Living in the Past
I remember the days before Yavin, when we were all young, armored with the invincibility of youth and fired by the belief that the Emperor's evil Empire could not win. It didn't, but the cost was more terrible than any of us could have imagined.
"I'm sorry, Kel, but I have to do it." Jalinae's face was devoid of emotion as she glanced at the survivors of the Death Knights. They had started out as a close group of twenty-two friends, all mourning losses and bearing grudges against the harsh universe and the war being waged.
There were now only five of them left.
That same war that had bond them together having swallowed everyone else and left their corpses scattered throughout the galaxy. The various nightlife of Zonama Sekot echoed in the background as the five of them stood by their X-wings in a small clearing on the living planet. The war had ended a week earlier, but it didn't mean that everyone would have the happy ending they deserved.
Jalinae kept her arms folded in front of her chest as she shook her head. "I can't stay with the Order, not when they want to make peace with the scarheads. This life…getting vengeance is all I know. The scarheads don't deserve the second chance they're being given. My family is dead, the Death Knights are dead, the galaxy is in ruins. It's over, done, finished. I have to leave, I just have to."
"I too am leaving," Nixa, the Tranoshan Jedi Knight hissed softly. "Though I honor my debt to you, Waxarn Kel, I cannot abide by the peace that has been negotiated. There is a reason why Trandoshans do not make good Jedi; and that is because we must continue to live a life of violence, of aggressiveness, to appease our goddess. The culture of the Jedi and the culture of the Trandoshan are incompatible in times of peace. I must likewise find my own way in this galaxy, and cannot do it with the Jedi Council looking over my shoulder."
"I guess I'll be the third one out then," Maez said, looking apologetic. "I'm sorry, Kel, there's just too many ghosts. I've talked with Master Durron, and he's okayed my request to become an Unknown Regions explorer. I just can't stay with the rest of you without thinking about the war, about everything and everyone I've lost."
"But, but what's going to happen to the Death Knights then?" Sixteen year old Si'ada whispered, looking stricken as she gaze at her older friends.
"Gone, kid," Jalinae said, her expression softened for the slightest of moments. "Most of us are dead, one with the Force. The rest of us are just waiting for death to catch up."
"But…no!" Si'ada protested. "No, the war's over! Why do you have to go your separate ways? We can get through it again, like we did during the war. We have a Force bond. Aren't we a family? Waxarn, you're not going to let them go, are you?"
Waxarn Kel held the fearful and panicked gaze of the youngest member of their group, his heart heavy. As the leader of the tight-knit group he had felt every single death, felt every single time a Death Knight rejoined the Force. And it never got easier. He had taken all of them in, helped them come to terms with their grief and gotten to know each and everyone one of them in the process. He had understood all of their suffering, had taken upon himself to help them carry their burdens, and together they had become their own little community; sharing their grief and rage. They were his friends, his family, the reason why he had remained sane in the war despite everything that had occurred.
His answer must have shown on his face, because Si'ada took a step back, shaking her head.
"No, please, Waxarn. Please! I already lost my family on Sernpidal, I can't lose another."
"I'm sorry Si'ada," Waxarn managed, his throat tight. The others looked away from the young teen, guilt and regret escaping tightly controlled emotional barriers. "But they have a right to do as they wish. If remaining a part of the Death Knights will only cause them pain, if staying with the Order will only increase their suffering, I have to agree to their requests."
"No," Si'ada whimpered falling to her knees and shaking her head. She looked up at the others, tears in her eyes as she smiled almost desperately. "The war's over. We're all supposed to live out the rest of our lives happily, together, fighting off the dark side and whatever stupid things this galaxy has to throw at us. We're the Death Knights, a team. Please you guys, don't do this."
"Look after her, Waxarn?" Jalinae swallowed heavily.
"Yeah," Waxarn breathed.
Jalinae nodded once. "It's been an honor."
"You too. May the Force be with you."
"It's never been with me so far. Why would it start now?" Jalinae shrugged, pulling on her flight helmet.
"Jalinae!" Si'ada sprung to her feet and ran to the older woman, wrapping her arms around her in a fierce hug.
Stiff at first, the older Knight eventually relaxed and wrapped her arms around Si'ada in return. "Take care of yourself, Little Ada. Hope you have a better life than I've had."
"Don't go," Si'ada said in a little girl voice.
"I have to," Jalinae whispered, her own eyes suspiciously moist. "I just can't stay. Please understand that."
Si'ada stepped back, her head bowed as tears flowed unrestrictedly down her cheeks. "Be careful out there."
"I will," Jalinae said, flashing her and the others a forced smile. "Well, I guess I'm off."
The others waved half-heartedly as Jalinae climbed into her fighter. Once seated, the pilot gave everyone one last long look, before closing the canopy. In another few seconds, the fighter had lifted off and disappeared into the darkness of space.
Slowly, as if dreading it, Si'ada looked to the others, a silent plea on her face.
"I'm sorry," Maez echoed. "Please kid, don't look at me like."
"If I keep doing it, will you stay?" Si'ada said in a weak laugh.
Maez exhaled, his eyes closed. "The Death Knights have been every bit a family to me as it has been to you, Si'ada. But the Death Knights isn't the same any more. Everyone else is gone. All our friends, everyone who's been with us since the start of the war, even before that. If I'm ever going to recover from this war, it can't be while I'm surrounded by constant reminders of everyone we've lost."
Si'ada stepped forward and hugged Maez as well.
"We'll see each other again," Maez said softly, rubbing her back as she began to sob. "And it's not like our Force bond will just evaporate. If you ever need me, Si'ada, I'm just a hypercomm call away."
Si'ada stepped back once more, watching helplessly as Maez, and then Nixa, boarded their fighters and rocketed away. She hugged herself in the silence that followed the roar of the X-wing engines, tears still flowing down her cheek.
"Si'ada," Waxarn said softly.
"Please, can I just be alone for a little bit?" Si'ada whispered softly.
"Yeah, sure." Waxarn used the Force to send his apologies. For once he had no answer, no way to comfort the distraught girl. "Si'ada."
"I'm leaving to help Ramis and Sebatyne restart the Yavin Four Praxeum tomorrow morning. If you want, you can come with me."
Si'ada just nodded, sitting back on the dirt ground and forlornly staring up at the stars.
Waxarn closed his eyes, turning away. Si'ada was a tough girl. He could only pray that time would heal the wounds.
One Year Later
The Jedi Praxeum on Yavin Four bore little resemblance to its predecessor. In fact, it was almost unrecognizable. When the Yuuzhan Vong had temporarily garrisoned the planet, they had squashed the millennia old Massassi temple with their unique organic buildings. When they left, there was nothing left of the temple except for its catacombs. Large chunks of moss covered stone, partially digested by the creatures the alien invaders had brought in, littered a grounds marked by blast craters and ash. The damage the Yuuzhan Vong had inflicted on the surrounding area was likewise great. Whole swaths of forest on the southern end had been cleared to make a landing area for Yuuzhan Vong vessels, and much of the wildlife had been scared away to other parts of the forest. The entire eco-system around the old praxeum had been thrown out of sync with the rest of the planet, and much healing needed to be done.
