Tower of Time: Long Ago and Far Away
   

Fitcher's Apprentice

I hovered in the Enclave's lightsaber practice arena, sending sporadic bolts of harmless laser fire at the padawan before me: a pale human female with white hair; Atris. Not far off, two other humans sparred: a tall male with bushy black hair by the name of Alek Squinquargesimus, and a petite dark-haired female called Bryony Thuvell.

“This is ridiculous,” Alek complained taking a hard swing at Bryony, “How long can the masters keep from us what's really going on?”

“It might be too dangerous for padawans like us to know,” Bryony suggested, dancing out of the way of his blow. He caught her on the back-swing, but she blocked him. Even with two hands on the hilt of her weapon, Alek would soon easily overpower her with size and strength.

“The masters always know best,” Atris agreed, missing my laser bolt as she looked over her shoulder at them.

“You can say that, but I still want to know,” the male retorted, leaning harder on his saber. Bryony raised her hand to signal her defeat and Alek let up.

“Though, I can't help but think,” Bryony said, panting backing away from Alek, “There's got to be some way we can help. With apprentices disappearing—”

Suddenly, an unkempt Jedi apprentice skidded into the room. “Where's Master Vandar?” the young human male panted.

Atris's attention redirected towards the new arrival, and she retracted her lightsaber. Seeing that she no longer wanted to practice, I switched off my laser and hovered behind her.

“He's in a council meeting,” Bryony replied soothingly, “Can it wait?”

“Sh—Shad!” he stammered, “Shad's gone too! This morning, he went out and didn't come back.”

“Woah, slow down Carrick,” Alek said, then eyed Bryony, “We might be able to help. Where was he going in the first place?”

“Down to the stream, I think,” the boy, Zanye Carrick, replied. “That’s where Kamlin was when she disappeared,” he added a moment later.

“Carrick, go wait for the masters outside the council chamber,” Alek said in what was apparently a calming tone, “I'm sure they'll be finished soon.”

Looking paler than usual, the padawan nodded and scurried away.

“I wish Roan'ev wasn't off with her master on Coruscant,” Alek muttered, “She'd know what to do...”

“Alek, I see that look in your eyes,” Atris observed as soon as Zayne was gone, “What's your plan?”

“We may be able to get to the bottom of this in a way the masters can't,” Alek began, “Bryony, do you really want to help those apprentices?”

“Of course,” she replied evenly, extinguishing her lightsaber. Alek did the same.

“You're the youngest and smallest of us,” Alek explained, “You could go to the stream and pretend to be an apprentice. Whatever it is isn't daring enough to take an older Jedi, but you could fool it by leaving your lightsaber and untying your padawan braid.”

“I couldn't lose my braid,” Bryony responded indignantly.

The Jedi seemed to place an undue significance on those thin plaited locks of hair.

“Fine, hide it then,” he replied, throwing his hands up defensively.

“In case you two failed to notice,” Atris cut in, “This is bound to be dangerous. How can you prepare for a threat we don't even understand?”

“I'd be more prepared than any apprentice,” Bryony said hesitantly.

“But what if it's a trap and you are injured?” Atris argued, “An unconscious padawan is just as defenseless as an unconscious apprentice.”

“We'd have to track her somehow,” Alek suggested, “But putting a tracker right on her would be too obvious.”

I whizzed down closer to the group and bobbed up and down in the air.

“Hey!” Bryony exclaimed, “I think this remote could help. The enclave already tracks all the remotes to keep them from wandering off, and he's small enough to sneak around and follow me.”

“Good thinking,” Alek praised, “And thanks,” he studied my identification letter, “Cresh. Now we have a plan.”

“I'm still not convinced that Bryony is going to be safe,” Atris argued.

“Safety isn't the question,” Bryony argued calmly, “locatablily is. Alek is right, whatever this is is afraid of anyone with a lightsaber. I'm sure the masters will have a hard time finding it if it stays in hiding when they're about. With this remote shadowing me, I'll do it.”

“Bryony,” Atris pleaded as Bryony passed her her lightsaber.

