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A Rebellion's Heart

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Across the fractured starscape that soared above and around them, Kallathe fought for her life.

That in itself was nothing new- she’d been fighting for her right to exist since her birth, raised to be a killer and a weapon by the sith lord who had owned her and her mother. She had fought for her freedom, she had fought against everyone who had dared to stand in her way- the man who had owned her, the woman who had taken her as an apprentice, the man who had sired her. All of them were dead in her wake, bodies cast by the wayside and discarded as she’d clawed her way to the top.

Death was a part of her, imbued in the very structure of her cells... but she did not know how to kill a ghost.

The stars were cold and distant, pale sharp lights in a sky that had no end; there was darkness above her and there was darkness below her and no matter how she fought or how hard, no matter where she ran or how fast, he was always there before her.

Valkorion.

Vitiate.

Tenebrae.

The names blurred together in her mind, all one and the same, along with memories that were not hers, faces she had no recollection of ever seeing, ancient citadels and dead planets and a thousand other lifetimes pressing in against her thoughts. Ancient, immortal, agonizing hunger without end.

She felt herself slipping away, felt her own presence buckling under the weight of his intrusion.

Get out,” she snarled, spinning on her heel in the cold dust of the asteroid’s surface. She sent a bolt of lightning unaimed, ruthlessly pleased when it hit her mark anyway; the older human male put his hand up to block the attack, but she heard him grunt from the effort.

The pressure in her head eased.

His breathing was laboured, even as he straightened and wiped his hand on his robe with distaste. “I am not your enemy,” he said, his voice rich and sonorous despite the fact that the asteroid they were perched on couldn’t have had anything even close to resembling an atmosphere.

“A pretty lie,” she hissed, keeping her distance. “Stay out of my head.”

His smile made a cold chill pass down her spine. “Where do you think we are, my dear Nox?”

____

Tython, the Tython Sector, Deep Core

It was still hours until sunrise, the dark moon Bogan hanging heavily above the horizon, but Amaara knew she wasn’t going to sleep further that night. She’d been burdened with unsettled dreams yet again, another night of uneasy flutterings in her heart as Tython responded to the anarchy consuming the galaxy and manifested that chaos through the Force. It was surprising to see the stars through the open window, actually- the skies had been grey and overcast for days now, the spluttering threat of a storm that wouldn’t quite pass.

She rubbed her eyes wearily and rolled to the edge of the bed, the sheet falling away silently as she swung her legs onto the floor.

“You too?” came a voice from behind her.

Amaara smiled faintly and glanced over her bare shoulder, to where the redeemed Sith Lord Praven lay on the other set of pillows. “I never see anything clearly,” she said, her voice husky from sleep. “Just... emotions. Impressions of things.”

War, she meant to say, but couldn’t find the courage. Endless, eternal war.

He grunted in agreement, eyes fluttering shut as he reached across the bed for her, delicately manicured claws trailing down from her elbow to her wrist. She shivered, smiling faintly. “Tython is temperamental and imprecise, as far as news sources go,” he said, his voice a tired rumble. “Come back to bed. It does you no good to lose sleep dwelling on it.”

“I suppose you think I should lose sleep on activities more to your liking, then?”

He smirked, running his tongue over sharp teeth. “I could certainly clear your mind of distractions,” he said, the implicit offer sending a rush of heat between her thighs.

He certainly could.

But the distraction didn’t last, and although Praven seemed content to fall asleep again after their lovemaking, Amaara lay awake still, lying on her side and staring out at the stars. There was a faint glow on the horizon, the promise of the approaching dawn, and as tired as she was she felt relieved at the onset of the day. The night had offered her no reprieve, just a place for her doubts to gather quietly in the darkness, and at least in the daylight hours she could find things to occupy herself, between the younglings and the archivists and the settlers and the like.

She waited until the sky was a dull grey, the stars washed out against the ever growing light of day, before she crept silently from the bed again. Praven did not wake this time, and she was at least satisfied that one of them should get a good night’s sleep. The temple was wrapped in a pleasant silence as she went about her morning ablutions, not yet overrun with the sounds of a hundred gleeful, shrieking children trying to settle into their meditations with exaggerated childish seriousness. They were probably too lax with the younglings, allowing them too much mischief, but she could not find it in her heart to restrict their play; her generation had lost their childhood to war, and she couldn’t begrudge them their chance to enjoy theirs while they could. The thought made her misty eyed as she showered, overwhelmed for a moment by the opportunity granted to these younglings and grief at all she and her fellows had lost in their own time.

Luckily the water washed away her tears with the soap suds, and she was composed again by the time she was dressed for the day.

