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Forty Kilometers to Point Anduul


Bluesparks

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Hi, everybody. This story is set at about 8 ATC, toward the beginning of the civil conflict on Ord Mantell and before the start of the player stories there. Like my other story on these forums, The Paladin, my wife has asked me to post it, hoping that positive feedback will get me to write more. I just hope that at the end of it, you feel entertained. Enjoy!

 

Part One: The Padawan

 

The shuttle rumbled gently as it hit Ord Mantell’s atmosphere. Jedi Master Jalkor Venn sat, hunched over, elbows resting on his knees, and looked around the interior.

 

Straight ahead was the rear door of the shuttle, a hatch so dented and downright wobbly he wondered if the only reason this ship hadn’t depressurized and killed them all was the stern looks he’d seen the pilots giving the craft before he boarded.

 

To Jalkor’s right was a squad of eight Republic soldiers, talking to themselves with the typical bravado and profanity of a life that, but for a childhood propensity for lifting things with his mind, would likely have been his.

Well, military or smuggler. Jalkor Venn was from Ord Mantell, after all, and Ord Mantell had originally been a Corellian colony, and the wanderlust and love of thrills of a Corellian take a lot more than several thousand generations offworld to kill. Quasi-legitimate shipping or gun work would have suited Venn well, but Force proficiency was a charge that Venn took seriously. So while Venn wore a sharp, masculine beard and mustache, and was downright proud of his head of long, chestnut hair, that impressive mane draped down on traditional Jedi robes atop heavy armor.

 

Venn didn’t begrudge the men their tall tales of combat and sexual prowess. He had stolen a ride on their shuttle, after all. And he was about to steal them for what might well be a suicidal mission for anyone not carrying a lightsaber.

 

To Jalkor’s left was his padawan, a shrewd and willful little protocol droid of a human named Kerem Kennev. Between his constantly passive and neutral face and his absolutely average physical characteristics, Jalkor was fairly certain he’d seen human replica droids sold to lonely creatures on Nar Shaddaa with more personality than the boy. Most Jedi had to try to get padawans to calm down. Jalkor was doing everything in his power to get this kid to show emotion. He treasured the small successes.

 

Kerem was carrying a lightsaber. A double-sided one, like Venn’s own. That was one of the small successes. A double-sided saber was ideal for defense against incoming blaster fire. The boy had, however, fitted his saber with the most clean, almost frigid, icy-blue crystal he could find. That was not one of the small successes. A nice green crystal like his own, Venn had argued, was a symbol of vivid life, of the very unifying force of nature that the Force, in fact, was.

 

When Venn said exactly this to Kerem, in his most commanding and admonishing and Jedi Master tone, Kerem had simply waited to make sure Venn had finished speaking, then grabbed the light blue one again.

Back in the present, Venn had a foreboding sense of dread followed by a soldier starting to speak, which was never a good combination.

 

“You really bringing a kid into a place like this?” one of the soldiers said. He was young himself, olive skinned, with a mop of hair that had sprouted far past regulation length.

 

Kerem glanced up at the soldier, having relaxed into a sitting position only slightly more upright than Jalkor’s own.

 

“Bet there’s men in your squad that’d have enlisted at fifteen if given the chance,” Venn replied.

 

“Fifteen?” the soldier asked, followed by an extended vulgarity. “Yeah, but we have the might of the Republic military. He has his pajamas and a sword.”

 

This is not going to--

 

“The standard value of a trained padawan in combat for Republic Command is estimated at six to eight standard infantry,” Kerem recited. Only after he was done did he look up and make eye contact with the soldier. The soldier stared back into the padawan’s blank eyes for a moment; then, he and all six of his squadmates turned in unison to look at their commander, a young mirialan male, who blinked, then turned away. The countenance of each of the soldiers fell, and the room fell to silence, except for the whine of the shuttle’s thrusters.

 

--end well.

 

 

 

The shuttle landed, and with only a few dirty looks from the soldiers, Master Venn and Padawan Kennev disembarked, making their way up from the landing pads and to the crest of the hill, where the command center of Fort Averon was snuggled nicely between several barracks and armories. It was only a brief wait before they sat down in a gunmetal gray, prefabricated office to meet with a colonel by the name of Tern Alsor. Well, Jalkor and Tern sat. Kerem stood, of his own accord, flanking the doorway like a bodyguard.

 

“You’re welcome to take a seat, young sir. We have a perfectly good chair,” the colonel said, smiling and gesturing at a perfectly good chair.

 

Jalkor shook his head. “He knows. Just... he does that. Don’t worry about it.”

 

The colonel stared for a moment. “Very well. So, please explain to me why you want to take a squad of fresh soldiers off on a march somewhere?”

 

Venn produced a holoprojector from his robes and set it on the colonel’s desk. Pressing a button prompted the appearance of the projection of a young woman, no older than twenty, looking decidedly like she was bad at acting calm for cameras.

 

“To the Jedi Council. My name is Knight Geviana Tolan, and I’m hereby requesting help, or reinforcements, with an... well, issue.

 

“I travelled to Ord Mantell with my master -- well, former master, I’m a knight now, but -- with Master Jennesar Lientaal. Though at first we were simply investigating the insurgency here, Master Lientaal seems to have, well, chosen a side. And it’s not the Republic’s.

 

“We’re currently holed up at Point Anduul, a small outpost at the coordinates I’ve provided. Given the opportunity, I’m going to make a break for it and try to reach the Republic forces at Fort Averon to the northwest. That said, I don’t know if I’m the fighter my master is. We’ll see.

 

“I’m transmitting all the relevant information I can think of to Elthree, my astromech droid. Hopefully he reaches you. Should you send any rescue forces, may the Force be with them. And me, too.”

 

The projection cut out there. Colonel Alsor clasped his hands together for a moment in thought. “Our current intelligence places Point Anduul as having several dozen armed insurgents, plus support staff. I was under the impression you were only requesting one squad of troopers for your purpose.”

 

“That’s correct.” Jalkor nodded nonchalantly.

 

“Eight men? That’s all you want?”

 

“And myself. And Imperial Guard Kennev behind me, there.” Jalkor jerked a thumb back toward Kerem, who didn’t react.

 

“Against a relative insurgent fortress.”

 

“Well, there’s a good chance we’re picking up another Jedi along the way, don’t forget.”

 

The colonel sighed. “You know, if you’d asked for three squads, I’d have said no, it’s a foolish endeavor, set up recon and wait for the girl to run, but that’s it.”

 

“And I would understand entirely, sir.”

 

“But I’m damn near one hundred percent obligated to provide a Jedi with support if he’s attempting something in my theatre. A minimum of a squad of able troopers.

 

Jalkor sat up and leaned forward. “Funny how that works, isn’t it?”

 

The colonel’s good-humored exasperation was rapidly becoming loathing. “Fine. Get out of here, and bring them all back in one piece or I’m conscripting you.”