Assigned to such a monumental task were Octa Ramis, Saba Sebatyne, and Waxarn Kel. All three had been promoted to the rank of Master a few months after the war had ended, and then put in charge with reviving the ancient teachings that had occurred before the onset of the war. But being the people that they were, they added their own twists to the project they had been handed.
Rather than reconstruct the ancient temple, or try to restore some semblance of familiarity, the trio of Jedi decided that they rather liked the rugged, non-uniform setting of the area. After surveying the area and conferring with one and other, they abandoned the whole 'we're ancient mystic warriors and designated protectors of peace' theme for a more survival-camp-meets-facing-your-inner-nature-to-make-you-stronger tone. They were in a new era, the trio argued, and a new era called for a different method of teaching and learning.
It was wholly unique, controversial, but happily embraced by the students that trained on the planet. Most all of the students had been mere children during the start of the Yuuzhan Vong War, and had been greatly traumatized by all the deaths and suffering they had felt and experienced. To help these young Force sensitives cope, they were not only taught that fear and anger were not bad, but that if they gained control of their feelings they'd be stronger for it. Aggression was okay, but only in moderation—too much aggression would only hurt the people around you even further.
The emerging teaching philosophies of the Yavin IV Praxeum were heavily influenced by Kyp Durron's own viewpoints. The older Master had at one time been both Waxarn and Octa's mentor and master, and much of his beliefs and practices had rubbed off onto the two of them. The Jedi were being trained to fight, to defend, to not sit idly by while those around them suffered. Regardless of the cost to fellow Jedi, they were taught that the peace and well-being of the galaxy came first. Teamwork was prized, as was the ability to independently come up with unorthodox solutions and alternative possibilities to a wide variety of challenges.
Saba Sebatyne's own unique view of the Force, and the predatory-like way her mind worked, could also be seen in the lessons being taught. She took the knowledge she had imparted onto the Wild Knights and applied it to those at the praxeum. 'Packs' of Jedi were forming, a unique meld technique which allowed them to rapidly share information, support, and strength over a good bit of distance. The students were taught to 'embrace their inner-predatory instincts' yet retain the mind and logical thoughts of a Jedi. Her teachings, when combined with the Durronian Force philosophies, created a truly exclusive learning experience at the newly re-opened Jedi Praxeum.
The layout of the praxeum was a fair embodiment of the 'survival camp' atmosphere that now permeated the air. The grounds around the fallen Massassi temple catered to the twenty-seven students present, and had been divided up into four sections; training, dining, relaxing, and a place for the living quarters.
The living quarters themselves were probably one-of-a-kind in terms of their appearance. Those coming to the academy made their own shelters with help from their 'pack-mates', so pre-fab buildings were mixed with wooden or stone huts and animal-skin tents. Many used the old blast craters to add a second, underground level, to their dwellings. While some decided that they liked living in the treetops and created literal tree-houses for themselves.
The area for relaxing encompassed the winding river and nearby lakeside, although it sometimes doubled as a training area for specific lessons. For example, the Palace of the Woolamander, in which Anakin and Tahiri had found Ikrit and the golden globe, was still extremely powerful in the Force. The dark side of it. Much like with the cave at Dagobah, Octa, Waxarn, and Saba used the abandoned temple to get the students used to what the dark side of the Force felt like. Ironically enough, the same manifestations of the followers who still served Exar Kun in death ended up becoming a teaching tool for the next generation of Jedi.
The true training took place in the cleared-out area south of the temple, and the vast tracks of land beyond it. The students learned to use their abilities not by floating rocks or facing off against remotes, but by levitating each other to overcome obstacles, and facing off against squadrons of specially designed IG-150 J battle-droids—a collaboration between Tendrando Arms and Holowan Mechanicals. Obstacle courses with real-world threats existed for the older students and more adventurous younger ones. While true survival training was carried out when groups of students would be ferried over to the opposite side of the planet with a limited amount of supplies and told to make their way back to the academy by themselves. Unseen by them, they would be monitored from orbit and judged on their teamwork and innovation.
It truly was a new life, a new incarnation of the academy at Yavin IV, and things were definitely looking up.
Waxarn Kel shielded his eyes with a hand as he watched the approach of a Jedi Order-designated shuttle; its engine exhaust leaving white trails across the crystal clear blue sky.
"I've been talking with the Skywalkers," Octa Ramis said at his side. "It seems like this one might be better off under your direct guidance."
"I can feel the kid's anger and rage from here," Waxarn said. "Rodian, right?"
"Toile Senn," Octa confirmed. She glanced at a datapad in her hand. "Eleven years old. Lost both his parents when Rodia fell during the war. He was disciplined several times over at Ossus for getting into fights with other students and disobeying the orders from the instructors, but Tionne wanted to wait until he was a bit older before sending him over here."
"Makes sense," Waxarn commented. The Yavin IV Praxeum, as new a concept as their training methods were, and as small as the student-to-teacher ratio was, had no students under the age of eleven attending it. In many ways, it was considered the 'big kid's' school, with many of the Ossus Praxeum's students 'graduating' to the Yavin Four Praxeum during their teenage years.
"The report says that…well… that he's a good candidate for the Death Knight training," Octa Ramis said softly.
Waxarn closed his eyes, exhaling. Much like he had done during the Yuuzhan Vong War, he had taken on the praxeum's most troubled and hurting students. The training was named in honor of those he had flown with, a memory to those he had failed. After having seen the previous Death Knights fall apart due to their own rage, hatreds, and desire for revenge, Waxarn had learned his lesson.
During the war, the Death Knights had been his own friends, a family to him. But he had been grieving as well, and instead of teaching them to get over their anger and hatred, he channeled those feelings into combat situations; gave them focus so that they wouldn't destroy themselves with those negative emotions. But once the war was over, the few survivors were still angry and hateful, and it had ultimately brought about the end of the Death Knights.
Now, though, he was a Jedi Master, responsible for the future generation of Jedi. No longer was he simply giving the young Jedi an outlet to which they could channel their rage, but he was also teaching them how to master their emotions as well. An actual training regimen had been developed, drawing off several non-orthodox styles that were just as in question as the academy was.
Despite Anakin Solo's self-imposed exile to Zonama Sekot—no matter what anyone else said, Waxarn saw it as such—the young Solo had actually left a single holocron for Tionne. In it, Anakin gave a detailed account of his own Force philosophies and how he and Tahiri had helped Alema come to terms with her own rage and grief. Waxarn had studied Anakin's holocron at great lengths, and it had been the deciding factor in his own decision to restart the Death Knights.
