The corridor was filled with younglings trooping out of the meditation room in single file. Ready to burst from the effort of keeping still and silent for half an hour, their exuberant chatter ricocheted off the stone walls, magnifying each high, childish voice. The tumult was punctuated by the occasional stern admonishment by Master Vrook. Chastened, the younglings would quiet for a moment, only for their chatter to slowly build in intensity until it again reached a fever pitch.
Bastila stood in the shadow of a nearby doorway, unnoticed by the group. She bit her lips to hide a smile. For all of his dour prickliness, Master Vrook could never seem to repress the youngling's buoyant energy without resorting to threats.
A boy, about seven standard years old, lagged behind, his fine, straight blond hair falling in his eyes. Bastila could feel the Force in him, nascent but strong. He's up to something, Bastila thought. He paused for a moment, as if deciding something. Then, in a flash, he caught up with the group and yanked the hair of one of the little girls. The girl stopped short, and he grinned at her broadly. The rest of the class turned the corner, and the pair was alone in the corridor.
"Ow!" cried the little girl, who Bastila now recognized as Mina, who was about the boy's age. She was a beautiful child, her features refined and symmetrical, her hair a glorious riot of caramel-colored curls. Her porcelain skin was almost translucent, with dark brown eyes framed by thick lashes. Those eyes now flashed in anger. "Quit it, Caleb!" Mina rubbed the sore spot on her head. "I'll tell Master Vrook, and you'll be sorry."
The boy's face flushed, his smile disappearing. "Tattletale," he said, and Force pushed her to the floor. Mina landed on her behind, the wind knocked out of her. She stared up at Caleb, fear and shock darkening her eyes as she struggled to catch her breath.
Caleb stood, frozen, his eyes filled with horror, the color drained from his face. Suddenly, Mina let out a blood-piercing howl and Caleb cringed. Bastila stepped from the doorway.
"That was a frivolous use of the Force, young man," she said sternly. Surprised at her sudden appearance, Caleb looked up at her with wide, fearful eyes. "Knight Shan, I – I –"
"Just a minute," she said, motioning him to stay put. She knelt beside the crying Mina and gathered the girl in her arms. "Shhh," she said softly, wiping the girl's tears away with the sleeve of robe. "You're okay," she comforted, using the Force to heal the slight bruising on Mina's backside. The girl clung to her, sobbing as if her heart were broken. A mixture of emotions stirred inside Bastila. She had a sudden, bittersweet longing for a little girl of her own, one with hazel eyes and a stubborn spirit. A daughter with a smile like Revan's. The girl's arms tightened around her neck, and she sighed and pushed those thoughts away, chiding herself for her foolishness. There was plenty of time for daydreams, she told herself, but right now there were more pressing issues.
Bastila looked up to see Caleb, still standing in the hallway, shuffling his feet. Remorse rolled off him in waves. Force powers or no, she thought with a tinge of frustration and anger, they're still children in the end, and sometimes they need more than a creaky old Jedi master to look after them.
A memory, sharp and sudden, revealed itself. Bastila was six years old again, running through the temple garden, chasing – being chased? She'd been with the Jedi a few months, and the awful homesickness that stalked her days had just started to subside. For the first time in her life, Bastila was in one place long enough to make friends her own age, and she was happy.
She and her new friends were running, eager to take advantage of a few stolen moments to play. Adele, with her long blond hair and greenish-gray eyes, ran a few steps ahead. Forna, a light salmon-colored Twi'lek, brought up their rear. Grinning, Bastila turned her head to see where Orek was –
And that's when she tripped over her own feet.
Suddenly, the ground rose up to meet her, and she slid along the gravel path, scraping knees and elbows in the process. Small specks of blood appeared as if by magic on her skin. Tears filled her eyes, but there were no soothing words of comfort, no concerned questions from her father. Her mother was not there with her trusty wet towel to wipe the blood away.
The crushing loneliness she thought had gone sprang on her full force. More than anything, she wanted to see her father's face and to feel her mother's cool hand caressing her cheek. Why am I here, she thought. What did I do that was so bad? Her face crumpled, and a high, piercing cry escaped her lips.
"I want my mommy!" she wailed, curling into a ball, willing all of this to be a bad dream. She heard the approaching footsteps of Master Corigale, a middle-aged red Twi'lek, who to the children's eyes was positively ancient. He knelt beside her, feeling for injuries. Satisfied that her hurts were only minor, he rocked back on his heels and helped her sit up.
"I want my mother," she sniffed.
The Jedi master looked at her with hard eyes that weren't unkind. "Your mother is not here, child. She is far away."
"But I want her!" young Bastila insisted, crying even harder.
Master Corigale took her by the shoulders, pulling her up until she was standing. "Young Bastila," he said, "there comes a time when all of us must learn to stand on our own. Your mother recognized this, which is why she sent you to us."
