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A Pathway to Many Abilities

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Padawan Learner Ruluec sensed her Master pace in front of the forward window of the republic cruiser. Jedi Master Jazre Vildur was truly skilled in the ways of the Force, and of the discipline required when wielding that power. However, he had little patience for many things.

“Hynestia! Bah. The Council should know better than to bother sending Jedi to that dead-end planet.” He said. “It is a waste of my talents to be fetching… what was it this negotiation was for?”

“Fur, Master.” Ruluec said. “Gherlian fur, made from the lichen that grows in the cave systems of the planet.”

“Ridiculous.” Vildur said. “Why bother with such a thing?”

Ruluec knew better than to answer. She knew that many would potentially benefit from the alliance and subsequent trade deal with Hynestia. Just off the top of her head, fellow Padawan Roron Corobb. He was an Ithorian, and thus highly against the use of animal products. Gherlian fur would allow him to follow his Master on missions to cold planets, like Hynestia itself.

Hynestia was a world of contrasts. It was extremely cold on the surface, but extensive volcanic activity beneath the surface warmed the vast network of tunnels. These tunnels were where the Hynestian humans, and by extension, the Hynestian royal family, made their homes.

This royal family was the reason they were being sent to the trade negotiations. Hynestia was an independent planet and system in the outer rim. It was not part of the Republic, and currently had no formal trade agreements with it. It was by no means isolationist, but the royal family kept their status through that independence. Hynestia often traded with neighbouring systems, which is how a sample of Gherlian fur had come to the attention of the senate.

The senate was rather taken with this animal-free fur. Before long, a group of senators had approached the Jedi Council to ask for assistance in setting up a direct trade agreement with the Republic. Hynestia expressed interest in the proposal, but made it clear in their own counter-proposal that there were some things which they didn’t see eye-to-eye with the Republic. Which is how Ruluec and her Master had ended up on this mission.

As a Human, Master Vildur was well suited to negotiating with the human-majority population. There were others that might have negotiated with the same unyieldingness as Vildur, like Master Dooku, but the Council worked in mysterious ways.

As his apprentice, Ruluec went where her Master did.

“Ugh, go get me a drink, boy.” Vildur said. She went nearly everywhere with him. Vildur was her teacher in the ways of the Jedi. He demanded unflinching respect.

“Yes, Master.” She said, standing and reaching out with the Force to guide her feet. As a Miralukan, she looked nearly identical to a human. Except her eyes, she didn’t have any. She pulled her hood lower, to obscure the beige strip of cloth that covered her empty eye-sockets. The fact that it covered her long hair from her Master was just a coincidence.

Miralukans were often able to make sense of their surroundings through the Force, but they were rare amongst the galaxy. She had been brought to the Jedi Temple as an infant. Twenty years later, and she was looking into the Knight trials. There was something else, something that was holding her back.

She had been disgusted by herself at first. Everyone had heard the stories, in mocking tones and laughter, of those people who changed themselves with surgery. Even now, the way her Master has told her the story brought bile up in her throat.

Yet she still could not get over the unease, the wrongness, that her body gave her. She was sure Master Vildur, on some level, sensed the prickle of dissatisfaction that she got whenever he called her ‘boy’. Which was probably that was his go-to name for her. She wrinkled her nose in frustration as she stepped into the rec room on the ship. If he knew she cried herself to sleep, she knew there’d be consequences.

She hadn’t been able to articulate it for so many years. Until her interest had been piqued in one of Master Yoda’s lectures. She had heard him say “Changes the body,” and her heart filled with hope. Only for it to sink again, when his odd sentence structure added “The dark side does.”

She poured a tumbler of moof juice, her Master’s preferred beverage, and set off back to their quarters. She gently quieted her mind before she entered, it wouldn’t do for him to sense something was amiss. Strict Masters made for sneaky Padawan, as the saying went.

“Master.” She said as she re-entered the room.

“Thanks.” Vildur said, taking the juice.

The PA system beeped, before letting the captain’s voice sound throughout the ship.

“We are on approach to the planet Hynestia, we should be docked and able to exit the ship in an hour or so.”

Ruluec bowed her head and reached out with her feelings. Hynestia was rocky, it had long valleys filled with snow criss-crossing the surface. A strange feeling flitted through her.

“Master? Did you sense that?” She asked. It felt cold, but at the same time warm, like the planet itself.

“Yes. There is a presence down there.” He said, frowning. “Something out of the ordinary is on Hynestia. Looks like this mission does require Jedi after all.”

 

As the republic cruiser touched down in the Hynestian landing yard, Ruluec sensed the dark presence. It was close.

What was this presence? Some artefact? If so, it must be quite powerful in the Force for her to sense it from space. She hadn’t heard of any Jedi ruins on Hynestia, but the Jedi might not have known of every temple from before they formalised the governing body of the Order.

The envoy party gathered above the disembarking ramp.

“Master, shouldn’t we have called back to the Council?” Ruluec asked. Vildur gave her a look.

“We’re going to investigate first. There is no point calling yet.” He softened slightly then added. “Trust in the Force, it has led us here.”

“Yes Master.” She said.

The ramp began to lower before them, revealing a small greeting party as they began to walk down.

“Greetings from the royal family of Hynestia.” The young man in front said. “I am Accius Jin, Prince of Hynestia.”

“Hello, Prince Accius.” Vildur said, stepping forwards, and giving a small bow. “I am Jedi Master Javre Vildur, here on behalf of the Galactic Republic.”

“We are pleased to offer lodgings and nourishment during our forthcoming negotiations, Master Jedi.” Accius said. Ruluec sensed his mind had run through these words many times before.

“We would appreciate your kind offer.” Vildur said. Ruluec sensed him look back at the rest of the envoy party. Apart from herself, there was an assistant senator from the nearby Republic system of Mon-Cala, and a number of administration technicians. “When are we to meet with King Hardan?”

“We have organised a dinner in honour of your arrival.” Accius said. “But it will not be for an hour, so I will be escorting you to your quarters, to allow you to freshen up before then.”

“Thank you very much, Prince Accius.” Said the Mon-Cala delegate. He wasn’t seeming too good, his face felt fairly dry from what Ruluec could feel through the Force. Recycled water on a ship could do that.

“Yes, come.” Prince Accius said, turning and heading towards a door on the side of the landing yard.

Ruluec reached out with her feelings. There was something of the presence clinging to Accius, but he was nowhere near saturated with it to be the source.

They entered the doorway and emerged into a smooth stone tunnel. It was pleasantly warm compared to the environment in the landing yard, and Ruluec lowered her hood. She took care to keep her hair covered, even with the hood off. Her Master knew about it, but it would be better if she didn’t overtly display it to him.

As they ventured further into the tunnels, the odd feeling lessened. Perhaps this would be a routine mission after all?

Finding their rooms was certainly routine. To her surprise, each member of the delegate party had been given separate rooms. Usually she was expected to room with Master Vildur. She didn’t think he would have arranged things like that. She hadn’t talked to him about the trials yet, and he was hardly one to encourage her independence. Having a Padawan was something of a matter of pride for him, or so she figured.

Prince Accius gestured to her room. She thanked him as she brushed past him to enter. She hung her cloak on a hook by the door and sat down on the floor. Stretching out with her feelings through the Force she took in the room. It was sparse, as befitted the room of a Jedi in training. Now, she just had to distract herself from the gnawing discomfort for an hour.

 

She managed to, barely. Meditation was supposed to calm the mind, but for the past few years she was finding it difficult to fully get into a meditating frame of consciousness. As she sat on the floor, trying to focus on nothing at all, the first thing that came when entering the state was an unpleasantly increased awareness of her body. All the structural differences that rankled her thoughts seemed to stand out more when she attempted to quiet her mind. It was far worse than she felt under normal circumstances. Clearing her mind was often impossible. When she did manage to meditate it was quite a relief, but dropping out of meditation just made her fear the next time she attempted to enter the state. Any normal Jedi should try to meditate at least twice a day for at least an hour. She could barely bring herself to try more than 5 times a week. Ruluec was afraid that her low amount of meditation might be impeding her development with the Force, perhaps even diminishing the connection she had with it.

Being a Jedi Knight was the only goal she had ever had in life. She hadn’t been given much choice in the matter; the Temple was all she knew. Ruluec had never known her parents, the Jedi had never told her. According to what people said, that meant they were no one of consequence. Passing the trials was her only hope. Master Yoda said there was no shame in being a Padawan for decades, or passing into the non-Knight roles amongst the Jedi, but he was perhaps the only one who believed that.

To think that being a woman born differently might prevent her from being Knighted was terrifying. Even worse was the possibility that she might have to leave the Order, with nothing to her name and no one who cared about her. She very well might be if they learned that she wanted for something so badly it hurt.

Ruluec berated herself as she felt a spark of jealousy for Master Dooku. The Serennian had been rescued from where his noble father had abandoned him, by the Jedi Order. If he ever wanted to quit, he need only return to Serenno and would no doubt be showered with money. As unlikely as that was to happen, he at least had the choice.

Her eyes flicked open. She stowed her thoughts deep down and turned to face the door. It slid open with a hiss, revealing a Hynestian standing behind it. At first, he seemed a bit startled, but then Ruluec realised he may not know if she knew he was there given the cloth covering her lack of eyes. She nodded and, assured that she did know he was there, he spoke.