 

“You sure? Last Jedi that showed up in these parts took a liking to the other side, as I recall it.”

 

The colonel slammed his fists on his desk, biting down hard on a smile. “I am too tired of fighting and too short on men to laugh at things, Master Jedi. May the Force be with you, and get the hell out of my sight.”

 

Jalkor Venn stood, bowing with a theatrical flourish, and swept out the door. Kerem pivoted and followed.

 

 

 

It was a forty kilometer march from Fort Averon to Point Anduul. Venn planned on taking the road carefully and spending two nights before assaulting the point. The soldiers, happy to decide this was a suicide mission no matter how many of them Kerem was worth, agreed on the leisurely pace to give themselves a couple more days of life. While one of them took point a few dozen meters ahead of the rest of the group, Master Venn, Padawan Kennev, and the group’s commanding officer, the mirialan male Sergeant Bel Krakkar, walked together. The rest of the group followed a few meters behind.

 

After a bit of walking, Bel Krakkar spoke up. “Permission to speak freely, Master Jedi,” he offered quietly.

 

Jalkor smiled. “Always and permanently granted. I’m a protector, not a general.”

 

Bel frowned. “Your boy seems to know exactly what not to say, and when not to say it.”

 

Jalkor glanced at Kerem, who showed no visible sign of reacting. “I doubt it will happen again, Sergeant,” Venn replied.

 

“I sincerely hope not, Master Jedi. I really don’t need any more obstacles to keeping these people in line. They’re all rookies, and Point Anduul is pretty close to ‘death trap’ on the scale of things out here.”

 

“Don’t worry, sergeant. I have a plan.”

 

“Oh?”

 

“My plan is to use the remaining thirty-seven or so kilometers to think of a proper plan.”

 

“How reassuring, sir.”

 

“Sergeant, I fought the Sith Empire for twenty-eight years. I have seen far worse than a rural town full of belligerent locals.” Venn decided not to mention how many of those years in combat he’d spent by the side of one Master Jennesar Lientaal, and how much “far worse” for the enemies of the Republic Lientaal could be. “But I take the lives of your men, and my duty to protect them, seriously. I assure you that if I don’t have a method to bring that stronghold down without undue risk to you and yours, I’ll leave you all outside and march in to take them on singlehandedly. I will not throw your bravery away, Sergeant.”

 

Bel Krakkar did not look reassured. “That’s noble, Master Venn, but these are Republic recruits fresh from offworld. They’re riled up and ready to fight. You’re going to have to try to keep them out of any fracas that develops. They’re here to fight and die for their galaxy.”

 

Venn sighed. “Duly noted, Sergeant.”

 

Whenever a bend or a narrow section of rock separated the grunts from the commander and Jedi, quiet words could be heard between the former, a point Jalkor brought up with Kerem later, at camp, when the two were alone.

 

“You know the kinds of things they’re saying about us, right?” Jalkor asked his padawan.

 

Kerem shrugged. “I hadn’t been able to hear.”

 

Jalkor nodded. “Reach out, listen with your mind and your ears as one, and you’ll hear.”

 

Kerem paused, closing his eyes. Jalkor could sense the same fear, the same superstition, coming from the soldiers. When Kerem opened his eyes once more, his master smiled sympathetically.

 

“I’m starting to feel less bad about what I said earlier,” Kerem said. Of course, there was no sign of anger, guilt, or other emotions or life on his face.

 

“Slow down, Kerem. You’re starting to feel?”

 

Kerem stared at his master.

 

“Someday, I’m going to make you laugh. And I’ll bottle what I say and tell the Sith Emperor, and he’ll crack and the galaxy will end.”

 

“It’ll turn out he’d have to have been there.”

 

Jalkor threw his arms up, then slumped. “See?! You clearly get how humor works. Even Master Shan and Master Oteg smile occasionally, you know. There isn’t a Trial of the Glower you have to pass to achieve knighthood.”

 

Kerem shrugged.

 

“In any case. I don’t know if you’ve ever heard and sensed such things from non-Jedi before. But it’s not going to go away, padawan. Every time you’re moving through a crowd on Coruscant in your robes, every time you board a military vessel. They want us to win everything, and to save everyone, and we can’t.”

 

“It’s terrible.”

 

Jalkor wasn’t sure if that was an opinion or an emotion, but either way he was counting it as a small success.

“The battle, secondary perhaps only to the battle for your own spirit, is the battle to bolster theirs without losing yourself. You can never resent them, never blame them for the hope and expectations they burden you with. It’s an easy way to fall. I’ve seen it happen before.”

 

Kerem nodded.

 

“They do not feel the flow of the Force that we do, sadly. And their inability to understand leads to fear, which leads to anger, or distrust.”

 

The padawan nodded again.

 

Jalkor sighed. “That’s enough Jedi Master flimflam for now, though, don’t you think?”

 

“Master,” Kerem said. Jalkor looked up.

 

“We fear what we don’t understand, then?” the boy asked. Jalkor nodded.

 

“Is it possible for us to properly understand what it’s like to lack the Force, then?”

 

Jalkor waggled his head back and forth. “Yes and no. We have all the senses humans share, but with an extra. We can perhaps remember a time before we listened to it, we have the Trial of Insight and practice to not neglect our normal senses. But we can count on the Force.”

 

Kerem nodded. “You told me in the past that you wear your heavy armor and carry a double-sided lightsaber because they are the defense against an army.”

 

Jalkor nodded. His own armament was intensely defensively oriented compared to the more traditional light or medium armor of the Jedi and one or two lightsabers. It had been a point of contention with the padawan - he wondered how many Jedi got in proper arguments with their students instead of laying down the law - that Venn recommended heavy armor as well as a double-sided saber. Kerem had thought it unnecessary and unwieldy, and after a great deal of stubbornness on both sides, the two had compromised. Kerem was now training with a double-sided saber in techniques based on Soresu form like Venn, but with lighter armor (Jalkor would say happily training, but Kerem never seemed able to grasp what joy was like). His style relied more traditionally on agility as well as Force kinetics, the ancient art of making your surroundings work for you. Jalkor supposed he’d never seen the boy as close to a real emotion as when he had taught Kerem how to properly drop a rock on someone in combat. His lips hadn’t curved upward, but his eyes had twinkled with intense interest. Another small success.

“That’s correct. The battle with a Sith is a battle of wills, a dance in the Force. More often than not, the victor is the stronger in the Force and the more willed or disciplined fighter, regardless of armament. Fate provides the means.”

 

“Whereas while the Force is our ally when it comes to traditional arms, a blaster rifle wielded by a non-Force user is not a living creature, and one cannot deflect a grenade with a lightsaber.”

 

“Precisely.”

 

“So do you think you fear them, a bit? The non-Force using fighters? Because you can’t understand them?”

