Turning off the engines of the ship he was in, Anakin Solo sighed. Twenty years ago today his uncle had vanished without a trace and for the past year Anakin had been out looking for him. But it had proven to be a fruitless search; no one seemed to know anything about where his uncle might have gone to. Some of the Force sensitive people he had come across said that he had probably died, as Luke's presence in the Force had vanished, but Anakin didn't believe it. His uncle's presence hadn't vanished suddenly, the way it would have if he had died, it had happened slowly and gently, almost as if it had been hidden.
Shaking his head, Anakin stood up. He had returned to New Alderaan to visit his mother and his siblings, as he knew they would all be here to remember Luke. Picking up his bag, he exited his ship and locked it up before heading towards his mother's house. Making his way there along familiar streets as the sky slowly darkened he couldn't help but remember the days before the Droid Wars when he and his uncle had walked together along these same streets.
Anakin smiled as he reached the gate to his mother's home. After Leia had stepped down as President of the New Republic, she had decided to move here to New Alderaan. It was a beautiful planet, and didn't have the stress of the capitol. Making his way through the garden his smile broadened when he saw his mother waiting at the door.
"Anakin," Leia said as she embraced her forty-two year old son. "It's good to finally have you back. I was beginning to wonder if you'd ever return."
"Hey, mom," Anakin replied as he returned her embrace, pressing his face into her long gray-white hair, before stepping back. "How are you?"
"Fine," Leia responded as she turned around and let Anakin in the house. "Did you have any success locating Luke?"
"No," Anakin replied sadly, then brightened as he entered the living room and saw his older brother sitting on the couch along with his wife. "Jacen, Tenel Ka."
"Anakin," Jacen said as he got to his feet and engulfed his younger brother in a hug. "How are you?"
"Fine," Anakin replied before he reached over and shook Tenel Ka's left hand.
It was awkward, but Tenel Ka had lost her right arm while at the Academy. She and Jacen had been practicing with their lightsabers when her lightsaber, due to bad construction, had malfunction and deactivated. Jacen's lightsaber had shot forward and cut off her arm just above the elbow. Being the Princess of the Hapes Cluster, Tenel Ka had some of the best doctors at her service to give her one of the best prosthetic available. However, for reasons Anakin knew he would never understand, she had refused to accept any prosthetic; thus leaving her without a right arm.
"And how are you, Tenel Ka?" Anakin asked smiling at his brother's wife.
"I'm fine, Anakin."
"And the kids?" Anakin inquired. "How are they?"
"The children are fine. They're at home," Tenel Ka replied just as Jaina entered the room.
"Little brother," Jaina exclaimed before embracing Anakin. "You're finally back."
"Jaina," Anakin replied. "My favorite sister. Where's Rava Sevel and Chewie?"
"I'm your only sister," Jaina stated as she pulled back, laughing softly. "As to Rava and Chewie, they're off visiting their families. We decided that we'd all have a break since we've been out freeing slaves for the past year or so."
"Well I'm sure it pays to see their faces when you free them," Leia said as she moved towards the couch with a grace that clearly showed her royal upbringing. "Now come; sit. I think we all have a lot of catching up to do, it's been over a year since we've all been together. I had the kitchen help prepare us a nice dinner for later on."
Anakin smiled as he sat down on one of the couches; Jaina sitting next to him. It felt good to be home again, to be together with his family. The only person now missing, except his dead father, was Luke.
Part 1: The Stranger
I feel removed from time, ageless and serene, as I walk these halls, familiar and yet unfamiliar. For years now, I have known the teachings of an order alien to this galaxy, beyond what Jedi or Sith have ever known, a meeting of the Dark and the Light, a perfect Balance that very few indeed can achieve, and even less have the ability to attempt. I was one of those few, but the Order observed me for decades before they decided I was truly fit, and waited years again before they approached me. When the time was perfect, when distractions and obligations were at their absolute minimum, when I could feel that I was no longer needed so much that I could indeed undertake the silent journey with a Master of the Order to reach the temple to Balance that exists on the very edge of the galaxy, so far away from the centre that it borders another galaxy, then I was approached. Always hungry for knowledge of the Force, I agreed with little internal conflict. The first thing I learned from the Order was that I barely understood the Force, that the taking of sides as the Jedi and Sith always have is illogical and foolish. And yet few beings can do without this side-taking, as unlikely as remaining completely neutral in a raging, eternal war.
Now I am treading the natural beauty of this rather newly settled world, and no one sees me. That is something of what contributes to the ageless feeling, of being removed from all time. Another is that, though I age as regularly in appearance as any human being does, I am stretched out along the racks of time, I am old and young at once. I will live far longer than any human is meant to, as I am a part of the Balance, a feature of the universe itself, now. I never would have understood that before.
The Force lets me walk past all beings, not exactly invisible so much a part of the scenery. I past security checks set subtly about by playing that same 'trick', upon the machinery, which it does work upon, strange that may seem to some. Mechanical such things may be, and thus not part of nature, but they are part of the universe, and so part of the Force.
I make my way inexorably to my destination, a dwelling from which I hear the faint sounds of conversation and rather subdued laughter. Laughter, though, none the less. I am glad that they are still happy, after all the torment that Fate has inflicted upon them.
I enter silently, and watch them carefully, noting how they have aged as much as I have, but in a far more human fashion. Still, their eyes are full of life, of a vibrancy that I know the quiet blending of the Balance has drained out of me, replacing it with the silver-grey of Forceful perfection.
At last, after some minutes simply standing and watching, I decide to reveal myself, letting my body and soul, my Force aura, disengage from from their melding with the environment. They notice me immediately, but they do not recognize me.
"Who are you?" the old woman demands, her voice imperious and devoid of the warmth that she reserves for her family and friends. And though I am proud of her regal bearing, I feel left out, and bereft of all warmth myself.
"Don't you know me, Leia?" I feel compelled to ask all the same. "I'm your brother."
"Luke?" she asks with so much doubt in her voice that I know she doesn't believe me.
However, the kids rose at my words, trying to probe me with the skills I taught them long ago. Looking at them I let a small smile appear on my face. They have changed so much since the last time I saw them. Jacen and Tenel Ka are still together, which doesn't surprise me in the least. The attraction between them was obvious to me from the moment I first saw them together. Jaina looks the way my sister once did and Anakin is clearly a younger version of myself.
"You're not Uncle Luke," Jacen declares, unable to find the Force presense he was looking to find.
"Yes I am," I reply as I lower my mental shields, granting access to my mind and soul, knowing that while my Force aura has changed, they have not. "Look."
Leia hesitates before she slowly reaches out with a tendril of the Light Side and enters my mind, exactly the way I taught her to do all those years ago. Studying her mind as she studies mine, I see her thoughts for, although she has her mental shields up, her shields are only strong enough to block out someone using only the Light Side or only the Dark Side.
She gasps as she recognizes my mind, and I can see tears appear in her eyes as I'm suddenly overwhelmed by the wave of joy and love radiating from her. Pulling back from her mind, I smile at her as she rushes up to me. It has been a long time since I have felt so much emotion, both from myself or from someone else. That is one of the results of becoming a student of the Order of Balance, your emotions become more and more balanced as you progress from student to master until you can no longer feel the extremes of any emotion; whether anger, hate, love, or joy. It is, however, but a small price to pay to become one with the Force.
"Luke!" Leia says as she flings herself into my open arms. "It's really you! You're alive!"
Laughing softly at her amazement, I pull her closer to me, pressing my face into her hair.
"Uncle Luke!" Anakin says as he throws himself at me the moment Leia releases me. "Where have you been? I've searched all over for you!"
"What?" I ask, pretending to be surprised.
"When you didn't come back I went looking for you," Anakin replies as he steps back and looks at me. "I can see now that even if I had run into you, I would never have realised it. You've changed so much!"
"In more ways then you suspect, Anakin," I reply and feel curiosity appear in everyone within the room. "But then, so have have all of you."
"Twenty years will do that," Jaina says, a harsh edge to her voice.
Looking at her, I realise that she's slightly angry at me. Not that I can blame her. I did disappear quite suddenly for twenty years without a word of warning. But it wasn't like I could tell anyone where I was going back then; and even now I'll only be able to tell them only part of what I've done since I disappeared. Hopefully she'll understand, it isn't as if I would have gone if they had desperately needed me.
"Indeed it will," I reply as I reach out and embrace her. "I've missed you."
"So have we, Uncle Luke," Jacen says as I pull back from Jaina and embrace him. "Welcome home."
"Thank you," I reply before I turn to Tenel Ka and shake her left hand. "Still refusing a prosthetic?"
"Yes, Master Skywalker," she smiles. "Now and forever."
"Well, if you won't take a prosthetic how about letting me heal you instead?" I ask softly.
"What?" Leia asks. "That's impossible!"
"No, it isn't," I say; and then Tenel Ka gasps.
"Master Skywalker's hand," she says as she turns my right hand over in her palm. "It's real! Master Skywalker healed it?!"
"Yes," I reply as Leia walks up and looks at my hand.
"How did you do this?" she asks, looking up at me.
"It's a long story," I reply.
"Well, we've got all evening," Jaina states, gesturing towards the couches. She stops as her eyes fall on my belt. "Where's your lightsaber?"
"Gone," I reply as I look to see one hanging from everyone's belt except Leia's.
"How?" Leia asks. "Did you lose it?"
"No," I reply, knowing that this is going to be a very long night. "I have no more need of it."
"But--" Anakin begins.
"Why don't we do as Jaina suggested and sit down so that I can tell you what I can," I interrupt as I sit down on the closest couch. "That will save us a lot of time and unnecessary confusion."
"Okay," Leia replies as she and the kids all seat themselves around me.
Part 2: The Tale
"First off," I state, knowing they will not like what I have to say, but feeling the emotionless assurance that there is no other choice but to say it and to abide by it, "I cannot tell you everything of what has happened. I am bound by rules that I believe in, and I am not willing to break them. I will tell you what I am allotted. No more, no less."
Jaina scowls at me, and I know that she is displeased with this. As are the others, but they obtain a more successful masking of their reactions.
"Tell us what you can, Luke," Leia says, though both she and I know perfectly well that, later on, when the others are gone, she will doubtless badger me for further information that she will not receive.
I nod to her, however, and, seeing no reason to further delay the telling, I lean back into the cushions, feeling the unfamiliar softness of it.
"There is more to the Force than the Jedi," I begin, "You know this. You have witnessed the Dark Jedi, heard of the Sith Order, listened to tales of the White Current, and other organizations of discipline. There is always in these a problem, however, and it is always the same problem. They utilise but bits and pieces, individual parts, of the Force, of the universal energies, and so the adapts themselves are unbalanced. There is another way, however, a perfect Balance of Dark and Light, and all things in between and beyond. An ancient Order, older than all others, but far more isolated, reclusive, and elusive. Its members are very few, carefully selected and handpicked beings who are observed over long periods of time before they are contacted. Should they accept, they are led to the world upon which the Order resides by a Master of the Order. There are no Knights in this Order. You are either a student, or a Master. When you obtain that perfect Balance with the Force, with the universe itself, then you move beyond the rank of student. It is as simple as that," I pause for a moment to take a breath.
"There are Masters, silent and seeming ordinary, undetectable to all Force adapts save other Masters of Balance, throughout the entire galaxy. They have been there, silent, observing, and recording, almost never interfering, throughout the history of sentient life in this galaxy. We preserve the Order in this manner, and we preserve knowledge, and history. Through the destruction of both Sith and Jedi, never has the Balance intervened, though both Orders were as important to Dark and Light as any have ever been. We are neutral; we do not interfere."
"I was observed for many years before I was contacted, in a time when the Academy was ran by others. My family, you, were peaceful, and without need of my aide, and I was hungry for further knowledge. Understand that the choice is presented frankly. Accept the training, and leave with no warning or forwarding knowledge, or consent to having your memory of the offer erased. Few have ever refused. I did not, either," I pause, noting their vaguely upset expressions. No doubt they are thinking that though they did not need my aide, they needed my love and companionship.
