The second story arc featuring the twi'lek Jedi Terra Ysillia and her path to freedom!
TRIALS, PART ONE:
THE WAY THINGS SEEM
The small vessel’s landing thrusters let out a quiet hiss as the ship itself slowed to a hover above the landing area. Calling the spot a “platform” would have been a stretch considering that it was little more than a clearing in the middle of a vast forest that had been cleared out specifically for the transport’s trip planet side.
Landing struts extended and planted themselves into the dirt as the ship’s engines turned off, making a soft cloud of dust envelope the bottom of the vessel. The cloud was then pushed away by the landing ramp lowering like a fan sparing the riders a coughing fit.
The first figure to leave the vessel wore a heavy brown cloak, the hood pulled over the wearer’s head. The figure looked from this direction to that and then, finally, back to the ship. A slight bob of the hood was the only indication of any communication.
Unable to stifle a smile the twi’lek Padawan, Terra Ysillia, stepped out of the ship. Despite the long, cramped confines during their journey, the young woman’s gray eyes didn't radiate relief but rather drank in the majestic sight of the tightly spaced trees, as tall as rancors, surrounding her. Despite their height, the tree trunks were so thin that Terra could wrap her hands around one like a lightsaber hilt.
“You couldn’t have picked a more beautiful spot for the negotiations, Master.” Terra said as she tucked the billowing sleeves of her robes into the black cloth wrapped around her forearms.
“This isn’t some going to be some silly tea party, my apprentice.” Jedi Master Kori Yin pulled the hood from her head to reveal blonde hair tied up into a top knot that left her long neck exposed to the cool air.
The middle aged woman looked over her Padawan sternly but couldn’t hold the façade for long. Shallow lines appeared on either side of her pink lips as a wide smile overtook her.
“It is so rare that the ithorians allow anyone, let alone off worlders, onto the surface of their world.” A hint of the sternness came back to the older woman’s face. “Be thankful when you see the ambassador.”
Terra nodded in agreement just as another ship passed overhead. The shuttle made a quick circuit around the clearing, its thrusters bathing the area in a pale, blue glow, before sinking down to rest beside the Jedis’ transport.
The metal of the larger shuttle’s hull groaned as its engines powered down, bringing it to a complete stop. The bottom of the ship rested against the soil covered ground so that when the sliding doors pulled apart there was no need for a ramp or steps to disembark.
Which one elderly ithorian did. The heavy boned species always had skin resembling treated leather but his was heavily creased all the way into the immaculately clean white uniform. The thick stick he used to aid himself with walking added to the impression of his age but the many chrome chevrons lining his shoulders added even more to the air of authority he also carried with him.
The ithorian’s decidedly non-humanoid shaped cranium protruded in front of his thick body, reminding the Padawan why the species were sometimes referred to as “hammerheads”. His long wide neck seemed to stretch even longer as he made a sound resembling clearing his throat.
“Greetings, Jedi.” One of the two mouths on his neck, on the side closer to Master Yin, opened to say in an almost echoing baritone. “It is with the compliments of all our people to meet you here in the most sacred of places. I am Grand Dendrochronologist Bertram.”
The playful grin that had been on the human’s face only moments before was replaced with an emotionless mask. Nevertheless, Master Yin politely nodded back to the man.
“Greetings in return, Grand Dendrochronologist. I am Kori Yin and this is my apprentice, Terra Ysillia, of the Jedi Order from Coruscant.” The woman motioned to the twi’lek standing beside her.
Terra nodded in greeting much like her Master only her long lekku, or head tails, swaying of their own volition betrayed slightly more emotion than Master Yin. “A pleasure, Grand Dendrochronologist.”
“The pleasure is ours.” The mouth on the Padawan’s side of the ithorian’s neck opened to say. “I trust the Republic is prepared to begin negotiations?”
The Jedi Master took a step closer to the ambassador. “That is not a question to be directed at my assistant, ithorian. I am the one who is tasked with this duty.” Her voice had an edge to it that surprised Terra.
It surprised the Dendrochronologist as well. His flat head tilted ever so slightly as a baritone hum reverberated in his throat behind two closed mouths.
His mouth on Master Yin’s side finally opened. “You are correct, of course. I did not realize that you believed which mouth I was using indicated to whom I was addressing.”
“Very well.” Master Yin replied, talking over the last part of his sentence. “Shall we begin then?” The thin lines on either side of her mouth deepened.
Dendrochronologist Bertram grunted in agreement. “At issue is the Republic’s request for access to obtain sap of the Niffugcam tree, indigenous to and only found in the Ithor System.” He recited as a mere formality to mark the official start to negotiations.
The Padawan started nodding when her Master let out an exasperated sigh. Confusion was obvious on the apprentice’s face when she turned to face the older woman.
Master Yin stomped toward the ithorian faster than Terra could think to stop her. “Did your communications computer mistranslate or are you pretending to not be able to understand Basic?”
“I… I…” The sounds came out of alternating mouths as Bertram took a step back from the human closing the distance between them.
“This is going to take twice as long if you keep repeating yourself.” Less than a step away from the man who was easily over half a meter taller than her, Master Yin rested her hands on her robed hips as she glared up at him. “You know full well that the Republic wants full deforestation rights to the entirety of the Ithor System.”
The ithorian doubled over as if struck by a physical blow. “What? There is no way that my government will agree to that!”
The human took a breath to respond when a pale green hand found its way to her shoulder. The woman’s blue eyes snapped over to her Padawan, who now stood between the Jedi Master and the Grand Dendrochronologist. The apprentice mirrored the same gesture on the ithorian, resting a calming hand on his massive shoulder as well.
“It appears negotiations are going to take longer than we anticipated.” Terra gave them both a comforting smile as she spoke. “Maybe we should find someplace to sit.”
Terra sat at the edge of the pit, her chest and hips covered with little more than a couple of strips of red cloth. The simple headdress from her days in the Jedi Order had long since been replaced with one that was made of elaborately designed but worthless metal. A flat brass bracelet was wrapped around one of her lekku, upon which was mounted a small circle of multi-faceted glass that was poorly imitating a jewel.
Across from Terra was another Twi’lek with deep blue skin dressed very similarly but in yellow strips. Unlike Terra, though, the only decoration the blue slave wore was an amber crystal embedded in her navel.
Both women’s bare legs dangled over the edge of the pit as many men of many species cheered around them. Credits traded hands as bets were made and many innuendos were uttered at the two Twi’leks as they waited for the match to begin.
Eventually, a well-dressed rodian knelt down beside the other twi’lek and a not quite as well dressed gran did the same beside Terra. This was the last minute pep talk every owner gave their slave before their property was tossed into the pit.
“I don’t know why I haven’t done this before.” Lees-Bii, the gran that was the most recent in a long line of people who paid to possess Terra, growled… or whispered, it was hard to tell with his twanging voice. “All the money I could have made before…”
A smirk flicked at the corner of Terra’s mouth for only the briefest of moments. Lees-Bii never had her fight before because the former Jedi always “talked” him out of it. For a slave owner, the gran was remarkably open to suggestion. Unfortunately, even he wouldn’t fall for the “Old Jedi Mind Trick” to set her free. He was far too greedy for that.
Lees-Bii’s three eye stalks flicked back and forth between his property and the other Twi’lek across the way. “You are heavily favored to win this, Slave. Win and you will make me a lot of money. If you lose…” He wrapped his thick sausage fingers around Terra’s decorated lekku and gave it a squeeze to punctuate his point.
Terra refused to give him the satisfaction of flinching, so the man who fancied himself the former Jedi’s owner stood up. Then she felt his wide foot press against her mostly uncovered back and push.
The green woman was the first to reach the taupe mud three meters below. Landing with barely a splash, the muck engulfed Terra’s legs up to her thighs. Looking up, she saw the whooping men crowd up along her side of the pit to watch the action below, some holo pads were still waving around to take last minute bets.
With a loud, but interrupted, scream the blue twi’lek found her way down to the bottom of the pit. Her landing was not as graceful as Terra’s and she found herself on her knees, the mud up over her waist and her arms buried up to her elbows.
“One thousand credits on the green one!”
“500 on the blue!”
“Are you daft? I’ll take that bet! If the blue one wins I’ll triple your winnings.” The voices echoed from above.
The fear was obvious in the orange eyes of the blue twi’lek as she lifted herself to her feet, trying in vain to wipe the coating mud from her arms. She was new to slavery, Terra could tell. Even though the two women were technically opponents, the green twi’lek couldn’t help but feel pity for the blue.
“Fight, Slaves!” Lees-Bii’s voice drifted down. “Don’t make us pull out the vibro-whips!”
Terra nodded up at him, then let out a heavy sigh. Before she could even bring her gray eyes back down to face ahead, the former Jedi felt the other woman start to charge. The mention of whips did tend to give slaves motivation.
The green woman easily sidestepped the blue, the mud starting to wiggle around in the pit with their movements. As the blue one passed, Terra pushed the other woman’s head down into the muck, coating her from crown to heel.
The twi’lek that was originally blue lifted herself back above the surface with a loud gasp. Wiping the taupe out of her eyes, her lekku shivered, trying to throw off some of the mud on their own.
Another charge brought another dodge from Terra. The new slave’s violent movements caused the mud to lap up around Terra’s hips as she moved around the pit. It wasn’t time yet.
“Boring!” The former Jedi heard the first call from the crowd.
“All she’s doing is dodging!” Came another.
Slowly but surely, the calls of discontent among the audience got louder and more frequent. Looking up at Lees-Bii, she saw her “master”, start to whisper to the weapons keeper.
With a cry of desperation, the blue twi’lek once more charged for Terra. The time had come and Terra was not looking forward to it. Her hand balled up into a fist and flew up out of the mud, catching the blue twi’lek in the chin, making her rear up and flick mud all the way up to the audience above.
Cheers came from the men as Terra lowered her shoulder and buried it into the other woman’s flat stomach. With a yelp of pain, blue stumbled backward. Tears from her orange eyes washed some of the mud from her face, leaving thin little paths of smooth azure skin on her cheeks.
Where Terra’s shoulder connected with the other woman’s stomach was mostly wiped clear as well, exposing that little amber jewel in her navel. With a loud scream, to add to the drama so that weapons wouldn’t find their way down, the green twi’lek took her turn to charge at the blue.
Lowering her head like a charging bantha, Terra buried her head into the other woman’s midsection, wrapped her arms around blue’s narrow waist and drove her into the rock wall. The crowd responded with raucous cheers.
The blue woman whimpered, the entirety of her body weight falling onto the former Jedi. Driving both the Twi’leks under the surface of the mud. The thick mostly liquid lurched this way and that making it obvious that there was still motion happening under the surface.
Finally, two mud caked figures arose. One held the other by the neck in a head lock, her head pressed against the other’s smooth hip. The woman doubled over in the head lock waved up to the lone Toydarian that served as “judge” to these competitions, signaling that she conceded the match.
“We have a winner!” He announced in his thickly accented Basic. “Shall we see who it is?”
The entire audience laughed, unanimously nodding in agreement. Another Toydarian made his way to the edge of the pit, a long hose in its spindly hands and twisted the nozzle.
A high pressure stream of water leapt at the women, pushing just about every speck of mud off their brightly colored skins. After the hose stopped spraying, a gasp of surprise came from the crowd.
The blue Twi’lek desperately held Terra’s neck in the crook of her arm. Both women’s skimpy tops were nowhere to be found, blown away by the water, so every man had a clear view of their now bare bodies. Terra continued waving up at the judge with one hand as the other kept the blue woman from squeezing too tightly.
Hoots and whistles escaped different parts of the crowd as money and credits started changing hands and, one by one, the two women were lifted from the pit by hover platforms.
As Terra stepped back onto solid ground with everyone else and Lees-Bii, his three eye stalks twitching with rage, charged over to her. One eye veered to his right and he smacked a male Twi’lek’s reaching hand away from the green woman with his own thick paw.
“No free samples! Pay like everyone else!” Lees-Bii snatched a robe from another gran that followed the slave owner everywhere as a member of his security party.
He draped the dull, worn robe over Terra’s shoulders and she immediately pulled it tightly shut. To everyone around them, it would look as if he was putting a consoling arm around his defeated competitor, but the twi’lek again felt his hand wrap around one of her head tails.
“You have no idea what you cost me, girl.” He roughly whispered as they made their way through the crowd back to the gran’s ship. “But thanks to your advertisement of what you have to offer, tonight I may just be able to break even.”
That meant that, despite the pain from his grip on her head tail, he wasn’t going to beat her. Not, at least, until tomorrow. He wouldn’t want his property to look damaged before the services he had in mind were rendered. That would reduce the asking price.
As the green slave and the gran, made it to the entryway of the arena, Terra could just hear the rodian owner of the blue Twi’lek speaking to his slave. “Yana, what happened to your jewel? Don’t tell me it’s down at the bottom of that pit?”
Lees-Bii roughly shoved Terra though the wide doorway, the automated sheets of metal barely having time to open enough to let her though. Just over the hum of the doors closing, the former Jedi heard one last thing from the other Twi’lek’s owner.
“No matter, with the money you won, we can get you something made of genuine…”
With that the hydraulic doors hissed shut and, as she walked, Terra couldn’t help but smile. Knowing that Lees-Bii couldn’t see her face from behind as she walked, even with his three eyes, she let herself smile wide, being careful to keep her mouth shut.
