Trials of Knighthood: The Lost Form
Turned at an angle from the main passage was a not-oft-traversed, nondescript corridor—typically left alone by most students. A little ways down that hall was a very dull door on two rusted hinges that squeaked when it opened. The door was marked in unexceptional letters, "Office," and the only hints to its true nature were the equally plain words "Authorized Personnel Only."
As a matter of doctrine, no one entered the office of the Headmaster without his invitation, lest he never be heard from again. The Headmaster, left to his own devices, rarely ever extended an invitation to other faculty, the students, and certainly not Don. Rumors circulated that the Headmaster stashed his personal memorabilia away in a secret vault hidden cunningly somewhere within the office. The unlikelihood of this, though, never penetrated the masterminds of these rumors. The vast nature of the collection incited wild fantasy and daydreaming; in the times between classes and training, the padawans on Mynersha favored speculation as to the relics, which also, coincidentally, were a thing of legend.
The other masters were perplexed that Master Bit would allow the propagation of such myths. Indeed, if they knew that it was the he who began the rumors, they might have passed out. His stories of adventures long past and of the founding of the Order put many minds to work postulating on the contents of his secret vault. The list, ever changing and always more fantastic with each recitation, included time capsules, cryogenically frozen military officers, stuffed vornskrs, crystals of exceptional rarity, and other, much stranger, artifacts.
The reality of it, Don found, was askew. As the Headmaster spoke, the young human found himself mesmerized by the unimaginable ordinariness of the little room. There were, of course, signs of an extraordinary life, a long time ago. Not a time capsule by any means, but in the corner sat a bowl marked "Dees'l" in bold letters and a faintly glittering gem sat discreetly on a shelf next to a model spacecraft.
"…I wanted your opinion on the matter, padawan…"
Don blinked, shook his head. "I'm sorry, master. What was that?"
Bit scooped up a bundle of papers and straightened them out. "I have read through Meed's report on the holonet records of our Order, and I've read through your report. You both come to the conclusion that something is amiss." He set the papers down again and leaned forward, electronic eyes unblinking at the human.
"I haven't read through Meed's report yet, master," Don told him, unsure as to where the conversation was headed. "It was obvious in the Order's records, though, that information was missing. Whoever took the missing pages was very thorough, and very clean." What bothered Meed, though the other would never admit it, was the missing information. Public records were near impossible to dispose of as completely as they had been. It should have bothered Don more than it did. But what put him out was the question of who deleted that information.
Master Bit continued, "I have the sense that you are withholding something." It jarred Don to think that he was so easy to read. "There is a great deal more here than my optical sensors indicate, padawan. I want to hear your opinion on the matter."
Admittedly, Don felt the same way. This assignment was a great deal more weighted than he had previously thought. If the Headmaster, being far stronger in the Force than he was, sensed something amiss, than Don could only imagine what might be lurking in the shadows—what the Headmaster might be hiding…
That was the answer he had been seeking. The records regarding Master Nokturne would have contained his whereabouts, previous assignments, and physical description. Anyone with enough patience could find him, so long as the records remained intact. It would only be logical, then, that whoever disposed of the missing information was trying to protect Master Nokturne…
"Don, are you paying attention?"
"Huh—Oh! Yes, master…" What were they discussing again? The reports from him and Meed, yes, but master Bit had said something about there being more to the matter. That was it. "I apologize, master. I was gathering my thoughts and I became distracted."
The Headmaster leaned back to his prior position. "Yes, I had noticed," he replied. "But as to my question, padawan: What did you not include in your conclusions?" How would he phrase it? Master Bit would sense any hesitance on his part, making a cautious approach sound more like he was unsure than anything.
"I think—uh—master… I think you might have taken the pages." Don winced as he heard himself blurt it out. "I—I'm sure you had good reasoning behind it, master! But what did you need to protect him from?" He was not sure of it, but the human thought he could sense an air of thoughtfulness, and something else. He looked carefully at the droid master, trying to discern any possible hint as to emotion Master Bit was trying to convey.
"You have discerned incorrectly, padawan," Master Bit said slowly as if coming to his own realization.
Did the Headmaster not know as much as Don had supposed? Then it was an actual investigation and not just a test of his deductive prowess. That also meant that someone had successfully infiltrated the praxeum and its remote facilities… and the public offices of Mynersha's administration.
