No Absolutes – 2/4 – Eff_Dragonkiller

Title: No Absolutes
Author: Eff_Dragonkiller
Fandom: Star Wars
Genre: Action Adventure, Crime Drama, Family, Hurt/Comfort, Mystery, Science Fiction, Slash
Relationship(s): Tyvokka & Obi-Wan Kenobi, Obi-Wan Kenobi/Quinlan Vos
Content Rating: R
Warnings: Violence – Graphic, Violence – Domestic and/or Against Children, Off-screen rape of a minor character, Assisted Miscarriage, References to Children in War (canon), References to Slavery (canon), Dark Themes
Beta: hmweasley
Word Count: 107,000
Summary: After almost a year of war and loss, Obi-Wan just wanted to go home. Unfortunately, neither Master Jinn nor the Temple were as welcoming as his dreams had always painted them. He was lonely, grieving, and certain that he was about to be sent away again. Master Tyvokka was not impressed with how the High Council handled the Jinn-Kenobi partnership. There was something wrong there and he was going to fix it no matter who stood in his way.
Artist: tpena19



Chapter 3: Offering Help

10th day of the 10th Republic Standard month, 957 ARR

His new student was bundled up on the couch, sleeping off the last of a startling number of shots from the Healers, Tholme and Quinlan hovering in case he had an adverse reaction. Obi-Wan had already had one horrible reaction when a junior Healer had mixed up which drugs were Stewjoni tolerable and which were not, which had sent Obi-Wan to critical care on a ventilator before they purged the drug from his system. The entire schedule of booster shots had been set back weeks because of the scare, but Tyvokka trusted that Tholme and Quinlan would be vigilant.

And he needed to learn to let go. If Tyvokka treated Obi-Wan the same as any other Padawan his age, he was liable to smother the youngling in his care. Obi-Wan wasn’t like any other Padawan his own age, he had to trust that his student would seek help if he needed it, that their bond was robust enough that Tyvokka would feel anything life threatening if it happened in the Temple, and that Tholme and Quinlan had no intention of neglecting the younger boy.

Which meant that Tyvokka had more than enough time to start his investigation into the creche. He wasn’t sure where it would go, but the Force would direct his attention. As he often told young Shadows, it didn’t matter where the investigation went. It mattered that it was closed.

So, he’d messaged Master Arraan for another interview and arranged for a room near the creche where they could meet, but when he showed up, the room was far more crowded than Tyvokka expected. In fact, if he had known how many people they were gathering, the Wookie might have suggested a larger meeting room.

“Master Arraan.” Tyvokka stared at the many gathered. “You brought friends.”

“Master Tyvokka, we have gathered to help.” Master Arraan offered a seated bow. “You said you would see this mess within the Temple fixed. We want to help.”

“It’s our Temple too,” someone said near the back.

“So it is.” Tyvokka looked around at the people who had gathered, young and old, Togruta to Twi’lek, Human to Zabrak. The members in the meeting room covered the gamut of the Order. And they were now all focused on the problem he had uncovered. “This will not be easy. I wouldn’t be surprised if the High Council knocked us back a time or two.”

Shaak Ti stepped forward, which was a little startling since Tyvokka hadn’t realized she was in the room. Many considered the Togruta in the running for the next Master of the Order, though Tyvokka thought it might be Windu. It had been 450 years since the Master of the Order hadn’t been from Grandmaster Yoda’s line. Tyvokka wasn’t holding his breath to see if it changed.

“Plo asked me to be here. He wanted to support you, Master Tyvokka, as he always has, but he felt pulled strongly to go out searching. So I stand in his place. And if the High Council sees fit to make themselves an obstacle to our mission, then I will ask that they check themselves against the qualities of a tyrannical oligarchy.” Her grin was a little vicious as she waved a datapad pulled from her pocket. “I have already prepared a report.”

Laughter bounced off the walls of the cramped meeting room.

“I will not try to convince you otherwise.” He could use the help. “I aim to begin with the creche, but I know that Master Che is running another investigation in the Healing Halls.” He considered the situation. “I trust you. In the future, I may ask you to attend to some specific issue, but for now, investigate the state of your own occupations. See where the lines of communication fail. Ask your lineage how the Temple can better support them. Write reports and lodge them with the Council of Reconciliation. That’s what I will be doing.”

“And the High Council?” a senior Padawan asked. “What do we tell them if they ask?”

“The truth,” the Wookie said. “You are concerned, dissatisfied, worried about the future of the Order. Simply because the Ruusan Reformation was our last reformation does not mean that we do not need one now.” He took a deep breath and shooed them toward the door. “Go. Make pests of yourselves elsewhere. Perhaps we will so frustrate the High Council that they will reform themselves.”

Laughter again echoed in the room and out into the corridors as the small mob of Jedi slowly trickled out of the squished parlor.

Tyvokka huffed as he finally folded himself down to sit across from Master Arraan. “I did not expect that.”

Ti sat serenely and poured tea. “The Force provides. Our intent is honest and hopeful. Take it as the gift it was meant to be.”

Arraan snorted. “Don’t try that act with us, little one. We remember when you were a snot-nosed Initiate leading war charges against the crechemasters for cookies.”

Ti flushed but refused to look even remotely guilty. “I’m sure I don’t know what you mean.”

Tyvokka bit back the cackle in his throat. No one wanted to hear a Wookie cackle. He coughed once to clear it and began, “Let’s get started. I am most concerned with what Obi-Wan has revealed about the conditions of the creche.”

Arraan frowned. “I’m not sure that there’s a lot we can do about it. We barely have enough trained crechemasters for the number of clans we have. We can’t split them into more clans.”

Shaak hummed in thought. “I remember when younglings were punished in the creche it was done before any of the Clan that was there. Perhaps a page from your own datapad might be useful. Don’t hide the abuses or the criminal issues – if any exist the initiates deserve to see justice served within the Temple.”

“Of course.” Tyvokka was not sure where she was going.

“I think it is much more likely that attitude is the worst offense in the crechemasters. Or several smaller infractions like impatience or not having enough time for all the children.” Shaak shrugged. “Just from what I have seen while volunteering.”

“Sounds likely,” Arraan admitted, “but how do we fix that?”

“Poor attitudes and behavior toward the initiates can be handled with education, perhaps,” Tyvokka suggested. “But that only compounds the issue of the number of crechemasters.”

Shaak sipped her tea. “I have three suggestions. First, there are no small number of knights and masters who end up Temple-bound; from my discussions with Master Che, I know that such members of our Order often draw away from service because they no longer feel useful. But what if we made it known that the creche needed support? Perhaps it would not help all our aging and Temple-bound members, but it could help some. If we spread the news that the creche needs help, we might even draw in knights and masters who spend little time in the Temple simply because they are good at their jobs. Let them come in and teach, mentor, advise our initiates.”

Master Arraan shook his head, frustrated. “I want this to work. But it could be dangerous to have less than able-bodied or able-minded working with the younglings. They are not often as aware of their words or their surroundings as we would like them to be.”

Shaak made an unimpressed face. “So teach them. More than that, perhaps such knights and masters would not be best amongst toddlers or the screaming play of the very young. But you cannot tell me that older initiates would not do well with the stories and attention of these Jedi.”

“It’s a thought,” Tyvokka allowed. “You had another suggestion?”

“Indeed, the second is that we could rearrange the way the clans operate. If clans comprised of many ages, then older younglings could assist in the younger’s care.”

Arraan made an uncomfortable face. “It’s a thought. Not sure how easy that would be, but it’s an option. Your last idea?”

Shaak offered a wicked smile. “Bring the Corps back into the Temple. Many of them—beyond the EduCorps—already have training in teaching. Make doing a rotation in the Temple an option. Bring them in to advise our older initiates, take over some of the classes for younglings. Expose our young to the Corps so that they are not scary alternatives. And reaffirm to our Corps that they are not the least of us.”

“I like that idea very much,” Tyvokka said. “Too often in these past years, the Corps have become the afterthought of the temple when most of our members end up there, and most of our support comes from them.”

“If we do this, we might also consider that the trials for knighthood are about fortitude and knowledge of the code,” Arraan proposed. “Nowhere in the charter is it said that those tests required residency in the Temple. Or being the student of a Jedi Knight.”

Tyvokka huffed in amusement. “One might even say that residency isn’t a requirement.”

Arraan offered a sly smile. “Then there should be no reason that the Corps—who already hold their members to the same standards as the Temple—cannot take the knighthood trials or become masters in their own right. There is nothing separating us except for distance!”

Ti and Tyvokka leaned back at the Crechemaster’s vehement proposal. He was right. There was no reason the only way to knighthood should be through a padawanship. Tyvokka was not sure how these changes would shake out but could not wait to get started.

*****

With Jedi Forensics involved in the investigation and no leads to follow until the reports came back on the Hiddle Coua, it was back to class for Obi-Wan. It was uncomfortable, but also very interesting.

Jedi Swari Atila was a new teacher for the younglings and junior padawans. A female of mixed species with skin an almost pale green, she was a member of the EduCorps and one of the people brought in by Master Tyvokka to challenge the assumptions of the traditions at the Temple.

She was an excellent teacher, and Obi-Wan really enjoyed her lectures on diplomacy. Unfortunately, that didn’t mean he enjoyed the class.

“Alright, we’ve gone over all the facts for the use case and the method of persuasion I want you to try,” Atila said, moving through the desks and chairs around the classroom. “Partner up to attempt the method.”

Obi-Wan slid into a seat across from Siri Tachi and gave the girl a weak smile. He already knew how this was going to go. “Wanna be my partner, Siri?”

“No,” she said bluntly, staring apathetically at him like he was a bug she hadn’t squished yet. “I’ll make a group of three with Bant and Jere.”

“Oh.” Obi-Wan’s smile slid right off his face. That meant he’d been turned down by everyone in their age group now. He wondered if that was a record.

“Initiate Tachi, do you have a reason for refusing to work with Padawan Kenobi?” their teacher asked with a frown.

Siri scowled. “He’s a failed Padawan. I wouldn’t want another Master to think I supported Obi-Wan’s decision.”

“That’s the most ridiculous thing I have ever heard in my entire life.” The entire class went silent, and Obi-Wan didn’t think a single student even breathed. “You cannot fail at being a Padawan. You cannot even fail at being a Master. Communication breaks down and expectations aren’t met, but that doesn’t make anyone a failure. Do you know where Padawan Kenobi spent those months outside the Order?”

A little cowed by the sheer amount of disappointment the teacher gave off, Siri paused before admitting, “No.”

“He fought and won peace on a planet that had been at war for longer than even I have been alive.” The teacher had moved to include the rest of the class in the conversation. “I imagine that if you asked, and he forgave you your rudeness, he would have quite a few tips about persuading people who don’t want to be persuaded—tips he learned the hard way.”

“I was being honest,” Siri insisted, still not looking at Obi-Wan. He figured he would not get his apology. “Jedi should always be honest.”

Swari Atila was thoroughly unimpressed. “Jedi are also to be compassionate, neutral, and non-judgmental. We spend a large portion of time dealing with people we’d rather never even admit we knew existed.”

Siri scowled. “I want to work with Bant and Jere.”

Their teacher offered Siri a smile Obi-Wan thought might be more vicious than necessary. “I have not given permission for groups. You will work with Obi-Wan, and you will learn to practice being diplomatic.”

Obi-Wan understood Swari Atila’s goals, even if he would have preferred to not be part of an object lesson. With that in mind, he carefully kept to the script as Siri growled out the required responses. The entire situation was ridiculous; Siri couldn’t persuade anyone with a mouth full of grit and glass unless it was at the edge of her ‘saber.

Obi-Wan was relieved to see the end of class, even if none of the people he thought were his friends waited for him to pack up.

Even worse, Brock Chun was waiting outside the class, his little gang of younger initiates hanging around like a foul stench. “Look. It’s Oafy-Wan the failure! Come on, Oafy-Wan, show me what you learned in the war.”

There was a glint in his eye, the same as Obi-Wan had once seen in Xanatos duCrion and that older boy on Melida/Daan that he’d killed during the night watch. There was something wrong in them, something that had either never been wired right or had broken. Brock needed help, but he would not accept it from Obi-Wan. For now, there wasn’t anything to be done except defend himself when Chun inevitably broke, like a rope with too much weight. Obi-Wan kept the boys in his peripheral vision but kept walking.

“Hey! Oafy-Wan, I’m talking to you!” Chun heckled. “Or are you too scared to say anything when the teacher isn’t there to save you!”

Obi-Wan continued to walk away, but the initiates paced him on the other side of the hall. He wondered what might happen if they should chance on another Jedi, a Knight or a Master. Would they stop the boys? Their insults and verbal harassment had only gotten worse, including a suggestion of what ‘Oafy-Wan’ could do with his ‘talented tongue’ that left Obi-Wan flushed with embarrassment and shaking.

It was a violation to even hear the suggestion, and it was taking all his focus not to jump across the hall and show them exactly what he learned in the war with the Young.

Except, a shadow dropped over him as he clenched the straps of his bag, and a hand dropped on his shoulders.

“That is disgusting.” The boys stopped, shocked at being confronted with a known Master. “I am most disturbed that this is the behavior a group of future Jedi knights think is acceptable. I will definitely bring this up with Master Arraan.”

Without waiting for anything more, perhaps hoping ‘out of sight would be out of mind’, they broke and ran.

“Thank you, Master Tholme,” Obi-Wan said, trying to let go of the tension in his shoulders. Trying to convince himself he was safe now.

“I said nothing that wasn’t true.” Tholme studied Obi-Wan’s face and frowned, apparently unhappy with what he saw. Obi-Wan’s padawan-brother guided him toward his new quarters. “Let’s go get you a nice cup of tea.”

The cup rattled against the saucer when Tholme let him take it. So, Obi-Wan set it aside to fold himself down onto his knees on the meditation mat and just breathe. It wasn’t true meditation, but the Padawan had found that it could sometimes help just as much. Here, the mindful breathing helped unwind the tension of his emotions piece by piece. Letting them go into the Force and color the surrounding air.

He couldn’t quite let that one suggestion go, though. And the angry, fearful corner of his heart that kept repeating it was building it up to a monster of a knot. With the Young, if he had let it haunt him, no one would have batted an eye. They all had things that kept them up at night.

Swari Atila wasn’t wrong about the people most Jedi would meet in the Galaxy. Jedi had to learn that they couldn’t let the awfulness of others affect their personal serenity, though. The Temple wasn’t the momentary headquarters of the Young; yelling, shouting, and screaming were not appropriate reactions to emotional turmoil here.

There was nothing to do except keep trying. Obi-Wan continued reaching for the force, even as it kept leaking through his mental fingers. The harder he tried, the less of the force he could feel.

Strong arms wrapped their way around his kneeling form, exuding warmth as a low rumble echoed from his Master’s chest into his, and Obi-Wan burst into tears. He sobbed into the robes of his Master and let the old Wookie hold him tight. Obi-Wan hoped desperately that Master Tyvokka was as good as his word.

“It’s alright, Obi-Wan. Let it all out,” Master Tyvokka crooned. “You did so well ignoring them, Padawan. I am so proud of you. So proud. There’s nothing about you that’s a failure. Not a single thing. So let the tears come and just release it.”

“I couldn’t- I couldn’t let it go!” His breath hitched, and he wiped his face on his sleeve, but it wasn’t any use. He couldn’t control his sobbing, and Master Tyvokka pulled him back into the hug.

“Oh, Obi-Wan.” The Wookie held on tighter. “It takes decades to Master that kind of control. You’re just fourteen, just a youngling, no matter the experiences you’ve had. And someday soon you’re going to enter puberty and all these emotions will be a constant struggle all over again.”

Obi-Wan gasped on a startled laugh and leaned back into his Master’s hold. He didn’t know who the old Wookie was kidding. None of that sounded good. In fact, it sounded horrible. But even as he sat, the tears went from an agonizing flood to a sorrowful trickle. “That’s awful.”

Master Tyvokka cuddled him close. “The point Jedi must learn is to constantly be working toward serenity. Not to linger in those emotions like anger and fear. To feel, but then let them go. A Jedi, even a Jedi Padawan, must always make the choice to let it go.”

“What if- What if I can’t?”

“Obi-Wan, I promise you, it sounds hard and frustrating, and you’ve found it impossible today. But Padawan you already have.” He pressed a kiss into the student’s hair. “You came back from Melida/Daan. You faced the judgment and ridicule of the Temple every time you leave these quarters, but you still go. That is what it means to be a Jedi.” The Master leaned down and pressed his fur to his Padawan’s hair. “And I promise no matter what happens, even if you leave the Order again, it will be by your choice; I will never repudiate you.”

There was a whole new flood of tears as Obi-Wan let his Master rock and hold him close. Qui-Gon Jinn might never have said it, but Obi-Wan had known long before the situation with Melida/Daan that keeping in his Master’s good graces had required perfection. The kind that not even Jinn had reached for. Now, wrapped up in fur, strength, and the strange sensation of love from a person Obi-Wan barely knew, he wasn’t sure how to reorder his world view.

*****

Master Arraan was visibly disappointed with the boys that Brock Chun had convinced to harass Obi-Wan with him, standing away from the initiates and letting them stew in their own emotions for a moment. They’d been separated upon returning to the creche and had sat fidgeting in silence.

“Do you even know what you were saying?” Arraan asked. “Where did you ever hear such vulgar and disgusting things?”

Kalib’s attention appeared to be on the floor, even as his shoulders hunched at the sound of Master Arraan’s voice. Teryk flinched and stared with wide eyes. Neither of the boys answered.

“Allow me to educate you,” Arraan began. “Consent is not a choice. It is obligatory. In any intimate dealing with another person. I don’t care if it’s just a hug or cuddle! The ability of another person to choose what should happen to their body is sacrosanct. I never want to hear you talking in such a disgusting manner ever again.”

He considered the boys. Considered, perhaps like Tyvokka had pointed out before the boys were brought in, that if such a message was necessary, then leaving it to a lecture was unlikely to leave an impact. “For harassing another student, you will be confined to quarters during free time. And to make sure that you seriously consider what I have said, we’re going to have weekly conversations about body autonomy and how consent can be violated. Now, go tell your clan leaders what has happened.”

Tyvokka stepped into the room as the boys passed. “Do you think it will be enough?”

“Perhaps.” Arraan sighed. “They’re younger than Chun. Only nine and ten, respectively. They don’t know what they were saying, only that Brock seems powerful and everyone else doesn’t like Obi-Wan. Calling him insulting names behind his back is the type of nonsense I would expect. Directing them to his face?” Arraan hunched and rubbed tired hands into tired eyes. “It probably didn’t take much convincing at this point.”

“This doesn’t make much sense.” Tyvokka settled on one of the adult-sized chairs in the disciplinarian room. “There have been others who have left the Order and remained close allies, or even returned if requested. Is it because he is young? Or for some other reason?”

“The attention paid Obi-Wan is ardent,” Arraan agreed. “Though I could not guess why. Perhaps because of the attention of the High Council? Or because those other cases you mention are not well known?”

“Perhaps.” They sat and let the quiet fill the room, each concerned but not knowing how to address it. “What will happen to Chun?”

“I’m having him evaluated by a mind healer. If it is only behavioral, then we’ll get him sessions and work with him on coping mechanisms, so he doesn’t lash out like this. If it is the symptoms of a personality disorder, that is, if his behavior is a compulsion instead of a choice, there may be other options.”

“And when he turns thirteen?” Tyvokka questioned.

The Crechemaster arched a brow at his companion. “Brock turns thirteen in six months. By then we’ll have worked out a plan for helping him to become a productive member of the Order. Though, at this point, knighthood does not seem like an option.”

Tyvokka side eyed the Crechemaster. “His behavior is certainly not acceptable in a Jedi Knight. I would be extremely cautious of the Knight who takes on such a Padawan. And should the Knight repudiate him—” He paused at the instinctive horror that had risen in both males echoing back and forth through the force at even the thought of what Brock Chun might become if his Master repudiated him. “Well, perhaps it would be better to take the option away for now.”

“This is all incredibly subjective as well. It all depends on what the mind healer says concerning his assessment.”

“I’m not sure what I’m hoping for.”

“Nor I, honestly.” Arraan stood with a huff and waved the Wookie off. “But you have a Padawan to go comfort. Be off with you.”

Tyvokka bowed. “Always an honor, Crechemaster.”

Arraan snorted, “Caretaker of First Knowledge, I am honored to hear your wisdom.”

Tyvokka scoffed. “No one else ever is.”

12th day of the 10th Republic Standard month, 957 ARR

It was a nudge in the Force that woke him up. Not a physical thing, but a persistent and affectionate warmth through the bond he had with his Master. And the voice gently calling his name.

“Obi-Wan, Padawan, it’s time to get up.”

“Wha?” Obi-Wan muttered, bleary eyes focusing only enough to see the tall shape of his Master in the doorway. “Master?”

“You need to get up and get ready. You’ll have time to sleep later,” Tyvokka insisted. “Get washed and dressed. Breakfast will be done in only a moment.”

It took Obi-Wan a long minute to get his body to move. Then, because he was still more than half-asleep, he fell out of bed, landing on the hard floor of his bedroom with a groan.

“Obi-Wan?”

“I’m alright,” the teen mumbled as he hauled himself into the refresher.

The breakfast was still warm when Obi-Wan finally slid into the seat across from his Master. He stared at it. “Master, it’s stupidly early. We’re still in the Temple. And no one is screaming.” He shot a suspicious look up at the Wookie. “Why am I awake?”

“You’re awake because you have a mission.” Tyvokka offered a grin and pushed the teapot closer to his Padawan. “Tholme and Quin were sent out last night on a mission from the High Council. Doesn’t look like it will be dangerous, but it was deemed sensitive. So, you’ll have to content yourself with a mission on Coruscant.”

