The Ashes of Katarr
The mountains still loom over this empty world, but now they are simply monuments at the edge of a tomb. I walk in the shadow of Katarran-Mirad, the highest peak on Katarr and a place of much ritual significance to the Miraluka. I walk in other shadows too. The long shadow of time lies upon my back and the cold one of death stretches fingers out before me, beckoning. There are but a few more steps to take in this barren valley scarred with the destruction of my kindred. Oh, my people, I kneel down to meet you. Oh, my people, rise up to meet me. It is a joy to be home after these many years of seeking.
They say the days of my youth have become a source of stories among the padawans. It is true that I have lived long enough to see my friends become the characters of history and legend. The new Jedi are eager to anoint heroes, if only because the galaxy does not lack villainy and the Republic suffers no shortage of evil-doers. They call my friends "The Rebuilders" now, the Jedi who traveled in the Ebon Hawk and laid a new foundation for our Order. So it is that the men and the women that I knew and loved in all their imperfection have become names engraved on marble plinths, heroes and heroines. I still live, I am the last, and so the young watch me fearfully and wait until I, too, am the dust of their glorious history. Sometimes they stare - forgetting, no doubt, that while I do not see, I am not blind.
In truth, my longevity has not been a surprise. It is a pattern woven through my life, a role that the Force sees fit to grant me: I am the one who remains, the sole survivor, and so it is my lot to stand over the graves of the departed beloved and whisper a few last words to the wind.
And now, when I hear my own death singing in the wind, I am alone and there is no one left to speak over my body, to cry for the fate of my flesh, to know that I am whole and final in the Force. I must speak my own eulogy and sing my own dirge amidst the ashes of this world.
One of the greatest disappointments of my life was that I was unable to see Mical before he died. The message summoning me to his sick-bed at the Temple came too late and by the time I arrived on Coruscant, he had already passed into the peace of the Force.
When I entered the chamber where his body lay, many other Jedi were already there paying their respects. The air was thick and musty like the room in the archives where Mical went to research his histories, taking his scrupulous notes.
Master Trantis approached me, his body a column of red-orange light and afternoon warmth. "Welcome, Master Visas."
"Thank you. I am sorry I could not come sooner. How was he in the end? Did he feel much pain?"
"There was little suffering," Trantis said. "He was calm and cheerful even on the very last morning. His connection to the Force was strong and he was comforted."
Trantis' hand patted against my shoulder.
"Be comforted too," he whispered
"There is no death," I murmured.
I did not finish the time-worn mantra. I could feel the eyes of the other Jedi upon me in that instant and the words terrified me. Despite what they would tell us, even with the Force, there is death. It is just a smaller death, one that leaves us to wonder and hope. The people we love can transcend this life but we are left to live and grapple with their loss, to die a little each day as we feel them receding from us.
I waited in that chamber until the others had gone, until I felt the heaviness of their stifled grief subside, then I reached down and laid my hands upon Mical's face.
It was strange to feel the bristles of a beard on his jaw and around his lips. On our last meeting, his face had been bare and smooth as a boy's. The papery thinness of his aged skin surprised me too. I should have expected the change, but I still imagined him as a young man I had loved and lost.
Even now, I still think of him as the valiant Disciple, the dauntless believer, although I know time has made us both very different people. He became the great Master, first among the Council members, and yet in his later days, they say he lived like the most humble of men, eating rarely and passing his days in ceaseless meditation, nourished only by the Force.
Mical was thin in that final visitation, his cheeks gaunt beneath the soft beard. I took him in my arms and held him for a moment, knowing that soon they would take his body away for the ancient rites, which are good ones, old ones.
I heard Trantis enter the room behind me and slowly closed the door. He was but a padawan during the days when I still lived at the Temple and because of that, he still treats me with a student's deference.
"I'm sorry that our message didn't reach you sooner. The sickness was very sudden. We would have prolonged his life, but he refused any treatment. He said it was his time, that the will of the Force had spoken. He wouldn't contest it."
I smiled at him. "I understand, my friend. Please do not trouble yourself any longer with these worries and these doubts. I sense that Master Mical was pleased to see the Order pass into such hands as yours."
Trantis drew in a sharp breath and then I heard him weeping, a low hesitant sound. The death of his teacher was a difficult burden. I stood beside him, trying to comfort him, and for a time, forgot my own sadness.