“Oh, I was sent to fetch you.” He said. “The feast is about to begin.”

“Thank you.” Ruluec said, standing and moving to the door.

The Hynestian stepped back to allow her exit, she stopped and retrieved her cloak from where she had hung it earlier. Slipping it back over her head, Ruluec stepped into the corridor. The door closed behind her.

Ruluec walked over to the room her Master was in and knocked on the door. She waited for it to open, Vildur in the doorway.

“Master, I have been informed that the welcoming dinner is to begin.” She said.

“Very well.” He said, and followed the attendant to the third door. The Mon-Cala ambassador joined their procession, and they began to make their way to the welcome dinner, led by the Hynestian.

“Ruluec, did you have a chance to meditate on the mission?” Vildur asked.

“Unfortunately, my visions were clouded.” She lied. “There is something about this place that is preventing me.”

“I must concur, my apprentice.” He said gravely. “The dark side is unusually strong here.”

“Yes, Master.”

“What I could see was indistinct, but there is something at work here.” Vildur grunted. “Stay mindful of the Force.”

“Of course, Master.” She said.

“Master Jedi, Ambassador Brimbor.” The attendant stopped before a door, allowing the group to stand in front of it. “We have arrived at the dinner hall.”

He pressed a button beside the door, opening it.

If Ruluec had eyes, she would hazard a guess that she would have widened them in shock. She sensed the shock in her Master beside her. Ambassador Brimbor was not shocked. He could not sense the clear aura of the dark side of the Force coming from one of the people at the table in front of them.

She sensed Vildur reach out with the Force, pulling the Lightsaber from his belt as his hand moved down to meet it. She mirrored him a second later, activating her sabre.

“Master Jedi!?” Came a voice from the table. Ruluec redirected a mite of her focus through the Force to the voice. It was coming from a man at the head of the table. The King of Hynestia, Hardan Jin. “What is the meaning of this?”

“I told you Jedi could not resist their posturing, your grace.” Said a voice from the one emanating the dark side of the Force.

“King Hardan. You know of the Force, correct?” Said Vildur, edging into the room around to the side of the long table where the dark one sat. Ruluec followed his lead, moving to the other side.

“I know of it, yes.” He said. “But please, put away your weapons.”

Ruluec’s focus flicked from her Master, to the king, to the darkness. What was he going to do? She adjusted the grip on her Lightsaber. There was something else she sensed.

“At your table is one who also uses the Force.” Vildur said, scowling. “One steeped in the dark side.”

“And who very well may that be?” The King asked.

“Her!” Vildur pointed his Lightsaber towards the darkness.

“The Lady Kierad is my guest.” He said. “And unless you want to end these negotiations before they should start, you should keep your threats to yourself, Master Jedi.”

“Master Vildur, these negotiations are of the utmost importance.” Ambassador Brimbor said, pleadingly. “Please put away your weapons.”

Ruluec swallowed. Her Master was not one to yield easily. Even with these negotiations at stake, to not strike down this well of dark energy… it wasn’t something that she thought was in his capacity to do so.

“If you continue to threaten my guest, I will have no choice but to meet you in kind.” Hardan said.

Ruluec wanted to de-activate her Lightsaber. To allow the welcoming dinner and the negotiations to proceed for now. If she did that without her Master’s say-so, it would seem like she was overruling him. That wouldn’t go down well with the Council, no matter the situation, especially when it came to the dark side.

‘Please, Master.’ She thought to herself, pleading to the Force to guide him towards temperance.

“Perhaps, for the sake of the negotiations, I should take my leave.” Said Lady Kierad, the dark side still swirling around her.

“Please stay, my Lady.” Said king Hardan. “You are under my protection, and the Jedi should respect that.”

“Very well, what say you, Master Jedi?” Kierad asked Vildur. “Are these negotiations to collapse because of your aggression? I have heard that is also a path to the dark side.”

Ruluec focussed on her Master. That was absolutely the wrong thing for Kierad to say if she wanted to deescalate the situation. She could practically feel the thoughts in Vildur’s mind.

‘How dare she accuse me of taking a path to the dark side?’

Ruluec had to intervene. If this Lady Kierad was truly of the dark side, then just her Master may not be enough to take her down. Especially not surrounded by Hynestian guards. She bit her lip and spoke.

“Master, we should stand down.” She whispered to him.

“Listen to your apprentice, Master Jedi.” Kierad said. Ruluec felt Kierad’s eyes narrow and she cut herself off. “Sh- Perhaps you have some wisdom to learn from your student.”

Ruluec’s focus shifted slightly back to Kierad. What had she begun saying? Why had she cut herself off? She was distracted from her internal questioning by her Master.

“Very well. If you wish to have the dark side in your court, it is no concern of mine.” He said, very plainly lying. Vildur deactivated his Lightsaber. Ruluec let out a held breath and de-activated hers too.

“Good.” King Hardan said. “Now if we could get to the welcoming dinner? Please join your Padawan on your delegation’s side of the table.”

Ruluec sensed as her Master walked slowly back around the table. He passed Ruluec to stand behind the place directly to the king’s left.

“You’re on the end, boy.” Vildur said. Ruluec reached out with the Force, feeling the place cards set at each seat of the table, the one at the end probably had something like ‘Padawan learner’ written on it. She side-stepped to the seat, allowing Ambassador Brimbor, still a little shaken from the confrontation, to take a seat between them.

To the King’s right hand was Prince Accius, who had greeted them at the landing pad. Then there was the Lady Kierad, who was drenched in the dark side. Beside her was another a man who she assumed was another prince.

Ruluec sensed her Master take a seat, and did so too.

“You’ve met my son, Accius. He’s my head of economics.” Said King Hardan, seemingly eager to brush past. Ruluec nodded in acknowledgement. “And my son Breece, head of agriculture.”

“It’s a pleasure to meet you.” Breece said, rather stiffly.

“They, along with Lady Kierad, will be negotiating on my behalf.” He said.

“Are you sure that is wise?” Brimbor said.

“You will not pretend to provide me unbiased counsel when your Jedi guards have already nearly disrupted these negotiations, Ambassador.” He said, sternly.

“Forgive me, I mean that we were not aware that this Lady Kierad would be on your highness’ negotiation delegation.” Brimbor clarified. He looked at Kierad. “The reactions of Master Vildur aside, I have never heard of you.”

“I think it has been established that King Hardan trusts me to negotiate alongside his sons a favourable deal for his kingdom.” Kierad said.

‘Hardan must indeed trust her a great deal, to stand up to a Jedi Master for her.’ Ruluec thought.

“The ambassador was asking: Who are you?” Vildur said at Kierad.

“As I have told you, she is here as my guest.” The king said. “If I must warn you against threatening her again, you will be escorted back to your ship.”

Silence fell across the table.

“If that unpleasantness is finally dealt with…” Kierad said. “Shall we move on to dinner?”

“Yes, I think we should.” King Hardan said, letting out a sigh.

Attendants dressed like the one that had come to fetch the republic negotiation team from their rooms entered carrying covered trays of food. Plates were set down in front of the seven at the table and the attendants stepped back, removing the cloches.

“Tonight, the first meal will consist of…” The king’s attendant said. He trailed off describing the dish. As he finished speaking, the attendants backed off from the table and left the room. Another attendant stepped forward holding a bottle to refresh and fill glasses as necessary.

It was far fancier than any place that Ruluec had ever eaten before. She extended her senses down at her plate. Some sort of meat in a sauce, and some sort of mushroom salad. She took her knife and fork and trimmed off the end. It was a very gamey meat, and the sauce was spicy.

“Tell me, Master Jedi, what is the Temple like these days?” Kierad asked as she swirled her stemmed glass.

“It surprises me that one such as you, and so young, has seen the Temple.” Vildur said. Ruluec focussed her senses on the woman. She did seem rather young, perhaps only a few years older than Ruluec. The subtle scarring of diamond-shaped tattoos down her cheeks identified her as a Mirialan.

“Well, when you are kidnapped and raised from birth somewhere, you tend to have a strong image of the place.” Kierad said. Her joking tone contrasted harshly with her passive aggressive words.

Ruluec turned her head to face the woman. She had left the Jedi Order?

“We do not kidnap children.” Vildur said.

“Oh, my mistake.” Kierad said. Relenting quickly.

“We do not.” He said, then went on to talk more. He turned to face the king. “We seek out Force sensitive children across the galaxy and allow their parents to make a decision regarding their abilities.”

“And if someone wished to go back to their parents?”

“That would not be allowed.” Vildur said. “Attachment, even to parents, is forbidden to Jedi.”

“How awful.” Prince Breece, to the left of Kierad, said. “That must be a very hard life.”

“It is a noble life.” Vildur said.

“There are alternative ones, but we’ve all seen how Jedi react people who are different.” Kierad chuckled. She took a sip from her drink. Ruluec stiffened as Kierad addressed her. “What say you, Padawan? How is the Temple doing these days?”

“It is as it has always been.” Ruluec said, tripping over her words. She could sense Lady Kierad’s eyes on her as she answered.

