When the Sky Falls
"I don't know why you keep that old hag around," Mira grumbled as they did the dishes together, "She gives me the creeps and isn't polite either."
"I hear the same thing from Atton about you."
"Yeah? Well that's different, see, because I don't creep everyone out, and since when do you listen to Atton?"
"I listen to him," Yiding replied quietly.
"Force save us all," The bounty hunter muttered.
"He has good instincts, and he's smarter than he looks." The Exile turned off the water.
"And that witch?"
Yiding looked at her. "She needs me and I need her."
"See that's what I don't understand. How in the galaxy do you need her? Sure she mutters some mumbo-jumbo about the Force, but you do realize you're training Mical yourself, right?"
Yiding sighed. "I don't know everything Mira."
"You think she does?"
"She knows more than me."
"Huh. Yeah, right. She knows more about the Dark Side than you."
"Maybe," The Exile agreed, "But more is more."
The red-head huffed, wiping her hands dry on a rag. "Suit yourself. Just tossing in my two credits."
Yiding watched her leave, sighing again. They had all been getting on each other's nerves lately. Even Mical was showing signs of frustration. It was the latest destination, to Korriban in hopes of finding the last Jedi Master, Lonna Vash. Everyone knew Korriban was a place saturated with the Dark Side, from centuries upon centuries of Dark Force-users among its native population of Sith. It was said that the planet had long since been empty of life, its inhabitants either dead or long gone, but who knew what kind of entities such a place in the galaxy would attract, not to mention the echoes of the past that lingered on its landscape.
It was tiring, for Yiding too. She did not want to be part of this mess to begin with. Listless and lonely as her exile had been, it had been liberating, in a way. She was free of responsibility, free of obligation, and because of that she had a choice—to do good without worrying about how this may set precedents or inconvenience the rest of the Order. She had been deeply hurt, both by the terrible deaths on Malachor V and the cold rejection of the only family she had ever known, but her sojourn on the outskirts of the galaxy had enabled her to find an identity of sorts, one that was not molded to the code of the Jedi. She was free to do what she pleased, and there was a sense of satisfaction in knowing that she did good deeds without being forced to. Now there was so much pressure, she had to maintain the peace between all her companions, and it seemed she was always tailoring to other people's needs and desires and personality quirks.
Don't start feeling sorry for yourself now, Yiding caught herself, Self-pity is annoying in anyone and never useful in the end. She shook her head to clear her thoughts and went to the cockpit.
For a group of people who were always at each other, everyone seemed keen on staying away from everyone else. Atton was always in the pilot's chair, Bao-Dur was always at his work bench, Mical was always at the med bay and Kreia and Visas were always meditating. It was really Brianna and Mira who went around the Ebon Hawk, Brianna in search of something resembling the Telos Academy she came from, Mira restless because she was use to life on the move. T3 moved back and forth, of course, but most of the time everyone ignored the droid, interspersed only infrequently by annoyed curses from Atton and equally exasperated comments from Kreia.
A fine thing, for them to keep insulting the one companion Yiding really had for the past decade.
"Something up?" Atton looked back to face her. He was playing pazaak on the dashboard, a glass of water balanced near the cards.
"Just checking in," The young woman replied, reading the numbers. "Everyone is getting a bit restless. The sooner we reach Korriban the sooner we can get away from it."
"Hm! Why don't you try asking nicely, maybe that will get this ship moving faster through hyperspace."
No need to be sarcastic, Yiding bit back the words, wounded. Atton had turned around to continue his game, dismissing her presence. Sometimes the man was unnecessarily acerbic. She wondered what he was trying to prove. There were so many things she did not understand about him, not the least of which was what exactly he had been doing on Nar Shaddaa before meeting her.
She released another sigh, unaware of the attention this drew from the pilot, and turned around to head out. In the mess hall, Brianna turned as she entered.
"Exile…" The Echani sister began awkwardly, "Um…Mical and I were looking for you. We're ready to train if you are."