"I needed to do this, for myself. I had done all I could for the galaxy, and I desired the knowledge," I answer their unspoken protests. Even as Leia's lips compress disapprovingly, I see understanding in her eyes. Duty means a great deal to her, but she also knows the pain of living one's life for others, without taking time to fulfill your own needs.
I feel my mind drifting backwards in time, though, to that fateful day...
Approximately 20 years previous
I smiled as I looked about the cantina. Everything on Fresai was so calm and peaceful, even the bars! I stood up then, placed a credit on the table and headed outside. Walking towards the spaceport and my ship I looked around at the buildings of Pradez, the capitol of Fresai, one last time. Two weeks ago I came here to look for a rumoured Force sensitive individual, but found none.
Sighing, I entered the spaceport and headed towards my new ship. It was a small, fast and elegant one man ship which had everything I needed for long journeys, including a state of the art defense system in case I ran into any trouble. Luckily I hadn't needed to use it since the end of the wars. However there were still times when I longed for the old days when I had my X-wing with Artoo in the back. He always managed to keep me busy during those long flights. Now I normally let myself slip into a Force trance to pass the journey.
As I approached my ship, I saw an older looking man next to it, walking alongside the ship as though he were inspecting it. Slightly concerned I reached out with a tendril of the Force to see if the man had any hostile intentions, but instead of finding the mind of a human I came up against some sort of wall. Confused I probed further, looking to see if the man was a Jedi or perhaps a Dark Jedi, but I could find nothing but the wall.
Suddenly the man turned around and smiled at me.
"Jedi Master Luke Skywalker," he stated without a trace of doubt.
"That's me," I replied cautiously. "And who are you?"
"Jarril Unso," the man replied before he looked around. "We need to talk, but not out here."
"Talk about what?" I asked cautiously.
"The Force," he answered simply. "If you're interested, of course."
I hesitated for another minute, wondering just who Jarril was and why he wanted to talk with me, but then, unable to pass up the opportunity to learn more about the Force, I followed him to his ship and boarded it. I looked about the inside of the ship, trying to identify the culture that made it, but was unable to even make a guess. I'd never seen anything like that design.
"Now that we are alone I can fully introduce myself," Jarril said, instantly gaining my attention. "My name is indeed Jarril Unso. I am Master of The Balance."
"The Balance?" I asked.
"Yes. The Balance is an Order," Jarril started.
"Like the Jedi and the Sith?" I questioned, wondering why I had never heard of this Order despite all my searches for more Force knowledge.
"It is an Order which uses the Force. However, unlike the Jedi or the Sith, we don't take Sides," Jarril stated as he watched me closely.
"Don't take Sides?" I asked, completely confused.
"We don't use the Dark Side or the Light Side," Jarril said patiently. I got the feeling he had gone through this conversation before, with others.
"Don't use the Dark Side or the Light Side?" I repeated, trying to sort things out. "Then what do you use?"
"The Force," Jarril stated simply. "Not the Light Side, not the Dark Side, just the Force."
"How do you do that?" I asked.
"If you knew that then you'd be a Master of The Balance as well," Jarril replied with amusement. "However, we have been watching you for several years and have decided to teach you if you are willing to learn from us."
"Just like that?" I questioned, once again wondering why I hadn't heard of this Order before that day, and slightly uncomfortable with the thought that I'd been watched for years and never knew about it.
"No," Jarril said as he looked straight into my eyes. "There are several rules you will have to follow if you want to become a student in the ways of the Balance. First of all, you are forbidden to give the location of the planet on which we teach to anyone except to a new student whom we have agreed can take the training. Second you can tell no one where you are going. If you accept the offer to become a student in the ways of the Balance you will come with me now and not tell anyone. You will simply disappear. Now, I know this may be hard, especially since you have family, but we have waited until now to ask you, as your disappearance won't cause any disasters to them or others under your protection."
"And if I refuse, what then?" I asked. "I know about the existence of your Order."
"If you refuse, I'll have to erase our whole discussion from your memory," Jarril stated.
I leaned back in the chair and thought about the offer. What Jarril said was true. The Academy was running smoothly without me, and Leia and the kids were fine and didn't need me then. Jarril's offer was a once in a lifetime opportunity to learn more about the Force. The last was something I'd always longed for. The understand the Force.
"Good," Jarril said. "I set up one of the cabins for you. You can either head there now, or sit in the co-pilot's seat while we take off."
"We're leaving now?" I asked, somewhat surprised despite his no-nonsense attitude. "Shouldn't we stop off at the Academy first to gather some of my belongings?"
"No," he replied. "Your students and co-workers will note my ship and wonder at the design and the owner. It may give them clues to your destination. I've purchased civilian clothing in your sizes for the journey, and whatever grooming necessities you require will be tended to."
"I've not seen this design anywhere previously," I protested, ignoring the implications of his knowledge of my clothing sizes, knowing it was more important that I did not want to depart my life as had been for decades without one last glimpse at my students, if not my family.
"We have no time," he repeated emotionlessly, relentlessly, and I underwent a doubletake in reaction. The man had seemed informative and co-operative, if somewhat impersonal up to that point, but now he appeared almost droid-like in his presentation.
He noted my discomfiture blandly, but said nothing more than, "Pick your travelling place," before he exited the ship's living quarters for the cockpit.
I hesitated for a moment, knowing that he took advantage of my surprise in order to hasten our departure without further discussion. I heard the engines begin, humming throughout the ship, and I followed, irritated but slightly understanding. I suddenly reminded myself of those new Jedi Academy students who have stalled for long periods of time in order to be reassured that they are making the right choice. I was slightly nervous over my own choice, but somehow doubted that the man piloting the ship was one for reassurances. He could be friendly when he needed to be, but his blank mental wall, irrefutable protection against, at the least, any Jedi, said far more about him than his introduction.
I stood up and walked to the cockpit, wondering if I was making assumptions and snap judgements over a man that I'd known for five minutes, give or take a few seconds. I tend to trust my own judgment, but first impressions have steered me wrong in the past, I know. I thought with a grimace of Obi-Wan, seemingly so trust worthy, and my own father, seeming so dark and hopeless,and then decided to view Jarril through open eyes. All beings, after all, deserve a second chance.
"Where are we headed?" I asked as I sat down in the co-pilot's seat, absently ruffling a hand through my gray-brown hair.
"I will tell you what it is called when we arrive," he replied. "In case you happen to change your mind along the way."
"I won't be changing my mind," I said sourly, irritated by his seeming paranoia. "And you would simply erase my memory in any case."
"It is best to take no chances," he replied simply.
I sat still as we broke the planet's atmosphere, feeling the heaviness of my own choice descend upon me. I was determined to maintain my own Jedi calm, however, no matter what happened.
"Should you remain upon that course you have chosen," he remarked, "You will not be a Jedi."
I was shocked with the effortless manner in which he read my thoughts through my heavy shields.
"But surely," I remarked, curious about his comment even while I wondered how powerful he was, "I could be both."
"No. You will have progressed beyond sides of the Force, and the Jedi remain irretrievably attached to one side. It is their weakness, as it is the weakness of all such Orders. To cling to the Light or the Dark is to stunt your own growth," he speaks in the bland voice of a lecturer.
"You surely won't see me clinging to the Dark," I replied, attempting a small humour.
"You were a Sith Apprentice once, to the clone Emperor," he replied, "You have been tempted to give into the Dark more than once, and more than once have, if only for short periods of time. It is best to take all in account. And, in answer to your earlier musings, when you have completed your Balance training, you will be more powerful than I, who am but mediocre in the ranks of the Balance, who's weakest member is as powerful as a fairly high ranking Jedi Master."
I was off balance and slightly worried then, as well as curious. "How is it that you've never appeared in any history, that the galaxy has no knowledge of you?"
"That depends upon what you define as 'the galaxy.' Your government has no knowledge of us, but there are Masters scattered throughout the Galaxy who are on the look out for potential students. Few indeed are correct material for the training. Our ranks are small. We are historians, students of civilization, of sorts. We observe, but we never, ever interfere."
I was slightly appalled, even while I was intrigued. If what Jarril said was true, these people could have stopped or halted the Jedi Purge, as well as any number of disasters throughout history, and yet they'd done nothing.
"Remember, Luke Skywalker," he says softly, "We are not Dark, but neither are we Light. That you have experience with both, and yet value your knowledge, and have the control to make choices without allowing fanaticism to interfere is part of why you have been chosen for these learnings. Your father, Anakin Skywalker, was observed for some time whilst he was undergoing his own Jedi training, many years ago. He was entirely too emotional and ferverent in regards to everything, however, and thus too emotional to disregard his own loyalties and preconceived beliefs in order to make a true Balance Master. He was never even approached. Likely, were he to have gained the training, he would have used the techniques without fully embracing the beliefs, as he did with everything he ever learned in his life. It was a shame, a true waste of talent," the man shook his head. "But, he is long dead. It no longer matters." Once more I was taken aback by his manner, so able to dismiss.
I lay on the bed in my cabin and thought about the voyage which had taken place over the previous twelve days. Jarril still hadn't told me what the name of the planet we were heading to was. All he had told me is that we were to arrive there that day. The thought that I would finally learn more about what I'd gotten myself into was comforting. Then there was also the fact that, since Fresai was already an Outer Rim Territory planet, we would be extremely close to the edge of the galaxy, somewhere deep within the Unknown Territories.
The Unknown Territories. Leia had often spoken about organizing missions to see what exactly was out there, but the New Republic didn't have the time or money to do any such thing and she had eventually given up idea. There were wild rumors about mystical worlds and unimaginable horrors out there. I smiled to myself as I remembered some of the stories I'd heard. I wondered if anyone adventurous enough to journey out into the Unknown Territories has ever been as far as where I was heading. Probably not, but still, what would happen to them if one of them did make it that far? Would the Masters of the Balance erase their memories and then just send them away, I wondered.
I sat up and started to put all the stuff Jarril bought for me into a bag. I wanted to be ready when we arrived so that I'd be able to pay attention to the important things. Jarril had already told me that as soon as we arrived he would take me to see the more powerful Masters who would explain all of that which I needed to know to start my training. Jarril also told me that they would be the ones to tell me the rules of the Order, and my place within it.
I picked up my lightsaber for the first time since I had boarded the strange ship and fastened it to my belt. Putting my travel bag on the bed, I quickly looked around to make sure I'd left nothing lying about before walked to the cockpit.
"How much longer until we get there?" I asked as I sat down next to Jarril.
"We are here," Jarril stated just before the ship suddenly jumped out of hyperspace near a blue and green planet. "Luke Skywalker, this will be your home for the next few years."
Home. No matter where I have lived I have never really thought of a planet as home, not Tatooine, not Coruscant, not Yavin 4, nor any of the other places I'd lived on over the years.
"What's the name of the planet?" I asked.
"Rijsn," Jarril replied as he maneuvered the ship towards the planet. "And it will feel like home after a while."
I remained quiet then, still not used to how easily he could read my mind. Back at the Academy, even my best students couldn't come close to reading my mind when all my shields were up. Indeed, no one had been able to do so since Palpatine's clone died.
"You shall get used to it," Jarril replied as a city came into view before us.
Ignoring Jarril's comment, I leaned forward and fixed my eyes on the city, studying it. As the details of the buildings became clear, I noticed that they were balanced between something like the elaborate decorative style of the Imperial Palace, and the large, plain geometric shapes of the Academy.
"You will no longer need your crude weapon," Jarril stated unexpectedly, indicating my lightsaber.
"Why not?" I asked as I let my left hand drop to my lightsaber. I'd had that energy blade since before I was a full Jedi and it had always given me a connection to my father. It was the proof that I became what he wanted me to be at the end of his life.
"Because you shall be able to protect yourself without it," Jarril said.
"I wish to keep it. It is more than a weapon for me. It is a reminder of all that I have undergone in my life. It's a symbol of the past. And while that past has not always been enjoyable, I will not deign to forget it," my voice was low and compelling, I know, appealing to him with the force of my belief.
He eyed me for a long moment, studying me as though I were a specimen in a scientist's lab.
