Cal takes a few moments to gather his breath, before he glances over his shoulder at Merrin. She looks slightly disheveled due to the exercise of first avoiding the Empire, then dealing with several wyyyschok, and then swimming to the entrance of the Shadowlands.
"How do you like Kashyyyk so far?" he asks her. BD-1, placed on his shoulder, shot out a stim and Cal handed it to Merrin who took it gratefully.
Merrin huffs out a quiet laugh. "You mean this place, filled with enemies, deadly wildlife, and difficult to traverse?" She meets his eyes. "It's just like home."
Cal smiles back. He knew the Nightsister would like Kashyyyk.
(Greez had had his doubts. "So, for your first date-"
"It's not a date, Greez."
"-you want to take your girlfriend-"
"Nor is she my girlfriend, Greez," Cal had sighed.
"-on a dangerous journey, filled with hostile imperials, deadly monsters, and plants that could kill you, to climb a gigantic tree and ride an equally gigantic bird."
Cal thought it over for a moment. It sounded ridiculously stupid. But then again, Merrin came from a planet twice as dangerous as Kashyyyk, and he knew she loved her home.
"Yes-" he said, and, when he noticed the glint in the pilot's eyes, added, "-except that she's still not my girlfriend."
Greez stared at him, before turning away. "I was young once, too, kid. I know how these things go.")
Cal shakes the memory, and a few lingering water droplets, away and straightens his back. "Come on, we're almost at the Shadowlands. That's where it really gets fun."
Kashyyyk was so different from Dathomir, Merrin muses, yet so similar.
"What's this?" she asked, indicating a blood-red plant that shone with a soft light. It was slowly creeping towards her and, curious, Merrin reached out a hand. Cal slapped it away.
"Don't touch that. They sting, badly," he warned her. Merrin quirked a brow.
"And how do you know that?"
"Experience." He flashed her a wry grin. Merrin chuckled.
Many people thought Dathomir was a dead planet, and they couldn't be more wrong, in Merrin's eyes. However, Dathomir's life was hidden. It hid in the cracks of the red stone, or the shadows of the steep cliffs. The nydak's hide was a muted grey, and the bane back spiders were black. Rancors were also muted browns or greys, and while surprisingly benign, still dangerous. There was little colour on Dathomir, besides red and orange. Kashyyyk's life, however, consisted of vibrant greens and yellows and oranges and a million more colours Merrin couldn't name. What was called the Shadowlands, while indeed darker than the paths they had previously walked, did the name no justice, Merrin thinks as she stares at the mesmerizing glowing plantlife.
Cal jumps over an odd patch of ground. "Don't step on that," he says, "It's a trap. It will eat you."
Merrin's lips quirk upward as she leaps over it. That was the similarity with Dathomir. Her home planet was a violent place and, while it wasn't a dead planet, it was certainly a deadly one. This jungle wasn't much different. She would need several hands to count the amount of dangerous wildlife they had encountered so far. Ahead of her, a horned slug-like creature starts moving towards them, and Merrin murmurs an incantation, dispatching it with a bolt of green magick. She notes Cal's curious gaze.
"What is it?" she asks.
"How does that work?" For a moment, Merrin's heart speeds up, and she hears Malicos asking her the same thing. But no. She pushes those thoughts away. This is Cal, he's a good man. He won't betray her, he wouldn't leave her alone again.
Merrin holds up a hand, letting small wisps of mist drift out. "Magick is life. It's in your blood, in the trees, everywhere."
"Like the Force, you mean." Merrin frowns.
"I don't know much about the Force. Malicos told me it's where Jedi get their powers from." Cal nods slightly.
"That's kind of true. The Force is an energy field that binds us and every living thing in the galaxy together. Force-sensitives, like the Jedi, can manipulate it to affect to world around them." In example, he picks up a few nearby pebbles with a thought and lets them dance circles in his hand. Merrin turns her eyes back to her magic, speculating.
"I suppose they are alike. But magick isn't as insinctive. It has to be called, and it needs a sacrifice. Sometimes its just a little energy, or a plant, but sometimes it's a little more... bloody." She can see Cal's grimace and drops the subject. "We can talk about that later. How much further to this tree?"
Cal grins at her, a little cocky. "We're already there," he says, leaning against a steep wall covered in vines. A steep, bark-like wall, covered in vines.
Merrin looks up and notes that she can't see the top. Kashyyyk was beautiful, but it was also exhausting.
They had taken a break from climbing, and were resting on a branch only slightly thicker than the Mantis. BD-1 was inspecting an interesting looking type of moss. He was a curious little droid, something Merrin had noticed in her time with Cal and his friends. She wonders where he came from. She had never seen that model before. Merrin frowns as she realizes that there was very little she actually knew about the Mantis' crew.
She resolved to fix that. "Tell me about yourself, Cal," she demanded. Cal raised an eyebrow.
"Tell you what? You already know the big things."
"Yes, and I would like the little things as well. Like the ponchos."
Cal frowns, a little self-conscious. "What's wrong with ponchos?" he asks defensively.
Merrin rolls her eyes. "Nothing is wrong with ponchos. Just, why do you need so many?"
