance an astromech." I laughed at R2's reaction to HK's comment as it seemed the astromech was suddenly fearful of what the assassin had planned. Keeping the amusing thought in mind, I resumed walking, plotting out the quickest path to the rendezvous location.

As we walked, I started running through the change that had occurred. There were notices about the change flashing in the bottom corner of my vision, but I decided to leave them for a moment, focusing on how it felt as if things had changed. It was clear that with the Interface gone, I'd been blasted by the full, unfiltered connection with the Force that had held, which placed me in a unique position.

Everyone else in the galaxy was born with their connection unfiltered, be they someone with barely any connection right up to beings like Yoda, Sidious, and Anakin. They'd learnt before they could even understand what they were to accept and harness that connection. Sharing a connection with the Force was natural to everything in the galaxy, be they sentient, fauna or flora. Well, except for any race like the Vong, though they seemed to come from beyond the galaxy so perhaps that was why they weren't connected to the Force.

I, however, didn't have that natural, had always been there, connection with the Force. Or at least, I'd not had it until less than thirty minutes ago. That meant I was going to have to learn to process and accept this change, and while it would take time – something I'd expected by my research on Force sects I could visit with Anakin over the next few years – it might allow me a unique perspective and ability.

When we'd shown the Force suppression room aboard Mtael's Gift several years ago, Fay and Dooku had both reacted badly to the sudden suppression of their connections. Dooku had been unbalanced and unnerved – though he hid it well. Fay, however, had reacted as if having a limb torn from her body. Given she'd spent centuries relying on the Force, being in tune with it and having it help her slow her ageing – or so I assumed – the sudden loss of that connection had drawn a major reaction from her.

With me now being able to experience what the Force truly was, or at least have a proper connection to it, I could see how losing that connection would affect those with high Force sensitivity. I couldn't comprehend Fay's pain that day, and I hoped I never did, but I had an idea of what she'd have experienced. The difference was that I knew how to think and work without the Force, and thanks to Eidetic Memory would never forget it. In theory, if I was ever exposed to a field like that about the Lokella station again, then I'd be able to handle the sudden loss of what would feel like part of my soul. Or I would, I hoped, once I'd learnt to control and temper my connection, so it didn't overwhelm me.

I shivered as I realised that, and that with the filter provided by the Interface gone, being fully exposed to the Force – or at least the Living Force on Dagobah – I'd come very close to ending up comatose. It was only through the actions of Anakin, something I had to believe he either knew instinctively or the Force guided him to do, that I didn't and was able to retain just enough control to limit my connection to the Force.

Without knowing or understanding how, he'd reached out from orbit, to help. That spoke not just to how strong his connection was, but how deep my connection to the Force could become – or close to it anyway as I didn't have quite as high a Force Potential as him – how easily the Force came to him, and how strong, after only a few years of limited contact, that our bond had become. And it made me wonder how I'd react when I next saw Serra, as for everyone else that I would encounter, she was the one who I had the deepest connection with and was strong in the Force. However, my focus for now was on Anakin. The level of power he had to, without knowing what he was truly doing, reach out across thousands of kilometres to help me was frightening and possibly terrifying.

Now, differing species and sentients had differing definitions of what terrible meant, but even allowing for that Anakin had the potential for amazing things. Before this, I'd known he was powerful, both from what Observe revealed and from sources before my emergence into this universe, but knowing of it and experiencing it first-hand were two entirely different things. I had my first true glimpse of what he, and possibly I, could do, and the sort of power he held, and could potentially wield… I understood so much more clearly why Sidious was so interested in Anakin. Why the boy was the Chosen One.

While the gap between our midi-chlorian counts was small, at least compared to that of myself and many others, I felt the gap between us, and what we might be able to accomplish could be greater than any I might have with sentients like Yoda or Sidious. The difference there was, at least for now, those two and others like them – such as Fay, Dooku, and Plagueis – was that they had decades or centuries of training and experience to draw upon. All I could do was train Anakin to be what he should be, and at the same time learn from him how to fully understand, accept, and use the Force so that both of us could surpass everyone that had come before.

That realisation brought forth a rush of excitement, along with a hint of terror, as I understood that I had to ensure Anakin was ready for what awaited us. I also had to ensure I was ready as well, though I felt reasonably confident that I could regain my Force abilities over the next few years; training Anakin was going to push me to do so lest I fail him and by extension doom the galaxy to the rule of the Sith.

That was why I'd gone to the Celebratus Archive on Obroa-Skai before engaging the upgrade, not only to find this world but for the locations of possible Force sects and other groups that might be able to help with our training. Knowing now that I'd have to work almost from the ground up to rebuild my abilities, and ensure Anakin was trained, I'd re-examine the sects and determine which order to attend them in. All I'd need was time to do so, and while I felt I'd have that for a few years, I couldn't spend too long with the training otherwise I'd be out of the loop preparing for the wars to come.

"Query: Master, are you perhaps using the Force to ensure we are undisturbed?" I paused at HK's question and turned back to face him, curious what he was saying. "Observation: While we've only travelled one point-zero-two kilometres, the creatures nearby have all chosen to withdraw or remain further away since you awoke. Extrapolation: It appears as if they're afraid of approaching. Theory: Perhaps the change you spoke of has in some way affected the local fauna, persuading them to withdraw. Conjecture: It might also explain the marginal decrease in temperature of zero-point-three-one degrees that has occurred since you ended your meditation."

"I don't thin…" my words trailed off mid-sentence as I understood HK was onto something. "Um, yeah, that might be because of me," I said, changing tack as I worked out what the temperature change and the reason for the local animals withdrawing was.

Without the Interface, I'd lost Dark Side Masking, which meant my ability to hide my, for lack of a better word, taint from everything and everybody. While there were no other Force users around to sense it – at least bar Anakin though he was currently nearby – the beasts of Dagobah would. From what King Adas had spoken of, those strong in the Force and with some experience in bending it to their will could generate a dangerous aura. One that not only persuaded others to stay away but could alter the environment around them.

From what HK was saying, that was what was occurring, but I wasn't doing it consciously, and even with my connection to the Force heavily muted, enough of my power was radiating outward that it was having a marginal effect on the local area.

