Star Wars

Trials of Knighthood: The Lost Form

Chapter I

CLTHHH-clank. CLTHHH-clank. Don Mi-ow stared helplessly at the ceiling as he listened to the familial rattling of Master Bit's nightly patrols. The compound was not large, and only about twenty padawans and younglings resided in the Praxum in addition to the few Knights and Masters who taught them. Master Bit had selected each one of them as he traversed the galaxy—each student came from different circumstances.

Master Bit had selected him, like he had all the other fifty or so students for something that the old droid-encased Master called "uniquely him." What it was, the young human could scarcely comprehend.

He continued staring--that being the only thing he could do at the moment. The rock above him looked like granite, much the same as the walls and floor, though the floor was polished regularly. The hall to his left was alight with torches instead, maintaining the feel of an ancient monastery, and every now and again Don heard old-style wooden bedposts creak and scratch as another body shifted in its sleep.

According to Master Bit, the lack of high technology provided the mind the opportunity to slow down and take stock of life--in other words, meditation. The abolition of technology extended to more than just lights, however. In his studies, Don used a bound pad of flimsy, an inkpot and a quill pulled from a native fowl. The kitchen was much the same, the students cooking their own meals over outdated appliances--some of which looked older than the Headmaster. Some of them were probably cousins.

Meditation, though, was a powerful tool to steady the mind. Don tried to regulate his breathing, repeating the Jedi code to himself in an attempt to fall asleep. In, out. There is no passion, there is serenity. He took another deep inhalation and held it for a moment before breathing again. There is no chaos, there is harmony. He sucked in another breath and realized it was not working. I should try the meditation room. Then again, that room had a history in itself, not exactly ideal for meditation. But the lingering energy was that of the Light, an aura of salvation that a trained mind could use to enhance meditation.

It stemmed from the incident that had lead to the founding of the Praxum--an encounter with a baron possessed of a mind-controlling substance, back when Master Bit was only a padawan with the late Master Coram Deo and his counterpart Master Nokturne. The Dantooine council had sent the three as mediators to Mynersha, as Don recalled. But that was only the surface; as they began their investigation, stranger and stranger happenings began to interfere until all of Hades seemed to have broke loose.

The incident had culminated in an attack against the three Jedi by hordes of the baron's depraved monsters--formerly sentient beings of whom the ooze possessed.

This was not helping, Don realized with a pang of irritation. He sighed heavily and shifted in his bed. Calm down, he told himself. What was it Master Coram was always quoted as saying? Where's my grenade? Don smiled--it was a running joke whenever the instructors asked about Master Coram's philosophical views. A grenade would do where a lightsaber would get in the way.

But no, it was to keep back from the fighting until the opportunity presented itself. The dead Cathar had been a master of ranged weaponry, so the students were told. His style reflected knowledge of battle combined with use of heavy weapons and the Force that made the tradition seem nonsensical to use by itself. Thus, the Coram Deo tradition had the subtle advantage keeping the enemy at a distance whilst assessing the field for the most strategic of openings. It was a Force form that required a calm mind and hours of meditation to master. It allowed a certain mode of telepathy that gave an ally the ability to see the battle from another angle. Often, a change in perspective could afford the opportunity to end a confrontation quickly and with minimal bloodshed.

However, like every other tradition, it required patience--much like waiting for sleep to come to the body. Don needed activity, something to tire his body down--anything to work out the tensions that kept him awake. Training purged the body of impurities, and left one exhausted afterward. Moreover, he could always use the practice.

Hid dull, gray uniform hung from the bedpost and dragged on the floor. It consisted of a moderately loose robe and a belt. The belt itself was standard issue, available at the market on Mynersha, just above the Praxum. His contained several stun grenades, a small grappling hook and cable dispenser, and his lightsaber.

The robe hung loosely over the human's wiry frame, much as the fabric was designed to do. A cursory inspection of himself revealed that his dirty head of brown hair was unkempt and spiked comically to the left, and that he was in need of a shave. There was no sense, he supposed in trying to make himself look presentable--if he got caught it would be the fate either way. Satisfied that he was not violating any conduct codes, he snapped his belt into place with only the faintest of clicks.

Don stalked out of the barracks and down the corridor to the left. The torchlight was bright by comparison to the gloom of the barracks. The room he sought was located some distance away on the other side of the Praxum's grounds. For the Headmaster to catch you during transit was an hour of lecturing about maintaining the Order's discipline and adherence to the rules set forth by its founding Jedi.

