Tower of Time: Long Ago and Far Away
   

Under the Shadow of the Builders
Part 5 - Waiting

Time dragged on. Ev's training continued and Carth didn't catch sight of her for several more days. He submitted his report; it could only be revised so many times before there was nothing left to change. Despite daily correspondence from the front, Carth felt supremely disconnected. He could be out there, fighting and making a difference. Instead, he was stuck at a remote Jedi Enclave. Doing what?

Waiting.

The Jedi seemed to think that in Ev and Bastila, and their dream, they had another way at winning the war. It gave him hope, but it didn't make the wait any easier. Couldn't they just finish Ev's training on the road?

But didn't Jedi take years to train? The masters said themselves that it would be even harder at Ev's age. The Republic couldn't wait years.

Left with nothing but his thoughts, Carth began to tinker with the Ebon Hawk. It was a highly modified vehicle, and, if he was to pilot it on a secret mission for the Jedi, he should know every nook and cranny, every feature. When he grew cross-eyed from squinting at screens and machinery for too long, Carth took walks around the enclave.

One particular walk took him to the dueling arena. Amidst students practicing against remotes or their peers, Carth spotted Ev and Bastila in a heated duel, the Twi'lek Jedi Master watching over them. Carth hung back out of the way and watched. As long as he wasn't disturbing any of the Jedi, they had no reason to complain.

Both women wielded simple vibroblades. Ev was every bit as skilled with a blade as Bastila was, if not more. Carth smiled. At least that was one bit of Jedi training that they didn't need to spend years teaching her.

As he watched, suddenly Ev leaped high into the air and somersaulted over Bastila's head. In one swift movement, she landed, swinging her blade up to Bastila's neck and held it steadily there, only finger widths away from her skin. Bastila's jaw dropped and she dropped her own weapon in surprise. Master Zhar's eyes widened and his lekku twitched madly.

Carth felt his own mouth hanging open. He quickly closed it and composed himself.

Under Bastila and Zhar's questioning, Ev only shrugged, gesturing lightly in the air. Then Zhar himself took up Bastila's blade and stood at the ready. After a lengthy explanation, Ev mimicked his pose and they began. What followed was like nothing Carth had ever seen before.

The two Jedi, master and apprentice, were no longer simply swinging blades at each other. They were moving; dancing, tumbling, jumping. It was more of a show of acrobatics than of dueling, and yet their blades kept swinging and connecting. Zhar moved aggressively at her, but she always responded in style, mimicking his moves. Every now and then Zhar would stop them and correct Ev's form. Carth was too far away to hear his advice. Then they would start again. Many of the other students in the practice arena had stopped their own exercises all together and watched as he did.

Some time later, Carth had lost track of time, it came to an end. The other students hurriedly resumed their work so as not to be caught gawking, and Ev and Bastila put away their weapons. They left the arena and walked down the corridor close enough to Carth for him to catch their conversation.

“You have made great progress Ev,” Zhar commended, “You have already done in weeks what many cannot do in years.”

“Thank you, Master,” Ev replied respectfully. She was out of breath and sweating profusely.

“But don't let that go to your head,” Bastila warned, “You still have much to learn.”

Ev turned her sharp tongue on Bastila, “And you do too. You still haven't started Ataru, even after how many years of training?”

Bastila's face hardened. “Not every Jedi must learn all the lightsaber forms,” Bastila replied coldly, “It is enough to master a few of them.”

Ev looked ready to retort, but Master Zhar cut in, “Padawan Bastila is right. You must not become overconfident. Such is a path to the dark side.”

Ev hung her head, “Yes, Master Zhar. I understand.”

“Your military training has given you a head start in dueling,” Zhar continued as they walked, “But fighting is not the first tool of the Jedi. It is his last. You must learn to subdue the turbulent emotions and aggressions inside of you and replace them with calm serenity. When a Jedi is at peace, he is at his strongest. Only then can he draw fully from the Force and understand its will. Your past, Apprentice, has made your emotions difficult to control. This will be your greatest and most important struggle.”

They rounded the corner where Carth stood and turned away down another corridor. Bastila didn't seem to see him there at all, but Ev glanced up at him out of the corner of her eyes and smiled slyly. Carth found himself smiling back.

As they walked away, Zhar continued his lecture on inner peace, “You will not duel for the next several days. Your excitement and confidence while fighting can be dangerous. Instead, you will meditate on the...” They rounded another corner and were gone.