“We just need to make sure the masters don't find out,” Alek laughed.



Bryony Thuvell, with her padawan braid hidden in a loose bun at the nape of her neck, lazily played in the water of the stream. Only seven standard minutes later, old man wearing a gray hooded cloak approached her. Hovering not far away, I couldn’t see his face, but my sensors registered his voice, “Thank goodness! Perhaps you can help me.”

“With what?” Bryony asked innocently.

Suddenly, her face paled and she cringed violently, as if struggling against bonds my sensors could not pick up.

This man can use the Force as the Jedi can.

The young female's limbs relaxed to the point of limpness. She rose to her feet and followed after the cloaked man, away from the Academy. The female stared straight ahead as she walked, as if she did not sense her surroundings. This was highly unusual behavior for human females of her age.

As instructed, I followed at the discreet distance of twenty meters. This was far enough, it seemed, for me to avoid the aged man's notice. The man led Bryony away from the settlement and out into the open grasslands.

Not far ahead, my sensors picked up a pack of cath hounds. As if he did not register their presence, the old man continued to hobble slowly in their direction. When Bryony and the man were within range, the pack charged. Rather than fleeing like unarmed sentients tend to do, the human raised his hand and hot blue lightning leaped from it and struck the cath hounds. They howled and moaned, making noises I had never registered before, then fled. The man continued calmly on his way, Bryony following behind him.

That confirmed my suspicions. This man is some kind of Jedi.

Following the humans, I passed around the ruins of a dark stone building. In its shadow, I detected a small two-story dwelling. Instead of recklessly following them through the front door, I fired up my repulsorlifts and zipped in through an open window on the second floor. I settled inconspicuously atop a set of shelves in what appeared to be a bedroom, sharpened my auditory sensors, and waited.

Soon, the man and Bryony ascended the stairs. Standing on the landing just outside the open doorway, the man said, “And here is your room. I need to go out again, but while I am gone, you must not enter my study.” He rested his hand on the doorknob of the door across the landing.

“Yes Master Fitcher, I understand,” Bryony nodded. Her vocal pitch and cadence suggest that she was unharmed.

“Please, make yourself at home while I am gone,” he said and turned back down the stairs. Bryony cautiously entered the bedroom as he went and sat on the edge of the bed. The door slammed shut down below and the young padawan finally relaxed. “He's gone,” she murmured.

Now clear, I hovered down off the shelf.

“Cresh, you made it,” she exclaimed, relieved. She stood and paced about the room, “That man, Ak'ran Fitcher, he's a dark Jedi. This is more dangerous than I thought. When the masters find out what we've—”

Suddenly, she straightened up and hurried to the door of the study. Pressing her hands against it, she spoke so softly that I had to amplify my auditory sensors, “They're in there. The missing apprentices. They're still alive, if barely.”

Bryony put her hands on the doorknob but quickly backed away. “This lock system looks like the kind with an alarm mechanism. I don't know enough security to get around that,” she sighed and paced back into the bedroom. “There has to be a way,” she said and gazed up at the ceiling.

Noticing an air vent above the bed, I hovered up towards it and experimentally tapped up against it. It was wider than my own casing.

“Cresh! That's brilliant!” she exclaimed. Bryony extended her hand towards the vent and closed her eyes. The screws at each corner slowly twisted and fell down onto the mattress. The metal grate careened onto me then to the bed. It took me a moment to orient myself again.

“Sorry,” she giggled, but I failed to see the humor. “See if you can get into the study through the ventilation system.”

Floating up into the open vent, I navigated the air ducts until I came upon another grate. I surveyed the room through the grate. In the dim room below, there were four young sentients. Two human males and one faleen female lay sprawled on the floor while a third human male, the smallest of the children by far, sat alone in the corner. Meditating. Taking a holo capture, I returned to Bryony and projected it to her.

At first, she seemed excited at my discovery then squinted thoughtfully. “Something happened to them; they hardly seemed alive when I sensed them, but that youngling looks to be conscious. Cresh, can you record something for me to show to him?”

