Trials of Knighthood: The Lost Form
It was the must that really threw Don's concentration off kilter. Even in the years of ever advancing technology, and data pads almost as thin as paper, a library still smelled like a library. No one had yet to figure a way to remove the ancient, musty and damp smell that accompanied the accumulation of a world's history. Not that it was unpleasant. The smell of history was quite comforting to the one searching through it.
In a way, thought Don, it was comforting to know that some things remained the same despite the constant of change. Up would always be up, down would always be down, and, despite feeling agonizingly slow, time always marched forward at the same rate. It was this last fact that prompted him to look up at the library's chronometer once more.
He and Meed had been searching for hours now, through the Administration Building's records department to no avail. Requisition forms from the praxeum, expense reports, climatology data, and customs reports gave them no clue whatever to the lost Nokturne's whereabouts. The pilot logs were next on the list, and Meed had already begun searching through them. Of course, they had skipped everything after the disappearance of the Elsan Master. But it was still going to be a long ordeal to search the remaining files.
Don sighed as he replaced a data pad and pulled another. "Maybe this one will be the lucky one," he suggested to Meed, smirking. The alien looked up at him, nodding as if to say, probably, and went back to reading.
The pad lit up in Don's hands, the display fantastically boring. Just another log entry full of destinations, this one an envoy from the Order to Nar Shadda, then off to Dantooine for a visit to the academy there. Well that was interesting. There was no return date to Mynersha. In fact, Mynersha was not on the flight plan at all.
"Meed?" Don queried, breaking the red-skinned alien's concentration. "Do me a favor and cross reference flight thirteen eighty-nine from this date, to the hanger's inventory." He handed the pad to Meed. "Which ships were returned, and which one never came back."
"Do you have a hunch?" Meed asked, a subtle, knowing glint in his eyes.
"Yes. There's no return date listed on that flight plan."
"And it turns out that the ship was only a small freighter."
It was the kind that could be operated by a single crewmember. More to the point, the listed owner of the freighter was not the Order of Saint Elsa, but to Master Bit Hantoff, who was noted as being planet-side while the ship was in use. This was the ray of hope that they had been searching for, the proverbial needle in the haystack that Master Bit had sent them searching for.
Don mouthed a quick thank-you for the Headmaster. Somehow, though, the human felt it was a set up and that he and his constituent had just been handed the answer. Just another pointed reminder his own ineptitude, he supposed. No, it was surely just a coincidence and Don was chastising himself for nothing. And yet he and Meed had been instructed to come here only after they made the connection.
The Headmaster had already divined the answer. He must surely have known, for it was impossible, as far as anyone knew, for the droid to forget anything at all, least of all his cohort of several centuries. Of course, how the Headmaster felt about such things was anyone's guess. The sudden surge of interest in both Don's wellbeing and Nokturne's was peculiarity by that respect. There was surely more to it, but the human had other things to focus on, and consequently could not see the bigger picture.
So as he replaced the last of the data pads, he turned to find that Meed was already speaking to their escort. "…and a copy of this document—make that two copies."
Ah. So Meed is thinking the same thing. Yes, that was him alright. Always thinking ahead, making sure things would run smoothly down the road. At least they were on the same page, though. One copy for the praxeum, and one copy to be kept with them.
In the past three hundred years, or so the archives told it, Mynersha's capital city had grown to encompass a fairly large chunk of the island and its surrounding waters. In point of fact, when the Jedi had first arrived, the now sprawling sky scrapers had been but a few hotels and a superfluously large swimming pool. The weary works of galactic commerce had been gracious to Mynersha, sending its poor—yet paradoxically rich—souls to shed the fetters of the working man for days on end of exhausting relaxation.
Don found it, thus, hard to believe that the streets lay completely devoid of intelligent life. That morning, as the two padawans had ambled up the steps of the Administration building, the broad boulevards had been teeming with merchants setting up shop, and the early morning tourists browsing carefully before the real crowds would arrive. But somehow, at the time of day when those thoroughfares should be bursting at the seams with people peddling their priceless bobbles, the avenue was empty.
Not only was it empty of people, Don suddenly realized, but of all life. Only the sounds of his own breath and distant waves breaking upon the beach reached his ears. He looked at Meed questioningly as he subconsciously put his hand to his lightsaber hilt. His companion, equally wary of the unsettling lack of pedestrians, wore a clearly concerned expression on his normally stony face.