 

Jalkor nodded. “Takes a lot more bravery to stand up against something when you’re not essentially a wizard with a sword that can block blaster fire. Anyone who can do that is pretty damn scary. Don’t forget that.”

 

“Of course, master.”

 

“We’re marching off to war. No more boring lessons like this, we have enough terrible things to look forward to. Go to bed,” Jalkor said, chuckling.

 

Kerem nodded. Jalkor hoped for a smile, but got none. “Good night, Master Venn.”

 

“G’night, apprentice.”

 

Kerem retired into his tent. Jalkor lay out in the moonlight, listening to the changing of the watch. He had another day and night to figure out how to take an insurgent stronghold and a Jedi master with himself, a padawan, a padawan’s worth of soldiers, and if they were lucky, a bonus Jedi knight. In the plus column, his padawan seemed to have been born with the soul of an eighty year old Jedi Council member, and in a place like Ord Mantell, there were lots of rocks to drop on foes. In the minus column, this was Ol’ Jenny. He was the closest thing Jalkor had to a friend and a brother during the war, and the only one remotely close to have survived the whole thing. Master Jennesar Lientaal had built up a list of Sith kills as long as Jalkor Venn’s leg, too. Still, you didn’t tell Corellians odds, even if they were several hundred generations removed from proper Corellians. Jalkor Venn trusted in the Force.

 

Yet the silent distrust flowing from the soldiers pulsed in the back of his mind as he tried to get some sleep.

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Part Two: The Knight

 

The party broke their fast in relative silence the next morning. They resumed their typical marching order, one point man finding a path over Ord Mantell’s rocky, volcanic terrain, followed by the Jedi, his apprentice, and the troopers’ sergeant, then the rest of the men. Two morning hours passed uneventfully in this manner, until Jalkor noticed Kerem looking somewhat morose. Jalkor waited to mention anything, afraid that simply speaking to the boy would bring his normally stoic face back. Maybe if he just let Kerem show any kind of emotion for a while, Kerem might discover that it was okay to occasionally feel things. After ten or so minutes of this, however, he called for the group to halt, turning to face Kerem. “What’s troubling you?”

 

“A... disturbance in the Force wouldn’t be the right term,” Kerem replied.

 

“How so?”

 

“It’s more a... foreboding?”

 

“If you’re getting hints of the future, Kerem, I’m going to look up which Grand Master died right before you were born and reincarnated in your body. But it’s not of danger or death?”

 

“It’s a sense of... coming discomfort. Malaise. It feels like an unwanted crazy aunt is coming to stay with me for a while.”

 

Jalkor glanced at a ridge ahead of them on their path, then clapped a meaty hand on the somewhat thin boy’s shoulder. “Ahh. See, that’s good news!” At Kerem’s questioning look, Jalkor simply smiled. “If you’re sensing long-term annoyance, it means you’re not dying any time soon.”

 

Jalkor swung about, then swaggered over to a large rock about ten meters ahead of the assembled expedition’s position. He lifted an arm, and when the figure whipped around the corner of the stone, lightsaber blazing, he simply yanked it from her grip with the Force into his outstretched hand and powered the blade down. “Relax. We’re Republic loyalists. Sergeant Krakkar, can you get this poor woman some water?”

 

The figure was tense. She’d clearly seen better days, her red hair unkempt and matted with sweat as it draped down her shoulders and back, her bangs stuck to her forehead. Brown robes hung off a slender frame, light durasteel armor stitched into forest green fabric clinging more tightly to the woman’s slender body. Jedi Knight Geviana Tolan maintained her combat stance for a moment longer before finally reacting to the disarmament and the sight of the Republic troopers. She slumped against the rock, exhaling slowly and shutting her eyes. “And you’re not an army out to take Point Anduul, so... you got my transmission? You came to rescue me!?”

 

“....nnno.” Master Venn tried to remain neutral. Channel your inner Kerem. “The Council said you were here, but we have a higher priority mission.”

 

Gevi nodded and swallowed some of the water Sergeant Krakkar offered. “My-- Master Lientaal.”

 

“That’s right. Once you’re feeling better we’d like to debrief you. You can then head back to Fort Averon if you wish,” Kerem said.

 

“Cuter boys than you have tried to debrief me,” Gevi said. When the blank stares of the group made clear her attempt at humor had fallen flat, she cleared her throat and shook her head emphatically, her crimson hair breaking free and whipping around her face. “Nope. I’m coming with you guys. Not everyone stationed at Point Anduul wants to be. In the rebellion, that is. Conscripted. I promised some of them I’d bring help.”

 

Venn nodded. “Another Jedi will be helpful when it comes time to face Master Lientaal. And I’d trust my life to anyone such a fighter saw fit to make his padawan.” Jalkor looked at Gevi, who smiled. He sensed with the Force some of the energy and spirit flowing back into her after being run ragged in her escape. He extended a hand. “Master Jalkor Venn. Nice to meet you.”

 

Geviana blinked, suddenly staring, awed, at the man. “Master Venn! Master Lientaal always talks about you. He says that if you hadn’t been around he wouldn’t be around to teach me and that if you hadn’t been you, he wouldn’t know how to deal with a Corellian like myself.” She grabbed his hand in both of her own and vigorously pumped it up and down.

 

Venn blinked. “Well, fair enough. He did his share of life saving, too, you know. He is the single greatest swordsman I’ve ever known.”

 

She nodded. “And you’ve known him longer than I have.” She quieted a bit. “Any idea why he’s doing all this?”

 

Venn paused. “No good ones.” He had a few, and they weren’t good. They weren’t even bad. Notions of soldiers surviving wars only to fall to peace and everything looking like a nail to a hammer swirled through his head. He didn’t vocalize them, however, and gestured the group onward.

 

As Master Venn waved their point man back up ahead, returned the lightsaber he’d confiscated to its owner, and the group resumed moving, Gevi began to beam. “Two Jedi... and a boy in his pajamas. Why are you in pajamas?” she asked Kerem.

 

Kerem was incredulous, though it was impossible to tell. “They’re not pajamas. You used to wear the same thing.”

One soldier in the cluster behind the Jedi began to chuckle. “Called it!”

 

Gevi narrowed her eyes. “I don’t think I did. And if I did, I didn’t make them look like pajamas.” She turned back around to face forward. “Two Jedi, a padawan in pajamas, and the soldiers of the Republic marching off to secure the galaxy. We’re going to clean house, right Elthree?”

 

Kerem and Jalkor glanced at each other.

 

Gevi looked around. “Elthree? She swiveled her head about, not finding what she was looking for, turned back to Venn with enormous akk dog eyes. “You didn’t bring Elthree?”

 

“Whom?” Kerem asked.

 

“My droid! The one that sent you the transmission about me and everything in the first place. You did get a transmission from an astromech droid, right?”

 

Venn blinked. “I don’t know? The transmission was received, so I assume the droid got back to base or close enough to transmit. I didn’t ask about the droid itself.”

