Tower of Time: Long Ago and Far Away

Taninim and Leviathan
Part 3 - Intersection
3976 BBY

Alek dragged his feet, scuffling and kicking at the pebbles on the pavement on his way to the east courtyard of the Jedi enclave. A warm breeze tousled his dark hair and whispered in the tall grasses beside the path. A brith flapped overhead, riding its gentle currents through the sky. The brilliant azure of the sky, the kiss of the summer breeze against his cheeks, and the chirps of contented songbirds were all lost on Alek. His entire being was focused on each frustrated, halfhearted shuffle-kick at the bit of gravel in front of his feet.

The laughter and giggles of children reverberated off the enclave and plateau walls that enclosed the courtyard ahead. That was not lost on Alek, however. He gave the bit of a gravel a particularly forceful kick, as if containing all of his irritation up in the toes of his boots. It careened harmlessly off the path and into the tall grasses.

“Ah, there you are, Alek Squinquargesimus. We were beginning to wonder if you had overslept.” The tall, blond Sephi Jedi Master, Aleco Studea, stood with his usual instructor Bala Nisi at the entrance to the courtyard. She smiled gently at him. It was the sweet sort of condescending smile that Alek and grown to despise. “It is good to see you.” By now, Alek knew that the Jedi Masters could sense when he was out-of-sorts. Master Aleco was pointedly ignoring his frustration.

“Good morning, Master Aleco,” Alek mumbled with his eyes still to the gravel path, “Master Bala.”

Bala Nisi was not about to ignore her charge's dejected attitude, however. “Alek, you can't keep this up every morning,” Bala scolded gently. “The sun is shining. You are safe on Dantooine now. Your friends are here.” She swept her hand towards the knot of younglings playing a noisy game of Force Ball.

Alek puckered his face into a sour grimace. That was a lie and she knew it. Those kids were hardly more than toddlers. Most of them were not even half his age. They weren't his friends. Alek did not know where his friends were any more. He didn't even know if they were still alive or if they were killed in the Mandalorian bombardment of Quelil. They might be scattered across the galaxy, refugees just like him. He would probably never know.

“You're a Jedi now,” Bala continued encouragingly.

“Aren't Jedi supposed to be training to go out and help people,” Alek asked pointedly, “not trying to beat the other team at Force Ball?”

“Force Ball is a game that will help you become a better Jedi for the future,” Bala pointed out, “As I said before, it trains your control in the Force. Why don't you go join the other younglings in their game?”

“Do I have to?” Alek whined. “I'm almost ten. That's the kind of stupid game my little sisters play.” If any of his little sisters were still alive after the attack.

The two Jedi Masters exchanged knowing looks.

“You know Alek,” Aleco started, “We were discussing your education and your need for something more age-appropriate. Our curriculum is not designed for someone your age. As most of our apprentices arrive at the enclave when they are much younger.”

“I know,” Alek replied dully, staring at the children fooling around with the head-sized ball behind the two Jedi masters.

“Perhaps you could find someone closer to your age who is willing to help you catch up with your peers,” Aleco suggested.

“Like a master?” Alek asked, suddenly perking up. This sounded far better than Force Ball any day.

“Like a mentor,” Bala corrected him. “You and your mentor would still need to check in with me to ensure that you are still receiving all the training you need. And you will still need to attend the more formal classes, but not game-practice like this.”

“I'll do it,” Alek said quickly, almost cutting off the copper-skinned Jedi Master.

Aleco smiled lightly. “Well then, you had best be off to find a mentor for your studies,” she suggested warmly.

“Uh, where should I look?” Alek asked. Like it or not, nearly all his waking moments since arriving on Dantooine were spent in the company of the little kids in his class. He had hardly had any time to get to know the Jedi apprentices his own age.

Bala shifted an inquiring glance at Aleco, who nodded. “You might want to ask Roan'ev,” she suggested.

“Roan?” Alek asked for clarification. Despite his lack of social interaction with his age-peers, that was a name he knew. Everyone knew of Roan'ev. Alek had sneaked in to watch him in the practice ring a few days earlier. Roan already knew impressive Force tricks. While Alek watched, Roan'ev was doing pretty well against someone almost twice his size in a duel with the plasteel practice sabers. Everyone said that Roan'ev was powerful beyond his years, destined to become a great Jedi. “He's good,” Alek praised, “for a little kid.”

“Yes she is,” Bala replied, stressing the pronoun, “And she is one year your elder as well.”

“Roan is a girl?” Alek spurted, baffled, “But he, er, she looks like a—Roan is a boy's name.”

“Perhaps on your planet,” Aleco replied, “But Roan'ev is a perfectly acceptable girl's name where she is from.”

