Chapter 10: Reflection
[A/N: Technically some very vague spoilers for Tatooine, sorta… kinda…]
Aitahea sighed in unrepentant indulgence as she sank – blissfully clean and warm for the first time in days – into the cushion of her bed on the Luminous. It was good to be home.
Prelsiava, the ship’s pilot, had been waiting for them when she and Erithon had arrived back at Aurek Base, anxious to resume the search for Isme and the as-yet unknown location of the Rakata artifact. There was much to be done, but Aitahea couldn’t resist a moment of simple relaxation. It possessed its own kind of peace – like she’d said to Erithon about laughter when they’d first met.
Erithon had looked grateful when Aitahea offered the use of any facilities in the Luminous, and it seems they both retreated to their respective refreshers immediately upon embarking. The Jedi might have laughed at the flood of eager gratitude that poured into the Force from the chilled, sore trooper if Aitahea herself didn’t share the same sentiment.
Now, soothed and warmed, Aitahea indulged in uncomplicated physical comforts. The simple linen-white towel she’d swathed herself in after the shower, the soft warmth of the bed’s coverlet. Nothing in the room was pretentious; it was a place for rest and meditation. The comforts were few and specific, and Aitahea had brought little with her from Tython when she’d left. Possession wasn’t a part of the Jedi Code, after all, and travel across the galaxy left little room for anything more than supplies, clothing, and the rare trinket.
But duty called, and Aitahea knew there was work to be done before they reached Belsavis. The Jedi dressed quickly in a soft rose tunic and brown pants from the few simple items she kept and pulled on her belt and lightsaber. Her silvery hair curled over her shoulders, unbound and still slightly damp from the shower, causing Aitahea to pause before the mirror. The pause itself surprised her; all too often she simply dashed from the room without even considering her appearance. It wasn’t important.
But now she spared a moment to look at her reflection, confused a little even as she noted the contrast of her pale skin against the warm tone of the tunic, the unruly waves in her hair. She pulled her fingers through the loose curls, attempting to smooth them into some semblance of order. She’d braid it all back later, but right now –
Aitahea grimaced and dropped her hands from her hair, shaking her head at her own immaturity as she walked away from the mirror and opened the door to leave her room. There was work to be done.
She found Erithon in the common room, standing at the holo. His armor was gone, leaving him dressed in casual jacket and pants of a common style that would suit anywhere. His dark blonde hair was damp and tousled, but he looked rested and comfortable. She was surprised at how much that pleased her.
The holo showed an otherwise slender young woman, belly rounded with child. Erithon smiled broadly as he listened to her speak – it was a message that had been left while they were planetside, Aitahea gathered. She hung back at the entry to the large room, allowing what little privacy the common room left for communications.
Near the end of the message, the woman knelt and gathered two children into the holo and bade them wave to their ‘Uncle Erithon.’ The youngest, perhaps four standard years, waved enthusiastically, while the eldest – a girl of about eight, Aitahea guessed – rolled her eyes dramatically, but smiled and waved despite her flippant attitude. Erithon laughed, shaking his head at the sight before turning off the projection.
Aitahea knocked quietly on the doorframe to capture the trooper’s attention, trying not to startle him. He turned quickly, eyes widening at the sight of Aitahea standing there.
“Oh, Jedi!” he started, looking a little embarrassed. “Aitahea. Sorry, I thought I’d check messages while I waited for you. I hope you don’t mind.”
“Please, you’re entirely welcome. Feel free to make yourself at home here,” she replied sincerely, smiling. “And please excuse me for eavesdropping.”
“Not a bit. It’s your ship, after all,” he answered, looking relieved. “And… I don’t mind you seeing that. My sister.” He smiled with delight, motioning at the holo. “And her children. Including another nephew on the way.”
Aitahea couldn’t help laughing in response to his sheer joy, enjoying the vibrant feeling washing over her. “I noticed! Very soon, I suppose?”
Erithon grinned boyishly. “Any day now.” He walked forward, glancing over Aitahea. “You’re all right?” It was his usual calculated assessment of her well-being, interwoven with that mix of all too personal emotions. Aitahea sobered quickly, clasping her hands in front of her as she attempted to ignore the feelings she was unable to block. They needed to focus.