Closing my eyes, I searched inward, seeking out the Force that flowed through me. Adas had spoken of how to drop out or nullify this ability to project power, but I'd not taken it on fully back then; the Interface simply applied what he was teaching to the Force Powers of Dark Side Masking and Force Suppression. Now, with that all gone, I had to learn to use the ability properly, which with Eidetic Memory ensuring I remembered everything I'd ever seen, heard, or been taught, the lessons were quickly back at the forefront of my thoughts.

The ability to shield and cloak oneself from detection by others in the Force was something I felt Anakin – and possibly Palpatine – could do so naturally that if one didn't know the truth, or had a way to sense Force Potential as easily as I did, then they'd never realise how powerful the person they were speaking with could potentially be. I suspected with the Sith it was a taught ability, one that had evolved from lessons Adas and others had created back when the Sith were a species and not a Force sect as both Sidious and Plagueis could stand before Jedi High Council members and give no hint of the power they wielded.

Listening to Adas' words in my mind, I slowed my breathing, focusing ever deeper inward. Eventually, I felt what I was looking for: The point where it seemed as if I and the Force connected. This wasn't just a single point, but all and none of me as the Force was in everything, yet with the lessons from Adas, Dooku, and a few others to draw on, and knowing the strongest hint of the Force would be centred around my bond to Anakin, I was able to find what I needed.

The connections to the Force, and through it, others, were still there, but as I'd intended earlier, they'd dullened. I wasn't, however, fully cut off from the Force as I could faintly sense Anakin, Raven, Fenrir, and others, though bar the first three everything was far weaker, as they were far more distant or lacked the connection through the Force I shared with that trio. It was around the edges of those dullened connections that I found what I was looking for. I could sense my Force presence slipping out at those edges and permeating with the Living Force around me.

Knowing I was far from skilled enough to entirely shut off the seepage of my taint, I instead focused on dulling my connection to the Force further, though I tried my best to ensure that the link I held with Anakin wasn't affected. I didn't need him or others worrying that something else had happened to me. Concentrating on the Force as it flowed through me, the words Fay had used once to describe the sensation, I slowly sealed off the leakage of my taint into the Force around me. If another trained Force user appeared, they'd be able to sense the taint, but I hoped what I was doing would be enough to end the subtle effect I was having on my surroundings.

As the taint was slowly contained, I sensed a subtle shift through the Force. Though she was perhaps half a galaxy away, I sensed Serra and how her feelings had changed fractionally. That slight sensation was enough for my focus to jump to my bond with her, to the connection we shared that linked us through the Force. She should, from what I knew, be back at the Temple, and while I didn't know who would continue her training, Yoda had promised me that not only would a Jedi Master finish her training, but that she'd get help to deal with the emotions brought forth by Drallig's death.

Part of me longed to speak to her, to reach out through the Force and ease her burden or speak to her, but I knew I couldn't do that currently. Fear that my action would reveal the Dark Side within me to her and others, and that without understanding what I was doing I'd somehow hurt her, stopped me from doing so. Still, as gently as I could, I sent comforting thoughts to her.

While I wasn't going to return to Coruscant any time soon, as I felt her notice my lingering feelings and react, I knew I'd contact her before I left with Anakin to train him and refocus myself after the change in my connection with the Force. The issue was that just talking to her over the Holonet felt wrong, cheap even. As if I was doing her and the memory of Drallig a disservice by not speaking with her in person. However, I didn't want to step back on the Republic capital, never mind enter the Jedi Temple. Not while Anakin was with me.

I could, in theory, drop him with Bo for a week or so, but until I had a handle on the changes I'd undergone, going anywhere near the Jedi or Sith was off the table. That left me with communication through the Force. As Serra's happiness at knowing I was safe, along with confusion and curiosity – suggesting she sensed the change in my Force connection – and some fear travelled to me through the Force, I smiled. Knowing she was as well, or at least as well as she could be, was a relief, though I did note that even at the great distance between us, her feelings came through stronger and clearer. Another little hint at just what the Interface had been restricting.

"Observation: It appears whatever you are doing is working, Master. The local ambient temperature has risen by zero-point-two-seven degrees." That wasn't quite all the way back, but it was close enough for me to be satisfied.

"Hopefully that means you'll get some target practice before we're picked up," I replied as I opened my eyes and took in the dull, damp swamp around us. Nothing appeared different, but I knew I wasn't yet in tune with the Force and myself enough that I'd be able to sense anything amiss.

"Assurance: My accuracy is within acceptable levels, Master. However, one can never be too lax in ensuring quality is maintained."

"Just don't burn down the planet while we're still on it."

"Indignation: I would never do such a thing, Master! Unlike some so-called battledroids, I'm not as clumsily built or fundamentally flawed as to commit such a mistake. Appeasement: I would only burn a world under your orders, Master."

"While I don't want that today, I won't deny there are a few worlds that I wouldn't mind seeing scorched clean," I replied as I resumed walking toward the rendezvous location. "For now, you'll have to restrict yourself to whatever fails to understand that we, not it, are the apex predators of this world."

"Exclamation: I look forward to doing so, Master."

R2 gave out a long, worried beep as he shook slightly from side to side. "Don't worry," I said, stopping and placing my hand on his dome, "if anything somehow gets past HK, I'll ensure it doesn't get to you. You're far too useful to allow some giant snake or reptile to swallow or use as a chew toy. And once we're away from here, HK and Anakin can suggest modifications so the next time we come here you can be as effective as HK in achieving dominance over the locals."

A series of loud, happy beeps erupted from the astromech, which made me laugh. By the time of the Clone Wars, in the other timeline, Anakin had ensured R2 was far beyond a regular astromech. With HK and I here to help, when war finally erupted in this galaxy, R2 would be a match for almost anything the Trade Federation, The Republic, or anyone else could deploy.

Once my laughter had died down, I turned my attention to the notices from the Interface. While I could keep an eye out for local beasts that might be a problem, I felt that would restrict HK's fun and after spending three and a half days watching me meditate in this swamp, he deserved the chance to blow off some steam.