No. Bastila shook her head. That can't be true. Even mother wouldn't send me here to be by myself. But you are here, something in her mind whispered. And she sent you.
"Then I hate her, and I hate you and I want to go home!"
Master Corigale's eyes were steely, and his grip tightened on her shoulders until she almost cried out in pain. Out of the corner of her eye, Bastila could see Adele and Forna standing together, holding hands, with identical expressions of horror on their faces. Bastila knew her outburst was wrong but she didn't care. She didn't want to be there anymore. Even if her mother didn't want her, she still wanted to go home. If I can go home, she thought, I can be good. I can make her love me.
She was dimly aware that her feet were moving as Master Corigale marched her along the path toward the temple. She looked up at the grim and determined set of his face and wondered if he would send her home. Yes, that's it, she thought. I've been so bad they're never going to keep me. Her heart lifted in hope, only to fall with a resounding thud when he led her into the meditation room. He sat her down in the middle of the hard, cold floor, and took a place in front of her.
"Here we sit, young Bastila," he said. "And here we will stay, until you learn to control that temper of yours."
She shook her head mulishly.
"Then we shall have a long day, and an even longer night," he replied mildly. "Now, repeat after me: 'There is no emotion, there is peace . . . ."
We were in there three days until I broke, repeating that damn Jedi code, Bastila thought. That was when I started to hate my mother. Bastila repressed a shudder and rocked the crying girl in her arms.
Soon the girl's crying subsided. Bastila removed the girl's arms from around her neck and smoothed her tousled hair. Mina wiped away her tears and gave Bastila a grateful smile.
"Are you all right?" Bastila asked. The girl nodded, casting a reproachful glance at the shamefaced Caleb. "Good. Then run and catch up with Master Vrook and tell him I'm having a word with young Caleb."
Mina took a few steps down the hall, and then hung back. She cast an uncertain glance back at Caleb, and then to Bastila, remembering the tales she'd heard about this fallen knight. Bastila smiled at her encouragingly. "Go on, don't worry," she said. "Caleb and I are just going to talk."
The girl nodded again and took off around the corner. Bastila stood, pausing briefly to pick up a datapad that lay discarded on the floor. Distracted, she placed it in the pocket of her robe and turned to her other young charge. She schooled her features into a proper mask of calm and held out her hand. "Come with me, young man."
Reluctantly, Caleb placed his small hand in hers and followed her to the meditation room. The door slid open and he automatically headed toward the open area in the center of the room, but she stopped him.
"This way," she said, gesturing toward a bench in the corner. He followed her, head hung low.
Bastila took a seat on the bench and patted a place next to her. "Sit," she said. The boy complied, and she felt him instinctively searching her mind. She let him see that she wasn't angry, just concerned. She felt him relax just a little.
"What happened back there, Caleb?"
He shook his head, and looked at her miserably. "I – I don't know," he stuttered. He paused, and tried to catch his breath. "I just wanted to touch her hair," he said. "It's so pretty and – " his breath caught in a hitching sob. "I didn't mean to hurt her! I didn't! I got so mad, and it just happened," he wailed.
Bastila put an arm around the crying child, who responded by burying his head in her lap. She stroked his hair and let him cry, wondering if this is what his mother would have done. He's so open, so innocent, she thought, feeling the clear blue of his aura enveloping her. I must tread carefully with him.
Caleb sat up and began to speak, his words coming out in hiccupping gasps. "You – understand – don't – you?" His blue eyes were pleading.
Bastila slid off the bench and kneeled on the floor, so that she could be on his eye level. "Yes," she said softly, smoothing his damp hair away from his eyes.
"Am I going to fall to the Dark Side now?" he asked gravely.
Bastila had to close her eyes for the moment and tried hard not to laugh. "No, young Caleb, this doesn't mean you're doomed to fall," she said.
"But, Master Vrook said – "
"Yes, I know what Master Vrook said. But he's wrong."
Caleb's mouth fell open. Bastila smiled.
"Okay, he's half wrong." She watched him wrinkle his brow as he considered this. "Caleb, there's no way to close off your emotions and still be who you are. If you stop feeling anger and hate and passion, you also stop feeling happiness and love."
"Yes. Now try to imagine what kind of world it would be without love and laughter."
Caleb sat for a moment, lost in thought. He shook his head. "I can't."
"That's right," Bastila sat for a moment, coming to her own realizations. "That's right," she repeated.
"What?" Caleb's mind was reaching out for hers again. She gently shut him off from the complicated thoughts that were swirling in her head. She took a deep breath and prayed that what she was about to say would make sense.
"How did you feel when you realized you had hurt Mina?" she asked.
Caleb recoiled, his face twisting in a guilty grimace. "I felt awful," he said.
"Would you ever want to knowingly hurt Mina again?"
"No!" Caleb shook his head forcefully.
"Okay, have you ever done something nice for her?"
He thought for a moment, his finger tapping his chin. "Once, I gave her a flower I picked," he said, brightening at the memory. "She smiled at me."