The light was pleasantly golden as she took the stairs down to the main hall of the temple, the first rays of sunlight slanting through the wide windows like beams of gold. It was peaceful, and glorious, and she felt humbled to be privy to such beauty; she held her hand out towards the light as she walked, absently rolling her fingers as she enjoyed the warmth of the new sun.

Tython was peaceful, and she was grateful for that; guilty, yes, so wretchedly guilty and yearning for the places beyond the stars so keenly that it was like a knife between her ribs sometimes, but still. Grateful.

The dining hall was sparsely populated when she made her way through, with a handful of other knights and masters scattered about, and two younglings who had a practice holocron set on the table between them in pieces as they broke their fast. She smiled fondly at them as she passed, noting that the elder of the two was of an age that would normally have been appropriate to consider taking the Initiate’s Trials. She made a mental note to review what resources they had on hand for such a thing- her own Trials had come about in the days just prior to the fall of Coruscant so many years ago, and had been marked by blood and violence and war. She wanted something better for the children under her care, not to coddle them of course, for there was still a great darkness at work in the galaxy and in the Force but...

The Jedi were meant to be more than warriors. She and her entire generation had been raised to fight, thousands of child soldiers who found themselves in adulthood battered and confused and traumatised. The code implored them to find peace, even as their Masters and the Republic armed them and taught them to kill.

She wouldn’t coddle them, but these younglings would know peace with her. She would not see them raised in blood and hate.

The wafting smells from the kitchen windows drew her attention away from watching the younglings study, and she went to find something to soothe the rumblings in her belly. She was settling down at the end of one of the long tables with a bowl of fragrant, steaming broth and a plate piled with slivers of raw meat when someone dropped heavily into the seat opposite her, the action jarring enough that the broth sloshed slightly over the edge of her bowl.

“Master,” said a familiar voice, and she schooled her features to a calm smile despite her irritation.

She dabbed up the spill with her napkin before glancing at the young man opposite her. “Amam,” she said, “was there something I could do for you?”

The young man opposite her was togruta, like herself, but unlike herself it didn’t seem that Amam had taken any time to compose himself before coming down to breakfast. In fact, taking in the unkempt clothing and the dirt on his hands, she had a sneaking suspicion that Amam hadn’t even tried to sleep the night before.

He rubbed aggressively at his left eye, which was concerningly red and irritated as if he’d been poking at it for some time now, but he didn’t make eye contact with her as he spoke. “Master,” he said again, his leg jittering beneath the table with a rhythmic thud. “I think I’ve had a breakthrough.”

Amaara did her best not to sigh, instead turning her attention to her breakfast. She ladled the steak pieces into the broth, stirring carefully as she let the heat slowly cook the meat. “Amam, have you slept since we last spoke?”

“No,” he said, shaking his head and squinting, “I couldn’t sleep. Too much thinking, I was thinking. And a breakthrough, I think, yes. So I came to tell you, but you were asleep, I think, so- yes.”

She paused, waiting for him to find a place to stop he was comfortable with.

“I waited,” he finished, more than a little awkwardly. “Your door was locked. Couldn’t tell you, so I waited.”

Amam’s story was a peculiar one, even by Jedi standards- taken to the Jedi with his twin sister when they were both young, they had gone with the joyous blessings of their family and clan, something for which Amaara tried not to feel resentment. Despite their obvious Force sensitivity, the twins had struggled with their lessons, often finding themselves easily distracted or bizarrely confused by things that seemed straightforward to their fellows. But where his sister was quiet and excruciatingly shy, retreating into herself when she had suffered, Amam had always had a tendency to blurt his thoughts aloud, and had devolved into manic states with almost predictable frequency.

Right now, looking at his fidgeting and his exhaustion, she was fairly certain she was looking at another one of those episodes in progress.

She set down her fork while her meat soaked up the broth. “Thank you for thinking of me, Amam,” she said gently. “I appreciate that it must have been exciting, if you wanted to come to me immediately.”

“I think I can build a long range communicator,” he said excitedly, apparently taking her words as encouragement. “Master Till’in has been letting me work down in the caverns on the old databanks, and it’s really- it’s very fascinating, the digital arrays are nothing like those we work with today, the evolution of something as simple as information storage is-”

“Amam,” she said patiently, prompting him to get back on track.

“Right, yes, sorry, um-” He slapped both hands on the table a couple of times, loud enough that one or two other occupants in the room glanced their way before going back to their breakfasts. “Long range communicator. I’ve established the function of several of the decaying machines in the caverns, and using the communication chips from several Kaleth droids- which are still functional, it’s amazing! Twenty thousand years and they have perfect data retention and there’s been some mild signal degradation which I think is due to weather exposure but the parts themselves have survived remarkably intact, which implies a metallurgical process very different from our-”

“Amam.”