Interface Upgrade Complete!
Having chosen Natural Evolution as the final form of your Interface, the following changes have been made:
1: The Interface will no longer regulate your connection to the Force.
This means that neither your Force Powers nor your FP level will be tracked or displayed by the Interface.
FP will be replaced by a Force Exhaustion percentage so that you can monitor how close you are to hitting that barrier.
2: To use the Force, the Player must behave like any other Force user in the galaxy.
This includes all the benefits and drawbacks such behaviour brings with it.
3: The tracking of the strength and level of your Force Bonds has been removed from REPUTATION.
4: New perks specific to this upgrade have been added to the choices.
Perk Points remain available at every 4 levels.
5: New Player Powers specific to this upgrade have been added to the choices.
Player Power Points remain available every 5 levels.
6: The Player Power, Player's Mind, has been deactivated and removed.
Because of this, the Player Power Point for it has been refunded.
(Currently, you have 2 PPPs available.)
7: The Player is now susceptible to influence by the Force.
This will occur if, like many other Force users, they sink into the Force.
If they don't wish this, then they must influence the Force with their intentions and desires.
8: All skills have had a potential 7th tier (Legendary) added.
The Player still has to put in the training and effort to reach it though.
9: The quest Skill to the Max has been altered to be simply to reach the top of the 6th tier (Prodigy).
10: No training quests are possible for taking skills beyond Prodigy:100.
11: STAMINA is now calculated as Player Level *(Strength+Vitality+Agility).
This results in a boost to your STAMINA to 1950.
The Player has a STAMINA regeneration rate of (due to selected Perks) 39/min.

Bonuses for levelling, bar STAMINA, remain the same.
These are:
2+INT/20 Stat Points per level.
INT*1 Skill Points per level.
1 PP every 4 levels.
1 PPP every 5 levels.

That was what I'd expected, though the display of a percentage for Force Exhaustion was going to be useful in prolonged combat while the boost in STAMINA wasn't something to sniff at. I was sure Bo, Naz and others wouldn't complain about the increase, and that was before I learned how to properly use the Force to refresh and enhance myself. Being susceptible to the Force was a fear I'd had before choosing Natural Evolution, but given I needed the higher potential power levels for what was to come, I'd have to be cautious about how that went.

Waving away the notification of changes, I opened the next notice waiting for me, discovering it came from TPTB.

We must admit that we are surprised and impressed you chose to remove the protection the Interface grants you in regard to the Force.
NATURAL EVOLUTION places you, and those around you, at far greater short-to-middle-term risk from threats than PLAYER+ would have.
It does, as you have surmised, grant a better chance to survive the coming chaos.
Because of you choosing to take the path of greater risk, and as we are feeling generous, we offer what shall be our final boon.
1 Perk Point has been added to your Interface.
Spend it wisely, or not.
The choice, as always, is up to you.


Unlike the previous message, this one was unexpected. At least regarding the free Perk Point. I'd expected something from TPTB, but they rarely if ever offered gifts, but I wasn't going to complain about it. While Perks weren't as powerful – or broken depending on how I was feeling on a given day – they were powerful and potentially offered me advantages few if any other sentient could achieve.

While I was curious about what new Perks were available to me, with 2 Player Power Points, seeing what was on offer there was my first port of call.

These are powers and skills that are unique to The Player and earned by spending Player Power Points [PPP].
Currently, you have 2 PPPs.
Many Player Powers have requirements that depend on the Player's level, or stat values and will remain hidden until their requirements are met.
Player Powers may grant abilities that mirror, or even surpass, what many consider to be 'Dark-Side Force powers' so be careful when using them around 'Light-Side Force users'.
Currently, you have the following Player Powers:
Heart of the Force [2/2]
Player's Body
Silent Interface
Upgraded Minimap

Available Powers:
Colour Shift
Enhanced Inventory
Greater Minimap Mark 1
Level Boost
Reveal the Hidden
Superior Inventory
Upgraded Minimap Mark 2

My eyes were drawn instantly to the only one I'd not seen before or been altered to appearing: Reveal the Hidden. As I read its description, it instantly went to near the top of the pile for selections, though I wasn't going to make any decision until I'd gone through the Perks list as well.

Reveal the Hidden
This Player Power will allow the Player to see the bonus objectives of all quests granted to the Player by The Powers That Be, or generated in response to the Player's actions/decisions.


For simpler quests, such as training ones – though I'd not taken many over the last year or so as I'd focused on preparing for Naboo over random training of specific Skills or Force Powers – this wasn't a major thing. I'd already determined what the three or four bonus objectives were from having taken and completed – or not – so many training quests previously.

For other quests, such as Tremors of the Ancient Sith Empire, the Changing Fate quests, and quests linked to Bo, Pre Vizsla, Maul and others, it would be a major boon. Knowing what the additional targets were would, I suspect, change how I approached the quests, but it might also grant me insight into what I might have to do to complete the quests.

I wasn't sure how, if at all, it would affect The Promise of the Fallen quest given to me by Revan, as that quest didn't fit into the categories of quests Reveal the Hidden covered. If it didn't reveal anything there, then so be it, but there was a chance I was wrong on this.

Not wanting to dwell on one particular Player Power, I turned my attention to Level Boost, as along with Reveal the Hidden, it was the most likely Player Power to be taken. After reading the description, that feeling was only reinforced.

Level Boost
This Perk/Player Power allows the Player to raise the tier limits of their skills by 3 tiers.
This can either be used to raise 3 Skills 1 tier (to the Paragon tier) or 1 Skill 2 tiers (to the Mythic tier) and 1 Skill 1 tier.

No Skill can be raised more than 2 tiers.
A skill can only be raised once, though 2 tiers can be raised at a single time.
Level Boost tier lifts can be saved, though no more than 5 can be kept at any one time.
If Level Boost is selected again (which is possible once every 10 levels from level 30) as either a Perk or Player Power, and it results in more than 5 tier lifts, the excess tier lifts will be lost.
Level Boost can only be taken once per 10 levels regardless of which category it is taken from.
Therefore, if a Player Power Point is spent for it, it will disappear from both available Player Power and Perk lists.