The funeral was conducted with the simple ceremony due to a Master. I could feel the warmth of the pyre radiating over my cheeks, could hear the fire crackling and the sound of mourners sniffling, smothering sobs in the sleeves of their robes. Without eyes, I could not shed tears. I bowed my head and listened as the Force sang my sorrow.
I have a child, a girl I named Marra in my time of bitterness. She was at the funeral too, although we did not speak. There are many things I would like to say, but she will not hear them. I cannot blame her for this anger. I have wronged her, even though I strove to be just, to be good. Perhaps I failed in this.
Marra was always her father's daughter. Mical took her and raised her when I could not. People have remarked that she bears a great resemblance to him, blond with the same pain-staking expression, the same blue-grey eyes. I have created a picture of this adult Marra in my mind, just as I once imagined her as a child, that stubborn face, the soft, fly-away hair that I used to brush out so carefully.
At first, Mical must have found Marra's resemblance to him a problem, even a sort of impertinence. It troubled the other Council members and displeased the Republic politicians who had championed his leadership of the Order from the early days. It spoke his secret even to the knights and the padawans, the uninitiated who could not understand us or our sacrifice. They still see the whole affair as an embarrassment, a chink in the armor of a great man.
There are many times when I want to pull these young ones aside and explain to them the truth of the matter. There was no scandal in it, nothing sordid or contemptible, only honor, only love. It was love that separated us at last, a love that threatened to exceed duty. As much as we cared for one another, we were Jedi and we always knew that the Force was the greatest love, the one that encompassed and surpassed us both. We could not betray it and so we lived apart, he in the Temple, I in the Enclave. Later, I forsook Dantooine almost entirely and traveled far across the Outer Rim, on missions to many worlds.
When I gave up Marra, it was for another reason, not for love but for fear. It was easy for me to see Mical, to understand him. With our daughter, I was truly blind. From the beginning, I could not distinguish the outline of her body or detect the aura of the Force flowing through her. She was and is a hole in my vision. Since the day she was born, she has been empty of the Force.
Among my people, to live a life devoid of the Force is taboo, a great horror, almost unspeakable. I tried to keep her, to care for her as best I could. Yet she would come running to me with a book or the parts of a droid and I would find myself shrinking away from her, reminded not of Mical but of another man, a man whose voice still haunts me. Perhaps he is her father too, the father of her soul, if not her body.
The first time I heard the Sith lord's voice, I lay face-down on the ground, pain screaming through the empty sockets hidden behind my veil.
He had a slow, deliberate baritone, deep as the rock of mountains. It shook my broken body and even the earth seemed to quake beneath me.
"I have spared you, slave, for a time. I will let you live to wreak Katarr's vengeance on a thousand worlds," the voice said. "Together we will drain the life from this galaxy. And at the end, when everything is dead and empty and the hunger still rumbles within me, only then will I take you. You will be the final feast, I promise you, my new apprentice."
He called himself Nihilius. His face was a mask and his body was shrouded in thick robes. In all the time of my apprenticeship, I never glimpsed even a sliver of his skin. He played at being my creator, my Master, my lover, confusing me with his lies, desiring my allegiance, my desire, my very life, even as he knew I would betray him. Betrayal was inevitable, whether I turned to the light or plunged further into the darkness he gave me.
Nihilius died on Ravager many years ago, cut down by the Exile's violet beam, but he followed me in Marra's form. In her, in my own child, I felt the same empty wound within the Force. Perhaps it was Nihilius' vengeance, his last hollow laugh.
Marra was six years old when I sent her away to her father. I said goodbye to her on the white steps of the Enclave, her small hand still laced through mine.
She clung to me with staggering strength. "Do I go for training like the other children?"
I knelt down and hugged her slender frame in my arms, even though it hurt to touch her, even though her empty body was the echo of Katarr sounding through me.
"No, you go to help Master Mical now," I told her. "He is a kind man and he will teach you much if you will learn from him."
"Can I come back to visit? Will you visit me?"
I recoiled from her clasping hands, quickly kissing her cheek. Her skin seared my lips. "My love will follow you. Carry it with you, Marra."