The human’s hazel eyes went over each of the dozen Twi’leks that marched up the ramp into the airlock of his boxy freighter. He ran a hand over his smooth chin, his only reaction to the rainbow colored line of women.
Until the end of the line when a human woman stepped up to the pilot. Her raven hair spilled over her shoulders, standing out against the cream color of her leather jacket.
“Beautiful, aren’t they?” Her smile seemed almost genuine as she offered her hand to the man.
He glanced back at the huddled group of colorful twi’leks, letting out little more than a grunt that signaled agreement, then looked back to the human's offered hand up to her face. “You weren’t on the menu.”
The woman’s hand slowly sank back down to her side. “You weren’t told? Awkward.”
“I’m the handler giving you directions to the drop point.” She wiped her palm on her gray pants even though she hadn't touched anything.
The man’s hand slid from his chin up to his bushy brown hair. “Fine. Give me the directions so I can get out of here.”
The woman shook her head, more black hair slipping in front of her shoulders. “You misunderstand. I’m going with you and giving you instructions en route.”
His hand lifted from his hair and pointed right back at it, specifically the receding hair line. “You see this, Sweetheart? That should have been your first hint that I was not, in fact, born yesterday. I do not let strange women on my ship that don’t get me money for being there.”
“Understandable. Personally, I can barely stand Gregor, especially when he throws both of us these last minute changes.” The handler moved closer to the pilot, to the point that her warm breath washed over his cheeks when she spoke. “But the delivery point is… fluid, and he made it a point of encoding the direction buoys to respond only to my voice commands and passwords.”
His eyes narrowed to the point that they almost looked closed. “That doesn’t change the fact that I don’t know you, lady.”
One of the woman’s hands slipped under the pilot’s shirt, her cool skin against his stomach making the man fight the urge to shiver. “It will be a long flight. I’m sure we can find some way to get acquainted.”
The two stood there for a long moment, neither daring to be the one to move first. Finally, the pilot nodded and stepped into the ship.
“Welcome aboard the Blue Wing. Close the airlock behind you and follow me.”
With a relieved sigh, the handler did as she was told. He was quite a bit taller than the woman so she had to walk at a pace quicker than she was used to in order to keep up with the man.
“You can call me Matilda, by the way.” She said before she started to sound out of breath.
“Dirk Tempec.” He looked back over his broad shoulder at her, giving her a lopsided smile. “So which way are we going?”
The pilot reached the control panel for the cockpit door and it slid open. Stepping aside, he motioned to the woman that she was welcome to enter first.
Matilda gave the man a little bow as she stepped passed him. Inside, the lights on some of the controls and displays didn’t seem to shine as brightly as they used to but everything appeared to be in good working order.
She slipped into the copilot seat and spun around to face him with her long legs crossed. “Start for the Dantooine System and we’ll go from there.”
Tempec arched an eyebrow at the handler as he sat in the pilot’s chair. “Dantooine? Didn’t we just drop an order to the Rodians out that way?” The pilot asked as he initiated takeoff.
END OF TRIALS, PART ONE: The Way Things Seem
TRIALS, PART TWO:
LIGHT AND DARK
“Terra, do not interrupt again.” Master Yin frowned at the younger woman.
The three negotiators sat around a small square durasteel table. The Jedi Master and Terra were on one side while the ithorian took up the entire side opposite.
They were only a short distance from their ships. In fact, it was from the ithorian's grand ship that the table and chairs they now used came. Grand Dendrochronologist Bertram rested one of his heavy arms on the floating slab of metal, making the levitation engines evoke a low hum of strain.
The top of the cane in his other hand swayed from side to side as the tip, anchored to the spot, ground dug itself deeper and deeper into the dirt. His uneasiness was obvious even without using the Force to detect it.
Padawan Terra Ysillia stifled the urge to protest her Master’s order. The only outward sign of her confusion and concern were the tips of her head tails, or lekku, twiddling against each other behind her back where the others could not see. The apprentice folded her hands in her lap, nodding her compliance to the other Jedi.
“These forests are sacred to my people, Master Yin.” The baritone of the alien’s voice came out of both mouths on either side of his throat as he spoke, unusual since they typically only used one or the other to speak Basic. “We do not even live on the surface in fear of doing harm to these trees. You cannot expect us to allow offworlders to come and simply remove every trunk on a whim.”
Master Yin’s gold eyebrows pressed together and her expression grew tighter. “Offworlders? Are you racist, Bertram? Are non-Ithorians unworthy of walking among your precious trees?”
The Dendrochronologist’s eyes opened wide at the top of their stalks. “No, that is not what I meant, Master Jedi! I am simply saying—”
The ithorian suddenly fell silent, as if the Jedi Master’s stare alone was enough to strike him down if he continued. Terra, jumping to her feet, leaned over and wrapped both her hands around Master Yin’s on the floating metal table.
“Master Yin! There is no need for such… such friction here. You know we need samples for-” The Padawan started.
The other woman quickly rose and stomped away before her apprentice uttered another word. The twi’lek stared as Master Yin as she walked toward the forest's edge in the direction opposite the ship they had arrived in.
“The Republic asks too much.” Bertram muttered, seemingly more to himself than to Terra. “But I cannot leave the two of you alone on the surface. We will simply have collect your Master and declare talks failed.” The ithorian’s grip on his cane tightened and a deep breath filled his chest as he readied to lift himself to his feet.
“Wait, please.” Terra stepped around the table to the ithorian’s side before he could stand. “There have been unforeseen difficulties but I know Master Yin to be very reasonable when the need is great. Let me talk to her and give all of us one more chance to make this work.”
Bertram slumped in his chair, his heavy hands making his thick cane just start to bow, and after a long silence finally nodded in agreement to the young woman. His leathery head shook, showing a bewilderment that Terra shared with him.
The Padawan started after her Master. The human had made it past the tree line but Terra could still easily sense her presence and was beside the older woman in short order.
The Jedi Master’s hood was back over her head, obscuring her features from Terra’s view, and her arms tucked into the draping sleeves of her dark brown cloak. Once the twi’lek was by her side, Master Yin stopped walking but otherwise didn’t acknowledge her apprentice.
“Master, I don’t understand.” Terra’s voice was barely above a whisper despite their being alone among the swaying trees. “Why have you taken such a hard line approach? It has never been shown to be effective with the ithor-”
“So you know better than I then, Terra?” Master Yin interrupted. “You meddled in the talks and almost gave away the true reason we need access to this forest. The only thing that would give them leverage against us!”
Anger practically radiated from the older woman as she spoke, slowly turning to face her pupil with each word. Terra couldn’t think of a way to react. She had never seen her Master act this way before so she stood motionless in front of the other woman.
“Perhaps you want all the people on Ryotan to die.” Master Yin’s hands unfolded and rested on her hips. “After all, who are they to you but a list of names on a holopad.”
“No, Master!” Terra felt her lekku stiffen as another wave of anger shot from the other Jedi. “The ithorian is open to helping. I know you felt it but it was as if you want to fail…”
“Enough!” The human’s arms whipped apart, the motion making her cloak spread wide open.
Terra couldn’t help but notice that her Master’s lightsaber was not where it usually rested at the bottom of the wide leather corset wrapped around her Jedi robes. The twi’lek fought the urge to grip hers in response.
“You have been defiant to your teacher for far too long, girl!” The human declared. “If you are such a pinnacle of Jedi power and wisdom then it is time for you to prove it!”
A flash of jade light whipped at Terra, jumped just out of the reach of Master Yin’s lightsaber blade. “No. No, Master. There isn’t any need for violence here!”
At the word “violence” Terra was forced to jump away from another strike from her mentor and high up into the branches hanging overhead. The blade instead chopped through one of the many trees surrounding them and, with a groan, it fell to meet the soft earth. Its stump smoked with the heat from the lightsaber’s slice.
Terra still didn’t take her weapon into her hands. In fact, she had disappeared completely from Master Yin’s sight. A wave of emotions hit the apprentice all at once, ones of anger and disappointment from her human teacher and Terra felt her eyes stinging as she kept her gray eyes glued to Master Yin from her hiding place in the thick foliage of the tree tops.
Master Yin spun around, searching for her Padawan. She could sense that Terra was close but not exactly where.
Without deactivating her lightsaber, the middle aged woman slipped her cloak off her shoulders, trading her weapon from one hand to the other to free her arms, revealing her long glove covered arms and leaving the brown fabric in a heap behind her boot covered feet.
Master Yin’s blonde top knot kept her hair motionless against her scalp. Her sleeveless robes fed into the polished leather corset wrapped around her midsection and spread out wide below to around her knees, where her pants fed into her equally polished boots.
“Very well.” The human started to speak when she realized her apprentice wasn’t going to reveal herself. “Let the fear win. You think we have to belittle ourselves to make the ithorian bend to our will? I think it will take little more than a lightsaber blade at one of his pompous mouths to make him see things my way.”
Master Yin started back in the direction from which she had entered the forest, the weapon still humming threateningly in her hand. Terra couldn’t sense any deception from her Master. She wasn’t bluffing.
There was nothing in the environment that could explain why Master Yin was acting so out of character. There were no stories of Sith or other evil on this planet that could concentrate energy from the dark side of the Force and manipulate her. Had her teacher simply gone insane? With no hint before setting down here on this planet?
No matter what caused it, and even though Terra was merely a Padawan, it was up to her to keep her Master from hurting innocent people. With a deep breath, Terra wrapped her hand around the cold metal of her lightsaber and dropped into her teacher’s path. Pale blue light rushed from the handle and filled the space between the two women.
Master Yin nodded as if she’d expected this action. “Now, Terra, it is time for you to learn your place.” And the two blades collided.
A heavy grunt betrayed the force that Lees-Bii used to shove Terra into what served as her room on his old freighter. She stumbled forward, getting her balance back just before hitting the back wall only six steps away from the door.
“Get yourself cleaned up!” The gran folded his sausage fingers under his flabby arms. “I'll have someone take you to the entertainment room shortly.”
The entertainment room. Terra knew that if she was put in there, her chances of escape dropped to nonexistent. None of the “customers” would be able to be persuaded from taking what they paid for out of the twi'lek. Even if she fought, the former Jedi was unarmed and security wielding blasters would make short work of her.
She had to work fast. Terra's green lips opened and an amber jewel tumbled from her mouth and into her waiting palm. Thankfully, this was the last piece she needed.
Reaching over her shoulder, Terra pulled the metal cuff with the etched glass off her head tail as her other hand unfastened her headdress.
The headdress had three pieces of thin metal that were just the length of Terra's hand. Pulling them free of the wire work, she put the glass in the middle along with the amber jewel. Disassembling the rest of her headdress and pulling the rest of the decorations from her lekku, Terra knelt down and laid out the rest of the parts on the floor at her knees.
Her fingers moved, practically using muscle memory alone, as they strung wiring for the emitter matrix and assembled the crystal lens assembly... Wrapping the metal cuff around it all, the former Jedi now had a makeshift handle.
Terra realized that she didn't really have anything that could serve as an activator switch so once the device was assembled, it would activate and stay on. She would just have to hope it would last long enough.
All she needed was a power cell. There was no way the woman would have been able to hide something like that on her body disguised it as decoration. Thankfully, even in a run down ship like the one she was on now, emergency lighting always had their own power sources and there just happened to be an unactivated emergency light just over the doorway.
Lifting herself to her bare feet, Terra stepped over to the doorway, which couldn't open from this side. Rising up onto her toes, the twi'lek stretched to reach the light's casing. Pulling it away to reveal the mechanisms underneath, she half expected an alarm to go off.
When none did, the former Jedi continued. Pulling a few stray wires out of the way here, unplugging a fuse there, she was finally able to wrap her fingers around the power cell. It was warm to the touch, being continuously charged until it was needed to activate the lighting.
The door opened just as she started to pull on the power cell, revealing a gran that served as one of Lees-Bii's many guards. His eye stalks twitched in surprise at seeing the twi'lek immediately in front of him.
He was almost as surprised as her. Terra's lekku practically spasmed at the sight of him. Surely he was there to take her to the entertainment room.
Terra let out a nervous chuckle, her robe thankfully staying closed despite her stretched body position with her hands above the doorjamb. As the gran started for the blaster at his hip, the former Jedi's arms dropped down, her elbows smashing against either side of the guard's neck.
He dropped to the floor instantly unconscious and Terra took a moment to look over the power cell in her hand. With that action she was committed now. It was escape or death.
Stepping back into her “room”, Terra snatched her makeshift device from the floor. The automatic doors kept trying to shut but the guard's prone body kept making them slide back open.
Biting the insulation from the two wires hanging from the bottom of the newly constructed metal cylinder, Terra wrapped them around the two conduits at the power cell's base. An amber light suddenly shot from the other end of the cylinder, as long as the upper half of her body, and a familiar hum starting to fill the air around the Jedi. Her lightsaber was complete.
Holding the power cell in place with one hand, Terra pressed it against the base of the cylinder. The blade flickered in and out of solidity at the momentary fluctuation of power while Terra's other hand held firmly to the weapon's handle. She stepped back out into the hallway, giving the still unconscious guard a shoving kick with her foot to roll him back into the small room, allowing the doors to close.
