Today was not Mical's day.
Everything that could have gone wrong had, to date, done so. He had overslept. He didn't have any clean clothes left. The vibration cell had fallen out of his vibrosword. The salvagers had beat him to the enclave. He wasn't late enough to avoid the rush a laigreks returning home from a night of hunting. He had worked late last night and was tired, dammit, and the sight of a mercenary falling off the end of Master Vrook's lightsaber was more than he was prepared to deal with, especially since it was probably a sign that all that time he'd spent sifting through the archives had done little more than driven him insane.
He blinked. He rubbed his eyes. Nope, Master Vrook was still there, looking at him with his normal expression of annoyance he knew so well from his Padawan days, although the mercenary was now in a crumpled heap on the floor.
"Master.. Vrook?" he asked.
The older man rubbed his head tiredly, then waggled his fingers in a very familiar manner. "You do not see me, for I am not here."
"Right," he said cheerfully, then pointed to the dead mercenary on the floor. Oh, wait. Mercenaries. Oh joy and happiness, there were a bunch of mercenaries clomping around the Enclave now, on top of the salvagers and those thrice cursed laigreks. This was not his day. This may not even be his week. "Shall I pretend they're aren't there as well?"
Vrook glowered. It wasn't nearly as intimidating as it had been back when he had been a four foot tall Padawan, but still impressive. "I am not here," he repeated, moving his fingers in a slightly more forceful motion.
"Of course not, you're right over there," he replied.
"I am not-"
"Master Vrook, contrary to popular belief, we both know that the third time is not the charm. Why don't you save your strength for that gash I see on your arm?"
Master Vrook's frown deepened, but he did heal his arm. Mical took that as a sign that age may have mellowed the old man some.
May. That might just have been his rapidly waning optimism's death throes.
"Well... I suppose I owe you my thanks," Vrook began awkwardly. Mical shot him a questioning look. "Although I doubt it was your intention, your arrival distracted that thug long enough for me to finish him off."
"You are welcome," Mical responded automatically. Vrook nodded and made to move past him to the door. Mical cut him off.
"I'm not carrying anything of value on me," the old Jedi said wearily.
"I'm not looking for credits. I just- I want-"
He'd been dreaming of the day when he would meet with one of the Lost Jedi Masters; he had so many questions he wanted to ask them, so much he wanted to say. Now that the moment had finally come, however, he found himself at a complete loss for words.
"Where have you been? What have you been up to?" he managed finally.
"You. The Lost Jedi- you can't all be gone. You must be doing... something," he finished lamely.
Vrook gave him a piercing look, and he felt a small prickle in his mind, something that had once been familiar and soothing, but was now alien and slightly uncomfortable.
"You know, in some circles it's considered impolite to touch someone's mind without their permission," he remarked conversationally.
Vrook snorted, "It's a good thing we're not part of those circles then."
He waited patiently for a moment, and when it became obvious that the older man was disinclined to continue, prompted him with "You are doing something about all this, right?"
"About all what?"
Mical almost gave him an incredulous look. Surely he wasn't serious? But, no, he was Master Vrook; he was nothing if not deadly, intensely serious. "Well, the galaxy is about to fall apart at the seams," he reminded him gently.
Vrook snorted. "Really? The entire galaxy?"
Mical frowned. Yes, he supposed that the only the Republic was really in trouble, and everywhere in the galaxy the separatist movements must be rejoicing, but the Republic, for all its flaws, had the greatest potential for galactic peace and unity, and had gone the farthest in providing the infrastructure for doing so. Surely that counted for something?
"Well, the Republic is in trouble," he amended. "Are you trying to repair that? Is that why you've come here?"
It was widely believed among those who still cared for the Jedi that if they were ever to reemerge from whatever places they were hiding, it would be done here, on Datooine. It was why he'd been so eager to accept this assignment when the Admiral had tasked him with recovering the information lost in the archives in the Enclave; he'd be the first to know if they returned.
"I have been on Datooine for some years now," Vrook admitted. "Trying to determine the nature of the threat we face."