I bobbed up and down in the air, imitating a human nod. Immediately, she began to speak, giving me little time to reset my holo-recorder. When she finished, I returned to the grate above the study.

The young blond boy still sat motionless in the corner, oblivious to my presence. I tapped against the grate several times, until he finally looked up and gasped quietly. I aligned my projecting lens with a gap in the grate and played Bryony's message:

“I am Padawan Bryony Thuvell, and I’m here to get you out. I was tracked here, so help from the enclave should arrive soon. What happened to all of you? Fitcher has been kind to me so far, but anything helpful you know would be appreciated.”

The boy's mouth hung open, and the faleen stirred.

He weakly struggled to his feet and stood directly below me. Hesitantly he began, “I’m Mical. Master Fitcher made me come here by Force control. He was nice until I tried to get into this room after he told me not to. He attacked me. He took my strength away. I think it was the same for the other too. I've been trying to heal them a little bit, but he keeps coming back and doing it again. I think it makes him more powerful. He thinks I'm unconcious like the rest of them, but I figured out a way to go into a trance that will fool him,” Mical paused, “I think he’s looking for an apprentice.” He looked down at the floor, having no more to say, so I returned to Bryony and relayed his message.

“I didn't know they taught healing to apprentices so young,” Bryony murmured, “He must have gone into a healing trance himself. I wonder if the masters know about—”

Just then, I heard the crash of a metal grate contacting with the floor coming from the other room.

“He’s pulled the grate off,” Bryony observed. “Cresh, go see if there are any other ways to get them out of there. Maybe the door can be opened from the inside or there’s a covered window, or something like that.”

I obediently zipped up through the opening in the ceiling again and down into the darkened room. Without another holo to show Mical, I went about my business while he watched warily.

“Are you going to get us out?” he asked quietly, but I had no answer to give him.

The door was as securely locked from the inside as from the hall and the walls were all plain and windowless. As I hovered back up towards the duct, the young human asked, “Can you help me get up there? I think I can fit.”

The weight of the boy would not be enough to exhaust my repulsorlifts, so I acquiesced and hovered low enough for him to wrap his small hands around me. I slowly lifted him up off the floor and eased inside then pulled him along the narrow ducts. Although it was tight, Mical did not make a sound. I pulled him past the opening in the ceiling, then let him back down, feet first. Below, I could hear Bryony scramble onto the bed below us. Mical released me and fell down into Bryony’s arms, who fell back onto the bed, too small to support his sudden weight.

“Are you okay?” she asked.

He nodded tentatively.

“How does it look for other ways out?” Bryony asked me, but the boy responded before I could present my findings.

“The door is locked from the outside and there aren’t any windows,” he said quietly.

“I wonder…” Bryony began, “The roof here is flat with a lip around the outside edge. If only I had my lightsaber…”

Hearing voices outside, I hovered over to the window, then bounced in the air to get Bryony’s attention. Alek and Atris crouched in the grass below, both shrouded in brown cloaks, which helped only minimally to camouflage with the grass. As soon as Bryony reached the window, Atris called, “Bryony! Are you okay?”

“The masters are coming,” Alek added quickly.

“I’m fine,” she replied, “I found—” she cut short at the sound of the front door opening. “Mical, jump down and Alek will catch you,” she said, hoisting him up to the windowsill.

Without a word, the boy jumped. The tall male caught him easily then hid him beneath his cloak. I retreated to the shelf.

Meanwhile, Atris held up a lightsaber hilt. Reaching out, Bryony retrieved it with the force and stowed it under the mattress. She then hastily returned the air duct grate to its rightful place just as Ak'ren Fitcher opened the door.

“Well done, I see you have passed the test of obedience,” he said, smiling unpleasantly. There was a gray robe in his arms, “You shall become my apprentice.”

“Yes, Master Fitcher,” Bryony answered, and he handed her the robe. Putting it on, she asked, “What about a lightsaber? I haven't built my own yet.”

“Ah, I had forgotten,” he replied slowly, “I will go the kinrath cave in search of crystals. When I return, I will instruct you in the ways of constructing your weapon. You should meditate on the Force in my absence.”