Yiding smiled a genuine smile. She doubted Jedi padawans were normally so eager to learn. She remembered countless instances of wanting to sleep in late, wanting to extend lunch just a bit longer, immerse herself in a break, talk with her fellow Jedi, only to be called to a lesson by some master and being scolded if she was late. It was a pleasant experience, training Brianna and Mical. At length, Mira would probably join in—the bounty hunter had been eyeing them a bit longingly the past few days, and she knew that Bao-Dur was considering the same.
"Get Visas," She told the handmaiden, "We'll begin once she joins us."
Korriban was an ugly planet, dry and devoid of life. What remained on its surface was dry and shriveled, coarse from being rubbed with sand and dusty from the hot air. It was difficult to imagine what could have lived here, but Yiding could believe that anything that did was strong and tough, enough to withstand the hostility of the place. Small wonder that the Sith culture was so immersed in the Dark Side. Kill or be killed, conquer or be conquered. Survival of the fittest at its most ruthless.
"I can understand if you want to stay on the Hawk," She told her companions, "Kreia will be on board though, so you'll have to put up with her, but she's probably still better company than the rest of this place, plus there's air-conditioning."
There was a silence.
"Really?" Atton exclaimed. "You're all scared of a little sun? Come on!" He hooked his blaster onto his hoister. "I need to get off this dump."
It was times like this when Yiding could not decide if he was coming because he wanted to help or for some other selfish reason. The former would seem likely, except Atton did not seem to like her all that much, constantly brushing off her attempts to connect with him. The man was an enigma.
"I'll come," Said the ever-faithful Mical, "You need someone who can heal."
"Oh for the love of—fine," Atton glowered at the blonde. "Really? It had to be you."
Sensing unease in everyone else, Yiding said gently, "It's alright. I think we should keep the numbers small. As we are, there's no advantage in bringing any more people, and I don't want to draw too much attention with a large crowd. The rest of you stay put on this ship."
Atton and Mical were not good companions to bring together, as Yiding had learned many times before. Mical exemplified a model Jedi, ignoring all of the other's taunts, but this only seemed to fuel Atton even more. Telling him to keep quiet did not help, because he would only start again minutes later.
"How are you coping with the feeling of the Dark Side, blondie? Not going dark on us, are you? Because if you do, I'll shoot you right in the gut. Hurts more that way, I hear, and you die slow and painful."
If anyone is going dark, it is probably you, Yiding thought ruefully, wondering why he was the one who volunteered to come with her. Granted, these comments were not too unusual for Atton when dealing with Mical, but she could not help but feel, surrounded as they were by the grand tombs of ancient Sith Lords, that the man was being cruel. It was frightening to walk through this place as it was, let alone hear threats of murder from someone who looked like he meant them.
Unfortunately, she could not say this without sounding like a coward, and Atton already seemed to dislike her a lot already. She did not want to drive him away just because she was afraid.
They came upon dried skeletons baking in the sand, the blackened, withered flesh of the faces cooked into the skulls by the sun. Yiding stopped, and the men paused momentarily in their banter to consider the corpses on the ground. There were some of other species, but many were human, and she could see, as she stared into the empty eye sockets, a time long ago when these bodies had been alive. They had all started off young and innocent, but something corrupted them. Perhaps the Light abandoned them, the harshness of survival driving them to seek the power of the Dark Side. Either way, their alliance led them to their doom, and there was something awful about it, that these individuals now lay forgotten and unwept in a barren land no one cared to visit.
"Hey," Atton's voice rang to her like a slap in the face, "You done staring at bones over there? I'm under the impression that we kind of have things to do here, you know. You could have told us that you were here for sight-seeing."
"Atton," Mical chided.
"What?" Atton snapped, seizing the opportunity to lash at the other man, "I know you totally enjoy this stroll through this Force-forsaken planet, but I can think of a ton of other places I'd rather be. What the hell are we supposed to do while she's standing there staring at mummified bodies, eh?"
Yiding sighed. "I'm sorry. Let's move on."