 

Gevi was frenzied, glancing between the Jedi, the Padawan, and the soldiers. “Elthree E-seven, my custom droid! Did he make it back to Fort Averon? Did you see him on the way in?” Gevi grabbed suddenly at Jalkor’s robes. “IsElthreeokay!?”

 

Venn stared back at the Jedi in terror.

 

“Who cares?” Kerem asked.

 

Slowly, Geviana Tolan’s head twisted to face Venn’s apprentice, a rictus grin on her face.

 

Sergeant Krakkar stepped up hastily. “We didn’t find any droid ruins in our sweeps on the way up here, and there hasn’t been any separatist activity between the Point and the Fort in the last few days. I’m sure he’s safe and sound at Fort Averon?” he said, the final sentence turning into more of an offer of an idea than a declarative statement.

 

Gevi relaxed her grip. “I’m sure he’s fine. Once we’re back I’ll scrape the igneous rock bits from this desolate place out of him and he’ll be as good as new.”

 

Venn’s heart started beating again, and he lolled his head from side to side before starting to walk forward once more. “Some of us are from here, you know. We like it.”

 

Gevi jogged a bit ahead, renewed. “Give me Coronet City any day,” she said.

 

Kerem wasn’t yet moving, and Jalkor took a couple steps back toward his apprentice. As he closed, the strengthened link between padawan and master let him feel it - the wave of terror and despair that hit Kerem when he realized the source of his coming long-term discomfort, and that she was coming with them to Point Anduul. The knowledge skittered down and then smote on the padawan like a thermal detonator dropped down a rocky embankment, and from five meters away Jalkor could feel the wave of dread that could have crushed someone beneath it.

 

Kerem responded by rubbing his eyebrows gently before lurching forward into his march.

 

Jalkor offered a sympathetic smile and a pat on the teenaged boy’s back as he passed.

 

 

 

The sound of the doorbell at the homestead came suddenly, and Adira Hansen had no idea who it could possibly be. She lifted herself off of the barstool where she’d been sitting and enjoying her supper, glancing at the small viewscreen near the doorway. The men from Point Anduul were back.

 

With a sigh, Adira lifted her hunting rifle and powered it up, then thumbed the button for the door’s comm. “I told you that my son’s not coming with you no matter how nicely you ask. Or not nicely, like you did last time. Go home before you get shot.”

 

The man sighed, then rang the doorbell once more.

 

“LEAVE!” Adira Hansen yelled. She heard the creak of stairs as her son, Maddin, crept down to see what the commotion was.

 

The third time the man from Point Anduul rang the doorbell, the door opened, and Adira was so shocked at this development that she didn’t have time to react before the other man outside shot her.

 

The first man, the one closest to the door, the one with long black hair and an unfortunate scar over his mouth that provided none of the sex appeal and ruggedness scars can, reached forward, grabbing the woman’s arms, then gently lowering her to the floor out of the doorway before grabbing the slicing device he’d planted on the doorbell and comm system. Adira writhed gently from the stun blast. Maddin’s eyes went wide and he leapt down to tend to his mother. Then the second man, with the blaster and the blonde crew cut, waggled his weapon in the boy’s direction.

 

“Y’mother’s a hearty ol’ woman. Sh’ll be fine,” the second man said through a larynx that sounded like it’d had a bottle brush taken to it.

 

The boy spat back a suggestion that the second man fornicate his way to Dromund Kaas. He provided no indication of how this would provide safety through hyperspace.

 

The first man made sure the mother was fine and stood back up with a sympathetic look. “Listen, Maddin. You can’t let your mother’s loyalty to a corrupt government light-years away cloud your future. Even if the Republic makes good at rooting out the corrupt, it has no choice but to recognize a people’s cry for independence. If they’re good, they’ll let us go. If they’re not, then we have to fight for our planet ourselves because it’s our duty.”

 

Maddin remained silent, but it was clear the first man’s words had found some purchase. He glanced down at his mother, who had gone from a stun shock into what seemed like a restful and healthy nap. The drooling had stopped. The second man lingered in the doorway, sweeping his gaze across the field before the house itself.

“I’m not trying to draft you so you can dive on some grenade on some planet you couldn’t care less about, Maddy. You know me. I’m Mister Fannig from the shop still, right? I’m just doing my duty. And I want you to do yours. And you’re just fifteen anyway, Maddy. Master Lientaal isn’t gonna let them hand you a rifle anyway. But we need patriots of all age and ability, and hopefully this gets settled before you ever need a gun, y’know?”

 

The second man smacked the first on the shoulder rather roughly and pointed out into the field. “That look like something?”

 

The first man shrugged. “How should I know? Go look, Brucks,” he said back. The second man lifted his blaster and started walking toward away from the door, which the first man shut to refocus Maddin’s attention.

 

“Now, I know what they say, but it ain’t treason. You’re fighting for your planet. Aren’t you a bit more loyal to Ord Mantell than to a Senate that takes your mum’s money to rebuild its own city, then lets the governor here get away with practically murder?”

 

Maddin’s eyes went wide for a moment.

 

“Am I gettin’ through to ya, Maddy?” the first man said. Then Maddin swayed to the side, trying to look out the window. The first man turned and saw the flashes of light as well. “Mother of madness, dun’ tell me Brucks fou--”

 

The door burst effortlessly out of the wall in a brief cacophony of noise and flashing light, the steel plate smacking directly into the first man, who flew nearly a meter himself before hitting the ground. The door landed on him, and the second man landed on the door, significantly the worse for wear after being smashed between said door and the heavily armored Jedi woman that was now holding the whole group down. She’d landed on her knees on the second man, her right hand holding him to the steel plate, her left holding a blazing green lightsaber. He showed no sign of trying to escape, or anything else requiring that much cognitive function for the rest of his life, so she deactivated the saber and hung it up before looking over at Maddin, who was standing over his mother next to the pile of people and staring.

 

“Hi!” the Jedi said, the grimace she’d been making at the first and second men instantly vanishing. Even her bangs seemed to spring up to a more playful place. “I’m real sorry about the door.” She glanced back at the entryway. “Aw, man,” she said, before spritely hopping off of the pile to look at Adina. She placed a hand on the woman’s chest. “Your mom, is it? I’m guessing stun blasted? Gonna be fine. Can probably wake her safely in a minute here. She looks tough.” She winked at Maddin, who was still completely nonplussed. “And I’m going to get these two out of here, no worries there. Um.” The Jedi reached for a datapad on a nearby end table, punching a few keys and showing the boy. “Hey. This is me, and my ship’s comm. You contact me directly and I’ll wire you credits to fix this. Republic forces here’s got better things to do.” She paused after this statement. “Well, not better than helping folk, but... you know what I mean, right?”

 

Maddin didn’t nod or do anything else.