His first steps out onto the open street revealed nothing but the noonday sun, casting no shadows. Don pursed his lips in frustration. Something was wrong, yet neither he nor Meed could sense anyone nearby. The nagging prick of looming danger in the pit of his stomach told him otherwise, and Master Drid had always tried to impress upon his students that they should trust their instincts.
Trust your instincts, he told himself, holding his breath. He closed his eyes and extended his senses as best he could through the Force. Meed's presence glowed heartily to his perception, and something else. A void, it felt like, and his mind conjured an image of a black shadow advancing upon them. A low hum reached his ears.
Turning faster than he thought he could, Don focused all his mental might and reached through the Force, grabbing the hooded figure from the roof above and casting him down to the street below. Suddenly the snap-hiss of lightsabers igniting filled the air with angry buzzing as a trio of shadows leapt from above to surround Don and Meed who had ran to join him.
The first landed, leaping to strike without missing a step. Meed's violet double-blade crackled to life instantly to intercept the attack. The human pulled his lightsaber to his hands and activated it just in time to parry a blow from another crimson-colored blade.
The two blades clashed, sparking and hissing at each other, the other's strength immense and infused with the dark side. Don was not equipped to deal with such a foe, his short blade only meant for the defensive form he practiced. He could only hope to last until help came.
Until then, he told himself and gritted his teeth, taking a deep breath. He shifted his stance, putting weight on his forward leg, preparing a solid defense. The attack came without warning, and blindingly quick. Don sidestepped the first and eluded the second, managing to get behind the shadowy form.
By now he had lost track of Meed, but the other Jedi could handle himself. Don had to concentrate, though, and try to size up his opponent. The thought escaped him, though, as his assailant turned and leapt again. Don brought up his lightsaber again, blocking the incoming blow just in time.
Don raised his other hand, calling on the Force to throw his attacker back. The impact was less than astonishing, managing only to throw the shadowed opponent off balance. Still, the human made the most of the opportunity, throwing a punch with the hilt of his lightsaber and knocking his foe back further.
There the Force-wielder stood, momentarily dazed by the blow. He spit blood, the crimson fluid standing out starkly from the cobbled stone of the central boulevard. Then he launched himself at Don again, energy blade swinging low to cut him at the waist. The low blow caught the Jedi off guard and he swung wildly to deflect. His shorter blade only just succeeded.
The strength of the attacker managed to loosen Don's grip on the weapon and it flew from his hand. He felt the searing heat of the blade as it connected with the base of his blade, knocking it from him.
His mind reeled and suddenly he felt as if everything were moving inexorably toward his demise. Don tried to call it back but his powers failed him and he scrambled away from his now over-advantaged opponent. Don made for the deactivated saber and felt himself grabbed through the Force and thrown prone to the ground. The Jedi tried calling again for his saber, but found it already in the hands of his unnamed aggressor, active and awaiting to betray its owner.
He swallowed hard, unable to think of a way out the predicament. His foe approached slowly now, sure he had Don beaten. The two blades arched toward him like the pinchers of some deadly animal. He closed his eyes, knowing his fate. Once again he felt the scorching heat of an energy beam whiz by his neck, and then nothing.
A dull thump greeted his ears instead, and as he opened his eyes, the slumping body of his attacker lay at his feet with a blaster bolt through his heart. The afternoon sun just peaked over the roof of the neighboring shop, forcing him to shield his eyes as his rescuer approached. The silhouette suggested a humanoid female, shorter than him and light on her feet. Not that he would complain about that. As far as Don was concerned, she was exactly what his situation called for. How she snuck up on a Sith assassin was anyone's guess, though.
Finally she came into full view, and Don found himself pleasantly surprised. She offered her hand, her face expressionless as she glanced between him and the dead body. "I—uh—who was that?"
Don refused her hand and picked himself up, dusting off his tunic and trousers, and reaching down for his lightsaber. Then he took stock of his rescuer. Aside from her skin-color, she was nearly human, well dressed, and the pistol she had discretely holstered was a decidedly expensive make—judging from the gold hue of the grip.
"I don't know," he replied at length, taking a long look at the body. It disturbed him. This was the first corpse he had ever seen. On Mynersha, one rarely ever encountered situations where one's life was at stake. Don took a deep breath, trying to center himself. "We were investigating the archives in the Admin offices and had just finished when they attacked."
The girl took a step back and shook her head. Don felt a rising fear in her, and the shock began to set in. "Who are you? Why did they attack you?" Now confusion began to assert itself, if he read her right. Somehow, he got the sense that she should not have been there, and that she had chanced upon his duel.