At last, however, he nodded and said;
"For now, keep it. Later, however, you will learn that the past must eventually be let go, whether you wish it to, or not."
Briefly, he smiled. "I would be surprised were you to have let it go. Few Jedi or Sith have readily given up their lightsabers when first they come to learn of the Balance. That too, is a tradition, of sorts. Teaching them that they do not need it."
I nodded silently, not willing to agree or disagree. I had been tested, I felt, but for that moment it did not matter.
At that moment, however, we were touching down on a landing platform, and so it would not have been an appropriate moment for talk in either case. The ship landed quieter than most, and I wondered whether that was part of the design, or the skill of the pilot. Suddenly, inexplicably, I was swept with a sharp desire to pilot something, most anything, again. It had been a long time since I'd flown for a living, or even for pleasure. I used to be quite something, as numerous Imperial dead could testify to, back in the old days. I wondered then just how rusty my skills had become over the intervening years.
"Gather up the clothes in your cabin in that canvas bag in the closet," Jarril stated. "Then come back here. We'll leave the ship together."
Either Jarril hasn't been eavesdropping on my thoughts at that moment, or he simply had no desire to reassure an aging man who was reminiscing about his youthful skills.
"I've already packed," I said. "But I did neglect to take the bag with me when I left the cabin. I'll be right back."
He nodded and I exited the cockpit, quickly reaching the room I'd borrowed during the journey. I picked up the canvas sack, and, looking over the cabin one last time, I assured myself that I'd not left it a disaster zone before I exited, closed the door behind me, and make my way to Jarril.
I suddenly felt like a tourist, as already I was wondering about the city. Was was it like? What sort of people lived there? What races? Was it only members of the Order that dwelt on the planet, or was it open to other Unknown Territories residents, as well? And so on.
Jarril looked up at me as I approached him.
"You have everything?" he asked.
"Yes," I replied as he lowered the ramp. "Is there anyone else living here or are it only students and Masters of the Balance?"
"Naturally the natives live here and other people may live here," Jarril replied, studying my expression as he spoke. "As long as they agree to having any memory of their live here erased if they ever choose to leave."
"But that could be years of their lives!" I exclaimed, simultaneously shocked and horrified.
"True," Jarril said as he looked at me with emotionless eyes. "But then they agreed to it before they decided to live here."
"Still," I continued, unconvinced. "Do you just erase their memory and leave it? Or do you create fake memories?"
"That depends on what they want," Jarril replied. "Either way, they won't remember anything about the Order, which is all we're concerned about."
"But wouldn't it seem strange if people suddenly return from a long exploration in the Unknown Territories and they don't remember a thing of what's happened to them?" I asked.
"It would," Jarril agreed. "But it will make others more hesitant to explore themselves. It creates fear."
"Fear," I repeated slowly.
'Part of the Dark Side fear is,' I can remember Yoda saying.
And he'd probably have said the same about erasing organic memories.
"As I have told you before, Luke Skywalker, we use the Force, not just the Light Side or the Dark Side. Meaning neither we nor our acts are completely Light."
Briefly, I wondered what I was getting into. All I really knew about the Order is what I'd been told by Jarril. It could all have been a plot to turn me to the Dark Side. I really was getting more than a little paranoid, though. I knew a Sith Lord or other Dark Side Master, no matter how powerful, would not be able to shield himself so completely, or read my mind so easily, as Jarril did. Even Palpatine could not do so, and Palpatine had been extremely powerful; his Force storms proved that beyond a shadow of a doubt. Not that I needed any convincing, since the Second Death Star. If my father hadn't turned back to the Light, I surely would have died there.
On Rijsn at last, I took a deep breath and followed Jarril.
The city was lovely, but Jarril was eager to return to Order headquarters, so we fairly rushed through the scenery. It seemed that my opportunity to be a tourist would not take place my first day on-world. We reached a large, plain looking pyramid made of pale sandstone, seeming both primitive and refreshingly unadorned. Jarril quickly made his way to the doors of this place which could only be referred to as a fortress. There were no entrances that I could see except for the main doors which were barred and gated. There were no windows or other such openings.
"Is there a ventilation system?" I asked, knowing that there must be, but unable to see any.
He nodded, and said, "It comes up from the underground, and extends through the walls to the very top levels. We have to be very cautious. Any systems large or accessible enough could be used to enter, which is a dangerous possibility during wartime."
"Are there often wars?"
"There hasn't been one that has effected this world for ten thousand years, but should one break out, there's no sense in being unprepared. The entire planet is rigged with security systems. We were identified long before we reached the outer gravity circle."
I lifted my eyebrows, wondering how such paranoia could endure in a people who hadn't been attacked in ten thousand years. It's far longer a period of peace than I'd ever encountered.
"Is there much resentment against you?" I asked, thinking that perhaps that could account for the caution.
"No more than the usual that an organization possessing power would engender. But it is always best to be cautious," he repeated.
I nodded, acting as though I understood. Perhaps, though, I should have. I had been a soldier in the Rebellion for years, when it was necessary to be cautious at all times, and though these people weren't at war, they could die just as easily if they did not exercise foresight. It struck me then how complacent I'd become, and I began to wonder if all of us had started on that path. The New Republic as a whole was open to any threat that would come for it. We weren't so far from the days of Imperial domination that we should have forgotten those things, but somehow, self-righteous and secure, we had. I thought that the government of the threat, far more serious than any outright blow could have been, but I remembered that I had given up that right to free moment and communication when I had agreed to apprentice to this strange Order. And if I hadn't done so, I would never have realised the threat to begin with. I decided not to forget it, but to speak of it when I could. Jarril said nothing, and I wondered when I would be able to detect with the Force when and when not he was reading my mind. It was disconcerting not to be able to.
We had entered the pyramid by that time, Jarril having entered any number of security codes under the watchful eyes of no less than ten door guards, who, I could tell, were now memorizing my face as well.
The inside of the pyramid was cool, without ornaments, and yet somehow completely intimidating. Every step we took echoed, ringing through my body, and I had to refrain from cringing. There was no natural light, and yet the old fashion electric torches that lined the walls made the place blaze with evenly spaced, bright light.
"Why haven't we seen anyone else yet?" I asked, uneasy with the emptiness of the place.
"The Masters have sensed our presense. All students are required to remain scarce during the arrival of new students, so as to allow the new student to maintain their bearings without other people interfering. I'm to take you to the Masters Hall, where you will be quizzed by the Masters, and chosen by one of them as an apprentice to the Order. You will be made part of that choice, as we feel apprenticeships work better when the Master and student have a personal connection of some sorts."
"Sounds reasonable," I said. "How many Masters are there?"
"Here there are just over three hundred masters, with the same number of students. One must have a student to remain in the pyramid, which is strictly a place of teaching, though our ruling body resides here as well. Only those masters who are teaching students may be a part of the Line, which is; well, a council of sorts, I suppose you may say. It is not run as the old Jedi Council was, however. One is not a lifetime member in the Line. If one is not training a student and providing useful guidance for the Order, then a Master must step down. Personal power has nothing do with it. Competence is everything."
"That sounds. . .reasonable," I said as we passed from the long slender corridor into a large ante-chamber before a pair of huge, heavy doors.
"We always thought so. The Masters and the Line is gathered here, so brace yourself."
A guard, perhaps a Master or student himself, exited from the doors and eyed us briefly. Jarril step forward and handed some sort of identification card to him.
"The Masters are shielding their essenses so that you will not be overwhelmed during the meeting, but they generally don't do this. At the end of the session, they will unshield, so be prepared. Oh, and no matter what they once were, none of these people are Dark or Light. We have people who used to be Jedi, Dark Jedi, and Force sensitives found too late during the Old Republic. We even have a former Sith here. He's a long lived life form who was recruited some three hundred years ago. That doesn't matter. What matters is what they are now. Try to put aside your Jedi prejudices and remember that."
I was about to protest that I was not prejudice but we were already moving forward through those intimidating double doors.
"They won't, of course, be telling you what they once were," Jarril remarked in a low voice.
Alarm sprung up in me as I thought of what sort of Force user I could end up with, not knowing. The Master beside me shot me a look, as though to say, "Not prejudice, hmm?"
I had the good graces to feel ashamed.
There were designs carved onto the doors, and I tried to figure out if they has some meaning, but was unable to come to any conclusions. The designs were totally alien to me. The most interesting thing about the doors, however, was not the designs, but their sheer size. They make a Wookiee look small.
"When the temple was built, the designers made sure to accommodate all species," Jarril explained quietly as the doors opened.
I walked forward into a dark room and, although I couldn't sense anyone, I knew that my every move was being watched. I have never liked being judged, but I pushed aside my unease and came to a stop next to Jarril in the middle of the room, standing under a shaft of light coming from the ceiling, which is even higher up then the door was.
I began to feel a nervousness and anxiety that I hadn't felt in a long time creep into the pit of my stomach. For the first time in years I was actually in a situation in which I was the weaker, the less experienced, instead of the Master. I had become so used to knowing what to do, to guiding others down the path of the Light, that I had completely forgotten what it feels like to be starting off down a path I don't know about; to be a student.
It was similar in many ways to when I had started my original Force training. I hadn't know what I was getting into, all that I knew was what I'd been told about the Force by someone who was practically a stranger to me. It was all based on trust. And there I was again, starting down another, new, path of which I hardly knew anything, except that which I had been told by another complete stranger.
I heard the door close, and saw light flood the room, instantly chasing away the darkness. I then saw ten beings sitting at a long, wooden, semicircular table before of me. Looking at the Masters of the Balance, I saw that Jarril was right. There were all sorts of beings, only one of which who looked human. The only difference between a human and the humanoid Master who sat at the long table was that the Master had several horns near the front of his head where humans normally have hair, trailing off into long black hair at the back of his head. Of the other Masters I recognized one as a Wookiee, one as a Neimoidian, one as an Ithorian, and one as a Rodian. All of the others were different species that I had never encountered before, most of them large in size.
"Jedi Master Luke Skywalker," the Neimoidian stated as he looked me over.
Not knowing what to do I simply nodded my head and waited, unable to push the nervousness and anxiety aside.
"You have had Sith training as well as Jedi training, no?" the humanoid Master suddenly asked, his eyes never leaving me.
"Yes," I replied, wonder why the Master even asked me the question. From what Jarril had said, they already knew the information. Heck, they seemed to knew everything about me!
"He is fit," the humanoid with the horns said. "He is held by his own narrow beliefs, but he is willing to learn; willing to expand his vision. He is set in his ways, but he can yet be dug out."
"As I suspected," the Neimoidian said, his accented voice greatly knowing, which earned him a slightly reproachful look from the Wookiee master who sat next to him.
"Listen closely, Jedi Skywalker," the humanoid said, his voice cool and commanding. "These rules apply to every student which comes to us. You will be given a period of six months over which you will begin to learn our training and customs. During this time, you'll be known as a novice. If you should be found wanting at the end of this period, you will have your memories of us taken and you be sent home safely. You have made your own decision. Now, it is no longer up to you. This is purely a judgement period allotted to your master and the Line. If, however, you should stay with us, you will be elevated to the status of Apprentice. Your Apprentice training will encompass as many years as your master sees fit. You will only be released once you have become a Master yourself. At that time, you are free to go where you wish, though you will take the vow of secrecy--not to reveal the location of the Order, not to reveal our skills and techniques and training to anyone who would endanger the knowledge, and if they should be revealed as unfit to know it, to erase their memories of it after. You also are not to reveal our existence to the Republic under any circumstances, not to jeopardize our existence. That time, however, is far in the future. During your time here, you'll have access to the planet, able to go where you wish upon it--when you are not actively training in the pyramid, of course. You may only travel to another planet should your master bring you there. You may socialize with the other Apprentices, but you are to defer to the Masters. As a novice, you are only to socialize with other novices. I'm sure some of these rules are already familiar to you," he smiled slightly and I nodded in agreement. Some of them were standard rules on Yavin IV.