 

Satisfied with her explanation, the Jedi stood, dragging the top body off of the door and man pile and outside. A boy about Maddin’s age in tan tunic and slacks stepped in through the entryway out of nowhere, sending the door skittering to the side with a wave of his hand before dragging the other body away. He glanced up at Maddin, but maintained a neutral expression and didn’t speak.

 

The female peered her head in through the doorway once more. “I hate to, y’know, dash like this. But I promise your mom is going to be fine, and these two won’t bother you anymore, and Master Venn and Kerem and some soldiers and I are going to Point Anduul and making sure this stops for good, y’know? So get some food in her, and you two stop worrying about these pests. And may the Force be with you,” she added, before slinging the body of Mister Fannig over one shoulder and the remnants of Brucks’s body over the other and ambling off. The boy in tan followed, grabbing the pieces of the second man’s thoroughly melted blaster as he went.

 

Maddin crouched, watching the two rendezvous with a cluster of others on the road a hundred meters or so away. They then left, bringing the bodies along. Maddin then shook his mother, who stirred before recalling the situation and bolting upright. When she saw the shattered doorway and the presence of no one but her son, she relaxed slightly. “Maddin? What happened? Who was here? Where’d the separatists go?”

 

“Jedi,” Maddin said quietly.

 

“Jedi? As I live and breathe?” Adira swore, something Maddin hadn’t heard since his father died. “Just... wow. And I missed it!”

 

Maddin squeezed his mother tightly for a moment. “Those Jedi take care of these notions folks had about getting you to join the rebels?”

 

Maddin nodded, pointing at the Jedi in the distance. “Forget the rebels. I want to be on their side.”

 

 

Four minutes or so up the road, the group passed a ditch in the side of a hillock, and Geviana suddenly verbalized that this was the place, then casually hopped down into the ditch and sloughed both separatists off of her shoulders into the dirt. She leaned down to examine the larger, more scarred, and more severely injured of the two while the troopers stood above, concerned, and Jalkor and Kerem walked down around to join her at the lower level. Once she was satisfied with inspecting the body, Geviana casually shut its half-lidded eyes, steadied her stance, drew her lightsaber and with a quick and surgical flick sent the separatist’s head tumbling down next to the rest of him in the ditch.

 

The troopers all reeled a bit, and Jalkor paused mid-stride. Geviana looked over her work casually, then moved over to the other separatist. He was also unconscious, though having not been used as a battering ram against a door, he was in much better shape. Still, she stood, checked her stance once more, and drew her blade, making a quick cut that skittered harmlessly off of Kerem’s own lightsaber blade.

 

Geviana slacked, looking over the youth that now stood over the fallen rebel with his lightsaber in a parrying stance. “I... are you for real, kid?” she asked.

 

Kerem glared at her. “We are not executioners,” he said sternly.

 

“We?” Geviana asked. “You know that much about Jedi Knightin’? Did you examine the bodies, want to tell me if these men have any hope of survival? If they have any hope of even regaining consciousness? And even so, did you not see what kind of work they were doing? Conscription? Slavery, essentially, but with a lower survival rate?”

 

“It’s irrelevant. We do not kill so.”

 

Geviana rolled her eyes, then crouched down until she was at eye level with the youth. “I know you got a lightsaber and I’m not saying you’re stupid or cowardly or anything. But you really might want to make sure you’re ready to use that before you draw blades the first time you disagree with someone.”

 

She stood, stretching upward a bit, then bringing her still-lit lightsaber up in a lightning-quick slash from her side. The tip of her blade caught Kerem’s own and didn’t even slow down, knocking the saber easily from his grip. It twirled through the air and shut itself off before landing unceremoniously in the grass.

 

“Now then, can we please continue, because we don’t have the manpower to watch prisoners and hey, what--!?”

 

The rock flew up from the ground into Geviana’s again-relaxed hand, knocking her own saber free. Turning to watch the weapon deactivate and fall, she was blindsided by the teenager that then landed on her.

 

Jedi are taught all sorts of combat techniques, but flying tackles from sixteen year old boys are not typically included. Gevi landed in the grass, several weak punches landing on her head and neck before she simply lifted the boy off of her and tossed him into the grass. Both fighters got to their feet, and then with a push by the Force Kerem leapt at her again.

 

The soldiers up above started cheering the combatants on. Geviana half-caught Kerem this time, and he didn’t get any punches in, just ineffectual kicks against her armor before she twisted beneath him, then grabbed his arms and flung him fully over her head and down into the dirt.

 

Kerem got up slower this time, somewhat wobbly, but the anger in his eyes was unabated. He ran toward her, then swung a slow punch. Her response was automatic, leaning out of the way of his right hook, bringing her right arm down over his, then chopping quickly upward with her left hand. She heard two distinct cracks as she then swung him away, where he stumbled and collapsed into the dirt with a whimper.

 

She started stalking toward him until her second footstep didn’t find ground. She glanced down to find the earth retreating from her rapidly, and she was then whipped upward and to the side to face Master Venn, his arm extended toward her, fury in his face.

 

“Just what do you think you’re doing?!” he shouted at her. The soldiers’ cheering suddenly ended.

 

“Hey, I didn’t start anything. He attacked me, you saw it, and I simply defended myself!”

 

“He’s sixteen and a padawan! What the hell’s your excuse!” Venn yelled back.

 

Geviana struggled slightly against the Force’s grip on her, but it was a perfect vice. She pushed outward with her own strength. The grass two meters beneath her feet flattened. She pushed again. A shockwave of dirt burst from beneath her, but she didn’t even sway. She glanced back at Venn, whose robes rippled slightly around his armor, but who was otherwise motionless and silent, his face that of an angry father.

 

Unfortunately, Geviana Tolan was still too Corellian for her own good, and rather than apologize, she simply said, “Let me down.”

 

Venn closed his fist and swung his arm downward, and the airborne Jedi dropped faster than gravity alone would facilitate and slammed into the earth. Venn turned to Kerem, who had pulled himself to his feet with one arm and held the other close. Jalkor motioned to the troopers. “Fix her up and get him a splint unless it absolutely needs something fancier,” he said, walking toward the soldiers. Sergeant Krakkar motioned his men forward, then leaned in over Jalkor’s shoulder. “Just a splint?” he asked quietly.

 

“Just a splint,” came the reply. “Better he learn the pain of valor now.”

 

Krakkar shrugged. “Well, I’ll never let anyone tell me Jedi aren’t hardcore. And what about the remaining separatist?”

 

Jalkor scratched at his beard in thought.

 

 

 

“Pardon me?” came the call from the gaping hole in the front of the house, and Maddin would have been surprised by the Coreward accent and the second visitor in one day, but on a day like today, all bets were off. He glanced up from the table where dinner had been attempted once more to see an older Jedi in armor and flowing robes looking inward. Maddin stood and slowly approached. “I do apologize for troubling you again, but we need your input.”