“Right, sorry again.”

Amaara sighed; her first instinct was to reach over and take his hands in hers while she spoke to him, but she couldn’t remember whether he responded well to physical touch. She rested on her elbows instead, her fingers linked in front of her chest. “Amam,” she said gently, “I’m very impressed with the progress you’ve been making, and the work you’re doing with Master Till’in-”

“Thank you.”

But,” she continued, stressing the word carefully, to interrupt him before he could carry on again, “you know very well that we cannot risk the use of a long range communicator while Tython is on lockdown.”

He quite visibly deflated in front of her, squinting his nose up again as if in confusion. “No, but, see, I can make a new one,” he started, but she shook her head.

“Amam-”

“It’s been forty-nine rotations without contact from the Republic or the Council,” he said, his voice abruptly much louder. “What if they are trying to contact us but they can’t and it’s okay for us to leave again?”

The volume of his voice was carrying easily through the dining hall, and a few heads had turned in their direction again. “You have my word that that is not the case, Amam,” she said, keeping her own voice level and relaxed. “You know that we have our own long range communicators that are kept in standby mode, waiting for confirmation that things are safe again.”

“But what if they’re all broken? Maybe they’ve been trying to tell us, and it’s not getting through.”

The two younglings from earlier were watching wide eyed from their table, a very tangible sense of fear emanating from the younger one. The worst thing she could do for any of them, not just Amam, was to dismiss their fears as irrational and foolish; she did not need to encourage a climate of panic when it was simmering so easily by itself.

“That’s a very good question, Amam,” she said patiently, making sure her voice carried to everyone listening without making it obvious she was speaking to the room. “While we must always have faith in our tools, and in our fellow Jedi, it is always important to remember that faith without action can be disastrous- and our allies do not benefit from our inaction, if we simply sit back and wait for their assistance out of misguided faith in their strength.”

Amam clearly hadn’t been expecting something tantamount to a platitude, if his confused hesitation was anything to go by, but she could sense his mood had turned away from the edge of panic. A small victory. “So, um, I should-”

“Why don’t you meet me later today to inspect our communications array, to ensure that everything is functioning at acceptable levels?” she asked, casually spearing a sliver of rare steak from the broth, and taking a moment to pause and eat it. She did it deliberately, of course, to exude an air of calm and nonchalance, to remind those watching the exchange that there was nothing to worry about. “That way I’ll know they’ve been assessed by someone whose opinion on the matter I can trust, and who I know will perform a thorough inspection.”

She could physically feel the tension in the room bleeding away, as the others present turned back to their meals and their own quiet conversations. Amam, apparently thoroughly disarmed by her acceptance of his fears, rubbed at his left eye again. “Well, yes, that’s- yes, I can do that, yes.”

Amaara smiled broadly at him. “Wonderful,” she said, scooping up another mouthful of steak. The broth was just slightly spicy, with just enough dried peppers in the brew to make it sing on her tongue. It was delightful. “I have duties to attend to this morning, so that’s the perfect opportunity for you to get some rest-”

“I don’t need to sleep.”

Rest,” she said firmly, “doesn’t have to mean sleep. It would do you well to see to your own care, perhaps with food and bathing. And if you can’t sleep, meditation would ease your anxieties.”

“I can check the arrays now,” he said, rubbing at his eye again as his leg thumped beneath the table.

“Yes, but I need you clear headed, to ensure the inspection is as thorough as possible. I’d hate for you to miss something out of tiredness.”

He quite visibly paused, almost comically so, and she could all but hear the gears turning in his head as he processed this suggestion. “I’ll eat,” he said abruptly, lurching to his feet so quickly that he knocked the table again, making her broth slosh out of the bowl for the second time.

She bit back a sigh.

Sometimes it was difficult to reconcile the fact that his sister was the Barsen’thor, an accomplished member of the Jedi High Council and leader of the Council of Reconciliation. Amam had failed his trials to become a Knight many years ago, and had contentedly settled in with the Jedi Service Corps, quite a contradiction to the lofty heights his sister Asmi had achieved. She wondered sometimes whether he was jealous at all of his sister’s accomplishments while his own opportunities languished, or whether he felt nothing but pride- certainly there had been rumours of an outburst from him when she had nearly died defending the Sarkhai royal family, but she didn’t like to place stock in rumours.

She returned her bowl to the kitchen once she’d eaten her fill, and not a moment too soon- the dining room was filling fast, now that the dawn had come, and some of the younglings and padawans were prone to rowdiness first thing in the morning. She didn’t fancy breaking up a food fight, like she’d had to do last week.