Of course, this was nowhere near the first time that Don had spirited himself to the training hall, and his mastery of stealth was one of his gifts that had required years of practice. The lecture was one of his favorites, if only because it produced in him fond memories of stories from his childhood. Shortly after the admonition that Master Bit was obligated to afford to his students, he would put them to bed and to lull them to sleep, tell them the story of the founding of the Order of Saint Elsa.

During their history lessons, the story was dry and detached of all humor and wit; in deed, it fell into a dreadful monotony that indiscriminately encompassed all of galactic history. But that was only the broadest of the schooling Don and his fellows had endured. The other Masters--about five of them in total--had each of them a specialized field of study in addition to different Force forms and combat styles. It was classical education in the fashion of a boarding school for the extraordinarily gifted.

Master Bit taught some on the application of language for diffusing hostile situations--a public relations class by any other name. It was reputed (with some skepticism on the part of the newest Knights to arise from the Order) that it was actually Master Deo and not Bit Hantoff who served in that original capacity. Though as to the truth of the rumor, no one but the old Masters themselves would know. And only Bit was around these days. But, on some days, during Master Bit's classes, they would visit the small, compressed archives and begin digging through stacks of holo-discs and datapads (the only true technology aside from the lightsaber allowed in the halls of the Praxum) in order to gain some modicum of understanding of the history of the Republic's outer worlds. Each student would present his findings and Master Bit judged them according to the level of comprehension, and the amount of work put in.

But as far as the padawan was concerned, his youngling days were ancient history. His focus now was training, though he was still required to show an efficient amount of knowledge in all of the required spheres of knowledge. During training, instructing Jedi often subjected his or her pupils to different scenarios that required some application of an obscure matter of precedence--for instance, an ancient murder case reported to the Dantooine academy.

Ironic that I should think of that case, Don thought offhandedly. The young Jedi in question was in training himself and that case had been a part of his training. And then there was the story of Mynersha-- Always coming back to that… he shook his head, turning another corner. The night was still young, he knew, and he would tire himself out soon enough and be back to sleep until revelry the next morn.

The passage Don found himself in currently was narrow and low, lit only by two torches at either end of the tunnel. It was well trodden, though, and led to the great expanse of the training hall. His steps quickened, though still soft, and he reached his destination without incident. The old wooden door was unlocked and groaned as he pushed it open. He winced, hearing the hinges screech and hoped that no one had heard, and then closed the door once again as silently as he could manage.

Here, too, torches lit the room in a warm glow that bordered on cozy. In the front of the cavern was a small concave area partitioned off by thick curtains of dark fabric, drawn back when not in use. Preceding that was a small raised slab of rock, a bench that had a decidedly altar-esque feel to it. Both were there for the sole purpose of meditation, those preferring a kneeling posture over the traditional form taking to the alter.

Wooden benches and small alcoves filled with desks of the same material surrounded the practice area on all sides--each partitioned with the same fabric used in the main meditation area. Sometimes a padawan might be found studying there with an instructor close behind him, observing over the padawan's shoulder. Now, however, the students had left the entire expanse deserted; only Don remained to enjoy the company of whatever routine he decided to practice.

The comfortingly familiar snap-hiss of the human's lightsaber echoed off the far wall and returned like a happy pet to its owner. Don welcomed the sound and the grip of his short, bluish blade in his hand. He took a deep breath and centered himself, beginning with the basic forms taught to all novices. He had mastered those years ago, and the swift, graceful movements made his robe bellow behind him with a thin shwoosh through the air. He placed one hand just above the hilt, hovering above the shimmering, hot energy of his saber and whirled it about, softly humming to the oddly melodic tune produced by the blade.

Sometimes he felt as if it were alive, or as if it was an extension of his arms. But that was only when he graced the hall with the deft moves and rhythms that any child could master. Other times--Don took wide leap to land on the other side of the practice area--other times he stepped to lightly and lost his momentum. He had crashed many times before in similar bounds. This instance would be no different. The thoughts of previous failings had broken Don's concentration and he lost the step needed to keep him from careening into one of the wooden benches and the alcove behind it.

His lightsaber flew from his hands and shut off, clattering loudly against the granite floor and reverberating in the depth of the hall. It paled, however, in comparison with noise attributed to Don when he crashed, crushing the bench slamming head first into the alcove, lamp and torch clattering and going out as they hit the floor beside him.