Taking a deep breath, she tried to sense which way would lead her to freedom. Every time before, Terra was led directly from the landing ramp to her room. With only having seconds to peek down one hall to the next, she only had the roughest layout of the ship in her mind. So the landing ramp would have to be her destination.
They had already taken flight, so running onto the surface of the planet was out of the question. Besides, as slave owners themselves, anyone that found her would either return her to Lees-Bii or take her for themselves. She hoped that a shuttle or escape pod awaited that could make it to a free system or sympathetic ship.
Terra hugged close to the wall as she made her way along the thankfully deserted corridors. As she reached the hanger bay, the obstacle that she needed the lightsaber to overcome came into view.
It was a lock that was set up to open the doors only to Lees-Bii's genetic code. There was no hacking it, not that Terra was versed enough in this tech to do so. So there was only one other solution and it was surely going to bring every guard down on top of her.
Terra pressed the tip of the energy blade into the lock and pushed forward. The metal crackled and popped as it started to glow with heat and finally melt. The blade dug deeper and deeper into the door until it pierced through the other side.
Instead of the alarm going off, the lights suddenly went out. The emergency lights kicked on and the alarms remained silent. Did melting the lock somehow short circuit the power system? Lightsabers weren't exactly considered when security systems were designed anymore so the woman supposed it could be possible.
Avoiding the still molten metal, Terra forced the door open. The landing ramp rested in its closed position at the far side of the bay. As she stepped inside, a heavy clang of metal against metal echoed against the freighter's hull.
Terra's gray eyes darted from one side of the room to the other at the noise. There were indeed escape pods against the far wall, which coincided with the outer hull of the ship. Had the gran somehow known of her plan and had some kind of trap waiting for her? When nothing happened, she started for the pods.
The wall just beside her means of escape suddenly blew apart, raining debris and smoke into the room all around the escaping slave. Her lightsaber blade to knocked the bigger pieces of durasteel out of the air before they could slam into her body.
As the smoke cleared, men with white helmets filed into either side of the room. They didn't look like the storm troopers that Terra had seen, even though they were carrying blaster rifles. But, unlike with the troopers, she could see these men's faces.
As each one of their weapons trained onto the twi'lek, another figure stepped into the middle of the room. The smoke billowed away from him with each step. He had a heavily muscled frame and wild brown hair that pointed off in every direction.
The man also seemed to wear belts with pouches everywhere: around his narrow waist, on his biceps, forearms and around his thighs. Even his boots seemed to have pouches sewn into them.
“In the name of the Galactic Rep...” The man started speaking with a commanding voice, obviously wanting it to be heard by anyone anywhere in the room.
Until he noticed the green skinned woman holding a lightsaber emitting a yellow blade. His brown eyes narrowed at the sight and his voice trailed off into silence. He was suddenly aware of the cool metal cylinder that rested on his belt at the small of his back.
She already had her weapon drawn. How did she know to expect them? More to the point, though, how did a lowly criminal like Lees-Bii find a Force Sensitive to fight for him?
His hand reached for his weapon. “Everyone hold your fire. Unless you want your bolts reflected back at you.” He stepped toward the woman in the worn robe, an emerald blade jumping to life from the cylinder now in his right hand.
Terra's eyes opened wide. Another Jedi? No... it was impossible. She was told that the Order was extinct. Most people had barely even heard the word Jedi these days. He had to be some kind of imposter and he was heading straight for her with his weapon drawn...
The upper half of Dirk Tempec's body was immersed into the cramped space in the engine room's ceiling. His feet rested on a hovering platform that also held a box of more tools than Matilda knew the names.
“Could you hand me the hydro spanner?” The pilot's muffled voice barely reached her ears.
Shifting one piece of metal to the side and then another, the woman found the requested tool and tapped it against his hip. She was standing behind him and she had to admit that the view wasn't bad at all. After handing him a couple of more pieces, a panel against the wall started to flash and beep loudly.
“Looks like another checkpoint.” Matilda announced, wiping some stray black hair back behind her ear.
“Go ahead. I'm just about done here anyway.” Dirk answered.
As she stepped over to the panel, the pilot ducked out of the ceiling and hopped back down to ground level. Matilda tapped a few buttons on the communication console as she leaned against the wall.
“Matilda Mean.” She said into the speaker. “Access Code: 23 Hutt Gold 42.” And she tapped the console off again.
Text popped up onto the small screen next to the speaker. She smiled after reading the text and turned back to the man.
“Good news. This was the last checkpoint.” She said. “We don't even have to change course. It's smooth sailing all the way to the rendezvous.”
“Finally.” Dirk finished wiping the grease from his hands and gave her a suggestive smile. “How much time do we have before we get our pay day?”
“A little over an hour.” She returned the smile, flinching slightly when the pilot stepped up to rest his hands on her hips.
He leaned down, his warm breath washing over Matilda's ear as he whispered.“Feel like passing some time with me back in my quarters now?”
“I thought you'd jump on that offer right after we lifted off.” The woman stifled the urge to shiver. “You've been keeping yourself so busy with wiring and fuses that I thought you weren't interested.”
“My mother taught me to always finish my work before it was time to play.” He grinned back, giving Matilda a gentle nudge toward the engine room door.
“Oh, what a wise mother you had.” She gulped so loudly that both of them heard it clearly.
“Were you just teasing me to get on my sh--?” Dirk started before the ship's lights suddenly fell dark.
After a moment, the emergency lights flickered to life but not before eliciting a grunt from the pilot. “That was slower than it should have been.”
Matilda would have breathed a sigh of relief when the pilot stepped away from her and to one of the many computer displays that ran down the middle of the room. Except her worry had changed to whatever was wrong with his ship.
“What did you do up there?” Her tone wasn't as accusatory as she wanted it to be, it more betrayed her worry.
“This had nothing to do with me, sweetheart.” Dirk grumbled. “The plasma coolant lines were struck by a meteor or something.”
“Meaning?” The woman's mind vacillated between worry to anger at the “sweetheart” jab.
“Meaning the Wing is going to blow up in a matter of minutes!” He started marching for the engine room door.
Matilda stepped into his path. “What about the shipment? Our pay day?”
“There's not enough time to get out there to fix the lines!” He shoved her aside and rushed out into the hallway. “I'll make it up to your boss when I get another ship!”
“Gregor will kill us! He doesn't like when people don't fulfill their end of deals!” She pleaded as she dashed after the pilot, both of them rushing down the opposite direction from the cockpit and cargo hold.
When they reached what looked like a dead end with only a keypad mounted on it, Dirk started typing into it. “You're telling me that a dozen of shipments without incident don't buy me any slack?”
Matilda shook her head, her fingers digging into the shoulders of his leather coat. The lower half of the wall slid away to reveal a lone escape pod.
Dirk's eyes shifted from the pod to the woman and back. Muttering a curse word to himself, he turned away from the wall.
“Tell him I forced you into the escape pod.” Stepping aside, he pressed his hand into the woman's back toward the newly revealed entrance.
“But you...” She started to speak but he shook his head to quiet her.
“You said yourself that my life's over without delivery.” He held under her arms as Matilda slid into the emergency vehicle. “You can tell him whatever story you want to save yourself. That was what I was going to do.”
“You were going to leave me here to die?” The woman's black hair fell over her eyes.
The hatch to the escape pod slid shut, leaving a small window where the pilot and Matilda could see each other. He shook his head and tapped more buttons.
“I'm not now.” His tinny voice came over the speaker in the cramped space that held Matilda. “Have yourself a good life, Matilda. I hope you enjoyed your time on the Shade Icarus.”
With that, the wall slid shut, cutting her off from the sight of the pilot, and she was suddenly launched into space. She hurtled away from the freighter, her eyes locked on the ship every time it came into view.
As she drifted further and further away. Matilda Mean started to wonder why the ship hadn't exploded. Did Dirk say the “Shade Icarus”?
END OF TRIALS, PART TWO: Light and Dark
TRIALS, PART THREE:
THE WAY THINGS ARE
After the pilot felt the hull lurch at the launch of the escape pod, he went back into the engine room. With a few button presses, the normal lights came back on and everything again appeared normal on the monitors.
It was a good thing that Matilda didn't know anything about freighters. Plasma coolant lines are never on the outside of the hull, at least Noobian ones.
Again, the man went out into the hallway, this time making his way into the cargo hold. Every twi'lek woman that had been loaded into the hold was huddled in the corner, panic etched over each of their faces.
“It's alright. It was a false alarm.” The pilot said. “My name is Aryl Tirani, I'm undercover with the Republic.”
One by one, at a painfully slow pace, the women seemed to believe him. Each got up to their feet but still none dared approach the man.
“There's another ship on the way to take you home.” Aryl kept his voice as gentle as possible. “But before they arrive, have any of you seen a twi'lek by the name of Terra Ysillia? She'd have green skin like...” He pointed at one of the women whose skin tone was similar to the Jedi's. “But she has gray eyes. Anyone?”
All except for one shook their heads, their lekku swaying behind their backs. A blue skinned woman stepped out from behind some of the others.
“I saw a slave with green skin and gray eyes.” She said, her golden eyes darted from one side to the other, as if she was expecting to be punished for speaking up. “A rodian sold her to a gran at the last sale.”
“Do you know the gran's name?” Aryl had to stifle the urge to run up to the twi'lek and shake the information out of her.
She shook her head, sinking behind the green woman the pilot pointed to earlier. The excitement Aryl had just moments before disappeared and his stomach sank. At least it was more information than he had before.
Aryl let out a deep sigh as the communication console beside the doorway beeped. It was about time for the cruiser to arrive.
“It's alright.” He said as he turned toward the door.
The twi'leks all whispered among themselves, seeming to get louder with every step the pilot took away from them. He shook his head, disappointment evident on his face.
It wasn't like he expected Terra to simply be loaded onto the Shade Icarus and that would be the end of it. The plan was always to take down Gregor and, if he didn't have her, get a lead on what he did with the woman.
Hitting a button, Aryl leaned against the wall and addressed the speaker. “Tirani here.” He said.
“Tirani? Aryl Tirani?” A familiar voice popped over the comm, making the skin along the pilot's spine crawl. “I see you gave your ship a makeover. Still, I should have seen it for the antique it is.”
The voice of the former Imperial Captain Gregor sent the women into a fresh panic. Aryl muted the comm panel so that the old man couldn't hear their screaming through the channel.
“It's going to be okay!” He snapped back at them. “You're all still going to get home, I promise!”
He dashed across the hall and into the cockpit. He turned the comm in the cargo bay off, redirecting the signal to his location, as he scanned for the former Imperial's ship.
“What do you want, Gregor?” Aryl asked as if he didn't already know the answer.
“My shipment. What else?” He answered simply.
Aryl had hoped for a long speech from the old man. That would have given him more time to locate the slave trader's ship as well as the cruiser he was supposed to meet on his scanners. As it was, the first sign of either he got was a blaster barrage from Gregor's frigate.
It was easily ten times bigger than the Icarus. Though that was nothing compared to the star destroyer that Aryl first met the Imperial Captain on. It was still plenty to take on the Noobian pilot's freighter, even with its newly installed weapon systems.
Even worse, there was no sign of the cruiser that was supposed to rendezvous with him. That left only one real option: run.
Boosting the engines to full power, the Icarus avoided the next barrage of blaster bolts. Aryl just hoped that the twi'leks in the cargo hold had enough sense to hold on for their lives. The smaller freighter rushed through space in the direction the cruiser should have come from in hopes of meeting it en route.
“Looking for your friends in the Republic ship, Aryl?” Gregor's voice popped over the speaker. “It turns out that they weren't as well armed as they thought.”
The pilot slammed his fist onto the comm link, cutting the connection to the former Imperial. There was only one place left to go: the Aratum nebula.
Swerving around blasts meant to disable the Icarus, the freighter turned and started for the last hope the Noobian and his cargo had to survive this encounter. The only advantage Aryl had was that they were looking to disable, rather than destroy his ship.
That didn't mean, however, that the life support systems weren't a viable target. Twi'leks could survive in a thinner atmosphere than humans. Aryl would be dead long before the slaves if Gregor's ship hit its mark.
“Why are you protecting that parasite?” Master Yin asked as she knocked her student's blade away. “The Ithorians have something we desperately need and they couldn't hope to keep us from it.”
“The trees aren't ours to take.” The twi'lek flipped out of the path of Mater Yin's strike.
“An entire planentary system will die!” The human spun so fast as she leaped at the younger woman that she looked like a jade propeller. “Think of the needs of the many, my apprentice!”
Master Yin's blade struck tree after tree as she rushed after Terra. The Padawan kept her distance, trying to keep from presenting as a clear target. The forest was paying the price for this tactic but at least she was leading her Master away from the ithorian negotiator.
“I am.” Terra pulled a half dozen of the felled trees back with the Force until they fell under Master Yin's feet. “The ithorians are willing to give us the sap we need without us having to take the trees! This was supposed to be just a formality!”
“And what if the sap isn't enough? What if we need the bark, too?” The Jedi Master stomped ground so hard that the trunk in the way was reduced to kindling.
“Then we ask for that, too.” Terra weaved between the trees, avoiding her Master's glowing blade. “It won't come to that but it's the right thing to do!”
“And if that Dendrochronologist refuses?” The trees were barely an obstacle to the lightsaber as it slashed for Terra again and again.
