It had been murky outside, with fog flowing slowly through the streets of Coruscant. Inside, the lights were artificially bright, while in the Force everything was darker, murkier, than it had been. Perhaps misfortune gravitated toward the small population of beings inside the cantina.
Darth Ruen walked through the crowds with her eyes lowered under her uncontrolled blonde hair. There was no impression to be made here. She wanted solitude. She wanted no one to know her, so that she could be alone with her confusion and anger and knife-sharp critiques of life without the Force. Later, perhaps, underestimation could be used to fuel her laughter, if one of the loud, pushy patrons here decided to speak to her.
With rage and frustration in her posture she sat down at a rickety table. Bluish smoke drifted through this room as an attempt at atmosphere. In front of Ruen there was a low stage and a single musician, a female human who was not dancing but rather playing the violin.
She tapped her fingernails on the table. Repressed emotion glinted in her eyes, in the ugly shade between hazel and orange. There was a computer set into the table with which she could place her order if she wanted to, but she had not come for drinks or the food she had no credits for. She had come to be lonely in a crowd.
The lively violin melody ended and segued into slow, abiding notes, a mournful sound entirely inappropriate to the setting. The feeling of the Force in the room slowly dwindled, as did Ruen's emotions, down to quiet and soft pain, to hopelessness. Ruen felt her head sink. Hidden by the hair fallen to either side of her face she grimaced, showing her teeth—
The Force, the emotion, and the emotion-generating music were linked.
Ruen's head came up quickly, but she resisted fixing her gaze on the musician or scanning the other patrons because that would be too much intensity, too much disturbance in the mien of the place. She did not want to cause a scene until she really wanted too—instead she smoothly stood and moved to a table closer to the musician's stand.
The people around her were feeling the effects of something like a drug. They bent together or cradled their drinks in their hands. They sighed. Ruen looked into the eyes of the violinist. The girl was staring out over the heads of the crowd, intently studying something that no one else could see.
Out of the back of the stage behind her emerged a being whose strange black fur seemed to extend the shadows around it; its high, pointed ears and narrow, yellow eyes increased its resemblance to a clever demon-animal. Ruen recognized it as in fact a Defel, probably a co-owner of the cantina who meant to keep the violinist in the right musical genre for the setting. He did not mean to be creepy, but he distinctly was as he loomed over the musician and placed a furry hand on her shoulder.
"Asha," he said. Ruen could not be sure from his tone whether the word was the violinist's name or a Defelian curse. The girl, shaken suddenly from her trance, shrank away from his hand, an expression of fear written over her face.
"Play something good," the barkeep growled. The girl blinked as if clearing her head, but her hands gravitated to the strings and continued the melody she had been playing. She played like Ruen fought—with the Force a step ahead of her every moment, feeling out the possibilities, playing on her emotions. Those emotions, of a shocked kind of calm, extended to the listeners whether they were psychically receptive or not.
Ruen bet that the Jedi had disowned or did not know about a power as unusual and uncontrolled as this.
Before the Defel could make an angry movement, Ruen quietly spoke up from just in front of the stage. She locked eyes with the barkeep. "It looks like she's had too much. Let me talk to her for a moment. No matter that you're paying for music."
"No matter," repeated the Defel.
It was never easy to mindtrick an alien, but the woman and the girl departed the stage for a distant corner, the violin still comfortably held in the girl's hands.
It was easier to make out her features now. The girl had dark skin and even darker hair and eyes. Her face shape was round, but she was far too skinny to appear homely because of it. And she was far too young to have been in the bar for anything other than music, maybe fifteen or so.
"Are you aware of what you're doing out there?" Though she wasn't much taller than the girl, Ruen stared down at her, trying to appear intimidating enough to get an honest answer.
The girl answered meekly. "Not really. I just play. It's easier."
Ruen snorted. "I'm sure. But do you know what you're doing?"
All this earned her was a confused expression. She began to wonder if the girl were slow.