"How did that feel?"
"It felt good," he grinned.
"Caleb, the Force is a gift, and what we do with that gift has the power to help or hurt people," she said, her expression grave. "Our emotions are also a gift, a gift that can influence our use of the Force." He looked at her, perplexed. Bastila tried a different approach. "Remember when you got mad and used the Force to hurt Mina?"
"Yes," the boy's face fell.
"You didn't think about what you were doing, did you? You just felt and then acted, right?"
"It's the acting without thinking that will lead you down the path of the Dark Side," Bastila said. "You will always have your emotions – to cut yourself off completely from them would be like cutting yourself off from the Force." She took Caleb's hands in hers. "What you must do is accept your emotions and control them, and not let them control you. Every time you feel strongly to act, you must examine your heart and ask why. Is it because it is the right thing to do, or are you hurting someone because you are hurt? Do you understand?"
"Some of it," he said.
"I know, it's a lot to take in," Bastila said ruefully. "I don't understand it all myself. But I see your heart, Caleb, and it's a good one. As long as you can remember how it feels when you hurt someone, I think you will be fine for now."
"You really think so?"
Bastila smiled. "Yes. Now, I want you to do three things for me."
"One, go find Mina and apologize. Two, seek out Master Jolee and tell him what I told you and then ask him to tell you a story. And three, go to Master Vrook and tell him you want to sweep out the council chamber every day this week."
"Aw – " Caleb made a sound of protest.
Bastila gave him a warning look. "Or would you rather I tell Master Vrook what happened?"
Caleb swallowed. "Oh, no, I'll sweep instead."
"As I thought," she said. "Keep in mind how good it feels to help someone. Now shoo!"
After Caleb left, Bastila sat in the meditation room and sighed, exhausted. How had she ever been arrogant enough to think she could be a Jedi master? she asked herself. Such brave and wise words she had spoken. If she could only put them into practice for herself.
She closed her eyes and tried to clear her mind. Jedi are the guardians of peace in the galaxy, she chanted.
Jedi use their powers to defend and protect, never to attack others.
She felt her breathing slow, become deep and even.
Jedi respect all life, in any form.
The furrow between her brows smoothed, and her body began to relax.
Jedi serve others rather than ruling over them, for the good of the galaxy.
The darkness of her mind began to lighten, as slow, gradual shafts of sunlight came into view, until her vision was filled with white-hot brightness.
Jedi seek to improve themselves through knowledge and training.
The sunlight gave way to a riot of color and silence was replaced by noise – heady, cacophonous noise. Drawing on the Force, she saw the images sharpen until she was standing in the middle of a sprawling, bustling marketplace.
Sentients of all stripes mingled among the wares for sale, some stopping to haggle while others looked wistfully at the expensive merchandise. Out of the corner of her eye, Bastila saw a little girl, about Mina's age, standing in front of a jeweler's stall. The little girl stood on tiptoe to get a better look at the wares in the merchant's case, her long brown hair spilling down her back in thick waves.
Bastila smiled at the image and a sweet, cloying scent invaded her nostrils.
What is that? she asked herself. It's so familiar, but I haven't smelled it in years. She racked her brain, trying to identify the smell, which on the surface was warm and comforting, but there was a current of menace underneath.
A random thought – but not her own – broke through. Must find something for the Hutt or he'll have my hide, must find something – ah, that's a pretty one –
A shadow fell over the little girl, and suddenly the vision began rapidly recede.
No! Bastila thought, but the girl and the marketplace and the shadow were already gone.
Bastila left the meditation chamber deep in thought, ruminating over the images she had seen. The Force is leading me somewhere, she thought. I wonder if this has something to do with why I was sent to Jedi. . . .
A faint, familiar odor filled her nostrils. She took a deep breath, her feet following the path of the scent. Where have I smelled that before? she thought, and her feet picked up their pace when she realized it was the same scent from the vision. She turned a corner and narrowly missed bowling over a padawan. "Sorry," she murmured, trying to slow down, but impatience got the better of her, and she started to run as the scent got stronger.
How strange, she thought, to have not smelled whatever this is for years and then to suddenly smell it in a vision, and now in the temple. The scent grew in its intensity until she found herself surrounded by the heady fragrance.
That's when she almost ran over a familiar blue Twi'lek, hunched over an unwrapped paper package. She stopped short.
"Hello," said Bastila stupidly.
"Bastila, hi," said Mission, surprised to see the Jedi. "Look what Dustil sent!" She waved the package under Bastila's nose, and the scent was so overpowering to her fevered mind that she though she might faint. It was –
"Telosian honeycake?" Mission offered her a piece of the oozing, golden sweet.
"It's my favorite," said Bastila, with an odd crack in her voice.
"Bastila!" Mission cried, alarmed at the tears streaming down the Jedi's face. "Why are you crying?"
"I don't know," she said simply.