The young Jedi selected for the Death Knight training received a specialized set of lessons on utilizing hatred and anger, allowing them to express these powerful emotions in a safe and controlled environment instead of bottling them up. They were taught to motivate themselves with their emotions, but maintain control of themselves with their minds. Sharing one's own personal trauma wasn't mandatory, but in the close-knit group that would eventually be formed, the stories would emerge anyways.
Of the twenty-seven students already at the praxeum, five of them were enrolled in the program. In a way, these five were far more powerful than their peers due to the fact that they were no longer restrained by their fragile emotional state. It also made them fiercely protective of their peers as well. In a way, the Death Knights truly did live again. Live not for themselves, but for their new friends and family.
It was a great sign of trust by the other Jedi Masters and the High Council that they even allowed the training program. After all, Waxarn's lessons were a hairsbreadth away from standard Sith teachings. Yet there was no doubt that without it, the Jedi Order would have faced actual dark Jedi in the future. For Waxarn, there was no one beyond saving, for him, and those who trained under him knew it and respected him for it.
"I kind of figured that was the case when Master Skywalker said that I should be the one teaching him," Waxarn said in response to Octa's comment. He mentally called on the other five to let them know of a new addition to their very strange family and received a cautious acknowledgment in response. All five knew just how emotionally damaged a new addition could be, having been that 'new' guy or girl at one time or another. Three of them were still in the process of healing.
The shuttle touched down, and both Octa and Waxarn put on their 'welcome-to-Yavin-Four' faces. Tionne was the first to step out; the silver-haired historian smile politely at the two other Masters. She then looked over her shoulder and gestured towards someone still inside the shuttle. Reluctantly, a young Rodian stepped out. Dark eyes scanned the area, taking in the odd collection of shelters, the ruins of the temple, the training ground, everything, with barely concealed contempt.
"Masters Ramis, Kel, this is Jedi Initiate Toile Senn," Tionne introduced the young Jedi. "Toile, this is Master Octa Ramis and Master Waxarn Kel. They're two of the instructors at this praxeum."
The Rodian folded his arms in front of him and walked right up to Waxarn, tilting his chin up. In Huttese, a voice full of distain, he cocked his head to the side. "[Real Jedi Masters? Not like you, right?]"
Tionne inclined her head patiently. "They're stronger in the Force if that's what you're asking."
"[Really? He doesn't look much to me,]" The Rodian concentrated on Waxarn for a moment, his Force presence suddenly becoming red-hot. A flicker of lightning darted across his fingers, but as he raised his arm, Waxarn reached out a hand of his own and placed it on the young Rodian's shoulder. The lightning died away.
"None of that, Toile," Waxarn said coolly. "At least not here."
"[Not here?]" Toile blinked, obviously surprised that he wasn't getting lectured or disciplined.
"Not here," Waxarn repeated, letting his hand fall away. Out of the corner of his eyes, he saw the two of the Death Knights approach and greet him with a subtle nod. He gestured to the both of them, and when Toile turned his head to look, he let out an audible gasp of shock when the older Knights both allowed balls of blue lightning to form at their finger tips.
"[You're allowed to do that?]" Toile swallowed, his astonishment breaking through the tough aura he had been projecting. "[But Master Skywalker and the others always said that it was a dark side power, that I should control my emotions better.]"
"First lesson," Waxarn said, crouching down to be at eye-level with the child. "Concentrate on the both of them as they form the lightning, what do you feel?"
Toile, still mesmerized by the arcs of lightning dancing back and forth, took a moment to answer. "[I…they're not angry. I mean, they are, but it's not like when I do it. They're scared? Like m…like weaklings. How can they be scared and have such power?]"
"Do you want to learn how?" Waxarn asked softly. "When you're here, you'll learn that it's okay to be scared, to be angry, to hate. It's okay because we're not droids, we're living beings that feel and hurt when bad things happen to us and those we care about. When you're here, you won't have to run any more. You won't have to hide and pray for someone to come and rescue you."
Toile looked back and forth between Waxarn and the two Death Knights, his emotional state running rampant. He took a step back, shaking his head and glaring up at Waxarn. "[I don't need your help! I'm already strong. I'm a Jedi. I can use the Force in way the weaklings at Ossus couldn't! When I get off this planet, I'm going to hunt down every last Vong and make them pay for what they did to my people!]"
The powerful explosion of negative energy seemed to envelope the emotionally fragile eleven year old boy. A storm of hate and rage that tried to lash out at any and everything around him.
Tionne looked as if she was going to intervene, but Octa held out her arm and shook her head.
"What happens when you're done?" Waxarn asked simply.
"[When I'm done?]" Toile blinked, again receiving a response he hadn't been expecting. His aura dimmed slightly
"Yes," Waxarn said. "When all the Vong are dead, when you've massacred the men, the women, the children, every Vong family everywhere in the galaxy. When you've killed one of them for every soul who died on Rodia. What then?"
Toile faltered, tears filling his eyes. "[Then I will have avenged my people. My family.]
"[Does it matter?]"
"Will killing every single Vong bring your people back?" Waxarn asked, his voice gentle as he stayed at eye-level with the child.
Toile shook his head. "[But at least the Vong won't be alive either.]"
"It hurts, doesn't it? Dwelling on the past."
"[I can take it. I'm strong, stronger than millions of other Rodians who died when I, an eight year old boy, didn't.]"
"I know it's all you have, but if you can live without that hurt, would you want to?"
Toile's confusion dampened his anger even further, his shoulders slumping. The Rodian nodded silently, not willing to say anything else.
"I may not be able to give you back the family you lost, Toile," Waxarn said, reaching out, but this time with a comforting hand. "But I can guarantee you that if you agree to stay here and train, that hurt you're feeling will grow smaller and smaller. That instead of the bad, you'll remember the good. You're right, you are powerful. And here you'll learn how to use that power to protect, to ensure that no one else has to feel the same pain you're feeling. You are not the only one who has suffered great losses. My own apprentice is from Sernpidal, and she no longer has her family or her planet to return to. Yet she continues to fight for this galaxy, to defend it from those who wish to do others harm. There's already been so much hate, so much anguish, in this galaxy. Instead of adding to it, how about using that great power of yours to help heal it?"
Toile shifted, avoiding eye-contact as his mind spun around and around. Waxarn kept his hand on the Rodian's shoulder, waiting patiently for his answer.
"[Okay]," Toile whispered softly.
"[I'll…try things your way. You said I can still use the lightning?]"
"We'll teach you how to perfect it," Waxarn nodded, rising back to his full height and draped an arm around the young Jedi. "And how to use it without thinking about those painful memories, without it feeling as if there was a thousand ton weight on your chest."