“Yes Master Fitcher,” Bryony said and obediently sat down on the bed to meditate. As front door slammed, Bryony jumped up from the bed and took off the robe.

“Cresh, come down here,” she ordered, “You’re going to be me for a while.”

I obliged. How can I become Bryony? Is there some trick of the Force by which a droid can become a human? She dropped the hood of the gray robe over me, the weight of which forced me to sag mid-air. The robe is my disguise. I shall only appear to be Bryony.

Retrieving her lightsaber from beneath the mattress, she said, “Hover around the room at my height. I’m going up on the roof to cut a way out for those apprentices.” She quickly swung out the window and onto the roof. Her footsteps were barely audible, but there was no mistaking the sound of her lightsaber slicing through the ceiling of the study moments later.

Out the window, I glimpsed three more Jedi crouching in the grass: Master Vandar, Master Vrook, and Master Kavar.

Just then, the front door opened again. I heard Fitcher’s voice, “I had forgotten, I have the necessary crystals already in my study.”

My memory raced. Fitcher told her not to enter the study. The study is where the apprentices were. Bryony has just cut a hole through the ceiling of the study. I shot a warning bolt through the open window, and then surged through the door out onto the landing, firing my mostly-harmless lasers at Fitcher. He yelped and staggered down a few stairs.

The front door slammed open against the wall as the Jedi Masters rushed inside, lightsabers blazing. They charged up the stairs. Instantly, Fitcher had his own red lightsaber drawn and fought against Kavar.

Master Vandar somersaulted up to the landing and stood, his green lightsaber raised, between Fitcher and the room where the apprentices lay.

“Ak’ren Fitcher,” Vrook said disapprovingly from a few steps below, “We cast you out of the Order years ago.”

“For what?” Fitcher shrieked, “Enjoying power? There is no wrong in that. Now I have access to more power than you could dream of. Where is my apprentice?”

With a sizzling slice, the study door fell off its hinges. Silhouetted against the bright daylight, Bryony stood at the ready. I shook off the cloak and hovered out of her way.

“Bryony!” Kavar exclaimed.

“My apprentice!” he gaped, “Attack them!”

“You were fooled, Ak'ren Fitcher. I will not abandon the Jedi code,” Bryony said definatly, “the apprentices are gone, and you are cornered.”

With a yell, he lunged wildly at her. Bryony’s defensive stance is good, but Fitcher will easily overpower her with size and strength just as Alek had. I resumed firing laserbolts. As one struck his wrist, he yelped and dropped his lightsaber. The Master Vandar caught and extinguished it, leaving dark Jedi unarmed.

Trapped between Bryony and the masters, Fitcher hissed, “Kill me.”

“No,” Master Vrook said firmly, “You will stand trial before the Jedi Council on Coruscant for your crimes.”

“But I am Sith!” he shrieked.

“You are no more a Sith than you are a Jedi,” Vrook retorted.

Master Vandar just shook his head, “Now come.” Vrook and Vandar led Fitcher out of the cottage. I spotted the other padawans following after them, each supporting two apprentices.

“Master,” Bryony exclaimed and rushed over towards Kavar, who embraced her. “Thank you for coming.”

“You did well, my padawan,” He said, releasing her. “You did what we could not, even if it was without my permission.”

“I'm sorry, master,” she said, looking at the floor, “I just couldn't bare to think of what might have happened to those apprentices.”

“What's done is done,” Master Kavar replied, placing a hand on her shoulder. “And I'm proud of you. You trusted in your mind, not in confrontation. You did a great thing, but you did not thoroughly examine the consequences before you acted. While this turned out well, much could have been lost.”

“Yes, Master Kavar. I'll meditate on that when we return to the enclave,” she bowed her head. I took the lull in the conversation to hover down next to her. Glancing at me, Bryony added, “I couldn’t have done it without this remote.”

“A brave remote?” Kavar said, raising an eyebrow, “We will shine you up as a reward.” He turned to Bryony, “But don’t ever disobey the council again. You scared me, disappearing like that.”

Bryony nodded, “I promise, Master.


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