“We can't live life based on assuming negatives.” The Padawan mirrored her Master's own spinning technique with her blue blade, making her teacher jump out of range. “You taught me that.” Terra said when she finally stopped.
“There are people's lives on the line.” The older woman immediately dashed back toward Terra.
“And the Ithorians are willing to help!” The twi'lek struggled to block the flurry of green light streaking at her. “Most people are reasonable when we are in turn!”
The Jedi Master stopped for the briefest of moments. “And if the Ithorians aren't? Or how about the next race we face?”
“Then, if we must, we negotiate aggressively.” Terra answered.
The human smiled at that answer then stabbed for the twi'lek's face. Terra ducked under the strike and Master Yin brought her green blade down on her apprentice. Not only had she trained Terra how to fight but she practically raised her, too. She understood how the twi'lek thought. It was exactly what she expected, indeed wanted, Terra to do.
Their blades struck and the human forced her way closer to her student, increasing the leverage on the younger woman's weapon, cutting off any kind of counter or escape. The air reeked of ozone and filled with the sound of crackling energy as the Master pushed her lightsaber, forcing Terra, already on her knees, to match the force pushing upwards or be sliced in half.
The Padawan's mind raced, the muscles in her arms screamed at the effort of her awkward defense. She could feel the radiating hum from both weapons wash through her entire body.
Terra grew up with Master Yin. She taught Terra how to build a lightsaber using her own as a template. The Jedi Master showed her every part from the compartment that housed the colored crystal that catalyzed the reaction to create the blade, the power cells and even where the activator switch could be found.
She only had one chance. Terra did the one thing Master Yin taught her to never do. She reached out and turned off her opponent's lightsaber. The jade blade instantly started to lose density as quickly as it lost length. It slid down the pale blue length of Terra's lightsaber as the pressure suddenly lifted and the twi'lek rose up.
Even a vanishing lightsaber blade was dangerous. As Master Yin stumbled to regain her balance, the last remains of the green energy slipped from Terra's blade and gashed into the metal handle of the twi'lek's lightsaber! In a puff of smoke and sparks, the Padawan's blade cascaded into oblivion.
The scorched blue crystal tumbled out of the twi'lek's damaged weapon, cracked and useless. The human grinned back at her apprentice, her thumb stretching for her lightsaber's activator.
Terra lunged for the handle in her Master's hand. Falling to the ground, the women wrestled for the undamaged lightsaber. Terra's dark brown cloak was pinned under Master Yin's feet and started to rip. The Padawan could feel herself getting tangled in the fabric.
Pressing her hand against Master Yin's chest, Terra used the Force to push her teacher away. As the older woman stumbled back, Terra leaped to her feet and dashed back into the trees, out of her teacher's vision.
“Hiding again?” Master Yin, still holding her weapon, yelled into the trees. “I'm tired of this game, Terra. Just stay here in the forest, I'll go get the treaty signed and tell the Council that you ran off.” The human shrugged. “You can live the rest of your life here all alone.”
The woman's blue eyes scanned the trees for any sign of her Padawan. Yin didn't reactivate her lightsaber but slipped the weapon back onto her belt and turned for the clearing.
As she made her way back along the scorched path the battle had taken them, Master Yin kept searching for any sign of her apprentice. The Padawan had been more successful at leading her away from the clearing than the older woman had realized and the walk was taking longer than she anticipated.
The Jedi Master stopped when she saw Terra waiting for her among the smoldering trees that marked the beginning of their battle in the woods. The Padawan's hands were empty, yet her face showed a determination that made it apparent that she would not be getting out of Master Yin's path again.
“What are you up to, Terra?” The older woman's hand started for her lightsaber.
“I won't let you threaten Bertram again, Master.” Terra said. “I implore you to yield.”
Yin felt an eyebrow shoot up. “Yield? You have no weapon. What can you do to stop me from fulfilling our mission?”
“We will complete our mission, Master.” Terra's words sounded as if she was speaking fact. “In the right way. The way you taught me that you seem to have forgotten.”
“Pretty words. Without your weapon, they're empty.” The human pulled her lightsaber free and flicked the activator.
Nothing happened. The weapon didn't power on.
Master Yin looked from the weapon and back at Terra. “What did you do?”
The twi'lek pointed behind the older woman. Turning to look in that direction, Master Yin saw Terra's lightsaber spin through the air toward her... with a green blade. Before she could even get her hands up in a futile defense, the humming green blade suddenly stopped at the human's throat.
“I took your crystal while we were rolling around on the ground. I used it to repair my lightsaber.” Terra didn't have an air of triumph in her voice but rather, again, as if she was simply reciting facts. “Please, Master, yield. Let me take you back to Coruscant so we can fix this.”
Master Yin could barely see the hilt of her Padawan's lightsaber. The end that had been damaged was wrapped in bark from the trees. Terra fixed it with such primitive items so easily?
“I yield.” The Jedi Master said, her eyes locked on the glowing blade and awaiting what would happen next.
The weapon immediately shut down and flew back into the Padawan's hand. Then it found its way back to the younger woman's black leather belt.
“I'm sorry, Master.”Terra spoke quietly as she made her way over to the other woman. “But I have to restrain you.”
Master Yin's reaction made her Padawan stop midstep. The human started laughing. It wasn't a maniacal laugh, like one from an insane person or took pleasure in hurting others. If Terra had to describe it, she would have called it... joy. Pure, unbridled joy. The twi'lek had only heard Master Yin laugh like that once before, when an aquatic creature that was thought dead came back to life and leaped gleefully back into the sea on Mon Calamari.
“I knew you could do it.” The Jedi Master said with a wide smile on her face. “I knew you were ready!”
Yin's joyous laugh echoed between the trees, making it seem as if the entire forest was joining in her jubilation.
The imposter let out a loud grunt as he slammed the green blade of his lightsaber into the yellow of the twi'lek's weapon. Despite the strength behind the strike, Terra redirected the blade into the bulkhead behind her.
It took the man a moment to pull the green light free of the metal but the woman didn't take the opening to strike. That didn't stop the imposter from attacking again. Terra stepped out of the path of the blade, hopped over the next strike and spun out of the path of the another stab.
“Shien form?” The enslaved former Jedi stepped back, just out of the reach of the man's next slash. “I prefer Ataru myself.”
Just the act of Terra speaking annoyed the man and he redoubled his attacks. Charging at the woman, the imposter swung for the woman's chest.
“Are you really a Jedi? I thought the Order was extinct.” All Terra had to do was lean back to avoid the attack.
She doubted it. The imposter had trouble controlling his emotions. Not that Terra could cast aspersions... lately.
“It's been remade.” The man then charged at her. “Master Skywalker leads us now.”
Terra leaped up, and with with a quick flip, landed on her bare feet behind the man. “Skywalker?”
A name she recognized. It would make sense. If anyone would survive the Purge, it would the Jedi rumored to be the Chosen One.
The man a backhanded swing with his lightsaber at Terra, who lifted her blade to block the strike rather than avoid it. The lengths of energy ground against each other as the twi'lek locked eyes with the muscular man.
Despite his aggression he didn't appear to be angry, at least down to his core. There was a feeling of, for lack of a better term, pride in him. That could be good and bad. More the latter in this case.
As far as Terra could tell, there was a case of mistaken identity on both ends. To get this man to see it, though, she would have to wound him.
She loosened her grip on the power cell of her lightsaber, again making the blade fluctuate. The man's green blade slipped through the gaps that suddenly appeared in Terra's amber blade. The woman slapped the power cell back in place, solidifying the energy as she sidestepped the man's weapon.
The former Jedi rested the glowing blade at the base of the man's neck, just short of pressing it against his pink skin. “Yield.”
She didn't injure him physically but rather mentally, emotionally. One could argue that was even worse.
“Sir, should we open fire?” One of the soldiers spoke up at the turn of events.
The man Terra thought was an imposter didn't move. Over the hum of the woman's lightsaber, she could hear him take a deep breath and let it out slowly. Good... he was focusing.
“No.” He said, deactivating his weapon and standing up straight. “I was wrong. She isn't with the gran. Continue sweeping the ship and arrest anyone else aboard.”
As he straightened up, Terra pulled the blade away. Then she pulled the power cell and handle apart, permanently turning the weapon off.
“I'm Samson Jhericord. Jedi Knight from Yavin 4.” He said just load enough for Terra to hear. “I'm sorry for attacking you. I thought you were a mercenary.”
“And I thought you were pretending to be a Jedi.” Terra replied. “I'm glad we were both mistaken.”
One by one, all of Lees-Bii's men were marched through the hole in the wall that Terra could now see led to another ship that had forcibly docked against the gran's freighter.
“I still have a lot to learn, obviously.” Samson nodded at one of the passing soldiers who was making his way into the freighter. “Where did you train? I never saw you back on Yavin.”
“Coruscant.” Terra answered.
Samson's brow furrowed. “There isn't a Temple on Coruscant anymore.”
“I know.” She said.
“Hasn't been for decades.”
The woman nodded. “I know.”
He was still confused but he decided not to speak on it anymore. Both his and Terra's attention were grabbed by Lees-Bii stepping into the room. His arms were cuffed behind his back and soldiers stood on either side of him. When all three of his eyestalks locked onto the twi'lek, she couldn't resist the urge to give him a playful grin and wave goodbye to her former owner.
“I thought it was going to be so much harder to capture him.” The human Jedi said.
“Oh?” Terra's head tails idly wrapped around each other behind her back.
“We took out the main power couplings but I was sure there was going to be some kind of back up locking mechanisms on the bay door.”
The woman's gray eyes scanned back toward the door she melted and up to the lighting mounted in the ceiling. “There was. I destroyed it. I guess I have your black out to thank for the alarm not going off.”
After the gran disappeared into the other ship, Samson turned back to Terra. “You weren't one of his guards and you're not part of the team to take Lees-Bii down. What were you doing here then?”
“Escaping.” She answered simply.
Again the human looked confused. “You mean you were-”
“His slave. Yes.” Terra finished for him.
“Why? You're a Jedi. You didn't have to endure humiliation like that!” Samson's voice came out harsher than he had intended.
“It took time to get the parts for a new lightsaber.” She held up the makeshift cylinder in her green hand to illustrate her point.
The man was hesitant to let his next question out. “How long have you been...”
“With Lees-Bii? Only a couple of weeks.” Terra started.
A look of relief came over the human's face.
“But if you count all my previous owners, it's been much longer.” She finished.
And Samson's face again tightened up. “Okay. You're a Jedi trained in Coruscant. You've also been a slave for a while.” He looked at the woman as if she was a puzzle. “There's no way you could be old enough to have been in the Old Republic. Right?”
Terra laughed. “We just called it the Republic then.”
Samson rubbed at the bridge of his nose, shaking his head. “It feels like you're telling the truth but everything that comes out of your mouth only leaves me with more questions.”
“You've just opened yourself up for a looooong story.” Terra grinned back at the man then started for the hole in the wall that led to his ship. “Mind if I tell it to you when we're not here anymore?”
Samson took one last look around the hangar. All the soldiers were off the freighter. All of the gran's thugs had been accounted for. There really wasn't reason to stay on board.
“Sounds good to me.” Samson started after the twi'lek. “Once we blow this ship, it'll be smooth sailing back to Yavin.”
END OF TRIALS, PART THREE: The Way Things Are
TRIALS, PART FOUR:
By Spencer Stoner
There was a bounce to Master Yin's step as she entered the clearing where Grand Dendrochronologist Bertram remained seated beside the floating table. Terra didn't share such jubilation. In fact, the Padawan didn't understand the way Master Yin had been acting since she was forced to yield in battle. Instead of behaving as one who had been thwarted, the older woman was acting as if it was time to celebrate. Perhaps, Terra worried, her Master had gone crazy after all.
The ithorian's leathery head turned to face the approaching women. “Is it done, Master Jedi?”
Being a Padawan, Terra was about to protest when her teacher spoke up.
“It is, Bertram.” Yin said. “She never wavered. Not once.”
The elderly Dendrochronologist grunted thoughtfully. “I am glad you survived, then.”
The human looked back at the twi'lek with a sense of pride that bordered on the parental. “She never even considered striking me down.”
With a soft groan, the ithorian hefted himself up to his feet. “Then your former student is as credit to the Jedi Order. Just like you, Hori.”
Terra froze. She thought that the Grand Dendrochronologist and Master Yin hadn't met before today. Now both were speaking as if they were close friends, he actually used her Master's given name rather than her title. On top of that, they were speaking as if Terra had just beaten Master Yin at some sport rather than battling to stop her from abusing her power against the Ithorians.
“I don't understand.” Terra said, the words barely above a whisper.
The older woman turned to face her Padawan. “I'm so sorry to have had to put you through that, Terra.” She stepped up to the twi'lek.
Terra's mind told her to step back into a defensive stance. The Force, though, didn't give the Padawan any sense that her teacher was any threat. When the apprentice felt her Master's arms gently wrap around her, Terra started to understand.
“This was one of my Trials.” She rested her head on the older woman's shoulder.
“No, child.” Master Yin let out a soft chuckle. “This was your last Trial.”
The Padawan pulled away from the older woman, shock etched all over her face. The ithorian stepped up beside Master Yin, his head bobbing up and down in agreement.
“It's true, young Jedi.” His baritone voice gently rumbled. “The treaty to harvest the sap from our trees has already been signed. Master Yin needed an isolated place to give you your final test and I was only too happy to aid.”