"Daily meals are served in the mess hall, physical training takes place in any of the three gyms. Mental training takes place anywhere your Master deems fit. Don't be surprised if the locations are. . .less than conventional to your views. More or less, depending upon who becomes your Master."
I nodded obediently, taking it in silently.
"Now," the Rodian spoke for the first time. "Several Masters have returned from Republic space in order to present themselves as free to train you. Masters may also train more than one, so you'll have a period of time in which you may meet the Masters already teaching students in the Temple. As well, you may also choose one of us, should you so wish. That does not mean we will accept you, but we are a part of the choices. All in the pyramid are either students or teachers. You have two weeks in which to acquaint yourself with your options."
I nodded and belatedly said, "Thank you, Masters."
The Rodian smiled and turned to the rest of the Line. They briefly conferred in a flurry of glances, and then the humanoid with the horns said, "You are both dismissed. Jarril, unless you intend to take a student, you have two days in which to be gone from the planet."
"Yes, Master," Jarril said. I lifted an eyebrow in surprise; apparently Jarril did not remain as a teacher.
"There is one more thing," the Rodian said. The Line locked their eyes on me all at once, and then their shields fell down and the united energy of their minds screamed at me. I gasped in shock at the intensity of their power. I should have been prepared, at least somewhat, but I wasn't. Not at all.
Returning to my room, I sighed. My two weeks were up, the next day I'd be seeing the Line again and I'd gain a teacher. Now I walked over to my bed and sat down on it, still slightly amazed at how sparsely furnished the room was. That and the form of teaching used there. For the most part, it was one student per teacher.
Did the Jedi ever do it that way? I was Ben and Yoda's only student, but that was because they didn't have time to train someone else. But before the Empire, had each Jedi Master had one student to teach and guide? Or had they done it the way I had, with many students together in one Academy? Perhaps I'd been doing it wrong all along.
But then, if I'd done it any differently, there would be a many less Jedi. Perhaps I should have started off with teaching a class and then dropped down to one student per master as soon as there were enough fully trained Jedi. But how many is enough?
I pushed such trifle thoughts aside. I didn't have the time for them then. Indeed, I should be thinking about which of the Masters I'd seen and would perhaps like to have as my teacher. Besides, even if I were to get an answer to the Jedi teaching method, it wouldn't have done me any good. I wouldn't have been able to tell the others.
I closed my eyes and cleared my mind, letting only the faces of the Masters that I liked swim into view. While being shown around, I'd seen Masters that I'd liked and some that I'd instantly disliked. I still can't explain why, they'd had just rubbed off on me in the wrong way.
I carefully looked at what I knew about them. I wouldn't want to chose someone that I'd end up disliking; that would have been no good for the training. I wondered what happened if a student and Master don't get along. Did the responsibility of the student's training simply get transferred to another Master? Or was the student's memory erased and was he or she then sent back home? Or were the Masters so good at judging students that it never happens?
Time and time again I had been surprised by the power of both the students and the Masters. I'd also had my mind read by more people then I cared to remember. And then there was also the shock I'd received when the Masters lowered their shields at the end of my meeting with them. I've never felt so much raw, focused, Force power before in my life. It made Yoda and Palpatine both look weak.
I slowly but surely eliminated some of the options until I was down to three. The Ithorian I'd met on the third day, a Bothan I'd met on the thirteenth, and the horned humanoid Master I'd met on the first day. Thinking about those three, I'd found myself strangely attracted to the horned humanoid, as though I had some sort of connection with him.
I tried to figure what it may be, but it eluded me. For the moment, it didn't matter. I had an answer for when the Masters asked who I'd like to teach me. Whether I would get that Master or not was uncertain. In any event I'd have a Master by the next evening, no matter who it was.
A Master came for me in the morning, along with two accompanying Apprentices. One was a middle aged female Twi'lek, the other a young human male. We were walking to the Hall of the Line. I was to announce my choice of Master and await his decision.
"Jarril has left," the Master said, "If you were wondering. He had not the time to say farewell, and supposed that you did not know each other well enough to have formed connections in any case, but he wished you well in your training. He said that he wasn't staying this time; that he just had the wanderlust too strong."
"I've known quite a few like that," I mused. I hadn't seen Jarril since he had shown me to my room after the first meeting with the Line, and so had assumed that he had already left. However, I was slightly touched with his wish of good fortune. "My brother-in-law, Han, for one. He had a real hard time settling down and even so always enjoyed action more than he did meetings."
"Indeed," the Master nodded, "He did seem that type."
I fell silent and compressed my lips, reminded now of the fact these people were observers. The man beside me likely knew more about Han than Han did. This Order knew more about me than I did, certainly. They'd watched my father, after all, even if they had judged him unworthy.
We turned about the hall, and I recognized the hollow that we emerged into. The tall doors with their huge sigils inscribed all over them confronted me baldly.
The two Apprentices walked over the the doors and knocked three times in a row, solemnly. A moment later and the doors open silently, the Force propelling them seemingly without effort.
"Enter," the human Apprentice said, nodding once to the accompanying Master in respect, all but ignoring me, though I sensed that his manner was less snobbish than oblivious. I recalled what the Line had told me of the terms of association amongst the students. Apprentices don't socialize with novices, and I wasn't even really that yet.
We entered. The unknown Master walked by my side and once more I was shocked by the amount of power that these Force-users of the Line, these Balance Masters, contained. The Line did not deluge me with their power this time; it was as though it had always been there and always would, but it was as a huge, thundering waterfall, relentless and endless.
I stopped in front of them; their eyes, calm and emotionless, were fixed upon me. I stifled my own nervousness.
"Have you made your choice?" asked the Rodian Master, stepping straight to the point, wasting no time with formalities.
"I have," I said. I looked at the strange horned Master that I'd felt a connection with and said, "I'm sorry, sir, I don't know your name to request it of you."
The man smiled and said, "I had a feeling that your choice would be so. I accept. I am Master Eeth Koth."
I know that Novices are only allowed to socialize with with other Novices, not with Apprentices, but I had no idea who was what. Not that it mattered at that moment, everyone else in the gym was with their Master, training. Which is why I was there. After the meeting, Master Koth had told me to meet him in the gym in an hour. Not wanting to be late, I came a little early.
Since he had accepted taking me on as a Novice, and considering the fact that he had expected me to chose him, I had begun to wonder. I knew that there was definitely something about him, the connection I felt with him. But I still didn't have a clue as to what it was. Once again, I thought of asking him, but then discarded the idea. I hardly knew him, and I didn't want to do something wrong on the first day of my training. I could always ask him later, after all, when I became more familiar with him.
But Master Koth wasn't at all surprised when I had said that I'd like him as my Master. Although I'd been able to see the future a few times, I'd never fully believed that what I'd seen would happen. After what Master Yoda had said about the future always being in motion, I'd been careful about believing that which I see. However, from what Master Koth had said, he was more or less certain of it. Could the Masters of the Balance predict the future more accurately than the Jedi? Or did they know something that Master Yoda hadn't? Was there some trick to seeing the future? If so I'd probably be taught it over time, I thought.
If I passed the first six months, that is.
I felt my new Master's presense and looked up and saw him enter the gym. I walked over to him.
"You're on time. Good," he stated before he headed towards the back of the gym, motioning for me to follow. "I know that part of being a Jedi means being in good physical condition."
"Here you will continue doing that," he went on to say. "Only the workout will become tougher, a form of discipline."
He stopped in an area where no one else was busy.
"How can I recognize other Novices from Apprentices?" I inquired.
"All novices are required to wear a colored band around their right shoulder," Master Koth replied as he reached into a pocket. "Here is yours."
Taking the colored band, I quickly put it around my shoulder. It fit perfectly.
Six months Later
I was standing on the edge of the stage that occupied one of the inner rooms. Some of the other students are rather restless, and portraying parts in home-made plays seem to content them some of the time, particularily those with a flair for the dramatic. I've never been the type, but sometimes it's fun to watch them.
At the moment, however, there was no one on the stage. I looked over the vast chamber. It had come to my attention some time ago that it seemed there was a great deal more room inside the pyramid than there was outside. For most buildings, it would seem so, but with this one it was almost as though it were true. I'd tried to take measurements once, but for some reason I always lost track of the count.
I was trying to convince myself I was homesick at the moment. In truth, the place was strange in more ways than one. The past, the whole of my life distant, as though it had happened to another person. Emotions seemed less a part of me than a separate element.
In the beginning, I'd missed my friends, my sister and her children. And my wife. I can well imagine Mara's enraged reactions to my disappearance, and in the beginning I'd worried about it, but now the entire matter, just six months after departure, seemed to be the problems of another person.
"Brooding, are we?" Master Koth asked as he approached from the back of the stage.
I had passed my first six months only the day before, and was now a full-fledged Apprentice, no longer a simple Novice, beneath the notice of most anyone. I could socialize with the other Apprentices, of which there were far more than there were Novices.
"I'm trying to," I admitted ruefully to my Master's question. "It doesn't seem to work much anymore."
He chuckled. "Yes. I was rather... disconcerted in the beginning, as well. The outside world becomes distant. I suspect that this is why so many of our Order prefer to return to the Core, or at least beyond the Territories. In order to keep ones priorities beyond the Balance itself in perspective, one must be apart from the heart of the Order."
"So, if you stay, you don't care about anything else besides the Balance?" I asked, curious.
He nodded. "Simplistically speaking, yes. It is why we require that students who have graduated to the rank of Master return for at least six months to the outside galaxy, in order to make their choice of destiny with a clear mind, outside of the Order's influence."
"That seems sensible," I nodded.
"It is. But it's time for your lesson now. We'll have it here, if you like."
"Sure," I nodded.
"Concentrate upon the Force. Open yourself to complete neutrality. You have no emotion," he said.
I nodded and did so. I didn't close my eyes. I'd long ago learned that that was the worst thing to do whilst concentrating on the Balancing Force. It is a breach of discipline and tends to upset the control. Most of the time, you lose contact with the Balance if you do so.
I stared at the man before me and saw something flicker in his eyes. Regret? Recognition?
Before I could ask, my vision clouded over and I was swept away into another sort of vision altogether...
I was circular room with vast windows which seemed to look over a slightly different version of Coruscant than I knew. Briefly, I wondered if this was a vision from another reality, but then I remembered that visions which come to members of The Balance are always true, whether past, present, or future. The alternate reality visions, or possible futures, which can come to a Jedi or a Sith are a direct result from using only one side of the Force. One of the many short coming of using either the Light and Dark Side of the Force.
Knowing this, and knowing that only the more powerful Masters receive visions this clear of the future, I knew that I must be looking upon Coruscant of the past. Turning my attention to what was actually in the room, I noticed that there were twelve beings sitting in chairs forming a circle. Looking at the different beings in turn, I noticed aliens of every description, some of which I have never seen before. Probably wiped out during Palpatine's purges. From those I did recognize there was a human male, a being similar to Yoda, a human female, and... doing a double take, I recognised both Master Yoda and Master Koth.
Putting two and two together, I quickly realised that not only had Eeth Koth been a Jedi Master before he had joined the the Balance, but that he was also a member of the Jedi Council, which I was seeing. Judging from both Master Koth's apparent youth, and the difference in Master Yoda, I realised that the vision was from some time before the rise of the Empire and the Great Jedi Purge.
"Dangerous the boy is," Master Yoda suddenly stated and the dark skinned human male next to him nodded.
"I sense the danger too," he agreed.
"We can not be certain that it means anything," a brown skinned humanoid female replied. "Always in motion is the future."
I smiled at this as I wondered about whom they were speaking.
"Indeed," Master Koth agrees. "Simply because he is older than any other being the Order has taken as an apprentice doesn't mean that he will go Dark Side on us."
"But we shouldn't take any unnecessary chances either," a very long necked master states in a shrill voice from a tiny head. "With the probability that there may still be Sith in existence, we must move forward with the utmost caution. We do not know where they are or what they are up to or if this menace we face are indeed Sith. If they are, then it means that they have been able to hide their existence from us for a long time. Force only knows what else they can do."
"True, but that doesn't mean we should stop training apprentices," an alien with two long horns commented wisely. "If nothing else we must increase the number and so the strength of the Jedi."