Although he still might not understand them, Carth was beginning to learn about the Jedi.

~~~

One afternoon, boredom drove Carth give in to Mission and play a game of pazaak. After two hands, he and Mission were tied, one win apiece.

“You're not so bad, for a geezer who says he never plays,” Mission taunted, grinning.

“Hey!” Carth exclaimed. Then he realized that he had taken her bait. Laughing, he said, “And you're not so bad yourself, for a little kid.”

Mission giggled, throwing down a -1 card to rescue her 21. “Darn right, I am!” she declared triumphantly, “You're going to need to play a little better if you want to win this game.”

“Well, you know, I'm out of practice,” Carth made excuses for himself.

“And I'm sure you could flatten anyone at this game if you weren't,” Mission laughed, dealing out her first card for the next round.

As he passed by their perch in the courtyard, heading back to the ship, Canderous said, “Don't let Republic here fool you, kid. He's all bark, no bite.”

Mission laughed merrily, but Carth scowled. And you, Mandalorian, are all bite and nothing else.

“You know,” Mission began, “I've been talking with some of the other Jedi Apprentices around here. Some of them have been here for years. I met one that is almost thirteen and hasn't been upgraded to Padawan yet. He was getting real worried, since I guess thirteen is the cut-off or something.”

“Thirteen years?” Carth exclaimed. It jolted him out of counting cards, almost forgetting the game entirely. “We don't have thirteen years to wait on Ev!”

“Yeah, I know,” Mission said impatiently. “But, the thing I figure is, kids can't hold vibroblades until they're like, eight or something. They probably don't get what meditation is until then either. That makes it only five years of real training, and Ev already knows how to fight. So that leaves only learning to think like a Jedi, I guess.”

Carth nodded slowly. “I watched her spar with Bastila the other day,” he related to her, “And she out-did Bastila that Master Zhar had to step in and spar with her instead. It's like she's a natural at it.”

Mission agreed, “All the apprentices have been saying that too. I'd say they're jealous, only they're not allowed to be. One said she pulled out a lightsaber form on Bastila that they've only seen full Masters and a couple of Knights do well.”

“That must have been it,” Carth said.

“Well, anyway,” Mission continued, “They also said she's picked up telekinesis and a bunch of other mind tricks really quickly too.”

“So then it will be less than five years, then,” Carth sighed, “Thank the stars!”

“The thing is,” Mission said, lowering her voice and leaning closer, “People are worried about her anyway. They say she's too rash, too head-strong, has too much anger, too proud, all sorts of stuff like that.”

Carth laughed, “Well, that's our Ev. I guess the Jedi don't like that so much.”

“Some of them have started to wonder if she's ever had training like this before,” Mission practically whispered.

“What do you mean by that?” Carth asked, startled.

“Like, was she trained as a Sith first, not a soldier like she says?” the young Twi'lek suggested. “People started whispering about that after she pulled those fancy moves dueling Bastila.”

Carth's mind wheeled. It seemed impossible, and yet... The implications of it were huge. If Ev were a Sith in disguise, she had already infiltrated deeply into the Jedi Order. And there was her bond with Bastila...

“I don't believe it myself,” Mission said as she sat back on her haunches again, her voice normal volume again. “It's all a bunch of bantha dung anyway. We know Ev isn't any of that.” She slapped down another card and stared up at Carth. “Hello? Carth? It's your turn,” she nagged.

“Right, sorry,” Carth apologized absently and threw down the first card on his hand, not paying attention.

Clapping her hands, Mission declared, “You went over! That means I win this one. Up for another, Carth?”

“No thanks,” he waved her off, “I'm done for now.”

“Well, maybe you'll let me beat you again some other time,” Mission said, and with a laugh, she bounded off towards the Ebon Hawk.

Carth remained sitting on the low wall, lost in thought. The more Mission's words spiraled around in his head, the more reasonable they seemed. And none of the Jedi Masters noticed? Maybe the Jedi are blinded by their own mercy and serenity. He had to confront her before it was too late.