Mical frowned. News of the destruction of Peragus had just reached Datooine, and whispers of the return of the Sith had followed almost immediately. Some said the Exile had destroyed the station; others asserted that another Dark Jedi, a Sith Lord who had escaped the carnage that followed the end of the Jedi Civil War was responsible. In either case, Telos, or perhaps even the remains of Peragus itself seemed a better place to go than here.
"You don't believe the Sith are coming here, surely," he asked. "This planet is already destroyed. There is almost nothing left."
Except what is contained in the Enclave, the symbol of the Jedi's power, and hope for their return. And even that is slowly but surely being stripped away, despite his best efforts. The archives remained relatively untouched until this morning, thankfully, but the training rooms, the meditation centers, the council chambers had all been pillaged beyond any hope of recovery, and the building itself is crumbling.
"There is enough. If they can defeat what remains of the Jedi here, it will be a victory over everything we stand for. And should they obtain even a fraction of the wisdom contained within these walls..."
Mical shuddered at the thought, then stopped, as one even more horrible occurred to him. There was knowledge Master Vrook considered dangerous here, information he wanted very desperately to keep out of enemy hands. The safest route of action would be to destroy the archives; but surely Master Vrook wouldn't partake in anything so drastic as...
"Master Vrook," he said slowly, tampering down on his panic. There is no emotion... "What were you doing in the archives this morning?"
"Ensuring the Jedi rest safely," he answered evasively.
Oh Force no. He wouldn't. After all that time he'd spent decrypting the archives, after all that time he'd spent painstakingly preserving every shred of Jedi wisdom he came across, Vrook simply couldn't come out of hiding for the sole purpose of undoing all of his work.
But one of the consoles behind him is powered up and working. The holocrons he'd enshrined on the center shelf- Master Gupta's discourse on attachments, Master Wenutu's seminar on lightsaber make and use, Master Sunrider's lecture on the darkside and redemption, Master Nemo's commentary on rank and accountability, Master Herod's musings on warfare and transitioning back to peace afterwards- are on the floor in pieces, their central crystals cleaved neatly in half. It is painfully, painfully obvious that he would.
Blood rushed through his ears, and pounded through his veins and for the first time in nearly two decades he felt the return of his all-consuming temper. The last time he had been so angry, his family had just been slaughtered; he had mistakenly attacked his rescuers. Thank the Force he now had years and years of self-discipline to fall back on, or he would have fallen off the edge and tried to gut the older man.
"Are you aware," he began, as calmly as he could possibly manage, keeping he breathing slow and deep. There is no emotion, there is peace. "What it is you have just undone?"
"So you're the one who's been working here," Vrook commented blandly.
"Yes," Mical replied, walking over to the computer console and hitting the abort option.
Task 62% complete. Do you really want to quit?
He hit the yes key. His anger receded, leaving numbness in its place. 62%...
Some of that was doubtlessly backed up on his datapads. Some of that was doubtlessly in the archives in the Temple on Corescant. Some of that he doubtlessly remembered from his childhood. Most of it was doubtlessly lost forever.
"Yes," he repeated. "I've been trying to preserve the Jedi, so that they do not die when we do."
Vrook huffed, shaking his head slightly. Mical felt his temper flare again, but beat it back ruthlessly. Now, more than ever, when they had just lost so much, it was important that he be a true Jedi.
Even if no one would ever know it but himself.
"It's better that this knowledge be lost forever than used by our enemies," Vrook consoled him.
"I am afraid I must respectfully disagree with you," Mical countered dispassionately. "And ask you to leave."
Vrook opened his mouth to reply, but was cut off as the door swung open, revealing several more mercenaries.
He woke up in a heap on the floor, a trickle of dried blood running from his hairline down his head. One of the mercenaries must have gotten in a lucky shot. He rose shakily to his feet, and concentrated, using his one meager skill in the Force- healing- to close the wound completely. More dead mercenaries littered the floor, but neither Master Vrook nor his body were in sight. He should feel worried; it's obvious that not all the mercenaries are dead, and Master Vrook would have at least healed his wounds before leaving, so that meant he'd been captured.
He can't really bring himself to care. Not when there's only 38% of the archives left, and the broken remains of the few holocrons he'd managed to save from the salvagers.