"To get back to young Skywalker. . ." the human male said sternly and pointedly. "I think it best we wait before making a decision until we have gotten more information regarding the matter with the Sith. Then, when that is out of the way, we can discuss the boy's future once more."
At this the other Jedi nodded and the vision began to fade.
Letting the vision go, I tried to process what I had just learned.
So the Jedi had suspected my father's turning even before he had started his Light Side training?
Once this new knowledge about my father would have filled me with great joy, even grim as it was. But not anymore. Now I simply accepted the information and took all that had happened as simple family history.
I looked up at my master.
"You were a Jedi?" I asked.
"Yes," Koth replied. "I began my Jedi training when I was four years old, very old for a Jedi in the Old Republic."
"Old?" I questioned, thinking of how I was eighteen when I started my training.
"You were an extreme exception," Master Koth said as he read my thoughts. "Your father was nine when he started his training, and you just saw what a debate that sparked. However, since you did not know those rules, you started training older apprentices yourself and the six month rule has vanished."
"I assume so that it was to prevent the darker emotions from taking hold?" I asked curiously.
"It was," My master seemed to be waiting for another question.
I frowned and said finally, "What about their families?"
"Jedi have no families. The Order is their parents, their siblings, and everything else to them. They don't know their blood relations. That's how it used to be."
"Nothing at all?"
Suddenly, it dawned upon me. The avoidance in the manner of both Obi-Wan and Yoda when speaking about my father. What if, along with the fact that he was a Sith, they were also paying heed to ancient tradition. What if, not having known their parents themselves, they didn't see the need for me to ever know my father, either? But I'd wanted to know him all of my life.
"Nothing at all," the Balance master confirmed.
"Do the parents have a choice about giving up their children?"
"Of course. Most of them didn't refuse, however. It's very distinguished to have a Jedi in the family, even if you never meet them, even if you never know their name."
He seemed to sense my confusion on saying that, and explained, "The Sith are not the only ones who changed names upon attaining rank and training. Oft times, the Jedi would change the name of a child into something different, perhaps an archaic or symbolic form of their birth name. You father was one of the few who didn't do so as a Jedi."
I was relieved that I'd been right all along, that my father had indeed been born Anakin Skywalker, and so died. It would have been horrible if that name was a lie as well. Everything, it seemed, was always a lie, and I was too weary of sorting them out.
Walking down the street, people quickly moved out of the way to make room for Tallas and I. When I'd first left the Temple and came into the city, I had been unnerved by how the people seemed to fear and respect anyone who came from the Temple. It seemed wrong at the time, as Jedi didn't consider themselves higher than anyone else. But now it was normal, a simple fact of keeping order, and I even expected it.
"What are you going to buy?" Tallas asked.
"A new belt, maybe some pants," I replied. "If I see a pair that I like. You?"
"A sweater," Tallas said. "I saw one that I liked last time. I just didn't have enough money with me."
"Went to the bank?" I teased.
Since we leave without any warning to come on planet and train, the Order lends us money to use during our stay here. Then, once we've finished the training and go back for the mandatory six months in the outside galaxy, we are to earn money there to pay the Order back. Naturally, the Order knows just how much money we have to spend.
"Yeah," Tallas said, smiling.
Stopping at one of the stores, we entered and looked around. Since Rijsn has a mixture of many different species and beings, the variety of stuff available is unbelievable. Even though I had been used to seeing different cultures and styles from all of the planets I'd seen since the birth of the New Republic, I was still amazed by some of what the planet with its melting pot of cultures had to offer.
"Hey, Luke," Tallas called, holding up a sweater with six arms and a multitude of bright colors. "I think this would suit you nicely."
"Funny," I replied flatly.
"It was only a suggestion," Tallas stated, a wounded look appearing on his face.
I simply continued looking through the belt rack. You'd think, that with such a large selection, they'd have something I'd like. Several minutes later, I sighed and abandon my search. Perhaps the next store would have something.
"Tallas," I called. "Found something?"
"Yeah," he replied as he moved towards me, a sweater in his hand. "Found it."
"Nice," I lied, knowing the Bothan's taste of clothes.
"Liar," he simply replied as he easily read my thoughts.
"Will you stop doing that?" I asked irritably. "Just because you've got two months more training than I do doesn't mean you're allowed to simply enter my mind when you wish."
Tallas only smiled. No answer from him always means a definite 'no.' I dropped the matter.
I progressed rapidly in my studies once I came to the actual practicing of technique. The first while of Balance training involves almost no actual use of the Force, save the centring of oneself, to attune to the Balanced Force, such as the moment in which I'd received the vision of the past.
Now, however, Master Koth was teaching me specific techniques unique to the Order.
"So, with this I can determine a being's allegiance?" I asked curiously.
"Nothing political, of course," the Master said with a smile, "But you can determine what energies they pull upon in their life. You can't call it an allegiance, but it's the basic determination of which 'side' of the Force they use."
"Even non-Force users?" I asked, curious but somewhat confused, "How can that be?"
"Everyone uses the Force to some degree," Master Koth said indulgently. "Even Force-blinds must use it in order to not use it. It's complicated," he added, forestalling my protests, "It's like this - ice is a solid substance, is it not?"
"Yes," I said, wondering where this was going.
"But water, of which it's made, is liquid. Ice is not liquid, but it's still water," he finished.
I nodded, slowly. I understood, yes, but still, water and ice is one thing, but the Force. . . .
"Remember Master Yoda's words," the Master instructed, "The Force is a part of everything! Therefor, everything uses it in order to exist. Do you understand?"
"I suppose," I said. I felt rather dense at the moment, but it was an irritating concept. I know that the Force is a part of nature, but I never really though of everything using it, just that certain things create it, such as trees and waters and so on.
"Everything uses the Force. Even artificial things such as machines. If it didn't, they would not be able to bond with the living body, such as prosthetics do," he looked pointedly at my hand.
"I'd never thought of it that way," I said, slowly yeilding to the idea. It did make sense, after a fashion, when he put it that way.
"Good. You'll understand more later. I want you to meditate upon it tonight. Concentrate upon the joining of your hand and body. Examine the energies, puzzle out exactly how the nerves of your arm connect with the machinery of the hand."
I don't think much about the hand, but I'd long since gotten over the trauma of it, and so I agreed calmly. I was cautious, but interested in learning more of the foreign idea.
Seven years later
I was standing on the top row of the bleachers; set up for people to perch on whilst they watch the parade. Not only was today the annual harvesting festival, but I had my own personal reason to celebrate. Just the other day, I had finally managed to finish regrowing the hand that I lost during my first duel with Vader.
"Nice parade, no?" I asked Tallas.
"Yes," Tallas agreed. "I just wish that they'd make some different floats. They're all food floats."
"It wouldn't be a harvest festival if they didn't celebrate the crops they've grown," I replied with a smile. Absently, I rubbed my hand on my leg.
"You okay?" Tallas asked as he noticed the gesture.
"Fine," I said. "I just have to get used to all the things real flesh feels which no prosthetic can. Doesn't matter how good it is."
"Yeah, and you're probably getting used to even having a second hand again," Tallas added jokingly.
"Indeed," I stated as I remembered trying to due with one hand whilst I was regrowing my right one.
It had been at least three months since I had first taken off the prosthetic hand and started making due with only my left hand. It had been annoying at first, as I was used to doing most things right handed, but I quickly lost the habit under the call of necessity. Now, I could make do with either hand if anything ever happens to one of one of them again. Although I sincerely hope that nothing will.
Tallas and I watched the rest of the floats go by before we mingled with the crowd.
"We'd better head back," Tallas eventually said as he glanced down at his chronometer.
"Tisk, tisk," I couldn't help but remark. "Haven't learned how to use your natural clock yet?"
"I have," Tallas replied. "It's just that I got this watch from my parents before they died and I can't bring myself to get ride of it."
Although Master Koth told me all that he knows about both of my parents, more than I'd ever before known of Anakin Skywalker's youth and his friendship and eventual courtship and marriage with Queen Amidala, I still had a small absense within me. Once, I would have been slightly jealous of Tallas, but not anymore. I had now moved beyond that stage with my new training.
"I need to speak with you, Luke," Master Koth said as we both sat in the lounge room.
"About what?" I asked.
"We've been observing a potential student for a few years now," Master Koth explained. "We've finally come to the conclusion that she may become a student should she so wish."
"Great," I said. "Who is she?"
"She's a Tralvian," Master Koth said. "She lives on Mon Calamari. Her Force abilities have in no way been developed, but she holds great potential."
"How does this involve me?" I inquired.
"I have been selected to go meet Jinal," Master Koth stated. "I have been given permission to take you along should I so wish as your shields have reached the level at which you can hide your presence from your family and former students. Do you want to come along with me?"
"Yes," I instantly replied. "I'm curious as to what's happening out there."
"Very well," Master Koth said. "I also want you along as Jinal will recognize you from the holo news and the mess with the Empire. Because of this, she'll will feel more comfortable coming along with us. After all, she has no Force sense whatsoever, so she would probably be extremely suspicious of being approached."
"Even I was suspicions," I stated.
Looking out of the ship's viewport several days later, I sighed. The trip had been long and uneventful, with Master Koth giving me a few lessons every day. But we had finally arrived. I felt memories come rushing back to me as I look down upon Mon Calamari. Reaching out with the Force, I gave my Master a slight nudge to wake him before I went and started the landing cycle.
"Here we are," I said, just as I landed, Master Koth entering the cockpit.
"Indeed," he agreed. "Put your illusion on now so I can test it."
Rising, I obediently called upon the Force to create a field around me which changed my appearance to be that of a young man with flaming red hair and brown eyes. Upon completing the illusion, I waited as my Master probed it to make sure that there were no holes for any Force sensitive individuals to catch and uncover.
"Good," Master Koth stated before he turned around and exited the ship.
We left the spaceport together and headed towards the cantina where Jinal works. Memories of Han surfaced as I walked the streets. Before his death, we came to Calamari on several occasions together.
"He was your brother-in-law, no?" Master Koth questioned as he sensed my thoughts.
"Yes," I replied as we reached the cantina and entered. "There," I said as I caught sight of the waitress we were here for, recognizing her from the holos I'd been shown.
"Indeed," Master Koth said while making his way to an empty table and sitting down.
I followed his example silently. When Jinal approached our table, he ordered us two drinks and began his.
"What are you up to?" I inquired as I swallowed some of my ale.
"Although we can wipe her memory if she refuses to join us," Master Koth explained. "It's better that we at least look like we came here for a reason."
"Okay," I replied as I relaxed a little, but made sure that I didn't let my illusion slip as I looked around at the other creatures in the cantina.
The cantina, although one of the lesser known on Mon Calamari, was still a lot better than the cantina in Mos Eisley. There, anything could happen and often did. What Obi-Wan did to protect me is a prime example. Although a little sleazy, I don't see anything like that happening here. In fact the greatest mess here probably occurs when a customer has had too much to drink and can't hold his bladder or stomach.
Turning my attention to Jinal, I studied the middle-aged woman. Not having seen too many Tralvians before, I observed how her red tinged skin seemed to glow in the light, and her graying orange hair shimmered. What I was really interested in, however, was her aura. Gently probing her, I saw the great but untrained potential she held. If she accepted the Balance, she could become a powerful Master once she completed her training.
"Come," Master Koth said as he made for a door at the back of the cantina.
I followed him as I sensed him plant a suggestion in Jinal's mind for her to enter the room in a few moments. I was pleased to note that at least Jarril didn't do that with me. He simply waited by my ship. But then, he knew that I would be going there alone. Perhaps he would have planted a thought in my mind if he hadn't known that. Not liking the idea, I pushed it aside even as I heared my Master laugh softly at my action.
I decided to ignore it, closed the door behind us, and turned around to scan my surroundings. The door led us into a corridor with several doors leading off of it. Seeing my Master enter one of those rooms, I followed him and sat down in one of the chairs there. We only needed to wait several minutes before the door opened and Jinal entered the room.