Carth got his chance later that very afternoon.

“Hey Onasi!” an all too familiar voice called, “What are you up to? You look like someone just smacked you up-side the head.”

Ev's voice ripped Carth out of his trance. His hands instinctively felt for his blasters. He hoped that she didn't notice. “Ev,” he said, taking a deep breath, “we have to talk.”

“Alright,” she replied and settled down onto the wall where Mission had sat not long ago, “I'm all ears. What is it, Lieutenant?”

“I hear you're moving quickly through training,” he said gravely.

“You say it like it's a bad thing,” Ev exclaimed, throwing her hands in the air, “Even I can sense how restless you are. I would have thought that would make you happy.”

“It's like you already know all this stuff,” Carth persisted.

“What are you suggesting? You've seen my resume,” Ev replied, eyes narrowing, “I've spent the last three years training with special corps. I know how to fight. You saw yourself back on Taris. It's not magic, Onasi, it's training.”

“But what kind of training?” he pressed her.

“The rigorous kind,” Ev retorted. “Kriff it, Carth! What are you getting at? It's not like I'm already some perfect Jedi. They won't give me my saber, not yet anyway. Zhar and Bastila won't stop lecturing me on controlling my emotions, anger, and all that.”

“That's exactly it!” Carth exclaimed, pointing at her, “Any Dark Jedi would be able to do all of these Jedi tricks just fine, but not act like a perfect Jedi does.”

“What the hell, Onasi?” Ev angrily jumped to her feet, “Sithspit! A Dark Jedi? You hairless Wookiee! How many times have I saved your rear? Those Sith were trying to gun me out of the sky just as much as you.”

“How the hell am I supposed to trust you if you keep coming up with all these unexplainable skills?” Carth demanded, rising to his feet as well.

“Trust? Trust! This is about trust again?” Ev laughed angrily.

“I don't know anything about you, other than what I saw on Taris and what I see here,” he hissed, “And let me tell you, sister, it doesn't add up.”

“Oh, you're one to talk, Mister 'I don't want to talk about my past'!” she accused.

“What I can't believe is that the Council and Bastila haven't noticed yet,” he said, seething.

“It's because there isn't anything to notice,” she exclaimed, “Jedi like them can see inside you, know who you are to your core. Do you claim to see deeper than they do, Onasi?”

Carth was at a loss for words. “Frack!” he cursed.

“You know what your problem is?” Ev accused, “You just can't get over your past.”

“Don't you dare!” he threatened, “You have no idea—”

“You let three humans ruin your entire opinion of the universe,” she said. Her words were like knives. “Revan, Malak, and Saul Karath. When are you ever going to give up and live again?”

“Live? In case you didn't notice, I am living,” he snapped.

“Normal people don't accuse everyone they meet of being a traitor,” she retorted.

“I don't see why you have to take this so personally all the time,” Carth seethed. “Drop it, would you?”

“No, because it is personal,” she persisted, “How in the hell am I supposed to work with you to save the Republic if you think I'm out to bring it all down?”

“You know, if you were smart, you wouldn't trust anyone either,” Carth said as evenly as he could. “Not me, not Bastila, not the Jedi, not even yourself.”

“Oh, so you don't trust yourself either?” Ev asked, stepping closer.

“I don't need to be analyzed, thanks,” he snapped.

“Where is your faith in all sentient life?” Ev asked in disbelief. “I would have thought, being in this enclave for so long already, some of the hope and peace would have rubbed off on you.” She paused to take a breath. “You know what? I give up,” she said, throwing her hands into the air, “You are a hopeless case, Onasi. I hope you can find something to believe in.” With that, she strode briskly away. Ev hardly seemed angry at all as she stalked off; only disappointed.

Disappointed.

Carth felt exhausted; deflated like a pierced balloon. He sunk back onto retaining wall, head swimming. Ev had utterly disarmed him. There was something about her, she had changed so much already. He no longer felt the need to hunt her down as a Sith in hiding, but still, he didn't know what to make of her. It was days before Carth could shake that feeling of bewilderment.