"Who could have broken in, Master?" Don asked, suddenly flooded with concern. Mynersha had always been safe as far as he knew. Not since the founding of the Order of Saint Elsa had there been even the rumor of a threat to the Order.
"Calm yourself, padawan," Bit reassured him, sensing the tide rising within the human. "Our order is as safe as it has always been…"
Don breathed, and counted to ten, waiting for his heart rate to even out again. Of course Mynersha was safe. It was remote, on the outer rim of the galaxy and barely noticeable in the backdrop of galactic commerce and politics for the past hundred years. So the padawan was calm again, and tried to focus on the authority in front of him.
"Go now, Don, and confer with Meed. Meditate and we will discuss this later…"
"But Master Bit, shouldn't we continue our…." Bit waved him off dismissively. He must have already figured out who had done the deed. For all his work, Don had been useless to help in the investigation. "Very well, sir." With that, Don stood and bowed, and turned to leave.
The snap-hiss of light sabers echoed in the training hall. Two dull gray balls hung in the center of the room, surrounded by students and their silvery blades, ready to do battle with the multi-faceted remote. In all, the ten of them were rather annoyed with the repeat of this particular exercise, as it tended to sting.
"Remember, the object is not deflection in this exercise," master Drid spoke. "At least not for everyone." He was a young man compared to the rest of the faculty, with a swath of blond hair and stubble adorning his head like a bubble. He spoke confidently to his students and encouraged the same mannerism in all his students as well; often he would couple his speech with a flare of drama, as he did now, arching a brow at Don.
Don, however, found it disconcerting, and tried not to focus on Drid. Instead, he concentrated on the remote and his exercise partner, Meed. The goal, as he understood it was not for him to deflect stun shots from the remote, but to attempt to anticipate and warn Meed of impending danger. This, while maintaining a level of alertness enough to keep from being shot himself, made Don acutely aware of his weak connection to the Force.
Just concentrate on the ball, he told himself, and steadied his breathing. Eyes closed, mind open…
The first shot came streaming from the remote toward one of the other students. She danced out of the way and the bolt hit the granite wall behind her partner with a sizzle. Another shot came from the second remote, this time heading in Meed's direction. Left. Half a second before, the Iktochi native swirled left and bounced the bolt off his blade back toward the remote. Right, down, jump… as three more seared the air.
He was doing well today, Don decided. Not one blast had hit him or Meed thus far, and he had even succeeded (a rare occasion) in deflecting one bolt away from himself. This would go on for several more minutes before their instructor called a halt to the assault on his students. "Up, down, left, right, jump, down again, and try not to singe your uniform, Don!"
Don yelped as a stray shot stung his arm, and then went numb there as his light saber fell from his fingers and shut off. His arm would be limp for an hour, now, and once again he would endure the well-meaning laughter and criticism from his peers and instructor. He looked over at Master Drid, who stared back with an arched brow and hit a button on the remote's controller.
"That's enough for now. You all did well today," he said, genuinely enthused. "But don't just focus on the remotes or your partner. Expand your horizon to every living creature within the room." He walked over to Don and picked at the human's uniform, pointing out a small black stain on the dullish blue fabric. "That's where Don made his mistake," and he added to him privately, "though you are improving."
"Yes, master. I'll continue practicing."
Drid nodded and checked the chronometer above the door. "That's all for today's lesson," he said. "Go get cleaned up and don't be late for dinner. East dorm is cooking tonight."
Don should have been excited. Out of the three small dorms in the compound, North, South and East, East was undoubtedly the best group of chefs on Mynersha, save for the resort cooks in the hotels above them. Even with their antiquated equipment, they never ceased to amaze their fellows. Even wading through the semi-crowded corridors leading to the commons and cafeteria could not dampen the spirits of the students, who knew they were in for their day's earned reward.
The ever-present scent emanating from the kitchen seemed to draw the praxeum's compliment forward, enticing them with a smell so rich and palpable, Don might have cut through it with his light saber. The young man followed Meed, shuffling politely into the cafeteria, bowing in greeting to the praxeum's three masters as he and his Iktochi roommate padded past them and into the line of waiting students.
Yet in all the bustling excitement over the midday meal, Don still felt ponderous. Something niggled at the back of his mind. A lingering doubt, he supposed it was, and a sense that something was going to happen to mar his mealtime revelry. He picked up a tray and plate and allowed the server to heap sustenance upon it.