The ricocheting sound waves continued for several moments and then died, leaving Don feeling horribly self-conscious and embarrassed by the newest sonic impression his ears received. It was the sound of clapping, a single pair of hands, like metal banging against metal. It stopped and a single large three-fingered claw offered itself to the young human for support.

"Master Hantoff…" Don stammered, his mouth suddenly dry. He took the hand, not daring refuse the Headmaster. "I--I--I'm…" I'm in so much trouble, he finished in his mind. The expression, as always, on Master Bit's face was disconcertingly expressionless. He, like every one of his predecessors, had never learned to read the droid's face.

"A most impressive collision, young padawan," Bit said, his vocabulator giving a metallic ring to his voice. The tone was not anger, nor was it disappointment at the mistake made. It was almost curious, Don decided, a hint of surprise showing on his face. Usually the Headmaster would be beginning his lecture at this point.

"Yes, Master," Don said, bowing slightly. "I apologize. I should not have been out this…" Bit cut him off with a wave of one of his arms, the other three in various positions of comfort.

Something in the way he was acting made Don a little more relaxed than he cared to be in front of the only Founder left in the Order. "There isn't any need to apologize. I know why you came here. There is no shame in that." His postured made the padawan think that maybe Master Bit was smiling at him, possibly mischievously, as if he had been guilty of the same transgression before. "We should all be so fortunate to be as dedicated to training as you," Bit continued.

"Thank you, Master," Don replied. Where was the lecture, he wondered. The Master's tone was so casual that it left him wary. But he could not very well leave without being dismissed. He tried to apologize again and slip away to the barracks, but was once again quieted.

"Now tell me, padawan--why are you having trouble sleeping?" Was that it. Obviously, he the nightly patrols had caught him during numerous attempts at sneaking out of the dormitories. "I've watched you in here training many times," the master confirmed his suspicions. "We have tried to increase your physical training as much as we deemed you were ready for, in hopes that the tax on your body would help you rest better. But it seems that that is not the reason why you come here."

Bit motioned for him to take a seat on an undamaged bench. Don did so and felt much more relieved when the Master brought for himself a chair from an alcove and sat before him. "Why are you having trouble sleeping, Don Mi-ow?"

He knew that the Headmaster would know if he were lying or not. So, he decided, it was his unhappy duty to report the truth. "It's my training, Master," he said, voice shaking slightly. "I think there is something wrong with me." And it was true, from his point of view. For years now, he had a feeling that he was deficient in almost all areas of his training, save some of the academic endeavors. His lack of skill with a lightsaber was an oftentimes-painful testament to this.

He had first noticed as a youngling, about twelve years old, that he had trouble with the most basic Force techniques. Moving a simple object, a rubber ball, had taking all of his concentration and will to do. It had only moved a fraction of what others had done. Meditation had come difficultly as well, and he found it hard to clear his mind to recite the mantras and litanies.

When it had come time for the more advanced forms and styles, he had failed utterly. The Headmaster's tradition of saber combat had made a fool of him, and the more traditional forms had also found him lacking severely. Thus, only one school was suited to him and even that he found extraordinarily complicated. The application of projecting his vision and view of the world to other sentient beings was something he was unable to achieve; even with the aid of his instructor, the visions were blurry, vague and irresolute. Throughout his training, Don had formed the opinion of himself that he had almost no connection to the Force, if any at all. And zero potential for it improvement

Don snapped his back to the world around him once more, straining to make sense of Master Bit's words. He had begun to doze, the crash he sustained knocking fatigue into his body. He stifled a yawn and nodded. Once again, he was unable to keep his mind clear and failed to understand Master Hantoff's words.

Master Bit must have noticed, for he had a gift for such perception, and abruptly stood. He motioned for Don to stand as well. No argument issued from the human and he did so, hoping that he would be dismissed having missed a good hour of rest. Happily, his hopes were fulfilled, but not without an admonition--one which, in all reality Don had coming--before escorting him back to the barracks.

Don found his bunk and slid beneath the thick sheets, resting his head. A quiet moan emanated from the bed beside him, then the form shifted and resumed its nasal fortes. He sighed and watched as the Headmaster slid the barrack's door closed, then dropped off into an exhausted sleep.

Long lines of text stared grimly up at him from the piece of flimsy before him. In the entire library of the Order, there was only one small case of actual books. These contained a detailed record of the Order, and Don Mi-ow examined them closely. He had been looking for something, but as the day wore on (in solitude for his transgression the night before), he had turned to reading them instead, forgetting what he originally set out to discover.