Disappointed and not thinking clearly, Obi-Wan poured himself tea and huddled over it. “Will I be joining you today then, Master Tyvokka?”

Tyvokka frowned, “Unfortunately no. I will also be dealing with sensitive information today, and while I trust you know the meaning of the word discretion, I would prefer that there be no… dramatics.” He gave his Padawan a mischievous grin. “The public would never guess how loud Jedi can get.”

Obi-Wan giggled. “What will I be doing then?”

“I found something I think you will be very interested in.”

After breakfast, Obi-Wan followed his Master down towards the part of the Temple that wasn’t pretty, the part of the Temple that was clean because of use and not for aesthetics. There were no busts or reliefs of famous Jedi, or murals depicting impressive scenes from the history of the Order. Even the stone changed this far down, and Obi-Wan had to wonder how many secrets the Temple hid.

Here, in these not-so-pretty corridors on one of the lowest levels still operational in the Temple, just under the Infirmary, was a docking bay for Temple vehicles. Inside the docking bay was a messy hive of activity, with crates and equipment going every which way. It had none of the clean lines and order that the upper level’s bay had.

“Tyvokka! I’m glad you made it,” Master Che said, directing them out of the way a few feet. “We’re just loading up now.”

Indeed, Obi-Wan could see that what had seemed like a haphazard sort of chaos was a rather well thought out plan, if frantically conducted. “What is all of this? Where is it going?”

“Medical equipment,” Master Che said, pointing to a stack of boxes carefully being guided onto a transport speeder. She pointed out another stack, “Education aids, nutritional supplements.” She pointed near the far bay where heavy machinery was being loaded onto likewise heavy cargo carriers. “And building equipment. Welcome to the headquarters of the Mercy Mission on Coruscant.”

Obi-Wan blinked. “This is going to the lower levels?”

Che nodded. “Specifically, the low-light levels. We started a few years ago, opening clinics on the twilight levels, and we’ve been slowly working our way down. It’s difficult because, the farther down we go, the more it’s like an entirely different planet. Different species with different customs and honestly, a different law.”

“Different law?”

“Oh, yes.” Che nodded with a frown. “Judicial doesn’t honestly bother with a legal presence, or at least a good one, past the last twilight levels. Once you get into the low-light and dark levels, the communities have ways of policing themselves.”

Obi-Wan hummed. He knew something about that type of situation. He’d seen it once or twice with Master Jinn before the disastrous mission with Melida/Daan. “But those types of communities, they usually deal in trade, right? Makes it difficult to get something from a different level and makes it nearly impossible to get out.”

“Which is where this mission assists,” Tyvokka said. “The Order already runs hundreds, if not thousands, of relief missions each year. But the Council for Services and Aid’s attention is focused outward on the galaxy. It wasn’t until recently that they considered the lower levels of Coruscant.”

“It was an oversight,” Che agreed with a grimace. “The Order can bring in nutritional supplements and first aid supplies. Teach about prenatal and ante-natal care, but it doesn’t change the fact that these people often live in deplorable conditions.” Che turned a bright smile on at the large machinery being loaded onto trailers. “Or it didn’t. Except, the Corps have a lot of latitude for mission-related expenditures, and a lot of experience getting resources past corrupt governments. It didn’t take much to work out a plan between EduCorps and ExploraCorps.”

Obi-Wan found a smile curling into his lips. “What are they planning to build?”

“Greenhouses.”

Master Tyvokka arched a brow in surprise. “Greenhouses in a low-light level?”

“They’ll be massive.” Che gestured to the size of the bay, which soared about them for at least three floors. “An ecology designed to produce biochemical light, a complete nutritional food supply, and help scrub the air. I’m almost certain I heard Dav Jones squeal when they requested AgriCorps’s expertise.”

The Wookie offered a reluctant smile. “They think it’ll work?”

Che shrugged. “It depends on community buy in. Right now, we’re only trialing three of the huge suckers. But EduCorps did the math, and they think it could increase the standard of living by a significant amount. If the greenhouses are successful, then AgriCorps has plans, and funding earmarked, to raise four more in the low-light levels right here in the central district.”

“That sounds good,” Obi-Wan admitted as he watched the equipment loaded, seeing instead the potential for so much light to spring from the dark depths of the planet. “Really good.”

“It does, at that,” the Master Healer said, hands on her hips and a welcoming smile on her lips. “Think you want to help?”

“This is the mission that I thought you could help with,” Master Tyvokka said. “Certainly, more entertaining than sitting outside the Council chambers doing coursework.”

“Oh, well, I’m not sure I have a lot to add to this type of mission, but I’m certainly willing to lend some hands to the effort,” Obi-Wan said.

“Excellent. More hands make lighter work,” Master Che said, guiding him to the transport carrying Jedi with a last nod to his Master. “And it’s an enormous task to begin with.”

Obi-Wan found a seat with a window and settled against it. He’d never been to the low-light levels, didn’t know what he might see as they went down, but it would be an excellent distraction from exactly how much vertical distance they had to drop in a short amount of time.

“You can fall asleep if you want to,” a big Iktotchi Jedi said as he plopped into the seat next to him. “It’ll take us at least an hour and a half to get there.” He bundled his robe up for a makeshift pillow. “Plenty of time for a nap.”

Obi-Wan grinned because his seat mate was already dozing off. With the rhythm of the engine on the cargo carrier and the soft glow coming from the emergency lighting on the floors, Obi-Wan understood. It wouldn’t take long before the early morning caught up with him and the window became his pillow. In the meantime, watching the speeders drive by and the neon lights of the storefront signage become streaks of light in the traffic was pleasant enough fodder for good dreams.

*****

Obi-Wan woke to his seatmate shaking his shoulder. “We’re here.”

He hid a yawn behind his hand. “Thanks.”

“Kadok Deb’os,” the Iktotchi introduced himself with a quirky smile. “Sleep well?”

The Padawan grinned. “I can sleep pretty much anywhere. Obi-Wan Kenobi.”

The Iktotchi’s brow ridge went up, and Obi-Wan’s smile got a little stiff in anticipation, but all the Knight did was nod slowly. “It’s an excellent skill to have. Me? I have a hard time sleeping on anything that doesn’t smell like me. Each time I’m in a new bed, I have to wrap a robe around my pillow. Only way to really relax.” The Iktotchi grinned as Master Che came over. “You’ve seen me do it, haven’t you, Master Che?”

“Yes, and I thank the Force you weren’t my responsibility.” She shook her head. “Breaking quarantine to sleep better.” Master Che gestured back towards the front of the transport. “We’re waiting on you, so if you gentlemen are done…”

Knight Deb’os sighed and heaved his larger frame up to tower over the Master of the Healing Halls. “If you insist.”

“I do,” she replied dryly, an annoyed look aimed towards Knight Deb’os as she moved to the front of the ship. “Alright, now that we’re all here we can have a last-minute safety briefing. We’re only eight levels up from the condemned levels, which means we’re going to be dealing with higher-than-normal levels of carbon monoxide and dioxide, with lower-than-normal levels of oxygen. Carmine, what are the symptoms that we should pay attention to?”

There was some snickering, and Obi-Wan turned to see Knight Deb’os mime fainting.

Carmine straightened from where he leaned against the boxes and blushed from his crown to the tips of his lekku, turning his skin an even darker shade of purple. He cleared his throat. “Lightheadedness, spots, or darkening, at the corner of your sight. A heavy feeling in your chest. Maybe a sense of euphoria or out-of-body experience. Sometimes confusion, difficulty remembering things, and weakness.”

“Thank you.” Master Che nodded. “Likewise, I would like to remind everyone that the people here are mostly dark-adapted. Always, always warn them if you are turning on a light. Especially if it emits on the UV spectrum. If you get lightheaded, or more tired than normal, feel free to come sit in the cargo carriers—the air scrubbers will run the entire time—but please let someone know where you are.”

A Jedi in MechaniCorps’ coveralls took that as the dismissal it was and stood with a bounce. “Alright, let’s get moving! You all should know where you’re going, but if you don’t, ask myself, Master Che, or Knight Deb’os. He’s in charge of handing out the new educational materials.”

“I noticed Nona wasn’t here.”

“It did seem less chatty on the ride down.”

“She’s alright though, yes?”

“Yes, yes,” Master Che agreed. “Nona just had another commitment she couldn’t get out of.”

The gathered crowd were satisfied with the brief reassurance and broke up into smaller groups of two or three to set up field tents and equipment in any open space they could find.

Stepping out onto the low-light level, Obi-Wan stuffed his opinion in a box to take out later when his reactions wouldn’t offend the people he was trying to help. He couldn’t imagine living in these conditions. The amount of natural light was minimal, offering only a weak gray light to work in. And the amount of grit and dust that just walking disturbed made Obi-Wan itch.

The transport appeared to have landed on the clearest spot it could because, as far as Obi-Wan could see, the environment was badly aging quikcrete, broken windows, and fragile walkways. There was little trash, which was momentarily surprising but made some sense. Trash was for communities who had enough for waste. Or communities that had given up on doing better. But the greenhouses that Master Che was talking about wouldn’t have been wasted on those communities.

It was still depressing.

Above them, for dozens of levels, the towers and building blocks of Coruscant soared. The monumental buildings that Obi-Wan had always simply accepted created the oppressive shadow that these people lived in. How much of that had the Temple contributed to?

“Obi-Wan.” Master Che beckoned him toward the sterile tent where the team of healers had established medical care. “Tyvokka said you have experience with triage?”

“Yes, Master Che,” Obi-Wan said. “The war with the Young was no speeder joyride.”

“Good, then you can help with registration.” She brought him over to a half-wall that was being used to separate those waiting to receive care from those already with a healer. “Some patients won’t be able to read or write but do your best. Payment isn’t needed, and we’d like to serve families together if possible. Triage them based on color-code, you know the chart?”

“Yes, Master Che.”

“Good.” The Twi’lek considered what was left. “The mission’s workday is sixteen hours, but don’t be afraid to ask for relief. You might be sitting at a desk, but dealing with aggressive, scared, or worried people can exhaust just as much as hauling steel and plexiglass.”

“I understand, Master Che.” Obi-Wan thought it didn’t sound that bad. No one was even shooting at him. He cringed internally at the thought. His luck was awful. Now, of course, someone would take a shot at him. That was just how the universe worked.

The day was long, but the clinic did good work on a haphazard schedule. There were legal regulations even Jedi Healers had to abide by, which meant that a permanent clinic was impossible. The building crews for the greenhouses had authorization to continue work until the construction was complete. The medical clinic and the educational workshops didn’t.

They needed to get as much done in as little amount of time as possible. Obi-Wan was pleased enough to assist, so he settled in at the half-wall and gestured for the first in line to approach. Logistics were the key to winning wars. Questions like where the resources were and where they needed to get them were what made a plan work or broke it. That this battle wasn’t against a tangible enemy didn’t change the strategy. This war against malnutrition and the indifference of the brighter levels meant they could not retreat or forfeit. There was no one to negotiate with.

Obi-Wan smiled at the Togruta with a scarred lekku, keeping his pronunciation crisp and clear in case ze had difficulty hearing. “Name?”

At the height of the clinic’s hours, working with patients who were literate, even if it wasn’t in Basic — thank the force for translation software — Obi-Wan was averaging closer to a patient every ten minutes. It was surprising and gratifying to know that many of the community members were literate in their native languages and were happy to take the datapad he offered and return with the information filled in. Especially once they knew it cut down on the wait time.

But Obi-Wan, regardless of his determination, was still a young Padawan recovering from the damage the war on Melida/Daan had done to his body. When Knight Deb’os sent him to a relatively clean corner to have lunch and a nap, Obi-Wan didn’t protest.

Of course, he didn’t get to sleep long before the Force was nudging Obi-Wan awake. It swirled in his vision the way he’d become accustomed to on Melida/Daan—the way it did when it wanted him to interfere for a better future. Obi-Wan followed it to an alley set away from the healing tents and the waiting patients. There the Force was moving like a tempest, batting and swirling about the arguing figures.

On one side of the alley was a Cobreli with a muddy green scale color, coiled up like he was waiting to launch an attack. And on the other side was a mixed group of Luprasi; snouts snarling and hackles raised.

“Did you think I wouldn’t notice?” the Cobreli hissed, more cruel than angry. Obi-Wan could see the fleck and the flash of venom within his spittle. “That’s my egg!”

One of the Luprasi stepped in front of the petite female who trembled in the face of Cobreli’s aggression, “How dare you stalk my sister, Salman’yen?! After what you did?! You’re lucky I don’t skin you alive!”

“Don’t be ridiculous.” He shifted, moving his bulk from one coil and back again. “She’s mine. She carries my offspring. It’s done. Come now, Aula, and we won’t have to worry about any of this foolishness.”

Aula hissed this time, shoving out from behind her brother, dodging the hands that reached out to catch her. “I don’t care! I don’t want you! I don’t want this thing! You hurt me. You… raped me!”

She’d gotten too close, and Salman’yen reached out and grabbed her, pulled her up to his face, and dragged his tongue up the side of her cheek. Her family shouted and reached for weapons. “It’s my word against yours. Who’s going to believe a whore of a half-breed Luprasi?”

The Force blazed with the situation’s potential, and Obi-Wan had to bat the visions aside as he stepped forward. “I would.”

The group startled apart, weapons on both sides pointed in his direction.

“Who the fuck are you?”

“Obi-Wan Kenobi, Padawan to Master Tyvokka of the Jedi Temple of Coruscant.” Obi-Wan tucked his hands into his sleeves and settled a mild smile on his face. “It is customary to now introduce yourselves.”

“Aula Iedapha,” the female said, sniffling. “My brothers, Aud, Bale, and Zif.”

Salman’yen jerked a little harder on Aula’s wrist, and Obi-Wan was gratified to see her drive her knee into the vulnerable joint where a Cobreli’s torso met their tail. Salman’yen let go out of reflex as he hunched. And the Luprasi were quick to pull her back behind a wall of muscle and fur.

The Cobreli turned to Obi-Wan, eyes wide and hand down by the connection point on his abdomen. “She attacked me!”

The Padawan narrowed his eyes. “It looked like self-defense from here. She didn’t want you to touch her, you ignored her, she made sure you knew she was serious.” He tilted his head. “Especially since you have a history of assault.”

The Force swirled with the weight of Salman’yen history. Obi-Wan refused to shudder or feel dirty for what he saw, but it was difficult. As he dismissed another set of waiting visions, Obi-Wan determined that he would have to ask Quin what methods he used for ignoring how ugly the world was. He was liable to go mad otherwise.

“It’s her word against mine!” the Cobreli spat. The Iedaphas growled.

“It’s not, not really.” Obi-Wan suppressed his grin when the group appeared to grow confused. “Perhaps to someone who isn’t Force sensitive all they would have to go is your words, but to a Jedi the crime you committed is obvious. It resonates in her aura. You aren’t hiding anything from me. I know exactly how you feel and exactly how excited you are to get your hands on her again.”

It pulsed through his presence, and Obi-Wan was reminded again of the boy he’d killed. The one who’d felt a sickening sense of glee at the prospect of blood on his hands, and who had eyed the smaller members of the Young like he was weighing meat. Salman’yen had the same sickening feel when he looked at Aula. Like she was a thing he was allowed to break; Obi-Wan would not let that happen.

Salman’yen stiffened. “She carries my offspring. According to her own culture, she is my wife.”

“I won’t be yours if I can get rid of it!” Aula snarled from behind her brothers.

The Cobreli was furious. The end of his tail lashed in agitation. “It failed once, didn’t it? Even the gods have approved of our union!”

Aud stepped forward to—honestly, Obi-Wan probably figured he was moments away from tearing Salman’yen throat out—when the Padawan interrupted.

“Hybrid physiology can be… tenuous,” Obi-Wan said. “Things that would work normally might not be strong enough for a hybrid. Or might be too strong.”

Aula wiped tears away. “We tried the old ways. When it didn’t work, my parents confirmed that I was to be Salman’yen wife.”

Zif snarled. “Over our dead bodies! She’s going to get rid of it and be rid of you!”

“I won’t allow it!” Salman’yen shrieked.

“That’s not actually a problem.” Obi-Wan offered Aula his hand. “Under Republic law, the only permission needed by a Healer to terminate a pregnancy is the carrier’s. So, let’s go get that handled.”

Salman’yen turned on Obi-Wan, rising on his tail and baring his fangs, venom already dripping. Obi-Wan reached for saber. “I will-”

“You hurt my brother-padawan and they won’t find enough pieces for the grave spirits to recognize.”

Obi-Wan heard the distinctive sound of a lightsaber turn on. A blue glow backlit the alley. It was Plo standing there, lightsaber out and on, but turned toward the alley floor. A threat, but one that could be avoided if the opponent were smart.

Salman’yen wasn’t smart. “I thought Jedi were neutral and peaceful.”

Plo didn’t turn off his saber. “We’re peacekeepers, not pacifists. And we’re as fond of our lineages as other people are of their families. I think it’s time for you to leave.”

Salman’yen was outnumbered, and even if Luprasi religious law was in his favor, Republic law was not.

Bultar stepped forward to Aula with a gentle smile. “Like Obi said. Let’s go get that handled.”

The females left, and with a jerk of Aud’s head, Zif followed. The large male lumbering after to keep watch over their vulnerable sister, even as Salman’yen swore and turned away. It was possible that Aula would have to deal with him again, but next time, he wouldn’t be able to use her own family law against her.

Obi-Wan frowned. “Will you see trouble from your family?”

Aud rolled his neck. “Perhaps some who hold with the old beliefs, but it’s more important to take care of our family than to adhere to some absurd moral standard.”

Plo snorted. “Agreed.”

Bael frowned. “When Grandmother’s tea didn’t work, we didn’t know what to do.”

“Don’t worry.” Plo offered a smile that could only be felt in the force, but the Luprasi were far from null, and the fur across their shoulders slowly calmed. “Master Che will take good care of her.”

Aud nodded and abruptly said, “Master Jedi, Padawan Kenobi, we owe you a debt.”

Plo went to refute it, as Jedi are trained to, but Obi-Wan stopped him and offered Aud a smile. “We did nothing special, but if you feel we are owed a debt, then we’ll remember.”

The Luprasi and his brother gave brief bows before following their siblings.

Plo raised a brow. “He wasn’t going to let it go, was he?”

“Not at all. And I had no intention of standing here for the next hour while you argued over it.”

Plo snorted. “Very well.”

“What are you doing here?”

Plo smirked. “I’m on search, I’ll have you know.”

Obi-Wan stared at him. “Your search led you back to Coruscant?”

Plo shrugged. “There’s a space dock near to here. Popular among smugglers and others for being cheaper than most on Coruscant and not asking too many questions.”

“Ah. So, you just stopped to say hi.”

“And to make sure you got back to Master in one piece. He’s already quite fond of you, you know. It’d break his heart if you got yourself killed.” Plo hesitated, “I’d say you shouldn’t have interfered, or you should have brought an adult…”

Obi-Wan wasn’t ready to touch that with a ten-foot pole. “I had a feeling not interfering would be worse than whatever resulted.”

Plo nodded slowly. “A feeling?”

Obi-Wan chafed his arms. “Yeah.”

Obi-Wan was pleased when Plo let the topic die. He wasn’t sure he was ready to have that conversation again.

*****

Tyvokka was one of the first in the conference room. He’d specifically requested they meet there instead of the High Council Chamber because he had prepared flexis to handout. There were a lot of them.

“Master Tyvokka,” Master Sifo-Dyes greeted as the human poured himself a mug of caff. “Would you like some?”

“Would I like it? Of course.” The Wookie offered a disgruntled expression. “Unfortunately, Vokkara has requested I avoid caffeinated beverages. She’s worried about my heart.”

Sifo-Dyes offered a small smile, but warmth suffused the male’s eyes. “I trust she will do her best. It would be a true crime for the Order to lose your guiding presence, Master Tyvokka.”

If the male had been about three hundred years younger and had a hide that showed it, Tyvokka would have flushed with such praise. It was incredibly rare from the taciturn Master. “I am not so irreplaceable, Master Sifo-Dyes.”

“I’m not so sure,” the other hummed as the room filled with councilors. “You do us a great service, and it would be impossible to replace you.”

Adi Gallia frowned. “You’re not leaving the Shadows, are you Master Tyvokka?”

“You have to name your own successor, if you are,” Cho’na Bene muttered. “Force only knows who we would end up picking.”

“You don’t have to worry,” Tyvokka said as he handed out the flexis. “That isn’t why I requested your presence today.”

“What did you wish to bring before the Council, then?” Sifo-Dyes asked.

Tyvokka took a calming breath. “I wished to bring before the Council matters of some concern over the future of the Order.”

“These matters wouldn’t happen to concern the efforts that you, and others in your party, have made towards… reformations within the Temple? Would they?” Master Dapatian asked, a little tense.

Tyvokka didn’t know how to answer that without starting a fist fight, honestly. The High Council led the Order forward, but he believed they were only stagnating the Order by not thinking of the organization beyond the Temple. Seventy percent of the Order wasn’t housed within the Temple; seventy percent of the Order wasn’t even considered for the majority of the decisions made in the past year. And Tyvokka was determined to change that.

“They are, Master Dapatian.”

“Dangerous, such accusations are,” Yoda hummed from a seat at one end of the table. “Changes of any kind should the Order have, instability and chaos it could bring.” He blinked his eyes wide, and Master Tyvokka tried not to let his personal disagreement with the old Master raise his fur. “Proof you have?”

“If you would turn to the third page?” Tyvokka gestured to the careful arrangement. “Here we have a breakdown of the cases of neglect the investigation found within the creche. I assume this will qualify as proof?”

The chamber was still and silent.

Adi Gallia cleared her throat. “I think you need to elaborate, Master Tyvokka. There are cases of neglect in the creche?”