“But the trees.” Terra looked back and forth between the two in front of her. “We chopped so many down. I thought they were sacred to your people.”
“They are.” Bertram answered. “But there is a type of infection in this part of the forest that requires us to clear and replant. Your battle with your Master only aided in that process.”
Terra's gray eyes turned to Master Yin. “How... how were you able to hide this all from me?”
“That was the most difficult part.” The older woman nodded. “But apparently the Force agreed with our decision to do this here.”
The twi'lek felt as if she could breathe again. She had such a weight on her shoulder when she thought her teacher had gone mad. But, since it was a test, the last test before becoming...
“So I'm a Jedi Knight?” Terra felt a smile start to tug at her emerald lips.
“All you need is to go through the formalities.” Master Yin wrapped a hand around her former Padawan's and started for their shuttle. “Back on Coruscant.”
Grand Denrochronologist Bertram looked pleased as he leaned against his cane. “I'm glad I was able to help you, Hori.”
The human rested a hand on the ithorian's shoulder. “Thank you so much for your assistance, Bertram. I hope we cross paths again.”
He grunted and nodded in agreement. “Have a peaceful journey back to the capital.”
The door to the Jedis' shuttle hissed shut. Taking her seat beside her teacher, Terra had such a sense of relief, of peace, that she didn't even need a ceremony to let her know that she was one with the Force, even if only for this moment.
Dodging the chaos of the blasts aimed for the Shade Icarus were keeping the Aratum Nebula out of Aryl's reach. He just needed a moment to program the hyperdrive but Gregor was working to make sure that didn't happen.
“Paladin flight group.” Aryl tapped a comm line open with one hand while the other aimed his own blaster turrets back at the cruiser chasing him down. “This is the Shade Icarus. I am being pursued by the suspect. He has claimed responsibility for destroying the Duke. If anyone can hear me, I need help or he's going to add another Republic vessel to that list!”
The blasters from Aryl's ship kept Gregor from getting too close but the former Imperial's battle cruiser was fast enough to keep the Icarus well in the range of its own weapons. Every time Aryl had to turn away from the Aratum Nebula to keep the ship's life support systems or power relays from being hit was that much more distance he had to cover to get to there.
The gasses in the nebula would make the cruiser's targeting systems useless, not to mention actually reduce the power of the blasters themselves thanks to the electrical interference. Then it would be a simple matter of setting the hyperdrive and he and the “shipment” would be safe.
There wasn't any answer over the comm. The static almost sounded like Gregor's mocking laughter to the pilot. The freighter's deflector shields were whittled away before he'd even gotten half way to the Aratum Nebula. Even with his advantage of maneuverability, the cruiser had an even bigger one with the sheer amount of firepower it carried.
Maybe he had lied to the twi'leks after all. The thought flickered in the back of Aryl's mind even as he again flipped around to avoid another barrage of blaster bolts. The problem now was that he was heading away from the nebula.
“I had a suspicion that there was a traitor in the midst of my organization.” Gregor's voice again popped over the comm. “Did you know that my last three shipments were commandeered by the Rebels shortly after I sold them off? That was why I had my lieutenant come along this run, to ascertain if it was you or another intermediary that had to die.”
“You know, Mean is floating in an escape pod out there.” The pilot answered back. “Shouldn't you be making her life miserable by rescuing her?”
The old man chuckled, making a hiss of feedback through the speaker. “All in good time. You had her completely fooled so she's obviously too stupid to remain in my employ. Perhaps I'll add her to this lot once I recover it from you. She won't fetch me as much, of course, but still one must make due with what the Force gives them.”
“You don't strike me as a believer, Gregor.” Aryl was able to target all four blaster cannons on the cruiser.
The cruiser's deflectors shuddered as the Icarus pummeled the other ship with its own barrage of weapons. Just as it looked like the blaster bolts were about to get through, Gregor's ship turned, fired, and one of the turrets on Aryl's ship exploded.
“Oh, but I am.” Gregor snickered as Aryl again flipped the ship defensively. “I'm old enough to have seen real Jedi at work. The power they wielded. It was awe inspiring to say the least.”
“If they were so wonderful, why join the Empire?” The Icarus was again heading for the nebula.
“Did you know that the Emperor was a Force user, too?” The old man answered. “He used its power to augment his own where the Jedi would foolishly sacrifice themselves for some illusory 'greater good'. With more power comes the ability to affect change. Sacrifice does nothing but make the whole weaker.”
The image of Terra came to Aryl's mind, sacrificing her own freedom to save him and Gingi. Then the image of her huddled in a corner somewhere like the twi'leks in his own cargo hold flashed over his mind's eye... and he thought the former Imperial couldn't have made him angrier than he already was.
The way things looked now, it was getting more and more obvious that he wasn't going to be the one to set the Jedi free. But Aryl wasn't going to let Gregor sell anyone else, anywhere. His freighter was out gunned but there was one thing even deflector shields couldn't stop: One ship ramming another.
If he aimed the Icarus for the cruiser's engines, the chain reaction would destroy the whole ship before anyone, especially Gregor could even think to get to whatever escape pods there were on that vessel. If there was a life after this one, he just had to hope that the enslaved twi'leks would forgive him for making this decision for them. Aryl turned the ship to face the cruiser and kicked the engines to full power.
“Shade Icarus, make your heading 219 mark 112!” A new voice came over the comm speaker. “Keep his attention on you. We'll be there in ten seconds!”
Aryl furiously entered the new heading, just missing the cruiser's hull as he launched past. Suddenly, a massive Republic frigate dropped out of hyperspace with a half dozen X-Wing fighters hovering close enough to the hull to ride along. Once the frigate stopped the fighters, with their appendages stretched out in the shape of their namesake, careened for Gregor's cruiser and opened fire.
The frigate followed suit, loosing a flurry of blaster bolts that not even the former Imperial's ship could match. In short order, the cruiser's blaster turrets were piles of arcing metal scrap and his engines were producing nothing but smoke.
“We surrender!” Gregor's gravelly voice popped over Aryl's comm as he broadcast on every frequency.
A short time later, aboard the Republic frigate, the Machena, the Noobian pilot was reintroduced to the former Imperial Captain. This time, though, their roles were reversed and the old man, Gregor, was the prisoner.
His hair was still unnaturally black and slicked back against his head. He didn't wear the Empire's uniform anymore but the black pants and jacket he wore were cut in a very similar fashion.
When Aryl walked up to the cell Gregor was held in, escorted by the frigate's Captain, he found the old man sitting on the bench along the back wall.
“What do you want, Tirani?” The prisoner sneered when his visitors came in sight.
“I think you know the answer to that, Captain.” Aryl made sure his mocking tone on the old man's rank was laid on nice and thick.
“Hundreds of carbon copy Jedi out there and your still fixated on her, eh?” Gregor snickered.
The frigate Captain, another human, looked at Aryl. “Her?”
“Terra Ysillia.” The pilot answered. “The Jedi he captured when we arrived at Coruscant.”
“The twi'lek slave I sold ages ago.” Gregor added.
“To whom?” Aryl folded his arms over his broad chest.
The former Imperial didn't speak. He rested his elbows on his knees and, in turn, his chin in his hands and stared back at the men.
“We're going through your computers now.” The frigate Captain chimed in. “You can tell us now, make it look good for yourself in the courts. We're going to find out anyway.”
Gregor sighed. “You'd like to think that, wouldn't you? The only problem is that I don't keep sales records on my computer, or anywhere except...” He pointed at his own temple.
“And none of your people know?” Aryl said. “You're sure not one of them will talk.”
“Undoubtedly.” The old man answered, lifting himself to his feet. “I know people who know people, boy. I'll be free long before that twi'lek trollop will ever be let off her back again.”
The pilot had to grind his teeth to keep his anger in check. “Do your people know that you're willing to sell them into slavery if the whim takes you? Like Lt. Mean?”
“She wouldn't believe I said that to you.” Gregor said. “She's only seen me kill anyone who screwed up my business. The fact that she's still alive would make her think she's still in my good graces.”
The frigate Captain turned to face the entrance to the brig. “What do you have to say to that, Lieutenant?”
From the hallway outside, Matilda Mean stepped into the brig. Her black hair was tied up in a tight bun and she was dressed in the uniform of a Lieutenant of the New Republic's military.
“I have most of his computer files decrypted, sir.” The frigate's newest Lieutenant handed the Captain a holopad with the relevant information. “Combined with what I know of Gregor's delivery schedules and slave manifests, I can rebuild his activities from the time he left the Pathos.”
“Very good, Lieutenant.” The Captain scanned over the holopad. “You're dismissed.”
“Thank you, sir.” With that, Lt. Mean turned and left the brig.
“I guess blackmail and threats don't get you the security you think it does.” The Captain said to Gregor.
The old man glared back at his two visitors. “Lees-Bii.”
Aryl crooked an ear toward Gregor. “What was that?”
“She's been bought and sold multiple times since I had her.” Gregor frowned as she spoke. “Apparently no one's found the trick in breaking that Jedi yet. I've been keeping track of her, seeing if her price would drop to the point that I could get her back. Her current owner is a gran named Lees-Bii. He should be in orbit around Ord Mantell at the moment.”
“That's not far from here.” Aryl said to the frigate Captain.
A deep scowl suddenly crossed the Captain's face as he stared down Gregor. “Lees-Bii? Ord Mantell? You're sure of this?”
The old man nodded and the frigate Captain let out a quiet curse. He motioned for the pilot to follow him out to the hall.
“What is it?” Aryl could tell that whatever was going to be said needed to be quiet enough that Gregor couldn't hear.
“We got a report from Samson Jhericord's strike force that they just destroyed a ship allegedly belonging to a gran named Lees-Bii.” The Captain whispered.
Aryl felt his stomach lurch. “Were there any survivors?”
“We haven't received any details.” The other man answered. “We won't receive a full report for weeks.”
“So you're telling me that Terra could be dead.”
“It's a possibility.” The Captain sighed. “Look, if you want to find out what happened, you're going to have to meet up with Jhericord's ship.”
“You know where he is?” Aryl resisted the urge to try and shake the information out of him.
“Jhericord's part of the new Jedi Order.” The Captain answered. “If I were you, I'd head for Yavin 4. He's bound to go back there.”
“So you were caught in a gravity well and when you got out it was it was decades later?” Samson leaned back in his chair in disbelief.
Terra and the human Jedi, Samson Jhericord, sat at one of the many unoccupied tables in the ship's mess hall. The table itself, like the floor, walls and chairs around it were all made of well polished durasteel. The room itself was deserted, granting the duo a certain amount of privacy as they spoke.
The twi'lek Jedi caught herself laughing at Samson's reaction to her story. It had taken some time to relay it and make sense to the man but the effort was worth it. It was good to get everything that had happened, even if in the barest of details, out in the open.
Samson, Terra had noticed, did indeed wear Jedi style robes. They were just well hidden under all the different belts and pouches. He assured her that was due to his tastes and “wanting to be prepared for anything”, not some new Jedi dress code.
When she came aboard, he was kind enough to offer her a change of clothes. Being a military vessel with no other twi'leks aboard, she had to forgo her usual head dress and all they had available were the soldier jumpsuits everyone but Samson himself wore as they went about their duties.
The jumpsuit itself was mostly gray with different colors on the shoulders to symbolize different positions of responsibility. Terra's uniform had blue shoulders, which meant it belonged to someone in the medical decks, if she remembered correctly. They had, however, removed any insignias of rank from the clothing before giving them to the Jedi in order to avoid any confusion.
“Myself and two others, yes.” Terra nodded at the other Jedi, resting elbows on the table as she leaned forward in her own seat. “I have to admit I'm not exactly sure how long. They don't exactly bother to give slaves a good look at calendars.”
Samson grunted. “I suppose not. What happened to the others after you got them out of that Star Destroyer?”
Terra bit down on her lower lip. “Gregor told me that the Icarus was destroyed when they tried to land on Coruscant without clearance.”
“But you didn't believe him.” The man let her decide whether what he said was a statement or question.
“I'm not sure.” Her gray eyes fogged up as she thought back. “He was obviously a criminal but he very rarely lied to me. At least not in any way I could check.”
“Even with the Force?” This time the question was apparent.
Terra nodded again. “Gregor was always strong willed. And after everything that happened on the Pathos my sensitivity to the Force was... troubled.”
She unconsciously flinched at the mental picture of Aryl cringing in pain at her touch when the Imperial forced her to torture him or let the pilot die. She shook her head to rid herself of the image, her head tails landing on her shoulders with dull thuds.
Samson didn't react to what she said beyond nodding to acknowledge that he heard it. “At least you gave them a chance to survive. That was more than your friends had otherwise.”
“I suppose.” She tried to keep the weight of her failures from pulling her mood down but it felt as if gravity was aiding them rather than her. “What is the Temple on Yavin 4 like?”
Samson brightened up at the mention of the Jedi Temple and didn't seem to mind the change of subject. “Oh, it's in the middle of a wildly growing forest. It's beautiful but can be quite treacherous.”
“How so?” Terra straightened up in her seat.
“It was the Rebel Alliance's base for awhile but, before that, it was a Sith Temple.” The excitement in Samson's voice was obvious. “Every so often, someone stumbles on an old statue or Sith relic and things just seem to go crazy for a few days. Master Skywalker always fixes things as good as new, though.”