She had to know he was a Jedi then. The uniform he wore identified him as an affiliate of his Order to anyone who had been on Mynersha very long. And if the uniform did not identify him, his lightsaber surely did. "My name is Don, and I don't know. Now who are you? And where did you come from?"
"I'm Skepa," she said, "Skepa Chuchi. And I don't know either." How could she not know where she came from? "The last thing I remember," she continued, "I was stepping out of a speeder in front of my hotel. Then I was here, holding a smoking gun." So the girl was a recent arrival—probably the daughter of a diplomat.
Don felt the incredible urge to scratch his head. Nothing she said made any sense. And to add to his quandary, he had completely forgotten about Meed. Don tried to focus, and caught a glimpse of his partner's life-force heading their way. At least he could feel relieved over something. Then he saw the reddish alien turn the corner.
"Meed!" he called, waving him over. "Meet Skepa Chuchi, my life saver." Meed bowed low as he approached. His ever-calm face gave no hint as to any surprise he may have felt. She curtsied and gave him the well-practiced smile of a diplomat.
Yes, she was definitely a politician, Don decided. Master Bit had always warned them to avoid politics. Somehow, Don found her oddly charming though. Of course, that did not surprise him much, as she was trained to be charming, and a disarming smile like hers went a long way toward that.
She nodded as Don introduced her, and then quickly took over the conversation. "Meed, then, is it?" He confirmed his name, and half smiled as only the Iktochi could. "You're both Jedi, then? I'd heard there was an enclave here, but you're certainly not what I expected." She looked at Don, who blushed, embarrassed.
"Have you anywhere to stay," Meed asked her, looking around at the still deserted streets. Only the bodies of their attackers remained, and a few wondering scraps of paper floating on the sea breeze. "We can escort you back to your hotel, if you like."
Skepa opened her mouth to speak, but Don cut her off. "I don't think that's a wise idea. If they," and he indicated the corpse behind him, "somehow got word to their masters that Skepa was involved, she wouldn't be safe at the hotel. We should bring her back with us…" The Pantoran closed her mouth and nodded in agreement, though she did give a sidelong glance at him.
"I believe you did the right thing," Master Bit had said, much to Don's relief. After his initial admonishment for losing his lightsaber during the duel, Bit had expressed relief for the two padawans' safety. Nothing had gone right about it, Don had thought wearily, realizing only after coming back to the praxeum how sore he was.
Meed had been the one to make Skepa's introduction to the droid master. Upon her first meeting him, even her diplomatic charm had faltered at seeing the over-sized, clunking droid. It had melted away, though, as soon as the Headmaster had spoken. "My sincere thanks to you, Ms. Chuchi," he had said. Don, though hardly awake at the time, had sensed the paternal essence in his voice, and had noticed a distinct change come over his guest.
"Don was kind enough to offer me lodging here," she replied, nodding to him. The Headmaster nodded and bowed slightly to her. Don had figured he would. The Jedi had told his master over that offer, and his reasoning. She would take residence in an unoccupied room of the west wing dormitory. The Headmaster had offered her quarters in the faculty dormitory, access to a private refresher and a larger living space, but she declined. "I was only lucky to be there at the right time."
"We were all fortunate," Master Bit replied. "You are, like us, a servant of the Force. It was by its will that you were present at all." There he looked at the Pantoran quizzically—and once again, Don found himself wondering how an expressionless face could look so puzzled. "What brought you to Mynersha? Alone?"
Skepa blinked, unsure what to say. Don had not realized she was alone, though now it made sense. She could not have been more than seventeen standard years. And just how did she get to Mynersha in the first place? Did she smuggle herself onboard a passenger ship, or use a false identification to book passage? He waited for Skepa's reply.
She stood silent for a moment longer, collecting her thoughts, deception on her lips. "My parents sent me on holiday as a reward for my diligent studies. They even bought me my own ship. Though, they only programmed a few sets of coordinates into the navicomputer."
"I believe you," said the Headmaster. Don felt his jaw drop and his eyebrows rise. He knew that was a lie. Master Bit also had to know. Why did he not confront her? Don glanced at Meed, who had also raised an eye at the Headmaster's bold assertion. Even Skepa showed a hint of surprise. But the Headmaster questioned her no further. "Don, take our guest to her room so she may freshen up. Afterwards, you will report to my office. I wish to know what you discovered in the archives."
"Yes, Headmaster," Don replied, hastening off to the dormitory with Skepa in tow.