I did love her, in my way, as one loves the scar that ripples across one's own burned flesh, but I could not keep her. I knew Mical would be more understanding of her condition, that he would train her to serve the Republic with the talents she possessed, to be a good daughter even though her mother had failed her. When the Jedi knight and his padawan escorted her onto the ship bound for Coruscant, I felt a terrible sense of relief.
I realized then that the days of my exile had begun, that I would leave the Enclave's walls and travel along the Outer Rim, offering help to the people of the fallen worlds.
You see, it was I who peeled back Nihilius' mask. I was the only one to see what lay beneath. I never told the others the truth of what I saw.
There was nothing there to see.
He had no face, only a featureless lump of flesh, two holes where most humans had eyes. In that last regard, he reminded me of myself. It is appropriate, I suppose. He made himself my father and like a good daughter, I resembled him. He was nothing and he made me nothing too. It has taken the better part of a lifetime to reclaim a few pieces of myself from the ashes he left me.
So many lives and so many deaths have come in the time after my emancipation. So many voyagers of the Ebon Hawk have blazed by me on the tails of comets. Spectacular and brief – it seems to be the way of the adventurers, the explorers, the saviors, those who love too long and too deep.
There are many ends that I should have anticipated, but somehow refused to contemplate. The death of Shira Casema, a woman history will remember only as the Exile, came to me slowly across the stars. I knew only that she was gone and that something small, almost imperceptible, but vitally important in my life was fading away. It would not return. Her pilot lingered after her, but in the end, his fate was hers. I believe, I hope, that they journey together now. There is some comfort to be found in that thought, the secret under the Exile's fading smile, the mystery buried amidst the shards of Atton Rand's crashed freighter.
Mandalore the Preserver was the next to leave us. He died as he lived, proud and on his feet. I did not learn of his passing until I traveled to Onderon in service of the daughters of Queen Talia. Many stories about his exploits in the countless battles of his people circulated in that city, tales passed along the stools of the cantinas and whispered on the corners of restored streets. I heard that when Mandalore feared old age would take him, he rose from his ceremonial seat and walked into the dueling ring, offering an open challenge. He conquered many young warriors before he took his last blow and his faithful kin conveyed him to the desert world of his youth. I walked the sands of Ordo there many years later as an emissary and I could feel his presence still, as unrelenting as the parched land or the sun beating down on my back.
It is always strange to observe the changes time works in people, in life above all things and in death, also, when we are able to see them at a distance, to overlook their frailties and forgive their failings. So it was with us all as the years passed, but I believe that the changes in Mira were the most remarkable. She became a knight and then a Master among the Jedi. While I lived at the Temple, I oversaw her education in lightsaber combat and often found myself amazed and envious of her skill. She was a reluctant Jedi but she learned with startling speed and her talent in Juyo form shamed me in several contests.
I believe the transformation surprised her more than anyone else, for she had always laughed at the stuffy Jedi ways. Although she ascended to high rank among the Order, she never surrendered to the forms and rules that sometimes threatened to smother the rest of us. Once I heard her tease a padawan who made the mistake of calling her 'Master'.
"'Master'? What? You want to be my slave?" she laughed. "Look, you're a nice kid, but you don't have to do the Jedi groveling routine with me. I'm not that damn special."
Mira was bold where others were shy and she did not sit in the Temple and accumulate a thick coating of dust the way some Masters did. She roamed the galaxy searching out injustice with the same determination she once used to hunt the criminals of the Outer Rim.
In this quest, she found her greatest friend in Juhani, a courageous fighter and a steadfast protector of the light. I remember sitting down to dinner with the two of them once at the Enclave. We sat on cushions on the stone floors and dined on simple fare, plain bread from the Dantooine fields, bantha steak, kibla greens, and air cake for dessert. The two friends spoke even more than they ate and they were always ravenously hungry. Mira would tell a joke and Juhani would provide the punch-line in her soft Cathar purr, rolling her eyes as if it was tale she had heard many times before.
Like me, Juhani was hard to know, shielded perhaps by her alien nature and her foreign ways. I caught a few glimpses of her regal character and saw the dark purple hue of her Force aura, which moved around her body like a beautiful robe. Bastila knew her a little better, but I think that only Mira was able to draw back the veil of reserve that separated her from the rest of us, that sometimes even made her fear us.