She slowed several times to consider the ancient tombs around her, wondering at their grandeur. She doubted the Sith Lords built these tombs themselves; they seemed either determined to live past their time or killed unexpectedly and violently. Someone else, their students, perhaps, must have erected these tall structures for the ancient lords, and she had to marvel at how much respect and awe these individuals had garnered in their time to inspire such an act of faithfulness from beings who were normally only out for themselves. Atton's sharp words kept her moving, however, and they passed over the hot sands to come upon a dark cave.
"Hell," Atton wiped the sweat off his forehead, "All this loitering about in the sun! And what for, eh? You bloody schutta." He ducked inside the shadow of the cave's mouth. Mical and Yiding hesitated, finding the cave dark and ominous, but the sun was high in the sky and it was too hot to remain in the clear.
"I don't like this place," Mical murmured, "We don't know where this cave leads."
"Who said we're going in, you idiot?" Atton snapped, "We're just here to get out of the sun for a while."
Yiding lit her lightsaber. The cave was dark but dry, and along the walls she could see hints of bare white bone. There was a strange feeling in the air, and a tingle of a familiar Force signature…
"Vash," She murmured."
"Master Vash was here," Yiding frowned. "I sense it. She passed through here."
"Oh for crying out loud! Are you serious?"
"I suppose there is nothing to it except to follow the trail," Mical said quietly.
"Dead bodies," Atton remarked flatly, "Why is it that our group has such a fascination with dead bodies? You tend to stay away from places with corpses for Force's sake…"
Yiding finally had enough. "Atton, you don't have to come if you don't want to."
"And leave you with blondie here? I have absolutely no qualms about flying the Ebon Hawk off and leaving you two to stare at bones all you damn please, but that old crone of yours is on board and she's going to use her pointy nails to claw out my guts, I know it."
Yiding sighed. She had been doing that a lot lately, but she really was at a loss. Why are you still here, Atton? She had offered, many times, for him to leave, to drop off at Nar Shaddaa or Dantooine or Telos. He was so insistent that he did not care to stay, and yet he never chose to leave. She did not know what to make of him.
"Let's just go," She stated wearily, using her lightsaber to illuminate the way. The two men followed, Mical taking his own weapon out just in case and Atton keeping his blaster in hand.
"Freaking Jedi," He muttered, "Why would you go around in caves? What, did she expect this hole to spew out secrets of the Force or something?"
"Incoming," Yiding warned, sensing the approach of many life-forms. "Get ready."
There were a lot of them, loud, shrieking, hissing things, their wings practically weapons in of themselves, but with a few elegant strokes of the blade, the Jedi Exile cut through all of the creatures. Atton fired one blaster bolt at a latecomer and there were piles of animal corpses at their feet.
"Sweet," Said Atton, blowing at his blaster, and then sneered at Mical, who only had time to turn on his lightsaber while Yiding had disposed of the wyrms. "Thanks for all the help, blondie."
Mical emitted a sigh not unlike Yiding's earlier.
"There's more," Yiding told them, "My lightsaber would draw their attention, but there's no help for it. It's pitch black in here."
There were different cave creatures, and it was surprising given how barren the rest of the planet was. In the caves, out of the harshness of the sun, moss and other vegetation grew, requiring no light at all to grow. As they went deeper inside, it grew more humid, and they could hear the trickle of water once in a while. The smell also grew more potent, as there was more decomposition occurring inside the caves than outside. Bodies of dead things littered the floors, different cadavers that were torn to pieces by the beasts that lived here and left to rot, some of sentients, past Sith who met their end. Mical's lightsaber joined hers in adding to the piles.
"How many of these things are there?" Atton hooked his blaster over his shoulder. "Schuttas…"
Yiding brushed her hair out of her eyes. She could still sense the trail. "There," She pointed into the darkness beyond. "I think there's a bridge there…"
She was tight as a bowstring at this point. The darkness made her anxious, even with the Force to guide her, and some part of her still wanted to trust her physical senses rather than the Force. For much of her life, she had been a Jedi, but the last ten years seemed to completely annul the first fifteen.
"I've got a bad feeling about this," Atton suddenly muttered.
Yiding gritted her teeth. She hated when Atton said that. He was usually right. "Let's watch ourselves, then."