“I took my Padawan Obi-Wan to see the healers when I first took him on,” Tyvokka began. “I was concerned for several reasons and what they found bears out. Obi-Wan Kenobi, no matter how much he looks like it, is not Human and therefore should not be treated as one.”

Master Dapatian did not look up from the flexi when he asked, “What is he?”

“Stewjoni,” Tyvokka admitted. “Complete with brachial hearts and egg sacks. According to Master Che, he’s not even a little Human.”

“I assume this is what you mean by neglect? Cases where you younglings have not received the best care for their species?” Cho’na Bene clarified with a frown. “Is Padawan Kenobi the only such case?”

Tyvokka shook his head. “There are six cases so far of hybrid species children being put down as one or the other. Only one of these has escaped without at least a mild case of malnutrition. And one Crechemaster has been referred to the Council of Reconciliation already. He was ignoring the complaints of one of the younglings that eating apples hurt her mouth.”

Master Yaddle frowned outright, a sorrowful feel to the atmosphere of the room. “An allergy, the child has?”

“Yes, not species based. Just bad luck.”

Master Sifo-Dyes tapped his fingers against the tabletop. “Were there other concerns besides this neglect? It is concerning for certain, but I’m not convinced it’s the foundation for a reformation. Perhaps the creche simply needs more of the Council’s attention.”

“More of the Council’s attention?” Tyvokka argued. “Or just more attention? Does the creche need the dedicated attention of the High Council for the six or eight weeks you have until another more pressing matter attracts your attention? Or do we need to reconsider how we can encourage knights and Order members of all walks of life to interact with the creche?”

Sifo-Dyes nodded in agreement. “I see. Perhaps-”

“What is this case against Initiate Chun?” Master Dapatian interrupted. “Mentioned near the bottom of page six. What is wrong with the child?”

“The boy most often targeted by your new Padawan, isn’t he?” Master Poof commented. “Tell us, Master Tyvokka, what neglect has he suffered? Outside of your Padawan’s abuse?”

“Master Poof, I would suggest you learn to pull your lightsaber out of your ass.” Tyvokka scowled at the Master. A series of choked noises echoed from the other masters even as Yarael Poof pressed his lips in firm disapproval. “Brock Chun has been assessed by two mind healers and a specialist in psychology from the EduCorps. They’ve compiled a report, but they’re all in agreement. Brock Chun shows all the signs of being mentally unstable.”

“In what way?” Adi Gallia asked out of concern.

“No one wants to flat out say it, but they’re leaning towards antisocial personality disorder.”

Master Gallia inhaled sharply, and Sifo-Dyes dropped his flexi sheets.

“There is a pattern of behavior?” Cho’na Bene clarified.

“Yes.” The Wookie nodded to the flexi. “It’s included in the report. But it includes expressive lack of empathy and a habit of abusing other children and lying about it.”

“So, Obi-Wan?”

Tyvokka nodded. “Chun’s favorite target. It didn’t hurt that my Padawan has something of a temper and would often fight back, timed just well enough that the crechemasters and teachers would see him but not Brock.”

“I see your point, Master Tyvokka,” Sifo-Dyes offered, tapping the hardened edge of the flexi on the tabletop. “If we have cases of neglect and abuse in our own creche, then what is to say that we do not have problems in the other areas of the Order?”

The Master of the Order looked ready to object, but Tyvokka would not give him the chance.

“I have spoken with the leading elders of our Corps, and they would like permission to return to the Temple. In the last few centuries, their freedom to live closer to their work became an exile from the Temple. They want to come home.”

“Some already have, have they not?” Master Bene said with a mischievous smile. “Just yesterday I thought I saw a youngling class dissecting the Emali-Vaas Conflict. Certainly not a subject I thought available already.”

“I have some freedom in such matters as the creche and the education of our young because they fall under the auspice of the Council of First Knowledge,” Tyvokka grudgingly admitted. “But to bring back more than simply representatives of the other Corps… that would take more resources than I alone can call upon.”

“This is just the first step, is it not?” Adi Gallia looked at him with a keenly perceptive gaze. “You have plans, Master Tyvokka, and this is just the beginning.”

Tyvokka didn’t frown, but it was a close thing. “I admit to only wanting what is best for the Temple and the Order. Lately we have been too separate in our dealings together and with others. The creche has too few younglings in its beds, but the crechemasters have too many per clan. Master Arraan has plans, but he needs bodies. The Corps can provide bodies.”

He hesitated. “I have found many Jedi during this investigation are unhappy with the status quo of the Order. Many are conducting their own investigations into things that might be wrong with the Order. Even should you wish it, this is not something that can be stopped without closure.”

“Hence the rumors of reform.” Master Dapatian grimaced.

“To change tradition is to invite vulnerabilities within the Order,” Yoda said firmly, eyes closed as was his wont.

“Change is healthy,” Yaddle refuted, a frown creasing her brow and her attention on the Grandmaster, “even the yuka tree must be pruned and fresh growth attended to. To refuse fresh growth is to die.”

“Just because the growth is new doesn’t make it good growth,” Cho’na Bene pointed out. “It doesn’t always even mean it’s even growth from the same plant. The tatetula plant mimics the groona it lives beside, often grafting itself to its trunk and leaching nutrients from the host. Gardeners often mistake the new leaves and shoots of the tatetula as part of the groona.”

“But by your own analogy, Master Bene,” Adi Gallia piped up, “you advocate for a gardener attentive to ze’s garden and knowing the health and fitness of the plants with it.” She dropped the flexi on the table and pointed. “By this report, we haven’t proven attentive. And perhaps it is only one area of the Order, but the creche is the most important aspect of the Order. It is our future, and we could not see how ill it was.” Adi nodded. “I don’t think we can do anything but proceed with the investigation and take the results seriously.”

“We have always done it this way,” Master Poof said with something approaching a pout. “There has never been a problem before.”

“No problem?” Sifo-Dyes asked. “Or was it simply not brought to us? And how do we even know that? Most of our own meetings are not recorded; there are no records, and the only person who has consistently been on the council that long is Master Yoda.”

“Master Yoda would never forget!” gasped Madam Nu.

“Never is an absolute,” Tyvokka said idly into the lull of the conversation. “And there are no absolutes.”

Cho’na Bene stifled a laugh in a cough, and Adi Gallia offered a smirk.

Master Sifo-Dyes leaned forward in his chair near the edge and called for the attention of the masters. “Council, I understand the hesitance that you have towards this change; but we cannot simply think of our comforts.”

“What are you getting at, Sifo?” Master Dapatian frowned.

The Human waved a hand. “We are caught up in a far-reaching question of what will happen when… Whereas we should act in all seriousness. Master Tyvokka has found a danger that exists against our members; we cannot fail to act!”

“It would be a terrible abuse,” Adi Gallia nodded slowly. “Especially considering the effort currently ongoing amongst our members to conduct their own investigations. To ignore their reports would make us no better than tyrants.”

There was silence in the conference room and a great deal of frowning before Master Dapatian, speaking through clenched teeth, said, “Perhaps a vote then? To allow Master Tyvokka to continue as head of this investigative effort, and to collect the reports and considered solutions for effective reformation?”

The gathered masters closed their eyes to better focus in agreement, and perhaps younger masters and knights might find that intimidating, but Tyvokka was well used to the politics of the Order. Let them come to their agreement. Tyvokka would not change from his course. He couldn’t, honestly.

The silence stretched, but finally the Master of the Order sighed. “I am not pleased, but it seems I am in the minority. Master Tyvokka, you have our approval to continue with your efforts and the integration. The Quartermaster will be informed.”

Tyvokka bowed, capable of being gracious in the light of his victory. “Many thanks, masters. May the Force be with you.”

“And with you, Master Tyvokka,” Master Dapatian said as the members of the High Council stood and stretched. Exiting the room in their own small groups, concerned with their own duties. Tyvokka neither begrudged nor coveted their responsibilities. There hadn’t been a Shadow on the High Council in centuries, and while Tyvokka thought that was a mistake, he also wasn’t vying for the seat. He had enough work to do.

“Time you have for me, Master Tyvokka?” Yoda asked, directing his hover chair towards the Wookie. “Questions, I have. Answers, know you might.”

He didn’t want to. Yoda had been a Master when Tyvokka had been an Initiate, and honestly, he’d never been particularly taken with the small troll-like elder. But Tyvokka did many things that he preferred not to; it was the challenge of being an adult.

“What questions would you like to ask, Master Yoda?”

Of course, that didn’t mean he had to make it easy for the old troll.

The old Master in his hover chair directed them to a close by meditation room with a small push. “Certain, you are that this is the direction the Order should go in?”

“I don’t have a direction in mind,” Tyvokka said, lowering himself to the pillows. “All I know is that the investigation I conducted has uncovered a grave problem in the creche. My conscience could not bear it to ignore such a problem.”

“Never heard of these problems, have I,” Yoda said. “Traditions of the Order, kept us in the light they have.”

“Perhaps no one brought them up; or perhaps they told you, but you were not listening,” Tyvokka said, “A thousand years since the Ruusan Reformation and not a single bylaw or charter agreement has changed in the past 700. Our creche diminishes with each year, and not a month goes by without the names of the dead growing. Perhaps we are still in the light, but we are dying. And if there is something I can do to change it, I will.”

Yoda closed his eyes and heaved a heavy sigh. “No absolutes, there are.”

“From the viewpoint of fear, none are strong enough.” Tyvokka settled himself in the force and reached out to feel the glowing edge of his Padawan. The boy’s laughter nearly echoed in his ears. “From the viewpoint of love, none are necessary.”

“Love my Grandpadawan, I do. Dark has been his way of late,” Yoda said, opening his eyes to peer up at the Wookie. “Hoped I had, that heal him, Obi-Wan could.”

Tyvokka snorted. “No one can heal from heart wounds if they aren’t willing. Obi-Wan is a smart, capable youngling, and he will grow up to be one of the brightest lights the Order ever sees. Capable of great change in the galaxy.” He turned his frown on the Grandmaster. “What he isn’t, Yoda, is a bandage for your Grandpadawan’s heart.”

“Thought it was best, I did. Force willed bond, they have. The potential for much good I have seen. Why allow it were it not to be?”

Tyvokka stared hard at the amphibian. “I think you need to take advice from your Grandpadawan and stay in the present. Visions are tricky things, and the will of the Force is a nebulous and fickle concept. Who’s to say that it would not be the will of the Force to destroy the Order?”

Yoda stared aghast at the Wookie. “In the light the Order is!”

“The light is only one side of the Force.” Tyvokka smirked and arched an eyebrow. “Or have you forgotten your fundamentals of Force lessons?”

Yoda scowled. “Blasphemy this is.”

“It’s the truth,” Tyvokka said, unimpressed with the Grandmaster’s fit. “Just like this: sentient beings have free-will, which means that sometimes what the Force wants isn’t what the Force gets.” He tapped his finger pads on the tabletop. “Tell me, Master Yoda, how many times did you have to parade Obi-Wan in front of your Grandpadawan before the idiot even noticed the child existed?”

Yoda flushed an ugly color.

“How many times did you warn away other masters from Obi-Wan? How many times did you direct his attention away from his own pursuits and toward a pursuit that Jinn would approve of?”

Yoda huffed. “Prepared to please his Master, a good Padawan should be.”

Tyvokka clung tightly to the anger that might have erupted at that. “Well-matched a Padawan and Master should be. Like puzzle pieces from the same design. Not blocks slammed together and glued haphazardly in place.” Tyvokka observed the troll as he carefully syphoned his anger into the Force. “Did you know that the Force willed bond you preach so adamantly about broke on Melida/Daan?”

Yoda startled.

“Yes. The Master-Padawan bond that should have taken the council to break, shattered as Jinn left orbit from the war-torn planet. Even now, months after I took Obi-Wan on as my student, I’m still helping him deal with the psychic damage.”

“Nightmares, Obi-Wan has?” Yoda said after a moment.

“Nightmares are the least of it!” Tyvokka finally thundered. “Your Grandpadawan left a child in an active war zone! He abandoned him! Even now, some weeks after I first took Obi-Wan on, I only have the barest connection with my student. He trusts Tholme more than he trusts me.”

“Why have you not repudiated him?”

“Because this is what a good Master does, Yoda! They reach out, and they teach their student by example, with love and trust, even if that love and trust isn’t reciprocated at first.” Tyvokka bit back the insults he wanted to heap on this deaf and blind toad. “I will hold on to our connection for as long as he lets me. I will not yell at him, physically hurt him, or knowingly place him in a situation where he could be hurt beyond what he can heal from. I will advise him, educate him, and guide him on the path to being a Jedi. I will keep his confidence. I will never turn away his touch, and one day in the future, when the shadows in Obi-Wan’s eyes aren’t so obvious, I might stop cursing the Force for your Grandpadawan’s very existence.”

Yoda didn’t seem able to speak, so Tyvokka leaned in and continued laying the truths out for the ancient Master. He wasn’t sure the amphibian was listening, but the Wookie had to try. “This is your fault. I’ve been reading and researching and questioning tradition for months, and I can lay much of the stagnation of the Order at your feet.

“You rushed knights through their training, and now we have to discipline them for breaking protocol. You encouraged the glorification of the Consular Jedi, and now we have younglings bitter at being sent to the Corps. You taught your interpretation of Jedi Code, and now my Padawan won’t even come to me with his questions.

“You have held power for too long, Yoda. And now you’re reaping what you’ve sown.” Tyvokka stood and straightened his robes. “Do not try arranging a meeting with my Padawan. Certainly, do not arrange such a meeting with Jinn. I have informed Obi-Wan that he shouldn’t meet with you without bringing me, and I expect him to obey me. So don’t try to get around it. I’m getting sick of fixing what you broke.”

Chapter 4: Unpleasant Surprise

1st day of the 11th Republic Standard month, 957 ARR

There was a small, little used cafeteria near the Shadows’ halls. It didn’t have as many options as the main cafeteria, but it also wasn’t almost an hour away from his Master’s quarters either.

And it had cake. A really very decadent chocolate cake with cream cheese frosting. It was good enough to start a riot honestly, so Obi-Wan was pretty pleased that it was still basically unknown to the wider Temple. Just a pleasant little secret tucked behind the teeth of the Shadows. Perhaps it was one of the few pleasant secrets that Shadows kept.

What it also apparently had was Knight Hsola, a Drallish male that Obi-Wan could admit was very pleasing to look at. He also had the attention of Radka, his Master’s Knight-Administrator, and Obi-Wan was getting a little tired of watching her stare.

“You could talk to him, you know.” Obi-Wan said, biting back a grin when Radka fairly jumped out of her skin.

“Obi-Wan Kenobi! You scared me to death.” She gasped, leaning back into the corner she’d been hiding in.

He bit back his grin and offered a solemn nod, “My apologies, Knight Svoboda. I was just wondering why you were… lurking.”

“I wasn’t lurking,” She protested, “simply ah…”

“Admiring the view?” Obi-Wan offered. Watching as a flush brushed her cheeks with green.

“Oh, shut up!” She stomped her foot, and Obi-Wan finally let his teasing smile break through. “Knight Hsola is impressive is all. Competent, strong in the force, and ethical; he has a decent sense of humor—not juvenile at all. And he’s so far out of my league.”

Obi-Wan blinked as the Knight sighed, offered one last glance through the window before she turned and entered the cafeteria. The Padawan hot on her heels, “What do you mean out of your league?”

“He’s one of the best Shadows the Order has, and handsome to boot.” She snagged a bowl of hot cereal and fruit, while Obi-Wan waited for further down the buffet.

He was here for the cake. “I’m just an administrator. If it weren’t because Master Tyvokka insisted, I’d probably be shuffled off to the Corps. There’s no reason for him to give me a second look.”

Obi-Wan frowned, “There’s nothing wrong with being a Knight-Administrator, Radka. Force knows Master wouldn’t remember his own head if it wasn’t attached. We’re all destined for something different.” He watched as she didn’t quite sigh and didn’t quite slump, just almost. “As for him not having a reason to give you a second look, well, let’s go give him one.”

“What? Obi-Wan…”

Obi-Wan ignored the flustered female as he determinedly headed to the table where Knight Hsola sat. “Knight Hsola, I don’t think we’ve met. I’m Obi-Wan Kenobi, Master Tyvokka’s Padawan.”

“You’ve still got most of the Temple in a tizzy.” Hsola gestured to the seats across from him, “But that just means you’ve an interesting story. Would you like to sit?” He waved the data pad he’d been reading, “You’ll save me from a spectacularly dry treatise on the evolution of economic trade in shit.” When Obi-Wan’s brows went up, Hsola smirked. “Literally. Master T’un mentioned a brewing situation on Ja’da’ga—the moon by Calypso—about union trades and wars concerning organic fertilizers. I thought I would read up on it, but Research was less than helpful.”

Radka grimaced, “Master Duon Qua’s manuscript?”

“Unfortunately,” Hsola said. “It was thorough, but…”

“Dry.” Radka smiled, “Really, really dry. I can’t think of anything else that would be on the same topic, but the Archives have a subscription to the Shared Resources Library. No guarantee, but it might have some interesting options.”

Hsola leaned forward, “I’ll check it out.”

“Careful of Madam Nu, though.” Obi-Wan butt in, “She bites.”

The two knights laughed, and Obi-Wan grinned behind his soup as he watched them lean in closer. ‘Out of her league’, his left foot. Radka’s smile could light up a room if she ever showed it.

“Obi-Wan!” Knight Deb’os was making his way through the cafeteria, a tray in hand. “Haven’t seen you since the mercy mission! Haven’t been hiding, have you?”

Knight Deb’os chuckled and Obi-Wan refused to wince. The Iktotchi Knight was perhaps more friendly than necessary, but he meant well, and Obi-Wan refused to shy away.

“I’ve been back twice between coursework and other missions with my lineage-brother. We must have missed each other, that’s all. Have you met Knights Svoboda or Hsola?”

“I have, it’s an honest pleasure to see you again, Radka.” The Iktotchi said, ignoring Knight Hsola completely, the big male picked Radka’s hand up off the table to lay a kiss on it. “It’s been quite some time, has it not?”

“It has.” Radka nodded stiffly to Deb’os, subtly trying to tug her hand back out of his grip. “We were just discussing the brewing situation with Ja’da’ga. Are you familiar with it?”

Obi-Wan refused to sigh when the large male settled down with his tray and a grin. Clearly, he was going to have to figure out some sort of exit plan. Knight Deb’os was not paying attention to their body language. It shouldn’t have been hard to decipher for a Consular Knight. Perhaps the Council of Reconciliation gave remedial courses. The Padawan smirked a little at the amusing thought of putting the Knight’s name on such a list.

“Of course,” the Iktotchi said, “I’m in the rotation for the Council of Reconciliation. It only made sense to keep abreast of the issues developing.”

Hsola turned to Deb’os, “It might get handed down to the Council of First Knowledge. The situation on Ja’da’ga is fragile; Master T’un mentioned that there were signs of a darksider cult working to destabilize the region.”

“Unlikely,” Kadok Deb’os said casually, biting into dessert. The same chocolate cake that had sent Obi-Wan to the cafe himself. “Shadows are fine at what they do, but there’s no way that the High Council is going to let a Shadow represent the Order in a public venue. That would be silly when there are plenty of perfectly fine Consular Jedi capable of taking on the mission. Why waste it on a Shadow?”

Radka tapped her spoon like she tapped her stylus, a deliberate rhythm ringing like a slightly off-kilter bell. “Consular Jedi, like you? Do you have experience working against darksiders?”

Kadok offered Radka a slightly patronizing look, “Radka there aren’t any darksiders on Ja’da’ga. Just a screwed up political system and a couple of competing unions. The Shadows are trained to see the signs of darksiders. It’s necessary after a fashion, and they’re good enough at it. But that doesn’t mean that there are any darksiders there.”

“Doesn’t mean there aren’t.” Obi-Wan said, catching the attention of the knights at the table. “The visual absence of something is not definitive proof as to its non-existence. It simply means you don’t see it.”

The Force shifted around him, and Obi-Wan could see clear as day. If Knight Deb’os took the assignment to Ja’da’ga, he would die there. Because the absence of evidence did not mean non-existence, and there was a darksider working to create turmoil on the moon. Rubbing his palm against his chest, Obi-Wan made a mental note to talk to Master Tyvokka or Master T’un about it. That mission needed to go to a Shadow.

Deb’os grinned widely at the padawan and gestured with his fork. “I’m glad I caught you, Obi-Wan. I wanted to talk to you about your skill in mediation.”

Obi-Wan blinked, the topic more than a little to the left of what they’d been talking about. “Oh?”

“I’ve heard a lot of good things about what you’ve done in the low levels, and Swari Atila had good things to say about your work in the diplomacy class.” He scrunched his nose up a bit, “I’ve been talking to some other knights I know, and I’ve found a few who would be happy to take you on a few missions. Stretch your legs off Coruscant and really train your skill in mediation.”

Obi-Wan swallowed dryly, but didn’t panic, and stubbornly didn’t look at the others sitting at the table. “That’s awfully kind of you, Knight Deb’os.”

The Iktotchi waved off the sentiment and leaned closer. “You’re being wasted in the Shadows with your Master, Obi-Wan. You could do so much good in the galaxy if we could just get you the training.” He leaned closer, too close for Obi-Wan’s comfort. “Just think of all the people you could help with the Council of Reconciliation. Even if they never send you to a war zone, just the amount of grief most organizations go through during mediation—you’d save so many people’s time and energy working with the Council. It really would be a good fit for you.”

Absently, Obi-Wan acknowledged the irony that a different Consular Jedi could acknowledge the use of the very skills he’d honed when Qui-Gon Jinn had left him with the Young. Most of his attention, however, was on the queasy feeling in his stomach. He didn’t want to join the Consular Jedi. Didn’t want to go on missions with a Jedi Knight he didn’t know.