“Uh, okay,” Alek stared at his feed, embarrassed. He hoped that he thought Roan'ev was a boy never got back to her. He would hate to get on her bad side. “But what if he—she says no?” he asked.

“Then you will have to find someone else who does want to help you,” Aleco replied calmly. “But I think she will see the wisdom in mentoring you.”

Alek nodded, “Okay, I'll go find her.” Without another word of encouragement or blessing from the masters, he turned and hurried off down the path, thrilled to put Force Ball behind him.

Watching him go, Aleco turned to Bala and added, “And Roan'ev will benefit from a friend as well.”

Roan'ev was not to be found in any of the practice arenas, in the apprentice library, or even in the mess hall. After the better part of an exasperated hour of searching, another apprentice offered some help.

Leaning close to Alek, the Twi'lek said in a low voice, “When she doesn't have anything else to do, Roan'ev usually goes up to the back side of that plateau west of the enclave and watches the cath hounds.”

“Watches cath hounds?” Alek asked.

The Twi'lek just shrugged.

“But leaving the enclave grounds isn't allowed for apprentices,” Alek protested.

“Try telling her that,” he laughed.

Alek set his jaw determinedly. If that's where Roan'ev was, he was going to have to learn how to sneak out of the enclave too. “Thanks,” Alek bowed clumsily to the older apprentice and started off again.

Sneaking out was not as difficult as he had anticipated. The Jedi Enclave did not exactly keep guards. They trusted their students to stay in and the riffraff to stay out.

He skirted the edge of the plateau until he found a warn dirt path through the scrub grasses. Grasping at roots and rocks for hand-holds, Alek scrambled to the top. He made a backward glance to check that no one had seen his ascent, and then began to search for Roan'ev.

Alek did not have to look far. Roan'ev sat calmly on the far edge of the plateau, overlooking the rolling plains of the Dantooine outback. With her coarse black hair styled ever shorter than Alek's, he still had a hard time seeing Roan'ev as a girl.

Her attention was focused on the plain below where a pack of cath hounds lounged in a the sun. While the adults napped, a litter of cubs wrestled and tumbled nearby. Roan'ev made a firm gesture with one hand and a large rock abruptly rolled into the path of one of the smaller cubs. The pup paused, sniffed curiously at the rock, then clambered over it. Roan'ev made a sharp pulling gesture, and the ground beneath the pup gave way into a shallow hole. It yelped, but was soon pulling itself out again and trotting over to its other playmates. Alek let out a small gasp, watching it fall.

Roan'ev looked over her shoulder at him, dark eyes boring into his.

“Uh, hi,” he stammered, “I'm—”

“You're the new kid Master Bala brought in,” she observed, “Alek, isn't it?”

“Yeah,” he nodded sheepishly, “Alek Squinquargesimus.”

“Squit-a-whaty-what?” she spurted back.

“Squinquargesimus,” Alek replied then added, “I'm sorry for sneaking up on you.”

“You didn't sneak up on me,” Roan'ev replied plainly.

Alek stared at her. He didn't know how to reply.

“Cummere,” she urged him with a wave of her hand, “This is really interesting.”

“What?” Alek asked as he approached.

He sat down in the dry grass as she replied, “No matter how weak one of these cubs is from the beginning, if he has to get over lots of troubles, he is stronger and smarter than the other cubs by the end.”

“What do you mean?” Alek asked.

“Watch,” she said firmly. With a tug of her hand, a large spire of rock tipped and thudded to the ground in front of the litter of cubs. Some immediately began barking at it while one of the adult cath hounds wuffed agitatedly. Before the rest of the pups calmed down, the smallest of them began to climb haltingly over it towards the rest of the pack. Seeing the little cub climb, the others quieted down and jumped at the rock to climb over it as well. Soon, they were all on the other side, bounding towards their mother.

Roan'ev took a deep breath and made a slow, labored lifting motion with both of her hands. On the plain floor below, the rock spire lifted off the ground, pivoted, and settled itself back into its original spot again. Roan'ev released her air then turned to Alek. “See?” she asked.

“They all got over it,” he observed.

“But that little one led the charge,” Roan'ev pointed out. “I've been testing that one for weeks now; giving it all sorts of trouble. Because of all that trouble, now it can handle anything. It made him stronger.”

“Huh,” Alek nodded.

“So what are you doing up here anyway?” Roan'ev asked abruptly, “I thought I was the only one who liked to play with cath hounds.”

“Well,” Alek began, “The masters said that I should look for someone to mentor me and that you might do it, since I'm way older than the other kids in my class, and their games are boring, and someone said that I would find you if I looked here.”

“Oh,” Roan'ev stared closely at him, “So you want a mentor?”

“Yeah. So I can catch up with people my own age,” Alek answered, “If you have time.”