 

Adira pulled herself to her feet and walked toward the Jedi. “Well, anything for Jedi, I’d say. We don’t see your kind out here.”

 

Jalkor waved at some people behind him, and two Republic soldiers carried up a woozy and slowly-increasingly-conscious scarred man with long black hair. “Do you know this man?”

 

Adira’s eyes narrowed. “I thought I did.”

 

Jalkor glanced between her and the boy. “Well, you seem tough, and from what I hear your son’s rather brave,” he said, winking in Maddin’s direction. “And with my comrades in arms and I heading to Point Anduul, we need some folks to take care of this fellow. I doubt he’ll have the strength to be rejoining the separatists any time soon. He just needs soup and bedrest.”

 

Adira glanced between the Jedi and the drooling man being held up by the two soldiers. “Well... we will need someone to help rebuild the doorway, now won’t we?”

 

“Splendid,” Jalkor said. “Oh, and nine for the evening.”

 

Adira and Maddin glanced at each other, then at the Jedi. As the mother was about to speak once more, Jalkor tossed a credit chip and reader to Adira, who caught them, placed the chip in the reader, glanced down at the many digits on the small digital readout, and then stumbled backward into her chair.

 

“I don’t know that you’re zoned for a campground,” Master Venn said, “but I thought we’d set up our tents all the same. Is that alright with you?”

Edited by Bluesparks
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Part Three: The Master

 

“There are three important things to keep in mind when fighting Jedi or Sith,” Jalkor Venn said to the squad of soldiers with him the morning of the assault.

 

The troops were assembled in the lawn they’d spent the night on, where Jedi Knight Geviana Tolan, had performed some bladed and percussive interruption of the Separatists’ recruitment slash conscription. She and her now-scuffed armor were standing to the side. On the opposite side of the soldiers was Kerem Kennev, Jalkor’s apprentice, who lacked armor to be scuffed and who now wore a scuffed face and a black eye to match the sling his arm was in after a tense back-and-forth on the nature of justice with Geviana.

 

“One. A lightsaber can’t block a grenade.”

 

Jalkor pulled a small gray orb from his robes. It was a rubber ball about the size of the detonators the soldiers carried. “I’ve seen lightsabers block a lot of things. Blaster fire. A harpoon. On one occasion, I saw a Jedi deflect fire from a strafing Imperial starfighter, then hurl the saber up and flash through the cockpit of the craft, which promptly crashed. Fellow never did get his lightsaber back from that, but he still lived, and for the rest of the battle was running around in heavy robes with a SpecForce assault cannon. Which might rank pretty high on the list of manly things.”

 

Jalkor paused, smirking at the air in his reminiscing. “Anyway. Can’t block explosives. Brings me to point two. Less absolute, but still helpful.” Jalkor gestured at one of the soldiers, the fellow with longer hair that had caused such a ruckus on the shuttle down from orbit. “You play much ball? Please tell me which of these is easier to field.”

 

Jalkor tossed his grenade ball to the soldier, who caught it easily and tossed it back. Jalkor then skipped the ball along the ground. The soldier took a couple steps forward, doubled over, and had to adjust his grip before lobbing the thing back weakly to the Jedi. Jalkor caught the ball with the Force mid-toss and held it up before him. “Now, the Force doesn’t follow typical physics. You can’t whiff a catch with the Force. You may fail to catch, you either catch or don’t, but you can’t miss. Does that make sense? But concentration is still required to handle something. And I think we all know that it’s harder to concentrate and focus on something bouncing over debris than it is on a nice lob. So when we’re using grenades to their full effect, try to keep that in mind. Otherwise...” Jalkor trailed off, before throwing the grenade back at the troops with the Force alone. “Boom.”

 

The long-haired soldier caught the ball and glanced over it rather soberly.

 

“Point three,” Jalkor said, sobering up. “And I’m really hoping none of these are used today. Or ever. I really am, but it just might come to this.”

 

Jalkor took a few steps back before drawing his lightsaber, then tossing it into the grass a meter or so away. He then lay down on his back, leaning his head back to view the soldiers upside-down. “Of that gray cylinder no taller than the foliage, and my giant armored self, note which is the easier target.”

 

Jalkor pulled his saber to himself with the Force as he stood back up. “If you’re lucky enough to disarm a Force wielder - and it is not easy - and he is still a threat, or attempts to rearm, you shoot the person. It’s too easy to miss the lightsaber, and then your foe is rearmed and in good shape once more. Shoot the person, shoot to kill.”

 

Jalkor put a slight smile back on. “That said, if things go mad today, do your best to deal with the local color, and leave the crazies with lightsabers to myself, Padawan Kennev, and Jedi Tolan. Any questions?”

 

 

Sergeant Krakkar made his way up to Jalkor as their march toward Point Anduul neared its end. Sidling up to the Jedi, he cleared his throat. “I did have a question, sir, I just didn’t feel comfortable asking in front of everyone.”

Jalkor nodded.

 

“Did you ever come up with a plan?”

 

Jalkor nodded. “Something like it, yes. Most of these separatists, they’re not soldiers. They’re townsfolk and businessmen with rebel patriotic streaks, and they don’t know real combat. They just see holos, and I think we can use that to our advantage. I think I can take the point, and if things go well, you can be back to normal peacekeeping and we four Jedi will be out of your hair and back on Tython arguing philosophy.”

 

Bel Krakkar smiled. “You really think we’re all going home from this?”

 

Jalkor shrugged. “Stranger things have happened.”

 

 

 

The walls surrounding the squat cluster of buildings that made up Point Anduul were incomplete, and trenches fifty to one hundred meters long filled the gaps between the hastily erected vertical chunks of durasteel that surrounded the small outpost on a rocky outcropping above the sea. Kerem Kennev slipped through one of these trenches like a ghost, the Force helping cloak him, right beneath two different guards. He pulled himself out of the trench with his good left arm, spying one more sentry near the wind turbine that was his first target. The man appeared to be chattering and laughing, and while he glanced out at the ocean, the padawan crept up, grabbing a piece of rock and hurling it at the turbine. Kerem was not left-handed, however, and the rock went far wide of the mark, so Kerem whipped the rock to the side with the Force, and it clunked loudly enough against the turbine to get the guard’s attention. He turned to see the source of the noise, and Kerem sprinted up and slammed him into the base of the turbine headfirst. The soldier limply fell, and Kerem glanced him over and checked a pulse before the unconscious soldier’s comm lit up.

 

“Okay, y’know what? There were not as many beans in that stew as you all are making it out to be, and if that burst of noise I just heard from Jend is what I think it was, but with the comm unit held to it, I’m putting him on latrine for a month.”

 

Kerem grabbed the unit and dropped his voice an octave. “C’mon, lighten up, sir. Got nuffin to do but gripe and stare at the ocean out here, eh?” Was that what people sound like?