It was good to have life back in the temple, however, especially life so young and enthusiastic. The destruction wrought by the followers of the False Revan under the guise of the Sith invasion had been excruciating in a way she didn’t have words to describe, like they had forced her to personally witness the death of a loved one. There were still scars, for sure- rooms still without power, or cracked floor tiles where water seeped through during the worst storms,- but Tython was alive again.

It eased her heart greatly, even more so to be the guardian of the Jedi Order’s future.

There was a group of younglings sitting on the lawns outside the temple, being lead in meditation practice by one of the older padawans, and there was a small chorus of cheerful hellos as she passed them. She couldn’t help but laugh. “Keep up your concentration,” she called in reminder.

“Yes, Master Amaara,” came the singsong reply.

The transport droid had a copy of her schedule, so it was already waiting for her with her speeder at the ready as she pulled on her riding gloves. “Vehicle paths are currently open for business,” it intoned, and it occurred to her that perhaps the greetings needed to be reprogrammed. The paths weren’t likely to see even a fraction of the traffic seen in the more prosperous days of the temple and the academy, even with the settlers in Kalikori village to consider. Perhaps it would be more appropriate to have the droid connected to the boundary warning sensors, to monitor for bad weather and wildlife movements.

She quite enjoyed the ride downriver- the wind rushing over her was pleasant, and the scenery was peaceful, and as much as she loved the temple with all of her heart, it was nice sometimes to take a break from it all. She took note of some flesh raiders on the far bank about two klicks from the temple, and made a note to have some scouts sent out to keep an eye on them; they were doing their best not to aggravate the beasts, keeping their distance wherever possible and building better defenses for the twi’lek settlement as well. If they were forced into long term cohabitation with the flesh raiders, the last thing she wanted was to encourage more animosity between their camps.

Another responsibility to bear, another choice to weigh up that would determine the lives of everyone under her care, and possibly the future of the entire Order. Most days she was fine with the pressure, but sometimes- usually when her sleep had been unsettled by faceless threats in her dreams- she felt it more keenly than others.

The trip downriver took her about half an hour, and as she reached the fords and the island came into view in the centre of the water, she slowed down, leaning to the side slightly so she could gaze down into the water beneath her. If she went too fast, the backwash from the exhausts churned it up too much, making it a mess of ripples and choppy waves; if she went slower, the ripples spread out behind her like a spearhead, and she could see beneath the surface to the riverbed below. Sometimes she even saw fish, fat river trout scattering in alarm at the buzzing roar of the speeder, and it delighted her.

On the island, a collection of pale stone buildings came into view, none of them particularly close to one another while still remaining within sight. They were single roomed domes, built from the white limestone of the cliffs along the river, and despite the lack of fences or security, and the relatively serene nature of the setting, it was not hard to determine what purpose they served.

Namely, a prison.

Oh, that wasn’t entirely correct, in the grand scheme of things- the island itself was pleasant and peaceful, and the residences were not locked or guarded. For the most part, the residents of the island went entirely unsupervised, and despite the strong currents that ran alongside them, a determined swimmer would make it to shore eventually. The cliffs to the north sheltered them from the strongest winds that swept across the great forests, and the water created an effective barrier for the flesh raiders, leaving the occupants in peace.

But those occupants were kept in isolation for a reason, well away from the temple and the impressionable minds of the younglings, and the last few relics of power that had survived both attacks in recent memory. These were the masters of the Order who had fallen, who had been dragged unwillingly or gone eagerly over to the darkness, and who had been brought back to the light either by their own determination or by the courageous actions of others. They were broken and battered individuals, with more than one of them consumed by regret and bitterness, and all of them irrevocably altered by the trauma they had endured.

So many of them were heroes of the Order, great and honourable Jedi who had served throughout the Great War and trained entire battalions of younglings and padawans to follow after them, herself included. Her own master, the gentle idealist Tol Braga, was amongst the island’s residents, and it broke her heart every time to see her beloved father figure a mere shadow of the man he had once been.

But, she reminded herself as she brought her speeder in to land on the pad down by the shore, her heart did not factor into the reasons for her visits. She may have taken lessons at the feet of one of the greatest diplomats of the war, but she had not followed him into diplomacy- her talent, and her most solemn duty to the Order, was far more bleak than that.

Amaara was the Jedi High Justice, the arbiter of judgement upon those lost in the darkness. She was the watcher, tasked with the burden of determining whether her fellows stood any chance of rehabilitation or whether the threat they posed to the Jedi and the people of the Republic was too great to risk. On those occasions, she was also an executioner as well.