~~~

One night while Carth watched Mission and Zaalbar play pazaak—although Mission had no trouble convincing Carth to play these days, even the solitary Wookiee got bored sometimes—Canderous strode back up the loading ramp, looking pleased with himself.

“So what have you been up to anyway, Canderous?” Mission asked. All the while, she had no trouble keeping track of her game with Zaalbar.

“Hunting,” Canderous answered as he sat down to clean off his blaster rifle.

“Hunting?” Mission asked, “Hunting for what?”

“Cath hounds,” Canderous explained, “There's a real problem with them on the plains. I heard a lot of the settlers that are hanging around here complaining about them. I figured I could use a little action. Cath hounds are aggressive and hunt in packs. It's a decent challenge, and better than sitting around playing cards all day.”

“Helping out the locals,” Carth muttered, “I didn't know you had it in you.”

Canderous laughed. “You miss my point, Carth. I'm in it for the action,” Canderous replied, “And the locals pay me some credits for my services. I don't work for free.”

“I suppose you wouldn't. And you faced whole packs without backup?” Carth asked incredulously.

“Yeah. Why not?” Canderous shrugged, “They're relatively easy prey. Nothing like a krayt dragon or anything like that.”

Zaalbar looked up from his game and howled a few words to Mission.

“You're right, Big Z,” Mission said nodding, “That does sound like a good idea. Say Canderous, would you take some help with those cath hounds?”

“The dullness of this place is getting to you too kid, huh?” Canderous commented, “Sure, you can come along. I've heard you're alright with a blaster.”

“And Zaalbar too,” Mission added, “He's a great shot.”

“Carth?” Canderous inquired, looking him straight in the eyes.

“Sure. Why not?” Carth replied. I need to get out of this place for a while anyway.



And so the next morning the four set off to hunt some Cath hounds. As they exited the enclave onto the surrounding grounds, they noticed an agitated group of settlers clumped together.

“What's going on?” Carth asked a woman as they passed her.

“Oh, it's those blasted Mandalorians again,” she explained, “They've been raiding the farmsteads all over this continent lately and the Jedi haven't done anything about it.”

This seemed to perk Canderous' interest. They could have avoided the knot of farmers on their way out, but Canderous chose not to. In the center of the group stood one red-faced, angry man.

“Why didn't you go to the Jedi for help?” someone suggested.

“Yeah, they're supposed to be our protectors,” another voice chimed in.

“Protectors? Bah!” he exclaimed, “Those Jedi are too worried about protecting their own skins to have any time to help us.”

“Hey, wait a minute!” someone protested.

“What happened?” Canderous asked, pushing his way to the front of the group.

The man eyed Canderous and his three companions. “You look like someone who can actually take action,” he said. “Last night, a dozen Mandalorians came to our farm and demanded our livelihood, but my daughter Ilsa, my sweet Ilsa, she refused. Those blood-thirsty bucket-heads slaughtered her and robbed me anyway, then burned our fields.”

“You should have taught her to keep her mouth shut when there's a gun pointed at her head,” Canderous accused, “And you call yourself her father.”

Murmurs and whispers erupted in the crowd around them.

“What would you expect me to do?” the man demanded, “I'm just a farmer! I can't take on a bunch of Mandalorians. But someone needs to take revenge for my daughter,” he pleaded.

“We'll take care of them for you,” Canderous offered at last.

“Will you?” the man asked, looking pleased in his grief, “I'll give you whatever I can in return, just wipe those brutes off the face of this planet.”

With a satisfied smile, Canderous took the man's hand and shook it. “You have yourself a deal. Any idea where we could find them?” he asked.

“I saw a group of Mandalorians not too far from the Matale's homestead this morning,” one man voiced, “To the north of here.”

“Alright crew,” Canderous said, turning to Carth, Zaalbar, and Mission, “New game plan. We're going after Mandos today. Though maybe we'll even catch a pack of cath hounds on the way.”

None of them argued. Carth figured it was an even better service to the locals than hunting cath hounds. He didn't understand why Canderous would want to hunt down the men he used to fight with, however.

As they pushed out of the crowd, a woman grabbed Carth by the sleeve. “I'm sorry sir,” she said urgently, “But if you're going out there today, could you keep an eye out for my companion—my personal assistance droid, I mean? It's all I have left of my husband, he was a genius at building droids, you know, and I really need it back. Maybe the Mandalorians stole it, or maybe it just got lost. I don't know. It means a lot to me.” She sounded emotional and desperate.

“Sure,” Carth agreed, “I'll keep my eyes open.”

“Oh, thank you so much,” she gushed, “My name is Elise, by the way. He’ll know my name. Good luck!”

Carth freed himself from her grasp and hurried to catch up with the others. He heard Canderous muttering angrily, “Pathetic! They shouldn't be taking scraps like this, they should be taking worlds. Where is the honor in that?”

Carth grimaced. I'm sure he'd be praising these guys and not out to kill them if they had taken all of Dantooine instead. Granted, even Mandalorians aren't stupid enough to try to take the Jedi Enclave here.

The party crossed over a small stream just outside of the enclave and through a narrow passage between two bluffs. Smart planning, Carth thought, the Jedi picked a great defensible location.

The bluffs opened onto a wide plain covered in tall, waving grasses. Almost completely surrounding it were more plateaus of brown stone. A few clumps of bulbous trees grew scattered around the plain. Only a few clouds floated overhead in the otherwise blue sky.