As Toile began to ask Waxarn question after question, the two were followed away by the other Death Knights, disappearing into the collection of training equipment and obstacle course in the southern quadrant of the praxeum.
Tionne, in the mean time, finally exhaled. "That was my first time seeing something like that. No wonder Mara smiled when I volunteered to take Toile here."
"He's in good hands," Octa smiled in understanding. "Don't worry, Waxarn and the others will take care of him."
"They really use Force Lightning?"
"They do. It's both an offensive and defensive skill, much like a lightsaber or a vibroblade. The only danger to it is allowing one's own feelings to cloud their judgment and thus losing sight of your original intentions. Most of the older students here are well versed in Force Lightning, but consider it a technique of last resort. Only Waxarn Kel's Death Knight trainees are capable of using both Force and Sith Lightning at will."
"Sith?" Tionne's eyebrows rose in alarm.
"Only when they're on missions," Octa said. "And only with permission from Waxarn, Saba, or myself."
Tionne just sighed. "Whatever happened to the simple lessons of rock-floating and boulder pushing?"
"We still have those, they're in the obstacle course," Octa jerked a finger behind her. There, several students were levitating X-wing-sized pieces of rock with their friends on top of them, or teaming up to shove an entire wall of rock down the length of a training track.
"Mara won her bet," Tionne shook her head, rubbing her face.
"She said that I'd need a drink when I got back from seeing this place."
"Don't worry, the eight you've sent over from Ossus are the good little Jedi you trained them to be," Octa laughed.
"I would hope so."
"Care to stay for the night? We have room."
"What, and frighten me half to death with your philosophies, Master Ramis?" Tionne shook her head. "I need to get back to Ossus anyways. I left Mara in charge of the story-telling time and I'm really afraid of her take on some of the classic tales."
"Go on then," Octa grinned. "We're all fine over here, so don't you worry."
Tionne stepped back up into the shuttle. "It was good seeing you again, Octa. Take care now."
"Will do, may the Force be with you."
Eight Months Later
"Again," Waxarn said coolly, striding down the line of young apprentices and knights.
There were seven of them now; a young human girl of eleven years had joined them shortly after Toile's arrival. Another orphan of the war, she had been among the more dangerous students ever brought to him. But again, there was nothing he wasn't willing to take on. Unlike Toile, who had been seeking to blame any and everything in the galaxy for the loss of his people, Maika was powered by self-loathing and a desire to force change no matter what the cost. As he had expected though, both she and Toile bonded together over their shared traumas and hatreds, and that new friendship had done much to dampen their negative feelings. The older Death Knights had also welcomed the two with cautious patience and acceptance, giving the young Jedi a place to belong.
Waxarn nodded approvingly as the seven Death Knights, ages ranging from eleven to seventeen, sent forks of pale blue lightning at specialized training dummies. "Remember, use your anger and hatred to create the lightning, but keep those emotions within yourself. Do not add to the suffering of this galaxy by venting your emotions out on another. It's okay to be hateful, to be angry, but make those emotions motivate you to make this galaxy a better place. You hate the fact that the war took your loved ones, that you no longer have a planet to go back to. Look around you, you have six others who feel just as you do. You have a family right here. You have a place to belong, a place to call home. Maika, Toile, up front."
The dark-haired girl with a haphazard haircut stepped forward—heavy eyeliner and dark colored clothing gave her a definite rebellious air. Toile, in similarly toned clothing, took up a position on the opposite side of her.
"What separates us from Sith, from dark Jedi, is our ability to control ourselves, to restrain our own personal biases and greed. When we attack using our darker emotions to fuel our abilities, we don't attack to cause harm or suffering. In the past eight months that the two of you have been here, you have improved much, and I am more than proud of what you have accomplished. But learning a lesson and applying it are two different things. Arkal, Neitha, up front."
The two oldest members of the Death Knights, a hulking Yuzzem Jedi and a Weequay, stepped forward.
"Maika, Toile, I apologize for what I will ask you to do, but you have seen some of the older ones do this particular practice," Waxarn said softly. "I know that you both are still hurting from the losses you have taken. Call upon those emotions now. Call upon them but show them that it is you in control, not them."
Small whirlwinds of Force energy began to spiral around both eleven year old Jedi as they swallowed, tears forming in their eyes. They both reached out a hand to each other and gripped them tightly, the whirlwind increasing.
"Now," Waxarn said softly. "Let those feeling subside. Let your brothers and sisters draw away your pain."
Both young Jedi did as they were told, exhaling shakily.
"Use your strongest offensive ability on Arkal and Neitha. They're both skilled enough so do not worry about causing too much harm."
"It's alright kids," the Weequay agreed. "Give us your best shots."
Toile's black eyes narrowed for a moment, before he held out his hand and released another stream of lightning. Jagged bolts of purple lanced out of his fingertips, crackling as it coursed through the air.
Neitha caught it, allowing the energy to pool in his hands. "Remember, Toile. You don't want to use this ability to hurt, but to prevent pain. Lightning is naturally destructive, just like your anger. Harness it for good. Wishing pain will only bring more pain, while wishing to stop pain can create healing."
Toile kept up his attack, but gradually the purple tinge of his lightning became blue, his entire body relaxing.
"Good," Neitha smiled.
Maika, in the meantime, seemed to tremble as dark energies coalesced in her hands. "You said we could use any technique, right Master Kel?"
"Yes, even those you learned from the spirits of the Woolmander Palace," Waxarn said dryly.
Maika let out a hiss as the energy seemed to form into an almost visible spear. Despite the hatred and anger on her face, however, almost frightened brown eyes darted up towards the Yuzzem Jedi. "Sure you can take this, Arkal?"
"I eat nightmares for breakfast, sister."
"You asked for it." With a yell, Maika hurled the spear of negative energy at her opponent, who deftly shrouded his hands in the same dark miasma and snatched the weapon out of the air.
Arkal closed his eyes, and very gradually, the energy of the spear seemed to merge with that around his large hands. The other Death Knights helped to siphon off the sudden influx of emotions, and Arkal's eyes opened again. "Not bad, sister. Anytime you want to get a load off, feel free to hurl another one of those my way."
Maika smiled weakly, reaching out for Toile's hand and finding it available almost immediately. "Thanks."
Arkal just made a noise of amusement and bowed to Waxarn.
"Go and take the rest of the day off, you lot," Waxarn nodded at the others. "Maika, Toile, can you stay behind for a bit?"
The other bowed respectfully as well, and then walked over to both Maika and Toile to give them pats on the back or reassuring hugs, before going their own ways.
Waxarn waited until the three of them were alone. "After showing that you are stronger than even your most powerful emotions, I've decided that the both of you are ready to accompany me on a mission."
"[Really?]" Toile gaped.