 

“Was that you, Aren? Quit staring at the water and watch the blasted road for those two that didn’t come back last night. Master Lientaal isn’t putting up with any nonsense.”

 

“That wasn’t me, boss.”

 

Kerem glared at the comm before switching it off, then reaching into his satchel and pulling out the pack of explosives, which he stuck to the thinnest looking point on the base of the turbine. One more of these up ahead, then scatter the rest on this hillside, and it should look like the scatter of artillery fire, right?

 

“Kerem reporting. Two minutes and I should be clear and ready for phase two.”

 

 

 

The pounding at the door of the comm station just outside the walls was getting ridiculous, so the operator there sighed, removed his headphones, and stomped up to the door. When it slid open, he saw a female in robes smiling. “Hi! Sorry!” she said, right before the stun blast hit him.

 

Geviana glanced about, then saw one sentry approaching. She took a couple of steps into the doorway, then leaned just her head out so the guard couldn’t see that she was wearing robes. “Hey, can I get a hand with this?” she yelled down at him. The guard glanced up, then trotted up to the building, curious. He wasn’t ready for the stun either, and Geviana dragged both limp bodies in before shutting and locking the door. When she turned to the computer, she squealed. “Oooh! You literally left everything open and walked over to get the door. I can have so much fun on the network from here...”

 

 

 

Jalkor and Sergeant Krakkar looked over their handiwork with the spray paint. “Yeah, those look like Sep colors to me,” the sergeant said.

 

The seven soldiers before them seemed less happy with their now mismatched and faux aged armor. “Isn’t this a bit puerile, sir? Walking in dressed like the enemy?”

 

Krakkar shot a sour look at the man who’d asked. “Puerile? Big words like that, you an Alderaanian prince or something?”

 

Jalkor chuckled. “I don’t intend to walk us in the front door. Well, not until Geviana and Kerem’s work begins. At that point, we just have to put on a good show. If someone stumbles across you in the chaos, it might keep you from being shot. Just try not to pass out from paint fumes until then. Sound good?”

 

 

 

Eight. Seven. Six. Kerem Kennev counted down in his head. He was well clear of the blasts, and half of what they were throwing out was smoke, so it should make a good show. Cover up the lack of better special effects.

Three. Two. One. And Point Anduul is under Republic attack.

 

The charges at the bases of the first and third wind turbine on the hill exploded, the blasts staggered with the other explosives that Kerem had littered up and down the hillside. To the untrained eye, it gave a good impression of the scattered impacts of artillery shells. Shouting started inside the outpost at once, and the first turbine tumbled down in pieces. Kerem stood up once the first wave had ended. Summoning the Force, he projected his voice as best he could.

 

Artillery fire!” Kerem yelled, as low and raspy as he could manage. “Clear the buildings! Get to the trenches!” Then he hit the detonator for wave two, and started running down the hillside.

 

 

“Get to the armory! Man up, you scallywags!” Geviana Tolan yelled as well, then paused. That was a bit more space pirate than Ord Mantell separatist. Still, it felt right. “Get them blasters charged, you ground pounding ninnies!”

The armory hadn’t been hard to pick out, both physically and virtually. Slicing the amateur work here was a breeze, and the one stone building with blocked up windows was the easy choice when determining where in the outpost the heavy weapons and explosives had to be stored. Naturally, she’d bricked the firmware on the door nearest the trenches and walls, so it displayed a stern OUT OF ORDER warning on the screen above its keypad. The guards and soldiers of Point Anduul, then, proceeded to the rear doorway to arm. Gevi waited, watching the camera feeds from within the arsenal, and she’d managed to rack up a good eighteen or twenty separatists in the building before one of them made for the door to leave. She bricked it as well, and it latched shut before any of the soldiers could leave. Geviana herself jumped out of the seat in the comm building, then made for the base.

 

In the armory, the soldiers started yelling and swearing, or alternately panicking, before the lights dimmed and the projectors flickered to life. The soldiers there saw a Jedi woman with a ponytail, grinning from ear to ear. “Hey, guys!” the voice said. “Super sorry about all this. See, I’m here to get Master Lientaal back, and this seemed a better option than shooting people, right? Now, don’t try to blow your way out of the building, because I’ve seen that structure’s schematics and there’s a darn good chance of bringing a wall down on yourselves if you don’t get the blast just right. And with the plan we have going, there’s a real good chance none of your comrades have died yet! Isn’t that fantastic?! So you all sit tight, and I swear on the Jedi Code that I will testify to your cooperation and commitment to peace when the tribunals for you happen. I’m a Corellian, and I’m not going to let the Republic throw the book at people just because of an independent streak. I promise.

 

“So you all sit tight. And maybe practice singing this. Who knows, it might help your trial!” Geviana’s recording ended, and the loop of the Galactic Republic anthem began.

 

 

 

Kerem sprinted down the hill, following the dozens of others that were running for the trenches. Most were armed, and Kerem trusted the Force to keep them from looking too closely at him as he made for the edge of the trenches nearest the cliffs to the sea. He saw the two Republic soldiers running up from the land side of the trench, then nodded at them before taking a deep breath and pulling his arm out of its sling.

 

The padawan and the soldiers reached the trench at the same time. “You sure you don’t just want one of us to hold that and act threatening, sir?” the one said.

 

“I’m not too hurt to block blaster fire if things go awry,” Kerem said back neutrally. He counted to three on his left hand, then all three leapt into the trench. The two soldiers behind him fired up into the air, and Kerem lit his lightsaber. “Everybody pay attention!” he yelled. At the sight of a Jedi coming toward them, even a diminutive one, the people in the trench nearest Kerem and the soldiers froze.

 

“I realize I’m a teenager, but these soldiers behind me are grown men, and I have a lightsaber, and I’m trusting that none of you want to test that.” Kerem stepped forward, and the Separatist nearest him dropped his blaster carbine.

“Now let’s do the smart thing and prevent this from being a bloodbath. Because if you turn around, you’ll see more of us at the other end of the trench. And unless you’re very, very interested in field-testing the penetrative power of a military-grade blaster, fighting will net you nothing good.” Kerem paused. He was no empath, or even social, but he was projecting the strongest sense of calm and meekness with the Force that he could. Hopefully it took.

 

“Now we’re doing our best not to massacre all of you, despite the number of soldiers and Jedi we have.” he lied. “Your cooperation in that regard is greatly appreciated. Right now, the other trenches are being hemmed in neatly by other Jedi, and other troopers, so just stay here, stay calm, and we’ll all get through this together.”

 

Each face Kerem could see peeking out at him from further down the winding tunnel was calm. Almost obedient. As good as could be hoped. Kerem glanced about. “And the mines at the lip of the trench if you start clambering out are quite heavy on the shrapnel side, and that’s a mess for everyone involved. So let’s keep calm. Thank you.”

 

Kerem watched the group for a moment, then sheathed his lightsaber before clambering out of the trench. The soldiers followed, and all three raced for the largest building at the top of the point.