Mission gasped, “This is what Dantooine looks like? I've never seen anything like this!”

“Not every world is covered in city,” Canderous said.

“This one is hardly populated at all,” Carth added, surveying the area before them.

“Wow,” Mission murmured, wide eyed.

Near a clump of trees by the plateaus on the other end, Carth could make out an unnatural rustling in the grass. Moments later, barking and howling reached their ears.

“Looks like we're going to have to kill some cath hounds anyway,” Canderous said with wry humor while the other three checked their blasters. Meanwhile, they continued advancing towards the sound. “Mission, how are you at climbing trees?” Canderous asked.

“I've never climbed a tree before, but I bet I could do it,” Mission answered, “Remember? I grew up on Taris.”

“Fair enough,” Canderous said, nodding.

Zaalbar, who had been silent up until then, suddenly made a few growling comments while gesturing with one hand.

“Yeah,” Mission agreed with him, “Big Z is right. Wookiees are pretty much made to climb trees.”

“Alright, good,” Canderous said, “Cath hounds hunt in packs. They like to go after just one prey at a time. So, we give them this Wookiee to focus on while the rest of us snipe them from behind.” He turned to Zaalbar, “When we get close enough, you run out making a bunch of noise and climb up that tree. Once you're up, start shooting. That will make 'em mad enough to keep trying to get you.”

“You get all that, Big Z?” Mission asked.

He yowled affirmatively.

Carth had to admit that Canderous did have flare for strategy. Although, he wouldn't tell him that.

When the got just out of range if the cath hound pack, Canderous motioned for them to crouch down into the cover of the prairie grasses, then waved Zaalbar on. The Wookiee took to his part with enthusiasm, screaming and waving his arms in the air. The pack jumped to their feet and darted for him, barking, but Zaalbar's long strides kept him safely ahead. He climbed up the tree as easily as he ran through the grasses and was soon settled in a high branch and un-slinging his bowcaster.

Canderous leaped up, voicing something that sounded half way between a laugh and a yell, and opened fire on the cath hounds. Carth and Mission followed his lead, and, in a few minutes, all of the hounds were dead. Only once did any of the cath hounds turn from the tree and head for its real attackers. Carth shot it between the eyes before it could get close.

“So now what?” Mission asked, holstering her blaster.

“We find the nearest homestead and ask for a reward,” Canderous answered.

“You can't be serious,” Carth said, disgusted.

“Watch me,” Canderous retorted, and started off again. “The other scavengers will take care of the bodies.”

Canderous held true to his word. They passed between more plateaus and across more prairie fields, but when they came to a small homestead, Canderous boldly approached the door and knocked. The thankful inhabitants gladly paid Canderous for his services while Carth hung back in disgust. The whole exchange didn't seem to bother Mission or Zaalbar.

When Canderous rejoined the group, he announced, pointing eastward, “They said the saw some Mandalorians off that direction this morning.”

“Well then, let's go,” Carth responded, anxious to move on.

They walked a while in silence, Carth and Canderous scanning the area for trouble while Mission took in the natural beauty. Carth couldn't even begin to guess what Zaalbar was thinking as he trudged along behind them.

After some time, Canderous turned to him and asked, “Carth, you fought in the Mandalorian wars, right? Maybe we fought in some of the same battles.”

“I'd rather not relive the horrors of that war, thanks,” Carth replied shortly. They things I saw Mandalorians do...

“The horrors of war?” Canderous asked in disbelief, “I see it as the glories of battle. I thought a fellow warrior like yourself would understand.”

“Now there's a difference,” Carth replied sharply, “I am a soldier. Soldiers fight to protect innocent people from harm. The way I see it, warriors fight to destroy them. There's a difference.”

“I bet you tell yourself that just so you can get to sleep at night,” Canderous chided. “You took battle as drudgery. How could you miss the glory in it that makes it worth while, win or lose?”

“You call what you did at Serrocco glorious?” Carth demanded, “Trying to nuke countless innocents?”

“Your Republic was acting cowardly, using those innocents for a shield. We had to make our point,” Canderous answered.

“So where does all your glory go when you lose, like you did against us?” Carth demanded.

“We were outnumbered and outgunned, but we still made the Republic tremble before we fell,” Canderous said proudly.

“Yeah, I bet you tell yourself that just so you can sleep at night,” Carth muttered angrily. “Is that all you wanted? For everyone to fear you?”

“You couldn't understand the ways of my people, Carth,” Canderous replied coldly, “You have already proven that much.”