The Jedi nodded. “I’m fine, thank you.” Adding a grim smile, she motioned to the holo. “We have a lot to work on. Belsavis has always been dangerous, but not knowing where Isme is will make things moreso.”
“You can’t tell where she is? Feel her in the Force or whatever, like you did on Hoth?”
“Perhaps, if she’s nearby,” Aitahea admitted, pressing her hands against the edge of the holoprojector. “But it can work against us just the same; now that she knows my presence, she can hide. We’re going in rather blind.”
Erithon gestured broadly. “That’s what you’ve got me for.”
Aitahea couldn’t help but laugh, despite her efforts to be serious. “Of course. I depend on you for that. Where my skills end…”
“I’ve got you covered, Jedi,” Erithon said quietly, placing a hand on Aitahea’s shoulder.
Isme was livid. If she’d had the power to crush the holocron, she would have ground it into dust, and then sent the dust swirling into space through the airlock. But of course the ancient technology was much too hardy for that; instead she settled for flinging it across the room.
She’d been trying for a full day to threaten, cajole, or coerce the Rakata inside to give her the ritual’s steps. Each time he refused, citing any of a hundred meaningless reasons, or sometimes none at all. He simply reminded her that he’d already shared the information, and Isme knew very well who she needed to ask.
Isme didn’t have that kind of time. It would be simpler to get the information from the Rakata. But he’d had millennia to learn patience, and she had no more options.
She’d have to follow the Jedi.
It was a frustrating turn of events; Isme severely disliked losing control of a situation this way. She’d set several threads of inquiry in place to search out the Consular and her pet trooper, calling in favors and tapping highly-placed Imperial contacts.
While she waited, Isme pared down her options. She could go directly to the location of the artifact, take it, and catch up with the Jedi later for the instructions. Unfortunately, while she had a direction and a strong impression of the planet where the artifact was, nothing could be found in any galactic map she consulted. It was as if the planet she sought didn’t exist. She could set a course in the general direction, harness the Force and use its power to guide her, but that was risky from a logistical standpoint. Exploring an entire system blind, even with the power of the Force to aid her, could take years and would leave her frighteningly vulnerable to a myriad of unknowns.
More likely it was that it simply had been forgotten as ages passed and the galaxy changed hands over and over. Names were stricken from records and rewritten, lost as civilizations rose and fell, razed by violence or the inevitable passage of time. Either way, it left her flying blind.
With no evidence of having been followed from Hoth, Isme had to assume that the Jedi would be considering the same option Isme was – consulting the remaining Rakata. Belsavis was both close and rich in Rakata treasures, a wealth of ancient technology and knowledge.
That worked conveniently for Isme, because if the Jedi had indeed traveled to Belsavis as she suspected, Isme could kill two birds with one stone. Catch the Jedi and tear the ritual from her mind as well as find a secure route to the ancient relic.
Isme smiled darkly. Perhaps this chain of events wouldn’t be so disappointing after all.
Aitahea knelt in stillness in the common room. After going over the map of Belsavis and plotting a route through the Tomb, the Rakata’s own secure prison, Erithon had excused himself to prep his gear. Aitahea was hoping to take advantage of the remaining time before their arrival to understand better the method of the ritual. It was a dangerous task, delving into the dark side, even while her intentions were good. She hoped exploring the despicable rite would reveal some additional information she and Erithon could use to find the artifact or stop Isme that much sooner.
Peace was hard to find, even in the silence of meditation. Aitahea’s apprehension took on the sound of a constant crackle, like comm static. She stopped first to recognize her fear, trying to look into its sinister presence and face it. The exercise was only somewhat successful – facing this dread she didn’t fully understand was like trying to capture mist. It slipped through her fingers and left her hollow.
So she focused instead on the present. Here, she was safe and secure, isolated and protected by the anonymity of deep space. She took stock of herself in the present – unbound hair falling over the shoulders of her rose tunic. Weight of the belt and her lightsaber on her hips. The chill of the plexisteel floor where she knelt. The muted sounds of the Luminous. The friendly, preoccupied presences of Prelsiava and Erithon.