"Are you aware," she said, more slowly this time, "of how much you're influencing those people?"
"Oh, that." Ruen rolled her eyes. "Yeah. Sometimes I can make them give me more money."
"How wonderful." Ruen cast a glance over her shoulder to make sure no one was listening. "Can you make them do anything else?"
Ruen leaned forward. She glared slightly from the intensity of her thoughts. If this girl were untapped and Force-sensitive, her plans had just taken a giant leap forward. If this girl were frightened of power, she was not worth it. "Can you try now?"
"I guess." She seemed hesitant. "What do you want me to do?"
Ruen sat back and folded her arms. "Play something…with emotion in it. Play something sad." Like she was before. I wonder why.
"Okay." She started to set the violin into playing position, and then seemed to change her mind halfway through her action. Instead, she laid it down gently on the table, and pulled a double-flute from a pocket of her oversized shirt. She glanced once more at Ruen, as though asking for permission to continue, before putting her lips against the instrument and beginning. The first note was low and haunting; she lifted a finger, then another, in patterns that created eerie half-tones and dissonance. All through the song, her eyes never left Ruen's.
It took Ruen a moment to do what she had originally intended. For a moment she was transfixed, remembering the sadnesses of her short, turbulent life, images parading through her mind. The Jedi Council chamber, so sparse and perfect compared to lava-colored Sith eyes, so tired and dull. A tear almost tracked down her cheeks, but she was not used to this— more emotion than music alone could explain. She summoned the Force in anger and chased it up the notes to the girl's mind, feeling as she had been taught the echoes bouncing back. The girl was Force-sensitive, but in a way Ruen had never felt before. Her talent linked to the music, did not stray out of its arena, transitioned back to it so that Ruen was almost taken by emotion again. She could tell, this time, that it was not hers.
As her eyes widened, shaded, Ruen pushed the music into the part of the girl's mind that in normal Jedi registered the Force. Her eyes widened as she seemed to understand. Ruen found it slightly strange, watching the expression change so dramatically while the lower part of her face remained perfectly set around the instrument.
Then, finally, the last note faded away. The girl shut her eyes and took a few deep breaths before meeting Ruen's gaze again. "Oh," she murmured after a moment.
Ruen, not yet used to one-word answers containing so much, took a silent moment for herself to decide what to say next. She had never had to recruit, and always imagined it as a bit melodramatic. Join me, on the dark side…who speaks like that?
"You can manipulate people with this power. Has anyone ever taught you about the Force? It's the energy that sets you and I apart from the rest of this rabble." Yet I'm the one camping out in an abandoned apartment. "Where are you living now? I have a place where we could go, stay safe, both study the Force." She felt that she was babbling a bit now to make up for the monosyllabic girl. It had been a while since she had hated people looking at her as they waited for a crack in the mask of confidence. The musician's eyes unnerved her a little.
The girl stared long and hard. Then: "Asha."
"My name is Asha. If you're going to teach me, shouldn't you at least know my name?"
"Yes. I was going to ask you, actually." She refrained from saying but thought that the mystic Force was more important. She got some more silence, then thought of saying, "My name is…Ruen."
"What a strange name."
Ruen was beginning to doubt her decision. Could she possibly connect with this girl—with Asha? She did, however, have a reply she thought suitably witty. "I've known stranger." She tried to keep her thoughts in control, thought surely her eyes deepened, perhaps softened as they lost focus. Through her, the Force lifted the flute from Asha's hands. With just enough pressure to keep it aloft and secure, Ruen spun the instrument in the air In front of the girl's face. "I've also known power, skills that you could have."
Asha watched the floating instrument. "When do we start?"
"Right now." The flute fell suddenly, and Asha reached a hand out reflexively to catch it. "Come on, we're leaving." And with a probably-too-dramatic swish of her cloak, Ruen swept out of the cantina, casting only one glance over her shoulder to see if her young apprentice was following.