He knew how good he was at negotiations, at getting people to a point where they could understand their opponent’s perspective and at least work towards a common goal. Obi-Wan had already learned one of the hardest lessons that any negotiator faced—sometimes people just weren’t ready to come to that point—which made his value on such missions much higher than a normal Padawan. Additionally, Obi-Wan wasn’t opposed to the activity. He enjoyed working in the low-light levels. It filled Obi-Wan with a great deal of satisfaction.

But Obi-Wan didn’t trust them. Those Consular Knights who had probably argued and weighed his growing skill with mediation against the black mark most of the Order still held against him. What good did it do him that they could benefit from his skill? He didn’t want anything from them.

He didn’t want them.

Obi-Wan’s smile was uncomfortable on his face, “I’ll consider it, thank you.”

The Iktotchi jumped to his feet and gathered up his tray, “Great. We can go now. There should be a few of the knights who agreed to work with you around.”

“Actually,” Obi-Wan said, careful to keep his hands out of the Knight’s enthusiastic reach, “right now isn’t a great time for me.”

Deb’os offered a quizzical smile, “What do you mean? Isn’t your future with the Order at least as important as whatever else you have planned?”

The view he’d had of Quinlan as he’d walked out the apartment teasing the other teen about how he was going to get cake because he’d already finished his homework flashed to mind. Obi-Wan wondered when even the idea of a future without Quin had become so awful.

“I agree that my future with the Order is very important to me,” Obi-Wan began, “but my Master only gave me leave for a short time. I really don’t have the time to invest in meeting these generous knights right now. Perhaps another day.”

Radka jolted and swiped her comm from her pocket, reading the display with a frown. “Here he is now. Asking if I’ve seen you. We really should get back.” She rose with Obi-Wan, Knight Hsola joining them just a moment behind. “It was, of course, pleasant seeing you again, Knight Deb’os. We must-”

“Obi-Wan,” The Iktotchi frowned, pronounced brow ridge growing even more so. “Surely you don’t want to get stuck here? Constantly seeing shadows and tainting yourself with darkness? The Force meant you for better than this, Obi-Wan! Don’t be ridiculous.”

Obi-Wan focused intently on the scar that ran down Knight Deb’os’s face. He didn’t know what to say. Perhaps it was how Knight Deb’os said it, or the way the Knight was already reaching across the table to touch him. He wasn’t sure he could say no, wasn’t sure what would happen, but he didn’t want the Knight to touch him. The Padawan stepped back, not quite out of reach when he bumped into Radka, but that was alright. Knight Hsola was getting in Deb’os’s way.

The Drallish reached across the table and caught the other male’s hand. “I don’t think that would be such a good idea.”

“Stay out of this.”

“No.” Knight Hsola walked around the table to stand just to the side of Obi-Wan and Radka. “You don’t need to get upset. Padawan Kenobi would likely be more than happy to meet you at another time and place.”

Deb’os turned his attention back to Obi-Wan, “You’re going to let this Shadow speak for you, Obi-Wan?”

“If you find Shadows so disgusting, then why are you here?” Radka snapped, stepping in front of Obi-Wan, refusing to let Deb’os’s larger frame intimidate her. “Are you so preoccupied with the world according to Kadok Deb’os that you forgot where you were?”

“No. I didn’t forget,” He scowled down at her, “I came for the cake. And it’s not like the cafe is ‘Shadows only’.” He sneered, “Or you wouldn’t be here either.”

Radka rocked back on her heels, “Shows how much you know about what I do.”

Deb’os snarled in reply, and Hsola once more shifted to take the brunt of the Iktotchi’s attention. “I suggest you find a new place to eat.”

“Or what?” Deb’os made a pointed look at Hsola’s prosthetic leg. “Going to challenge me, cripple?”

It happened so fast, Obi-Wan wasn’t entirely sure what he saw. One minute the Iktotchi Jedi was looming over them from the other side of the table, and the next the Knight slammed into the floor. His head hit the stonework with a crack, but it was his nose that came out of the situation the worst. It sat crookedly on the Knight’s face now, already swelling as blood gushed out and covered his shirt.

Radka panted from where she ended up standing over the other Knight. Obi-Wan blinked as the female shook out her hand. He wasn’t even sure how she got over there.

“You son-of-a-Hutt,” Radka swore down at her victim. “You have no right to call yourself a Jedi Knight! You mock the Shadows, our branch of the Order; you insulted and offended other Jedi, my friends; and when things didn’t go according to your liking, you were physically aggressive!” Her voice had risen to shouting levels, as Jedi crowded through the doors of the cafe to see what was going on. “You call yourself a Consular Jedi?! Kadok Deb’os, you’re nothing more than a thug!”

For good measure, she sneered as another Jedi assisted the Iktotchi to his feet.

Knight Hsola let out a deep breath as he stared at Radka. She hissed, testing the damage to her hand, and blinked at him when she caught him staring. “What?”

“You’re left hook is a thing of beauty,” Hsola settled on with a wicked grin. “You hurt your hand? Iktotchi have both thick hides and dense bone structure. I’m surprised you broke his nose, honestly.”

Obi-Wan grinned, stepping back slightly and watching the two adults move closer subconsciously.

“Oh, I ah, used the force.” She stuttered as Hsola gently felt her fingers.

“To shield your fingers? Or apply more force?”

“Both?”

Hsola grinned, “I’d very much like to learn the technique if you have the time Knight Svoboda.”

“It’s not that hard, really. You just,” Radka shook her head, but paused and turned to squint at the Knight. “Are you—are you flirting with me?”

The male’s grin widened, “Is it working?”

She blushed, a green trace of color arching over her cheeks. “I’m free on Wednesdays at lunch. We could meet here and have a light meal before heading to a salle?”

“I’ll make the reservation. Hour past noon work for you?” Hsola’s grin was dangerous, teeth a little too sharp for convention, but Radka and Obi-Wan weren’t just Jedi. They were Shadows, and they both blushed a little harder.

It was something of a revelation for Obi-Wan, exactly how attractive he found that wicked and sharp toothed smile. Something he, honestly, wasn’t sure he was ready to think about. So, he grinned up at the two knights and offered in a stage whispered, “Finally. If you didn’t at least talk to him before next week, Quin was going to lock you two in a closet.”

Radka turned a mild glare on Obi-Wan, a little ineffective with the blush she was sporting, but Hsola just continued to grin.

“I wouldn’t have been mad.”

*****

3rd day of the 11th Republic Standard month, 957 ARR

Tahl slammed down her teacup and vented her frustration into the Force. “I can’t even look at him. How dare he? How dare he?”

Plo poured the younger Master another cup, “What has he done this time?”

Tyvokka had just entered. Still removing layers as he settled in for what was supposed to be a quiet evening with friends, and which appeared to be shaping up very differently.

“You know he had the audacity to blame my loss of vision on Obi-Wan?”

Tyvokka grabbed a cushion next to T’un, “Jinn, I assume?”

T’un nodded, “Of course. Who else could get us drinking this early in the evening?”

“Yoda.” Tyvokka said, pulling the kettle towards him and T’un had to give a grudging agreement.

“He said that if Obi-Wan hadn’t argued with him, he could have gotten me to a medic in time to save my eyes!” The woman sputtered and Tyvokka reached over to snag the kettle for a sniff. There was no way she wasn’t drunk enough to swim. “As though the bare minutes made any difference!”

“Could it have?” Plo asked carefully.

“No,” Tahl said, her entire body drooping. “I probably lost my vision in the first week of my captivity.” She rallied, “But I would have given them twice over to save Obi-Wan from the war! I was there for days before being taken captive. I remember what I saw and later what I heard and what I felt. No child should have to suffer that.”

Tyvokka hummed, “I think that was Obi-Wan’s own point. There were children dying every day and their parents would not stop to save them. They just kept pitting them against each other.”

“Obi-Wan said that the force called him to do something,” T’un said, swirling his cup idly, “He’s your padawan, Tyvokka. Do you believe him?”

Tyvokka swigged the doctored tea in his cup, “I think I have to.”

Plo frowned, “what do you mean?”

Tyvokka grunted, “I have felt Obi-Wan’s conviction. He feels strongly that he followed the will of the force regardless of Jinn’s pigheaded opinion. No, Obi-Wan…”

Tahl dug out the chips and cookies. “He’s special.”

Tyvokka scoffed, “Of course, but all of my padawans are special. They are mine,

and I love them wholeheartedly. No, what I meant was only that Obi-Wan has a strong connection with the force. By testament of Plo and Master Che, herself, his ability to bring disparate groups to the same table and create an agreement is without equal currently in the Temple. And his foresight is… unreal. I’ve never heard of someone with such a powerful gift for it.”

Tahl blinked, “Goodness, what happened?”

Tyvokka dipped his bread into the spread, “I like to make sure Obi-Wan has just as much mission experience each week as he does in the classroom. Beyond the incident a few months ago with Brock Chun; Obi-Wan has more experience on missions than most of his peers. No matter how well behaved, he could get disruptive without a proper outlet.”

T’un smirked, “Sound reasonable. What happened?”

“I send him with Master Che to the low-light levels once a week, schedule permitting. So far, he’s shamed a Cobreli into slithering away, negotiated a ceasefire between two low-light clans, brokered a pact of mutual assistance, and arranged several marriages. Che has stopped assigning him duties in the healing tent. He has his own work, setting up a neutral space for people to come and have their discussions mediated. I am proud of him.” He shoved the tiheli in his mouth and mumbled, “but I wish he wouldn’t scare me to death.”

Plo nodded, “I have seen it a time or two as my Search takes me back into the area; it is an odd and magnificent sight to be sure.”

“But worrying.” Tahl missed the dip the first time, and got it on her fingers the second, but huffed when Plo offered to tear and dip for her. “If Obi-Wan’s gift for foresight is strong enough that it’s lending itself for more than just ‘be there and try to fix something’, but literally has given him the words to say- that’s unprecedented.”

T’un hummed, “Or at least not within recent memory.” He thought, “You said, Yoda often spent time with him in the creche?”

“Yes,” Tyvokka nodded, “First controlling the visions and then numbing them for lack of a better term. Yoda did not offer any chance to exercise it, as far as I know.”

“It’s not an uncommon opinion, nowadays.” T’un remarked, “Many believe that visions and feelings of the future are unreliable and so each vision must be carefully examined from an objective perspective.”

Tahl sputtered, “That’s ridiculous. If the Force did not want us to know, it wouldn’t have shown us!”

“Except, the light is not the only side of the Force, simply one.” Tyvokka said, “Future telling is a known skill and tenet of the Sith. If the High Council grew concerned about Obi-Wan’s ability, they could require proof that he has not delved into the dark for his ability.”

“He’s a child!” Tahl shouted.

“But children are more susceptible than any other to the influence of another mind.” T’un said. “They would feel that the damage done – and it would be a heavy injury to bear- would be worth the price of never having to know what Obi-Wan sees.”

“What type of proof would the Council require?” Plo asked.

“If Obi-Wan ever wanted to argue that his visions of the future should direct the future of the Order; or as some sort of evidence to take one path instead of another, the Master of the Order would have to dig through Obi-Wan’s mind for instances when he had visions. To see for himself and the Council whether it was actually the Force working through him.” Tyvokka sighed, “By which they would mean the lightside of the Force,” Plo braced himself against the low table and Tyvokka felt a little bad for placing these worries on his former students. He placed a palm on the Kel Dor’s shoulder. “Don’t worry. That will not happen anytime soon. Such an examination would require a tremendous amount of trust and vulnerability; right now, Obi-Wan can’t offer that to anyone.”

“Besides Padawan Kenobi, what else have we gathered to discuss?” T’un finally asked.

“I grow concerned for the younglings we should be finding.” Plo shared as he reached for another of his smoothie snacks, “Our numbers have dropped significantly, but more often I am directed on Search towards a place and a family, but there is no child there. The first few times I could assume that I had broken the trance too soon or mistook the feeling for one direction when it was close, but not quite. But not dozens of times.”

“You’re our most prolific Jedi among the Search,” Tahl said, licking her fingers clean. “If there was someone to find, you would find them.” She paused, “I cannot explain the weird there-but-not-there feeling you have on Search, but honestly we do not have the room or resources for so many at the moment. Perhaps it’s a boon from the Force?”

“No,” T’un frowned, “If they actually didn’t exist, if the population of Force users waxed and waned like that; we would have seen it before, and the Force wouldn’t have directed Plo to those locations to begin with.”

“But then where are they? Have we just not found them, or has someone else found them?” Tahl asked.

Tyvokka had heard nothing like this before. “Do you have any ideas?”

Plo hesitated before shaking his head. “I will meditate on it.”

T’un shook his head, “Share if you think of something.”

“How goes the investigation into the Healing Halls?” Tyvokka asked into the silence.

“Well enough, according to Shaak. She had lunch with Master Che this week. It’s unfortunate that neither could be here.” Plo said. “There were only a few who needed extensive retraining or an attitude adjustment. It just so happened that most dealt with the younglings.”

“Not malice?” T’un clarified.

“Che thinks not. Rather, rushed training and an over-inflated sense of capability.”

“Glad that we caught it now.” Tahl said absently, searching for her flat bread on the plate. “That sounds like that could have been dangerous.”

“While I’m not pleased that our younglings took the brunt of the damage; there’s no reason they can’t recover.” Tyvokka tipped his cup to find it empty, “It would have been horrible to find all this out after a preventable death.”

“As much as I love our reformation,” Tahl waved her teacup at Plo for more tea,

“We are here to get drunk! Worry about all of this another day!”

And just as Tahl giggled, the Temple gave a shudder and half a second behind it the safety and security alarms blared. It appeared getting drunk wasn’t in the plans anymore.

“I think those plans just changed,” Plo said with a wry tone of voice.

Tyvokka had the sinking suspicion that there was no coincidence in the breech’s location. It was too close to the Shadow’s holocron vault. That was, not so incidentally, also the location of the holocron Mx. Taz had died for. They had foolishly assumed that because the Shadows had found her dead; she hadn’t given up her secrets. They should have been planning for someone to come after the holocron. After all, it wouldn’t have done to leave evidence of the Sith in the hands of Jedi who knew what they were looking at.

“How did they get in?” Tyvokka shouted, jumping the stairs and landing with a thud three floors down.

“Breached the outer wall,” Cin Drallig replied once he caught his breath. “Went in a straight line from the outer wall to the vault. Knew exactly what he was looking for.”

“Status of the intruder?” T’un asked.

“Caught, for now.” Drallig gestured ahead of them, where a group of Sentinels and Shadows had already gathered. “Two layers of laser grids, and one extremely pissed Shadow last I heard.”

Radka was standing back in a well-protected corner, a datapad in one hand and a comm clipped over her ear, issuing directions, and collaborating with the Temple Guard. Tyvokka bite back a pleased smile when he noticed she had arrived at the scene in fuzzy slippers and sleep clothes several sizes too big. He had to bite even harder when he noticed that the Knight standing guard over the only way out of the vault was Illin Hsola, in what looked like matching pajamas.

“This is a bit of a change,” Tyvokka said, walking over to get her report.

Radka made a face and offered the datapad to Drallig as well. “I was here, so when the situation stabilized, I took over rerouting knights and sentinels to vulnerable locations. I doubt it, but this could be a distraction. There’s no reason to make it easy on them if that is the case.”

Tyvokka ran a hand over her shoulder and squeezed gently. He knew exactly how much courage the female had shown. She was a Knight-Administrator for a reason. “Good job, Radka.”

“Thank you, Master.”

“How did the intruder get caught?” Cin Drallig asked, “Was it the timing mechanism?”

Radka scrunched her nose, “I wasn’t watching that closely, but I think Illin pushed him?”

“With the Force?” Drallig raised a brow, but Tyvokka was already shaking his head and walking over to join the Knight on guard.

“Hsola is Drallish. He probably just used his hands.”

“You’re not wrong,” came the Knight’s deep voice, though he didn’t look away from his captive. “A lifetime as a Jedi, and I still reach out with my hands more often than not.”

“Instinct saves us time, when we need our brain on other things.” Was all Tyvokka offered, “Why else do masters torture their padawans with repeating katas until their limbs feel like they’re going to fall off?”

“You mean it’s not just for the entertainment value?” Hsola paused and turned his head enough to catch Tyvokka from the corner of his eye. “We’re going to have a problem, Master.”

“Why is that?”

“It’s Xanatos duCrion.”

Tyvokka sighed, that just opened a whole new can of worms. He turned to Radka, “Contact the Council of Reconciliation. Tell them we have duCrion down here.”

It occurred to the Wookie that he had another, unusual, source of information that he could use to deal with the situation. He pulled up his Padawan’s comm number and slipped the ear clip on as the small room outside the vault got crowded.

“Kenobi.” The teen answered.

“Padawan,” a tight knot Tyvokka hadn’t even noticed unraveled behind his chest at the sound of his student’s voice. “You’re alright? Safe?”

“Yes, Master.” There was the faintest sound of crying in the background of wherever he was. “Quin and I were in the creche; Master Arraan sent groups of older initiates and padawans into the younger clans to help as extra hands. I’m probably not going to get out of here before morning.”

Tyvokka chuckled, “You stay and help in the creche Padawan. I probably won’t be able to leave where I am until well into the day myself. But I need your help.”

“What can I do, Master?”

Tyvokka didn’t like to do it, but it would be better than being forced to rely on Jinn’s dubious opinion. “Think back to the times you met Xanatos duCrion. Do you think duCrion could have been the darksider that killed Mx. Taz?”

“No.” Came the immediate response, and Tyvokka refused to sigh.

“Can you explain it?”

“duCrion is mad, Master. He’s clinging to whatever sanity he has by the ends of his fingernails.” That matched the dirty, crazed man pacing the cage of lasers and hissing at the guards. “The perpetrator on the Hiddle Coua was merciless, and methodical. I’m sure something could refute or give a reason for everything else, but I’d never believe someone who said that Xanatos duCrion could be that exact. He doesn’t have it in him, Master.”

“Thank you, Padawan.” Tyvokka responded, “If you think of anything else, comm me.”

“Alright, Master. Stay safe.”

“Stay safe, Padawan.”

Now he just had to deal with Jinn.

Because the universe loved him; Jinn, Yoda, Dapatian and the representative of the Council of Reconciliation, all showed up at the same time.

“What is all this about, Tyvokka?” Dapatian demanded to know as he entered the vault lobby.

“We’ve had a breach.” Cin Drallig said simply, “Knight Hsola identified the perpetrator as Xanatos duCrion.”

“Hsola?” Jinn muttered, looking over the self-contained Jedi with unfamiliar eyes.

“Why did you know my padawan?”

“Your former Padawan is on the known list of darksiders,” Hsola replied, not moving from his guard position “A picture and description went out over a year ago now, that Xanatos duCrion was a danger to himself and others, and increasingly unstable. Any of the Order’s Shadows could identify your fallen padawan.”

“Darksider!” Jinn hissed, “Xanatos is-”

“Lost, and you know it Qui-Gon.” Tahl huffed as she carefully finished with the stairs. “Don’t even front. I don’t know what delusion you’re still clinging to that makes you think that writhing mass of hate and desperation beyond Knight Hsola is redeemable. Because he isn’t.”

Jinn gaped at the Jedi Master, tiny compared to him, as she strode carefully to join the knot of thinkers. “Tahl, what are you doing here? It’s dangerous-”

“If you’re concerned about your former Padawan, like you should be, I promise as soon the sabers ignite, I am ducking and rolling free of this mess.” She glared in his general direction. “If you’re concerned about my ‘fragile condition’. Shut up. It’s neither as fragile nor as debilitating as you’re convinced it is.”

“Tahl-”

The female waved a hand at her friend and turned her shuffling steps towards the gathered masters. “I’m not talking to you right now, Qui-Gon. I’m sure I’ll be over in a minute to relay whatever questions the Council has for Xanatos. For now, go linger like a foul odor elsewhere.”

Tyvokka reached out and grasped her hand to pull her closer, safer. “We only have two-”

“Are you so certain?” Dapatian interrupted, “Perhaps Yoda or I have more questions to ask the tainted one?”

“Then you can ask him,” Tyvokka replied, “later, in the North Tower detention cells.”

“Much power you must have,” Yoda hummed, “if deal with Fallen members of the Order is also your duty.”

“It’s neither my job, nor Master Tyvokka’s, to educate you on what falls within the purview of the Council of First Knowledge.” Tahl was not impressed. “Which is concerning considering your responsibilities as part of the High Council.” She turned back to Tyvokka, “What do you want to know?”

“What is he looking for? And who hired him?”

After a quiet conversation, interrupted by Tahl smacking Jinn at one point, Qui-Gon Jinn finally moved over to the laser grid.

“Can he get through this?”

“With us standing right here? Unlikely.” Hsola answered, following the fallen Jedi with his gaze. “He’d have to turn the lasers off; unlikely to happen while I’m standing right here.” The Shadow shrugged, “Honestly, I’m just waiting for the team from Investigations to get down here with the tranqs. So, we don’t have to watch him pace and hiss until he collapses.”

Tyvokka could see where, once upon a time, Xanatos duCrion had been a handsome example of his species. His underlying bone structure was well-formed by any humanoid’s standards, but his skin had turned sallow, he’d lost weight, and his eyes had the glint of madness in them. Tyvokka wondered if he pulled the creche records from duCrion’s time with the Temple, would look anything like Brock Chun’s? Would he see similarities within the childhoods of all those Jedi who had fallen?

Or was Xanatos duCrion missing something, even as Brock Chun was missing something?

Jinn stood before the laser grate, as close as he could get before the field singed his hair and clothes and hid his trembling hands within the sleeves of his robe. “Xanatos.”

It took a moment or two before the crazed being within the field responded. duCrion hesitated just a step as he paced the confines of his cage, before twisting to face his former Master with a despicable smile on his lips.