“Well, let's drop this then, okay?” Carth snapped.

“Fine by me, Soldier,” Canderous replied, mockery in his voice.

Quietly fuming, Carth stalked out ahead of the group. I don't know why the Jedi even let him stick around. He's a Mandalorian. In a minute, he could turn on us, just for the sake of his warrior's glory.

As he approached another ridge, he suddenly heard blaster shots and screaming. The others heard it too and jogged up to join him. Reaching the crest of the hill, they saw a small farmstead, but out front were two speeders, a swoop bike, and nearly a dozen Mandalorians, guns pointed at the unarmed farming family.

Gazing down at them, Carth suddenly realized that between the four of them, only Canderous wore any kind of armor. Well, it's too late to turn back now, and those people need our help.

“Follow me and stay close,” Canderous ordered quietly, “Mandalorian armor takes a few shots to penetrate, but it's weak at the wrists. Get them there first. Once they're disarmed, go for the chest.”

The four strode confidently down the low hill, Canderous in the lead. “You there!” he called, “What do you think you're doing?”

“Who are you?” one of them, wearing yellow armor, asked.

“Taking piecemeal, I see,” he taunted, “What a bunch of pathetic bandits. You don't deserve to be called warriors.”

“Watch it, buddy,” another, in read armor, snapped.

“I asked you,” the first persisted, “Who are you?”

“Canderous Ordo,” he answered, as if his name should ring familiar.

“Canderous Ordo?” one of them echoed, seeming somewhat amazed.

“Don't think that we'll drop this just for you,” the first sneered, “You may be Canderous Ordo, but I hear you took up as a mercenary. At least we stayed true to the clans!”

Canderous laughed, “You call this holding to tradition?”

“This is our territory. Unless you want to join us, get out,” a third, in blue, threatened.

“No thanks,” Canderous answered, smiling grimly. In a flash, his blaster rifle was up, and he shot the leader in the wrist. Two more shots later, the man was down, even before anyone else could ready their guns.

Carth, Mission, and Zaalbar all scrambled behind the speeders for cover and started shooting. The Mandalorians were smarter than the cath hounds they had encountered earlier and did not concentrate their fire just on Canderous. Just as well, as he might have been a dead man otherwise. They were all ruthless fighters, trying to come at their attackers from behind. Carth was too observant, too good of a shot, to let that happened. While Mission and Zaalbar kept their attention forward, Carth watched all of their backs, as well as the battle in front of him.

The Mandalorians seemed to underestimate them, as well as the farmers. Once one of the Mandalorians went down close enough to them, one of the men of the family seized his weapon, dove behind a storage crate, and started shooting. Soon, all but the two youngest children in the family at weapons. Their aim wasn't great, but the whines of their blasters added to the intensity and the confusing. It kept the Mandalorians on the defense.

Suddenly, he heard Zaalbar howl in pain, but the Wookiee only paused for a moment before he continued shooting again. Carth lost all sense of time as the fight ran through his veins. His eyes flickered in every direction, every second, and he didn't even feel his fingers at the triggers any more. As suddenly as the fight had started, it was over.

The little ones were crying, but none of the family was injured, aside from their father who had been shot in the leg before they arrived.

“I don't know how to thank you,” the mother of the family gushed, “We would have been killed, for sure.”

“We'd take a few credits for our—” Canderous began, but Carth cut him off.

“It's our pleasure, really,” Carth said, “We heard about Mandalorians raiding the area, and knew that something had to be done.”

“Oh, thank you so much!” she exclaimed, looking on the verge of tears. Her two sons struggled to get their father standing again. “Carl, are you alright?” she asked.

“It's pretty bad,” he grunted, gritting his teeth in pain, “I can't walk on it.”

“We could take one of these speeders here and get him back to the Jedi Enclave,” Mission suggested, “I heard some of them talking about how some Jedi have healing powers.”

“Would you?” the woman asked.

“Of course, ma'am,” Carth nodded. “And we'll see if we can send someone to clean this up.”

And so it was settled. The farmer was loaded into the speeder behind Carth. Mission and Zaalbar slid in next to him, but Canderous, on the other hand, insisted on taking his own swoop across the plains. When they reached the enclave, the Jedi gladly received them and took both Zaalbar and the man in for healing. Canderous didn’t follow them back. Carth suspected he was off collecting money from someone else for what they had just done.

Canderous returned much later than the others. He seemed to have taken his dinner elsewhere. Smiling at Carth as he passed on his way to the bunk, Canderous asked, “Don't you feel better now?”