“Life as a Jedi must be dangerous.” Prince Accius said. His voice became solemn. “My condolences on your injuries.”

“Injuries?” Ruluec asked.

“Your eyes.” He clarified.

“Oh, no.” Ruluec said. “I’m a Miralukan, we are born without eyes. But I am able to sense shapes and textures through the Force.”

“Well that must make up for it a little bit.” Prince Accius said, apparently pleased that he had fixed his faux-pa.

“Yes, sir.” She said, trying not to let the annoyance creep into her voice. “Colour still eludes me, however.”

“How fascinating.” Accius said. As if sensing her annoyance, ambassador Brimbor spoke up.

“Prince Accius, as head of your people’s economic needs, surely you must have thoughts on the Trade Federation’s recent buyout of DantoCo?” He asked. The Prince took the conversation, grateful to have something to distract the table from the tension.

Ruluec’s mind wandered as she ate. She understood some of the economic talk, being the apprentice of Master Vildur had allowed her to gain some understanding of the field, but most of it went over her head.

The food was quite nice. It was more heavily spiced than the usual fair at the Temple.

Something caught her senses. She focussed in on the disturbance. It was Kierad. She was looking at her. Kierad’s head was tilted to one side. A loc of hair fell past her face, and she chuckled at a joke made by the prince. Or did she? A smile seemed to be making its way onto her face, but then Ruluec realised that Kierad knew that she was watching her, as the Mirialan watched her.

Ruluec snapped her focus away, guilt slipping into her thoughts. Kierad was not… unattractive. But Ruluec couldn’t acknowledge that. She wouldn’t acknowledge that.

Her Master was now engaging the other prince, Breece, in the finer points of the cultivation of Gherlian fur. Ruluec attempted to listen to them. As if by a magnet, her senses kept dragging themselves back to Kierad. The geometric tattoos, which Ruluec was barely able to sense, contributed to her long, angular, Mirialan features. Two strings of diamond shaped scars, just above her jawline; and 5 small chevrons of 5 diamonds each sat above the bridge of her nose.

The King was talking to Prince Accius now, but Ruluec’s focus was drawn to Kierad’s clothes. Her Jedi-like robes were far looser than regulation. They also featured a plunging neckline. It was far lower cut than normal too.

“Excuse me.” Ruluec said and she could feel the table’s eyes on her. “I’m very sorry, but it appears the voyage was more tiring than I thought. By your leave, King Hardan, I would return to my room to rest.”

“Of course.” He said. He gestured to an attendant. “Lead Master Vildur’s Padawan back to his room.”

Ruluec stood and left her place at the table, following the attendant. She couldn’t help but sense Lady Kierad’s eyes follow her out the door.

 

Collapsing on the bed in sleeping clothes, Ruluec had time to think.

Chasing thoughts away was a regular pastime of hers. That didn’t mean she was very good at it. Several of them could get her expelled from the Order. Apart from her usual discontent, there were also thoughts of Lady Kierad.

She was so confident in taunting a Jedi Master like Vildur, and playing him into embarrassing himself. It was incredible, and if Ruluec hadn’t seen it for herself she wasn’t sure if she’d have believed it happened. What she would do for that sort of confidence. Not just to stand up to her Master, but to petition the Jedi Council itself.

Ruluec had considered it before, just shouting her truth before the Council and letting things land where the Force willed it. Surely some sort of exception existed somewhere. It did for Master Ki-Adi Mundi and his necessary participation in the procreation of his species. Perhaps they might be able to find some technique, or medical treatment that would help her. She had never been able to go through with it.

They might expel her, or worse, try to change her mind. They might try to use the Force to change her mind, mangling it to fit into their idea of someone with her body. That was the last thing she wanted. She didn’t want to be a man at all. As unlikely as it was, the Force was clouded whenever she tried to look into her future. She couldn’t bring herself to take the chance.

She felt herself begin to drift off to sleep until there was the hum of a Lightsaber. Ruluec extended her senses around her at the sudden noise. Kierad was leaning over her.

“It hurts.” Ruluec said, not really understanding why. Then the pain in her stomach made itself known, and the flash of a body appeared in her senses momentarily.

“I know.” Kierad said. She leaned down and whispered something to her.

Ruluec snapped upright, shaken from the dream by a knock at the door. She pressed a hand to her stomach; the pain was gone. Or had it been there at all?

Another knock at the door.

“Come in.” She said.

It was a Hynestian attendant bearing a tray of foodstuffs.

“Breakfast, sir.” She said. “The negotiations are to begin in an hour in conference room alpha 6. Another attendant will be along to lead you to the room.”

“Thank you.” She said in response, bowing her head slightly.

The attendant put the tray on the small table in the room, bowed, and left.

Ruluec lay back down on the bed. What was that dream? Was it some sort of vision through the Force? She hoped not. If it was, the future it showed was truly a dismal one. Her Master nowhere to be seen, a wound through her stomach, and Kierad undoubtedly about to finish her off.

She was always told that the Jedi did not fear death. She couldn’t help but doubt that. Fear of dying before you could accomplish a goal was surely a useful thing. If Jedi truly had no fear, then why were they so heavily involved in the running of the Republic? Why were they assisting in the negotiation of a trade deal? Ruluec didn’t want to die before she became a Jedi Knight, she didn’t want to die remembered as a man. As much as this negotiation was rather minor in the grand scheme of diplomacy that made up the Republic, she didn’t want to die before that was finalised either.

Which was why she couldn’t tell Master Vildur. If he knew she had a dream, vision or not, about Kierad leaning over her dying body, then he would take action against her. It would jeopardise the negotiations. She needed to keep this quiet for now, and pray to the Force that it did not come to pass.

Reluctantly, she got up and dressed in her Jedi robes. Ruluec took her eye-cloth from the table next to the food tray and put it on. She checked that everything was in place. Her cloak was on and hiding her hair. Her belt was fastened, and… She felt around her belt. Her Lightsaber was absent. She widened her focus through the Force.

There it was. Right where she left it. Ruluec picked up the sabre and gripped it tightly. Relatively unadorned, the sabre was minimalist in design. When the time came for her to use it, it wouldn’t do to be distracted by every bump and groove on the surface of her weapon. As it was, it was comforting.

It was a recent development, her own Lightsaber. Master Vildur was not much of an expert in form III of Lightsaber combat, the style she favoured. He had said she would need a custom blade to hone her mastery of the Soresu form. Less than a single standard cycle ago they had journeyed to Illum. There she had followed the whispers of the Force through the crystal caves, wandering for hours until she found a crystal that called to her. Her Master had said that green was uncommon amongst Form III users, not that the colour of the blade mattered much to her.

Ruluec hung it from her belt and sat down to the meal. More cave fungus, this time in a sort of stew, along with a type of native grain. It warmed her insides. Much of the food here seemed to be very heavy, most likely to keep people warm in the above-ground snow fields.

After rinsing the taste from her mouth with the supplied beverage, Ruluec left the tray on the desk. She breathed out in a mix between annoyance and weariness. She should at least attempt to meditate before the negotiations began.

Sitting on the floor, Ruluec breathed in.

She breathed out. Slowly relaxing, preparing to enter a meditative state. As her breathing slowed her heart slowed with it.

There it was, that familiar prickle of discomfort, echoing louder now around her mind. Doing her best to put it from her mind, trying to focus on the issues at hand.

Something stirred in the Force. She was not the only one immersed in it currently. Millions were currently meditating, as was normal. Narrowing her focus through the Force, on this planet there were only three. Her Master, the next room over, was one. The other…

The nexus of the dark side that was Kierad stuck out through the Force. She was meditating also. Ruluec focussed closer. There was anger there, and hate, but also something else. Something in the Force that drew Ruluec’s attention to her. There were things that would happen here that concerned her. That was clear. What was not clear was what those events would be.

The future was clouded. To be expected when the dark side was involved. Nevertheless, something would happen. It was certain.

Moving onwards, Ruluec focussed on her dream. Was it truly a vision of the future? If so, then she ought to proceed with caution. Taking too offensive a stance to Kierad may hasten the premonition. As would taking too lax an approach. Wherever Ruluec focussed the Force was clouded, there was not much that could be done. She sighed; answers would come in time, she just needed to trust in the Force.

Ruluec looked up at the door, just in time for an attendant to open it again. He blinked awkwardly.

“I know that you are there, I just can’t see you.” She said. “Are the negotiations to begin?”

“Ahh, yes.” He said. Ruluec stood up and began to walk towards the door.

“Another thing.” She said, the attendant stiffened. “I wasn’t sure what should be done with my breakfast tray.”

“Oh, of course.” He said, chuckling. “Someone will collect it during the negotiations.”

Ruluec nodded and followed the attendant. Like the previous day, they collected Master Vildur and Ambassador Brimbor from their rooms before leading them to the negotiations chamber.

She focussed on the surrounding area as they walked. If Kierad was going to try something, she’d be ready. She clenched her teeth. Should she tell Master Vildur about the vision? She quickly dismissed the idea again.

Trying to centre herself in her sphere of focus, Ruluec continued to make her way to the negotiations behind the others.