 

 

There was a knock on the door at the Point Anduul command center. A moment later, the door exploded inward and skittered like a toy car across the floor. A double-sided green lightsaber emerged from the doorway, followed by a Jedi, and then followed by several Republic troopers leveling rifles at the half-dozen or so strategists and computer operators in the room. “Rats. Hoped I’d catch somebody with that,” Jalkor said. He then grabbed a comm transmitter from one of the stations in his free hand, then waggled the blade of the lightsaber at the man seated at that station. “The whole base, if you would?”

 

The operator nodded and tapped at a touchscreen. A green light came on, and Jalkor smiled. “Hello, Point Anduul! This is Jedi Master Jalkor Venn. By now many of you have already had one speech about staying calm and not getting yourself killed by turning today into a bloodbath at the hands of Jedi and Republic soldiers. So I’ll spare you that. I just wanted to tell you that this is being broadcast from the central command center you have here, which functions as the highest ground of Point Anduul. The base is ours. So no matter how unguarded you may seem, how zealous you want to be, and how downright crazy you might want to go, it. Will. Not. Go. Well. And by my count, so far, we’ve managed to take this base with a grand total of zero fatalities on either side! Let’s keep that going and get through this together. Venn out.”

 

Venn switched the comm off, then turned around. Geviana and Kerem had arrived, along with the rest of the troopers. The soldiers had herded all of the operators and bystanders together into one corner, and were now standing in combat stances, all guns pointed on the other Jedi that had appeared in a doorway to a back room.

He was a tall, tanned human male with a shaved head and robes woven of fabric so heavy it almost appeared to be leather. Beneath them shone the dull gleam of heavy armor. He carried two lightsabers, one on each hip, had a blaster rifle slung across his back, a pistol strapped to one leg, and wore a stern look as he stared at Jalkor Venn. He also gave off such a sense of calm and control that it took everyone completely by surprise when he slowly drew the pistol on his leg and shot Sergeant Krakkar in the chest.

 

“Can we start being serious now?” Jedi Master Jennesar Lientaal asked as he holstered the gun once more and made no further movements. Sergeant Krakkar stumbled backward and slumped into a sitting position against the wall behind him. One soldier dropped to help.

 

“That was barely stronger than a targeting laser. Your people are vulnerable to theatrics as well, Master Venn,” Lientaal said.

 

The group looked down at Krakkar, who slowly stood back up. “He’s right. I’m not hurt. Just pissed.” A soldier handed him his rifle back, and the whole group pointed their weapons at the Jedi master once more.

 

“You have Point Anduul, Jalkor. What now?” Master Lientaal asked.

 

“We process these people, dismantle the arms, and, most importantly, we bring you home to Tython,” Jalkor said.

 

“Ord Mantell is my home, Jalkor. Look at how you traipsed in here. These people have no chance, and no leadership. That’s why I’m here. These people do not have grand protector Jedi like the Republic. Their grievances are real, but any injustice without the word Sith attached to it is swept beneath the rug and ignored, especially by our kind. These people want the self-determination and security they’ve been robbed of. For this, we are called traitor.”

 

“And the free people of the galaxy shooting each other is best? Escalating conflict is now the Jedi way? Mother of madness, Jennesar, we’ve both seen enough war. Decades of it. I don’t want to see you spark more. You think the Council drew my name out of a hat to come get you?”

 

“You came of your own accord to train your padawan in combat and prepare him for his trials.”

 

“I came to get one of the few people I made it through the war with!” Jalkor yelled back at Master Lientaal. “You know what the conflict can take from people. You know better than most what I’ve lost.”

 

Master Lientaal smiled grimly. “Yes, and the people before ourselves is the Jedi way, Jalkor. I’m not coming with you. I can’t. Ord Mantell is my home. More than the Republic. More than the Order. I will defend her.”

 

Jalkor shook his head. “Jennesar, I know you. I know what you’re doing. Don’t do this.”

 

“I’m leaving now,” Jennesar Lientaal said. “I would ask you not try and stop me. As you said, it won’t end well.”

 

“You’re not.” With a flourish, Geviana Tolan leapt from the group, her lightsaber igniting as she flew toward her master. Jennesar turned, his own blade coming up, and with almost lackadaisical grace he deflected her saber and gave her a full-body shove into the nearest wall, where she slumped down, staring at him.

 

He paused for a long moment. “I’m sorry, Geviana,” he said softly. He made for the door he’d entered through. With a wave, a door in the room beyond opened to the world at large.

 

“Sir?” Sergeant Krakkar said. Jalkor stepped forward, and with a clenching of his fist, shut the exterior door in the next room. Jennesar turned and brandished his still-lit lightsaber, and Jalkor stepped into the other room after him, then shut the door behind him, drawing his own blade as he did.

 

“Master!” Kerem and Geviana yelled in unison. The former sent a rush of air and Force energy at the door as Gevi sprinted over and slashed at it with her lightsaber. A console, desk and all, tore free from one wall at Kerem’s behest and hurled toward the doorway, shattering against the reinforced door, but buckling it. Gevi pushed the debris clear with the Force, then leaned her shoulder into ramming it. She stepped back to get a running start for her second attempt, but suddenly feel to her knees and dropped her lightsaber.

 

A moment later, Jalkor Venn emerged from the room, shutting the door once more before either Kerem or Gevi could see what was within. Gevi fell onto her hands and began to sob. Sergeant Krakkar grabbed her and Kerem, dragging both outside, as Jalkor silently motioned a couple other troopers into the back room. Geviana pulled free and ran outside, jogging around the corner from the group. Kerem waited outside the doorway for Jalkor, who came out a few moments later.

 

“You said he was the greatest swordsman you ever knew, Master,” Kerem said quietly.

 

“He was always my better,” Jalkor replied flatly.

 

“Not anymore, it seems.”

 

“I never beat him in a fight, padawan,” Master Venn said, finality in his voice.

 

Kerem found realization, but no words to go with it. He simply stared up at his master, a look of something like terror in his eyes.

 

Jalkor nodded, then put a finger to his lips and gestured toward where Geviana had run. “The truth is a painful thing. Now is not the time.”

 

Kerem nodded. After a moment, he said “Then what is now the time for?”

 

Jalkor sighed. “Now is the time for telling Republic Command of our gains, and telling the Jedi Council of our losses. I had enough of that particular combination during the war, dammit.”

 

Kerem didn’t speak.

 

“And,” Jalkor added, “we adjust our stance to shoulder a little more of the burden that we Jedi carry because of what we’ve done and what we haven’t managed to do. And because we are now fewer to carry it.”

 

“My arm’s broken. I probably shouldn’t do much heavy lifting for a while,” Kerem said flatly. His mask was back.

 

Jalkor didn’t smile. “I’ll carry what I can for as long as I can, then.”

Edited by Bluesparks
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