Weary. That was the word that the small party of bedraggled Jedi would use to describe themselves. Exhausted to their very core. The small party had been running with little food and even less sleep since the Clone War had ended with the resounding seismic shock of Order 66. The meager survival rations stowed aboard theirbeat up G-Type light shuttle had dwindled to being classified as bleak.
Only hours ago, the four Jedi aboard the small shuttle had evaded capture and certain death yet again. Only one was awake, sitting in the pilot's seat in the cockpit, staring out at the dizzying sapphire swirl of hyperspace.
Allyah Khai rolled her neck from side to side, massaging her aching neck with one hand. The Dathomiri Jedi's dark hair, which once had been tightly bound in the warrior braids reminiscent her ancestors, hung loosely down her back in an unwashed knot. The silver ring that ran through her left nostril, which had once been a proud signifier of a trial that she had overcome on her homeworld, was no longer polished until it shined. Dark circles marked the skin under her eyes.
Her face dropped to her hands in an uncharacteristic display of weakness. Force, how did it all go so wrong? Tears leaked through her dirty fingers.
"Aren't you tired?" A green hand appeared in the human woman's peripheral vision, offering a steaming mug of caf, startling her from her dark musing. Allyah hastily wiped the tears away. Noki'ido lowered himself into the copilot's chair with a plop.
Allyah raised her eyes to meet her lifelong friend's emerald gaze. Yes. Of course she was tired. More tired than she had allowed others to see. She was tired in body, mind, and soul. Khai had been tired for years, but had kept going with the encouragement of—
No. She could not allow those thoughts. She had duties to attend to—duties to the Order, to the Force, and to her remaining friends.
"Me? Tired? We're having too much fun for me to be tired." Allyah managed a half-smile at the Twi'lek sitting next to her and accepted the caf with a grateful nod. She studied her companion with a curious, concerned stare. He looked tired. His once vibrant green skin had a mossy, dull tint to it from expending more energy than he was able to take in. He had been healing the shuttle's small crew of their various injuries during their travels and had not been able to take sufficient care of himself.
Noki'ido was a Jedi healer to his very core. He had taken an oath years ago to put the health of others first and to heal whenever he was able. He had taken that seriously, especially since the Clone Wars began. Allyah had watched her once joyful, loud friend become more and more withdrawn as he moved from planet to planet, seeking to mend the wounds left behind in the carnage of war.
When the Clone War ended and the Jedi Order's own personal hell began, Noki'ido had deliberately sought out other Jedi with the intent of preserving their lives. At times it seemed as though he alone could keep them from the fiery suffering that seemed to close in around them at every turn, a beacon of peace and sanity in the midst of chaos. This mission had come at a great personal cost to the healer. He had been the one who found her. He had been the one who had saved her. And Allyah had never seen him so drained.
"You are the one who is tired, dear friend. You can't hide it from me," Allyah muttered, sipping her caf.
It was Noki'ido's turn to study Allyah. Neither friend had ever been able to keep secrets from the other. Neither of them had ever wanted to keep secrets from one another…until recently.
"And what of you? It seems as though I'm not the only one trying to hide blatant truths," the Twi'lek stated bluntly. "I know you. I know that you have been planning something."
A brief flash of pain crossed Allyah's face, but was quickly extinguished. Allyah sat for a moment, contemplating his words. Of course she was planning. In their mad dash from Corellia hours ago, they had left behind valuable information and a member of their group.
When she finally spoke, she spoke slowly, "I am not planning anything that will happen quickly." Noki'ido nodded in acceptance. He could be patient. The Twi'lek knew of his friend's regret and pain from their latest retreat. Not only did it seep between her mental shields like molten agony, but he also knew very well what she had lost personally.
Noki'ido was a wise Jedi. And wise Jedi did not pry. When the time was right, Allyah would speak more of her plans and pain. Until then, prying seemed imprudent.
The pair sat in companionable silence until Allyah slowly but surely slumped lower and lower into the pilot's chair and gave in to the sleep that had been beckoning, her cup of caf barely touched. Noki'ido smiled down at his friend's slumbering form and closed his eyes, sinking into a meditative state that would pass the time until the rest of the crew woke to discuss their plans.
"Master, I need to confess." Guilty eyes dropped as the tall Jedi Master sat before his Padawan, concern lighting his eyes.
"I have strayed."
The Master waited in silence for the Padawan to continue.
