Chapter 4: I Believe It When You Say It
Isme knelt in silence, reaching through the darkness for… power. It was near, so very near. But it was cold, and the search went slowly.
After slowing down her pursuers and abandoning the dead pirate, Isme sought shelter from the freezing nighttime temperatures. A wampa’s den, once secured from its dangerous occupant, served well.
But there was no time for rest. Isme knew that while she may have slowed down the Republic hunters who tracked her, they would not be stopped so easily. She needed to move swiftly.
So she sat, wrapped in the darkness of the Force, seeking her prey. She felt it, traces of dark power like ripples in a still pond. It felt like the final breath of air before losing consciousness, like the last trace of pain before losing all sensation to numbness. She sought echoes of control, the teachings of ancient Sith and powerful Rakata, blended into the perfect weapon.
The distance was not so far from where she knelt, but the depth was the issue. The ancient temple was buried deep, frozen solid perhaps. Isme let out a hissing breath and reached, striving to place herself – or at least her senses – in the buried temple.
Feeling rather than seeing, Isme noted that the massive central chamber was clear of ice. The air would be stale and freezing but breathable. The dark side energy was palpable. Whether it was Rakata technology and traps or the tainted spark of dark Force energy smoldering in the space she couldn’t tell. At least not from so far above. But her path would lead to this place and she would unlock its secrets, whatever it took.
The Sith girl broke contact and found herself slammed back into her own body, painfully cold and shivering. Swearing colorfully, she plunged her hands into the sleeves of her robe and used the Force to warm herself. Searching for the entrance to the submerged temple would have to wait until light and safer temperatures.
Apprentice Isme huddled closer to the form of the unconscious wampa, appreciating the warmth it provided. She allowed herself a slight smile, pleased it hadn’t been necessary to kill the creature. It would have been a waste, and Isme despised being wasteful. It would sleep peacefully through the frozen night, dreaming of devouring tasty Republic soldiers and tauntauns, and would go back to doing just that once Isme had disappeared in the morning.
So Isme smiled and closed her eyes, awaiting the dawn.
Aitahea was kept busy through the final hours before morning by the death throes of the failing shuttle. She had rewired the heating systems twice, obliged to use schematics from the emergency kit to supplement her limited knowledge of life support systems. Fortunately the shuttle remained warm enough to keep them safe and allow Erithon Zale a chance to rest.
The Jedi also spent the quiet hours in contemplation of the development the Major and her relationship as it stood. She’d worked with many others in her time as a Jedi, in close quarters and stressful situations. Aitahea had even had to politely discourage the pursuit of several unrequited suitors.
Years before she became a Jedi, a fellow Padawan had confessed his love to the young Aitahea. She had very much liked this young man, a shy, gentle boy from Alderaan, far enough down the line of the planetary nobility to lack the haughtiness and arrogance of some higher ranks. He was a talented fighter, able to best even a few fully-fledged and lightsaber-bearing Jedi with only a practice saber.
At the time Aitahea had reasoned that they were too young to make such serious decisions about their lives, besides the fact that the Order strictly forbade relationships among students – never mind that romantic attachment was soundly discouraged even among full Jedi and Masters. His disappointment in her refusal was palpable, past even her own powers of empathy.
She didn’t love him, Aitahea had said regretfully. She found him brilliant and talented and an inspiration to better her saber skills, but nothing so complex as love. He accepted her rejection with grace and respect, no less than she would have expected, and they drifted apart. He became an exceptional Jedi Knight, and Aitahea was pleased to have known him when they were young.
Attachment was always a contentious topic in the halls of any Jedi Temple, especially the ones filled with young adults. The Order didn’t expressly forbid attachments among the adult beings of the Order, but certainly discouraged them. Many Jedi certainly did accept this discouragement as a hard and fast rule, but there were more than a few who supported romantic relationships, even families.
Aitahea, with her unique childhood attachment to her immediate family, found herself frequently perplexed on the subject. She was now old enough to understand and even appreciate the attraction of a romance, but young enough to know there was plenty of time for that later, if the right person came along. Not to mention there being a stable galaxy in which to carry on a relationship. Right now, her mission simply had to come first.
But even in the midst of a quest like the one for this Sith artifact, there were silent moments, moments where Aitahea could consider the possibilities. She liked Erithon; that was easy enough to admit. He was a good soldier and a better man. She trusted him and was impressed with his ability to improvise. It seemed clear enough that he was attracted to her, and she found herself welcoming that attention.