She continued to stare fixatedly at him, deep in thought. Finally, she broke the silence over the cath hound yips, “I'll do it. And I'll do it in a year.”

“Only for a year?” Alek asked.

“Because after a year, you'll be ready to join our class,” Roan'ev replied.

“You can do that?” Alek asked, almost wild with anticipation.

“I will do it,” she declared. “You better be ready to work hard.”

“You bet I am!” Alek exclaimed.

One of the dozing cath hounds looked up in their direction and barked a warning.

“There's one thing though,” Roan'ev warned him.

“What?” Alek asked hesitantly.

“I get to call you Squint,” she replied.

“Squint? Why?” Alek asked.

“Because there's already an Onderonian named Alek in my class,” she explained decisively, “And your last name is too hard to say over and over. Squint is close enough.”

“Well, okay,” Alek nodded. He continued slowly, hoping that she would not take offense, “Do I have to call you Roan'ev then?”

“Why not?” she asked.

“Well, Roan is a boy's name,” he continued, almost regretting his question under her intense gaze.

Suddenly, she broke out laughing. “Well, if that's it,” she replied with a grin, “you can call me Ev, unless that's a boy's name too on your planet.”

“Ev isn't a name at all on my planet,” he replied, breaking a hesitant smile.

“Great. Then it works,” she replied. “Where are you from anyway?”

“Squinquargesimus, on Quelil,” Alek replied quietly. He tried not to think about it very often. The Jedi Masters said that being sad about his home could lead to the Dark Side.

“So that's where you got that awful last name,” Roan'ev observed playfully.

“It's not really my last name,” Alek explained, “Quelilians don't have last names. It's just when I came to Coruscant, they needed a last name for customs, and so they gave me that one.”

“Quelil,” Roan'ev said pensively, “That's the planet that the Mandalorians got a month ago, isn't it?”

Alek nodded and stared at the ground, twisting blades of grass in his fingers.

“Is your family okay?” she asked quietly.

“I don't know,” he replied, ripping at the grass, “They didn't make it to the same ship I did. Everybody was running and screaming and the Mandalorians were coming in. I don't know what happened to them.”

Roan'ev put a small hand on his leg. “I'm sure they're okay,” she reassured him.

“I hope so,” Alek bit back tears. He breathed deeply like Bala Nisi had taught him and forced those thoughts from his mind. Salty tears stung at the corners of his eyes, but he did not let them free. He tried to think of Dantooine, of the Jedi, of the cath hounds, of how much fun it would be to have Roan'ev to help him learn. All the while, she kept a calming hand on his leg, waiting for him to recover. He swallowed raggedly and looked up at Roan'ev. Changing the subject, he asked, “Were are you from, Ev?”

She shrugged, “I don't know.”

“Really?” Alek asked, “How?”

“Master Vrook says that the Jedi found me when my parents were refugees,” she explained, “The Jedi brought me here when I was still a baby and raised me. The only place I know is Dantooine.”

“Didn't they tell you where they found you?” Alek asked.

“Master Vrook says that the Jedi have no attachments to places. He says that a Jedi's home planet doesn't matter,” she replied.

“But didn't you ask?” Alek pressed.

“Yes, and he didn't tell me,” Roan'ev replied. She paused thoughtfully, staring up at the flawlessly blue sky, “But I think that, by not telling me, he proved that it is important. Why keep it a secret otherwise?” She let that sink in, still staring distantly at the sky. Finally, she turned to Alek and said, “Don't let anybody tell you that Quelil isn't important any more. You are who you are because of your home.”

Alek clenched his fists. “And someday, I'll get back at the Mandalorians for what they did to my planet,” he promised vengefully.

Roan'ev stared at him again, as if measuring him up. Alek shifted uncomfortably under her gaze. He would have to get used to that.

“So,” she started again at last, “If I'm going to get you into my class by next year, we're starting now. You see that rock over there?” She pointed to the tall spire that she had tipped over earlier as an obstacle for the cath pups.

Alek nodded.

“I want you to pick it up and put it back down again,” she instructed.

“What?” Alek protested, “I've never done anything like that before.” The rock was huge, heavier than anything he had ever Lifted in the Force before.

“That's why you're going to do it now,” she replied firmly. “Have you ever played Force Ball?”

“Of course,” he snorted.

“If you can lift that ball, you can lift this rock. It's no different in the Force,” she recited plainly.

“But it's so much bigger,” he protested weakly, knowing that she was right.

“We're going to sit here until you do it,” Roan'ev asserted.

“But lunch is in almost an hour,” Alek protested again.

“Then you better get over whatever it is that makes you think this will be hard fast,” she said with a wicked grin.

“'I can do all things through the Force,'” Alek quoted, grumbling.

“That's the spirit,” Roan'ev grinned.

- Next Part -

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