I'd already known what Level Boost was going to be, but getting the full details made it clear that I'd be taking it. I wasn't yet sure which Skills I'd use it on, but I suspected I'd use it to lift one skill two tiers and then keep the last point back for consideration later.

The other Player Powers, bar Upgraded Minimap Mark 2, were the same as before. Upgraded Minimap Mark 2 extended the ability of the Minimap to locate hidden passageways and alcoves to places hidden by either the Force or other advanced methods. That was interesting, but given what was offered by Level Boost and Reveal the Hidden, it was unlikely I'd be taking it this time.

Before I made sure of my choices, I had to example the Perks available, and after dismissing the Player Powers that was what I examined.

These are earned by spending perk points [which you earn at a rate of 1PP per 4 levels].
Currently, you have 1 PerkP.
Most perks have multiple levels, allowing the Player to take improved versions of a perk if they so wish.

Currently, you have the following perks:
Boosted Growth Mark 2
Eidetic Memory
Enhanced Regeneration [1/3]
Force Prodigy
Heart of the Force [1/2]

Available Perks:
Brainiac Mark1
Cat's Grace Mark1
Cult of Personality Mark1
Dominant Mark1
Enhanced Regeneration Mark2
Giant's Strength Mark1
Healing Acclimatisation
Iron Skin Mark1
Level Boost
Luck of the Force Mark1
Medic Mark1
Mind Abilities Affinity
One with Beasts
One with Nature
Physical Regeneration Mark1
Psychometry Acclimatisation
Seer's Insight
Shatterpoint Acclimatisation
Stellar Ace
Stat Limit Boost Mark1
Style Mark1
Wisdom of the Ancients Mark1

Again, the list was a mix of old and new offerings. Level Boost was, as had been stated after the upgrade to Natural Evolution had been applied, listed as a Perk as well. That was much like Heart of the Force, but for that, I'd needed to spend one Perk Point and one Player Power Point to bring the increase in Force Potential to a level close, but not quite at, Anakin's. Overall, there was a larger percentage of new Perks than new Player Powers and curious about them, I worked my way through their descriptions.

Enhanced Regeneration Mark2 was a simple improvement on Enhanced Regeneration Mark1. It lifted the base regeneration for PP, STAMINA, and Force Regeneration – which was no longer tracked but I felt fed into Force Exhaustion – from two times to four times the base regeneration rates. Having the ability to delay Force Exhaustion, and then recover from it quicker was certainly appealing, but nothing ground-breaking.

Overdrive was something unexpected. It would, when activated, allow me to draw on more of the Force, however, that worked, to the extent I could push beyond the limits of Force Exhaustion. The downside of the perk was that for each minute it was active while I was Force Exhausted, I would damage my body. Any damage taken because of the perk would be immune to accelerated healing, be that from the Force or something like bacta, outside of permanent injury caused by the perk.

The ability to have a way to push far beyond my limits with the Force was interesting, and when fighting against someone on the level of the High Council or a Sith Lord, might well be useful. Though it would be, I hoped, a long time before I had to confront anyone on that level. Additionally, the perk had a time limit of an hour, and if it was active for that long, then without immediate attention, I would die from the damage taken.

It was certainly a perk to consider for the future, but as of now, was not one I was giving any serious consideration to taking. The same couldn't be said of Mind Abilities Affinity.

That perk was if I was reading the description correctly, something beyond a simple ability to use mental Force abilities. It would grant me a natural understanding of how to use the various Force powers that affected the minds of others, most of which, when I went by the old Interface listings, were Dark Side aligned. Since those powers were dangerous to use without proper training, the perk would be a massive boon, though I wasn't the sort of person inclined to manipulate the minds of others. At least not at present, and hopefully never would be.

Stellar Ace was another I'd not expected to see or had considered as possible. This perk would grant me double XP for any skill related to flying or piloting a machine. It didn't matter if the skill applied to starships in space, fighters in atmosphere, or vessels inside a liquid such as water, the XP gains would be doubled. The downside of the perk was that it would half my XP gain for any skill involved in riding a living beast. Since that wasn't something I'd done much, if at all, since emerging into this universe, it wasn't anything more than a minor inconvenience to the perk.

What did stand out about Stellar Ace, was that, if taken and then Level Boost was applied to piloting, I could, in theory, find it easier to match some of the better pilots in the Jedi Order. I didn't think I'd ever reach the level of Saesee Tiin, to say nothing of what Anakin was capable of, but it was an intriguing perk to consider. The same could be said of the Acclimatisation perks. Or at least Shatterpoint Acclimatisation.

Each Acclimatisation perk granted me the equivalent of a natural inclination toward using those powers: Force Healing, Psychometry, and Shatterpoint. It didn't, however, grant an affinity toward them, nor the ability to use the power on an almost instinctual level, such as what Master Windu was said to have with Shatterpoint.

What was interesting was that, from ten levels after taking an Acclimatisation perk, an Affinity perk would be available for it, and a further ten levels from there could offer a Naturalization perk for the power and all sub-forms of it. A further perk, which wasn't detailed or explained, would then come into play twenty more levels later that would make me one of only a handful of beings to ever truly understand the Force ability in question.

While that would be a very long road to travel, it did mean that, in theory, if I reached level 60, I could be as natural at Shatterpoint as someone like Windu. Of course, the chances of me reaching Level 60 were slim at best.

After going over the list of perks, and reviewing the older ones to see if they had changed, I found myself wondering why there weren't any for my more unusual or rare Force Powers like Phase, Teleport, and Inanimate Conversion.

That is because, in our infinite wisdom, we have chosen to be gracious.
At least regarding the majority of those powers.
For most, including
Phase and Teleport, since you have shown continual effort to learn and grow those powers, we have granted you a natural affinity toward them equivalent to what you have with Battle Meditation.
Perks to make you a natural are not going to be offered because they are not needed.
With training, dedication, and perhaps a large helping of fortune, you can develop those powers to become one of the greatest to ever wield them.
Inanimate Conversion, however, is an entirely different issue.
That power, and a few like it, were not ones you were meant to discover or use.
In truth, their use aligns with a branch of Force powers commonly referred to as Force (or Sith) Alchemy.
Again, with training, effort, and the right teachers, you can learn to do what those powers once did.
And, perhaps, even more.
That, however, is something you will have to work very hard to achieve and might take you to places you will always be unwilling to go.
In the end, the choice, like it has always been, is up to you.