"Who are you?" she questioned when she saw us.
"My name is Eeth Koth," Master Koth said, and gestured for her to sit.
Sensing her unease, I reached forward and soothed her mind, upon which she sat down and looked at my Master.
'Good,' Koth sent before he began to explain our mission to Jinal. "I and my student here," he said, neglecting to give my name yet, "are part of an order called the Balance. This order, like the Jedi, use the Force."
"How come I haven't about you then?" Jinal asked, her suspicions rising once more. I knew that at this point I no longer had the right to be in her mind, as this was a decision she had to make for herself.
"Because we, unlike the Jedi or the Sith, do not interfere in galactic events," Master Koth stated. "We let things run their course. The only people that know of us are the members of our order and the people that live on the planet where the order is centred and we teach. We have contacted you because you not only possess the ability to manipulate the Force, but you are also fit to be trained in the ways of The Balance. Not every Force user is fit for this training, however. All the Jedi alive today have been watched and rejected for the training as, in one way or another, they are not fit for the training."
At that, Jinal began to look very suspicious. I have to admit that if I had known nothing of the Force and someone came up to me and told me that not only do I have the ability to touch the Force, but that I possess something that none of the guardians of the Republic possess, I would be suspicious too.
"So you would train me?" Jinal asked as she looked at the two of us with narrowed eyes. "What's in this for you? What do you get?"
"Nothing," I replied. "Except the knowledge that the information we posses will be past on forever."
"That's it?" Jinal asked in disbelief. "There's got to be something more to it. I mean why would you suddenly let me into this sect if it is so unknown? Why trust me with the knowledge?"
"The Balance is an order, not a sect," Master Koth corrected. "And there is nothing more behind this than what my student said. As to why we would trust you, its really simply. If you should chose to accept the training you shall be taken to the planet where the order is centred and trained. However, you would have to leave without telling anyone anything. No one may know of the fact that you are leaving. You will simply disappear. Now, should you decide not to come, then I shall erase your memory of this meeting and my student and I shall leave and never return."
"Hey!" Jinal exclaimed. "What if I don't want to go and decide not to give you permission to mess with my mind?!"
"I do not need permission," Master Koth stated. "If you don't want to come, then it is essential that you don't remember this meeting as we can't have word of our existence spreading. There is simply too much at stake here."
"Too much at stake?" Jinal demanded.
"Yes," I confirmed. "Once you start learning how to use the Force in the way that the Master and students of The Balance do than you become much more powerful than even the strongest Jedi or Sith."
"How would you know?" Jinal inquired as she paled slightly.
Looking to my Master, I waited. Seeing him nod, I dropped my illusion. Jinal gasped in surprise as she recognized me from the holo-news.
"Jedi Master Skywalker!" Jinal stammered. "What are you doing here?"
"I'm here with my Master," I informed her. "I am no longer a Jedi, I am now a student of the Balance."
"You're with this Order?" Jinal asked, slightly dazed by all that had happened to her so quickly.
"Yes," I confirmed. "Everything Master Koth has told you about the Balance is true. Do you wish to join us?"
"I can't tell anyone where I'm going?" she questioned, continuing when I nod my head. "How long does this training take?"
"Several years," Master Koth explained. "For everyone it is different, but Luke here has been training ever since he disappeared and he's not completely finished with his training yet."
"But... that's been about seven years!" Jinal gasped in horror.
"Yes," I stated.
"I don't have that time," Jinal says and I can feel my Master's disappointment.
"Are you sure?" Master Koth inquired. "You are being offered an opportunity that practically no one gets when you look at numbers. I just want you to know that you are giving up knowledge beyond anything you can imagine."
"I... don't..." Jinal stammered as she looked from my Master to me, before turning her attention back to him.
Probing her, I sensed an incredible amount of fear radiating from her. She was frightened of the unknown and what accepting our offer might mean. She was also frightened of all that she had heard of the Sith and the Dark Side of the Force.
"The Balance doesn't follow Si--" Master Koth begins to explain.
"No!" Jinal stated. "I don't want to hear about it. My answer is no. And I don't want you in my head either, do you hear me? Skywalker, you are an honorable man, make him stay out of my head. Doing something like entering a person's mind against their will is violation. You are honorable and wouldn't do that, you would do the right thing."
"Indeed," I replied calmly. "I will do the right thing."
She made for the door at that, believing that we won't touch her. Shaking my head, I looked away as I felt my Master enter her mind and quickly erase all memories of the encounter. Planting the thought that she came back her to get a take a breather from the cantina, we waited as she stood out side of the door before she returned to her job.
"Well, that didn't go very well," I remarked as I created the illusion about myself once more.
"True," Master Koth said as we exited the room and re-entered the cantina. 'But then not every candidate that is declared fit is courageous enough to make the final decision. It is a big step and some, especially those who have no previous Force training, are always hesitant as they do not understand what they are being offered.'
I suddenly sensed a familiar Light Side presense, and stopped to look around. A smile crossed my face as my eyes fell on Lydia. I instantly noticed the signs of aging that weren't there the last time I saw her, proof of the time that has past since I'd left.
'One of your former students?' Master Koth demanded as he sensed Lydia's Light Side aura.
'Yes,' I replied. 'May I speak with her briefly?'
'Very well,' Master Koth agreed. 'However, you know that you may not reveal your true identity to her.'
'I won't,' I assured him. 'I simply what to know how everything has been going.'
'Very well,' Master Koth said before he began speaking aloud again. "I shall see you next week then. Goodbye."
"Goodbye," I replied, playing along with his ruse before I approached Lydia. "May I sit down?"
"Sure," Lydia said as she probed me with the Force, looking for signs of hostility but finding none.
"That's a lightsaber, isn't it? So you're a Jedi, no?" I inquired with the excitement and curiosity that the young boy of my illusion might feel.
"Yes," Lydia replied as she smiled at me. "I am a Jedi Knight."
"I have heard a lot about you Jedi," I continued, knowing just how to get the information I wanted. "Especially about Luke Skywalker. Do you have any idea what happened to him? Why he disappeared? And what does his family think of it? And his wife? And--"
"Whoa!" Lydia exclaimed as she held out a hand to halt the rush of questions. "One question at a time. No, we do not know what happened to Master Skywalker."
I could feel her sorrow at my disappearance and her hope that I may still be alive somewhere and safe. But she believed if that were so that I would long since have returned from whatever happened, as I wouldn't leave my family. I mentally sighed. There is so much that she didn't know and couldn't begin to comprehend.
"What of his family?" I inquired. "What do they think happened?"
"Leia Organa-Solo definitely hasn't given up on him, although she fears the worst for her twin brother," Lydia stated with the air of an-oft repeated report. "Anakin Solo is still searching for him, from time to time, hoping that he can find his uncle and help him."
Hearing of Anakin's search, I regretted that I could not in some way contact him and tell him that I was all right and that he should get on with his life instead of wasting it on a fruitless search.
"As to Mara Jade-Skywalker," Lydia shrugged. "Well, she believes that he is still alive. In fact, I feel sorry for Skywalker for, if he doesn't have a good reason for his absence, he's going to get it from her!"
Suppressing a smile, I was forced to agree with Lydia on that point. Despite being a fully trained Jedi, Mara still possessed a fiery temper at times. But then, it was part of what made her who she was.
"I wonder what happened to him," I said aloud.
"Everyone does," Lydia replied with a smile. "At the moment, however, it seems like it's a mystery that won't be solved unless Master Skywalker comes back. Although, at this point, I'm hoping that he won't return anymore."
"Why not?" I ask, surprised.
"Well, whatever kept him away so long can't be something pleasant," Lydia explained. "And if he's still alive then it means that he's suffered for seven years already."
"True," I said, seeing how this logic could apply in many such sitiations, incorrect though as it was in mine. "I have to go now."
"Goodbye," Lydia said as she smiled once more, a little less brightly than last time.
"Goodbye," I said before I made my way back to the ship where I knew my Master was waiting for me.
"That's just some of the many things that I learned and experienced over the years," I say, "I can't elaborate upon much, as I am under strict vows not to teach anyone. If someone is adapt for the Order, then they are brought of the school, but no individual teachings are done."
"Isn't that a little... selfish?" Jaina asks dubiously.
"No, it's cautious. We can't have renegades who don't understand the theology, only the techniques, running around the galaxy. We are very powerful, and no Jedi or Sith would be able to defeat one of us. The Balance would send one of us to take that one back to be tried to improper use of the power, and executed, but we don't appreciate such things to begin with."
"You sound as though you speak from experience," Leia remarks, watching me closely.
I sigh. "I do. Sometimes, things go wrong. Sometimes, one of goes renegade, and we must stop them. It's rare, but... It happens. And it did. I had just finished my training, and was initiated as a full Master for only three days. My friend Tallas had been initiated on the same day as I, and we were celebrating our new status, when the news came. We were powerful new Masters, and we were sent on the mission in order to be tested. It turned out to be rather more difficult than we expected...
Thirteen Years After Luke Skywalker's disappearance
"In order to bring back and neutralise Hrasn, and to test your abilities, the two of you are to go and retrieve him," Master Koth stated from his place next to the others on the Line.
"Do you have any questions?" the Wookiee Master, Halabala, inquired.
"No, we do not," I said.
"Then go," the Bothan Master, Kavec, ordered at which Tallas and I nodded our acceptance and left the Hall.
"What do you think?" I asked Tallas as we made our way through the halls.
"Sounds interesting," Tallas replied. "Besides, it'll give us an opportunity to leave this planet. I haven't been off of here since I first arrived."
"I have," I said as we exited the temple and made our way towards the landing platform where a lent ship awaited us.
"I know. You're lucky."
"What are you going to do when we're done with this?" I asked curiously. "I mean, after this test we'll be required to leave for several months."
"I'm not sure," Tallas replied as we boarded the ship. "I don't have any family out there. Perhaps I'll return to my home planet and see how things are going there. I'll see when the time comes. You?"
"I'm returning to my family," I informed him. "After all, from what I learned when I was out there with Master Koth, they think me dead."
"I'm sure they'll love to see that you're not," Tallas remarked.
"Yeah," I replied. "But they'll probably try to eat me alive for not letting them know that I was okay."
Laughing, Tallas moved into the cockpit and sat down in the pilot's seat. I moved over to the nav computer and punched in the co-ordinates for Sullust, and then took a seat next to my friend.
"Next stop, Sullust," Tallas remarked just before I allowed myself to drift off to sleep.
"We're here," I called out as I push forward the hyperspace levers, instantly dropping us out of hyperspace.
Looking at the planet before, me I smiled. It'd been years since I'd been in space and even now, after all I'd been through, the thrill of simply looking down upon a planet still sends tiny shivers through me.
"Okay," Tallas said as he entered the cockpit. "Let's land and find this renegade."
Absently agreeing, I set a course for Sullust's main city, carefully landed our ship in the indicated docking bay, and turned off all systems. I quickly reached out and swept the planet with the Force, shielding myself as I did so. According to the Masters, Hrasn wouldn't be able to detect us if we were careful with our shields, as we are stronger masters then he is.
"Found him," I said as I detected a strong but shielded presense in the Force. Any Jedi or Sith would have been unable to sense his presense if they tried to look for him.
"Yeah, I see," Tallas said as he too sensed the renegade. "We can reach him in two days. Let's hope we can get him alone, the last thing we need is an audience."
"Indeed," I agreed. "Probably best to make a move for him at night. That way it will seem like he was simply another victim of some criminal organization."
We had hoped that Hrasn would be in a solitary environment, perhaps the wilds, but he was clever enough to avoid such a situation. He knew that the Order would send agents after him.
"What do you suppose makes them break their vows?" I asked of Tallas as we walked along the tidy city streets. We were out of the capital now, trekking through a lesser city. When we reached the outer edge, we would take a connecting transport to the city from which we felt the renegade's presense emanating.
"I don't know," Tallas said, and then proceeded to contradict his statement by offering some speculation. "Maybe they miss their families, want to talk to them?"