That was what the Jedi really wanted to ask about. “What kind of a Jedi is Master Skywalker?”
Samson brow suddenly had more lines than Terra could count. “He's our leader, our teacher.”
She shook her head. “That's not what I mean. You said he always fixes things, right? How? Does Master Skywalker still prefer more... aggressive solutions?”
“How could you know Master Skywalker?” His brown eyes narrowed at Terra. “He wasn't even born until after the Empire was established.”
Now it was the woman's turn for her brow to furrow. “You mean Master Skywalker isn't an old man? Anakin Skywalker. He'd have to be old to be a Grand Master. Unless he somehow fell into a gravity well, too.”
Samson was staring at Terra like she was crazy. “No, his name is Luke Skywalker. He's the son of Anakin Skywalker.”
Terra almost fell out of her chair. “Son?! That's impossible! Jedi are forbidden from the kinds of relationships that could lead to that!”
“Maybe you should get the details when you meet him.” Samson's smile looked so uncomfortable that he'd have preferred to be in a Gundark pit than in that room at that moment.
After letting shock wash over her, Terra finally nodded. “That might be best.”
END OF TRIALS, PART FOUR: SEPARATIONS
TRIALS, PART FIVE:
By Spencer Stoner
“And this is Master Skywalker.” The younger Jedi motioned to the figure at the base of the ship's loading ramp as they made their way off the ship.
Terra's feet echoed faintly against the metal as she followed the muscular Jedi down. She felt her stomach lurch at the sight of the waiting man. A man who shouldn't exist.
Luke Skywalker, the Grand Master of the new Jedi Order. He wore the dark brown cloak of a traditional Jedi, with the hood down revealing his wavy hair and bright blue eyes to the duo. They were in the home base of the new Jedi so there was no need to obscure or hide himself.
Under his cloak, Luke's clothes were black from neckline to polished leather boots, including a glove on only one hand. He couldn't have been much older than Terra herself, putting both of them a few years beyond Samson.
Terra gave Master Skywalker a polite smile as her feet touched the surface of the planet. Once off the ship, strong energies flowed around her, the life in the rainforests beyond and the people moving about the immense stone structure just ahead. It was a familiar sensation, albeit long deprived from her in her captivity: the free flowing Force.
“It's a pleasure, Master Ysillia.” Luke gave her an equally polite nod back in response.
“Just Terra, please.” She had to stop herself from shuddering at being called “Master”. “I'm not a part of your Order. I don't have a title anymore.”
Luke blinked back at her, staying silent for a long moment. “Very well, Terra. Welcome to the Grand Temple of the New Jedi Order.”
Her entire body told Terra that this was the way it should be. The Force was strong in this place, with these people. Terra's mind, however, reminded her that it was all only there because her Order, her way of life, was dead.
Still, the living energy of students learning to sense and use the Force washed over her and Terra's gray eyes locked on the tiered building. And they were all being taught by a... she didn't know what to call him. A successor? A stand in? A restorer? An imposter?
Master Skywalker motioned for them to follow down the pathway that lead to the temple's entrance. The twi'lek walked between both men down the path, both of their cloaks billowing around her in the cool morning wind.
Terra felt improperly dressed to even be there. While fashioned in very personal ways, both Samson and Luke wore at least portions of traditional Jedi garb. Terra herself wore only a gray jumpsuit with blue on the shoulders. Not to mention feeling almost indecent for not wearing a head dress into a place of learning like this.
“Samson tells me that you were a Jedi Knight in the original Order.” Master Skywalker started talking as they walked.
“I was just made a Knight when I had my... accident.” She tried to sound pleasant but found it hard to look at the Grand Master.
“Oh the, uh, what did you call it again, Samson?” Luke looked over Terra at the younger, taller man.
“Gravity well.” He answered.
“Still, I've been searching for everything I can find on the Jedi Order that the Empire didn't destroy.” Master Skywalker continued. “I'd consider it a great honor to talk to you about your time in the Order then.”
Terra forced herself to turn her head toward the Grand Master. “I've been a slave far longer than a Knight now.”
Again Master Skywalker stayed silent for a long moment, his eyes drifting from the woman to Samson and back. “Still, you grew up in the Order. Your insight-”
“Would be worthless to you!” The words shot out of the woman's mouth much faster than she intended.
They stopped in front of the closed heavy metal doors that lead into the temple. The controls were closes to Master Skywalker but he made no motion toward them.
“Have I done something to offend you, Terra?” Luke's face didn't look accusatory, rather he seemed more concerned for the Old Republic Jedi.
The twi'lek's eyes shut tight and she took a deep breath to try and stomp down the emotions that were threatening to burst from inside her. “Master Skywalker, I'm sorry. I didn't mean any disrespect. It's just...”
She motioned to the stone building, her lekku hanging limp against her back. “Inside I can sense people practicing every lightsaber form I know and two that are completely foreign to me. Someone is recovering from being attacked by a creature thanks to the same Jedi remedies that were used to treat me as a child.” She sighed, trying to let her anxiety go. “There's no special knowledge I can give you that you don't already have.”
Skywalker turned to the control panel and opened the door. The hydraulics hissed to life and gears ground as the doors pulled apart. Inside, Jedi roamed from one computer terminal to another, whispering conversations to each other as others wore headsets for interstellar communications. When the doors opened, a couple looked to see who the new arrivals were. Some even arched their eyebrows, or antennae, at the sight of them.
“This is the Strategy Center.” The Grand Master said. “Even though the Galactic Empire has been defeated, there are still people fighting to bring it back.”
“Like Captain Gregor.” Terra looked lost in thought as she stepped into the room after both men. “He used his profits from selling me to buy weapons and supplies.”
One of the many Jedi rushed up to Master Skywalker. “Sir, there's a communique from Coruscant that needs your attention.”
The Grand Master nodded then turned to Samson and Terra. “Excuse me for a minute. Why don't you shoe her around, Master Jhericord? I'll find you later.”
It took Samson wrapping his hand around Terra's to stop her from staring into nothingness. Not letting her go, the muscular Jedi led her out of the Strategy Center and into the connecting hallways.
“Below is the ship hangars, above are the living quarters, lesson rooms and the Grand Audience Chamber.” He pointed either way with his free hand. “Which way would you like to go?”
The duo wandered from room to room and Samson introduced Terra to other Jedi as they came across them. They left out that she was from a time before pretty much all of them were born so they were spared any curious looks or confusion.
Once they finally reached the Grand Audience Chamber, they found Master Skywalker already inside, looking out one of the many windows. His cloak was gone and his bare hand held his gloved behind his back.
A thin smile was on his face as he watched the proceedings outside. When he sensed Samson and Terra's entrance, Master Skywalker turned and walked toward them, meeting them in the middle of the deserted room.
“Did you have a good tour?” He asked the twi'lek.
Her gray eyes flicked toward the Grand Master but kept gravitating back toward Samson. “Yes, thank you.”
“I'm glad.” Luke said. “Now maybe you can tell me what's really bothering you.”
Both she and Jhericord jumped in surprise. The younger Jedi, though, was quicker to recover his composure. Terra still couldn't bring herself to look any more of Master Skywalker than his boots.
“Samson, could you leave us for a moment?” The Grand Master asked without looking at the other man, his face with the same look of concern he had earlier.
Letting the woman's hand loose from his, Samson bowed and made his way toward the doors. Once they closed behind him, a palpable silence grew between the two remaining Jedi.
“You,” Terra's voice came out barely as a croak and she cleared her throat. “You shouldn't be here.”
Luke simply waited for her to continue.
“A lot of Jedi thought your, your father was the Chosen One. The one who was going to bring balance to the Force.” Her head tails flicked so hard against the small of her back they were surely leaving marks. “Instead of finding him heading the Order, I come back to find someone whose very existence means that not even the best of us survived!”
“Actually,” For the first time, Master Skywalker looked troubled. “Anakin Skywalker was the last of the original Order to die.”
Her muscles tensing against the effort, Terra brought her eyes up to look directly at the Jedi Grand Master. “What do you mean?”
Luke looked as if he was struggling to put all his thoughts in the right order. “One of the Emperor's first orders made all the clones that had been serving as the Old Republic's military turn on and kill their Generals, the Jedi.”
Terra suddenly felt as if she was going to faint. “They couldn't have killed them all that way.” For a statement, it came out sounding more like a question.
Master Skywalker shook his head and continued. “The Emperor had also taken a young Jedi under his wing and slowly turned him against the Order... Anakin Skywalker. He became a Sith Lord, taking the name Darth Vader, and hunted down the remaining Jedi.”
“But then... how did you... when?” Multitudes of questions tried to leap out of the twi'lek all at once.
Luke held up his gloved hand to stop her and, with obvious difficulty, continued. “Anakin had married in secret. His wife died shortly after Anakin turned to the dark side but not before giving birth to twins, my sister and myself.”
“You don't feel like you've trained in the dark side. Why didn't Vader take you as his apprentice then?” Terra asked.
“Masters Yoda and Obi-Wan Kenobi survived the extermination. They hid us from Vader.” Luke's blue eyes closed and both he and Terra could practically see the events from his childhood as the Grand Master continued. “Master Kenobi watched over me in exile on Tatooine. He was the one who started me down the path of becoming a Jedi.”
Master Skywalker continued giving Terra a streamlined history of his path in the Force. From Vader striking down Kenobi, Luke finding Master Yoda and then, finally having to face Vader as his final trial to becoming a Jedi Knight.
“So Anakin Skywalker wasn't the Chosen One after all.” Terra felt the need to say it out loud.
“That depends on your point of view.” Luke answered. “I didn't kill Vader.”
“But you said...”
Luke shook his head. “Despite everything, my father turned away from the dark side and died saving me from the Emperor.”
“How can that make Anakin the Chosen One?” Terra asked.
The Grand Master turned and strode back to the window he'd been looking out when the Old Republic Jedi had entered. Beckoning her over, he pointed down into the courtyard below.
In the middle of the courtyard, surrounded by a large group of people, Jedi and others, stood a man in traditional Jedi robes along with a woman in a simple white dress. The couple held hands while another, important looking man stood before them. The two were obviously in love and Terra felt her hand slowly rise to cover her green lips.
“But, marriage is forbidden in the Jedi Order.” Her voice barely made it out of her mouth.
“Was.” Luke corrected. “I think I understand why the Council decided to forbid marriages then that but I think it had the unintended side effect of isolating the Jedi from the people.”
Terra's head tails stiffen. “What do you mean?”
The Grand Master took a long, slow breath before answering. “Harmony and peace were, and still are, what guide all of us Jedi. Still, if you have only your own voice to hear you don't get much argument but you also don't hear many different perspectives. Things would inevitably go out of balance.”
The Old Republic Jedi started to protest but Master Skywalker continued. “One thing I learned fighting the Empire is that peace isn't the absence of conflict. There is conflict in everything. It's learning to apply understanding that brings true peace. That is when the Force is in balance.”
He turned to look at the woman, hoping she understood what he was trying to say but saw only that same conflict washed over her face. The Grand Master turned and rested a comforting hand on Terra's shoulder.
“We can't isolate ourselves from the galaxy.” He made his voice as softly as he could. “Someday I hope to have a wife of my own that will help me to keep everything in perspective.”
“A married Jedi Grand Master?” The idea was so foreign to her that Terra felt as if she was about to faint.
Luke's hand shifted from comforting to supporting, helping the woman stay up on her feet. Guiding her to a bench along the immaculately decorated wall, Master Skywalker sat the twi'lek down and then did so himself beside her.
“Although, I doubt I'll marry another Jedi.” Luke continued when it was apparent that Terra was going to stay conscious. “I was raised a farmer. I think I'd like to have a wife with that kind of simple background, too.”
“So... if I joined your Order.” Terra rested her elbows on her knees as she spoke. “I could marry and indulge in all the different vices that the galaxy has to offer?”
Master Skywalker shook his head. “Marriage isn't a vice and I didn't say that we lived as other people did. Just that we lived among the people in the galaxy.”
“You have an odd way of looking at things.” She gave the other Jedi a lopsided smirk.
“I could say the same thing to you.” Luke smiled back. “And welcome to the New Jedi Order.”
Back on Coruscant, the newly knighted Jedi, Terra Ysillia, stepped out of the Jedi Council's chamber. She couldn't explain it, but the twi'lek felt... taller somehow. She stood out in the short hall as the Council filed out of the room, some giving her a quiet whisper of congratulations as they passed to continue about on their duties.
Master Yin finally stepped up to her former pupil and tightly wrapped her arms around Terra. “Congratulations, Master Ysillia.”
That sounded so odd to Terra, but also so loving coming from her teacher. “Thank you, Master.”
The human Jedi finally pulled away from the younger woman, although she still kept her hands wrapped around Terra's shoulders. “I like the new robes you've chosen.” Master Yin smiled.
When they returned to the capital, Terra decided not to just change the damamged robes she already had but to get a completely different style. It seemed appropriate now that she was starting a new chapter along her path in the Force.
Instead of the loosed sleeves that were wrapped with straps of black cloth, she had chosen a simple black undershirt with small diamond shaped holes winding down the length of the sleeves. And she chose a sleeveless Jedi style robe top that covered down to her bare thighs. One thing that stayed the same was her thigh high leather boots. They were comfortable and finally broken in and she didn't want to have to train another pair.