 

King Hardan was not present, as was expected for someone sending representatives. His negotiating party was standing on one side of the long stone table much like they had been the previous night at dinner. A round droid hovered over the table, most likely taking holo-recordings for future reference.

As Ruluec followed her Master and the ambassador to their pre-decided seats, they sat down in the right and centre respectively. Vildur sat opposite one of the princes, Breece of agriculture if she remembered correctly. Prince Accius, the head of economics, was in the centre. Directly opposite the only empty chair was...

“I’m sorry,” Kierad said, looking right at her. “I didn’t manage to catch your name last night.”

“Ruluec, ma’am.” She said, sensing Vildur stiffen slightly as he caught the honorific.

“I’m hardly older than you,” She smiled. “Don’t ma’am me.”

“Sorry.” Ruluec said, taking her seat.

“Ruluec.” Kierad seemed to consider the name. Was she trying to commit it to memory? “Hmm.”

She broke off the moment as Accius spoke.

“Alright, shall we get started?” He asked the room at large. Without waiting for an answer, he spoke to the droid hovering above. “Begin recording.”

“First thing’s first, I think we should nail down how much Gherlian fur is produced by your government each galactic standard cycle.” Brimbor said. “The figure in the initial proposal was rather broad.”

“Yes, unfortunately so.” Accius said. “It’s to do with the growth rates, as my brother can tell you.”

“Yes.” Breece nodded. “Gherlian fur is hardy, but as you may have noticed on your arrival, it gets rather cold here. If it’s too cold, liquid water is unable to make its way through the minute fractures in the rock, depriving it of moisture necessary to grow.”

“Are there any ways around this, perhaps some sort of irrigation system?” Vildur asked.

“Unfortunately, no.” Breece said. “The caves are far too deep to allow for micron-laser drilling through the rock. The water cannot be sprayed inside the caves, as the surface layer of the fur forms a waterproof covering over the roots.”

“That is unfortunate.” Vildur said.

“However,” Accius said. “In the Republic’s initial proposal, you outlined the initial amount of required fur, as well as expected growth. We believe we have enough stock to compensate for potential below-average harvests for at least the next ten galactic cycles.”

“Good.” Ruluec nodded.

“In the republic’s initial proposal, the price per square unit of fur was rather low.” Accius said, ignoring Ruluec. She bowed her head slightly. “We believe it is far too low for the product that we are offering.”

The negotiations continued similarly, with one side bringing up a topic and both trying to maximise their gain.

Ruluec found herself growing bored, and her focus slowly began to drift elsewhere.

Kierad was watching the negotiations, leaning sideways in her chair and the corner of her mouth twitched into a smile. She scratched idly at a spot in the middle of her chest. Ruluec’s focus drifted past her hand to said chest.

No, she couldn’t ‘stare’. She shouldn’t. It wasn’t polite to do so to a woman, especially there. That was something lecherous men did, and she did not want any more comparisons to them than was already easy for people to make.

She shifted her focus back to the negotiations.

“Yes, you have mentioned the fur tax several times, Ambassador.” Said Accius. “And I will once more remind you that Gherlian fur is fur in name only, and instead comes under the Organic Fibre tax.”

“It may not be fur in composition, but it is fur in intended use.” Brimbor said. “The purpose of the tax, as outlined in the reasoning, was to properly regulate the production and sale of quality fur materials.”

“Forgive me, Ambassador;” Prince Breece interjected. He pulled up a passage in the relevant tax. “But it says in the bill that the intent of the tax was to regulate production and sale to prevent the use of substandard scrap fur.”

“Yes, that is correct.” Brimbor acknowledged.

“Gherlian moss forms a carpet on the growing surface. There are no…” Breece said, and paused to find the right word. “Fiddly bits that would be termed scrap fur.”

“Surely there must be substandard growth patches that might be termed substandard?” Master Vildur asked bluntly.

“Well, yes; there is sometimes difference between locations in the thickness of the fur.” Breece said. “But nowhere near enough to be significant, as you may have seen in the agriculture department’s briefing.”

“I think that we should set aside the issue until tomorrow, when we’re inspecting the caves.” Vildur said. “That should ascertain whether the fur can be substandard or not.”

“Very well.” Breece said.

“I think we should also keep an eye out for recently harvested sections.” Brimbor said, the implication clear. “Just to get a better idea of the techniques.”

“Of course.” Prince Accius said, obviously aware. “Now, onto the matter of spaceport dispensation.”

Ruluec shifted in her chair. She hadn’t contributed anything to the negotiations. Of course, she was just here because Master Vildur was here, but it still irked her. Was she really so worthless? Her commiserations were interrupted by another voice, that she hadn’t heard since the start of the negotiations.

“You have been at this for hours, Gentlemen.” Kierad said. “Perhaps it would be better if we took lunch and reconvened after?”

“Yes.” Ambassador Brimbor said, huffing slightly. “I think that’s a splendid idea.”

“Very well.” Accius said, and turned to the droid. “Pause recording and call an attendant to accompany the Republic party to a break room.” The droid beeped.

Vildur stood, followed closely by Ambassador Brimbor. Ruluec stood, and so did the Hynestian party. The door slid open.

“Master Jedi, Ambassador.” The attendant standing in the doorway said. “This way please.”

As her Master set off and rounded the doorway, Ruluec was initially stuck in indecision. Surely the attendant meant her too? But he hadn’t referred to her. Oh of course, she was an extension of her Master. She cringed internally, that was not something she liked.

Ruluec felt a presence behind her. She shifted her focus.

“You should probably follow the Attendant too, Ruluec; you wouldn’t want to miss lunch.” Kierad said. Ruluec turned to face her.

“Yes, of course.” She said, turning to leave.

“Although…” Kierad said, Ruluec stopped as she spoke. “I can’t help but feel that your name doesn’t suit you.”

Ruluec froze. What did she say? Her name didn’t suit her? She turned and walked from the room. How would she know? Could she know? No one had ever let on that they suspected anything. She felt her hands begin to shake. Panic rising.

She focussed on her footsteps, just her footsteps. Letting the Force guide her on instinct.

What would Kierad do? Did she really know that Ruluec was a girl? Would she blackmail Ruluec? Try to use her to sabotage the negotiations? But how, Ruluec couldn’t say.

Would she reveal her to the Jedi Council? Perhaps in exchange for her way back into the ranks of the Order? She had talked about knowing the Temple as a youngling, but leaving some time ago.

Ruluec turned, the Force guiding her true.

She tried to calm herself. It’s possible Kierad didn’t actually know about her. That seemed unlikely, why else would she say something so strange like that?

Arriving at the room, she snapped out of her trance-like state. The door opened in front of her, and the attendant jumped backwards as they almost crashed into her.

“Ruluec, we wondered where you had gotten.” Ambassador Brimbor said, already tucking into his food.

“Sorry.” She said simply, mostly to the attendant for scaring them. She brushed past them and sat at the small table.

“Where were you, my young Padawan.” Vildur asked, crossing his arms.

“Forgive me, Master.” She said. “I was waylaid.”

“Very well.” Vildur said in a voice that made it plain that he did not believe her.

She waited for him to start eating before she did, and even then, only gingerly did she eat the thick stew.

The truth was: her name didn’t much suit her. She didn’t hate it; it just didn’t really feel like hers. She could probably live with it, but it was a name with distinctly masculine connotations on Miraluka. In that way it was similar to pronouns. ‘He’ was for men, and all men used it, so the Republic implied without words. Every time someone pronounced her a ‘he’ she knew that they thought of her as a man.

Moving to ‘She’ in her head was easier than asking people to call her by the term. At first, she had gotten a twinge of excitement while narrating herself. That had quickly faded into a sort of tired, drained feeling. Especially when someone called her ‘he’. She wished that she could just correct them.

Her name was more difficult, she couldn’t think up a better one for her on her own. As a Jedi researching name lists was difficult. Her every computer use at the Temple was monitored. While away on missions she rarely had access to terminals. If she did, her Master would closely monitor her.

Ruluec felt her Master’s gaze waver between the Ambassador, who was talking about the meal, and the wall. She widened her focus.

The dark side, and Kierad, was moving.

“Excuse me.” Vildur said. He put down his utensils and made for the door. Ruluec got up as well. Vildur waved her off. “No, stay here and eat.”

He left the room. Was he going after Kierad? Then why not bring her apprentice? Surely, she could be of help?

“Excuse me.” Ruluec said to the ambassador. She got up and walked out of the room. She suppressed a small laugh as she sensed the Mon Calamari’s mild surprise at the two Jedi leaving slowly turn back into hunger as he started eating again.

She walked down the hallway, sensing a Hynestian just beyond the corner.

“Excuse me.” She said, walking around the bend.

“Yes, sir?” He asked. Ruluec supressed her flicker of annoyance.

“Do you have a terminal I could use?” She asked.

“Of course, sir.” He said. “Follow me.” Which she did. He led her over across the hall and opened a door for her. “In here.”

“Thank you.” Ruluec said. “Please, could you go to the republic negotiation party room and tell me if my Master returns?”

He nodded and left, the door sliding closed behind him.

Ruluec made her way to the terminal. She opened the accessibility options using well practised instinct.

“Audio description; enabled.” It said in a soothing feminine voice. She bristled a little. It was an older system, judging from the voice. It might not be as up to date as she was used to.