A far cry from the gentle calls for peace her master had instilled in her, but she kept a cool head where others faltered and could look objectively into the hearts of others. She was a counsellor, a rehabilitator, a warden. She was the embodiment of justice in the Order, and it was those duties that had seen her volunteer to remain on Tython in the first place, when the idea to find a way to shield Tython had been brought into consideration. There were Jedi here in need of healing, who would never fully recover, and someone had to be here to sit with them on their darker days, and encourage them towards self fulfilment on their better ones.

So she had stayed.

She set the speeder down into park, stopping for a moment to adjust her windblown clothing.

“Oh no, everyone on your best behaviour, the watchdog is here.”

Amaara sighed.

“Mind your tongue, Duras,” a more welcoming voice said, and Amaara managed a more genuine smile before turning around. She could see Duras Fain standing shirtless in the small yard outside his dwelling, hands on his hips and the earth around him scuffed up from recent activity; he was the first speaker, and taking in his red face and sweaty torso, she’d wager she’d interrupted him during a training session. That was not necessarily a good sign, as he seemed to have taken to his martial exercises with more aggression than normal ever since Tython had gone into seclusion.

The second speaker was her own old master, Tol Braga, who was seated in the shade outside his small abode; he had the pieces of his holocron spread on a well worn rug before him, some of them floating in the air as he gestured carefully to them, little wisps of light dancing from his fingertips to imbue the pieces with a gentle glow.

She folded her hands before her, bowing to show her respect. “Good morning, masters,” she said, her voice carrying easily on the breeze. “It’s good to see you up and about and enjoying the sunshine.”

Duras snorted loudly, the sound almost mocking. “Yes, because there’s so many other things we could be doing with our time here,” he said, confirming her suspicions.

“Is that so, Master Fain?” she asked, setting her bags aside on the dock as she sorted through them for her tools. Hooking her satchel over her shoulder, she made sure discreetly that her lightsaber was within easy reach on her belt, tucked out of sight beneath the draping fabric of her tunic. Satisfied, she continued, smiling warmly at him. “Perhaps you could enlighten me during our session together.”

He rather comically slapped his hands up to his face. “Force save me, but I’ve hardly had the time to prepare for visitors-”

“Master Fain,” she said, more firmly, “go inside, and calm down. I will be with you shortly, once you have had time to compose yourself, and think about what it is you wish to bring up with me during our therapy session.”

She left him to scowl and mutter in his own little corner of the island, instead walking over the grass towards the next closest dwelling. Tol Braga did not rise to greet her as she approached, his head bowed as he concentrated on the holocron; it did not surprise her, to be honest. Her old master was so consumed with grief and shame that the best he ever managed in her presence was an awkwardly formal manner, speaking to her as if she were a recent acquaintance and not a girl he had all but raised from infancy.

It broke her heart, but she was not here for the love she held in her heart. She was here as a healer and a watcher.

“Good morning, master,” she said, her smile more genuine as she took a seat on the far edge of the rug he’d set over the grass. “You’re looking well today. I’m pleased.”

She went from dwelling to dwelling, sitting with her charges and talking with them, trying to get a sense of who it was she was speaking to, trying to feel out the wounds on their spirit to make sure none had burst apart again. They talked of inconsequential things when she sensed they needed her company more than her counsel, and spoke of healing and recovery with others who were feeling more sure of themselves. Some were prickly with her, like Ako Domi or Warren Sedoru, and others were withdrawn and quiet, like Tol Braga or Syo Bakarn.

It all went as expected- she took their vitals, and charted their physical health against her previous visits to make sure the dark side corruption had not poisoned their flesh. She encouraged them to meditate, guiding them through exercises to clear their thoughts and purge their spirits of lingering darkness. Some, as always, took her presence with better grace than others, and she really did sympathise with their agitation, to an extent. It galled her to be sitting on her hands, hidden away in the Deep Core while the rest of her brethren fought to protect the galaxy from this new threat surging out of Wild Space.

But still- she knew what the Order needed of her, and she didn’t shy away from that duty.

“I could at least be teaching the younglings, if nothing else,” Duras had snapped, arms crossed defensively as she’d sat with him in his dwelling. “It’s not like Yuon is locked away with us, she got to go free.”

“Yuon Par remained on Coruscant for long term rehabilitation, given how badly the plague affected her physical health, as you well know,” she’d said calmly, for what felt like the hundredth time. “You, on the other hand, aggressively founded a criminal network that took the lives of numerous people, tried to start a war with the Hutt Cartel, and cost the Jedi Order a substantial amount of money in reparations in order to soothe over relations. I’d be curious to see what you feel you can teach our younglings.”

“So the other decades of my service are dismissed so easily?”

