Vita and Tam were just a bit superior about having slept the whole night in their own houses – though both admitted they had had company; Vita's two Leaftail cubs and Tam's AyNineGee droid, activated and articulate for all it was still in pieces all over his workbench.
After breakfast Master Yoda collected them in the clearing between his house and Vita and Aiolian's tree and ordered them to sit and wait while he went inside. The younglings barely had time to exchange inquisitive glances before he was back, carrying a well wrapped bundle the size of his head which he put on the ground and proceeded to unwind. The children leaned forward, fascinated as the layers of fine gray silk fell away and gave little gasp as a large, roughly ovoid kyber crystal was revealed, scintillating blue-white in Dagobah's subdued sunlight.
Keri scooted closer, eyes round. "Is that the Great Crystal, Master?"
"Great Crystal it is," Yoda answered heavily. "Meditation Crystal of the High Council, imprinted with the minds and thoughts of the greatest of the Jedi it is, heart and soul of the Order." He bowed his head, ears slanting downward as wrinkled lids half covered his gooseberry eyes. The crystal at his feet abruptly shattered into a dozen or more glittering fragments.
The children gasped and Yoda smiled a little grimly. "Shocked you have I, young ones?"
"Yes, Master," Uthr admitted. The others nodded emphatic agreement.
Yoda looked down at the pieces, long mouth setting in a hard line. "No High Council have we now. The Jedi Order the five of you are. Need crystals for your lightsabres we do, and for other purposes." He raised his head to look at them. "Fear not, nothing lost is." He tapped his deeply wrinkled forehead. "Here it all is." His gaze intensified, became a little frightening. "Powerful will I make you, cunning, wise, worthy to carry on the Way. Choose your crystals, now your real training begins."
Eight years later:
"No." Tam straightened from his combat crouch and extinguished his blade, hanging his lightsabre on his belt eyes steady on the dark, hooded form lowering at him. "I will not become you, Master Skywalker." He let out a long sigh and with it more than a decade of grief and anger and the Force flooded in, filling the spaces where darkness had lurked with Its warmth and light.
The black cloaked shape surged forward, a red lightsabre flashed up, then down passing through Tam's unflinching body like the illusion it was and then it was gone like a bad dream – like a dozen years' worth of bad dreams. Tam stood still and breathed then turned and walked the winding path that led out of the Dark Cave.
Yoda was waiting outside, small wrinkled face beaming. "Well done! Proud of you I am." Tam dropped to his knees and swept the little Master into a tight embrace. "Proud am I but breath I cannot!" Yoda wheezed.
"Oh. Sorry, Master." Tam let him go
"A Jedi Knight now you are." Yoda said, patting his arm.
"It will be a hard life," Master Qui-Gon's warm, gentle voice said out of the air. His luminous form took shape against the drifting mists as he continued; "One without reward, without remorse, without regret. A path will be laid before you, the choice is yours alone. Do what you think you cannot do." He smiled. "It will be a hard life. But you will find out who you are."
"I think I already have," Tam said huskily, "or at least who I will not be."
Yoda and Tam walked back to the cluster of little houses, passing through the stand of ancient, petrified gnarltrees that surrounded the Dark Cave and circling round the north end of Dragonsnake Bog, though stands of sohli and sickle trees and curtains of vines and across the gnarltree bridge to the open space in front of Yoda's tree.
The first thing Tam saw was Keri hovering in midair deep in meditation orbited by a collection of rounded boulders. Shrieks of laughter floated down from the forest canopy high overhead where Vita and Aiolian were obviously engaged in one of their livelier sparring matches. Keri's eyes popped open and he grinned and gave her a high sign. She unfolded her legs setting hooved feet to ground and ran to give him a congratulatory hug. "Told you so didn't I?"
"You did," Tam admitted, hugging her back. "One of these days I'll learn to listen to you."
Keri snorted. "Believe that when I see it will I!" she answered in Yoda talk.
Uthr emerged from the Master's house, straightened up brushing his knees. "Fourth time the charm I see." He said to Tam with a wink then turned to Yoda. "I found the trouble, Master, a morp took up residence in your waste water pipe." He opened a hand showing the small poisonous green amphibian. "I'll find him a new place to live."
"Do so quickly," said Yoda, "and then return. Talk to you all we must." As Uthr moved past him towards the bog Yoda tilted his head upwards; "Vita, Aiolian, down here come."
The two girls arrived about the same time as Uthr returned, Vita sliding down a hanging vine and Aiolian fluttering to a neat landing next to Tam, who she hugged. "Made it!'
"At last," he answered, hugging back.
"Thank goodness," said Vita unsentimentally, "You've been very hard to live with!"
"There's an understatement for you," said Uthr.
"Sit down and be quiet you will!" Yoda ordered before Tam could respond. Obediently the five new knights settled themselves in a half circle in front of their Master.
Tam had indeed grown tall, 1.90 meters, still blond haired and blue eyed but with stubble growing on his squared jaw and big hands resting on his knees promising more growth to come. Uthr sat beside him, shorter, slimmer and darker. Master Yoda had tattooed his face, in accordance with Zabrak custom, in a design of wandering lines meant to symbolize the wending, ever changing channels of the Dagoban Swamp. Tam's Jedi robes were the off-white of bleached gnarlfiber, Uthr's all shades of brown and tan.