“Open name lists for Miraluka.” Ruluec said.

“Name list contains over ten thousand results.” The terminal reported. “Refine search?”

“Remove exclusively masculine names.” Ruluec said.

“Over ten thousand results. Refine?”

“List ten names at random.” She said. Her heart dimmed. Even as the list of random names was read out to her, she knew there was no way she could find a new name for her. This would be so much easier if she could see the holographic screen. “Close search.”

A flicker of the dark side out of the corner of her focus caught her attention. It was dim, but it gave her another idea. If she couldn’t find her own name, perhaps she could find Kierad’s.

“Open Jedi Archive.” She said.

“Jedi Archive on secure server.” The terminal said. “Requires log in.”

“Ruluec underscore Vildur.” Ruluec said. “Password is ‘focal length’.”

“Log-in accepted. Jedi Archive access: Approved.”

“Search Female Younglings from the last 30 years for the keyword ‘Kierad’” Ruluec said.

“No results found.”

“What?” She asked. Ruluec almost slapped her forehead in recognition. Of course, ‘Kierad’ was an alias. “Remove keyword, refine to Mirialan. Facial tattoo keywords: jaw, and forehead.”

“No results found.”

“That was always a longshot, she would have been Padawan aged when she got them.” Ruluec said. “How about; Younglings who did not progress to Padawan.”

“One hundred and thirty-two results in Female Mirialan Younglings who did not progress to Padawan.”

“Dammit.” She groaned.

“You know, if you wanted to know more about me; you could have just asked.” Kierad said from behind her.

Ruluec turned, her Lightsaber flying to her hand and activating.

“Easy there.” Kierad said, holding her hands up. “I’m just here to talk. You can sense that I’m unarmed, correct?”

Ruluec could not sense the shape of a weapon on her belt, that was true. That didn’t mean unarmed though. She knew Ambassador Brimbor carried a hidden stun blaster.

“You could be hiding things inside your sleeves.” She said, pointing her blade at Kierad.

“Please, I’m not lying to you.” Kierad said. “Feel through the Force.”

Ruluec reached out her feelings. Kierad’s heart rate was steady, and the Force was not alerting Ruluec to any dangers. Was she telling the truth?

Ruluec de-activated her Lightsaber.

“Thank you.” Kierad said. “Now, what did you want to ask?”

“You’re not on the Archive records.” Ruluec said. “Yet you implied you were trained there as a youngling.”

“You’re wrong.” She said. “I am on the records; the Jedi just gave my profile incorrect parameters.”

“What do you mean?”

“Can I show you?” Kierad said cautiously.

Ruluec let the question hang for a moment, before she nodded her head.

“Alright, can I get to the terminal?” Kierad asked.

“Fine. Circle to the left.” Ruluec said, edging sideways. Kierad followed her lead. Slowly they made their way around the imaginary circle until Kierad was in front of the terminal.

“Okay, I’m going to access it now.” Kierad said, and turned to the console. She typed on the screen. “Here’s my record.”

“Audio description.” Ruluec said, and from across the room she heard that same computerised voice.

“Name: [Redacted], Species: Mirialan, Sex: Male.” It said, almost as if pausing as if for emphasis. “Highest rank: Youngling, Status: Left the Order.”

Ruluec’s stomach flipped. Kierad… She was…

“You’re like me.” Ruluec said. Her focus on Kierad, she took her in again. “But you’ve changed, you’re beautiful.”

“Thank you.” Kierad said sadly. “But like you can probably sense, I couldn’t do so as a Jedi.”

“You’re a sith.” Ruluec said, gritting her teeth.

“Not exactly.” Kierad said, tilting her head to one side. “But I don’t blame you for thinking so. The Council were always keen to equate the dark side with that cult.”

“You used the dark side to change your body?” Ruluec, not able to tell if her tone was one of distaste for the side of the Force, or intrigue at the results.

“Yes, and I was happy for the first time in my life.” Kierad said. “Once you’re yourself physically, you can start to figure out who are spiritually.”

“How?” Ruluec asked. “How did you go from being a Temple Youngling to… this.”

“After I left the Temple, I wandered for years on Coruscant’s surface.” She said. “Until someone found me. A Mu’un who knew the dark side and saw my potential; He trained me for a time, but he could be dead for all I care.”

“You left him?” Ruluec asked. “Why?”

“He was sith.” She said simply.

“So, the sith do still exist.”

“Maybe. But I found him to be so…” Kierad shrugged her shoulders slightly, Ruluec surmised she might be trying to think of a word. She was proven correct when Kierad continued. “Regressive. Still, I learned much from him.”

“And then?” Ruluec asked.

“I travelled, Moraband, Malachor; all the big dark side planets.” Kierad said casually, as if venturing to those planets was as normal as a trip to Corellia. “Dathomir was very satisfying for my curiosity.”

“Why are you here?” Ruluec said. “You’re the darkest thing on this planet.”

“Huh, you still haven’t figured that out yet?” She said. She began to walk forwards. “I’m a sweet-talker.”

Ruluec realised suddenly. Kierad wasn’t walking at the door behind her, but for her. She felt a bubbling heat in her lower stomach, and with the Force guiding her, she leaned in as she raised her head slightly.

The first thing Ruluec felt was the Force surrounding them interacting. Kierad’s darkness was like oil, slippery and not quite warm, sliding between the solar flares of Ruluec’s own lighter field. The oil covered things like silk; the flares burst with warmth.

Ruluec allowed her focus to zero in on Kierad. Kierad’s lips felt so good against hers, so incredibly right. She felt hands on the sides of her face, and she moaned into the touch. With the sound of her voice, deeper than she felt it should be, the moment was over. She pushed Kierad away from her.

“What’re you… why did I…?” Ruluec angled her face away from Kierad’s. She must have done something to her, was affecting her with the dark side somehow. “What did you do to me?”

“Do to you?” Kierad asked. “You were the one who kissed me. I was just going along with it.”

“Impossible. I would never forsake the Code like that.” She hissed. The Code was sacred to a Jedi. She recited a line. “There is no passion, there is serenity.”

“The Jedi Code…” Kierad said, stepping backwards. “There was a time where I thought I would never go against it too. I know better now.”

“Then that’s on you.” Ruluec said. Then, even knowing the words were false, she said “You tricked me, somehow.”

Kierad sighed deeply.

“You’d better be getting back to your lunch room.” She said, her features twisting in some sort of emotion. “Your Master will be returning soon.”

Ruluec turned and jabbed the door controls.

“I’m sorry.” Kierad said as Ruluec left the room.

 

“Say nothing of my absence. I just needed to use a bathroom.” Ruluec said, walking back into the break room.

“Oh, I understand.” Ambassador Brimbor said.

Ruluec walked back over to her seat and resumed eating. She tried to focus on just her food, but she found it increasingly difficult. Her breathing was steady, but her mind was churning. Kierad was like her, but through the dark side she had changed her body. Not in the ways that her teachers had said that the dark side changed Force users. She had used it to change herself as she wished. It was possible.

The kiss. It seemed wrong now, Kierad was a dark side user. She had forced Ruluec to break the code, somehow. Could the Council somehow tell if she had broken the code if she took the trials? At the same time, in the moment it had felt so right. It was the first thing that had made sense to her in her life. That scared her.

She tried to clear her mind. She needed to clear her mind. Her lips. She was clearing her mind. A breath in the midst of passion. Feeling nothing. Hands holding the side of her face. Thinking of nothing. Kierad.

Ruluec dropped into the meditative state. It was different, so different, from anything she had felt before. It was warm, and she felt a comfortable pressure on her from all sides. Bright spots stood out from the darkness around her. One of them, far off, was iridescent, like oil. She focussed in on it, and heard voices.

“Is this actually a test, or just messing with him some more?” She heard herself say.

“It’s part of your training, I’ll explain when you get back.” Kierad said.

She surfaced from the vision, shaking.

“Ruluec? Are you alright?” Brimbor said.

“I… no, I’m…” She murmured, then she realised what had happened. That form of meditation, whatever it was, was no light side ability. She pulled the Force in herself down tight. “I’m fine, just off.”

“I do hope you feel better soon.” He said, pompously.

“I’ll be fine.” Ruluec said. She didn’t have time to ponder the vision before the door slid open again.

“She up and vanished.” Master Vildur said, walking into the room. “I was tailing her Force signature, and then it just changed places.”

“The Lady Kierad?” Ruluec asked cautiously.

“Who else on this wretched planet?” He said, sitting back down and starting to eat again. “I followed her new signature to the Hynestian break room.”

“But a Force signature can’t just change places, can it?” Ruluec said.

“Probably a dark side ability.” Vildur said. “I’ll have to research whether signature projection exists.”

“Yes, Master.” Ruluec said, trying not to act suspicious.

“Well.” Brimbor said, looking at the time display on his holo-tablet and standing up. “We should probably get back to negotiations.”

 

Ruluec did her best to ignore the Mirialan sitting across from her during the afternoon’s negotiations. Apparently, she had taken the hint and did not acknowledge Ruluec either, only talking to the men around the negotiations table.