“You chose to conduct dangerous archaeological expeditions into the heart of sith space in the midst of the worst war in centuries, the fallout of which ultimately claimed the lives of hundreds and is still causing repercussions today. Perhaps your lessons could be in humility, and prioritising one’s duties to be more conducive to safeguarding the Order and the Republic rather than dabbling in historical curiosities?”

It was an old argument, and one on which they won no ground against one another. Depending on how long they found themselves confined to Tython, she was sure that eventually she’d relent and find a way to reintegrate him into temple life without exposing the younglings to his more radical philosophies. Resources were precious, and not to be wasted, and regardless of the harm his actions had brought about, he was a living Master in a generation that had been whittled away to bare bones- he did have lived experience that was valuable to the Order, if one could sift past the ego and the barely veiled aggression to get to it.

Still. Time would tell. In a week’s time, they might be free of this self imposed exile, and safe to join the Republic once again, and her thoughts on whether or not Fain was safe to leave in charge of younglings would never be too great of an issue.

“Is Kylaena well?” Syo had asked her, with haunted eyes and hollow cheeks. It was one of the few questions he asked, on the rare occasion he wanted to speak at all. It was hard to remember him as the wise and benevolent man he had been before his own pupil had exposed him as an unwitting servant of the Sith Emperor; that man seemed to have died in the confrontation with Master Dawnstar back on Corellia. The man in her care was fragile, and brittle, and more often than not she sat with him in silence, adding her strength to his when she felt his spirit falter.

He would clearly never recover, and whether that was due to the presence of the soul within him that referred to itself as the First Son, or whether it was a state of shock and trauma he would not be coming back from, she could not say. She had never had the First Son emerge to speak with her, and perhaps that softened her attitude towards him dangerously, but she was not heartless.

“Master Dawnstar was well, last I spoke with her,” she always said gently.

“Did she ask after me? Did she speak of me?”

She could not be heartless, even if her role as judge and executioner demanded it of her. “She sent her very warmest regards,” she always said, even if it was a lie. He barely seemed aware of the fact that they had lost contact with the greater galaxy, and it would only distress him to tell him Kylaena had been out of touch for months. She lied, instead, because she was a healer too.

The last of her visits always took her to the far side of the island, where a single domed dwelling sat a long way apart from the others, the door facing out across the water instead of towards any communal space they all shared. As always, as she approached along the shore, the inhabitant was sitting outside and waiting for her; she never knew whether it was because he simply never did anything else, or whether he heard her voice carry over the water and moved outside to wait for her.

“Good morning, Master Amaara,” he called quietly, not turning to face her.

She set her satchel down beside the door, moving to take the seat beside him on the bench as she always did. “Good morning, Parkanas,” she said, clasping her hands in her lap and taking in the view across the water. The cliffs were full of movement today, a colony of some kind of gull having taken up residence in the pockmarked limestone and built their nests directly into the towering face; they wheeled and dived over the river, soaring up on the thermal drafts that rose off of the rock and into the sky above. It was chaotic, but it was peaceful, and it was pleasant in the shade of the awning. “How are you feeling today?”

“Well, thank you,” he said. “I wanted to thank you for the texts you were able to send after your last visit. It has been invigorating to dedicate myself to my studies once again.”

She smiled fondly. “It was my pleasure, Parkanas,” she said, with genuine warmth. “It delights me to be able to assist your rehabilitation, in whatever way is most helpful and healthful for yourself.”

“Your methods are not entirely popular amongst my fellows.”

“Is that sarcasm I detect? Perhaps your improvements continue faster than I had anticipated.”

Out of the corner of her eye, she saw him smile, ducking his head almost shyly as if to hide it. “I meant to say, as well, I appreciate the efforts of the young man you send with our supplies- he is genuinely earnest, if a little overbearing at times. I did not know whether the others had said anything about him, but I wanted to say his exuberance doesn’t bother me.”

Amaara frowned slightly. “I’m not sure I know who you mean,” she said. “The supplies for the island are organised through Master Fane, and the quartermaster- I’m not sure who is responsible for their delivery. I simply pass on my recommendations in my reports, along with special requests like the library texts you asked for.”

“Oh.” He sounded surprised. “I thought- he spoke very highly of you. I assumed you’d picked him out.”

“Do you know his name?”

Parkanas shook his head. “He didn’t seem to be one for details like that. He just came up and started talking to me as if we’d been interrupted a moment or two before and he wanted to continue the conversation. Young togruta fellow, very chatty.”

That sounded more like a specific individual she was familiar with. “Red montrals?” At Parkanas’ nod, she smiled. “I’d say you’ve had the pleasure of meeting Amam. I had no idea he was doing our supply runs.”