"We—I have been engaged in behavior unbecoming of a Jedi. Attachment is forbidden-"
The Master watched as the Padawan gazed into his eyes, begging for some kind of reaction, for some kind of punishment to fit the crime. Shame and heartbreak marred the Padawan's youthful features, staining them with an age that did not fit the human's twenty years. "And what of this…" He searched to find the appropriate word. "…relationship now?"
The Padawan's face fell for a moment, then resumed the typical Jedi façade of blank serenity. "We ended it, Master. It is nothing."
Darkness. That was all he could see. Jedi Knight Zave Vorun moaned softly to himself. Why do I always seem to wake in darkness?
"Because it's what you have wanted all along, " a deep voice answered Vorun's thought. Vorun bolted upright, reaching out with the Force, his very senses trembling as the memory of the warehouse came rushing back to him.
Betrayal. Agony. Loss.
Zave felt fear rising within him as he realized the implications of being a captive of the Dark Lord of the Sith. There was no way things were going to go anywhere but downhill at this point. He shook his head as if trying to shake off the fear and doubt. No. He was a Jedi. And he always had options for his fate. Zave pushed the fear he felt down, squeezing it into a small compartment of his heart that he could not reach for the time being. He could not afford the luxury to be afraid.
Fear led to anger. Anger led to hate. And hate could only lead to—
Was the Dark Lord mocking him? Zave swallowed his fear and spoke, injecting as much defiance and venom into his voice as possible, "What do you want?"
"Perhaps we can make a trade."
"So…what now?" The question seemed to hang between the four Jedi as their ship soared through hyperspace. Tallisibeth "Scout" Enwandung-Esterhazy, the Padawan who had voiced the question that seemed to be on everyone's mind, tugged anxiously at the fiery braid that was separated from the rest of her red mane.
The discouraged silence that followed the question was broken by Jedi Master Ry-Gaul, "We will go to Acherin."
"That's in Wild Space," Noki'ido observed. "What could we find there? Lawlessness undoubtedly will be a great cover because we can escape Imperial space, but what can we accomplish that far out?"
"We will find friends there. I received an encrypted message from a Knight before we left Corellia. There will be some sort of relative safety in the Red Twins System," Ry-Gaul's gray eyes flashed with certainty.
"How do we know we can trust this message? Do you know who sent it? How do we know that we won't be flying into a trap?" Allyah spoke up, brow furrowing as she carefully studied the venerable Jedi Master.
"Ah, young Shadow, so much suspicion within you," Ry-Gaul smiled, raking a hand through his white hair. He continued speaking before Khai could interrupt him in defense. "I understand. Suspicion comes with your trade. But don't fear. I just know this is right. If you cannot trust my contact, trust me. Trust the Force."
"I sense no danger down this path for now. I do not believe we are entering certain doom by flying the course to Acherin," Noki'ido added, his eyes clouding over momentarily as he sought the guidance of the Force. "And if needed, we can stop in the Outer Rim to get supplies."
The four Jedi stared at one another, accepting the decision. After all, it was better than nothing. "We trust you, Master. If anyone knows how to disappear, it is you," Allyah added.
The large, white haired man grew quiet again. Though he had spent years in undercover operations for the Order, he just hoped that their trust was well founded and that they could indeed remain anonymous in their journeys.
"You should have listened." The words echoed in his ears, reverberating into his soul. His heart dropped as he raced across the duracrete floors of the hangarbay to the broken bodies of his comrades.
He searched frantically—
"He's dreaming, M'Lord."
Green eyes set against green skin stared sightlessly at the ceiling, mouth open in a silent warning cry on the hangar floor. He knelt by the body of his fallen friend and closed the unseeing eyes for the last time. Out of the corner of his eye, he caught a glimpse of pale skin—too pale—stained with red.
He fell to his knees, cradling the broken body to his chest. This could not be happening. This should not be happening.
"If you obey me, this does not have to happen."
He turned, startled. How did the dark one always find him?
"If you will obey me, you will save her."
The Knight lowered his forehead to the achingly cold body curled on his lap. "I will do what I must."
Zave Vorun woke with a start. Mechanical breathing echoed in his ears. "I am a Jedi," he whispered brokenly.
"What you saw is what is to come," Darth Vader stated simply.
"I can't." Vorun closed his eyes, trying to will away the echoes of grief that clung to him like a wet blanket.
"If you truly love her, you will consider my offer. I do not give mercy often." With those parting words, the Dark Lord strode out of the room, leaving the Knight alone and haunted by the shadows that stretched long before and behind him.