“What? Having rescued a farming family?” Carth responded, “Yes.”

“Nah,” Canderous shook his head, “I mean, after cracking some heads together.”

Carth pursed his lips and stormed off. You want another fight? Well, I won't give you one. He heard Canderous chuckling as he went on his way.

Carth found himself outside the Ebon Hawk again, at the bottom of the loading ramp. He took a deep breath and stared up at the sky. It wasn't quite dusk yet, but the white moon already hung low in the sky. The enclave courtyard walls blocked his view of the horizon, but the western sky was painted with hues of pink and orange.

“So I hear you guys have been up to some trouble today,” a familiar alto voice said.

Carth tore his eyes away from the sky and saw Ev walking calmly towards him. Carth cringed inwardly, thinking of their last conversation.

“What did you hear?” he asked warily.

“Well,” Ev started, pausing near the ship, “I was studying healing today with Master Vandar, and in comes a farmer and a Wookiee. It turns out I know the Wookiee, and he told me all about your hunt with Canderous; the cath hounds and the Mandalorians.”

“Zaalbar?” Carth asked. There were times when he forgot that the Wookiee could speak intelligibly, although in his own language. Shaking off his surprise, he asked, “So he wasn't hurt badly?”

“Nah,” Ev replied, waving her hand, “just grazed his shoulder. Deep, but not irreparable. So how did Canderous talk you into it in the first place?”

“We were bored and he was doing something to help the locals,” Carth answered, shrugging, “Even if he was getting credits out of people for it.”

“Well, the word around the enclave is,” Ev said, edging a bit closer, “you guys are now local heroes. Coming out of nowhere and saving a poor family from the ravages of the Mandalorians. Saving this whole area, for that matter.”

“If I can't be on the front, I'm at least glad I can be of help somehow,” Carth admitted. I don't need to be a hero.

“I'm sorry to keep you away from duty for so long,” Ev apologized, “You guys really must be getting bored. It's been what, three weeks? Something like that. Anyway, I'm studying as hard as I can—and meditating. Zhar says I'm moving really fast, but I'm sure it's not fast enough.”

“Don't worry about it. What you're doing is important,” Carth said, suddenly struck by a pang of guilt. “Look Ev, I'm—” he began to apologize.

“I'm overdue for meditation with Bastila,” Ev said, as if suddenly realizing the time. “I'll catch you later.” With that, she strolled briskly across the courtyard and disappeared into one of the corridors.

The way Ev said Bastila's name struck Carth as odd. She had spoken with a touch of warmth beyond simply objective, nothing like the loathing he was used to. The Jedi had changed Ev. That alone was proof enough.



Time continued to pass on. Daily reports came from the fronts. Every one he read made him yearn to be fighting out there, but he constantly reminded himself that he was needed here—or at least would be soon.

Canderous still went out on his daily hunts, but now Zaalbar almost always went with him. Apparently the solitary Wookiee was more restless than he let on. Sometimes Mission even went along. Of the group, however, she seemed the most able to entertain herself at the enclave. She talked to everyone that would give her a moment and many of the younger Jedi even considered her a friend now.

Carth continued to tinker with the Ebon Hawk, played more than occasional games of pazaak with Mission and Zaalbar, watched the Jedi spar from time to time, and added daily strolls to his routine. Although he didn't notice it so much on their first trip out, Dantooine was beautiful. The peace of it, amid a galaxy of war, calmed him. Mission was right to fawn over its beauty. He rarely took the same walk twice, and he never went without his blasters. On one occasion, he had to shoot down a lone cath hound that rose up out of the grass in front of him. Even despite the threat of cath hounds, it was peaceful.

Days rolled by. One night after Carth returned from watching some Jedi spar in the practice arena, neither Ev nor Bastila had been there but the to watch any Jedi fight was fascinating, he found Mission curled up in the command center, pouring over the sort of datapad you would find in a library. Mission didn't strike him as much of a reader, and yet she seemed totally absorbed in it. Intrigued, he asked, “What are you reading, Mission?”

She looked up, a bit startled to see Carth there, and answered cheerfully, “This history of the Jedi Order. Did you know that the Jedi Order is actually centuries and centuries old?”

“History? Where'd you get that?” Carth asked.

“I was talking to this Twi'lek Jedi today, Deesra, and it turns out he's a historian here and works in the library. He started yapping my ears off about history, which is usually boring, but some of the stuff he said sounded cool, so he offered to lend me this history to read,” Mission explained.