Not having to spend Perk Points for affinities for powers like Phase and Teleport was a relief, and the TPTB were right that I used them semi-regularly. Losing access to Inanimate Conversion was annoying as I'd hoped, at least before learning about and selecting Natural Evolution, that I could get the power to a point where I could create beskar by simply willing it. That dream was dead, though the pathway to it and other powers was there if I so chose.

Adas had spoken on the benefits of Force alchemy, and from the few records I'd found on him, it was said the axe he used in combat had been enhanced with the Force, so perhaps that was something to pursue at a later date. Oddly though, having to work to recover and reuse that power, and possibly Restore as it might fall under the same category, felt a better choice. Having to earn the right to manipulate objects at the atomic level was something that should be earned, and not simply gained for fun. Plus, as much as it now felt like a mistake, I'd stopped focusing on Inanimate Conversion in the lead-up to the invasion of Naboo.

That, however, was a matter for another time, as was making a final choice on which Perk to take, though I would admit I was leaning toward Shatterpoint Acclimatisation simply because, even at a low level, that power had game-changing potential.

Dismissing the Perks list, I saw that, in the time I'd been splitting my focus between the Player Powers and Perks and hiking, we'd almost reached our destination. I looked up as I felt the approach of a familiar and powerful presence grow stronger.

As I gazed upward, I saw Raven slip through the low-lying clouds and felt her relief at finally being able to sense me optically. Yet, my focus wasn't on that, but on how alive and vibrant she felt. I stopped walking, to avoid stumbling as I felt her relief flood my mind, and a wide smile spread over my face. I'd known that I shared a connection with Raven because of how she'd been created and my actions in saving her when Zonoma Sekot had left, but this was the first time I'd truly felt it and it was an incredible sensation.

Raven was, in a large way, a part of me, and the joy radiating from her had an almost familial sensation to it. While her thoughts weren't clear like those of a sentient, I understood her feelings with ease. Closing my eyes, I reached out through the faint opening to the wider Force that I retained, and let her know I was well and pleased to see her again.

I gasped as an almost overwhelming surge of delight came back. After recovering from the blast, I understood that she was happy not just because I was safe, but because the bond between us was stronger and more instinctual. Lifting my hand, I reached out through the Force – widening my connection to it fractionally – and truly sensed Raven for the first time.

Power flowed through her in ways that while I understood on a technical level, I'd not truly experienced in a metaphysical way. Even a few kilometres from her, I could sense how alive she was, how the power from her core flowed through her organic circuits to the various components – be they mechanical or organic – that composed her frame. How a slight shift in one section of her body shifted the flow of energy toward her anti-gravity generators to help her turn as she descended.

The feeling of the cool, damp air of Dagobah brushing over her skin, and how she enjoyed the moisture and newness of it, was easy to pick up on. As was how she saw the various airborne life on the planet, and how all of them avoided her; understanding that she was beyond them in ways they didn't fully comprehend. Yet under the pleasure of the new experience of the planet, and her joy that I was safe and soon to be reunited with her, the desire to surge between planets, to dance among the stars shone brightly. Raven was born to fly in space, and soon she would return to what she did best, and she couldn't wait to do so.

My smile widened as I opened my eyes, and took in Raven once again. Before this change, I'd known that if Raven had died, I'd have been hurt. Now, however, I understood that if something happened to her I'd burn the cosmos to make those who hurt her, who dared threaten my daughter – which in many ways she was – learn the error of their ways. Raven was something unique, something special that had to be nurtured, treasured, protected, and encouraged to grow. Deep in my soul, I knew that there was little I wouldn't do to protect her from others. A feeling I knew she held for me.

Watching happily, I observed the way she turned in the air, her engines shifting thrusts to ensure when she landed she was facing me. While Simvyl was at her helm, Raven was the one doing the flying. The landing struts, a mixture – like much of her – of organic and mechanical – slipped from her underbelly. The spots they'd emerged from were invisible before their emergence as they blended perfectly into her skin.

As I resumed my approach, I felt her change the flow of power through her frame, reducing thrust to the engines, and she touched down with a grace comparable to any dancer I'd ever seen. The ground gently sunk, accepting her presence without breaking, and as I nodded to Simvyl in the cockpit, I sensed before I heard her ramp descending.

Before it had reached the ground, two figures – one small, the other larger, and longer – emerged from the gap. I shuddered, experiencing Fenrir's delight as he bounded toward me. A delight that his pack wasn't damaged, that his family was safe pushing aside the desire to race off and assert his position as the apex predator of this new world.

"Fenrir!" I called out as I was knocked over by the giant tuk'ata, his tongue lathering my face. "Off!"

He didn't listen, continuing to lick my face and chest as his relief that I was well, and delight flowed around us. Rolling to the side to save myself, I laughed loudly at his behaviour, and at fully feeling the connection I held with him. While I didn't have the same natural connection to Fenrir that I held to Raven, I'd known the tuk'ata longer and he'd been a part of my family, or my pack, for several years.

Even as I enjoyed the increased connection, my remaining hand tried desperately to push him back. Though given his massive bulk – his shoulder stood at my neck, and I felt he still had growing to go – even with two hands I'd struggled to restrain him when he was this happy. Thankfully, after it felt as if he'd drenched every inch of my upper body in drool, he pulled back. My arm came up, wiping at my face just enough to clear my sight, though before I could growl at Fenrir, I was knocked over again.

"CAM!" I winced as Anakin, unintentionally shouted into my ear. A gasp slipped from me as his arms tightened around my neck, though the reaction also came from how powerful Anakin's relief was.

If it had been a river, I'd have drowned in the depth and strength of his presence, and even with my connection to the Force muted, because of our physical contact, I was unable to restrict the onslaught of emotions rushing forth from the boy. From my son.

The same joy and delight, mixed with relief, that Raven and Fenrir had radiated came from Anakin, though under it all, pushed down in the hopes I'd not sense it, I discovered fear. Pushing toward it even as I wrapped my arm around his back, I was assaulted by the source of that fear.

