Miscellaneous Mental Musings of an Emerging Artist
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They traveled for close to a standard day before they discovered the ocean. They had lost sight of the surface light hours before, and lacking information on the planet’s rotation they had no idea if it was still midday above the ground or if several days and nights had since passed. Instead, it had been hours of darkness held barely at bay by the blue glow of Master Klaos’ lightsaber and the hum of the blade echoing back and forth within the stone tunnel. The younglings had been told to listen for the low roars of rushing water or even the sounds of tiny droplets to guide them when the paths would fork, but even with such signals they had been forced to turn back at black, yawning chasms with no way of knowing how deep they descended or how far across they spanned. There was only so much the Force could ascertain about a physical environment, which was why Jedi had learned to rely on proper scanners.
All three of the younglings had grown less talkative — or rather, more efficient with their words — as they had descended, but Klaos had sensed an especially bestirred quietude taking place in Robrus. During one of their rest breaks, Klaos had taken him aside.
“You feel something, don’t you,” Klaos said. “You’re sensing what I’m sensing.”
“The Force is strong here,” Robrus agreed. “My visions are growing more powerful.”
“Clearer?” Klaos asked. Robrus shook his head.
“Louder. I’m not having images, just feelings. Just a single, continuous feeling.”
“What are you feeling?” Klaos asked.
“Scared,” Robrus replied. “Like there’s something down here with us.”
“How long were you planning on keeping it to yourself?”
“You’re right, Master. I’ll tell the others.”
“That’s not what I said, Dahn.”
“You’ve been told that a Jedi must be honest, I take it.”
“Being honest and being forthright aren’t the same things. You’ve spent some time now with the other two. How do you suppose they’ll react if you walk over and tell them you have a bad feeling about this?” Robrus considered Klaos’ words. “What am I here to teach you?” Klaos asked.
“Survival,” Robrus answered.
“For you and for them,” Klaos said. “It does neither Janara or Myell any good to be afraid of shadows that may or may not pose a threat to us. A Jedi must be honest, yes, but a Jedi must also know when their honesty will do the most good.”
They had continued descending with no more words on the subject, although both remained quietly vigilant. Klaos observed the way Janara’s eyes scouted to the edges of the light, preparing solutions for unlikely scenarios. He observed the subtle straightening of Myell’s posture, her willingness to reach out ever further with the Force as her confidence grew even as her hand might unconsciously reach for the figurine hanging around her neck. Klaos recognized the internal battle between terror and wonder that he saw in all Jedi younglings faced with their first adventures. His mission was to help them learn to balance the two — too much of the latter led to recklessness, and too much of the former led to even greater catastrophes.
Klaos had been placing younglings in jeopardy for over a decade and all had gradually risen to become promising padawans and steadfast knights. The Order had its share of legends, but Klaos had little desire to inspire such ambition in his charges. The Order needed skilled and reliable peacekeepers as much as it needed heroes.
They arrived in a massive cavern, with large boulders scattered around the edges of the water and tremendous pointed stalactites hanging from the ceiling far above. The ocean at the center of 979-D was clear and wide, and in the depths could be seen the faint glow of the planet’s core. The water was comfortably warm to the touch. It was uncertain how the planet maintained its equilibrium, but this was not the moment for such examination. Klaos turned to the younglings.
“Now. How do we get back to the surface?” The younglings looked around the cavern walls, noticing the dozens of exits near them and realizing that there would surely be dozens more in the distances they could not see.
“Surely we’re not supposed to scan them all,” Janara said.
“Supposed to, no,” Klaos said. “Could, certainly. But I know you’re more clever than that, Vosenn.” Janara furrowed her brow.
“Where did you send the Recluse?” Janara asked Robrus. “Not the coordinates, the landscape. There was a basin.”
“Yes,” Robrus said.
“A basin needs to be fed,” Janara said. “So we should find a river. The coordinates you used were…”
“Several clicks northwest of where we touched down.”
“That’s no good,” Janara said, frowning. “I’m turned around. I don’t know which direction northwest is.”
“I do,” Myell said. “I kept track. Every time we turned. I kept track.” She pointed across an expanse of the water. “Northwest is that way. But we don’t want northwest anymore.”
“No,” Myell said. “Let me show you.” She drew a large circle in the dirt and then marked two X’s within it. “Pretend this is where we got off the ship and this is where the ship is now. But we walked very far down, and we turned a lot.” She traced a twisted path from one X towards the center of the circle, shooting past the second X. “We went down very far and we turned a few ways. It’s different than walking on the ground above. So if we go northwest we’ll end up very far away when we get back up. You see?”