“You know,” Carth said slowly, “I think I might be interested in some of that Jedi history too. I wonder what roles Jedi have played in wars in the past. Do you think this Deesra is willing to lend out another one? “ Did they join the fight, or didn’t they?

“Sure,” Mission replied, “I can introduce you to him tomorrow.”

Zaalbar howled out a rather lengthy comment.

Mission laughed, “I didn’t know you liked to read, Big Z. Sure, we could ask about that too.” Turning to Carth, she explained, “He just said he was wondering if there were ever any Wookiee Jedi.”

Carth searched his memory. “I’ve never heard of any, but, then again, I don’t know that many Jedi.”

“Well, if anyone knows,” Mission said, “I’m sure Deesra will be able to find out.”

Mission made good on her promise the next morning as soon as Carth and Zaalbar were up. The Twi’lek Jedi Knight was more than happy to tell them historical tidbits about the Jedi Order. In fact, it took a while to even get around to asking him for reading material. Deesra was happy to oblige. Later that morning, he ventured onto the Ebon Hawk with more datapads than they had even asked for. “I thought these might also interest you,” he had said with a toothy smile.

Carth was keeping himself busy now, and the long wait become more bearable. In the mean time, he was studying the Jedi. Given that he was to fly with two of them, Carth saw this as a productive use of his time.

A month passed since they first arrived, and, although by everyone’s standards Ev was flying through training, no one said anything about picking a departure date yet. Even with histories to read, the Ebon Hawk to fiddle with, and all of Carth’s other new pastimes, he was growing more restless again. The Republic suffered another major defeat, and more than anything, he wished he could have been there. A nagging voice in the back of his head said, “Carth, if you were there, it would have been different.”

Mulling over this, Carth returned from one of his walks and continued his stroll through the enclave. He wasn’t yet ready to return to confinement in the Ebon Hawk. He found himself at the practice arena again, watching Jedi spar. There were very few Jedi there at that time of day, whatever the reason. Suddenly, Carth realized that the Jedi in the corner deflecting blaster bolts from a remote with her violet lightsaber was Ev. Carth watched her solo battle. Ev met the bolts with ease, each ricocheting off her purple blade. As she practiced, the droid remote began to fire more rapidly, and Ev rose to the challenge. Soon she was moving her blade to catch the laser bolts faster than Carth could think. So that’s the Force at work…

Finally, the firing stopped and Ev retracted her lightsaber, clipping it to her belt. When Ev looked up, she gazed directly at Carth, as if she had sensed him all along. The remote floated away towards a closet in the corner while Ev strolled towards him.

“’Afternoon, Onasi,” Ev greeted him with a smile.

“Looking good there,” Carth praised.

“Thanks,” she replied, “Do you make a habit of watching people practice?”

Wondering if it was offensive, Carth hesitantly replied, “Yes. There isn’t a lot to do here.”

Ev shrugged it off, “I guess you’re right. After how hard they work me, I keep forgetting that you guys are sitting around with nothing to do.”

“When did you get your lightsaber?” Carth asked, gesturing to the silver and bronze hilt that hung at her waist.

“Yesterday night,” Ev replied, “It took me nearly all evening to construct it, but it works like a charm. That done, Zhar says I have only one test left.”

“That’s great!” Carth exclaimed, more out of relief for himself than pride for her, “Congratulations.”

Unclipping it from her belt again, Ev weighed it between her hands. “Looking at Bastila’s, I had always just thought these things a pretty hilt with a pretty, but deadly, blade,” Ev mused, “But having to make one, now I really know how much goes into them. The power cells in these things could almost run a small city for a day.”

“Huh,” Carth replied, “I guess that’s how you get light to cut through durasteel.”

Ev chuckled in amazement then clipped it back at her left hip. “Say,” Ev started anew, “I’m planning to head out to the outback tomorrow morning. Want to come along to help with the cath hounds?”

“Sure,” Carth replied, “I’m up for anything.”

“Good,” she grinned back at him, “I’ll meet you at the Ebon Hawk at dawn then.”

Carth could tell she wanted to wrap up the conversation. “Okay. See you then,” he responded and stepped out of her way.

“I think,” she said slowly, her smile fading into pensiveness, “I should go meditate for a while.”

Carth watched her go, the light catching the newly-polished hilt that hung at her hip. She has her lightsaber. That’s a good sign. Still not ready to return to the ship, Carth turned back to the practice arena and watched the remaining Jedi in their sparring.

- Next Part -


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