“Well, well, well. If it isn’t my old Master.” His smile pulled at the cracks on his lips and exposed yellowed and broken teeth to his audience. “Come to harangue me once more about the code? Wee bit hypocritical of you, don’tcha think?”

Jinn grimaced, “What do you mean?”

“Once fallen, forever shall your path be dark.” The male inside the cage didn’t even care when the blood dripped down his chin. “But you still cling to the bond between us.” duCrion’s smile became a snarl and Tyvokka thought the male would fly at the lasers in a rage, but he caught himself just before they did damage and spat at his Master. “Does it feel good, Master? To feel as I feel? All my hate and power? More power than you ever had, for sure.”

The observing masters frowned at this additional information, even as Tahl gasped and Jinn’s knees buckled.

The force thickened around the human Master, and Tyvokka could imagine that in such proximity, duCrion was using all the tricks up his sleeve to bring pain to the male still bound to him.

“Why?” Jinn burst as he panted, “Why abandon the light? Why breach the Temple? What could you possibly gain?”

“You asked me to raise a weapon to my father!” duCrion screamed, “You wanted me to give up everything and replace gold decked tile and silk robes for coarse linen and broken speeders!”

“Where did that get you, Xanatos?” Jinn snarled. “Where are your pleasure yachts and your jewel studded datapads now? Your father’s business is in ruins and your planet has revolted.”

duCrion hissed, “I’ll get them back. Not long now. This one job and everything will be better. A dreadnought of platinum in return for one stupid holocron.” He snorted, “Not even a famous holocron. Just Wa-”

duCrion choked. Under the eyes of the observing masters, the darkness around the fallen Jedi thickened until it was nearly physical. His hands reached for his throat and started clawing at the skin. He drew blood.

Tyvokka spun on Hsola, “Where’s the switch?” but the Knight didn’t know.

“I’ve got it.” T’un shouted, Radka’s datapad in hand as he quickly overrode securities and protocols.

The lasers disengaged one at a time with a hiss and thud as the mechanism slid beneath the floors. Tyvokka watched on the balls of his feet, a med kit in hand, until the gaps were wide enough to slide through.

Hsola ran in first, scaled talons feeling the air around duCrion’s throat, bleeding skin slicking his fingers. Jinn was next, bouncing from the floor, burning hair and robes through the lasers as he landed to kneel beside his padawan, tears in his eyes, grasping at the younger male as though touch could save him. By the time the gap was large enough for a Wookie like Tyvokka, duCrion was nearly gone.

The kit spilled open as Hsola grabbed for bacta bandages and pressure sleeves, and Tyvokka’s fingers cut through the darkness thickening in the air.

“Hsola, his pulse-!”

The Drallish snarled, “I know! Maybe the bleeding, but the darkness-!”

He didn’t look up. duCrion’s pulse was thundering like he was facing a krayt dragon. Something needed to give.

“Sith of day’s darkened corners;

Unnamed haunts invited for evil,

Lurking enemies of hallowed halls;

Begone!”

“I cast you out upon the dregs,

Nothing left remains.

This is the lodging place of lightly favor,

You are not welcome here! Begone!”

“Cast the seed-pearls of sunlight to all depths of darkness.

Hail Jedha! May our enemies know no favor.

Hail Jedha!”

As Tyvokka entered the third verse of the chant, the darkness thinned, and a shriek echoed in his ear before it came back stronger. It thickened like a hammer and smashed into duCrion’s chest with all the weight of a war machine. Xanatos screamed, a breathless noiseless sound of agony as blood splattered from his mouth and his back bowed, leaving the floor.

Between the blinking of lashes, Xanatos duCrion died. Jinn screamed for his fallen apprentice. Scrambling at the body, knights had to drag Jinn away. It was heart wrenching, and as items shook on their shelves, it reinforced the lesson Yoda was constantly trying to teach. The covetous attachment that a Jedi was capable of was dangerous. And here between Jinn and duCrion both ends of the spectrum could be seen. duCrion loved things enough to drag him into the dark; and Jinn loved duCrion enough that his apprentice’s darkness had seeped into him.

It wasn’t an excuse. Jinn had committed undeniably dangerous decisions in the past few years. He had proven that they couldn’t trust him with a Padawan. The Council of First Knowledge would require much of Master Jinn before they trusted him with another impressionable mind. However, it explained his behavior. A festering bond, unhealthy, and seeping darkness from one end to the other, was going to cause irrational behavior.

Tyvokka couldn’t dismiss that Jinn was very, very sick. An illness of his own making and not without consequence, but ill, nonetheless.

“So, Jinn kept his bond to duCrion.” T’un said, stepping up beside the body. “That explains a lot.”

“It does,” Tyvokka agreed, “but it does not absolve him of his behavior.”

“Hmm.”

“We’ll just have to see.” Tyvokka sighed, knowing what his lineage brother wasn’t saying, Yoda had his fingers everywhere except the Shadows. Leaning over duCrion, Tyvokka closed the human’s eyes for the last time, and whispered one last prayer. “May the Force be with you, Xanatos.”

*****

4th day of the 11th Republic Standard Month, 957 ARR

The fallout of the situation with duCrion was immediately apparent, because even as Tyvokka signed off on Master Drallig’s plans to amend Temple Security, T’un walked into his office with the report from Forensics and Radka knocked on his door to inform him that Maa Tish, the EduCorps expert on the Sith, had finally arrived.

“Well,” Tyvokka blinked, “when it rains it pours. Tell Mx. Tish that ze can contact us when ze’s settled in. T’un, what does-”

“No, Master Tyvokka,” Radka nodded towards his waiting area. “Ze’s here. And ze’s kind of insisting on seeing you.”

“Before Mx. Tish,” T’un interrupted, “I have something you need to know.”

Tyvokka told Radka to give them five minutes before sending the specialist in.

“Alright, brother. What is it?”

“Forensics has completed their initial examination of duCrion’s body and given a superficial report on what they found.” He handed the flexi over to Tyvokka. “It’s not pretty.”

Tyvokka never thought it would be, but what he found within the document was more than he could have guessed. At the time of death, duCrion was suffering an agonizing amount of pain from multiple organ failure. Chemical analysis suggested that he was treating it with the same substance that had caused it. Blue Jade.

It was a toxic substance to almost every species in the known galaxy. Blue Jade was a naturally occurring chemical that developed in certain mines as a by-product of the industrial mining process. Reputable and legal companies had safeguards to protect their workers; companies of ill repute didn’t care. While it was impossible to know how duCrion became addicted to the substance, forensic testing could say with some certainty that it began roughly six months ago and like all addicts on Blue Jade—duCrion began dying with his first taste.

By the time he attacked the Temple, Xanatos duCrion was literally going out of his mind from the stress the drug put on his body. The Blue Jade ate away at the casing of his nerves, prohibited the delivery of chemicals in his brain, produced a substance that traveled through his bloodstream to collect in pockets of his tissue and cause inflammation. The toxin prohibited the absorption of nutrition and if Xanatos had remembered to eat it likely would have caused intense cramping, vomiting, and diarrhea as his organs failed.

For all that duCrion’s body was one wrong move away from a cascade of organ failure, his cause of death was unrelated. Tyvokka was unsurprised that the coroner listed it as brain hemorrhaging from suffocation caused by dark force use. The details listed following the summary were interesting, but nothing worth running over for.

Tyvokka gave his lineage brother a skeptical look, but T’un shook his head and said, “Keep scrolling.”

And there in black text was the surprise. Forensics had supplied a full-color photo for the case file of the scrap of flimsi found clutched in his hand after his death. It was a single strand of numbers and letters. An archive’s tag. Specifically, the archives tag for their newest acquisition. The holocron from Mx. Taz; that could be no coincidence.

“That is interesting.” Tyvokka said finally.

“Very interesting.” T’un agreed.

While they weren’t ignoring the holocron, especially because the age of the device implicated a secret Sith presence, they hadn’t focused on the holocron itself. If someone had gone through the effort of hiring a former Jedi just to break in and steal it; then perhaps it wasn’t so inconsequential.

Radka knocked lightly on the door, “Maa Tish to see you, masters?”

“Send zir in.”

Maa Tish was a Togruta of some age, zir montrails reached zir waist, and ze wore the traditional robes in brown darker than most. “Many thanks for seeing me, masters. Where is it?”

Tyvokka exchanged a look with his lineage brother, “The holocron, Mx. Tish?”

“Of course, the holocron,” ze frowned at them. “I woke from a solid sleep to push my ship to the breaking point. The force is insistent that this unknown is a danger to more than just the unwary. I need to see it.”

Tyvokka immediately stood. He’d never been cavalier concerning foreknowledge from the force, but he had always been cautious. Teaching Obi-Wan had taught him that the force moved in more ways in the galaxy than he knew. Thinking that his experience limited how the force worked was the height of hubris.

“Then we should go.” Passing his Knight-Administrator on the way, Tyvokka asked her, “Please clear my schedule for today and tomorrow. I need to handle the holocron.”

“Master Drallig is waiting on your signature for the new Sentinel postings while the holes get fixed!” Radka shouted as Tyvokka followed the small group out the door.

“Message it to me!”

Radka must have been working overtime, because by the time T’un, Tyvokka, and Mx. Tish reached the secure levels, the new holocron was ready for examination in an environmentally sealed room near the vault.

“Out of curiosity,” T’un asked as they entered, “Are all these precautions truly necessary?”

“Yes and no,” Maa said as ze examined the placement of the holocron on the table. “Holocrons are, unsurprisingly, rather robust devices. Sith often use them as another anchor to their lives. And Jedi are nearly as obsessed with hoarding knowledge. Just talk to Madam Nu,” ze offered a sly grin. “But the protections in place when handling things like this are to protect us, not the holocron.”

“Like that’s not ominous.” Tyvokka muttered as he scrolled through Master Drallig’s proposal to sign it.

“Well, the Sith weren’t good people. Many believed that they gained power from the suffering and misery in their surroundings. And often an Ancient Sith who couldn’t afford to build a temple for a tomb would enchant their souls to holocrons. So, they often have deadly traps and lethal defenses. It’s usually quite difficult to queue a holocron that is not already awake.”

There were only small signs that this holocron wasn’t as old as expected. And for all that Tyvokka was a Master of the Council of First Knowledge, holocrons had never particularly interested him. He only knew enough to notice that the general condition of the device was odd. Even the holocrons in the vault or the safer ones available for research within the archives showed signs of wear and tear. This one had all the glinting shine and sharp corners of a recent creation.

An annoyed huff from just outside the quarantine room called their attention to Madam Nu, standing by the speaker with a disapproving frown on her face. “This is completely unnecessary. Both Master Dapatian and Master Yoda have examined the holocron and deemed that it is simply in immaculate condition! All this brouhaha concerning its provenance is ridiculous.”

“That’s nice.” Maa Tish responded blandly, “They are welcome to their opinions like anyone else. I would wager, though, that neither Masters Dapatian nor Yoda are experts in holocron construction. And certainly not in how that construction has shifted and mutated through the dark side cult in the past thousand years.”

Madam Nu sputtered, “They are highly educated and experienced Jedi masters!”

“They don’t know holocrons.” Maa Tish offered a too sweet smile, “My job is to examine the holocron and report on such findings as I deem necessary. Which I will do. And then we’ll have empirical evidence on whether Masters Yoda and Dapatian are right or wrong.”

“The Sith are gone!” Madam Nu scowled. “Nothing that you find will change that!”

“Then you have nothing to worry about.”

In the background, T’un snorted and leaned toward Tyvokka, “How do you kill an ideology? Have you ever done it, brother?”

Tyvokka smirked, “No. Must be a fearsome thing of legend, the Knight who could kill an idea.”

Nu left with a huff and the group in the quarantine room were glad to see her go.

Maa sighed, “There are no absolutes. From the viewpoint of fear, none are strong enough.”

“From the viewpoint of love, none are necessary.” Tyvokka let the words linger on his lips. When was the last time he’d remembered that his Order was founded on love, not just compassion? The passionate once in a lifetime—wouldn’t just die but would live for their cause—kind of love.

He had given his heart to his lineage and the Order and he never regretted it, but Tyvokka was also more than pleased to have watched the quiet, steady, enduring relationships of his padawans grow into the steadfast support they had as adults. He could see the beginning of such a love in Obi-Wan and Quinlan. The two younglings were just flirting at it, Tyvokka wasn’t certain they were even aware of their mutual attraction, but more importantly Obi-Wan and Quinlan trusted each other. That was more than some in this galaxy ever got.

“You’d think they’d learn to trust their Shadows? I mean, honestly, why do they have to get their nose up into everything?” Mx. Tish grumbled as ze settled the recording droid in position.

T’un smirked, “There’s not even a Shadow on the high council.”

Maa huffed, “Ridiculous. Just ridiculous. Stupidest thing I’ve ever heard.”

Tyvokka turned to T’un as Maa’s muttering turned from complaints about the High Council to descriptions concerning the holocron, “T’un, I wanted to thank you. I know you have carried much of my responsibilities as I work on this reformation effort-”

“Bah!” T’un waved off the thanks, “Think nothing of it! Cin Drallig and I manage.” He frowned, concern radiating into the surrounding air, “the Force itself has put this mission in your path. Who am I to stand in its way?”

After a moment, Tyvokka asked his lineage brother, “Do you remember who the last Shadow that served on the High Council was? As far as I can remember, there hasn’t been a Shadow on the High Council in many decades.” Tyvokka continued as a frown creased T’un’s brow, “In fact, I can’t remember the name of the last person who sat on that council who wasn’t in the lineage of Yoda.”

T’un eventually shook his head, “I can’t name the last Shadow on the High Council. It would have been well before they appointed me to the Council of First Knowledge. This is very disturbing news. What would you have me do, brother?”

“I aim to see better representation on the High Council,” Tyvokka admitted. “And I can’t see them taking that well at all. Which means this will come to a confrontation at some point. Things are moving too fast for most of the conservatives. I’m going to need all the support I can get.”

T’un clapped the Wookie on his arm, “You’ll have all the support I can give, Tyvokka.”

“Okay.” Maa stood up from zir crouch beside the table, “I think I’ve got everything I can from the outside. I’m going to have to open it up now.”

That was a spectacularly dangerous proposition.

Tyvokka blinked, a little startled, and turned to T’un, “Did you know she would have to open it?”

“Of course.” His lineage-brother chuckled, “This isn’t my first shuttle ride. Maa has a containment field. Besides, this is zir field of study. Ze has quite the robust shields to defend zirself with.”

“Alright then.” Tyvokka took a deep breath and exhaled his anxiety. “Let’s see what this has to offer.”

Mx. Tish carefully set the holocron back on the table and with a twist of the force the metal petals flexed and bloomed outward. Almost instantly, darkness spilled from the opening and Maa Tish was veiled from view. The figure that appeared startled Tyvokka and T’un badly enough that they nearly moved away from the wall; but it would not do to break Mx. Tish’s concentration.

“Greetings.”

The male had hair the color of fresh blood and eyes the blue of woad. And after a moment of careful consideration, he gave a graceful nod of his head, and the darkness that had been slowly creeping in the room relaxed just a hair. Tyvokka took a fresh breath with the startled realization that he couldn’t remember stopping.

“Greetings.”

Maa Tish offered a smile, though not a bow, “I would know your name; if you would care to share it.”

“Perhaps yours first.” The male replied.

“I am Maa Tish, a specialist with the Jedi Temple of Coruscant.”

His intense expression didn’t change. “You woke me?”

“I did.”

“What did you want from me?”

“Several things,” Maa admitted easily. “I would like to hear your story, as you would tell it, for my own edification. I would like to know the name you call yourself and the name your people would have known. And I would like to know who your Master is.”

He frowned, “Darth Plagueis was my Master while I lived.”

“Won’t you tell me your name?” Maa Tish asked with a pleasant smile.

“No.”

Maa blinked and regrouped, “But we don’t know your name. How can we keep your baa alive if we do not know your name?”

“I am of stardust and steel.” The male gave Maa Tish an appropriately hard look. “I am not so weak as to fear death. Nor so narcissistic as to need to hear my name to know the depths of my power.”

Maa Tish was skeptical, “Is that so?”

“Oh, yes.” The smile he offered ze was sharp enough to cut. “The Sith who owned my soul is a male of no mean evil and as he lives, so too, do I linger.”

Ze frowned, “You’re connected to him? Sith don’t practice bonding apprentices.”

T’un leaned closer to his brother and breathed, “they go through them too fast.”

“As he cursed me in life, I cursed him in death. And it fuels me even now. The Force knows the evil my Master seeks, and I did much to forestall him.” He nodded, “It binds us; I have knowledge he would both seek and seek to destroy. As he yet lives, so I seek his misery as I cannot seek his death.”

Maa sidled in a little closer to the holocron. “You know Jedi seek the annihilation of the Sith.”

The spirit didn’t appear impressed. “How do you annihilate an idea?”

“Good question,” Tyvokka muttered in the corner.

“Oh, it is difficult, and I imagine that it will never truly happen.” Maa nodded, “For the dark is as much a part of the Force as the light. But we would hope to forestall such a war as the last Sith-Jedi war.” Ze makes a single offer, “If you tell us his name, we will put all our effort into ensuring he was miserable for the rest of his life.”

The spirit smirked, “I appreciate your commitment to his misery. But I’m afraid my Master has bound me. While I could say his name, it would be quite painful, and it would have to be worth it.”

“And ensuring his future existence is miserable, isn’t quite enough?” Ze moved a little farther away to think. “hmm.”

“What would make it worth it?” Tyvokka asked, drawing the spirit’s attention.

“You said that it was painful, and our word isn’t enough.”

“I’m not a fool. Circumstances change, and while you might be firmly in the light, you cannot guarantee that everyone you have to brief for such an end will be as saintly as you.”

“So, what would make it worth it?” Tyvokka asked.

If the holocron was who he thought it was, and knew what he thought it did, this could mean more than any other single mission into the possibility of the Sith. It would give the Order an enormous advantage. If they could verify the spirit’s knowledge and get the High Council to agree. Knowing his current luck, Dapatian would refuse simply to be contrary.

“Who is the Master of the Order?”

“Poli Dapatian,” Tyvokka shared, a little confused. “He’s a -”

“A Kel Dor with a head thicker than the caves he climbed out of.” The spirit sneered, “I know him.” Puffed out a breath, “of him. He made my Master’s year when he limited the younglings accepted by the Temple creche. More specimens for his experiments.” The spirit shook his head, “I’d rather not call the attention of such a male. Wake me when he dies, then we can chat.”

“Wait!” Maa Tish hurried to catch the spirit’s attention. “Please. If you could tell us what would make it worth it, we could try. I promise, we will not wake you before we have what you want.”

“It is too long a story to explain.” The spirit sighed.

“Why? You have nothing but time,” T’un said. “And a Sith should be more than pleased to share his story with us.”

“You won’t pry my story from me, if I don’t wish to give it.” He sneered.

“No.” Tyvokka said, “But there’s something you want, more than anything else. Perhaps we could help you with it. If it isn’t too egregiously against the law.”

“Tell us,” Maa Tish entreated, “what is your greatest wish?”

The spirit hesitated before a long sigh bled darkness into the force. “I would see my child. Speak with ze. Learn what ze has accomplished away from my Master’s poisonous presence.”

Tyvokka stiffened just a little and shared a concerned look with his lineage brother. He had a sinking feeling he knew where this was going. But Maa Tish didn’t, ze stepped toward the spirit of the holocron and offered him a smile that invited him to share his secrets.

“We’ll need your name for that, you know. The one the Republic knew.”

“Ze might be dead,” T’un said, stepping forward, “We don’t know how long you’ve been in your holocron.”

The spirit peered at the two males in the corner of the room and considered the situation a bit intensely. “No. If Dapatian is still Master of the Order, my child still lives.”

“Just prepare yourself,” Tyvokka offered, “we don’t know what type of shape your child might be in.”

“That’s your problem, not mine.” The spirit straightened, and though he next spoke to Mx. Tish, his attention was on the two shadows. “If you want what I know, then I want to speak with my child.”

“Your name, Sith?” Maa Tish asked quietly, and from the frown on zir brow and the somewhat absent manner that ze spoke with, Tyvokka thought that ze had realized there was something off about what was happening here.

“Wan-Das Kenobi.” His eyes widened as Tyvokka couldn’t still his mind fast enough to keep his reaction from the force. “You know ze. You know my child.”

The spirit loomed close to the Wookie. Close enough, Tyvokka might breathe in the spirit’s very force. “Tell me of ze. Bring ze to me!”

“I can’t.” Tyvokka said helplessly, “at least not now. He’s a child barely into puberty, and vulnerable to the Force in unexpected ways.” Tyvokka shook his head.

“I could not conscience exposing him to you now.”

Rage shuttered the spirit’s face, but the Sith made no attempts at intimidation or violence. Simply offered a painfully bitter smile, “My child is fortunate that his Master is so protective. You know where to find me, should your answer change.”

And then the spirit was gone. Not even a glimmer in the force as the holocron closed after him.

“Perhaps you shouldn’t have been so blunt?” Maa Tish offered in the echoing silence.

Tyvokka nodded, “As much as I was expecting it, the truth of his name was still shocking.”

Ze scowled, “If you already knew who he was, that would have been valuable knowledge before we began.”

“Our apologies, Mx. Tish, but we didn’t know before you began.” T’un clarified.

“Except, Obi-Wan Kenobi looks a startling amount like his parent. It was a peek into a future I never want to live through.” He shook his head, “Obi-Wan’s bright light shattered and broken in the dark. It would be horrifying.”

Tyvokka offered Maa Tish a grateful bow, “Thank you for your time and service, Mx. Tish. There are rooms available if you haven’t found some yet. For now, I believe the Council of First Knowledge must consider our next steps carefully.”

The Togruta nodded with a frown, “You know what this means?”