The Sith assassin surprised her, shimmering from his cloak with the help of the shadows of the cave. He necked her on the elbow where a shyrack wyrm had clawed open the sleeve of her robe. In an instant, Yiding cleaved at him, but he dodged as another Sith nearly blindsided her. Mical's lightsaber buzzed into existence and Atton fired a bolt at the first assassin, killing him instantly. She sliced the second in half and dove to help Mical, who was holding his own against three other Sith further down the bridge. Atton took out one and she and Mical finished off the last two, but more Sith emerged from the other side of the bridge.
"Damn it!" Atton yelled, "What the Sith was Lonna Vash doing here? Why didn't she finish them off?"
Yiding ignored him, following the directions of the Force and the flow of its currents. She had always been good, and her bladework was quick, her footwork sure. Even in the dark, with the blazing light of her lightsaber flashing disorientingly as she spun, the Sith assassins were no match. They crossed the bridge leaving smoking bodies in their wake and met the next tide of them with the same ferocity as the first.
"Force," Atton swore, "How the hell did they see in here? Were they just lying around waiting for us?"
Lonna Vash's Force signature moved to the left, but it did bring to mind Atton's earlier question. If the Jedi Master was here, what became of her? Did she encounter the Sith as well, or were they only here after she passed through?
"Exile," Mical called, noting her silence.
Without answering, Yiding moved ahead. The two fell behind, as usual, though for once Atton chose to keep his mouth shut. The air grew more and more choked, and she was dimly aware of the Dark Side growing more and more powerful here.
"Uh, I don't think you should go in there," Atton remarked, "This really does not seem like the place we want to go to, wherever this…is…"
Vash's signature lead to a gate shut with a pair of doors. The barrier did much to seal away the Dark Side, Yiding could tell. She knew this did not bode well for what it was like within.
"You two should keep away," She said, as she contemplated the doors. The texture looked eerie in the light of her lightsaber.
"Come again?" Atton barked.
"I'll go in alone," She clarified, "The Dark Side is strong here. You two…might not be able to withstand it."
"And you can?" The scoundrel snorted.
"I've faced the Dark Side before," Said the Exile, images of memories she had long tried to put behind her swirling into her vision. Revan and Malak, Mandalorians, the soldiers of the Republic, fellow Jedi succumbing to their rage and hate in those weak moments of desperation when it seemed nothing else would suffice. Would the Dark Side be so tempting if the Light had been less fickle? She could not blame those who supposedly fell, precisely because she, too, knew what it was like to feel abandoned by the good forces of the galaxy. Always getting tested, often without consent, while by contrast Dark Side never tested. It welcomed all who welcomed it. "I can handle whatever lies within, but the same cannot be said for the two of you. I would rather you two not face it when you don't have to. There will be opportunities enough in your lifetime to examine your character, but I'd rather not have that happen here."
Mical did not argue, but then Mical never argued—he was the idolizing student, the boy who had looked up to her as a youngling back in the days when they had both been much more innocent. Ten years, twelve years, and he has become a man, but this part of him never appeared to have grown. Sometimes Yiding wished he would question her, just to prove he had a mind of his own and agreed with her because he chose to, but certain things one cannot expect from others, and she was usually grateful that he was not making things difficult for her, unlike some of her other companions.
Atton looked like he would like to argue, but something stopped him. He scowled at her instead, lifting his blaster to his shoulder.
"Well, if you're so sure about it," He said unhappily, "If you find this Lonna Vash, give her a sound whacking for me. Blasted animals and caves…crazy Jedi woman."
Yiding pushed open the doors. "Why don't you head back to the Ebon Hawk," She murmured, "Since you don't like caves. I can find my way back to the ship from here."
"Schuttas," Atton suddenly grabbed her by the arm as a wave of Dark Side energy billowed out from the gaps between the doors. "Look, be…be careful, alright?" He actually seemed concerned.
Yiding nodded solemnly. "You too," She said to him, "We might not have gotten all the creatures in the cave." She nodded once to Mical as well, before turning around and passing through the gates.
It was the last time she saw them as she was.