Mical studies the remains on the floor. He probably shouldn't feel so bereft, but those holocrons had been the best hope for resuscitating the Order he had found. They had been his comfort when he'd begun to doubt whether he was making a difference.
Master Gupta was a female Togrutan master who live nearly a millennia ago, at the time of the Great Hyperspace War. The hologram itself was grainy, and her dialect of Basic was sometimes difficult to understand, but there was such truth in her words. Her's had been the first holocron he'd found, tucked away in a secret compartment that had fallen partially open during the bombardment; she had sparked a deep hope that he would one day find enough of holocrons that even if the Lost Jedi never returned, the Order could still rise again. However, he could see why the Masters had, in later years, decided to cloister her wisdom away. She was very open in her endorsement of love and attachments to fellow Jedi, going so far to suggest that such bonds could prevent the fall of a Jedi, or bring one back from the darkside. She herself had married, and had children, and grandchildren, and great-grandchildren, all of whom followed her along the path of the Jedi, and all but one of which remained wholly on the light. She had been very old when she made this holocron, and had often told him stories involving her family, and once told him the he reminded her of her oldest grandchild.
Master Wenutu's was more recent; he had been surprised when, after repairing the thankfully superficial damage the holocron had suffered, he activated it and was able to recognize her as one of the Masters who had left the Order with Revan. Her holocron was more real, as well; it had so much personality, and, perhaps more than that, curiosity about the time she was activated in. It had gotten to the point where she had refused, point blank, to tell him anything until he stammered out an abbreviated version of the Mandalorian Wars and the Jedi Civil War. The holocron had appeared to pale beneath her Kiffar tattoos at the news, and then announced that her programming included a doomsday scenario similar enough to what he had told her that it had been triggered.
"From now on, there aren't any restricts to the questions I can answer for you," she had said, still looking shaken. From then on, their discussions had been highly detailed and nuanced, and covered not only forms of lightsaber construction and combat (of which there were endlessly more than he would have supposed) but methods for using the Force. He had been surprised to learn that she had struggled just as much with connecting with the Force as he had, and was able to offer some tips, should he ever decide to open himself up to the Force again.
Master Sunrider had reminded him of Bastila Shan; frankly, he had mixed feeling about that at first, but along with her self-important, slightly spoiled, character, she had a sense of humor and rebellion that his peer had lacked for most of the time he'd known her. Her stories were interesting and showed the kinder side of the villains (and the nastier side of the heros) than was represented in the history texts. It was very obvious that she had been even younger than he was during the majority of the events; she made frequent references to noises and smells that made him suspect that she had been ordered to keep her eyes shut. Her hair had hung down her back in a long, thick braid, and she had a habit if flinging it over her shoulder whenever she spoke about either Ulic Qel-Droma or her mother, sometimes so violently he had ducked instinctively as it came flying towards his head. She had been not much older than he when the holocron had been recorded, and it showed in her temperament and explanations; strangely, though, this was comforting. It helped that one of the greater Jedi Masters had once been even more awkward and unsure as himself.
Master Nemo was another familiar face, having taught at the Enclave on Datooine during his years as a Padawan, and been the Master of the Exile. His holocron was more a comedic monologue than anything else, full of stories, anecdotes and allegories, that reminded him fondly of Jolee Bindo's reports. They had been old friends, along with Vrook, Zhar, and a few others who had grown into distinguished Masters and legends, and the holocron told him many long, rambling tales about their adventuring days leading up the Exar Kuun Wars- and a few shorter, sad ones from during and after. His idea that rank was a burden, and something not to aspire to, but be resigned to, was an intriguing one, and the holocron's interactive features were such that he could debate this theory with the program for as long as he could afford to do so.
Master Herod's was the oldest holocron he had found by far, predating the Great Hyperspace Wars, and possibly the Sith themselves. His talk had made repeated references to an ancient war against an enemy who had lost themselves in the 'evil ways', and talked about how to not lose oneself to the same entity, or, failing that, escape from its clutches. He was a Selkath, and although Mical could understand that language, the archaic dialect made his words frustrating to follow. His translation may have been off. He hadn't despaired, though; there were plenty of people whose language skills were better than his own, and he'd understood enough of the language to know that the holocron contain information of great historical significance for not only the Jedi, but the Republic as well.