She also took the opportunity to repair her lightsaber. When she tried to give Master Yin the green crystal back, Terra's teacher insisted she keep it as a memento of their time together.
“I will miss you, Master.” Terra smiled at Master Yin but there was a hint of sadness behind it.
The older woman chuckled back. “Oh, I think you'll be too busy to notice.”
Obvious confusion covered Terra's face at the other woman's reply. As if she'd been somehow called, Shaak Ti, a member of the Jedi Council walked up to them, giving both other Jedi a greeting bow.
Shaak Ti was togrutan, a race that had head tails similar to twi'leks, although they were wrapped in patterns blue and white lines that grew from two bony protrusions on the top of her head. The Jedi Councilwoman's skin was bright red with white circles around her completely black eyes, making her stand out against the dark chocolate hues of her loose fitting, floor length robes.
“I was just speaking with Master Shaak Ti and she informed me that you would be getting a Padawan of your own soon.” Master Yin smiled proudly from Terra to the Councilwoman.
Shaak Ti nodded in agreement. “It was decided shortly before your ceremony, Master Ysillia. While your apprenticeship was longer than typical, we understand that it was not due to lack of ability and felt it was prudent that you take up this duty as soon as possible.”
“I don't know what to say.” Terra's eyes were locked on the togrutan Jedi. “I'm honored.”
“I am pleased to hear this.” Shaak Ti smiled. “You may be surprised to hear that your Padawan will be the same species as Master Yoda.”
“Really?” While excitement washed through her, Terra also noticed a hint of anxiety creep into the back of her mind.
“You will meet him after you return from delivering the vaccine to Ryotan that you were so instrumental in acquiring.” Shaak Ti said. “Please go and hire a ship to arrange delivery as soon as you are able.”
“Why not now?” Master Yin chimed in. “I didn't train a Jedi who just sits around in the Temple all day.”
Both she and Terra laughed and the Order's newest Jedi Knight excused herself to start her first mission since attaining her new rank. Once she disappeared from sight, the smile on Master Yin's face suddenly disappeared.
“I feel as if I'm never going to see her again.” She said to the Jedi Councilwoman.
“It is strange.” Shaak Ti nodded again. “I do not feel as if she is to die but that her destiny rests... elsewhere.”
“Then why tell her that she was going to be taking on an apprentice?” Master Yin felt a sting at the back of her blue eyes.
“She has been assigned an apprentice. When she doesn't return to meet him, he will be given to another teacher.” Shaak Ti's voice was more gentle than the human had ever heard it before. “Though it may not be with us, Terra does have a future. Until the path she walks becomes clear to her, Terra deserves to know the kind of trust the Order has in her.”
Samson Jhericord stood at the edge of the landing pad as the blue freighter settled onto the surface. The ship didn't look the least bit familiar, yet the pilot asked to see Samson specifically. There was no way to find out why until he spoke to the pilot and the waiting had Samson's curiosity dueling with his wariness.
The hiss of the hydraulics signaled that the boarding ramp on the side of the ship was opening. Once the angled length of metal touched the ground, Aryl Tirani walked down at a pace that was almost too fast to get down safely. But step onto the planet's surface in one piece he did.
He was shorter than Samson, only coming up to about the Jedi's broad shoulders, and wasn't as bulky as the young man. Aryl's leather coat had little cracks forming on the surface and his shirt was a simple white, collarless and definitely not a uniform. So, if he wasn't from the Republic, who was he?
The newcomer strode directly over to the lone, waiting Jedi. “Are you Samson Jhericord?”
Judging by his receding hair line Aryl was older than Samson but seemed far more impatient. Still, despite his eagerness, the pilot wasn't uncivil.
The larger man nodded back. “Jedi Knight of the New Jedi Order. At your service.”
Samson started down the walkway toward the temple. Aryl was immediately at his side.
“Did you recently destroy a ship belonging to a gran by the name of Lees-Bii?” He spoke before Samson could say anything else.
The operation had been legal, so the fact that it happened shouldn't have been an issue. The Jedi couldn't figure out what the main objective of this questioning was, but he could sense that this question wasn't the older man's reason for coming all the way to Yavin 4. So, Samson just had to see where the conversation took them.
“Yes. He was a slave trader and black marketeer supplying forces that wanted to reinstate the Galactic Empire.” The Jedi answered.
“Were there any survivors?” Aryl immediately asked next.
The pilot's anxiety was starting to bleed into the younger man's mind. He arched an eyebrow at Aryl and nodded again.
“There were no casualties at all.” Samson said. “Jedi aren't blood thirsty thugs.”
“I didn't mean it that way. Sorry.” For the first time, Aryl took a deep breath and tried to slow himself down. “I let my eagerness get the better of me. My name is Aryl Tirani.”
The newcomer had regained enough composure to finally introduce himself. That was good. Samson had started to feel as if he was being interrogated. Now that Aryl had decided to start sharing information himself, the Jedi knew the reason for Aryl's arrival would soon be revealed.
Samson tapped the control panel to let the two into the temple. They weaved their way around the wandering Jedi going about their duties in the Strategy Center and continued into the hallway past.
“I was involved in taking down another black market trader.” Aryl continued once it was quiet enough that the men could hear each other without raising their voices. “A former Imperial Captain that took a friend of mine as a slave. He told me that Lees-Bii was the most recent one to buy her.”
The Jedi stopped in his tracks. After a couple of steps, Aryl noticed and turned to face the other man.
“Her?” Samson folded his heavy arms across his chest. “A twi'lek her? Terra Ysillia?”
The older man had indeed gained more control over himself. Even though Aryl's eyes only widened for the briefest of moments, Samson still felt a wave of relief and excitement that would have pushed him into the wall if the emotions had been water.
“She's alive.” Aryl said with a wide smile on his face. “She wasn't hurt was she? Where did you take her after you took the gran down?” He started to get carried away with the questions again and, honestly, didn't care this time.
Until the Jedi held up a hand. “Mr. Tirani. I need a little time between questions to answer.” The good thing about joy was that it was infectious and Samson felt himself start to smile. “Master Ysillia is fine. In fact, she came back with me here to the Temple. After all, she is a Jedi.”
“Came with you?” The corner of the pilot's eye twitched.
Samson's smile only got wider as they started walking again. “Yes. She told me about the singularity that somehow flung her out of the Old Republic into this time and her capture after she saved her friends from the Star Destroyer.”
“I owe her my life for that.” Aryl nodded. “I've been looking for her ever since. It wasn't until I stumbled into an undercover smuggling operation the New Republic was running that I finally found Gregor. And he was my only lead in finding Terra again.”
“Master Ysillia.” Samson corrected.
“Oh, right.” Aryl shrugged.
“So you're ship is the Shade Icarus?” The younger man motioned back toward the landing pad. “If I'd known that, I would have opened with news about Terra.”
“Master Ysillia.” The pilot smirked back, tucking his hands into his trouser pockets.
They walked in silence after that, up a few flights of stairs, twisting and turning through different hallways until, finally, Samson stopped in front of a closed set of blast doors. They were highly polished black durasteel and the only way to open them was a panel on the side furthest from the visiting pilot.
“Where are we?” Aryl asked, looking up and down the hallway for some kind of sign.
“You did want to see Master Ysillia, right?” Samson's hand hovered over buttons.
“Really? Right now? It's okay?” Aryl reflexively ran a hand through his brown hair with one hand while tugging down on his leather jacket with the other.
“It's your choice.” Samson said. “I should give you one word of warning, though.”
The other man looked up at the Jedi with a furrowed brow. “And what's that?”
“She thinks you are dead.”
END OF TRIALS, PART FIVE: New Beginnings
TRIALS, PART SIX
By Spencer Stoner
“It's not that we're scared. Far from it. It's just that we have this thing about death. It's not us.”
Terra nodded, her disappointment evident on her face as she turned away from the furry copilot. Leaving the freighter behind, Terra started for the next landing pad. The list of ships available was quickly dwindling.
The reasons they refused the contract varied. The Ryotan System was at the edge of what many referred to as “Wild Space”, well away from most established trade routes. As many of these ships relied on those routes for jobs, the time it would take for delivery would likely mean they would miss out on more lucrative, less time consuming jobs.
Others balked at the mention of the word “plague”. Once they heard that, they automatically refused. Terra tried to explain that they wouldn't actually be coming into contact with anyone infected with the Liveand virus, only delivering the to the largest hospital so they can start manufacturing the vaccine for distribution.
Still they refused and, with the journey to take two weeks, the “Jedi Mind Trick” would not only wear off and then the entire crew would likely turn the ship around anyway. So the Jedi Knight had no choice but to move on.
Terra walked down to the next level and around to the other side of the tall tower. Landing pads lined the outside of the tower like spokes from a wheel and Terra was getting closer and closer to the bottom.
Every door out to the landing pads had large windows so that potential customers could see the ships they could hire, as well as a screen next to the doorway to provide carrying capacities and other technical information. The next port was rented out to a pilot named Aryl Tirani.
A quick perusal of the ship's specs showed it to actually be smaller than typical freighters but still plenty big enough for a small shipment like thirty boxes of Nrael vaccine. Through the window, Terra could see the ship was boxy, as was common with freighters, but surface of the vehicle was so polished it was almost like a mirror.
Terra could see a couple of people, one being a Mon Calamari and the other a human, presumably Aryl Tirani, walking back and forth beside the ship with various tools. A brass astromech droid rolled out of the ship, called the Shade Icarus, delivering another box of tools to the human.
With a tap of a few buttons, the doors slid open. Terra was almost blown off her feet from the sudden gust of wind that erupted through the opened passage.
This was one of the lowest ports of this tower, which also made it one of the least desirable to pilots who routinely flew back and forth from planet to planet and didn't want to deal with maneuvering between buildings or dealing with the sudden powerful gusts of wind such narrow confines created.
Only the least reputable or newest pilots settled down on this level. As far as Terra could tell, this Aryl Tirani was one of the latter, originating from the planet Naboo. As for how reputable he was, if he indeed was new to the Core Region of the galaxy, there was no way to truly tell yet.
“I'm telling you, Gingi,” Aryl's voice carried on the wind. “What we need is a twi'lek dancer on our ads to get people in here.”
No one working on the ship noticed Terra as she approached. Aryl crouched over the box the droid had given him, digging through it to find a specific device.
“We're delivery boys, Aryl. What in the world does a twi'lek have to do with flying supplies from point A to point B?”
Aryl let out a quiet curse and looked back at the Mon Calamari. “Have you seen the blasted fusion cutter?”
Only then did he notice that Gingi had it tucked in his belt. Aryl straightened up, stomped over to his copilot and snatched the missing tool before the other man could say anything else. Then he bent down and slipped under the ship where a panel laid open waiting for him.
“Who said twi'leks have to do with anything?” The human started talking again as sparks rained down around his knees, the gusting breeze thankfully pushed the little burning pieces away from him. “Pretty much every species thinks twi'leks are hot. All she would have to do is wiggle her hips and we'd have people lining up to hire us.”
“We wouldn't be able to afford-” That was when the Mon Calamari noticed the approaching Jedi.
He rolled his massive eyes and let out a curse that Terra wouldn't have heard if not for the wind. He tried clearing his throat when Aryl continued talking.
“No one said we had to hire her. If we find the right one, she may even do more than- OW!”
Gingi threw a wrench that bounced off the metal landing pad and hit the human in the hip. His face tight with anger, Aryl shuffled out from under the ship... and then noticed Terra standing only steps from them. The color drained from his face and the Jedi could sense that he felt exceptionally foolish and wondered why his copilot hadn't warned him sooner. That last part wasn't the Force as much as seeing him glare at the Mon Calamari out of the corner of his eye.
Tossing the fusion cutter into the little box of other tools, Aryl looked up at Terra with an uneasy smile. “Can we help you, Master Jedi?”
“Terra Ysillia, Jedi Knight from Coruscant.” Terra's emerald lips split into a wide smile at the men.
Saying where she was from while still on the same planet seemed redundant but it was the first time she introducing herself as a Jedi Knight and she just felt as if it needed to be said. Her smile at the crew of the Icarus was genuine. Part was genuine amusement at their befuddlement but there was also something she couldn't describe, particularly when she looked at the pilot.
“I was hoping that I could hire your ship to go to the Ryotan System.” She said, pretending to have not heard what Aryl said earlier.
And the relief practically made the human glow. “The Ryotan System? What's so important that you want to go into Wild Space?”
Terra felt herself brace for the coming rejection. “I need to deliver vaccine to stop a plague that's spreading across Ryotan.”
Gingi's eyes practically jumped on either side of his leathery head. “Plague?! Count me out!”
“You wouldn't have to come into contact with anyone or even set foot on the planet. We just need to get thirty boxes to the hospital on the main continent and leave.” Terra's tone swayed more toward pleading than she had planned.
Aryl slipped his hands into his trouser pockets, seeming to physically chew on his thoughts before he spoke. “I take it you're pretty desperate if you've come all the way down here. All the fanciest, fastest ships turned you down?”
There wasn't any point in lying. “Yes.” Terra answered, her head tails laying limp on her shoulders.
The pilot looked over at his Mon Calamari partner. Gingi looked as if he was in a panic because Aryl was even considering the job. Then Aryl wiggled his head. Gingi grunted. Aryl shrugged. Gingi's lips pressed together and parted with a quiet pop. Aryl nodded and Gingi's shoulders slumped.