“Yes. Wan-Das Kenobi couldn’t have died more than fourteen years ago.”

It would blow a hole right through the center of the High Council’s worldview. Tyvokka pressed against the building headache in his temples, explaining this to Dapatian and the other councilors would not be amusing.

*****

6th day of the 11th Standard Republic month, 957 ARR

Tyvokka released a pleased sigh as he hit submit on his last report of the day. He leaned back and considered what he should do with the bare few free moments he had eked out of his overfull day. If he were being responsible, he had plenty of further work to do.

Several of the younger knights and masters had finished investigations into their annoyances with the Temple and the Order; he needed to read and commented on them. There was a pile of flimsi sheets that Radka had dropped off late last night; but they were across the room and Tyvokka had no intention of prying himself from his chair. He owed T’un a large bottle of something rare and alcoholic for all the help his lineage brother had given over the last few weeks as Tyvokka figured out how to juggle the Temple investigations, his new apprentice, and the growing workload his position as Keeper of the Council of First Knowledge had generated recently. Except, if Tyvokka was going to be buying anything alcoholic, he would rather drink it himself.

The large Wookie sighed and sank a little deeper into his recliner. Perhaps he would just close his eyes for a moment. His paperwork was complete. His Padawan was tangled up in the latest adventure Tholme had dragged Obi-Wan and Quinlan into, something about missing gold and a pile of drugs from the slightly garbled message Obi-Wan had left on his comm at lunch; and while he had yet to decide what to do about Wan-Das Kenobi. He refused to rush. The mental wellbeing of his Padawan was not an insignificant issue.

Then his doorbell rang.

Groaning, Tyvokka leveraged himself from the recliner to open the door. Instead of T’un—who never forgot to knock no matter how many times Tyvokka said it wasn’t necessary—or Radka with another tower of report flimsi, Adi Gallia and Cho’na Bene were standing in his doorway. For a moment, Tyvokka considered exactly how much trouble he would make for himself if he just let the door swing closed again. Two High Council members, even if these two were the most pleasant, were more High Council members than he wanted to deal with today.

Master Gallia greeted the Wookie with a quick nod and a smile, “Master Tyvokka, I hope we are not interrupting your day?”

“No,” Tyvokka finally said with a sigh and opened the door wider. “Would you like to come in?”

The Tholothian female hesitated at the threshold. “We would like to speak with you, but I fear it will not be a brief conversation. We could reschedule if you have plans?”

“You have caught me during a rare free time,” Tyvokka said as he led them in. “Ten minutes later and I would have been napping in my recliner, no use to anyone.” He winced a bit as he cleared seats of both his and Obi-Wan’s stuff. “Please ignore the mess.”

Master Bene chuffed with light-hearted humor, “You have three padawans; all of whom currently reside within the Temple. One of whom is new to both your mind and your home, a mess is a certainty at this point.”

“Not to mention that your Padawan’s closest companion is Quinlan Vos.” Adi Gallia offered with a snort, “I honestly don’t think that boy has ever not been a hot mess.”

Tyvokka snorted. He might love his Grandpadawan, but that wasn’t an unfair assumption. “What can I do for the High Council?”

“We can start by saying that we’re not here by orders of the High Council. We want to know more about the work you’ve started in the temple.”

“And how we can help.” Cho’na Bene emphasized. “We want to help. Your group has been doing wonderful work inside and outside of the Temple, bringing many problems to the Council’s attention. We want to help, tell us how we can.”

Tyvokka didn’t know what to say. He had expected little buy in from the High Council. A meeting like this was unprecedented, at least within the last three hundred years. Such dissent within the High Council was rarely allowed, but his Master didn’t raise a fool. There was no reason to turn away helping hands. So, he used the time settling snacks and tea on the table to think about how to respond.

“Master Bene,” Tyvokka said, stalling somewhat. “I must apologize. Do you have any dietary restrictions or allergies? I know Master Gallia stays away from sugar, culturally. Will the tea suffice?”

The Myneyrsh Jedi offer his version of a smile and a nod, “None that would be of concern at your tea table, Master Tyvokka, thank you for asking. And I must insist, after we barged in on you like this, call me Cho’na.”

“And I’m Adi.” The Tholothian smiled warmly, “thank you for remembering about the sugar; so many times, I sit down to tea with friends, and the pot is already made.”

“Then please call me Tyvokka; and honestly, I couldn’t do such a thing! Too many sensitivities, cultural and biological in my lineage. Our clan is full of Togruta and Kel Dor, and now my Obi-Wan is a Stewjoni.” He frowned at the reminder, “we’re still waiting on more thorough information from the healers concerning his condition.”

He shook his head and gathered himself as he offered Cho’na Bene a teacup carefully, “Your visible support is probably the best thing you could offer. We have hands, and we have resources. Morale is good presently, but it might not stay that way.”

“Especially with Poli’s attitude.”

Adi gave her companion a stern look, “Master Dapatian has always been less compassionate in his stances than you or I might prefer, but he has his reasons.”

The Myneyrsh Jedi gave a hum, but didn’t verbally respond.

Tyvokka cleared his throat, “You have the records I’ve been submitting to the Council, what else do you want to know?”

“Has the creche gotten better?” Master Bene asked, setting his tea down. One set of hands folded on the table, the second tapping lightly on the tabletop.

“Master Arraan has reported a significant decrease in unacceptable behavior among the younglings 7 – 10 age bracket.” Tyvokka was proud to say. “And a general lessening of stress among those at 12, and far fewer nightmares among the infants and small children. Over-all, excellent results so far.”

“Because of more hands?” Cho’na shook his head with a rueful smile, “Why not? More hands means that there is more attention on each youngling, not just those that act out. Which results in fewer acting out.”

“That is our working theory.”

“You mentioned a specific Initiate at the meeting, Brock Chun.” Adi brought up. “How is his situation being handled?”

“I know little. It is being handled, and there is a plan in place.” Tyvokka offered, “Detailed questions should be directed to T’un, Arraan, or Che. I have recused myself from the situation.”

Adi started, “Is that necessary?”

“Necessary? Perhaps not. But even Jedi are only sentients, and I thought it wise to allow the child unbiased support.” Tyvokka would never be ashamed of the love he felt for his Padawan, or the measure he might go to protect that precious child. He had refused to stand by when the child was but a name and an awful story, now when Obi-Wan was a warmth in the force at the back of his mind and the remembered laughter from lineage holovid nights, or the biting sarcasm he lashed out at Quin with when he tried to distract the younger padawan — how could Tyvokka do anything less?

Obi-Wan would not meet his sithly parent for several weeks at the minimum, while Tyvokka considered his padawan’s mental health. It was when a Jedi, or any person with authority, let their emotions keep them from fulfilling their duties that emotions became a problem; Tyvokka wasn’t willing to take a single chance.

“Last I heard they were considering which Corps might allow the child to grow and enjoy his work without allowing him access to knowledge or materials that would leave him a danger to himself and others.”

Cho’na sighed, “There is no hope then?”

Tyvokka hesitated, he didn’t have all the information. “I believe the last option they were considering was a personality adjustment.”

“To even think about using the force to -”

“-Change someone’s mind.” Adi shook her head. “We’re not talking about a temporary change either. This would have to be permanent and likely, reoccurring.”

“It’s not a procedure that Che can do without bringing it before the High Council. She’ll likely have all the documentation and reasoning laid out for you then. And there will be plenty of time to argue the necessity then.”

Cho’na cleared his throat then, “On the advice of mind healer Ymir Uvas, the High Council has restricted Master Jinn to the Temple.”

The old Wookie gave a slow nod, “Because of what duCrion said?”

“Yes.”

Adi pushed her tea away, “You, and Obi-Wan, deserve an apology from the High Council; but neither of you are going to get it.” Not while Dapatian was Master of the Order and head of the High Council. “You were right. Jinn should have been evaluated when Xanatos first fell. He should have been evaluated when he took Obi-Wan as his padawan, and he definitely should have been evaluated when he came back from Melida/Daan without his apprentice. We can’t turn back time to change what happened. We can only learn from our mistakes and keep going.”

Tyvokka considered the situation. Honestly, there was a list of reasons a mile long that sent Shadows to the mind healers, and the fact that it had never been automatic for any of the other councils was mind-boggling to the Wookie. “How will this sanction effect Master Jinn?”

“We have restricted him to the Temple.” Cho’na tapped his three fingers against the tabletop in a slightly uneven beat. “Truth – we had shifted him to minor missions months ago. Nothing farther from Coruscant than a day’s flight at sublight. Now, because of duCrion and his complete collapse upon the former apprentice’s death; the mind healers have carefully restricted his movements. He wants to investigate the last months of his apprentice’s life to find the darksider who killed duCrion.” He shared a look with his fellow Council member. “We had to decline.”

“It’s for the best.” Tyvokka pointed, “Jinn’s objectivity is suspect, and his mental

state is at the least fragile.” He turns the conversation, “what is being done about duCrion? Is Dapatian still denying the continued existence of the Sith?”

“Not so ardently.” Adi said, “He has admitted that the darksider was powerful and skilled. And that their unknown nature makes them a danger to the galaxy. But to actually go out and say that the Sith have returned? No.”

“I cannot blame him for his caution.” Cho’na said, “I also hesitate to make what happened that night as the act of the Sith. Such are the depths of the nightmare we tell our own children. For now, the Council has charged Research with tracking duCrion’s last movements. Trying to find who he came into contact with and which might be an agent of the darksider.”

“What they have found so far is sad but unsurprising.” Adi remarked. “Telos, Xanatos duCrion’s home world, has seen unending strife since his fall and his father’s death. And the business that supported the duCrion family, Offworld Mining Corporation, has seen terrible investment after terrible investment.”

“The same company that took Obi-Wan as a slave when he reached Bandomeer?” Tyvokka leaned forward. “That was less than a year and a half ago, was it not?”

“Correct.” Adi frowned, “In hindsight it seems incredibly foolish, but we sent Jinn on that mission specifically because he was Xanatos duCrion’s former Master. Though, the situation was resolved, and Offworld Mining Corporation was heavily fined for their involvement in that mess – I don’t remember ever hearing a clear explanation on how Obi-Wan ended up in the blast collar or how he convinced Jinn to take him as his apprentice.”

Tyvokka did not know for certain either. What he knew was the character of his Padawan and the fact that even as Jinn clung to his decency with his fingertips, Xanatos’ corruption would have been leaking through Jinn’s bond with the fallen. It was a horrible situation to be in, for sure. But it also wasn’t an excuse for his actions.

“Regardless of Bandomeer, Xanatos duCrion found out we had declined the honor of holding a large supply of crystalline vertex while negotiations took place. You had just brought the issues within the Temple to our attention, and we agreed that anyone looking to steal the mineral could use these areas as potential footholds to distract us.”

Cho’na offered a wry smile and said, “We suggested approaching the Temple at Corellia; who, until recently, had been complaining of sabotage. It is unlikely to be a coincidence. Research said it was within a month of duCrion’s trip to Corellia that he contracted the Blue Jade poisoning and been in contact with the darksider. Unfortunately for us, Corellia was hosting the third centennial Bel’o A’gaia races. There was an influx of millions of people from across the galaxy. More than one senator from 500 Republica was seen doing business during the cocktail hour.”

“Jinn wanted to investigate, but the High Council refused. He had no business being anywhere near his former padawan. He’d already proven that pitting him against duCrion netted the Order nothing.”

Cho’na offered a double shrug, “Jinn insisted that only he knew his apprentice well enough to tangle with the fallen.”

“That’s clearly not true.” Tyvokka pointed out, unimpressed. “Jinn has interfered with duCrion’s plans at least twice that I know of, and while neither plan was successful, neither were they complete washes. Bandomeer alone netted him with several tons of valuable ore and did several trillion credits of damage to infrastructure and the emotional wellbeing of the enslaved residents. duCrion was dangerous, yes. But no more than any other fallen Jedi. He didn’t even make the top 100 known enemies list. He had no education in the more esoteric of Jedi skills and had no exposure to Sith artifacts before his fall. The dark would have killed him before that first year was out.”

Tyvokka gave a grudging bit of flattery, “It’s a testament to his fortitude that he made it as long as he did. Jinn had absolutely no training in dealing with Sith artifacts and darksiders. I doubt his opinion so much that I wouldn’t trust him to know what a holocron is, let alone try to fight his former apprentice while said apprentice was receiving extra tuition from a trained darksider. That’s ridiculous.”

The rest of the visit went well. Master Cho’na Bene turned the conversation back toward the reformation efforts to the Order with a question about new protocols for initiates leaving the creche. Tyvokka was particularly pleased to point out that the protocols were not new at all, simply being more regularly enforced than previously. It was after Cho’na had already left, much later in the day than he had intended, that Master Gallia stopped Tyvokka to ask a sensitive question.

“I have heard rumors that the Council of First Knowledge can save the fallen from the dark. How true are they?”

Tyvokka sighed and offered an unhelpful shrug, “Somewhat true.”

“Did you ever offer it to duCrion?”

Tyvokka had to think about how to present his information. Adi Gallia had a gracious and sincere heart, and while she was a Master in her own right, the hardest lessons took the longest to learn. “Our method, it’s no guarantee and its success is wrapped up in a lot of factors.”

“Like what?”

“Falling isn’t always done willingly, or knowingly.” She appeared shocked at this information, and Tyvokka wondered how much of the Jedi Order’s history with the dark was just never taught. “Sometimes there are environmental factors, and sometimes Jedi fall for a reason. These things impact whether we can bring them back to the light.” He carefully shut the door, Tyvokka was about to share the Council of First Knowledge’s most dangerous secret and he didn’t want anyone in the hall to overhear. “And sometimes we can’t save them. Sometimes, they don’t want to be saved. So, we help them find a new status quo and we send them out into the world to do the work that the Jedi Temple can never admit to knowing about.

“For duCrion specifically, I got my hands on everything I could about the boy, and the consensus of several trained mind healers was that he didn’t want to be a Jedi. He threw himself head-first into the dark and lost most of his sanity along the way. You can ask Master Che or one of the researchers from the EduCorps studying the darkside. Most darksiders aren’t sane, but the amount of damage the dark does varies. We can help some. Others just need a grave.”

Adi’s eyes were wide as saucers. She opened her mouth, but nothing came out.

Finally, she cleared her throat and with a little waver said, “Thank you for trusting me, Master Tyvokka. I’ll keep your confidence to myself.”

Tyvokka’s smile was sad, “I know you will, Adi. Have a more pleasant evening.”

Chapter 5: A trip to Jedi Investigations

29th day of the 11th Republic Standard month, 957 ARR

Master Tholme’s polite interruption came at what was probably the best possible moment. Because Siri Tachi was once more sitting across from him, looking like she wouldn’t be at all sad if he just burst into flames. That Quin was in this class, an elective on mechanics that MechaniCorps had offered this quarter, was the only saving grace. Considering that Siri had punched him in the diplomacy class they had shared last quarter.

“Master Tholme,” the teacher greeted the Shadow with a pleasant bow. “Come to rescue your Padawan?”

He held up two fingers, “both of them if you please. You have the paperwork for Obi-Wan?”

“All properly filed,” the teacher agreed. “We have a test at the end of next week boys, don’t forget to comm me at least 24 hours in advance if you need it moved because of your mission.”

“Yes, ser.” Obi-Wan bowed, and nudged Quin into offering at least a half-bow to the long-suffering MechaniCorps member.

“We’ve got a mission?” Quin asked, shrugging his bag higher on his shoulder.

“Because Master Tholme is just going to take us out of class for no reason?” Obi-Wan snorted, shoving his datapad back into his bag.

“On planet or off?” Quin asked.

“On. We’re assisting Investigations. They’re a bit slammed so the Council of First Knowledge is lending them some extra support.”

“What council is Investigations under, Master Tholme?”

“Practically, Jedi Investigations runs itself. Logistically, I think they’re actually under the Council of Reconciliation.” Tholme said, “It’s a little complicated.”

“It always is.” Quin leaned over and Obi-Wan had to muffle a snort.

He wasn’t wrong. Tracking down the ultimate authority on some longer-term projects and departments in the Order could get complicated and confusing. Investigations was one of those weird programs in the Temple that used a little of everything. It worked hand-in-hand with planetary security and Republic Security forces, not to mention many Jedi Shadows and Consular Knights on the ground reporting in on circumstances most investigators would never learn about. The combination of forces allowed them to solve crimes and resolve conflicts on planets across the known galaxy.

Obi-Wan thought Investigations was neat, but given their mission, they could use more resources. There was so much potential to do good for everyone, not just to keep the status quo; but Investigations probably had the least amount of power to do any of it.

It was Obi-Wan’s first time in the headquarters for Jedi Investigations, and he hadn’t known it was in the lower levels. Requiring an ultrafast elevator like the one that sped to the chambers of the High Council, except this one dropped them to the basement. Investigations had taken over an entire wing of the lower temple.

“Oh.” Obi-Wan leaned back in the elevator as it slowed. Hoping his stomach

would return to his belly. “That was… um.”

Quin smirked gleefully from the other side of the elevator. “Gonna get sick, Obi-Wan?”

Obi-Wan scowled, “No, Quin.”

“Quin did.” Tholme said blandly, a smirk tugging at the corner of his lips. “Barfed right all over my boots the first time we came down. We were definitely late to that briefing.”

It was Quin’s turn to scowl as Obi-Wan giggled. “You brought me right after lunch! I’d just eaten.”

Tholme shrugged, “I told you to eat light.”

Obi-Wan was still giggling at Quin’s increasingly grumpy comments as they entered Jedi Investigations’ mess of a lobby. Full of desks covered in datapads and Jedi guardians trying not to lose their minds.

“Oh, thank force.” A passing Togruta grabbed Tholme and tugged him off to one of the side rooms. “We’ve called in help from just about everyone we can.”

Obi-Wan frowned, “Has something happened?”

“A couple of gangs from the low-light levels brought their argument to a middle level cafe in the theater district. The district Mayor is up in arms, and the Chief of Republic Security has likewise raised all hel. So, the Temple is getting the cases that would otherwise be handled by those sons of a nolla-infested rat-eaten—.” She swallowed her words, “We don’t really have the people to deal with all these cases while RepSec gets to knock heads trying to figure out why a bunch of low-light thugs began turf war half a planet away from their turf.” She sighed, “Sirces already has the cases and ze’s set up in the conference room at the end of the hall on the left.”

“Thank you, Ame’.” Tholme said as he led the way down the increasingly dimly lit hallway and the Togruta nodded her head and walked away. The Besalisk who met them in the doorway to the conference room looked like ze needed a hot meal and a long nap. “Sirces.”

“Good to see you, Tholme.” Sirces offered a tired smile and gestured for them to

join zir at the table. “Didn’t know they were sending you. Last I heard, you were chasing after whispers of old Sith tricks at the docks.”

“Leads dried up. Research thinks there might be some options, but they haven’t gotten back to me yet. You know Quinlan.”

“Padawan.” Sirces nodded.

“And this is my lineage brother, Obi-Wan Kenobi. Master Tyvokka’s Padawan. He’s asked me to assist in Obi-Wan’s training. Obi-Wan, this is Knight Sirces Ondula. A senior Guardian with Jedi Investigations.”

“Hello.”

Sirces offered a bemused nod in greeting to Obi-Wan. “Right, the old Wookie must be up to his ears in whatever mess he’s fixing in the Temple. Makes sense he’s fostering you now, instead of making you wait outside of closed meetings. We’ve heard about it even down here.”

“He’s doing good work.” Obi-Wan could feel it in his bones, as surely as he’d known that to leave Melida/Daan without peace was a bigger failure than he could understand.

“What mess do you have for us, this time Knight Ondula?” Quin asked, a frown in his voice from where he stood staring at the crime board. “Because these are all over the place.”

“Ame’ told you about the mess at the mid-level cafe? Well, RepSec dumped its trash on Jedi Investigations once we offered. I’m still going through the cases, but I know what I’m handing off to you, at least.”

“The joys of the veteran,” Tholme said, that same mischievous smile hiding in his eyes as he spoke. And it occurred to Obi-Wan that Tholme and Quin were a far better match personality wise than most of the Temple could ever guess. “You get to keep the complicated and bizarre, and we get the clear-cut problems.”

Ondula huffed and flicked a switch so that a single crime board took center stage. “You’re not wrong. There was a human female, Cherish DuPont, from a lower-mid-light level, who went to RepSec over a month ago to report that her daughter was missing. The child is nine.”

“Let me guess.” Quin said as he stared at the flickering photos of a tired but happy single mother and the enormous smile on her daughter’s face. “RepSec sent someone out, asked the minimum of questions, saw crappy housing and poor nutrition and ruled she ran away.”

“Got it in one.” Sirces nodded, “When DuPont realized that RepSec would not help, she brought the case to us. Unfortunately, it’s been sitting in my queue for at least a week. Her daughter isn’t likely to still be alive.”

“Doesn’t mean that Ms. DuPont doesn’t deserve closure.” Obi-Wan took in the information on the holoboard. The mother was registered to a residence in the lower income of one of the last middle-light levels before the twilight slums began. Father, deceased. An Aunt and Uncle with three children, same street address but different apartment. Not a lot to run on. “So, what happened?”

“We don’t know much. Ann-Marie DuPont attended a split-shift school in the morning and helped shelve books at a local re-thrift store in the afternoon. She walked to and from both locations.”

“How long had she been doing this?” Quin asked, pulling out a datapad.

“According to the statements, her Aunt walked her last year, and her cousin was supposed to walk with her – but the day she disappeared her cousin was ill, her Aunt was at work, and her mother was asleep.”

Tholme turned to him, “Obi-Wan, given what you’ve learned of investigations, what would you suggest our next move be?”

Obi-Wan took a moment to consider the angles and peered over his partner’s shoulder to see what questions the other already had. “I would like to review the statements RepSec has provided. But then we probably need to talk to her family and friends again.”