I'd known since Shmi had died, that Anakin had latched onto me, but until now I'd not realised how important I'd become to him. I was, thanks to the adoption, his father – though he saw me more as an older brother and mentor, which I was fine with – and alongside Lia, the only people that mattered to him. With Shmi's death having been so recent when I'd awoken in panic, his fear that he'd lose me had been what had driven him to reach out for my mind.

That decision had saved me, and holding him close, I understood just how powerful Anakin could be, and would be once I finished training him. Yet, under all that, I felt a tiny sliver of terror. Anakin's need, his desire, to help and protect those he cared for was what Sidious had exploited to turn him into Vader. While I'd known it was there, and could easily recall Dooku's words about the danger that Anakin would bring out that concerning tendency of mine to risk it all to help those I cared for, it was only now, with the Force unfiltered and Anakin in my arm, that I felt I fully comprehend just how powerful, and dangerous our shared need to help could be.

However, even though that was an issue, it was one for later. The more pressing one was that, with Anakin hugging me, and Fenrir and Raven close by, I was struggling to limit the emotional overflow coming from them. knowing I had to if I wanted to keep going, to say nothing of entering Raven, I closed my eyes and once more looked inward.

There I felt for the Force again, finding the connection I held with it, and the muffle I'd placed on everything bar the bonds I shared with others. Drawing on my lessons with Fay and others, I slowly followed those instructions to dampen the emotional feedback I was experiencing. I didn't want to entirely shut down the connection I held with others, but I had to dampen the sensations from them that I was experiencing.

It took time, though I couldn't say how much, but slowly I felt the emotional tidal waves coming from the trio lessen; the strength of their feelings sliding back to more manageable levels. Once I felt I'd dulled my connection to the point that I wasn't at risk of being disorientated by sharp, intense bursts of feelings, I opened my eyes and then slowly patted Anakin's head.

"I'm alright. There's no need to worry, An'ika." The word Bo had used to describe Anakin slipping easily from me. As I said it, I swore I felt a gentle, distant shift in the Force. As if it was reacting to my use of the word and, I thought, approving. "I'm here and I'm not going anywhere."

Anakin didn't pull back instantly, but after a short time he did, and I saw his face. His eyes were red, and I was sure his tears had mingled with Fenrir's drool as he'd hugged me. "I… I thought I'd lost you. L-like mum." His voice all but died out as he finished, but given he was still all but lying on my chest, it carried to my ears easily.

I lifted my hand from his back and brought it around. Since my fingers were cleanish – Fenrir's drool ending up on the back of Anakin's shirt – I gently wiped his eyes, clearing the tears and drool that had gotten stuck there when he'd hugged me. "I'm fine. I just… for a while now I've been having issues with the Force. As if I've had a block on what I can and should be able to do. During the fight with the Zabrak, just before it ended, I had an epiphany and understood what was wrong. However, to fix the issue I needed a quiet world that was strong in the Force where I could meditate without distraction. When I awoke, the barrier that I'd been experiencing was gone; however, the change caught me unawares, At least until you, Raven, and Fenrir reached out to help."

Anakin blinked; his eyes widening and a frown forming as if he understood something. "That's why you seem different," He muttered.

That comment had me frowning, though it was less that he could sense the change in me, but that he might sense the taint from my usage of the Dark Side over the years. "In what way?" I asked carefully, wondering if I could use him to gauge when I'd recovered the full ability to mask my presence – be it just the Dark Side, or the full breadth of my Force connection – from others.

His frown deepened. "I'm not sure," he began slowly, his face twisting as he thought on the matter, and I struggled to not chuckle at his expression. "It's like, before, even when you were nearby, it felt as if you were, I dunno, distant. What was there was powerful but in a good way. Now though," he paused, his eyes searching mine for something. "It's like I'm standing on a beach on Gaia, looking at an ocean." A flicker of a smile came to his face, as it always did when he thought of seeing oceans. "It's massive, stretching further than I can see but… there's clouds in the distance. A storm brewing maybe. And under the surface… there's something there. Something dangerous." He paused and his eyes widened again. "Not that, uh, you're, um, dangerous. It's, ah, like…"

I lifted my hand to stop his rambling, and as I chuckled at the attempt to pull back his words, ruffled his hair. "It's okay. I get what you're trying to say," I said with a smile, my concern that he could sense the darkness in me easing. Yes, it was still there, but it was distant and indistinct. That I could work with; at least until I fully learnt how to hide the rage buried deep inside. "As I said, I've overcome the block I felt I had. One that, as you and others have noted, kept me distant in the Force. While I've defeated that block, it seems I need to work on tempering my control." I looked around as if searching for something, before leaning forward. "The less others know of what you and I can do, and how I've changed, the less they'll ask about us and the more we can do without anyone watching," I added quietly, in a conspiratorial way that I knew would appeal to Anakin.

"Okay, I think."

I chuckled at Anakin's confusion, which I could see all over his face and sense in the Force. "I'm not sure you do," I said, my hand still ruffling his hair, "but I'll teach you." He nodded at that, and my smile grew as I removed my hand from his head. "Now, I think it's time we consider leaving this world," I added, and he slipped off my chest.

"C-cam," he began as I slowly moved to stand. I looked at him as I shifted to my knees, sensing the fear inside grow stronger. However, as I began to stand, the fear became clearer to sense, and I understood it wasn't centred on the change he could sense in me, but was a more generalised thing. "Idontwanttobeweak."

I blinked, processing what he'd said, and once I had, looked down at him. "What do you mean by weak?" My question was said softly, and while I hadn't expected that statement from him, I had a suspicion of why he'd said it.

He held my gaze for a moment before looking down at the ground. Finding a loose stone, he kicked it, sending it hurtling into a nearby bog. "I… I'm weak. I, I couldn't s-save my m-mu," he said quietly, unwilling, or unable to meet my eyes. "I… I n-need to be st-stronger."