"I like ponchos!" he answers. Merrin chuckles.
"I can see that. You have, like, hundreds! Where do you even get them all?" Cal shuffles a little uncomfortably, darting a look to where BD-1 is still examining the moss.
"BD-1 brings them to me. I don't know where he gets them, but he's afraid I'll get cold without them," he admits.
And Merrin tries to keep it in, but Cal is smiling at BD-1, and that smile coupled with his slightly embarrassed expression-
She bursts out laughing. "That," She gets out between breaths, "is the most adorable thing ever." She giggles a little more. "Even the pink one?"
Cal nods. "I mean, I really do like ponchos, but some of them are horrid," He mutters it quietly, to make sure his droid companion doesn't hear them. "However, some are really great. Like this one," he says, showing of his current poncho, a brown one with a dark pattern.
BD-1 comes back and lets out a questioning trill. "Oh, nothing important," Cal replies. "Merrin was just asking about my clothing choice." The droid lets out an approving beep, at which Cal huffs out a laugh, and climbs on his friends shoulder.
"Well then," Cal says as he stands up, "Shall we continue? We still have a tree to climb."
"So what is it about this bird, then?" Merrin asks him during their climb. Cal looks down at Merrin.
"The Shyyo bird? What about it?"
"What is it like? Is it a predator? How did you manage to befriend it?"
"Well," Cal starts, before getting his answers in order. "It's big. White feather, horns. I think maybe the same size as that bat-thing on Dathomir-"
"A Gorgora!? You saw a Gorgora and lived!?" She sounds incredulous.
"Uhm. Yes? Giant bat-thing, ugly face-" Merrin interrupts him.
"It is said that any who have proven themselves by facing it in combat and surviving can count themselves among the greatest warriors of Dathomir."
Oh, Cal thought, then frowns. "So, this Gorgora... Was it important in Dathomirian culture?"
"The Nightbrothers revere its strength, but I personally always thought it was a plague. It hunted our people when it grew too hungry, and it was much more succesful than any nydak. Why do you ask?"
"Oh, no reason." At least he hadn't accidentally killed Merrin's deity. "Anyway, I don't know if the Shyyo bird is a predator, and I befriended it when it was hurt and I helped it out." Merrin shoots him a lingering look, no doubt thinking about why he had been so curious about the Gorgora, before refocusing on climbing."
"He's like us," Cal adds, almost as an afterthought, and, because he can feel Merrin's questioning gaze, he clarifies.
"The last of its kind."
Another break, but the mood is somewhat dimmer. Cal looks over at Merrin, who's staring off into the distance. He doesn't know what to say.
"Is there anyone you miss the most?" he asks, because it is an important question, and he doubts she has been able to talk about this to anyone.
Merrin looks at him. "From before? Yes. I... I had a friend. The Nightsisters are all sisters, but she was-" Merrin stops, takes a breath. "We would have been together forever. We were sisters to everyone in the clan, but each other first."
Cal waits to see if she would say more, before he starts talking. "The Jedi aren't supposed to have family. They eschewed attachment of any kind. But our bonds were there, for all that nobody said anything about that." He frowns, contemplatively. "Maybe we should have. But I miss my master. He thought me everything. He was like a father to me. I- I miss the temple, the peace I would find there."
Merrin places a hand on his shoulder, and Cal leans into it. "You're not alone, Cal," she says.
"I know." Then-
"...Do you think there might be more left?"
"More Jedi. I mean, I surived, and Cere..." He didn't regret destroying the holocron. Using it would've just put the younglings in the Empire's target. But he missed home.
Merrin is quiet. "Maybe," she finally answers, and Cal feels like a selfish jerk, because the Order can be brought back. A people can't. Except...
"Maybe you could go and find a succesor." Merrin turns to him.
"What do you mean?"
"Someone who can learn your culture and your magick. So it won't get lost." She smiles a sad smile.
Flying on the back of the Shyyo bird is a wonderful yet terrifying experience, and not one Merrin will forget.
The jungle's treetops lie below here, like a rolling green carpet so far down, and she knows that if she were to fall not only would it be long before she hit the trees, she would have to fall even longer before she hit floor. This makes for a grateful Merrin who, as soon as they land, climbs of the back of the giant bird. She still says thank you, of course.
Cal laughs at her behaviour, and BD-1 lets out a trilling sound that could be considered a chuckle. She bumps his shoulder with her fist.
"Stop it, I didn't come with you so you could make fun of me! Don't tell me you thought it wasn't at least a little scary! We could have died there!" Cal looked her in the eyes, and she almost couldn't suppress the smile that threatened to come to her lips. "Honestly, considering the way you were traipsing around the place earlier, with the spiders, and now this, I'm starting to suspect you're not even trying to survive."
"Merrin," Cal say, smiling. "I've survived for years. You can't make a life on surviving alone. Tell me I'm wrong."
And, as Merrin compares her years alone on Dathomir, last of her sisters, eaten away at by vengeance and grief, and her time on the Stinger Mantis, with Cere's music, Greez's cooking, BD-1's energy, and Cal's sheer, well, Cal-ishness... she finds she can't.
And, judging by the smile on his face, he knows it too.