"Wizard!" Maika said brightly, looking nothing like the gloom-and-doom Jedi of Death that she had been only moments earlier. As 'dark' as the two of them might seem, they were still only children after all.
"Yes," Waxarn said with a patient nod of his head. "An old friend of mine, Jedi Knight Si'ada, will be joining up with us. Now, the reason why I had the two of you do this test today was because of the type of mission we're going on."
"[Huh?]" Toile blinked.
"Recently, Yuuzhan Vong shapers trying to repair the planet of Ciutric have come under attack from a mysterious assailant. Four of their warrior bodyguards have already been murdered, and two shapers have been found dead as well."
"Wait, we're going to help Yuuzhan Vong?" Maika said in disbelief.
"Think of it this way, we're going to help the people of Ciutric," Waxarn corrected. "The Yuuzhan Vong shapers there are working to undo almost five years worth of planet-shaping, to make the place livable for those who once called the place a home. Stabilization of Ciutric will also go a long way to restoring stability to the region and helping to revive the Ciutric Hegemony's economic power. Regardless of what you think of the Yuuzhan Vong, they hold the keys to a stronger Ciutric sector. Most importantly, this restoration effort is being watched by many as a possible success-story and role model for others to follow. If it fails, hundreds of other planets ravaged by the Yuuzhan Vong will also lose funding, political support, and all manner of aid. I know you're strong enough to take this mission on, otherwise I wouldn't have asked you to join me. Can I count on your help in this Maika?"
Maika swallowed and nodded.
"[I'm in, Master.]"
"Good," Waxarn said. "Go get your bags packed. We'll be leaving after today's evening meal."
Waxarn couldn't help but chuckle when the two replied with half bows, before hurriedly taking off for their living shelters to pack. Yup, the Death Knights had definitely changed.
Their shuttle descended through the partially purified air of Ciutric IV right in front of the hazy, morning sun. The Ciutric Hegemony had been one of the many local powers that had been completely destroyed by the Yuuzhan Vong War. Being a heavily industrialized hegemony, its planets had fared worse than most under the occupation of the techno-phobe invaders. Ciutric IV, the hegemony's capital had fallen shortly after the outbreak of the war and had been undergoing Vongforming for much of the duration of the war. The shapers in charge of repairing the planet had had their work cut out for them, but had been making great headway; bolstering the confidence in similar projects across the galaxy.
Landing at a temporary 'safe-zone,' Waxarn and his two apprentices stepped out of their shuttle and nodded at their welcoming party.
"Master Kel," Si'ada beamed up at him, giving him an informal bow.
"Jedi Knight Si'ada," Waxarn returned with the same affection.
"Thank you for coming. Are these your students?"
"The next generation of Death Knights," Waxarn placed a hand on both Maika and Toile's shoulders. "This is Jedi Apprentice Toile and Jedi Apprentice Maika."
Si'ada inclined her head politely. Her eyes briefly flickered over to Waxarn, before focusing on the two young Jedi in front of him. She hadn't missed the small wells of anger and self-loathing still within them. "I worked with Master Kel during the Vong War. Good to meet the two of you."
"Likewise," Maika said shortly.
"[A pleasure]," Toile said, just as brief.
Si'ada looked back to her former master. "I was going to let you all hear several firsthand accounts, but the witnesses are really busy, so I'll just relay what they told me."
Waxarn heard the unspoken explanation in her voice. The witnesses were Yuuzhan Vong, and she had correctly deduced just where the anger and self-loathing of his apprentices were directed at. "That'd be helpful. I'm actually surprised that you've requested help on this matter."
"[Shouldn't a lone Jedi be able to find a simple murderer?]" Toile voiced. "[You were Waxarn's student too, so you should be strong enough.]"
Si'ada nodded. "I would be, normally. I've had to stop my share of fanatics from seeking revenge. Kind of counterintuitive of them too. I mean, these guys want revenge on the Vong for destroying Ciutric Four, so they attack the only ones capable of restoring their home planet back to what it was before? Odd, isn't it? Anyways, the suspect I'm looking for isn't just any run-of-the-mill murderer with a grudge. All the kills have been done by lightsabers."
"Sabers?" Maika picked up quickly.
"Yes," Si'ada replied. "More than one. From the residual energy left behind in the wounds, at least three."
"Three?" Waxarn's eyebrows shot up.
"The third was the most recent murder," Si'ada said grimly. "I'm guessing that the previous two managed to recruit a new friend. These guys are definitely Force sensitive, so it's making finding them that much harder. I have a pretty clear idea where they're based, though. That's why I called in the help."
"Si'ada, why didn't you tell me this over the comm?" Waxarn said with a frown. "I would have brought fully trained Knights if the situation was this serious."
"We can handle it," Maika said, looking up at Waxarn. "They may have lightsabers, but like you taught us, you don't need a lightsaber to be a Jedi, to be dangerous."
"[Yeah]," Toile said in support of his friend. "[I mean, it's not like I want to help out the scarheads, but I'm not going to run away if some idiot thinks killing the ones trying to fix this galaxy is a good thing.]"
"Si'ada, your call," Waxarn said, his face betraying no emotion. "You've investigated these cases, know the culprits the best."
"Only one of the three assailants has any formal training," Si'ada said slowly. "That much is clear. Some of the victims, before they were found, actually looked as if they had been used as training dummies."
"So a master and an apprentice."
"Or two," Si'ada gestured to her former leader. "Like you, Maika, and Toile."
"Jeedai Si'ada! Jeedai Si'ada!" A frantic voice interrupted any further musings. The group turned to see a Yuuzhan Vong shaper sprint across the grounds as if death itself was at his heels.
Both Maika and Toile became rigid, darker energies flaring up around them for fractions of a second. Waxarn, who still had a hand on their shoulders, gave them both a warning squeeze, and they were able to settle down after several ragged breaths. Once the anger dissipated, however, they both seemed to step even closer to Waxarn, as if silently signaling a desire for protection. He draped a fatherly arm around both, enveloping them in a soothing shell of his Force energy.
In the meantime, Si'ada nodded to the panicked shaper in confusion.
"Gaantak Hool," Si'ada frowned. "What's wrong?"
"Jeedai," Gaantak panted. "The assailants have struck again! This time they have slain the Master Shaper and our warrior protectors, and have taken the rest of the team hostage. I just barely managed to escape!"
"Yes," Gaantak nodded frantically. "They said that they were going to show the galaxy true justice! That they were going to publically execute the others by mid-day today!"
Si'ada swore and looked to Waxarn. "Master Kel. Like I said earlier, I have a pretty good idea where they're coming from. Can you and Toile and Maika back me up?"
"It's not like we have the time to wait for reinforcements," Waxarn said with a grim nod. "Maika, Toile, you are to do exactly as I tell you, okay? Just because I told you that you can be a Jedi without a lightsaber doesn't mean those attackers are Jedi with lightsabers. Expect the worse."