“For pricing, we think a shipment of 200 square units of fur should cost ten million credits.” Accius said.

“That is extraordinarily high.” Vildur said.

“We have calculated this as the best price.” Accius said.

“By comparing meat and artificial meat substitutes we were able to calculate the difference between animal fur, and our own, animal-free fur.” Breece explained. “When people want substitute products, they are willing to pay more.”

“But a nearly 40% increase… that seems rather excessive.” Brimbor said.

“What the Ambassador may not be taking into account is the increased quality of the product.” Kierad said. “You’ll see tomorrow how much better Gherlian fur is than animal fur.”

“Well, until then, our position is six million.” Vildur said. Brimbor shot him a look.

“Please, Gherlian fur is harvested in square sheets, not irregular shapes like animal fur.” Kierad said. “This reduces wastage, so a good tailor could use at least 30% more of each piece.”

“Less wastage is a positive.” Brimbor said pointedly. “We’re willing to move to eight million.”

“Nine million.” Accius said, he quirked an eyebrow. “We could take this deal elsewhere.”

Brimbor glanced at Vildur, who minutely inclined his head.

“If we see tomorrow that the product is up to snuff, then nine million it is.” Brimbor said.

“Excellent choice, Ambassador.” Accius said, standing and reaching out a hand to shake the Mon Calamari’s.

“It’s been a pleasure doing business with you, Prince Accius.” Brimbor said, taking the hand. “I hope this deal is the start of an excellent business relationship between the Republic and Hynestia.”

“I’ll escort you personally down to the growing caves tomorrow morning.” Prince Breece said. “Once you see that our claims are correct, then we can sign over lunch and you can all be on your way by dinner.”

“And speaking of which…” Brimbor said.

 

Ruluec chose to take dinner in her private room that night.

Unfortunately, her time away from Kierad gave her time to think about her. She felt like she was being pulled apart. Her life at the Temple was all she had known. She knew they would never accept her needs. The Council would view it as a worldly attachment. They would probably forbid her from even attempting the knight trials if they knew. She needed to get rid of this pain, this discomfort with her form. Sooner rather than later.

Kierad understood. She had even found a way to change herself, but to do so she had used the dark side. Though she claimed to dislike the sith, she had still learned from them. The power of the dark side and the sith lead to suffering, every Jedi knew that. Yet, she had not heard reference to people such as her. Were there other things that the Council didn’t know? Or: were there other things the Council didn’t want people to know?

Her focus snapped up to the door a second before it opened and her Master entered.

“Master?” She asked. “What is it?”

“She’s going to try something, I know it.” Vildur said. “It makes no sense otherwise, why would she be here?”

“Perhaps Lady Kierad really is just here as a part of the negotiations team for King Hardan?” Ruluec suggested. “She did manage to convince Ambassador Brimbor to go up to nine million.”

“Brimbor’s a coward, he probably would have gone that far anyway.” Vildur said. “No, she’s here to sabotage the Council somehow.”

“How can you be sure, Master?” Ruluec asked.

“I sense that something is going to happen tomorrow, during the growing cave inspection.” He said. “Be ready, and perhaps we can stop her before she does too much damage.”

“Yes, Master.” Ruluec said, bowing her head. Then, on a whim from the Force, she asked a question. “Master, I was hoping you could give me your blessing to attempt the trials.”

“The trials?” Vildur said. “You’re not ready for them.”

“I think I’m ready, Master.” She said.

“I sense your assuredness.” Vildur said. “If you’re so sure, then do so; but don’t come scurrying back to me when you fail.”

“Master? What are you talking about?” Ruluec asked, facing him with her eyebrows raised in shock.

“I mean, you’d better be damn sure that you can pass the trials.” He said. “Otherwise you’ll find yourself Masterless.”

“Why, why are you doing this?”

Vildur huffed, as if Ruluec should know why, and left. Leaving her alone.

Ruluec collapsed on her bed, mind spinning. Why would he do something so horrible? Sure, he had never been the nicest teacher to her, but surely that was just his own quirks.

“He’d rather I be forced out of the Order than have to teach a Padawan who failed the trials.” She muttered bitterly. She felt something out of the corner of her focus. She redirected her feelings there. It was gone.

Ruluec sat up, whatever that was, it could not hide from her. She focussed, and attempted to fall into meditation. Quicker than she had for the past week, she fell into a meditative state. It was different. It was like the state she had been in earlier that day, in the break room. Warmth surrounded her, and the Force pressed in lightly on her. She reached out in the darkness, and her hand closed around something.

It was light and flowy, like fabric. It felt off, though. She tugged it, hard.

A crash came from next door.

Ruluec snapped out of meditation. Her Lightsaber flew to her hand as she ran for the door.

Her Master’s room opened before her in her mind, and she had barely a second to take it in before the door inside opened.

“See what I mean?” Vildur growled, Lightsaber in his hand too. He gestured to the wreckage.

The hook on the wall inside his door had been ripped off, bringing chunks of stone with it. The same hook where his cloak had hung several seconds ago. The cloak made of fabric.

“This stinks of the dark side.” He said. “Kierad did this.”

Ruluec couldn’t speak, thoughts racing through her head.

“I don’t know what she’s playing at though, there are far easier ways to kill a Jedi than with a faulty hook.” He said, playing at amusement. He sighed and de-activated his Lightsaber. “Go back to your room, I’ll tell an attendant about the damage in the morning.”

She did, she went right back to her room, and stayed there.

She had done that. Somehow, she had tapped into the dark side. That’s why that meditative state at lunch was so different. It was the dark side of the Force. It felt good. It felt like hope. It frightened her.

Her heart beat fast. Fear was rushing through her. She barely got any sleep at all.

 

Prince Breece opened the door to Ruluec’s room the following morning.

“Good morning, Master Jedi.” He said stiffly. There was something off about him, he had been quite good-natured during the negotiations.

“Good morning, Prince Breece.” She said. “Unfortunately, I have not attained the rank of Jedi Master, I am only a Padawan apprentice to Master Vildur.”

“Oh, I’m sorry.” He said. “I know it must have taken great difficulty and sacrifice to attain even the rank of Padawan, from what Lady Kierad tells me.”

“Thank you.” Ruluec said, following him from her room.

Breece stepped up to the room next to hers and knocked on the door.

“Master Vildur?” He called out. “I’m here escort you to inspect the growing caves.”

The door hissed open, to reveal Vildur pulling on his cloak.

“Very well, let’s go.” He said simply, and fell into step beside Breece. They collected Ambassador Brimbor and set off again. Breece began to lead them out of the palace.

“Prince Breece, what do you know of Kierad?” Vildur said.

“Just that she was raised at your Jedi Temple, and my father hired her for the negotiations.” He said. “Why do you ask?”

“I have reason to believe she may be a Sith Lord.” Vildur said.

“A Sith Lord?” Breece asked. “What is that?”

“A cult of dark side Force users.” Vildur said. “She used the dark side of the Force to damage my room last night.”

“Ridiculous.” Breece said. “Lady Kierad’s quarters are on the complete opposite end of the palace. She didn’t leave her quarters since negotiations concluded yesterday.”

“The dark side is the pathway to many unnatural abilities.” Vildur said. “Such as Force signature projection.”

“I have even less idea what that is, I’m afraid.” Breece said. “Although you might want to keep these baseless accusations quiet in the lady Kierad’s presence, she will be accompanying us today.”

Ruluec could feel how her Master bristled as Breece said that.

They arrived at a speeder station soon after exiting the palace. Kierad was already there, leaning against the side. She was flicking a ring of keys around in her hand. Ruluec couldn’t help but notice how her eyes flicked towards her. As if she was trying to figure her out.

“Ready to go?” Kierad asked Breece.

“She’s not driving.” Vildur said.

“Fine.” She said tossing the keys to Breece. He missed the catch, and the keys sailed past his hands. She managed to catch them, and handed them back to Breece as she entered the back door or the speeder.

“Thank you.” He said rather sheepishly. He started up the speeder and flew off into a carved-out highway tunnel.

“So, ‘Lady’ Kierad.” Vildur said, emphasising the title.

Ruluec felt a well concealed, but still present, spike in Kierad’s emotions. Ruluec was shocked, had he somehow figured out who she was as a youngling? If he knew about Kierad, what about her?

She felt Kierad glance back at her diagonally in the speeder, passing it off as looking back at Vildur. Then Ruluec realised, she was scared. She was scared that Ruluec had revealed her. She shook her head slightly. Hoping that Kierad would believe she hadn’t revealed her.

Both of their fears subsided when Vildur continued.

“Or is it Darth Kierad?” Vildur sneered.

“How ridiculous.” Kierad said, hiding the relief in her voice that Ruluec could sense in her.

“Master Jedi, I told you: These are baseless accusations.” Breece said.

“Then perhaps she could tell me why I part of my room was destroyed last night?” Vildur said. “And why the wreckage had the dark side all over it?”

“I honestly have no idea what you are talking about.” Kierad said.

“Master…” Ruluec said, trying to keep her voice meek. “It was hardly a wreckage; a hook came off the wall.”

“Shut up, boy.” Vildur said.

“If all the Jedi Council are like him, I’m grateful I was kicked out of the Temple when I was.” Kierad muttered in an audible whisper. Breece shifted nervously in his seat.