“She’s right,” Klaos affirmed. “A map might be flat, but a planet is not.”
“You’re brilliant, Myell,” Janara said, grinning at her. “So if we don’t want to go northwest…”
“That way,” said Myell, pointing across a different expanse of the water. “East.”
They looked at the shoreline that wrapped around the cavern. Janara’s face fell. The hike around to the caves at the east was significant, and if they would need another day to get back to the surface there was no guarantee they’d get to the ship before it moved itself again.
“I don’t know…” she started.
“I’ll go look,” Myell interjected. Before any of them could protest, Myell had called upon the Force and sped off down the shoreline, a blur in the distance.
“Myell!” Janara shrieked, starting to move after her. Klaos put a hand on her shoulder.
“Let her go. She’s doing the right thing. She’s faster than you both and she knows what she’s looking for.”
“But what if she needs me?” Janara asked.
“Vosenn,” Klaos said. “She doesn’t.” The words shot through her, and she turned away, in deep pain but unsure quite why. Klaos stood stone-faced and refrained from explaining it to her. Robrus walked away from both of them awkwardly, and stared across the ocean, straining to see any movement.
Several minutes passed. Janara strode up to Master Klaos and glared into his face.
“You may not care about Myell,” she said hotly. “I do. If that makes me a poor Jedi…”
“Your problem, Vosenn, is not that you care about her,” Klaos said. “Your problem is that you care too much about how much you care about her.”
The communicator on Robrus’ belt beeped and he switched it on. Myell’s voice came through a field of scratches and static, but the joy within it was unmistakable.
“I FOUND IT!” she shouted. Within the cavern, the words ricocheted and lost definition. Her voice came through again, quieter, breathless. “There’s a large entrance with a river and I can feel the wind from the surface, the same as I felt on our way down. I’m very tired now. I’m going to sleep and wait until you can get here. It’s the same way I pointed. Bye.”
“Now what?” Robrus asked. “We start walking? We won’t be there for hours.”
“True,” Klaos said. “If we start walking around we won’t be there for hours. If we walk across it will take us much less time.”
“Walk across?” Janara asked.
“Myell is fast,” Klaos said, “but the two of you have other skills with the Force we can use, if we use them together.” He raised his hand towards a nearby boulder. It raised from its resting spot and moved over the surface of the water, barely touching the surface. “Vosenn, Dahn,” he ordered. “Jump to the rock.” They obeyed, both landing nimbly upon it. “Now. Dahn. Concentrate, and move another rock near you.” Robrus focused his energy on another nearby boulder, smaller and lighter, and moved it near the boulder he and Janara had lit upon. “Vosenn. Go to the next rock and begin holding it there. I’m going to join you.” Janara jumped to the boulder Dahn was holding in place, then turned and held the first boulder in place while Klaos released it and jumped over to it. “Do you understand?” he asked the younglings. They nodded. “Good. Then challenge yourselves. As we move these across, see how far you can jump.”
They crossed the water in what felt like mere minutes, the younglings growing bolder with both the speed at which they moved the rocks and the distances they attempted. Twice Klaos had had to catch Janara moments before she hit the water; the third time he’d said to her that the next time she misjudged he would let her fall in. As they neared the eastern shoreline where Myell had indicated their exit would be, they saw her resting, peacefully, against the wall, her legs crossed beneath her.
“Myell!” Janara called to her, happily. Myell awoke and waved back.
Robrus cried out suddenly and Klaos felt the boulder he stood on abruptly sink beneath him. He quickly leapt to the next one, grabbing both younglings roughly under his arms and leaping to the shoreline. Both boulders sank beneath the water. As he landed, he could feel what Robrus must have felt to break his focus and it chilled him to his center. Something or someone was here, near the four of them. Something filled with rage, and hate, and a distant, echoing madness. And power.
Klaos cursed himself. In this cavern of an ocean at the center of an unknown planet, he had unwittingly brought three unready children into the presence of the Dark Side. He ignited his lightsaber and moved the younglings behind him, scanning the area for whatever creature they faced. The screaming maelstrom of its mind knifed through Klaos, disrupting his focus as he attempted to strengthen his own connection to the Force. What he perceived was not the finely honed instrument of a Sith, the coiled and venomous energy that other Jedi had described after their own encounters with Dooku or that Dathomirian assassin of his. Whatever wielded the Dark Side here did so with raw brutality, with animal instinct.
Klaos heard the stirring near the rocks to his left a half-second too late, and then the beast, eyes glowing red and fury erupting from its throat, was upon him.
END OF PART V
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