Vita still preferred tight slothskin tunics, but she filled them out rather differently these days her face was flushed from her exercise beneath its golden olive and her black hair fell bone straight to the backs of her thighs. Aiolian next to her looked too fair and fragile to be real, her folded wings seeming to be part of her snowy white mosscloth dress, her pale waving hair touched with just the slightest hint of gold. Keri sat at the opposite end of their half circle, on Tam's other side. Her hair had darkened to a purplish red and grew in a crest from forehead to nape baring a cluster of yellow horns and the post-puberty strawberry spotting characteristic of Theelin females. Her flat hooves, so practical for boggy ground, were tucked neatly under her mossy green trouser skirt.
Yoda studied them gravely, one by one, as Master Qui-Gon materialized behind him, glimmering softly in the misty Dagoban light. "Jedi Knights now you are," the little Master said at last. "Know the Force you do. Know yourselves, your weaknesses and your strengths, you do. But experience you have not and experience you must have if you are to become Masters." The young people exchanged glances. Masters?
"Experience have I, eight hundred years of it. Experience has Qui-Gon, and wisdom greater than mine." Behind Yoda's back Master Jinn pursed his lips and shook his head in disagreement. "Give our experience to you we will."
"You mean like the stories?" Tam ventured uncertainly.
Yoda shook his head. "No. Remember holocrons do you?"
Of course they did but – "We don't have any do we, Master?" asked Keri.
"No. No holocron have we," Yoda answered flatly.
"Holocron technology is an adaptation of a much older Jedi practice," Qui-Gon's strong, quiet voice put in. "Formerly Masters imprinted the sum of their knowledge, their experiences, not on an artificial organic-crystal lattice but on the neural systems of their chosen successor."
Yoda heaved a sigh. "Very advanced this technique is," His ears drooped. "Difficult it will be – for all of us." Clearly he was not looking forward to the experience which made his students more than a little nervous.
Master Qui-Gon warmed them all with his smile. "I've yet to encounter anything worth doing that wasn't difficult."
Yoda chuckled. "True! Very true that is, my Master!"
Eight months later:
It was difficult. The subject had to remain entirely passive while reliving past events with the Master, which wasn't at all easy given the terrifying nature of some of those events! But if you didn't your consciousness battled the Master's and the meld fell apart.
On the other hand it was enlightening to discover that Master Yoda really had been young once and was sometimes uncertain of himself even now. And communing with Master Qui-Gon was like communing directly with the Force – or maybe, given his state of being, that was exactly what they were doing!
The Master frowned at the high craggy ceiling high overhead and sat up to look around a strangely familiar unfamiliar place. It seemed to be a sort of cave converted into a dwelling with alcoves for cooking and storage as well as the sleep platform and slightly oversized furniture….
No, wait. I am Vita, not Yoda. This is my house.
She shook her head hard to clear it and the world fell into its accustomed focus. All and all she was very glad to be on Dagobah rather than Raxus Prime but the feeling of being a stranger in her own body lingered, she felt unsteady on feet without the tridactyl gripping claws and her eyes were too high above the ground. She emerged into the dim, damp Dagoban morning and made her way down to Dragonsnake Bog, getting used to being Vita again. Standing ankle deep in semi-liquid mud she looked across the narrow channel to Tam's island to see him sitting shirtless in tranquil meditation precariously balanced on a jutting gnarltree root.
"You're going to catch your death," she observed.
His eyes focused on her and he grinned. "No I won't. It's good to be Master Qui-Gon!"
"Being Master Yoda has its points too," she said absently, trying to decide which was worse – feeling too big in your body or much too small.
"Agree I do." And there was Yoda himself, chiseling fungi out crevices in a shoreline gnarltree. Vita waded over to him and gave him a hug. "For what is that?"
"For all the awful times you've had," she answered. "Hard it is being Master Yoda!"
"I've noticed," Tam agreed. Stepping off his root he walked lightly across the surface of the bog to join them.
"Show off," said Vita.
"Qui-Gon's path a stroll in the park was not," Yoda observed. His ears drooped. "Made it harder did I."
Vita hugged him again and whispered, "Without remorse, without regret," into one sail-like ear.
Aiolian was performing alchaka, meditation in motion, dancing lightly upon the interwoven boughs of the forest canopy ethereal, almost translucent, in the warm sunlight. A horned head with a mane of red-black hair pushed its way through the tangle of leafy twigs. "Aha! Found you I have, lunchtime it is."
She stopped dancing, small bare feet braced on separate branches, and smiled. "Still thinking in Whill?"
Uthr nodded ruefully. "Know now why Master Yoda talks like this I do."
"It'll wear off," she said carelessly and dived below the green and leafy sea of the canopy.
"Soon enough for me that cannot be," Uthr muttered and followed springing lightly from branch to branch dodging the occasional bogwing or flock of Jubba birds with Aiolian spiraling merrily around him on her spread wings.
Her mind was clear and still, her awareness fixed on the stream of boiling water pouring from battered metal kettle to round clay cup. Gently she laid aside the kettle and selected an orange yarum seed ball from the bowl in front of her and crumbled it into the cup. Tendrils of orange color coiled their way through the dark clarity of the water and a strong scent filled her nostrils. She picked up the cup in both hands and rose from her knees in a single surge of strength from thighs and calves. Turning she walked exactly three paces before sinking to her knees again to place the cup carefully on the stump table.
"Well done," Master Qui-Gon's soft voice said into her ear. Keri blinked as thought, sensation and other distractions came flooding back. Master Yoda sat on the other side of the little table sipping his tea.
"Agree I do," he said.
Keri smiled a little. "So that's what it means to be aware of the moment."
"That's exactly what it means," Qui-Gon agreed.