Perhaps it is fitting then that Mira and Juhani ended together, true Jedi, freeing slaves from an Exchange auction block on Tatooine. It was a grenade that caught them as they shepherded the frightened survivors to a rescue ship. The Force shuddered with the blast and I felt the terrible rupture, a shock that woke me from my meditation. The news didn't reach the Enclave until a day later but already many of us knew and grieved in secret. Tatooine is a forgotten world now, a sparse series of refugee settlements, but it is the place where I lost my friends and I cannot believe that such a place will remain buried forever.
Other friends passed quietly, shadows slipping into the night, names left unspoken out of fearful hope. Bastila waited for Revan for many years before she realized that waiting and loving would have to be enough. Revan was far, far away when I felt his passing ripple through the Force. He fell on his own lightsaber to prevent a greater fall into darkness on a planet covered in ancient bones. I know little of him, except that he was brave, a man who chafed at the bonds of good and evil and exceeded the galaxy itself.
In his absence, Bastila found her comfort in teaching new students and seeing old friends. Admiral Onasi, his wife, and his son came to visit her many times during her tenure in the Temple on Coruscant. I met them only a few times, but I know that the family's presence gave Bastila much pleasure, even if the admiral once remarked that she tended look happiest when she was shooing them out the door.
In later years, after Bastila joined me at the Enclave, a twi'lek woman became a regular visitor. She was a charming woman with an expressive, almost childish voice and she often brought a decanter of fine Tarisian ale for her old friend.
Bastila always made a great show of rejecting the gift in front of the padawans.
"Mission, you really must stop bringing that," she'd scold. "You know very well that Jedi do not indulge in such things."
"Uh-huh, I know," the twi'lek replied. "But we got an extra shipment in the cantina and I can't drink it on my own. All this booze would just floor me, Bastie."
After Bastila demurred several times more for propriety's sake, the ritual always ended with her confiscating the decanter and showing the twi'lek visitor into her private room. I found it most judicious to ignore the loud chatter and the peals of drunken laughter that escaped from behind the locked door.
Although sometimes her smile was rueful, I never doubted that Bastila was happy, as happy as her striving nature would ever allow her to be. In some ways, I think that she accepted the burden of her Jedi calling more gracefully than I ever did, choosing to lead council meetings, to guide the young, to live by rules that she did not make and perhaps even some that she had ceased to believe in.
She was reluctant to be loved and perhaps that is why, in the end, I cared for her so deeply, recognizing a sister in her. She joined the Force nearly two years after Mical and this time, I was lucky enough to be beside her.
I held her hand through most of that night and we meditated together on the nature of the Force, on the great light that neither of us could see but both of us could feel. She broke the meditation only once to speak to me.
"You've seen many things, haven't you, Visas? You have been our prophetess, I think. You must know what happened to him."
I chose my words carefully. I could not deceive her.
"Revan resisted the pull of the dark side when it tried to lure him back, Bastila. He defeated his own flesh before the evil could defeat him, before it could twist him and make him its slave again. He has gone ahead of us to the Force. You will meet him there, my friend."
In her final moments, I saw light refracted through Bastila's body like a prism, a spectrum of color so beautiful that I foolishly reached out as if I could catch it in my hands. The colors seeped through my fingers and eluded me. I felt only Bastila's cold, abandoned body and touched only the soft, weathered skin of her arms and the coarse cloth of her robes.
I knew then that I was the last of the Ebon Hawk's Jedi. It made sense somehow, as all the Force's tricks do when we look at them with time and patience. I still do not understand it all, but I suppose there is no perfect knowledge in the face of the mystery.
Born without eyes, I have seen many things. I have seen the windings of life and death, miraculous good and horrific evil. Katarr died in my youth but in the prime of my life, the Jedi were reborn and in my old age, our Order has flourished. I have bourn witness to it all and now I have returned to the planet of my birth, the place where I will rest.
The summit of Katarran-Mirad is ringed with clouds. The elders used to say that this mountain was the place where storms grew, testing their wings on the heights like eagles. When their time had come, the storm clouds would roll down the mountainside and gather over the sea, sprinkling rain or pelting snow upon our villages.
I lie down now in the shadow of Katarran-Mirad and feel the earth of my ancestors envelope me.
We will all be united again in the Force, I know. I will no longer be the sole survivor then, the loneliest and the last. I pull the hood back from my face and feel the first flakes of snow drift down upon my cheeks, cool and light as ash.