I knelt and placed my hand on his shoulder, and when he finally decided to look at me, I spoke. "Everything dies, Anakin. That's the way of the universe." His shoulders slumped, not liking what I was saying. "However, that doesn't mean we should just roll over and accept our fate; accept that death is coming for us. If we want to do anything or have anything, in this universe, we have to be willing to fight for it, to fight to defend it. No matter what anyone says, be they a Jedi, a politician, or some random sentient you meet on some unimportant planet in the middle of nowhere, everyone seeks to be stronger. However, for those of us able to draw upon and use the Force, we must be careful with how we channel that and other desires. The Force grants us the ability to do wondrous things, but it can also be used to do terrible things. The key is in deciding how and when we wield the Force. Do we use it for personal gain, to enrich and empower ourselves? Or do we use it to protect others, to help them grow strong enough they can defend themselves and those they care about?"

"I don't want to be weak," he repeated, seemingly not getting what I was trying to say.

My hand came to his chin and lifted it so I could meet his eyes. "You're not weak, Anakin. Your mother's death wasn't because you were weak, nor are you in any way responsible for it. The fault, if it lies with anyone, should lie with me as…"

"It's not your fault!" Anakin jumped in aggressively, the Force reacting to the massive, enraged burst of anger. "Me and Mum would've still been slaves if not for you!" I blinked, struggling to comprehend the power behind the voice. While he wasn't doing it intentionally, I could feel the Force in him shifting. As if a storm of unimaginable strength was forming not far from me. Yet, for all I could feel at the beginning, the first true inklings of what that storm might bring, I knew it wasn't ready to be unleashed; that it could still be tempered and focused.

"That is a possibility," I said to Anakin, ignoring the sensations in the Force as best I could. "However, what is certain is that, in my desire to help others, I made a mistake. One that, in the end, cost the lives of many including your mother. I thought," I continued before he could cut me off again, "that because they'd grown strong enough to protect themselves, the Lokella could help protect others. My mistake, and it was one, was not considering how important I am to many of their people. Because of that, they overcommitted to help, and left themselves vulnerable to an attack."

"That wasn't your fault!" Anakin shot back, the brewing storm I felt in the Force slowly shifting around as if changing directions. "It was the Hutts who attacked us! I want them dead!"

I stayed quiet, wanting to see if a moment of silence might settle the rapidly growing fury that radiated from Anakin. Everything about his rage was, in my opinion, justified. The Hutts, specifically Decca, had chosen to attack the Lokella when they were distracted, to strike back at losing control over those he had no right to consider his property. Yet, once more, it wasn't the cause of Anakin's rage, but the raw power that surged from the boy that caught me off guard and, as much as I knew it was wrong, impressed me.

Even now, as a nine-year-old boy, Anakin was powerful, but he was a wild beast, unable or unwilling to harness, to focus that power. He needed to refine and direct it while gaining the disciple to be the one in control, otherwise, it was easy to see what would become of him. Even with his connection to Palpatine unformed, if left as he was, it wouldn't take much to turn Anakin into Vader. Though the Vader I could see in the darkest elements of the growing storm wasn't the cold, calculated one I knew, but instead a wild, untamed monster.

In the corners of my mind, I heard whispers. Faint at first, but growing stronger as Anakin continued to rage. They were louder than before, though because I'd dampened my connection to the Force they should've been weaker, yet it wasn't hard to hear their words, the offer the Dark Side was giving. All I had to do was harness Anakin's rage, to focus it toward my goals, and when combined with my power the galaxy would cower under our weight. If I moulded him to use that anger, to harness it while remaining in control, he would become a dragon of death: He would wield a power few, if any, in the galaxy could stand against.

I blinked, realising the voices in my head, the whispers of the Dark Side were distracting me, tempting me more than I needed. The loss of the Interface now meant those offers of power would be stronger, and while I'd felt muting myself to the Force would hide them, it seemed they were even stronger and louder than before. Looking at Anakin, under the rage toward the Hutts, I saw a faint hint of fear, though I knew it wasn't for himself. No, this fear was for me. Almost as if he had some inkling of understanding of what dwelled within him.

"I know you want them dead, Anakin," I said slowly, being careful of my words. "Yet, while the Jedi would tell you to simply let go of your anger, and your feelings toward your mother, I won't. Nor will I tell you to give in to that anger as a Sith might. What I will do is promise you that, with time and dedication, you can learn to control that rage, to control yourself." That, I could admit, was a bit hypocritical as I struggled with that, but I also knew I had to learn this lesson, so what better reason to have to do so than to protect and help my son? "That day, however, is far from today."

"How long will it take?" He asked; firmness in his voice and certainty in his stance.

"I don't know, but when you've finally learnt to control yourself; when I, HK, Simvyl, Bo and others have finished training you, then know that all of us will stand with you. We will be with you when it's time for you to show the galaxy that the small, scared former slave is gone, and his place stands a warrior ready to do what he must."

Anakin blinked as I spoke, his anger shifting away, though not disappearing. "Isn't that what a Jedi's meant to be?"

"No, it's not," I replied with a chuckle. "At least according to many of the senior members of the Order. However, to me it is what a Jedi should be, what everyone should strive to be. Then again, I'm far from what most of the Order would consider a good Jedi." Fenrir growled in amusement and even though he was further away, I heard Simvyl's snort of agreement.

"Commentary: The Creator wasn't considered a good Jedi in his time, Master, nor would he be seen as one now. However, I believe he would consider you a true Jedi. Musing: Perhaps that is why he so enjoyed educating other Jedi on their inaccurate views."

I bit my tongue, not wanting to comment on the fact that Revan likely carried out those education sessions while a Sith Lord. Still, it was amusing to hear HK believe that Revan would consider me a true Jedi. He had been both Jedi and Sith and while I hoped that wouldn't be my fate, I would accept the compliment HK was offering on his creator's behalf.

Imagining how others in the Order would respond if they ever heard that comment from HK was something I'd enjoy thinking about, though I had no intention of ever sharing it with them. Bo, perhaps, might like to hear it though, as would Naz and a handful of others.

I saw that Anakin was smiling, seemingly happy with HK's remark. He'd read the first of my Knights of the Old Republic series and had asked me questions about Revan and his fate. I'd answered them as best I could without spoiling the story or putting the wrong ideas in the boy's head, but I'd avoided spoiling the surprise that was due to appear in the second book, Shadow of the Sith: that the hero of the story, the one working to save the Republic, was Revan.