“Damned sith.” Vildur said, in another audible whisper.

“As I have said, I am no sith; nor am I a threat to you, Jedi.” Kierad said.

“Master Jedi. Please hold your tongue, unless you wish to compromise the negotiations.” Ambassador Brimbor snapped. “Please, show some of that Jedi temperance you are always talking about.”

Every other person in the speeder fell silent, shocked at the Mon Calamari’s tone and words.

 

There was an awkward few minutes where no one said anything, which thankfully concluded when the speeder pulled off the tunnel and parked next to a hovering cargo-speeder.

“This shipment here is about to head off to treatment.” Breece said. “We treat the fur with certain chemicals to increase its durability and longevity.”

Breece led them around the vessel and through a small facility. He informed them it was where various tools and safety gear were kept. They left through the back door, and to their right the stone tunnel went onwards, with a metal walkway in the centre so people didn’t tread on the fur. To the left was a store yard.

A large roll of what seemed like carpet was standing there.

“That’s it.” Breece said. He walked over to the roll and tipped it over, onto the ground. He pushed it, and allowed the Gherlian fur to roll, unveiling the raw fur. “Touch it if you like.”

Ruluec had seen Gherlian fur before, of course. There had been some in the Hynestian proposal, but seeing such a large roll was rather amusing.

“We go along the tunnels, cutting two-unit long cylinders.” Breece explained. “Then we cut a horizontal seam, and it just peals right off.”

“How extraordinary.” Brimbor said.

“Thank you, Ambassador.” Breece said, and rolled up the fur. He positioned it over to the side of the store yard and stood up. “There shouldn’t be much of a walk to the latest harvesting area, this way.”

Ruluec felt a prickle on the back of her neck. She reached out with the Force, but couldn’t seem to pinpoint the source of the trepidation.

They marched up onto the gangway in a single file. Breece, Kierad, Brimbor, Vildur, and then her at the rear of the group.

The fur growing on the walls was nowhere near as thick as the roll Breece has shown them earlier. The fibres were thick, however, and made it difficult to sense exactly where the stone walls were. As they went along the tunnel, the coverage grew shorter and shorter.

Then up ahead she sensed some others. The gangway widened with the cave into a circular platform of durasteel, and the group broke their single file. The fur here was nearly non-existent, but further up the tunnels Ruluec could sense very thick fur.

“This is our current harvest location for this tunnel.” Breece called back to the group. “The key to our fur is patience. We don’t harvest until the fur is ready. Spread out and have a look around, and when you’ve finished checking the growing, we’ll meet back here. Our harvesters should be able to answer any questions you have.”

Ruluec glanced at her Master, who was stony faced, and decided that she should probably have a look around on her own. She took a moment to adjust her eye-cloth, and began to walk down a path off the hub platform.

The fully-grown fur still on the walls made it impossible for her to sense the stone itself. She could tell the stone was there, the solid stone was easy to sense, but the surfaces seemed blurred. Really, it was indescribable to someone who was not a Force-sensitive Miralukan.

She felt someone behind her, and stiffened slightly.

“I’m sorry I doubted you, back in the speeder.” Kierad said from beside her. “I should have known you wouldn’t tell him about me.”

“It was a fair assumption in the moment.” Ruluec admitted. “We didn’t leave our last meeting on very good terms.”

“No, and I’m sorry about provoking your Master.”

“That was my fault.” Ruluec said.

“Why would his own fooled senses be your fault?” Kierad asked. Then she paused, realisation dawning. “Unless they weren’t fooled.”

“I’m not sure how. I was angry at myself, and that thing we did.” Ruluec said. “I’m not even sure how I did it.”

“I know.” Kierad said. “It can be scary, at first.”

“I’m sorry I accused you of messing with my mind.” Ruluec said.

“You had just found out that happiness was possible.” Kierad said. “Life outside the Order scares you, it still does for me.”

“You’ve got your… what did you call it?” Ruluec asked. “Your ‘sweet-talker’ skills?”

“You need them in the undercity of Coruscant as a kid.” Kierad said. “But they do help with stuff like this.”

“So, you really are just part of the negotiations team?” Ruluec asked.

“Yeah, I think I earned my two million credits, don’t you think?” Kierad smiled at her.

“You got my Master to cave to more than that, so I’d say so.” Ruluec said. Kierad laughed.

There was silence, for a while.

“How… How did you accomplish it?” Ruluec asked.

“Do you really want to know?” Kierad asked. “Because if you do, if you’re like me, then you’ll do it.”

“Yes. I think I have to.” Ruluec said. Goosebumps rose over her arms as she turned to face Kierad. “I don’t think I’ll be taking the Knight trials anyway.”

“Your Master’s doing?” Kierad asked. Ruluec nodded. Kierad breathed in. “The Nightsisters of Dathomir drive a hard bargain; and don’t you even think about double crossing them once they have some of your hair.”

“Get away from him!” Vildur’s voice sounded from along the gangway past Kierad.

“Master!” Ruluec turned to face him. “We were just talking about the negotiations!”

“Enough out of you, boy.” Vildur said, drawing his Lightsaber. “I’ve put up with this Sith’s machinations enough.” He charged and swung his Lightsaber.

Only to be blocked by two blades. One was Kierad’s, the other was hers.

Vildur looked up at her.

“You would go against the Jedi Order?” He said, sternly.

“If you are the best of it, then yes.” Ruluec said. “And another thing, do not call me ‘Boy’.”

“And you; you really are a sith, judging by your blade.” Vildur said, focussing on Kierad now.

“Of course not, how many times do I need to tell you?” Kierad said, and pushed back against the sabre. Vildur stepped back, rotating his stance. “But I will defend myself.”

He attacked.

There was only room for one of them on the catwalk to fight Vildur. Ruluec backed up, giving Kierad space to retreat. She needed it. Kierad retreated after her, parrying what she could. Ruluec knew Master Vildur’s technique, he was going all out. Ruluec could see the fight through the Force, and Kierad was losing, badly.

“Switch.” She yelled, and Kierad and her switched places on the walkway, allowing Ruluec to take over. She was never a match for her Master. That was certain. People were shouting, but Ruluec’s focus was on the fight.

Ruluec spotted an opening, and tried to go for it, to disarm Vildur. But it was a trick. Vildur’s blade flicked hers away and sliced through the crystal housing. The pieces fell off the gangway and thudded into the fur below them.

“Switch.” Kierad said behind her. Ruluec did so, and Kierad took over the fight again.

For every strike she managed to parry from the Master of form VII, or Vaapad, one slipped through. Kierad gained wounds swiftly, although what little training she had received managed to reduce it to mainly scratches.

Until Vildur caught her by the wrist. The severed hand and the blade fell onto the metal catwalk, the wound already cauterised.  Kierad seemed to shrink inwards from the pain.

Ruluec saw her Master take a finishing stance.

She dived towards Kierad and twisted her out of the way. Pain bloomed in her stomach as the blade sliced its way through her.

Then it was gone. The blade in her back vanished and she fell to the floor. Ruluec felt herself being turned over. Kierad shifted her until she was cradling Ruluec. She leaned over her, face full of fear.

“It hurts.” Ruluec said, now understanding why. The pain in her stomach was terrible. She glanced down and saw her Master’s body. Breece stood over him, Brimbor’s hidden stun blaster in his hand, and the Mon-Calamari close behind him.

“I know.” Kierad said. She leaned down and whispered to her. “Stay with me.”

“I will.” Ruluec responded. Then she blacked out.

 

Ruluec awoke.

The pain in her stomach was gone.

Slowly, she began to extend her feelings outward. She was in some sort of medical facility.

Something dark was nearby. She smiled.

“Told you I’d stay with you.” Ruluec said. “How long was I out?”

“Only a few hours.” Kierad said. “Just some bacta and you slept it off.”

“How’re you?” Ruluec asked, extending her focus to the woman’s arm, or lack thereof beyond the elbow.

“I’ll live.” She said. She paused before adding. “Thank you.”

“What for?” Ruluec said.

“For saving my life, obviously.” Kierad said. “You fought against your Master for me, I can’t imagine that was easy.”

“It… it was, actually.” Ruluec said she put a hand to her head and sat up.

“The Republic Cruiser is still here, waiting for you. Vildur is still unconscious. He’s to be delivered to the Temple to undergo a disciplinary trial.” Kierad said.

“You don’t seem nervous.” Ruluec said. “Aren’t you afraid the Council will try to hunt you down?”

“Oh, they might.” Kierad said. “But I’m hoping that the testimony of Brimbor and Breece will be enough to convince the Council that he… has been under a lot of stress lately.”

“Jazre Vildur isn’t exactly slow to hand out accusations, either.” Ruluec said. “You’re right.”

“I like being right.” Kierad smiled. “I’ll be leaving soon.”

“Kierad…” Ruluec turned her face downwards, took a breath, and then looked up. “Can I come with you?”

“Sure.” Kierad said, and placed her hand atop Ruluec’s on the covers. “But you know what that would mean.”

“It would mean leaving the Jedi Order.” Ruluec nodded. She let out a sigh. “Yeah. Weird thing is, it doesn’t bother me so much, now.”