"[They'll be like us]," Toile said perceptively. "[Angry at the Vong.]"
"But they don't have you or the Death Knights to help them," Maika said, tearing her eyes away from Gaantak.
"Right, so they'll be even more dangerous," Waxarn nodded. "Jedi Knight Si'ada, lead the way."
They took a single speeder across the vongformed landscape, able to see the various non-native plants and animals still roaming the forests and ruined cities of the planet. They occasionally passed a small collection of yorik-coral buildings, offices and housing for the shapers trying to restore the planet.
Maika could only tremble at the non-Force presence these lifeforms gave off. While Toile had become completely stoic, forcing his gaze ahead. They were sitting on either side of Waxarn in the back of their speeder, and Si'ada driving.
Waxarn, sensing the distress of his apprentices, rubbed their arms and gestured with his head. "Reach out with the Force, you two. Towards our destination. Can you sense what might lie in store for us?"
Maika just shook her head, shrinking against his side. "Master Kel, I don't like sensing the Vong. If I do, I'll get angry and do something that'll make you disappointed."
"You would never do that," Waxarn murmured to the eleven-year old girl. "You or Toile. In the months that I've known the both of you, disappointment is not something I've ever felt with you two. Pride, happiness, sadness, yes. Never disappointment."
"[I don't like sensing Vong either]," Toile said softly. "[It just feels wrong. They shouldn't be on this planet at all, they and all their freaky animals and plants.]"
"But they are," Waxarn said gently. "Remember, as Jedi we have to overcome prejudices, both others and our own. Think only about how you can make the current situation better for everyone, not about how it's currently making some suffer."
"We're going to stop the murderers," Maika supplied. "That'll make things better."
"Right," Waxarn said. "Toile, any ideas?"
"[If they're anyway like Maika and me, they'll be able to use their anger and hatred to help themselves]," Toile said thoughtfully. "[But if they try it with us, we can use that absorption technique you taught us. Like that story you told us. The Jedi Alema was able to counter a Sith by empathizing and drawing out his anger, by enduring his hate. We can do the same.]"
"For that to work, though, you must master your own fears," Waxarn coached sagely. "Before you can help another, you must first help yourselves. Can you truly help them get over their anger if you yourselves are too afraid to use the Force with Vong nearby?"
Both eleven year olds looked at each other from across the speeder and swallowed nervously. Maika nodded once. "We can try."
"Trying is good," Waxarn smiled encouragingly. "It's a start."
"[And if we fail?]" Toile said in a smaller voice.
"Then you'll fail," Waxarn shrugged. "It's not like you'll be going up against these killers by yourselves. It's what Si'ada and I are for, to back the two of you up. But I believe in the two of you, I know you'll both give it your best efforts."
The two fell silent, but Waxarn could feel them both tentatively reach out with their own senses.
"You've changed, Waxarn," Si'ada said from the driver's seat.
"You have too, Si'ada," Waxarn answered softly. "Have you been well?"
"As well as I can be," Si'ada shrugged. "It's weird working with the same race that destroyed my home planet, but at least I know I'm doing some good in this galaxy. I miss you and the others though. "
"Have you heard from any of them?"
"Only Nixa," Si'ada answered. "He's rejoined the Galactic Alliance fleet to hunt down pirates. You?"
"Maez. He's helping the Chiss map out the Unknown Regions," Waxarn shrugged. "He's doing fine as far as I can tell."
"That's good," Si'ada murmured.
"[Master Kel]," Toile said, opening his eyes.
"They know we're coming," Maika answered, her face hard.
"Really?" Si'ada blinked. "I'm not sensing anything."
"Neither am I," Waxarn echoed. "Are the two of you certain?"
"[You can't feel it?]" Toile said in confusion. "[It's so dark, their eagerness.]"
"Maybe it's because they're using the dark side to shield themselves," Si'ada said. "Accomplished dark Jedi are able to hide their presence, even from fully trained masters."
"There could be another reason," Waxarn said almost reluctantly. "Because if that was the case, Toile and Maika shouldn't be able to sense anything at all."
"Oh!" Maika suddenly gasped. "I think they just realized that we could sense them."
"[They said 'hi']," Toile said in disbelief.
"Great, walking into a dark Jedi lair, with them fully aware that we're coming," Si'ada groaned.
"[A trap?]" Toile looked to his master.
"Probably," Waxarn again nodded, looking preoccupied as he did. "But if they know we're aware that they know we're coming, maybe not."
"Waxarn, what's on your mind?" Si'ada said, hazarding a glance over her shoulder.
Waxarn shook his head. "I just hope I'm wrong."
"Master?" Maika lightly prodded him with the Force. "What is it?"
"There's another way someone can hide in the Force, yet be detected by others," Waxarn elaborated slowly. "And that's if you know the people who are looking for you. Know them well."
Si'ada nearly drove them into a tree as what Waxarn was saying sunk in. "No way! Not Jalinae! She wouldn't!"
"That's why I'm hoping I'm wrong," Waxarn answered with a sad tilt of his head. Jalinae had always been Si'ada's hero and role-model, an older sister whose shoulder she would use to cry on. He was more than hoping he was wrong, praying to the Force that he was just being paranoid.
"Well, we're going to be there in another ten minutes," Si'ada said, a note of anguish in her voice as she increased the speeder's speed past its safe limits. "Everything will be cleared up then."
"They're nearby," Maika swung herself over the side of the speeder and pulled out her cortosis-lined vibroblade at the feelings she could sense. "And they're still waiting for us."
"Of course they are," Waxarn said, peering into the thick forest. Only a short distance away, what had once been a weather and fire-watch station loomed above the rows of trees. Now that they were closer, he could definitely sense some disturbance emanating from that building. And with it, his worst fears were confirmed. He could sense Jalinae's presence, but twisted almost beyond recognition.
Welcome Master Waxarn Kel. Her thoughts were mocking, and he could tell she was watching them from the top of the building.
The sins of the past, huh. Waxarn thought wryly.
Indeed. Come, my lovely apprentices and I have prepared a nice reception for you.
"[Are you okay, Master?]" Toile asked, his own cortosis-lined vibroblade at his side.
Waxarn forced himself to smile. "Don't have a choice. I will be though."
Si'ada, likewise sensing her former Death Knight sister, just looked up at the distant saucer atop the tower pleadingly. As if her wishes and thoughts would make everything go away.
"Come on," Waxarn said, barely able to keep his voice even. "Let's go."
The forest was deathly quiet as the four of them took the well-marked trail to the outpost. Every step had Si'ada and Waxarn ever more on edge.
"[At least the Vong are still alive]," Toile muttered. "[Force, I can't believe I said that.]"
"Blame it on the aura those dark Jedi are giving off," Maika said in a whisper. "It's enough to drive anyone insane."