“Not a bad choice.” Knight Ondula turned to Tholme, “If you don’t mind then, I’ll leave you three to familiarize yourself with the records, while I work a few other cases.”

Tholme nodded, “We’ll be fine.”

The records were pretty much what they expected from RepSec, especially those directed to close cases in the lower levels. Good RepSec officers eventually rose to the top to handle crimes in the upper levels. So, there wasn’t much actual investigation, and there was even less once Quin and Obi-Wan had gone through and literally blacked out all the subjective claims.

Some information was available about the girl’s schedule, along with statements from friends and staff at the locations she would have crossed. But it was really the bare bones. Most of the interviews hadn’t comprised more than ‘did you see her run away?’. It was alarming.

“So,” Quin leaned back with a disgruntled sigh, “we have to start at the beginning.”

“What’s your plan of attack?”

Obi-Wan flipped through their notes, “We start with Ms. DuPont, if she doesn’t know anything we can move onto the school. We know she attended classes on the day of her disappearance. Perhaps one of her teachers or fellow students noticed something.”

Tholme slowly nodded, giving an odd glance around the case room and the list of cases slowly building in the holoboard’s corner. “I trust you. You’ve done well on all of your assignments. I think you can handle this on your own.” Both boys straightened with pride. It was no minor compliment. “If you need help or you get in over your head, come back. This isn’t a test or a punishment.” Tholme’s small smile was warm. “But I think between the two of you, you can do it.”

Quin beamed, “Thank you Master!”

Obi-Wan’s pleasure was a bit more discrete, but he filled the force with his happiness and through the slowly growing bond with his Master, Obi-Wan felt Master Tyvokka’s distinct pleasure and pride—as well as the request to tone it down just a notch. Which Obi-Wan did with an internal blush. “Thank you, Master Tholme.”

“I trust you boys,” He said, “Now, get to work.”

*****

Official commentary on the low-light levels from the government suggested that while it was an unfortunate side-effect of the structure of Coruscant’s cityscape, it fortuitously provided a home for more nocturnal species. Said species were supposed to be more than happy to have the convenience of living on Coruscant without giving up their natural dark environments. It was so much bantha crap that Obi-Wan was a little surprised the official hadn’t turned brown while ze was speaking.

Reality was that most residents even of the low light levels were from diurnal species. And no one ever talked about how it wasn’t just light that was in short supply on those levels. Clean air wasn’t exactly a free commodity either.

Ms. DuPont and her daughter were lucky, they lived in a clean area. One of the few where the district Mayor actually gave a damn about his citizens and wanted to see their situation improve. Obi-Wan didn’t think it was a coincidence that this Mayor lived in his district and not in the light levels.

They knocked on the door.

“Annie?” Ms. DuPont flung open the door, and Obi-Wan could feel the whipsaw of emotions as the mother went from elated to anguished to embarrassment tinged with self-depreciation. She knew it wasn’t Annie. Finally, the woman settled on tired. The type of tired that went bone deep.

“We apologize for disturbing you, Ms. DuPont.” Quin said.

Obi-Wan didn’t reach out to touch but offered the suffering mother all the compassion and strength he could through the Force. Obi-Wan knew that if he could feel the female’s emotions, then his partner—with his advanced psychometry—had to be besieged by her grief.

“My name is Quinlan Vos, and this is my partner Obi-Wan Kenobi. We’re padawans assisting Jedi Investigations with your daughter’s disappearance. We were hoping to ask you some questions.”

“It’s been a week. I thought-” She wiped the moisture from her eyes with the back of her hand and offered a laugh that was more sob. “I thought no-one was coming.”

Obi-Wan rubbed at his chest, blinking back tears that didn’t belong to him. “We’re sorry for that. Did you hear about the cafe shooting?”

“Of course,” Ms. DuPont offered them seats on the beaten, worn sofa that took center stage in her living room, “It’s been all over the news.”

“Well, RepSec off-loaded a lot of work onto Jedi Investigations because of it.”

“And you know how effective RepSec is,” Quin offered with a sardonic smile. “The Temple has too many investigations where they have to start from scratch.”

He bit his lip before coming over to crouch by the mother. “We’re sorry that two padawans are the best the Temple can offer you.”

Ms. DuPont smiled weakly and patted Quin on the cheek, missing his grimace. “I trust in the Force, boys. If the Force sent you, then you’re all I need.” She cleared her throat. “How can I help?”

“I’m going to ask you some questions.” Obi-Wan said, flipping out a datapad. “And if you don’t mind, Padawan Vos will do a bit of searching in your house.”

“I have a powerful gift for psychometry, Ms. DuPont.” Quin said. “Even so long ago, I’ll be able to feel and see what your daughter’s last few days at home were like. Unfortunately, it also means that if I pick up something you’ve touched recently, I’ll see you and how you felt as well.”

“It’s- it’s fine,” she said with a startled look. “Do I have to give permission or something?”

“Not at all, Ms. DuPont.” Obi-Wan soothed as Quin started what looked like a casual search through the apartment. “As Padawan Investigators it’s all legal; we just wanted to let you know, in case something came up later.”

“Alright.”

“What can you tell me about your daughter’s last days? She went missing on a Tuesday?”

“Yes, on her way to her after-school job at the re-thrift.” The mother shrugged helplessly. “I don’t have the money to let her buy a book every week and the district has a decent library, but she’s gone through everything in her age range. I asked around and the re-thrift has an excellent reputation. It’s in a clean part of the district. It shouldn’t have been dangerous.”

Obi-Wan understood. He wouldn’t offer platitudes. If she was with the Force, then she was in a better place, but that wouldn’t help her mother. Grieving wasn’t really about the dead anyway; it was about the living. The war on Melida/Daan had made that lesson clearer than Obi-Wan wished. He steered the conversation back to the events surrounding Ann-Marie’s disappearance. But there was little additional information to be gleaned.

No, no one had reported seeing anyone strange or behaving oddly. No one had noticed if Ann-Marie was being followed. A few of the shops had cameras, but Ms. DuPont didn’t know if they were connected to the planetary grid. Finally, Obi-Wan couldn’t really think of another question to ask.

“Thank you for your time, Ms. DuPont.” Obi-Wan offered the female a smile. “If you think of anything else, you can comm Jedi Investigations and leave a message for Knight Sirces Ondula. Do you need me to write it down?”

Ms. DuPont shook her head, “I’ll remember.”

Quin frowned where he stood in the doorway, “I don’t mean to be rude, but why don’t you think that she ran away? She’s young, but even this district is a tough place to live compared to the planets you see on the holo. Perhaps she thought running away sounded better than it is?”

“No. I don’t think so-” the mother took a deep breath and offered a helpless shrug, “but then I need to believe that she was taken. Even though my head knows she’s probably gone, my heart needs to feel like she could come back. I don’t know what I would do if she ran away.” She looked off to the side. “We were so careful. We spoke to her about it. The entire family addressed our children, about the realistic challenges of living on your own and what happens to women, let alone young girls. We didn’t want to frighten her, but with the runaway cases we had to be sure; and she promised us!”

Obi-Wan gently placed his hand on the female’s arm to stop her. “I’m sorry, Ms. DuPont, did you say that there have been other runaway cases?”

Ms. DuPont nodded, “There’s always a few, but they’ve gone up in frequency and the kids have been younger. I spoke with a few of the parents. They thought maybe a gang, but no one’s seen anything out of the ordinary.”

Quin frowned, “Maybe they didn’t seem out of place because they weren’t. Have any more children disappeared since Ann-Marie?”

“No.” Her mother bowed her head and ignored the hitch in her own voice. “Perhaps because we made such a fuss when Annie…”

“Perhaps.” Quin agreed, quietly. “But Mx. DuPont, that only means that you saved someone else’s child from the same fate. I know it’s horrible and all you want is your daughter back, but saving someone else’s kid is no small thing.”

Ms. DuPont nodded, wiping tears away. “I know. I do. I just- can’t wrap my head around it. She was supposed to be safe. It shouldn’t have been dangerous. Especially with her gift.”

“Gift?” Obi-Wan asked, this was going to be important. “Ann-Marie had a gift?”

“She had the Force. Just a small bit. Nothing like what you boys have. Oh, but she would have been so excited to meet you.” The mother gave a trembling smile, “It wasn’t anything much; but she was so good at using it. Telling truth from lies, and intent beneath double-speak. Annie wanted adventures, and she was convinced that working with the Force was going to save her life one day.”

Obi-Wan knew instantly that working with the Force had cost little Ann-Marie DuPont her life. Alarm shivering down his spine and he moved closer to his partner, “Thank you, Ms. DuPont. We’ll be in touch if we have additional questions.”

“May the Force be with you.”

Quin settled an arm around his shoulders and led the way back to the transit station. “Okay. Not that I’m not relieved to escape the misery of that apartment—no matter what the mother said, she knows just as well as anyone else that her daughter is dead—you rushed us out of there pretty fast.”

“Not here.” Obi-Wan said, eyes on the street as he considered the people he saw and Quin’s much earlier suggestion that perhaps Annie’s kidnapper hadn’t looked out of place. “Let’s get back to Investigations first.”

“Let me catch a cab.” Quin said with a nod.

The ride back to the Temple was neither long nor painful but sitting in the back of the cab and not blurting out all of his thoughts was a lesson in patience Obi-Wan could have done without. And waiting even longer to get back to the room where Master Tholme and Knight Ondula were poring over another case, was almost worse.

Walking through the doorway, Obi-Wan blurted, “She’s gone because of her gift! Somebody took her because of her connection to the Force!”

Which, of course, caught the attention of their elders. Tholme specifically watched with a frown as the two padawans took a seat at the large table that dominated the room. “What’s this?”

Obi-Wan took a deep breath and let his emotions to something closer to calm. “Ann-Marie DuPont was taken specifically because she was Force sensitive.”

Knight Ondula frowned, “How do you know that?”

Obi-Wan shook his head, palming his chest to ease the ache, “I just have a feeling. I get them sometimes.”

“Alright,” Tholme said, “Can you put it in words? Was it something you heard or saw that led you to this conclusion?”

Obi-Wan frowned at his lineage brother as he thought. Not that he wasn’t willing to explain it, he had just never tried. The Crechemaster had always considered his feelings part of his anxiety. Master Yoda had understood they were from the Force but maintained that he couldn’t rely on them. Master Jinn had never bothered with an opinion other than his own. Honestly, by the time Melida/Daan happened Master Jinn had developed a tick about being told his Padawan had a ‘feeling’. Obi-Wan had stopped telling him, no matter how powerful the feeling was.

“I don’t know how.” He finally admitted.

Quin nodded and reached out for Obi-Wan’s hands, and the difference between the cool tabletop and the warmth trapped by synthsilk sent a shiver down his spine. “Let’s try something else.”

“Okay.”

“I want you to take a deep breath and close your eyes.” Quin followed his own directions, and Obi-Wan was helpless to do anything less. “You’re okay. We’re in the Temple. Master Tholme and Knight Ondula are right here. Master Tyvokka is only a couple of floors away. Can you feel them?”

“Yes.” Obi-Wan frowned, concentrating on the flicker and pulse of his Master’s presence.

“No—don’t force it.” Quin said, rubbing his thumb on the back of Obi-Wan’s hand. “Don’t worry about focusing, let it go. Like in meditation, but I want you to reach for the feeling again. The certainty the Force gave you about Ann-Marie. Do you have it?”

“Yes.”

Though he wasn’t sure if he wanted it. Underneath the almost clinical certainty lay other threatening things. The concern and spike of fear that the younger girl must have been feeling that day. The glee and bloodlust that must be her kidnapper. The casually cruel and almost cold thread of curiosity that threaded through all of it. The certainty wasn’t like a true vision. All Obi-Wan had were flashes and brief glimpses, nothing concrete, nothing exact. A flash of one emotion before it disappeared. A twist of the force and everything was swallowed by that clinical certainty.

Ann-Marie was taken for her force sensitivity. Why? Because they could; no one was going to stop them.

“Right now, tell me Obi-Wan. Ann-Marie was Force sensitive?”

“Just a little.” Obi-Wan said, a vision of the girl with a contagious smile blooming in his mind. “Enough that she could feel the truth and knew when someone was trying to lie. Telepathy would have been hard without contact; telekinesis might not have been impossible.”

“A lightsaber?” Quin asked, it was the last of the traditional questions. Now the Order had an empirical number, the percent of midichlorians per milligram in the blood was a reasonable estimate of how much potential with the Force an Initiate had, but it still wasn’t exact. There were aspects of the force that dictated someone’s potential capability with it that could not be measured. A thousand years ago, there were only these tests. If a Master could teach their Padawan telepathy, telekinesis, and to use a lightsaber successfully; then there was nothing else that would stop them from being a Knight. If not, training wasn’t needed at all.

“Perhaps.” Obi-Wan thought about the feel of her in his mind. “But maybe not.”

“Now, tell me what told you she was taken because of it.”

“She was too good.” Was what came out of Obi-Wan’s mouth as he floated in the trance-like state his partner had lured him into. Ann-Marie was right there at the front of his mind, like he should be able to reach out and feel her in the force. So vivid was the picture of her mother, and the force painted for him. “Someone noticed that she had just enough of the force for what they wanted.”

“What did they want, Obi-Wan?”

And he could sense it, just outside of his reach. Something thick, cloying, and too sweet. Like enough pickta in the bean paste to make nish-nish sweets poisonous. But the knowledge of the problem and what created such an awful darkness, of what Ann-Marie DuPont was needed for, was just out of his reach. The harder Obi-Wan focused and felt out for the knowledge he needed, the fuzzier it came back.

“Obi-Wan?”

“I can’t. It’s gone.”

Obi-Wan jerked out of the trance when his partner slid his hands out from under him. The shock of the comparatively cold table broke his concentration. For a moment, when his eyes flicked open, the two worlds—what could be seen with the Force and what could not—overlapped and his eyes hurt. Everything hurt. The tangible world in that moment was too loud and too bright, and the reality of it pressed down on his skin as though pressing him into a too-tight vac suit. It hurt.

But before Obi-Wan’s eye could do more than water, his Master was there, following their bond to the edges of Obi-Wan’s mind and using his power—like water after a hard fight in the salle. Or the brush of the cool breeze that last night on Melida/Daan before the fighting had stopped. When the Young had been tired, more in spirit than in body. And they had looked up through a hole in the roof of their latest base, and the expanse of the galaxy had spread out before them. Hope had soared back into their tired hearts for no other reason than they had survived, and they lived to see this—to shore up the thinning of Obi-Wan’s shields. With his Master’s help, Obi-Wan pulled himself back together, and the world didn’t hurt so much to look at when he could finally open his eyes again.

“What was that?” The Besalisk Knight asked with a hush and when Obi-Wan turned, the man’s eyes were wide and all four of his hands trembled.

“Partnered trancing.” Tholme offered, a little surprised and startled but over all very proud. “Quin’s psychometry being used to reach out and ‘touch’ Obi-Wan’s certainty to share a vision from the Force.” He smirked and kind of deflated until the table was more holding up the Master than Tholme’s spine. “I’m proud of you. That takes a level of skill with force manipulation and trust in your partner that most adult Jedi never manage. But if you ever do that again without discussing it with myself or Master Tyvokka first, I will leave you to the mercies of Madam Nu and her three-hour lecture on why proper records of accounting are pivotal for the growth of the Order.” Both boys wince and their Master nods, “See that it doesn’t happen again.”

“But how did it happen?” The Guardian trembled. “They just- You can’t- It’s impossible-”

Tholme placed a hand on Knight Ondula’s shoulder, “Calm yourself, Sirces. Perhaps you need some meditation yourself. But if you are concerned, the boys have uniquely compatible force signatures, and even only months into their partnership the Council of First Knowledge expects great things from them in the future.”

Sirces nodded shakily, “Perhaps you are right. A period of meditation might do well for my nerves.” He offered a bow that was a bit wobbly to the other pair. “Excuse me, padawans.”

“Of course.” Obi-Wan frowned, “feel better.” But all he received in return was a slightly vacant nod.

Quin had gone straight to the terminal, pulling up a dozen different searches to run while he spoke. Already on to the next source of answers. “Ms. DuPont said that she’d spoken to her daughter about the realities of running away. Looking around her bedroom and the apartment her family stayed in, it was obvious she already knew that life was hard. She pooled her small amount of money in with her mother’s for their needs. I think it’s clear we’re looking at an abduction.”

The first result came back. The search on the increased gang activity within four blocks of the apartment building, school, and re-thrift of the DuPonts. But all gang activity could be explained. Increased activity was from many levels or blocks away.

“Ms. DuPont mentioned that several children had run away over the last several months. And that they thought it was a gang, maybe.”

“Except there’s no evidence of one.” Tholme mused out loud as he considered the information. “I’m not Vice, but gangs don’t normally leave the levels they develop on. They often have a very territorial psychology. So not a gang. And not runaways.” The second search had completed, and it showed that RepSec had seen no increase in unauthorized squatting in the four-block radius. “Not a gang; serial kidnapping.”

Obi-Wan took a deep breath, trying to ignore the feel of a heavy band around his throat. “Slavers. Young Force sensitives get a lot of money on the slave circuit, right?”

“Yeah,” Quin breathed, Ann-Marie’s picture on the center screen again.

“Especially pretty ones.”

“I can’t believe I’m wishing it was slavers,” Tholme muttered as he moved Quin aside to run a quick search through RepSec for Jane Does in the same age group as Ann-Marie DuPont. “As horrible as it sounds, family is usually the culprit for children who end up in slavers’ hands, not kidnapping by strangers. The good thing about that is it means they’re still alive. But if you say the mother wasn’t involved, then it might be a homicide.”

The third search completed and Obi-Wan stared at the face of Ann-Marie DuPont. Pale and lifeless, staring up at stars she’d never gotten to see. They had found her body outside the mid-level planetarium in the dumpster. No obvious cause of death and no identification. Her body was currently on ice in the district’s morgue.

“This is from three weeks ago.” Quin said flatly. “The cafe shooting hadn’t happened yet. Her mother had probably just left their offices. How could they not know?”

“They didn’t want to.” Obi-Wan’s voice cracked a little, but he forged on. “RepSec isn’t like Investigations with access to all the records and case files. They must request access from other districts. Even now mid-district RepSec is probably trying to figure out who she is and where she came from. They wouldn’t have pulled missing persons first.”

“Murder. Force be with us.” Tholme shook his head. “Quin, Obi, get settled here. Start working from the records. If you have problems getting access, Master Mirinlen is the shift supervisor and can assist you.”

“Where are you going?”

“Someone has to handle the door-to-door aspect. We need to talk to Ms. DuPont again, see if she can give us a list of names to talk to. And then we need to investigate them. I’ll comm Sirces and see if ze’s up to it. If not, I might need to catch Master Mirinlen and see if there’s anyone else he can spare.”

Tholme ruffled Obi-Wan’s hair and pulled Quin’s padawan braid as he headed out. Leaving with just a: “Be good.”

“I’d rather be merciless!” Quin hollered after his Master, the old joke bringing a smile to their faces before Tholme was out of sight. The older Padawan sighed, “We’re probably going to need a plan.”

Obi-Wan turned to the holoboard to write the first note. “We should run a comparison in RepSec between missing children’s cases, specifically those labeled as runaways, with recent minor murders. Hopefully, this is just a, ah -”

“Fluke?”

“Right.”

Quin observed him solemnly, “How likely do you actually think that would be?”

Obi-Wan bit back the complaint that Quin had more experience with this than he did, to consider the force and the cloying evil he had felt from Ann-Marie’s last moments. “Not likely. Not likely at all.”

“I didn’t think so.” Quin frowned at the search options and the clunky options RepSec’s cheap interface used. “I think we’re going to have to write a code for the comparison.”

“Oh, is it that bad?” Peering over his friend’s shoulder, Obi-Wan didn’t even bother to try once his eyes crossed the first time. “It really is. Torchbearer’s Light is that awful. I’m no good at that type of stuff. Are you?”

“Good enough for this, but I’m going to need help with the parameters.”

“I can definitely do that.”

Later, the two boys stared at the results. The comparison code had done its job. The two separate systems had yielded their results, been parsed to just cases that matched on at least five points, and now they had done the first review of the cases. There were thirty cases that might match their perpetrator’s method of operations. They’d sent the names and locations of the new cases out to Sirces and Tholme and notified Master Mirinlen who authorized another three knights to assist with door-to-door interviews.

“I think I’m going to have nightmares.” Obi-Wan admitted. He wasn’t sure if they would be of the Young or these younglings, but both were enough for a horror-holo. He tried not to think about it, but it wasn’t quite working. “The stuff that these kids endured…”

“I think by the time whoever did this was done,” Quin paused, “death was a mercy, wasn’t it?”

“I killed a boy once,” Obi-Wan admitted, “because I caught something in him that said he might be capable of something like this. I didn’t have proof but I- I couldn’t take the chance.”

Quin tugged his friend close, “I don’t doubt that you made the best choice you could.”

Obi-Wan didn’t know how to thank his friend for not asking for the details. He just let the older Padawan tug him closer.

The console beeped. Another comparison was complete. A new window opened on the holoboard and a still image from a security recording popped up. It was a male Human, or near, approximately middle-aged, carrying a suspiciously sized load wrapped in a spacer’s blanket into the park where they found Ann-Marie’s body.

Queueing up the recordings from the park, the padawans followed as the man carefully carried his burden through the park in the early hours of the morning and deposited his burden in the small mid-level municipal park, exactly where RepSec tagged Ann-Marie DuPont as a Jane Doe only hours later.

The two boys stared.

“I hate RepSec.” Obi-Wan groaned, pulling up Master Tholme’s code on his Comm. “Master Tholme. We found something.” He shot a look at the still on the holoboard. “Actually, this probably counts as more than something.”