"He was done with his training," I said, shaking my head, "And you know as well as I do that when you're done with your training, you're offered options which allow you to tell some things about the Order. He could have told his family if they'd sworn not to tell anyone else."
"Well, that's true," Tallas mused. "Well, maybe he wanted to use his power, openly. You know, like a Jedi."
I shot my friend an annoyed look. "The Jedi aren't that bad," I said sourly.
"They take it upon themselves to be judge and jury of all they encounter. I'd say that's pretty bad. As bad as the Sith, really."
This was a sore point between us, and always had been. Tallas claimed that the Jedi are far too presumptuous, that they take too many liberties with people and laws throughout the galaxy. I can see things differently now, but even after having finished my training, I was just beginning to see things differently. I needed experience out in the galaxy in order to understand all that I had learned.
I held a stinging retort on my lips for him then, but held it, not wanting to incite another argument. We had business to attend to, and I wanted an honest opinion, not a philosophical debate.
"Okay, maybe he wants to use his power openly, but he hasn't done anything. We haven't felt anything, and there have been no reports of use of the power outside of his escape from the planet."
"He killed a higher Master," Tallas said, softly dismayed. "The Line said it was because the Master caught him thinking disloyal thoughts and he panicked."
"Maybe he wasn't really actually intending to break his vow before he killed the Master. Maybe he was just, you know, entertaining idle thoughts."
"You don't panic and kill someone because you were just thinking," Tallas said humourlessly.
"True. I think. . .I think maybe it's too much for some people," I said, thoughtfully. "You've no idea how many times I've wanted to scream and run because of all the stifling secrecy, because of the fact that I wanted to do something for the galaxy, and couldn't. Maybe he didn't leave because he wanted to do something in particular, say something specific, but simply because he wanted to feel free, to be it. Maybe he thinks that's enough. Just to know there are no shackles on him. Even for just a moment."
A long, thoughtful pause overtook us as we approached the terminal where we would purchase our fare for the transport.
Finally, as we came to the booth, Tallas said, "I hope it was enough for him. You know they'll execute him."
"I know it," I said.
A lingering horror dwelt within me. I was still Light enough to hold all life sacred, and if I was right about why the renegade had done as he did, it was even worse, because I could empathise with him. That could have been me, fleeing for my life and freedom, if I'd been just a bit weaker or just a bit braver. I wasn't sure which would apply to me.
Suddenly, I gasped. There was a horrible awareness surrounding me.
Tallas turned quickly from the booth, gripping in his hand our fare chips. His eyes were wide.
"You let down your shields," my friend whispered. "You used Empathy to find out why he did it. He knows we're here now."
Damn. I was numb-struck for the briefest of moments, horrified that I could have been so stupid, so thoughtless. But now, I was gripped with indecision. Did I really want to condemn the renegade to his death? Could I let this happen? Was I strong enough to do my duty in the face of the truth?
We turned and ran to the transport, handing over our tickets and boarding just as the vehicle was getting ready to depart. Whatever my decision was, I needed to make it very soon.
Tallas was glaring at me.
"Now he's going to run," he said. "I just hope he doesn't get away."
Images of my old Jedi students came to my mind and I see myself lecturing them about the sacredness of life. I had told them to only kill if it was necessary. During the war, it had been different. Back then, it had literally been kill or be killed. During peace times, however....
No man should get away with murder, though. Hrasn should definitely be punished, there was no doubt in my mind of that. But death? Wasn't there a place where he could be locked up for his crime? The moment the thought crossed my mind, I nearly laughed. That's one of the reasons the Order is so careful in picking its students. The amount of power that comes with the training is incredible. You couldn't lock the renegade up out here, and it would be a constant hassle for the pyramid. The place was for teaching, not for baby-sitting criminals.
"What do you think he'll do?" I quietly asked Tallas.
"I can't be sure," Tallas replied, "But he'll probably run. If there's a close spaceport."
"Perhaps," I said.
"Do you have another idea?" Tallas inquired.
"I was just wondering," I explained. "Since Hrasn's killed one Master, why not us as well?"
"What would he gain by doing that?" Tallas questioned. "The Order already knows about him. The only thing killing us would achieve is to make them more dedicated in their search for him."
"True," I agreed. "However, if he simply runs then we'll go right after him. If he kills us, or tries to, then he'll be able to run without having to look over his shoulder from the beginning. It will give him time to find a new hiding place before the Order sends others after him. It buys him some time, not a lot, but still...."
"I guess we'll see," Tallas stated. I could see that he was slightly more nervous than he was before.
Looking at the other people on the transport, I quickly assure that none of them had overheard our conversation. Noting that a Rodian a few seats next to Tallas has, I reached forward with a tendril of the Force and entered his mind. As I did so, I saw Tallas glance up briefly. Quickly, I destroyed the Rodian's memory of our conversation and made him think that we were talking about what to do during our stay here instead.
"Why did you do that?" Tallas demanded. "Why the new memory?"
"I don't know about you," I responded. "But I'd be worried if I had a sudden memory gap."
"He would never have noticed," Tallas said. "It was only a minute or two long. How often did you think of how you spent every minute of every day before you started learning about the Light Side?"
"Every now and then," I stated. "I used to hate living on the farm, so I used to go over the days events and think about what it would have been like if this had happened at that time."
"Call it what you will," I said, suddenly feeling a twitch in the Force, seconds before I realised that it was Hrasn looking for us.
The touch of his mind instantly brought my indecision rushing back. I'm used to people being after me and trying to kill me. However, despite all the people that I'd killed, I never wanted to think about how many people were on the Death Star when I destroyed it, I couldn't make myself not care. I always felt guilty, although I knew that it was almost always necessity that influenced me. If I hadn't destroyed the Death Star, it would have destroyed Yavin IV and the base along with it. Then what would have happened? I'd have probably been killed or, if my father had recognized me in time, he would have captured me and I'd have become a Sith. Perhaps the Empire would have crushed the Rebellion completely. But you just don't know.
I sat up straighter on the train as I realised something. Seeing Tallas give me an inquiring look, I briefly smiled at him. Because of the tremendous amounts of power highly sensitive Force individuals can acquire if they are taught how to use the Force, the Master of the Balance are always very careful to chose students who they know can handle the stress. Sometimes however, like everyone, they make a mistake. Like they did with Hrasn.
When I finally thought about it, I realised why it was important that we complete our mission. There is no place that could contain the renegade, and if we left him loose, he'd simply spread his knowledge to students that he doesn't know very much. Because of that, there was no way for him to know whether or not they'll be able to control their new found power. And then they of course would go out and teach others, who would in turn teach others, all of whom would likely be unfit candidates, and their power would be unleashed upon the galaxy. The cycle of destruction was sickening to even think of.
"You okay?" Tallas asked, and I realised that I had totally shut myself off from him.
"Fine," I replied cooly.
"Good. Our stop is next."
I waited until the transport stopped before getting to my feet and following Tallas out. Stepping onto the sidewalk, I took a deep breath. Although I still didn't like the idea of the death penalty, I knew then that I must bring the renegade in before he spread his deadly knowledge.
"Looks like you might be right," Tallas said. "He's still here."
Following his Force sense, I quickly located Hrasn.
"Unless, of course, he's still getting ready to leave," Tallas concluded.
"I doubt it," I replied. "If he were really scared of us, or wanted to avoid a confrontation at all costs then he'd have simply abandoned everything and left. No, he's waiting for us to come to him."
"A little overconfident isn't he? Two against one."
We approached the renegade's lair with caution. It would not do to underestimate him and subsequently loose the battle, and perhaps our lives.
It seemed as though we would have an easy victory, however, as we entered the small home. There was nothing extraordinary about it, nothing menacing or chaotic. It was an ordinary little hallway, with a closet and some coat hooks, and a shoe rack. It had small home woven rugs which had probably been purchased because this Hrasn didn't include rug-hooking amongst his skills. The place was well lit, modern, and clean, and none of this changed as we made our way deeper into the house.
Both of us were silent, employing the Force to shield ourselves completely, but another Balance Master could, with effort and enough power, detect us. This one wasn't as powerful as either of us, but I had let him identify me, so I couldn't be sure. I could feel him still, I just wasn't sure exactly where in the house he was.
Without warning, I tripped on the large rug partially covering the main hardwood floor in the living room. I recovered my balance quickly and kept onwards, but felt a sense of danger and disquiet which had been lurking in me increase vastly.
I drew my lightsaber from its place on my belt and lit it. Tallas, who, previous to his Balance training had been the member of a cult Force organization which carried lightsabers and practiced nature worship, also still maintained his weapon. I gestured for him to ignite his, and he did so.
The slight snap hiss of the ignition of the sabers disturbed the silence, and the low humming made it even worse, but I needed to be prepared for any ambushing our quarry may have attempted, and I was increasingly aware of the sensation within my mind which warned me he already knew we were here.
There was no need to pretend at surprising him.
I concentrated on locating him once more with my senses, and suddenly felt the whole world contract, going absolutely haywire. It felt as though all of the galaxy had just been shoved in a large bottle, turned upside down, and shaken violently. I moaned in nauseous revulsion and distantly heard Tallas do the same.
The small, neat, well lit room disappeared in a flash of Force illusion. We were in a cold, small cell, the doors suddenly slamming down with finality.
Despite our caution, we had underestimated our foe, and were now trapped.
The worse thing was, I knew it was my fault.
And so did Tallas.
It was that day when I experienced first-hand the fact that even close friendships can be destroyed by blame.
"That destroyed your friendship?" Jaina asks me incredulously as she stares at me.
"Yes," I reply, taking the glass of juice Tenel Ka offers. "Thank you," I say before taking a sip and turning my attention back to Jaina. "As soon as we both realised what had happened, he blamed me, as we could just as easily have been killed as opposed to being simply tricked into a cell. That was what he couldn't forgive me for. This was, for Tallas, his first real dangerous experience as he had not fought in the Rebellion before being recruited by the Masters of The Balance."
"Still," Jaina says doubtfully. "You two couldn't have been all that close if something as simple as such a mistake can rip you apart."
"There's a little more to it than you know," I state as I lean back and regard the others, who seem to be agreeing with my niece. "When he calmed down a little, we began the long task of cutting ourselves a way out of the prison."
"How come you still had your lightsaber at the time of the test, but not now?" Leia inquires curiously.
"The fact that we didn't need a materialistic weapon was a lesson we needed to learn ourselves," I inform her. "Which I did on this mission. Ironically, in learning this lesson I also lost Tallas forever as a friend, as he blames what happened on me. He says that if I hadn't given away our presense on the planet, the event would never have happened."
"The event?" Jacen asks.
"Yes," I reply. "Although I doubt that is true. I'm pretty sure he would still have been injured even if Hrasn hadn't known that we were coming. You see, when we finally got ourselves an escape route, we hurried after him and managed to catch up with him. We caught him in an abandoned section of town where there were no observers."
"This way," Tallas said as he entered an abandoned building.
Following him, I sighed softly. His bitter words from earlier still stung, although I already knew that it was my fault. But did he have to lash out so? I pushed the thoughts aside. I would not be the one to land us into even more trouble on the mission. Reaching outward with the Force, while still shielding myself, I scanned the area nearby. Hrasn's presense had grown stronger as we'd approached the forlorn area of town.
Fingering my lightsaber as we climbed the stairs, I let Tallas take to front, knowing that he didn't trust me to block an attack at that point. Reaching the top, we quickly spread out before moving the direction of Hrasn's presence. As we entered a second room, I suddenly knew that something was wrong. Although Hrasn was still clearly ahead of us, he was now also below us. Sending a glance at Tallas, I saw him shrug in reply before he moved forward once more.
Entering the next room, I saw how Hrasn managed to jump levels so quickly. In the middle of the room there was a railing that was the only safety barrier to prevent people from falling through the opening in the floor to the level below. Crouching down on the floor, I slid forward to gain a peek whilst not showing myself to any observer. Seconds later, Tallas was at my side and we were both looking down together.