Sooner than they would have liked, they reached the weather station; an old building left over from the Clone Wars era that still had its uses. The four piled in to the still-functioning turbolift at the base of the tower and waited several agonizing seconds as they ascended above the treetops.
They reached the top, and the transparent doors slid apart to grant them entry to the main chamber.
The disc-shaped room was devoid of any furniture save for a large table. The walls were smeared with blood and bile at various locations, and the three-hundred and sixty degree bank of windows had all been blown out—jagged glass shards framing the external walkway. Wind whistled through the gaps, washing over all of the occupants in an icy cold breeze.
Awaiting the four Jedi was a sight that they had dreaded.
Standing behind a line of kneeling Yuuzhan Vong shapers were three lightsaber-wielding individuals. It took a moment, but with a startled jolt, the Jedi realized that the shapers weren't kneeling, but had had their legs cut off at the knees.
"Jalinae," Si'ada said sadly, staring at the woman who had once been a sister to her.
The grief-stricken woman's own physical appearance was about as unrecognizable as her Force presence. Jalinae had shorn off all of her hair, dark-side corrupted veins visible on deathly pale skin. She was skeletal in appearance, with one bony hand holding a lightsaber, and the other grasping some type of trigger device with multiple buttons.
The two with her were just teenagers, but the ravages of the dark side had already begun to damage their complexions.
"Jalinae," Waxarn said, sorrow in every syllable. "Stop this, please. The war is over."
"Over?" Jalinae scoffed in disbelief. "The war will never be over! Not as long as one of these scarheads live."
She flicked a switch on the trigger device and one of the shaper's heads exploded in a mist of black blood.
"Jalinae! It doesn't have to be like this!" Si'ada said with a desperate yell. "You're a sister to me, my hero. When I first came to the Death Knights, you took me in and made everything better! Just give me the remote and lightsaber and surrender. Please!"
"Hero?" If anything Jalinae's voice seemed to become filled with even more scorn. "Where was the hero when they were gutting my husband in front of me! When they were cracking my parents' heads over sharp rocks! Grow up, Si'ada! In real life, there are no heroes! There are only scum like these scarheads and people brave enough to do any and everything to stop them! I'm doing this galaxy a favor! You're just holding onto the same pathetic beliefs that got the rest of the Death Knights killed!"
"This isn't right," Maika spoke up, her voice a growl. "I may not know much, but even I know that this is wrong."
"Right?" Jalinae paused in her rant to focus on the eleven year old. "What would you know about what's right, little girl?"
"It's Maika," Maika hissed, trembling and stepping forwards. "And I know more than my share of what's right! My parents were killed in the war because when I was younger, I couldn't stop from crying in fear! The Vong found our hiding place and cut off my mom and dad's heads as I clung to their bodies! I want to kill Vong as much as the next person, but this…you're no better than they are!"
"Semantics," Jalinae dismissed, pressing another button. "Invent whatever excuses you want, but the fact remains. Every time I kill a Vong, that's one less scarhead in the galaxy to deal with. One less traitorous, murdering, dirt crawler dirtying our galaxy! Dead is dead, it doesn't matter how they get that way."
Unexpectedly, Toile held out a hand, and the remote flew from Jalinae's grip and into his. "[It matters to me.]"
"Boy," Jalinae hissed, her lightsaber activating. A beam of pure red flared to life and lit up the room. The sabers of her two followers likewise ignited, the red glow washing out the pale complexions of the Jedi before them. "If you know what's good for you, you'll give that back."
A flash of anger rippled through the Rodian Apprentice, and in a searing crackle, a ball of Force Lightning appeared in his hand and tore apart the remote. Meeting Jalinae's crazed gaze with his own rage-filled gaze, he smirked. "[Ooops.]"
"You definitely know how to train them, Waxarn," Si'ada muttered in exasperation.
"I'm not successful all the time," Waxarn said, keeping his gaze on the dark side trio. "Last chance, Jalinae. Surrender to answer for your crimes or we will…"
"Be forced to apprehend you," Si'ada said, cutting off what Waxarn was on the verge of saying. "Waxarn saved you once, let him save you again."
"If you won't help me kill the Vong, you'll join them!" Jalinae spat. She gestured to her two young followers. "Kill the scarheads and finish off these scarhead lovers!"
Waxarn and Si'ada held out their hands simultaneously and a burst of Force energy swept both dark side initiates away from the remaining shapers and into a nearby wall.
Jalinae let out a feral sound and leaped towards both Toile and Maika. Waxarn sped between them and intercepted her blade with his own.
"Maika, Toile, stay back!" He yelled over the hum of the saber.
The two saber-wielding dark side initiates sprang back into action, as did Si'ada, who flipped through the air to block the both of them.
It was a deadlock, with Waxarn desperately batting aside the frenzied attacks of Jalinae, and Si'ada barely holding her own against Jalinae's untrained but equally powerful apprentices.
"Get the Vong out of here!" Si'ada yelled at the pair of eleven year-olds, spinning around to keep one of her opponents from slipping by to finish the executions.
Both Maika and Toile froze, staring at the remaining five shapers with apprehension.
"Don't listen to the Jedi!" Jalinae cackled. "Finish the Vong off! You want them dead right? They killed your families! Made you orphans! I can sense the anger in you, the hatred, use it! Why does it matter how the Vong die, kill them! Kill the Vong!"
Maika and Toile still stay immobilized as they battled their personal feelings.
"Maika, Toile, remember what I taught you," Waxarn said, straining against a particularly vicious strike. "You're Jedi first and foremost. You can't change the past, but you can make better the future. I trust the both of you enough to support any decision you'll make."
A vicious lightsaber sweep cut away a segment of ceiling. Glowing lines streaked across the rocky walls of the central pillar and into the wooden countertops that lined them.
"You want to be strong, right? To stop from ever being afraid? To stop anyone else from hurting? Well I can give you that!" Jalinae hollered over the sounds of battle. "I can give you strength! Power! I can make it so that you'll never be afraid again!"
The eleven year olds turned to each other and then back out at the old Force sensitives tearing apart the room with Force and lightsaber techniques.
"Can you give us a family?" Maika asked, her soft voice somehow heard over the combat. "Friends? A home?"
"When you're powerful enough, you can have everything you want!"
Toile and Maika gripped each other's hands and nodded as one.
"[I guess]," Toile said. "[That we're powerful enough then.]"
"What?" Jalinae's eyes bulged and she barely avoided Waxarn's counter-attack.
"We have friends, we have family, we have a home," Maika said, looking Jalinae in the eyes.
Both eleven year olds walked through the debris-strewn room to the helpless Yuuzhan Vong shapers and undid the bindings that held their hands.
"How are we to escape?" One of the shapers asked hoarsely.
Toile made a gesture, and the large table in the room floated over.