The human turned his attention back to Terra. “5000 in advance.”
That was far... less than she'd expected. “You're sure?” The Jedi asked.
The Mon Calamari seemed just as shocked. He actually reached out to grab Aryl's arm but the pilot only turned and smirked back at his copilot.
“I'm a sucker for helping others. What can I say?” He shrugged, a soft chuckle escaping his lips.
“Not to mention the good word of mouth of helping a Jedi deliver medicine in your advertisements.” Terra grinned back.
Aryl's face flushed. Gingi was obviously shocked. Apparently, she had been right about what the pilot had been thinking.
The human shook his head to right himself and spoke up again. “When did you want to get going?”
“Let me just get out of this wind and I'll call the shipment over now.” Terra turned and started back for the tower.
The wind whipped the Jedi's chocolate colored cloak away from her body. She had to cross her arms over her chest to keep it from being whipped off completely. As she neared the structure, Aryl could have sworn he saw Terra give her hips a wiggle at them before stepping inside.
The black blast doors opened with a heavy hydraulic hum, revealing the interior of the room to Aryl and Samson. Stone columns ran through the space in seemingly random patterns. The moss coating their surfaces were only interrupted by scorch marks from numerous strikes from lightsabers on a setting too weak to cut through the material but would surely sting if it hit flesh.
The wideness is what caught the pilot by surprise. The room seemed almost too big to fit inside the tiered temple, especially here on one of the higher floors. But there was no sign of Terra.
As they looked around, the whirring of machinery started quietly but it quickly got louder and louder. Then a steady pattern of thumps echoed between the carved columns. After a few moments, a massive droid appeared.
It wasn't a type Aryl was familiar with. It had four legs that were easily as thick around as the human's torso and radiated from a middle point where a black metal cylinder, as thick around as the legs with numerous compartment panels, rose above the limbs and served as the hub. Charging at the two men, the cylinder rotated until two ones popped out of opposite sides. With a hiss, yellow light emerged from one while blue grew from the other. The droid was armed with lightsabers!
Aryl felt Samson's hand wrap around his shoulder and pull him toward the entrance but the feel of cold metal against his back told him that the blast doors had already closed. The younger man positioned himself between the pilot and the charging droid. Aryl suddenly felt foolish for not bringing a blaster. The muscular Jedi reached for his own weapon at the small of his back when a flash of green suddenly streaked in front of them.
A lightsaber with an emerald hued blade crashed into the amber light that slashed for Samson, interrupting its strike. Then it flipped back at the base of the blue blade, cutting the end of the emitter off so that weapon immediately collapsed in a shower of sparks. Then the green lightsaber flew back toward the columns.
But the droid and men's attention were drawn to the figure that caught the weapon. It was Terra. She was again in jedi style robes, although without the cloak at the moment. The way she wore them very much reminded Aryl of the way she was dressed back on the Shade Icarus, with some minor differences.
Her headdress, while black and with short horns covered where her ears were was like before, it wrapped tightly around the base of both her lekku The robes themselves were again sleeveless but had lengths of leather that ran over her shoulders, along the lapels and down past her belt. The black shirt she wore under the robes had rows of squares cut out instead of the pattern of diamonds to reveal the jade skin beneath. She still wore thigh high boots, although they were cut far differently from the pair she had worn in the past.
Without acknowledging either man, Terra charged at the droid. The amber blade swung around to defend the machine. As the droid and woman dueled, spheres big enough to hold in one hand emerged from the top of the cylinder and started floating around the machine.
Blaster bolts rained from the spheres at the twi'lek Jedi, forcing her to jump back out of the range of the droid's blades. The bursts of red light deflected off of her green blade and back at the spheres themselves, destroying them. But it gave the larger machine enough time to deploy two more lightsabers, violet and ruby colored this time, out from the cylinder.
The droid and the woman Jedi moved so quickly it was hard for Aryl to keep track of what was happening. Terra slashed the purple lightsaber away from the cylinder, all while avoiding the yellow and red blades and jumping from atop one of the droid's four legs to another.
The maneuvers were impressive but the strain on the woman's face was evident. Still, she kept fighting, the combatants getting further and further away from the two visitors. It wasn't until Samson's own lightsaber hissed to life that the other Jedi showed any sign that she knew they were there.
“No! Turn that off before the droid detects it and stay away!” She yelled at them before focusing back on the machine.
When she ducked under the red blade and it sliced through one of the columns as if it wasn't there, the droid wasn't using training sabers. But Samson did as he was told and slipped his now inactive weapon back into the holster on his belt.
“Why aren't you going to help?” Aryl's eyes narrowed at the other man.
The muscular Jedi's answer was simple. “Because she's going to win.”
With the sound of crackling energy, Terra's emerald lightsaber pushed hard against the amber blade of the droid. Her teeth clenching with effort, she forced the machine's weapon down until it severed its own leg from the rest of its body. As it toppled down, Terra's blade swept up and severed the hub from its base and the droid suddenly powered down with a fast and fading series of beeps.
“Very impressive.” Samson said.
Before the pilot could even move, the younger man was walking toward the twi'lek. Terra turned off her lightsaber and returned it to her belt before turning to face Samson.
“Thank you.” She replied. “Gwildor asked me to test a new design of training droid for him. I think it's a little too aggressive.” She gave the severed leg a quick kick and smiled at the other Jedi. “What are you doing here, anyway? You know better than to come into a room with an active session running.”
She gave the other Jedi the same lopsided grin she often gave Aryl when they traveled together on the Icarus. Terra wrapped her arms around her back and simply watched as Samson drew closer, her weight shifting from one foot to the other. That is, until her gray eyes caught sight of the other figure behind him.
“Who's that with you?” Her smiling face turned tight and strict like an angry teacher's at the younger man. “You definitely should have waited outside if you were with someone who isn't Force trained!”
“It's not his fault.” Aryl finally spoke. “He was only doing what I asked. To get me to you as fast as possible.” He started toward Terra.
“Wait... who?” If it hadn't been for her hand finding the bottom half of the chopped column behind her, Terra would have certainly lost her footing when she saw the pilot.
The woman's face looked almost as gray as her eyes as she stared at the approaching man. She thought for sure she was seeing a ghost, although she was taught that he should have been surrounded by light, if that had been the case.
“Aryl.” She whispered.
He nodded back as he stepped up beside Samson. “Yes. It's me, Terra.” The smile on his face was wide but at the same time, revealed the jumping nerves it was trying to hide.
“You're alive.” Her knuckles were white as they gripped at the stones behind her for support.
The pilot's eyes shot a quick glance at the other man. “Yeah. I didn't know that you'd heard otherwise.”
“It's been a long time.” Color slowly returned to Terra's face.
Aryl nodded. “Too long.” He suddenly found it hard to swallow.
“You never came.” Her eyes drifted down to the cobbled together floor.
“I'm sorry, Terra.” Aryl wanted to rush to her but the other, taller man stood just in his path. “I never stopped looking for you. Gregor was clever and it took time to get the resources to...”
“The Jedi saved me.” She said quietly, as if she hadn't heard the pilot's words. “Samson found me and brought me here.”
Terra's eyes couldn't rise from the floor. Though she didn't see that Aryl looked as if he'd been physically struck, she felt the pain radiate from him... and everything Gregor forced her to do to him came flooding into the woman's mind.
“Get him out of here, Samson.” Her eyes shut tight and Terra turned away from the men. “Now!”
“But, Terra...” Samson looked back and forth from Aryl to the twi'lek.
“Now!” She repeated, forcing herself not to scream the word.
This time the Force provided emphasis, pushing the muscular man back several steps. Samson wrapped a hand around Aryl's shoulder and again pulled him back toward the entrance. When the pilot looked up at the other man to protest the sadness in Samson's face made the words stop in his throat. Reluctantly both men left the wide open room.
After the hydralics shut the doors together with a heavy slap, an even heavier sob escaped from the woman. Terra tumbled to her knees, her forehead resting against the cold stone of the severed column as tears streamed from her eyes.
She believed him! She believed Gregor! Her fist slammed against the column.
Aryl was alive and she had given up on him! She felt something in her hand snap when her fist again smashed into the stone.
He never gave up on her. Even after everything she did to him! Terra let out a scream that echoed back and forth through the spacious room.
Aryl... he didn't hold any animus toward her. She tried to blink the blurriness from her vision. There was only relief and, and Terra couldn't say the other thing but she had felt the joy in the pilot at seeing her. She felt her emerald lips involuntarily stretch.
Terra got to see Aryl again as a free woman. He didn't have to see her in the indignity of being a slave. She thanked the Force for that. Perhaps that was why he couldn't find her. Maybe she would have succumbed to humiliation then.
Still... so much time had passed. Had Aryl truly forgiven her? Did he only search for her out of a sense of pity? No, she didn't feel that that in him at all.
A small, quiet laugh escaped from the woman's now smiling lips. The memories of the short couple of weeks they'd had together. The conversations, fixing one thing or another in the ship's systems together, even just sitting together in silence as the stars streaked by, those could all happen again. Yesterday it was impossible but today it was a very real possibility.
Wiping the streams of water from her face, the Jedi finally looked around the training room. The three closest columns were demolished, with dust fluttering down from the ceiling, and the droid's remains beside Terra were as flat as a mynock's wing. She had certainly lost control. So, as far as she'd gone along the path to recovery, Terra saw that she was still, in fact, far from whole.
When the training room doors slammed shut behind Samson and Aryl, the pilot let out a loud curse. Then he suddenly felt the need to reach out and brace himself against the wall.
“I failed her.” He rasped.
Samson's massive arms folded across his chest. “What do you mean?”
Aryl started to glare at the Jedi but saw the genuine confusion on the other man's face. “I let her stay on that Star Destroyer! She was a slave for years because I wasn't able to find her! You had to do it! It's no wonder she can't forgive me!”
“Can't forgive you?” Samson motioned for the pilot to follow him down the same flight of stairs that led the up to this level of the temple. “Terra never blamed you for any of what happened to her.”
The look on the older man's face was hard. He didn't believe the younger Jedi's words.
“Terra would have freed herself without my help. I ran across her as she was escaping Lees-Bii's ship. I even fought her, thinking she was some kind of mercenary hired to protect the gran. Once she beat me...” The heavily muscled man ignored Aryl's chuckle as they continued down the hallway. “We went back to my ship and she told me about what happened.”
“About the gravity well and the Pathos?” The pilot asked, his face a mixture of confusion and rapt attention.
“And afterward.” Samson chewed on the inside of his cheek for a long moment. “We spoke for most of the trip back from Ord Mantell. She told me about Gregor selling her for supplies to outfit Imperial loyalists. And then every owner she was sold to after that.”
“Why would Gregor or anyone else have sold her?” Ayrl's attention drifted back over his shoulder for a moment before his mouth twisted into a deep frown. “I would never have let her go if I had a choice.”
“Not just anyone can be a Jedi, Aryl.” Samson said as he walked beside the pilot. “You have to be a person of strong will and that doesn't make for a very controllable slave.”
Despite the raw feelings running through him, Aryl smirked and nodded in agreement. “I'm just glad none of them thought to cut their losses by killing her.”
Samson stopped walking right in the middle of the hallway. Only steps from the door at the end of the hall, the other man turned to face the Jedi. Silence stood between the two men for a long time. If the silence had been water, both men would have likely drowned before Samson spoke again.
“I don't want to violate any confidences here, Aryl.” The Jedi said. “But you're right. If Terra had not done at least some of what they ordered her to do, she would have been killed.”
Aryl's face went slack. His breath was hard to catch and sweat beaded his skin so completely that his clothes suddenly felt damp against his body.
The pilot felt as if he was speaking around dry leather. “Then I did fail her. She wouldn't have to have gone through all that if I had-”
“You would all be dead now.” Samson shook his head. “With as many owners as Terra went through there was no way you would have been able to find her before now. It was the will of the Force that she find her way back into the Order now, after it had a firm root back in the New Republic.”
Aryl clenched his fists together so tight that his knuckles cracked loud enough for both men to hear. “Why would the Force do something like that to her?”
The voice of Luke Skywalker suddenly came from behind Aryl. “Because the Force was trying to prepare her for this time. The New Republic is still like a child and practically defenseless. Only so many Jedi can be trained at any one time and the Order needs experienced Knights like Terra to stop those that would destroy the Republic now.”
The door that led into the Strategy Center stood wide open but neither man had noticed before now. Aryl turned to face the Grand Master who was easily ten years younger than him. The pilot was taller than Skywalker, and more solidly built, but the Jedi leader didn't seem intimidated by their size difference. Still, the pilot stepped closer to the other man with a deep scowl on his face.
“And that's supposed to make me feel better about what happened?” He simply asked the Grand Master.
“It put both of you on a path with a destiny to face.” Luke replied.
“Which is?” Aryl frowned.
“You just happen to have a freighter. The Order always needs supplies delivered from all over the galaxy.” Master Skywalker grinned as he continued. “Also, I know a certain Jedi Knight that would appreciate a familiar face and needs transport from here on her next mission.”
“A certain Jedi Knight, eh?” Aryl's eyes flicked back to Samson but he knew who the Grand Master actually meant. “When do we start?”
END OF Reunions, THE FINAL EPISODE OF TRIALS