“I can see how you came to that conclusion.”

“I don’t want to die in this body, with this face, and this name.” Ruluec said. “The Jedi wouldn’t want me to even acknowledge who I really am.”

“No, they wouldn’t.” Kierad said.

“And it would be irresponsible for me to let you wander off alone.” Ruluec said, smiling cheekily. “You haven’t been practising your Lightsaber form since you left your old Master, isn’t that right?”

“No, I haven’t been practicing much.” Kierad admitted with a chuckle.

“I may not be taking the trials, but I know enough to pass them.” Ruluec said. “How about an exchange, some light stuff for some dark stuff.”

“You don’t have to learn the dark side, if you don’t want to.” Kierad said.

“No, I want to. Who knows what else the Jedi Council has deemed unnecessary that could be useful?” Ruluec said. She felt the small flicker of dark fire in the middle of herself. “Yes, I’d like that.”

“We’d be both the apprentice, and the Master.” Kierad said.

“Yes.” Ruluec said. “So, do we have a deal?”

“Fine, you’ve twisted my arm.” Kierad said. Her eyes flicked to one side. “And I know the perfect first lesson.”

“I’m listening.” Ruluec said, as she twisted in the bed and stood up, stretching.

“Go steal your Master’s Lightsaber Crystal.” Kierad said. “It should be in that Republic cruiser in his quarters.”

“Why?” Ruluec asked. “Is this actually a test, or just messing with him some more?”

“It’s part of your training, I’ll explain when you get back.” Kierad said. Then Ruluec felt a flicker of inspiration in her. “If you can do it without alerting anyone… would you like another kiss?”

“As good as that sounds, I’ll need to tell someone, Brimbor probably, so that they actually take off without me.” Ruluec said.

“Fine, just him. Oh, and don’t kill your former Master, that would raise suspicion.” Kierad said. She waved as Ruluec walked past her and out of the medical ward.

“I’ll be back soon.” Ruluec waved back.

“I’ll be waiting.”

 

“Ambassador.” Ruluec said. The Mon-Calamari jumped.

“Ruluec, hello my boy; it’s good to see you’ve recovered.” Brimbor said.

“Yes, thank you.” She said, choosing to ignore the ‘boy’ comment. Stealth was important until the Republic was gone.

“A horrible occurrence, nearly jeopardised the negotiations.” Brimbor said. “I don’t know what came over your Master.”

“He’s been rather stressed; he didn’t really think this was a mission worthy of his talents.” Ruluec said. “I can see now that he invented an adversary to occupy himself.”

“Hmm, as I said, a horrible occurrence.” Brimbor concurred. He closed his holo-pad and stood up. “We’re ready to go.”

“About that…” Ruluec said. “I can’t go with you.”

“Why ever not?” Brimbor asked, eyebrows raised.

“It just doesn’t feel right to continue on the path of a Jedi.” She said. “When my Master has shown himself to be as such.”

“Ahh.” Brimbor said. He sighed. “Very well. If that is what you think is right.”

“Yes, I think so.”

“How will you get off-planet then?” Brimbor asked.

“King Hardan has kindly agreed to lend me a ship.” Ruluec lied. “I don’t imagine we shall see each other again.”

“Most likely not.” Brimbor said. “Well, good luck.”

“Thank you, Ambassador.” Ruluec said, bowing her head to him slightly. She paused. “And as much as this mission has shown me, I would like to see Master Vildur again, before you leave.”

“Of course.” Brimbor said. “We should be taking off soon, so I wouldn’t dawdle.”

“Goodbye.” She said, and left the room.

Ruluec followed the familiar path down to her Master’s room, where this had all started.

Vildur was there, unconscious on the bed; his Lightsaber lay on the table next to him.

“I suppose this is goodbye.” Ruluec said, stepping up beside him.

She held up a hand, and his Lightsaber floated towards her. Closing her hand around the grip, she couldn’t help but think how easy it would be to just…

No, Kierad was right, that would arouse suspicion. Ruluec would not let her feelings control her, as the Jedi described all those Force users who would not suppress themselves.

Ruluec kneeled down beside the bed, and focussed on the Lightsaber.

Lightsabers were tricky to construct. They required extremely articulate use of the Force to assemble in mid-air. The locking mechanism that held them together was inside, only accessible through the Force, and often extremely intricate.

Luckily, she was rather skilled in visualisation of things she couldn’t see. There was a click, and the innards of the blade slid out from the body. The innards split open, revealing the Kyber Crystal housing.

“The Crystal is the heart of the blade.” Ruluec said. The clear part of the casing slid open, and the crystal detached from it.

The crystal slowly descended to her hand, as the casing closed. The innards re-assembled and slid back into the body of the Saber. The Lightsaber drifted back to her Master’s side. Her old Master’s side, that is.

Ruluec stood, and without another word, left the ship.

Her training was only just beginning.

Her life was only just beginning; and she was sure this new chapter would be better than the last.

 

Feyis woke slowly. She felt her lover’s arm around her chest.

She reached her hands up and grasped the arm gently.

“Are you awake, my love?” Feyis asked.

“I am.” Kierad said.

“I had a wonderful dream.” Feyis said, clasping Kierad’s hand and bringing it above her heart.

“Really? What was it?” Kierad said.

“Of when we met.” Feyis said, and arched her back as she felt soft lips on her neck.

“Truly?” Kierad said. “You were so unsure of yourself back then, it was cute.”

“What do you think of me now?” Feyis said, unclasping their hands and moving her lover’s to a breast.

“I think you’re still cute.” Kierad said, grasping Feyis firmly. “And now that you’re yourself, you’re perfect.”

As Kierad’s ministrations intensified, Feyis let her focus drift. She finally settled on their Lightsabers. Both containing crystals, stolen from Jedi and bled with passion. According to Kierad, both emitted beautiful red blades.

One hilt was unadorned with decoration, the other etched with the diamond tattoos on Kierad’s face. They were reminded of each other every time they drew them to do battle.

Chapter Text

The Dark Side of the Force meant different things to different people. To Feyis it was hope, agency, and love. To her beloved Kierad, it was an escape, safety, and Feyis hoped it was also love to her too.

Kierad’s mysterious master, a Sith, had sought control of the Force for his own ends. From the Sith Holocrons Kierad had found, the Sith of the past had apparently thought the same. For them the Force was some sort of beast, an attack dog to be brought in line with a firm hand.

Ask any Jedi, like Feyis’ former master, and you would get a similar response to the next. The Dark Side was the root of all evil. Only a few months on from leaving the Order, and Feyis could barely believe she had once counted herself amongst them.

Of course, she wasn’t thinking that now. She wasn’t thinking much at all. The only thing she could think about was the pain, and how it was gone.

“There… She’s finished.” Mother Talzin crooned from beside the stone slab that Feyis was lying upon. “She’s weak, will be for a few hours.”

Feyis’ hand clumsily grabbed a hold of the robe that the Nightmother wore.

“Thank you.” She whispered. Talzin detached her hand and put it back on the slab next to her.

“It’s quite alright.” Talzin said, before leaving the ritual site, taking the encircled Nightsisters with her. Leaving only one other person near the stone.

Feyis felt Kierad approach her and kneel beside the slab. She placed a hand on the side of Feyis’ changed face and leaned over slightly, then stopped.

“If you’re waiting for me to open my eyes, that isn’t going to happen.” Feyis said. If her arms weren’t so tired, she would grab a hold of Kierad and pull her in for a kiss.

“You are truly a master of comedy, dear.” Kierad said, and closed the distance between them to allow their lips to brush against each other’s. “Let’s get you somewhere comfortable.”

“It’s fine…” Feyis sighed, drifting off of speech as Kierad easily lifted her.

“You’re a little lighter now, Dear.” Kierad said.

Although Feyis was low on energy, she didn’t need to sense her surroundings through the Force to tell that Kierad was taking her back to their ship, the Ardor. A gift from the royal family of Hynestia, the planet where the two of them had met.

Kierad carried her up the ramp and deposited her in the bed they shared. Feyis was fading from consciousness fast, and barely heard her beloved’s next words.

“Rest now, I’ll be here when you wake.”

 

Her sleep was over in what seemed like an instant. Feyis extended her senses outwards, surveying her new form. It was truly delightful. The pain that had plagued her for the past twenty years of existence was receding as she took more of her new form into her senses.

Kierad was there, just as she said she would be. She was sat in a chair by her bedside, scrolling through a holonet feed. Feyis watched her for a few moments, not letting on that she was awake, before brushing against her with the force.

“Hello there.” Feyis said, her voice was changed and alien.

Kierad put aside the screen and rushed to embrace her. Feyis met her lips sitting up, already getting used to her new body. She pulled Kierad closer, a sensual growl coming from her throat.

“You’re so eager.” Kierad said. “Are you sure you don’t need time to recover?”

“No, I want to do it now.” Feyis said. She held out a hand, a crystal flew from the other side of the cabin to rest in her palm. “I want to turn this crystal red.”

Clutched in their joined hands, they funnelled the force into the clear Kyber crystal. Their other hands stroked, lips met, and eyes rolled back as their passion catalysed the bleeding.

By the time they were done, the crystal had been red for hours.