Don hardly noticed. Since the night the Headmaster had caught him in the training hall, and the subsequent assignment—and his utter failure to discover the perpetrator of the break-in—he had only discussed it with Meed this one time.
That conversation was short-lived, consisting of the few basic questions and a short run-down of each others' reports. Surprisingly, his roommate had uncovered nothing on his own and had therefore not dared to make any accusations or postulations. Only a hint of a smile touched his lips as Don admitted to accusing Master Bit.
"How did the Headmaster react, then?" he asked, taking a seat at one of the many benched tables.
"He might have laughed," Don replied, scratching his head, then sitting down across from Meed. The Headmaster had not reacted at all, actually. Don sighed and wiped his brow, still damp from the training room exertions. "He probably knew what I was going to say… I was wrong, of course. But I got the sense that Master Bit realized the answer on his own."
Don poked at a slice of meat distractedly.
Meed swallowed. "How did you gather that?"
"The look in his eyes, I suppose," Don said, realizing how absurd it sounded. It was strange that a droid could convey so much emotion without facial expression. Though it was common knowledge that he was not actually a droid—merely encased in one. The Headmaster had probably become an expert on conveying such things to his organic counterparts.
He wondered if Masters Nokturne or Deo had ever had the same experience way back when. _Wait? Master Nokturne…_
"The archives were completely erased on the topic of Master Nokturne," Don said, suddenly aware of another possibility. "And as far as you could gather, Mynersha's public records had been tampered with as well?"
Meed nodded. "That's right. Nothing in the public records alluded to him in any capacity. Why?" Don, one of the few people who could read Meed's stony visage, could read him now. The red-skinned alien's interest was piqued.
"We weren't thorough enough."
"Just wait a standard minute. We went through the archives high and low for hours on end. There was nothing."
Don smiled for the first time in days and waggled his finger at Meed. There was one place left to check and it seemed that even Master Bit had forgotten about it. "The private archives in the Administration Building. Master Bit didn't have us check them, nor did we think of it until just now. And the security is so tight there that Master Bit can't get in without an escort."
Meed shook his head. "Our security is just as tight. Master Bit patrols the grounds each night with the other masters. Master Drid locks the outer doors himself."
"But a Jedi Master, familiar with the grounds and security procedures could get in like a worm into pudding." How had Don missed it? How had Meed missed it, with his poking and prodding into every facet of the assignment? "Master Nokturne erased the records himself. And without proper clearance, there would have been no way to get inside the Admin Building without leaving tell-tale clues as to who did it."
Meed looked thoughtful. Don was sure that he was contemplating their next course of action, though it seemed rather simple to the human. They should report it to Master Bit as soon as time allowed. Don frowned. Time would not allow for several more hours. He, like Meed, had several classes yet to attend.
The young man sighed and began to concern himself with the task at hand. There would be very little time, indeed, to speak to the Headmaster. Maybe, however, he could catch the Headmaster in passing and mention it. He glanced over to the Masters' table where sat the instructors and found Master Bit watching him with what Don would have called a curious look in his electronic eyes.
Not often did the droid ever interrupt his presiding over the meal. Thus, Don was confused when Bit beckoned him over to his table. Indeed, the unusualness of the situation was not lost on Meed, as his typically controlled visage broke into a contortion that Don had not seen before on the Iktochi's face: confusion.
Both of them shoveled down their plates in uncharacteristic fashion and dropped them off for the kitchen crew before making their way toward the Masters' table in the back corner of the dining hall. Each of them bowed low in turn to their instructors and then turned questioningly to the Headmaster.
"I have given it some amount of thought," Bit began, somehow easily heard over the din of dozens of students. "As I know you have only just now come to the same conclusion as I have, you are instructed to take the day and investigate the Administration Office's private records. Sift through them thoroughly, pertaining to our Order and Master Nokturne."
The two padawans looked at each other nonplussed. Now how did he come by that? Don thought to himself, mentally scratching his head. The Headmaster must have exceptional hearing. Especially over all this, and he had the feeling that the entire commons was packed shoulder to shoulder.
"Go, now. Master Drid has already made the proper arrangements," Bit told them. The two students nodded and bowed once more before shuffling off in the direction of the south dormitory, talking between them of the mountains of holo-disks they would shortly be sifting through.