“He’s been coming for some time now, he does the maintenance for us when things break down.” Parkanas fell silent for a moment. “He does not speak to me like a weak fool,” he said quietly, almost bitterly. “He speaks to me like an equal, like he has no judgement for my past and my actions. It is... refreshing.”

She fought back a sigh with some difficulty. “Amam has a good heart,” she said. “I am glad he is able to bring you a measure of peace with his companionship.” She hesitated, before continuing with the question burning fiercest within her. “What is it you speak of, the two of you?”

The man beside her shrugged. “Inconsequential things- he’s rather hard to interrupt, if I’m honest. He talks about machines quite a lot.”

Amaara laughed. “That does sound like Amam,” she admitted.

“He told me about his sister, the Barsen’thor,” he continued, quieter again. “He doesn’t blame me for what happened to her, but it’s hard not to blame myself for it.”

She quashed a flicker of irritation at the fact that he’d clearly known his guest to some extent, despite claiming otherwise. “The plague was the work of Terrak Morrhage, not you,” she said, but he shook his head.

“It was still my panic and rage and resentment that fed his reawakening,” he said, and then sighed. “But the young man Amam is a breath of fresh air. His concern for his sister and his husband reminded me that there is still hope in this wretched life.”

She paused. “You mean, his sister and her husband, yes?”

Parkanas turned his head to look at her. “No? His husband, a young man in politics? I forget his name, but Amam has always been quite vocal about his work in a rebellion, or a civil war? Sometimes he skipped details as if he thought I knew them already, so I’m not sure.”

Amaara breathed out slowly. “I didn’t know,” she said quietly, the reason for so much of Amam’s earlier anxiety now much clearer to her. “He never said anything.”

“Oh, are you the Caretaker of Internal Affairs? I wasn’t sure how far your jurisdiction went, whether you were just the High Justice. I suppose dispensing permission for marriage goes hand in hand with assessing threats to the stability of the order.”

“You make it sound like we expect love to be our greatest downfall, Parkanus,” she said, laughing awkwardly. “No, marriage never fell under my jurisdiction. The Caretaker of Internal Affairs remained on Coruscant, so I trust she’s safe for the time being and dispensing as many marriage certificates as she deems worthy.”

“I would have thought that would simply make more work for you in the future.”

She shrugged, still caught on the fact that Amam had a husband, and had never once complained about being separated from him within her hearing. “We are nothing if we lose our ability to love, and to embrace love in all forms,” she said. “Familial, platonic, romantic- our capacity for love should always go hand in hand with our capacity for forgiveness. It’s certainly the path I seek to walk with my own duties.”

They spoke for a time of inconsequential things, and when Amaara was satisfied with the health of her patients, she collected her things and returned to the temple. Only Syo stood and saw her off, waving absently as he called after her that he missed Kylaena, and hoped she would visit soon.

She was glad that the ride home took her some time, and by the time she pulled in to the speeder station on the far side of the temple grounds, the wind had dried away the tears she had shed on her journey. She was composed, and to all intents and purposes looked to be at peace. It was how she needed to be seen, by the younglings and by her peers; she needed to be in control and at ease, and not at all stressed by their circumstances.

There was a young girl waiting for her at the speeder station, a human youngling by the name of Bess. The girl had been shadowing her shyly for some weeks now, and she scrambled to her feet at her approach, hopping anxiously up and down with childish energy. Amaara smiled at her as she disembarked, leaving the speeder to the droid. “Good morning, Bess,” she said, reaching over to put her hand on her head fondly. “Shouldn’t you be at lunch?”

“It’s to be served in the next half hour, Master Amaara,” she said, the words tumbling out of her mouth eagerly. “I took some messages for you, Master, I hope that’s alright.”

Bless her little heart. “By all means,” she said, gesturing to her to walk alongside her.

Bess skipped, and Amaara had to physically remind herself to remain composed and not coo at her. “The quartermaster said that Lady Ranna from Kalikori wanted to talk, and Master Fane said I needed to stay in my classes when I went looking for you in the library.”

“That last one sounds like it might have been a message for you, youngling, not me.”

“Um, maybe?” Bess shrugged, putting both hands up in the air with a perplexed look on her face. “And then Lord Praven said that he wanted to have lunch with you after the morning classes if you were back in time but they were doing combat practice with, um, sabersticks, so I don’t know?”

What it was she didn’t know, Amaara couldn’t say- even if they were destined to be Jedi one day, the younglings were still just that. Young children, with an occasionally odd grasp of the world around them, and a propensity to focus on peculiar things. “Was there anything else?”

“Oh yes, and Amam gave me a sweet, and he is waiting for you in the communications room.” She smacked her lips. “We’re not supposed to get sweets except after dinner.”