Hrasn was standing in the middle of the room, a confused look on his face as he tilted his head sideways. Looking at him, I knew that he had lost our presense and was trying to locate us. Nudging Tallas, I motioned to my saber before indicating that we would probably be better off if we jumped down and surprised him. Tallas looked doubtful for a moment, as if he couldn't trust any plan I could came up with. But then, after a moment's thought, he nodded his head in agreement.
Getting a good grasp on my lightsaber, I waited until Tallas signaled that he was ready before pushing myself to my feet and launching myself over the railing in one fluid movement. Even before I had reached the ground, Hrasn felt the attack coming and whirled around. Seeing us, he quickly flipped backwards and out of our direct reach.
Landing, Tallas and I simply stood there for a moment, eyeing Hrasn as he studied us.
"I think you know why we're here," Tallas finally said.
"I do," Hrasn replied in his squeaky voice. "I'm simply surprised that the Masters would send two so inexperienced and dumb."
Ignoring the remarks, I could feel Tallas stiffen at my side even as his anger towards me grew. Briefly, an ominous tension hung in the air and Hrasn tilted his small head slightly as he sensed Tallas' reaction to his words. Looking from Tallas to me, he smiled and began to laugh at Tallas' attachment to such emotions as anger towards such petty comments. People so late in our training as we were should not react to such base emotions, but Tallas seemed to be cracking at the edges. And then he attacked. Hrasn leapt into the air and landed in between the two of us.
"You'll have to do better than that to get me," Hrasn sneered. "Funny, how you still use those silly materialistic weapons."
I quickly pondered what he meant by that. Suddenly realization dawned and along with it came a feeling of horror.
"Look out, Tallas!" I cried as I threw my lightsaber away from me.
But the warning was too late and before Tallas could do anything, his lightsaber exploded in his hands, even as mine exploded on the ground where it landed. Tallas cried out in agony, flapping his arms and jumping. I concentrate on all that Master Koth had taught me, reaching out with the Force and creating an impenetrable barrier to slam into the Master who stood before me. I had been told in the beginning of my training that at some point I would find that I would have no further use of a lightsaber, but that only I would know when. With sudden clarity on Sullust, I knew my time.
Whirling around, Hrasn raised his hands out of reflex even as he created his own barrier to block mine. The two barriers collided in mid-air, sending sparks flying as the pure energy of the Force creations met. I instantly felt the pressure Hrasn was putting on his barrier to push mine back into me and thus knock me off my feet and unconsciousness for a good stretch of time. Feeling myself tense, I blocked out all my surroundings, even Tallas' quieting screams, and concentrated solely on the task of pushing Hrasn's barrier back into him.
After a length of time, I could feel it as the push on my barrier began to fade and I realised that Hrasn was starting to tire slightly. He'd been away from the Masters for so long that he hadn't been practicing against those stronger than himself and thus strengthening himself in the process. Summoning all my reserves, I sent it all into my barrier in one, final blow. The added strength was enough to overcome Hrasn's resistance and both barriers collided into him, sending him to the floor and unconsciousness with a cry of pain.
I rushed over to him and called the binders from Tallas' belt to my hand. Picking up Hrasn's hands, I clamped them into the binders before I probed him presense. Seeing that he'd be fine given time, I use the Force to activate a switch that was located within the binders. Instantly, two tiny needles, one for each arm, plunged into Hrasn's skin and started secreting a substance into his system. The substance would block his access to the Force for so long as it was being pumped into him. When the binders were removed, however, Hrasn would quickly regain his abilities and build up an immunity to the substance so that it couldn't be used on him a second time.
Once I was sure that Hrasn would cause us no further trouble, I turned my attention to Tallas.
The journey back was quiet, tense. Tallas' hands had been blasted away completely, and much of his lower arms were severely burned. The lightsaber blast had cauterised the wounds even as they made it, so the only care there was needed for them was to wash them and give Tallas a pain killer. He was bitter, though, and refused to talk to me without direct cause of necessity, either to our business with the renegade, who was now caught in bindings in an isolated area of the ship, or with the ship and our supplies themselves.
I was feeling guilty and morose myself, and so didn't press him.
We arrived back home without much incident, therefor. Our prisoner, when he woke up from his sedatives, which I had been continuously applying before his immune system could catch up with it, was silent and cold. Without Hrasn's squeaky voice and taunting mannerisms, I was able to recognise again the creature which had possessed such cold dignity and desperation, the need to be free. I was sending him to the gallows, all the same. I had a choice not to do so, but that was only be to become a renegade as he was.
The Line greeted us as soon as we entered their chamber, our prisoner between us. I saw the Masters identify Tallas' injuries immediately. Besides the physical evidence, his disturbed psyche was loud and clear. Doubtless, he would have need of individual treatments with a Master skilled in the treatment of physical and mental trauma before he could regained his calm to re-grow his arms.
But that was not what the Line was gathered for at the moment.
"Hrasn, you come before us a traitor," Master Koth said, his normally warm eyes cold and impassive. "Your guilt has been proven and proven twice over. There will be no trial. Have you anything to say for yourself before you meet your end?"
For a long moment, Hrasn was silent, and I thought perhaps we would refuse his last words, and then he took a deep breath.
When he spoke, his voice was solemn and calm, and I almost didn't notice the high-pitched quality.
"The Balance is a trap, a loss of true life. By breaking free of the Order, I have reclaimed myself. I have taken back my life. Even as you give me death. I have no regrets."
The chamber was deathly silent, and I felt a silent respect for his words, even though I didn't agree with them. He had given up on bravado and boasting. He was making his final end something with meaning.
And it was the final end. Because we cannot allow such powerful spirits, the revenant of a renegade Master, to dwell within the Force after death. The potential for chaos is unmentionable.
The Line gathered their strength, and I and Tallas stepped back from the prisoner. He didn't try to run. He knew it wasn't possible to succeed.
The strike came without warning, without mercy. The combined power of the ruling Masters tore into the renegade, shredding his soul from his body, which fell down dead to the floor.
The mental screams assaulted us all, the agony of a soul in torment. We heard the final, bountiful essense of being torn apart, the spirit itself suffering the final death, the desecration and destruction of what was meant to be eternal. The ultimate and final sentencing of a traitor and criminal.
I found that I was weeping, tears running down my face for the traitor. And with the final rending, the final scream, I let loose a sob.
When I looked up, I found the Line watching me. In every one of their eyes was understanding.
And not a single regret.
Sitting in my room, I sighed as I jumped to my feet and started to pace once more. Although it was late, I was not tired, just nervous. I knew that I should meditate, but I couldn't. A while ago, I had finished giving my version of what happened on the mission to the Masters, and now Tallas was in with them. I couldn't stop thinking of what had happened, and how our friendship had been ruined by something so small in the grand scheme of things.
What would Master Koth think of what had happened, I wondered. Would he be disappointed?
Hrasn's death crept into my thoughts again. The pure agony he had radiated as his soul had died still sent chills down my spine. It had been so much worse than anything I'd ever before felt in my life, and that was saying a lot. Sensing Master Koth's approach, I cleared my mind and turned to face the door.
"Luke," he said as he entered and motioned towards a pair of chairs. "Take a seat, please."
"Well?" I asked as I sat down.
"We have heard both sides of what happened," he began. "And although you did make a mistake by allowing Hrasn to sense you, it was in no way related with Tallas' accident, although he believes so. You both had the same warning, he simply didn't recognise it."
Nodding my head, I wished Tallas could have seen it that way, although I could see why he couldn't
"Tallas will be placed with another Master for a while," Koth continued. "As to you... it depends."
"What do you mean?" I inquired, looking up.
"It is clear that the events have effected you as well," Koth explained. "If you are able to get through it yourself with some meditation by tomorrow evening than you will be given a week in which to pack your stuff and leave the planet for the mandatory six months in the outside. If not. . .then you shall be placed with me for another few months."
"But you've already taken on another student," I said as I remembered seeing the Rodian on my way back to my room.
"True," Master Koth replied. "However, it is not unheard of for a Master to have two students. I was just seeing my last student off when I took on you, after all. Although I doubt that it will be necessary this time. Why don't you start meditating now and see where you get?"
"Very well," I replied as Master Koth got to his feet and headed towards the door. "Where is Tallas now?"
"He is back in his quarters," Koth said. He eyed me with understanding, knowing what I needed to do.
Watching him go, I relaxed and let myself drift off into a trance.
Approaching Tallas' quarters, I prepared myself for the worst. I had spent most of the last night and all of the morning meditating. Because of the focus of my meditation, I felt totally refreshed as well as confident. I had come to terms with losing Tallas as a friend, although I knew that I needed see him one last time before I went to see the Masters.
Reaching the door which led to Tallas' quarters, I stopped. I knew that he had sensed my approach as I had briefly lowered my shields upon exiting the turbolift, and yet he did not acknowledge my presense. Shaking my head, I reached up and knocked at the door, knowing that he must blame me deeply to completely ignore me. Several moments later, the door opened on command and I entered the room.
"What do you want?" Tallas snapped as he looked at me. "Why can't you just leave me alone? Or do you want to look at the damage you caused?"
Both of his upper remaining arms were wrapped in white sterile clothe. Tallas was going to need a lot of help from the Masters before he was going to be allowed to go to the outside, I was sure. They just couldn't take the chance with him, as unstable as he was then.
"No," I stated calmly. "I've come to apologize for giving us away and our capture, but that is all. Everything else that happened was not my fault and the Masters agree with me on that."
"They weren't there!" Tallas growled. "They don't know what transpired. Sure, they got what we told them, but that's not the same. I, however, was there and so I know the truth."
"Then why wasn't I injured?" I questioned. "We both had the same warning and the same time to react to it. I did and you didn't, which proves that it was possible not to be injured."
"Are you saying that I'm too slow?"
"I'm not saying anything specific," I explained. "All that I'm saying is that you can't blame me for your injury, as I'm living proof that it was possible to get out of harm's way in time."
"And you've come to gloat?" Tallas snarled once more. "To show that you're better?"
"No," I said, sighing briefly. "I simply came to see you one last time. I might be leaving soon, and even if I don't, we probably won't be seeing each other anymore. Since we have been friends for several years I simply wanted to say good-bye."
"I hope you're not expecting a reply," Tallas said as he turned away from me. "As you won't be getting one."
I turned around and exited the room, making way to the main floor and the Hall. Entering, I could instantly feel them assessing me and my current condition. I stopped in the centre of the room and waited as they briefly discussed matters amongst themselves.
"You have done well," Master Koth finally announced.
"Indeed," Master Fl'one agreed. "You are now officially finished with the Line's requirements. In one week you must be off the planet for the mandatory six month's leave. Do you have any ideas on what you want to do after that?"
"I'm not entirely sure," I replied honestly. "However, I will probably remain outside for a while. Perhaps someday I'll return to take a student of my own, but I'm not sure."
"Very well," Master Jarea stated. "Just as long as you do not forget the Oath you took upon completing your training."
"I won't," I promised before I left the chamber and headed to gather my belongings.
Part 3: The Reaction
"That's it," I say, finishing off my glass of juice and leaning back in my seat.
"That's it?" Leia demands suspiciously.
"Well, obviously, there's more, but those were the defining events. I took my six months after that, later went back to the planet for a couple of years, in which time I also explored some of the closer surrounding planets. I even taught a student the ways of the Balance, a few years up the line. But those are things that came afterwards, you must understand."
"And that's why you don't carry a lightsaber," Anakin says softly.
"I learned that such material weapons are not needed, and can often do more harm than good, even to their wielder. Yes," I nod.
"Why is it that you're telling us this, if you took a vow not to?" Leia asks.
"Because the vow does not exclude all telling," I remind her. "It stipulates that those whom a Master tells must be absolutely trustworthy, and vow never to speak of these things themselves and never attempt to find the Balance on their own, for obvious reasons of safety. And I think that you are all concerned, trustworthy, sensible people, who deserve to know what your brother," I look at Leia, "and uncle," I look at Jacen and Jaina and Anakin, "and uncle-in-law," I grin as I say the last to Tenel Ka, "has been doing for the past twenty years. Don't you agree?"
I think it is safe to say that they agree.
Selinthia Avenchesca, Valerie Vancollie