Speaking of… she sensed Erithon waking. The Jedi allowed herself a final moment to consider the possibilities. If anything were to come about, it would have to be later. The sun would be rising in mere minutes, warming the icy planet to tolerable levels, and the companions would have to abandon the deteriorating shuttle and make for the Republic base where Aitahea had begun. They had a mission to complete. Anything else had to come after that… as much as she might wish otherwise.
Yawning, Erithon entered the cockpit just as Aitahea was adding a few last items to her pack and closing the bag securely. Her pale hair was securely braided again, slender hands encased in gloves; the Jedi looked ready for travel.
“Good morning, Major,” Aitahea greeted, glancing up at Erithon with a brief but gentle smile. She seemed subdued, compared to earlier that morning after the crash. Erithon scrubbed a hand through his hair and returned the smile.
“Did I miss any excitement?” While waiting for her answer, the trooper inspected the tiny shuttle galley panel, hoping against hope he’d still be able to get caf. They were in luck – the module still had power and a small stash of supplies. He set to making them both something hot to drink. They’d be thankful for it with the chilly journey ahead of them.
“No. We’re secure and not far from my speeder. We should be able to reach Aurek base before midday if we hurry,” Aitahea replied. Securing the last buckle on her pack, she stood and regarded Erithon with quiet eyes.
Erithon felt a stab of regret at the idea of being surrounded with more people again. The hours with Aitahea had been… enjoyable, despite the danger. He’d liked having her all to himself.
The caf dispenser beeped softly, and Erithon started. Reverie disrupted, he filled two mugs and offered one to Aitahea. She accepted the hot drink with a nod of thanks.
“I have an idea of where our Sith quarry has gone,” Aitahea offered. “I sensed her last night. It was hard not to; her use of the Force was like a beacon.” The Jedi paused for a moment, eyes askance, and took a sip of caf.
Erithon grimaced. “I’m going to guess not the kind of beacon you really want to see. Or feel, I guess.” He drained his cup and dropped it into the galley recycler. “But it’s still good news. We can move to find her quickly.”
Aitahea nodded and handed her half-full cup back to the trooper. “We just need to report to the base and gather supplies, then we can go after her.” She punctuated her statement with a troubled look. “She’s got quite the head start on us, and I’m nearly certain she’s the one who orchestrated the attack on your shuttle, likely in order to slow our pursuit.”
A spike of rage pierced the relative serenity of the Force between them, and Erithon turned away from the Jedi quickly, sealing the caf station with trembling hands. Aitahea had anticipated this reaction and reached out to touch Erithon’s arm. He allowed it, hands pressed against the compartment doors, and took a deep breath before replying.
“So she’s responsible for Garret’s death,” he seethed. Impulsively, Aitahea placed her other hand on Erithon’s opposite arm. His helpless fury grated against her empathic senses, but she pushed the discomfort aside and offered a sense of peace. She suddenly found herself longing to embrace him in an effort to draw him away from this dark wrath… but no. She couldn’t. Instead, she leaned forward to whisper quietly over his shoulder.
“She will find justice,” Aitahea murmured, and Erithon relaxed a fraction. Taking a deep breath, he reached to cover one of her hands with his own and offered a wan smile over his shoulder.
“Thanks, Master Jedi.” Erithon turned, catching Aitahea’s left hand in both of his and closing the distance between them. The Jedi’s pulse quickened, but Erithon didn’t seem to notice. “Somehow I believe it when you say it.”
How does she do it? Erithon wondered, gazing into the wide green eyes of the Jedi whose hand he clasped. Was it a Jedi thing, making everything okay again with a word and a touch? Or was it just her, just Aitahea?
An unexpected wash of light passed over Aitahea’s face, causing her to turn away so as to shield her eyes. Suddenly self-conscious, Erithon dropped her hand and stepped back, clearing his throat awkwardly. “Hey, sunrise,” he muttered, glancing out the viewscreen. “Well, I better get suited up then so we can get going. I’m gonna go do that. Yeah.”
Aitahea watched him retreat from the bridge with a sigh. It seemed like her resolve would continue to be tested, but she and Erithon had a mission to complete. Aitahea shaded her eyes as she looked out the viewscreen at the glittering sunrise, the brightness at odds with the dark path they were set to follow.