Amaara laughed. “Is that so,” she said. “Well, I won’t tell the crechemaster if you don’t. We’ll keep it as our little secret.”

The youngling beamed up at her. “Thank you, Master Amaara,” she said, in the singsong voice young children adopted when they’d memorised something. Amaara escorted her back to the creche, leaving her in the care of a very relieved and very apologetic crechemaster, before diverting past her own rooms on her way to the communications hub. Her satchel she set aside on the desk to unpack later that evening, instead intent on running a cool cloth over her face and neck to clear away the dust from her travels; she smirked slightly when she saw the carefully made bed, the sheets tucked in with almost military precision. There was nothing to suggest that she and Praven had indulged themselves several times last night, not even the lingering smell of sex on the air. She’d have to thank him later for cleaning up, after she’d crept out while he was still sleeping.

Amam had, thankfully, bathed by the time she saw him again, although she wasn’t entirely sure he’d managed to sleep or meditate. He was naturally inclined to constant movement, but she thought his energy didn’t seem quite so agitated as it had that morning in the dining hall. His clothes were a little crumpled, as if he’d pulled them straight from the laundry or the floor, but they were clean. A definite improvement all round, then.

He lurched to his feet from where he’d been seated on a bench outside the communications room, clutching a grease stained tool bag to his chest as he did so. “Master,” he said quickly, “I know we didn’t set a specific time, so I just came up here to wait as soon as I was ready, and then I was worried I’d taken too long and I’d missed you-”

She held up a hand to interrupt him before he got too worked up. “It’s alright, Amam,” she said, infusing a sense of calm into her words. “I appreciate you taking the time to do this favour for me, and for working around my schedule.”

That seemed to placate him, if the way he nodded and looked to the door and back again was any indication.

She smiled at him, unlocking the door for them both to enter. “And perhaps while you work, you could tell me about the work you’ve been doing with the Kaleth droids,” she said. “Or about your family, your sister and your husband, I’d love to hear how they are.”

He sucked in a sharp breath. “You know about Zenith?”

“Is that your husband’s name?”

“Yes. Well, yes, but- yes, he has another name, he just uses Zenith because it was safer during the rebellion, I know his other name but he doesn’t like people to know it so I don’t say it much, I call him Zenith except when it’s just us-”

“We’ll just call him Zenith then, to avoid upsetting him,” she said, taking a seat at the technician’s desk by the door. “How long have you been married?”

Amam squinted, as if he was thinking, rubbing his hands down his shirt repeatedly. “Oh, um, two years, I mean, one year and three hundred and forty eight days, so not quite two years.”

She winked. “We’ll call it two years, I’m sure it’s fine.”

He’d set down his tool kit upon entering, and he turned to it now, methodically laying out the tools she had no names for in rows that apparently made sense to him, but were mind-boggling to her. She could hear him counting softly to himself as he set them out. “Do you miss him?” she asked.

He snorted. “Of course I do,” he said, as if it was the most ridiculous question he’d ever heard. “In twenty rotations it will be our two year marriage anniversary and I know that I’m supposed to spend it with him but I can’t because he’s on Balmorra and I’m here.”

“Then why aren’t you with him?”

He stopped his counting and looked over at her incredulously- she noted he still didn’t make eye contact, even in his moment of disdain. “Because of Asmi, of course,” he said, as if he thought her simple.

Amaara did her best to rationalise what such a statement meant, but couldn’t work it out for the life of her. “Did your sister ask you to stay away from him?”

“No? She needs me to- I’m-” He gestured awkwardly to himself, as if struggling to find the right way to express what he wanted to tell her and hoping she’d guess at it from his stilted charades. “I’m the shield.”

“I’m sorry?”

He rubbed at his left eye. “Asmi and me, we’re close, and she can focus on me even over long distances, so she always knows where I am and how I am, so she focuses on me and that makes me hidden and if I stay on Tython, then Tython is hidden.” He gestured to himself again. “I’m the shield for Tython.”

Oh, Force preserve them all; she felt the blood drain from her montrals as she realised the enormity of the sacrifice he’d made, and the ease with which he’d admitted to it. “Oh, Amam,” she whispered, “I’m so sorry.”

He shrugged, tapping his fingers restlessly over the tools. “It’s okay, it’s like you said, it won’t be for long, and it’s important, and even if I’m not a Knight, I still have a duty to the Order.”

She shook herself with some effort, offering him an optimistic smile. “You are a credit to the Order in every way,” she said. “And I promise you, we won’t be here long. You’ll be back with your husband before you even know it.”

She had no way of knowing how wrong she was going to be.