*****

30th day of the 11th Republic Standard month, 957 ARR

It was Jedi Investigation’s case, so their suspect, Wilfred Domes, was collected and escorted to the detention block under the Temple. The male, a Human of Coruscanti birth aged 48 republic standard years old with severe scoliosis, was on record as being of diminished capacity. His official guardian, assigned by the government, was a social services worker by the name of Susa Bagora.

After a bit of back and forth between Knight Ondula and the social worker, an agreement was reached. Because Ms. Bagora couldn’t refute the evidence, even if she didn’t believe that her charge was capable of such violence; she would have to allow the Guardian to question Mr. Domes. Even if she clearly didn’t like it.

“If nothing else,” Sirces said as ze clamped the comm to zir ear so that Master Tholme, Quin, and Obi-Wan, who were being left in the observation room, could give him questions if something came up. “We need to know where he found, Ann-Marie’s body and why he moved it.”

So, the three Shadows observed as Knight Ondula entered the interrogation room with a stern but approachable manner.

“Good afternoon, Mr. Domes.” Sirces greeted the suspect pleasantly. “I’m Knight Sirces Ondula, do you know where you are?”

“Um,” Domes blinked watery blue eyes at the Besalisk. “In trouble?”

Sirces nodded gently, “That’s what we’re trying to find out today. You’re familiar with Ms. Susa Bagora?”

The man nodded, “Susa with the red wrapper!”

“That’s right, Wilfred.” The Twi’lek woman nodded back. “I’m here to look out of you. So, I need you to listen to me, okay?” She peered comedically at her charge, “Are you listening?”

“Yes, Susa.”

“Alright. Then Knight Ondula needs to ask you some questions, but you don’t have to answer any of them if you don’t feel comfortable. And if you want to stop at any point after we begin, then you just tell me, and we’ll stop. Okay?”

He bit his lip but nodded, “Okay.”

It was a perplexing situation. They had irrefutable evidence that he was the last person to touch Ann-Marie DuPont’s body before a couple of early morning joggers stumbled across her. And yet, in the Force, Wilfred Domes felt as dark as a child. The edges of healthy emotions, fear and uncertainty, and perhaps the slightest hint of anger. But the suspect was far more honest and open to the Jedi than even most honest residents of Coruscant Obi-Wan had met.

Ondula prodded the table to produce the crime scene photos of Ann-Marie in the park. “Do you know this child?”

“Yes,” Wilfred frowned, reaching out with tentative fingers to prod the picture. “Annie with the big smile. She was nice.”

“She went missing almost a month ago, Wilfred.” Ondula said, “Her mother is upset. Her family grieves. They just want to understand. She was well liked, polite, and her community loved her.”

“She was sweet,” Wilfred said. “Always had a smile when I came by. Not like the others. Their smiles wore out, but hers stayed.”

A chill ran up Obi-Wan’s spine, and he didn’t wonder if they’d been wrong. If all the other children they’d found couldn’t have been hurt by this man. Even as he spoke, bringing the horrifying images of torture to Obi-Wan’s mind, the suspect’s presence never dimmed. The Padawan took a deep breath and grasped without looking at his partner’s hand. Perhaps he was wrong and the ‘others’ weren’t those poor souls.

But the Force said it wasn’t so simple.

“What were you doing with her body, Wilfred?” Ondula asked, switching to the vid still that clearly showed the laborer and the body over his shoulder.

Wilfred blinked his watery eyes.

“How did you meet her, Wilfred?”

Wilfred’s vacant smile became a little fixed, and his head tilted at an angle that raised Obi-Wan’s hackles. “She knew I was there. Was happy to see me, like all the others. Happy when we meet, not when they leave.”

“Leave from where, Wilfred?”

He blinked and blinked again. Obi-Wan knew something was going wrong almost before he saw it happen. The Force swirled for a moment and almost before they could do something, darkness was bearing down onto the interrogation room.

“Master Tholme!”

The Master Shadow was already in motion. Knight Ondula had paused and was carefully eyeing the suspect, one hand moving to his saber even as Master Tholme stopped at the threshold of the door.

Ms. Bagora blinked at the sudden appearance of the man, “Hello, is there something wrong?”

“Comm call for you.” Tholme offered the female his hand, eyes on Wilfred. “Sounded serious.”

Susa frowned, “I can’t just leave Mr. Domes here alone.”

“I swear on my oaths as a Jedi,” Knight Ondula said, “I won’t ask Mr. Domes questions without your supervision.”

The young social worker nodded slowly and took Tholme’s hand. Knowing, Obi-Wan thought, that there was something else going on but not quite understanding it. And not seeing that her charge’s behavior had completely changed.

Once she was out of the room, security protocols for violent offenders engaged and Knight Ondula stepped back from the table entirely.

“You’re not Wilfred Domes.”

“‘Course I am.” The man giggled and slumped, but when he looked up Obi-Wan resisted taking a step back. A red film had glazed his eyes. “Who else would I be?”

“That is an excellent question.” Knight Ondula drawled. “Who else could you be?”

“That would be telling. ‘sides, didn’t you say that you swore?”

The door to the observation room opened not so quietly as Tholme pushed Susa in first and followed. He left the door open to show the hall filled with Jedi back up.

“What’s the meaning of this?” The social worker huffed, “You said I had a call!”

“I lied,” Tholme said blandly. “You were in great danger and if we couldn’t get you out, you’d have probably been killed. So, we’re going to stay here until this whole thing explodes.” Tholme paused, “Padawans, if there is actually an explosion, I expect you to back away from the fighting and work on getting the injured to the Halls. Understood?”

“Aw, but explosions!” Quin whined.

“No.”

Obi-Wan snorted, “I understand, Master Tholme. Hopefully, Quin will get it before the ceiling ends up caving in.”

Tholme smirked as he settled into his place by the door. “No bets.”

“You’re insane.” Ms. Bagora said faintly. “Mr. Domes is 48 with mental and physical handicaps! How dangerous could he possibly be?”

“Extremely, if someone used him to their own ends.” Master Tholme replied, and the social worker huffed, so Obi-Wan turned his attention back to the interrogation room.

“Not going to give me your name?” Knight Ondula asked lightly.

“Already have it, don’t ya?” The man smiled wide enough to show cracked and crooked teeth. “Wilfred Domes is me.”

“I don’t believe you.”

“Sounds like you need more help than I do!”

“Was it all an act?” Quin frowned, “Was he just pretending?”

“Unlikely,” Obi-Wan shook his head, “we pulled records going back thirty years on him. He couldn’t have faked all of them; not as consistently as the records show.”

“Maybe he bribed someone?”

“In social services?” Obi-Wan clarified, “Okay. If it were just one person, someone who could control the paperwork and had the background to make up the evaluations.”

Both padawans turned their attention to Susa.

“What?” She scowled at them; her patience clearly worn away with all the uncertainty.

“Did you take bribes from Domes to fake his evaluations?”

Susa sputtered, “Of course not!”

“Huh, she’s telling the truth at least.”

“So not bribes and not acting,” Obi-Wan thought out loud. “We’re back to an outside force, or a multiple personality disorder.”

“MPD would show up in an evaluation.” Ms. Susa admitted quietly. “Over thirty years, even if the technology hadn’t developed to catch it, one of his evaluators would have stumbled across it. If it’s… natural, then it’s unlikely to have never happened in front of an evaluator.”

“So, we’re back to an external force.” Quin sighed.

“Which might explain the eyes.”

Without warning, Domes suddenly pounced on Knight Ondula. Pushing the Guardian back against the wall, eyes glowing a malevolent red and spittle dripping from his mouth even as he hissed and giggled. “My Master wants you dead. Dead is what you’ll be!”

Except that wasn’t quite what happened. Domes might have been possessed or influenced by some dark power, but he was still Human. And a Human, with a frail body and no experience channeling the strength of the Force, was no match for a Besalisk. Knight Ondula might have been driven back, but his four hands held the insane man away from his body as back up slammed into the room and took custody.

“Wilfred Domes, you’re under arrest.” The Master in charge of the shift scowled. “Get him out of here!”

Tholme toggled the speaker, “Sirces, are you alright?”

“Unnerved is all.” The Knight accepted a hand up and rubbed the back of zir head. “You felt it, Tholme. He was fine one minute and then possessed the next.” Sirces shook zir head, “I’ve never seen anything like it.”

“Like it was triggered.” Obi-Wan offered.

Tholme blinked down at the Padawan, “Exactly like it was triggered. Thank you, Padawan.”

Quin offered Susa a bottle of water, “Are you alright?”

“Thank you, but no … probably not.” The young social worker was quite shaken and sipped at the water slowly. “I don’t normally handle violent subjects. There’s another program that handles them. It was quite upsetting. Not to mention Wilfred has never been violent. I just – don’t know how to handle that.”

“By your leave, Mx. Bagora, we’ll have him evaluated by mind healers and send the report to you as soon as we get it.” Tholme said, offering her his hand. “But for now, perhaps you should go home. Have a sweet cup of tea.” He hesitated, “Do you have someone you can call?”

“My partner can get me.” Susa said with a weak smile, lekku limp and pale. “As for Domes, I’ll send you the net code. It won’t be me. As a violent offender, he’s no longer the problem of my department.”

“Of course,” Knight Ondula said, “Thank you for your time.”

“I- ah, yes.” Mx. Bagora nodded absently as she headed towards the public doors of Temple Investigations. Obi-Wan wondered if she would stay in social work or try something less exciting. Of course, that assumed something less exciting existed.

*****

2nd day of the 12th Republic Standard month, 957 ARR

It was a long day in Jedi Investigations. Long enough to feel like a week, honestly. Obi-Wan was certain there had been weeks with the Young shorter than the past thirty hours.

Staring at the door lock to his Master’s rooms, Obi-Wan couldn’t gather the energy to move. He wondered idly if he’d even wake up when he hit the floor.

The door swished open and Obi-Wan face-planted into the soft robes of his Master. “Hi Master.”

“Tired Obi-Wan?” the Wookie held him gently and walked backwards until the door could close again.

“So tired.”

“Then let’s get you to bed, Padawan.”

It didn’t take much. His Master helped him shuck his outer layers and once the comfy bed was beneath him it was lights out. Obi-Wan fell asleep to his Master’s claws running through his hair and the rough sound of a Wookie lullaby.

Obi-Wan didn’t wake during the night, but he did cycle from one nightmare to the next without stopping. The clinical post-mortem pictures of the tortured and experimented children were replaced with the bloated bodies of the Young floating down the Decran, the river of sorrows that split the territory of the Melida from the Daan. Then that too was replaced by the shattered ground and horrible smoke of the Valley where life began. Just like the images of victims, these were memories of death, not make believe. It would be so much easier to ignore if it had never happened.

When Coruscant’s dawn light finally pierced the curtains, Obi-Wan was relieved to finally wake. Stumbling to the ‘fresher, he chased the memories away with cold water. Tea would make everything better.

“Hard night, Padawan?”

Obi-Wan glared somewhat ineffectually at his Master. He grunted, “Dreams may pass in time, but it’s a truth harder to remember when the dreams are memories.”

The Wookie offered him the squishy cushion at the dining table and Obi-Wan couldn’t resist, plopping next to his Master and trying not to fall asleep against him.

“What disturbed your sleep, Obi-Wan?”

“Memories.” He admitted. “The bodies of the Young mostly, but also the horror of the kidnap victims would have gone through. Their last days would have been terrifying and they must have given up by the end.” Obi-Wan shook his head, not sure how to express it. “Everything is scary from the kidnap victims to Wilfred Domes. I would be petrified, but I can’t stop.” He stared down into the dark liquid of his tea. “I don’t think I know how.”

“I would like to say that you might learn it.” Tyvokka pulled him close. “That, as awful as it sounds, experience will wear you down and age will teach you when to stop.”

“That doesn’t sound bad.”

“It’s not.”

“But?”

“But life might never quench your passion.” The Master said. “It quenched many of the great Jedi of the Temple. Windu and Yoda, Jinn and Dooku. But not Tholme or Plo or Tahl.”

Tahl was an inspiration. The Elders had taken her sight, but she had refused to let them take her light. Obi-Wan had seen her recently, arguing with both her assistant droid and Jinn in a ten-minute window. Obi-Wan couldn’t doubt that her passion had not waned in the slightest. Been redirected but not waned.

“I’m scared.”

“Of what, Padawan?” Master Tyvokka hugged him close. “I’m here, you’re safe with me in the Temple. What else is bothering you?”

“Wilfred Domes was in the Temple. It didn’t save him from becoming the meat puppet of a Sith.” Obi-Wan grimaced. That had come across more bitter than most would accept. No, only the truth, Master Jinn wouldn’t have accepted it.

“What worries you the most about it? Domes’ violation or that it might happen again?”

Obi-Wan felt horrible that he hadn’t even considered the man’s violation. “That someone could do that to me. That our enemy could turn me into a weapon, and I wouldn’t be able to stop it.”

To Obi-Wan’s surprise, Tyvokka winced and encouraged the Padawan up. “Why don’t you get dressed for the day, because I think I might have an answer for that.”

“I might owe you an apology, Padawan.” Master Tyvokka admitted, leading Obi-Wan into a holocron examination room.

“About what, Master?” Obi-Wan was both intrigued and a bit disturbed to see the holocron from Mx. Taz again.

His Master took him by the shoulders and led him to a seat set up a little away from the holocron. “What do you know of how you came to the Temple, Obi?”

“Republic Social had me. They couldn’t find any close family; so, my midichlorian count earned me a place in the Temple creche instead of RepSo foster.” Obi-Wan screwed his face up in disgust. “I haven’t heard good things about the foster system.”

“Nor have I.” the Master hesitated a moment. “Obi-Wan, you don’t feel abandoned, do you?”

Obi-Wan blinked up at the Wookie, “No, of course not.” The Padawan flushed, “I’ve always felt certain that my parent loved me and would have kept me if they could have.”

Tyvokka took a deep breath, “the spirit of this holocron is Wan-Das Kenobi. I’m uncertain, but a lot of evidence suggests that ze is your parent, Padawan.”

“Huh,” Obi-Wan considered the holocron, the Sith holocron. “Ze must have really loved me. Ze had to know I’d end up in the Temple.” He frowned up at Tyvokka.

“Why didn’t you tell me before?”

“It’s a Master’s prerogative to protect their Padawan. Perhaps especially from themselves.” The Wookie said. “If you were not as strong and as tied to the light; if your parent was anything less than I think, and if the danger was not so pressing, I would not take such a risk with your mental well-being.”

Obi-Wan was not oblivious; he came to his Master with a serious concern. The solution, though, would likely be just as serious. A Knight test that perhaps only his Master would ever even know if he passed or not. The vid recorder in the room’s corner was off. “How does it open?”

“You’ve learned to pick locks with the Force, correct? Quin would have taught you if nothing else.” Tyvokka snorted and Obi-Wan bit back his smile. “It’s the same technique. The holocron opens by a switch inside the device so that only the Force can open it. Try it.”

The blast collar might have resisted his efforts years ago, but the same could not be said of the holocron. It was easy enough to depress the switch even when he couldn’t see it. The metal petals bloomed open with a faint hiss. For a moment nothing happened, and Obi-Wan had to bite back the sorrow that his parent might not want to meet him.

Before he could get worked up, that same threatening darkness from months ago was spilling into the room. And it was such a sense memory that Obi-Wan had to remind himself that he wasn’t the same boy – sleeping fitfully through memories of war, only trusting one adult because his friend did, pleased to be back in the Temple only because the Force still told him he would be a Knight. Obi-Wan steeled himself because he was not the same.

The darkness pooled like ink where the holocron sat, and out of it formed a shape not unlike his own. Just visually and Obi-Wan knew why his Master was so convinced. The spirit took a sharp breath and Obi-Wan offered a weak smile, “Hi?”

“Oh, you’re more beautiful than I could have ever imagined.” Ghostly fingers tingled and left a chill where they met Obi-Wan’s skin. “I didn’t think your Master would tell you for years yet.”

The Padawan cleared his throat, “There were mitigating circumstances.”

The older Stewjoni offered a sharp smile, “There always are.”

It was startling. The longer Obi-Wan stared, the more he could see himself in the there-and-gone appearance of the holocron spirit.

“You wanted to ask me something?” The spirit straightened, face suddenly composed like rocks, and Obi-Wan was both impressed and unnerved. “It’ll hurt if you need the Sith’s name. So, I’d prefer-”

“Your pronouns!” Obi-Wan blurted with a blush. “I, uh, have questions to ask that are for my Master and mine safety; but I would- I would- I would know at least a little of my parent.”

“Ze. There is a third set in Stewjoni, specifically for our gender, but Ze is good enough in basic.” The spirit of Wan-Das said, “You would have called me Cenned. As I called my egg bearer.” The spirit sighed. “I would have loved you so much, but it is good that you are with the Temple. So much better than the life of darkness that I fell into.” Ze cleared zir throat. “And away from the Sith. That was all I wanted from you. A life filled with hope, more than I could give you.”

Obi-Wan was startled to realize that his eyes were watery. His Cenned had offered him all the love ze could have, and in doing so the Sith spirit was the epitome of Jedi love. To feel it overwhelming the soul and then to do what was best for the one you felt it for. He would not ask, because he didn’t want to bring up bad memories, but Obi-Wan was suddenly certain that his Cenned had died to give him up. That the Sith Master Wan-Das Kenobi had studied under had more interest in the Stewjoni’s egg than his student.

It was the passing shudder of the Force from a destiny diverted and Obi-Wan felt his heart swell more than he could imagine for this being who gave their life from him. Obi-Wan cleared his throat, “Do you have any living family?”

“Besides you little egg?” The spirit’s smile looked a little stiff, like zir face didn’t know how to move that way anymore. “No. Obi-Wan. My Cenned died when I was quite young, and though I had mates I’d thought to pair with, when I left Stewjon I didn’t leave anyone behind who would miss me.”

The Padawan swallowed dryly and felt the press of his Master’s compassion through their bond. Once again Obi-Wan was overwhelmed with his fortune in having this male as his teacher. Qui-Gon Jinn would never have been so sanguine as to allow his student a conversation with a Sith Spirit. At least not without casting doubt on his future forever after. It was almost worth what he’d gone through to get to this point. Almost.

“I’m sorry.” Obi-Wan offered his Cenned. “I need to ask you some more dangerous questions.”

“Oh, child.” The spirit tugged gently on his padawan braid. “I would suffer innumerable pains for you. Ask your questions.”

Turning the datapad to face the spirit, Obi-Wan toggled through the images of the kidnap victims, “These younglings have died too recently for you to have known them, but do the wounds look familiar to you? While we have a patsy in custody, we’re operating under the assumption that the Sith Master did this.”

“Hmm. But which one?” Wan-Das said, throwing everything Obi-Wan and his Master had assumed into a tailspin. “Would you move through the pictures?”

Obi-Wan did it on autopilot. “There’s more than one Sith Master?”

Wan-Das looked up from the pictures sharply and offered the Wookie an apologetic glance when Tyvokka moved closer to support his student. “There are only supposed to be two. The Sith Master and his apprentice. In reality, there’s anywhere between six and a dozen as the Master trains up competition to his apprentice, and his apprentice trains his own student in the hopes of one day killing his Master as is the way of the Sith. Very few of them would be actual students, much more like trained attack dogs.”

“But the Master and his first apprentice,” Master Tyvokka interjected, laying calming hands upon Obi-Wan’s shoulders. “They could do something like this?”

“Yes. It could be some piece of the first apprentice’s fun. He’s a sadistic lout, but it’s more likely some attempt at Sith sorcery from the Master.” Wan-Das frowned, “I was his captive for many years. I know that he was working towards some sort of ultimate Force vessel.” Zir gaze flickered to the Padawan and back down to the datapad, “but I was ‘eliminated from the competition’ before I found out more.”

“Thank you,” Obi-Wan said faintly, shunting the nervous look from his Cenned to the back of his mind. If he thought about it now, he’d probably scream. He cleared his throat, “I mentioned that we had a patsy for the kidnapping. While he was in custody, he appeared to be overcome with some sort of possession, changing not just his attitude and personality but his very capabilities. It was heavy with the dark side of the force. Are you familiar with it? Do you know how to defend against it?”

Hours later, Obi-Wan collapsed into the squishy couch in his Master’s apartments and promptly burst into tears. Tyvokka gathered him up against his Master’s broad chest and shushed him like an infant. Obi-Wan could feel the flex and shift of the new shields his Cenned had taught him to build as Tyvokka brushed against them with the warmth of his presence. Obi-Wan knew he wasn’t alone, but it felt like he was.

“I’m sorry.” The Padawan sniffled between sobs.

“No, Obi-Wan, you let it all out. You’ve had a hard time of it recently, and nothing clears the heart quite like tears.” Tyvokka hummed deep in his chest, and Obi-Wan could feel it vibrating against his ear where his head settled against his Master.

“Ze hurts, Master. I wish ze didn’t have to.” Obi-Wan said, Force-grabbing the tissue box from the table.

“I know it hurts that ze hurts, Obi-Wan.” Tyvokka kissed the top of his Padawan’s head. “But Wan-Das made zir choices before you were even born, and if all is the will of the Force, then it is so we could benefit from zir knowledge now. It’s a cold comfort, but it’s all we have, Obi-Wan.” Master Tyvokka rocked the Padawan in his arms and Obi-Wan leaned against his Master and enjoyed the sway. “It’s all we have.”


Related Posts

Eff_Dragonkiller

I read. I write. I attend meetings. I battle dragons.

One Comment:

  1. *scrolls down wildly from the end of chapter 3.* *waves pompoms and screams like a mad soccer fan* OH MY GOD. OH MY GOD. Just. I just … *flails*. That. Just … all of that. Every BIT of the end of Chapter three. *goes back to reading, cackling like mad*

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.