Don sighed and looked across the table. His counterpart also set himself to studying, but the more contemporary records were of more secular history rather than the Order's chronicles. His red skin and thick horns gave the Iktotchi a menacing glare, but the thick built sentient only looked back at Don and sighed in the same exasperation.

The human decided to break the quiet tension that had overcame them during their rummaging. He gathered up his notes and shuffled them about loudly before slapping them down on the table with resounding thud, drawing a speculative glance from his cohort, Meed Kartol. "You were snoring again last night," he said plaintively. That ought to produce some response, he decided, having become tired of silence.

"You didn't sleep again," Meed asked him. Expression on the Iktotchi's face, too, was hard to read. Meed tended not to show much emotion, and kept a tight lid on his personal affairs. Nevertheless, his tone usually betrayed some hint at the goings on in his mind.

Don really did not want to run the subject of his insomnia into the granite floor again. "Do I ever?" he asked, trying to remain collected. He and Meed had met as younglings, grown to be fast friends and still retained that friendship. The problem with the red-skinned sapient was that if he was asking, he could manipulate the conversation to go anywhere he wanted--a natural phenomenon, the human guessed recalling rumors. Their camaraderie had seen to that, though.

"No," came the answer. "And I didn't snore either." Maybe the other would take mercy on Don today and let him be. But no, Meed would never do that. It was not in his nature, nor could Don blame him. "You went to the training hall again?"

The human nodded. "I probably woke the east wing again, too." Don shook his head ruefully and rubbed at the painful bruise that had formed on his upper arm. "I still can't seem to get it right. What's worse, Master Hantoff caught me." The Iktotchi's eyes widened almost imperceptibly. "I can't remember if he lectured me or not--I was so tired afterward, though."

Meed glanced down at the pile of holodisks he was sifting through and brushed them aside, leaning forward. "Is that why he wanted us to come here? Searching through the entire library for a secret known only to the Dantooine council and Master Bit?"

Suddenly Don gasped, remembering what he had been looking for. The pile of books next to him toppled and spilled to the floor as he unsheathed a piece of parchment and scanned over it.

"What?" Meed questioned, taken aback.

"I think I found it," Don said, a curious mix of excitement and relief flooding from his mouth. "Master Bit asked us to see if we could find any clues as to why Master Nokturne left the Order, remember?" He pulled another book from the pile and flipped open to a page a third of the way through it. "There were rumors of a disagreement between him and Master Bit about something. I'm wondering if that wasn't the reason why he left."

Yes, that was most definitely a possibility. The assignment about Master Nokturne had come seemingly unexpectedly to Meed and Don, yet there was urgency in the commission that bode very badly for anyone involved. No one had heard anything about Master Nokturne in almost a century, and his style of combat had been banned from the Praxum, by decree of the Dantooine council, supported only half-heartedly be the Headmaster. But why had the council chosen to exile him?

Certainly, Master Bit knew this. So why, then, would he ask the two padawans a question to which he already had the answer. It was an exercise in futility--unless there was an ulterior motive. Don leaned back in his chair, rubbing the stubby mess still growing from his chin. "Is it possible," he wondered aloud, "that Master Nokturne was exiled for other reasons than what we see here?" He paused, giving an inquisitive look to Meed, who only stared back and shrugged mildly--an oddly human expression for an alien.

Lovely, thought Don. He wished he could read minds, some time, and then promptly dismissed that. While having a minimal connection to the force, he had a wonderful ability to recognize temptation. He breathed in loudly and deeply, trying to calm his mind and shield it from a growing migraine. The records were incomplete, like the pages had never existed. "What about the holodiscs? What was the last record of Master Nokturne being off world?"

Meed scanned the holodiscs and datapads dutifully for several minutes. Meanwhile, Don's head continued to try to expand and explode as he scanned through the books once more. The gaps were staggering--that there should be only one reference to Nokturne leaving the Order, and that in itself was only a footnote added after the fact. This was to be a short investigation, Don decided.

"There is no record of where he would have gone," Meed announced suddenly. "It looks as if you are right, my friend. The records here are as incomplete as yours, and much more difficult to erase entirely."

"One of the famed Jedi secrets," the human nodded. "Someone knows something and we aren't being told." Yes, the secrets that had been stockpiled and offered to the Force for annihilation included this latest exploration into the realms of the past. Master Bit would surely want to hear about it, of course; and that hearing would include a hand written report.

He pulled a pen and inkpot from a drawer in the table, as well as a few sheets of flimsy and began his work. Meed, seeing that this was a case-closed gesture, agreed and set to work on his own work.