Now, it didn't matter. None of it mattered: the holocrons were dead, and all of the plans he'd made, the secret dream of rebuilding the Order on the wisdom those Masters had left behind, so that it was less isolated, less aloof, less ineffective... they were likely dead too.
The sounds of movement brought him back to the present; some one- no, three some ones, and at least one of them with blasters was moving outside the door, battling their way through the laigreks. He also heard the unmistakable whoosh of Force Whirlwind- there was a Jedi among them, probably Master Vrook, escaped from the mercenaries and wanting to finish what he started.
He turned around to face the door, and, just as it swooshed open, gave a sardonic bow.
"Thanks for the polite bow," said a feminine voice- not Master Vrook then. "You must be a gentleman."
He looked up, and nearly doubled over again in shock. Yes, it definitely wasn't Master Vrook. Actually, she had once represented what was good and noble about the Jedi, to his mind, while the elderly Master had always symbolized what was overly cautious and stolid. It was the Exile, his once future Master, returned at last.
This was really not his day.
A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away- or so seemed to Mical- he had been curious Padawan bent on becoming a Jedi of the caliber of Revan, Kavar, Jolee, or even Nomi, and she had been a rebellious young woman, newly knighted and still spending much of her time hanging around the Enclave, waiting for the Council to assign her missions more exciting than trying to 'patch up the rift between the Sandrals and the Matales'- slang for cataloguing the archives, a near impossible task. She had often offered to teach lessons for the older Masters and Vrook, much to his ire, was no exception to this tendency.
She had taught them to listen to the Force, explained it with such clarity- such poetry- that, for the first time in his short apprenticeship, he had been able to open himself to the Force with no problem at all. And he'd known, beyond any shadow of a doubt, that she was to be his Master. He couldn't become a Padawan yet- for one thing, she needed at least a year's worth of Knighthood before she could take anyone on as a learner, and he had yet to complete the prerequisites. But from that day on, they had met many times in the context of a Master-Padawan relationship; she had given him datapads to read, whetted his interest in the Force, and helped him work through the lingering anger the still shrouded him in the wake of his family's death. He had worshiped her, often waiting for her to return from missions at the space-ports, and helping her with her work in the archives.
It was supposed to be the start of something wonderful, something long-lasting and happy; it was not, however, to be.
The Mandalorians had invaded the Republic. Revan's campaign to join the battle was, perhaps, the least successful one she had ever mounted- her objectives were never attained in full, and the results tore apart the Order she had once been the crown jewel of- peers who had known each other since they were youngling denounced one another, Masters abandoned their Padawans, Padawans fled from their Masters in the dead of night, and Knights refused to listen to the wisdom of the Council and left the Order in droves. Looking back, it is very easy to see how it developed into the Jedi Civil War. Although his age had spared him most of the gory details of the Madalorian Wars, he could very clearly recall the feelings of bitterness and animosity that had permeated what had previously been a serene and safe environment.
He had been among those left behind, and as the Council began to censor their pupils more and more, he had found himself cut off from the Jedi. He supposed in some ways it was a mercy- he had been spared the bombing of Datooine, and the subsequent slaughter of all surviving Jedi, and had been given the opportunity to study at one of the finest medical academies on Corescant and become a part of Admiral Onasi's intelligence gathering syndicate. He had been so sure that this had all been because the Force had needed someone in his position- someone who had been raised by the Jedi and had since then walked the path of an ordinary person, someone who could help the Order be rebuilt upon its most solid foundations.
Chaos, yet Order. His preference for the older version of the Code might be unpopular, but he held that belief to be true. The Jedi were there for the protection and structure when the galaxy fell to pieces, as it was wont to do every half-century or so. Not to flinch away for fear of falling- not to fear falling so much that they would allow the whole of the galaxy to do it in their stead.
Today, he was not sure of anything anymore. Except that it had been an exceptionally bad day- and sadly, it appeared to have just begun.