Both Si'ada and Waxarn continued to bar the dark siders from interfering.
"[Get on]," Toile said tonelessly, still unable to look the Yuuzhan Vong in the face.
The shapers hastily complied, the table just big enough to fit all of them on top. One, however, paused and reached out to the young Rodian and human girl.
They both flinched.
"For what it's worth," the shaper whispered softly, halting his actions. "I apologize for how my people have hurt you. Thank you for saving us."
"We're not doing this because we forgive you," Maika said darkly. "We're doing this because we're Jedi."
With a combined motion, the two eleven year olds floated the table out of the broken bay window.
"No!" Shrieked Jalinae. She unleashed a blast of Sith Lightning at a startled Waxarn, and the Jedi Master was knocked to the ground. The dark sider raced through the saucer-like room, her red eyes wild and manic.
"Maika, Toile!" Waxarn managed to yell in warning.
"[You've got this?]" Toile asked Maika, the levitating table still too high up to be released.
"Yeah," Maika worried her lower lip as sweat formed on her forehead. "Go keep the both of us from getting killed why don't you."
Toile whirled around, however, just as a blast of Sith Lightning leaped out of Jalinae's fingertips. The impact and strength of it surprised the Rodian child and he was blown out the same window the table had been levitated through. At the last second, he managed to snag the exterior walkway's railing. Dangling, he noticed the shaper-laden table top hovering just above the treeline. "Never mind, Maika! I've got the table!"
"Figures," Maika grumbled. She spun back around and unleashed a blast of lightning of her own at the wholly surprised Jalinae.
The blue energy crackled around the dark-sider, but appeared to do little. "Is that the best you can do?"
Maika raised an eyebrow and folded her arms over her chest. "Unlike you, Sith. I have others I can rely on."
Jalinae raised her lightsaber to strike down the eleven year old, only to jerk as another blade shot out of her chest.
"Waxarn?" Jalinae managed to gasp in both disbelief and despair.
"Forgive me, Jalinae," Waxarn whispered in anguish, appearing behind her with a grave expression.
"There couldn't have been another way," she said with a choked laugh. "We both know that this was the only way to stop me."
Waxarn looked away in silent agreement, deactivating his saber and catching Jalinae before she hit the ground.
"Look after my two fools," Jalinae wheezed, gesturing to her two stunned apprentices. "You're obviously the better teacher. You'll do what has to be done for them."
"I will," Waxarn closed his eyes. "I'm sorry I couldn't do more for you."
"Some broken things aren't ever meant to be fixed," Jalinae said, the strength leaving her voice. "I guess I was just one of them. Do you think…do you think I'll be able to see my family? You know, when I rejoin the Force?"
"Positive," Waxarn managed, his throat tight.
"Oh, good," Jalinae exhaled
"Jalinae," Si'ada knelt opposite of Waxarn.
"Little Ada," Jalinae used the last of her strength to reach up with one hand and cup the Jedi Knight's face. "Sorry."
"I forgive you," Si'ada sobbed.
Jalinae winked one last time, before her eyes fluttered close and her body stilled.
When the group exited the weather station, the mood was decidedly different than before. Both of Jalinae's apprentices had surrendered and appeared to still be in shock at the death of their teacher. Both Maika and Toile also appeared to be stunned at what they had just experienced. But anger appeared to be the mood of the moment for Si'ada, who promptly gripped Waxarn's collar the moment they stepped out of the building.
"You didn't have to kill her, Waxarn!"
Waxarn just bowed his head and didn't answer.
"What happened to 'no one is beyond saving'?" Si'ada yelled, furious tears streaking down her cheek as she pounded his chest with a fist. "To 'you'll do everything in your power to save us'? There's already been too much death! Now there's only Nixa and Maez left. Why didn't you just disarm her, stun her? I know you're strong enough to do that!"
Again Waxarn stayed silent, looking away from the distraught expression on Si'ada's face. The younger Jedi released her grip on him and let out a sob. "You didn't have to kill her, Waxarn. You didn't."
"[There was no other way]," Toile spoke up, coming to his master's defense. "[She was too broken. Even she knew it.]"
"I think the reason she didn't kill the Vong right away was because she wanted him to stop her," Maika added softly. "She knew she was too far gone and wanted to be stopped. She was hurting inside so bad. So, so bad."
Si'ada hissed. "There's always another option besides killing. Don't let him tell you otherwise."
The two young apprentices looked to Waxarn, as if expecting him to defend himself, but he was silent once more.
Si'ada shook her head angrily, wiping away her tears. "You take her two back to Yavin with you, Master Kel. I'll handle the wounded Vong and political fall-out."
Waxarn nodded silently and Si'ada levitated the table top, which Toile had set down at the base of the tower, back to the speeder. Seconds later, she had taken off, her anger and hurt ringing clearly in the Force.
"[Master]," Toile said. "[Why didn't you say anything?]"
Waxarn managed a tired smile as he patted Toile on the head. "Better she be angry at me, hate me, than at the person Jalinae had become. At least this way she can still imagine Jalinae as the hero and big sister she'd always been in her mind. Can dream that Jalinae wasn't beyond saving."
"She was, wasn't she?" Maika asked. "She was all twisted and dark."
"If a wound is not cared for properly, that's what happens," Waxarn's smile faded and his face took on a haunted expression. "I failed the first generation of Death Knights in more ways than one. But I was young then too. Just twenty years old at the start of the war, hurting and lost, and in charge of people drowning in their own sorrows, in their own anger. I could have done so many things differently then, I should have done things differently." He released a breath a draped an arm around both Maika and Toile. "But I can't change the past. Jalinae was trapped in it, living in it every day. I'm only fortunate that the Force has given me a second chance with the two of you and the other knights."
"What's going to happen to us?" One of Jalinae's students asked, looking fearful.
"Do you both want to continue to learn the ways of the Force?" Waxarn asked idly, remotely summoning their shuttle.
The two dark-siders nodded.
"What if you had to swear off your revenge on the Yuuzhan Vong to do so?"
They quickly scowled and shook their heads.
"Well, that settles things then."
The two slumped in disappointment.
"I guess I'll have no choice but to train the two of you too. Meet your new brother and sister, Toile Senn and Maika."
Jalinae's former students brightened. "You mean…?"
"Yup. From this moment forward, I'll be your master. Welcome to the Death Knights, a place where we'll all get a second chance at life."
A\N: So begins the interlude between aDA and aFU. Each story will be one-shots only (and maybe an occasional two-chapter story since I'm not all that great at keeping stories compact) =). Once monthly updates for at least five more stories. Next up, we introduce a new character who'll play a minor major role in aFU. See you all January 30th.
If you still need more, both SiouxFan and DarkSabre have created one-shot spin-offs that exist within the aDA universe, so you can go on over to their profiles and give them a look-through (and review).