Padmé, Serra, and others had asked me for spoilers about the stories as well, but I'd refused to ruin the surprise, and when the book dropped – which should be early next year – I knew I'd been getting a lot of calls about the reveal. Hopefully not from the Jedi Council or the Sith, but I expected Dooku at least to reach out.

I stood, planning to walk toward Raven only to stop as I remembered a promise I'd made. "HK, Fenrir," I said to the assassin and war beast, "we'll be leaving soon, but until then feel free to go hunting. Just don't go too far."

Fenrir howled in delight and raced away, seeking out the first challenger to his position at the top of the food chain. "Affirmative: Yes, Master. I will not take too long. Exclamation: I shall, however, enjoy removing as many detestable bestial meatbags as I can."

I laughed as he turned and raced away in the general direction of Fenrir. While the droid disliked organics, he was impressed with Fenrir's combat efficiency, considering him a useful, if not ideal, combat partner.

Once the droid was a decent distance away, I turned back to Anakin and clasped his shoulder. "Now, while we wait for those two to have their fun, perhaps we might begin your training in earnest?"

"Okay," the boy replied with a wide smile, and we moved toward Raven, R2 at our heels.

As we walked, I opened a new notice, one that had appeared while I'd been speaking with Anakin.

Quest Alert! [¤] [ɸ]
Te Ad's Skira
Train your son to the point where he is ready and capable of gaining revenge for the death of his mother.
Help Anakin reach level 20 before the death of Decca Besadii Diori.
:b: Ensure that Anakin is the one to end the life of Decca Besadii Diori.
:c: Make sure Decca Besadii Diori dies before the outbreak of galactic war.
:d: [?]
:e: [?]
:f: [?]
A decent increase in Reputation with Anakin Skywalker.
Decent Reputation increases with Ferox and Lia Skywalker.
Small increases in Reputation with anyone in the Lokella before you took Anakin Skywalker as your Padawan.
:b: 3500XP
Pass 2 Tests of Friendship with Anakin Skywalker.
A large increase in Reputation with Anakin Skywalker.
Decent Reputation increases with Ferox and Lia Skywalker.
Decent increases in Reputation with anyone in the Lokella before you took Anakin Skywalker as your Padawan.
:c: 2500XP
Variable changes in Reputation depending on how Decca Besadii Diori dies and who kills him.
Potential to pass a Test of Friendship with Anakin Skywalker.
The likely death of Anakin Skywalker.
Variable losses in Reputation with members of the Lokella.
:b: -1750XP
A decent loss of Reputation with Anakin Skywalker.
Variable losses in Reputation with members of the Lokella.
:c: -1250XP
A small loss of Reputation with Anakin Skywalker.
Variable losses in Reputation with members of the Lokella.

It is possible to complete one of the base three conditions of the Quest without completing the others.
In that event, Rewards and Failures will be applied accordingly.
Thus, depending on which objectives are completed, you could complete the quest but end up worse for it.

While the title of the quest and its description were unexpected, and a little concerning, given what I'd said to Anakin, the objectives made sense. And it would be the first of many quests I suspected that revolved around preparing Anakin for the future, and all the chaos it would bring. What was interesting was how the quest spoke of a galactic war without directly calling it the Clone Wars. That suggested that my actions had already altered the course of the galaxy and that the war wouldn't be fought by the same factions as in the other timeline.

However, before accepting it, I wanted to see where Anakin stood and used Observe on him.

Anakin Skywalker
Level: 12
Health: 100%
Age: 9
Force Potential: Extreme
Threat Potential: Low
Reputation: Trusted Confidant
Affiliation Loyalty: Cameron Shan (86%), Clan Shan (86%), Lokella (84%)
Emotional State: Relieved/hopeful/angry
Young Anakin is glad that not only are you safe, but that you will help him become strong.
He hopes that, over the next few years, he can get closer to being strong enough to protect those he loves.
Though his rage toward the Hutts, specifically Decca, colours much of his thinking.

Everything there was about what I'd expected, though seeing his loyalty to me was already beyond that of the Lokella was a little surprising. That there was no mention of the Jedi or Republic in his loyalties was fine, though I wondered where Bo and the Mandalorians ranked in his loyalty scale. Sadly, the Interface only ever provided the top three choices for Affiliation Loyalty; at least where they were over 50%.

Still, the targets for the Te Ad's Skira quests were achievable. Or at least the two of them were. Eight levels of growth wasn't going to be too hard to manage, not when both Anakin and I were focused on making him better and stronger. Therefore, the first objective of the quest wasn't a major issue. Ensuring Decca died before the outbreak of galactic war would also, I felt, be achievable, which left only the one to ensure Anakin was the one to remove the Hutt as a challenge.

On the overall balance, it was a worthwhile quest to take, but as it wasn't time-limited for me to accept, I wasn't going to accept it now. After the mistakes I'd made early on, which I'd paid for with the death of Master Micah Giiett and his linked quest, I'd learnt my lesson.

"Give them an hour to hunt before calling them back," I said to Simvyl as I reached the ramp. He nodded accepting my order as I headed into Raven with Anakin and R2.

Even without taking the quest, I'd be training Anakin to be capable of taking on a Jedi Master before galactic war erupted. The only questions that ran through my head were, with the changes I'd brought forth already, and those I'd cause with training Anakin, what sort of chaos would be unleashed, and how they would affect the galaxy as a whole.

All I could do was work to ensure that whatever happened, it helped with my overall goal of ensuring I didn't die when the Republic fell, and Sidious assumed control of what remained. Preferably without letting the Empire be born as anything more than a state bound to fail before it even emerged.

… …

… …

A/N: Before anyone decides to suggest it, Cam has not been nerfed. While he will have to retrain himself to use the Force, his potential is fully unlocked and, with time, he'll become capable of doing what is needed to not only survive, but potentially defeat the oncoming storm of the Banite Sith and theor Grand Plan.

... ...

As always, this story is crossposted on Questionable Questing, Archive of our Own, and Royal Road.

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