There is no emotion. There is peace. Aitahea made herself buoyant in the Force, calm and attentive. She visualized the steps of the ritual like an ancient book, rough paper bound in aged leather. She’d seen only a handful of the rare volumes on Tython, most information being stored on holos or datacrons. But the effort, the physical connection of turning pages, limited the ritual’s influence. She hoped this way to bind it to something controllable.
She touched a finger to the cover; coarse material blackened by design or age, she couldn’t tell. The edges were dry and crumbling, but the binding was still sturdy, and the cover opened smoothly. The paper it bound was heavily textured, giving the script inked on the pages a harsh quality.
There is no ignorance. There is knowledge. Aitahea didn’t recognize the language, but it still made sense, conjuring images that made her shudder. She evaluated them academically, turning the concepts in her hands and giving them a thorough assessment before cataloging them. Each step influenced the next. As she’d said to Erithon, the steps of the ritual themselves were simple. Artifact. Deceive. Sacrifice. Capture. Control. Destruction. Darkness.
The Jedi shuddered, flailing for control, for direction. Pages red with blood, black with ink swirled around her. She grasped at them with trembling hands, but they only sliced at her fingertips. Aitahea clasped her hands to her chest with a cry.
There is no passion. There is serenity. There. Aitahea bound the pages again, the archaic tome pulsating with fury. But she was in control again. For now.
The book remained open at the first page. The bizarre letters of the script seemed to waver, and Aitahea peered close, with narrowed eyes, watching them change.
Of course. Aitahea laughed, her voice sounding sick and metallic, the sound fighting to climb back down her throat. This made it even more simple. If nothing else, the Rakata were efficient.
The artifact was not an object. Less than that. More than. The location of the artifact – the information that Isme knew and had been denied to Aitahea – was the artifact. It made perfect sense. They’d all assumed it would be something you could collect and hide away, some ordinary item imbued with terrible power.
But the Rakata would have no need for trinkets. They’d built the Star Forge. They’d carved a prison out of a planet. How foolish and shortsighted she was, Aitahea thought bitterly.
It was nothing spectacular – this forbidden art was created in secret, and like the efforts of the Imprisoned One, the Rakata who’d fashioned this ritual was an outcast, lacking the support of the Infinite Empire in his efforts. So the results were small, but serviceable. A cave. That was all. Let nature do the hard work. Let the mind deceive itself.
There is no… chaos. There is… The pages of the book fluttered as it lay open on the floor of the cave. Aitahea stared at them for a long moment, feeling sick. She finally turned away, looking around the dark space. A sheen of moisture gleamed over tangled vines and dead vegetation; the smell of decay was nearly overpowering. The dark side power was oppressive, weighing heavy on her shoulders and mind. It felt hard to breathe.
The book continued to flap its pages loudly, demanding Aitahea’s attention. She turned again, and the cave was gone.
She was in the Jedi Temple on Coruscant. It was still whole, but plunged into darkness. The air seethed with the same dark side influence as the cavern. The floor shook.
It wasn’t real; the Temple was destroyed long ago. She hadn’t even been there.
Her shoulders dropped. She should have known, expected this kind of trick. Nevertheless, she cried out when Master Faron ushered Aitahea’s clan into the classroom across the hall, just as another blast rocked the Temple. Trailing at the end, trying desperately to stay close to Master Faron, was Isme.
Aitahea fell to her knees.
“It is not real!” she shouted at the Sith who stalked down the hallway, toying with Master Faron. None of them looked her way, nor did Master Faron. Despairing, Aitahea reached for her lightsaber, but it wasn’t there. Of course not. She was a child, not even old enough for a training saber. She watched, sobbing helplessly, as the Sith cut down Master Faron. She couldn’t bear it. There was nothing she could do.
In the cavern behind her, the book closed with an audible thump.
There is no…
Erithon hadn’t wanted to interrupt when the Jedi was clearly in the midst of some kind of meditation, so he hung back and just watched. He’d been trying to stay focused, fighting to keep his attention on their task, but seeing her all unbound hair and laughter earlier made it very, very difficult. He didn’t know a damn thing about fashion, but he liked the glow the blush-colored tunic gave her, the way it skimmed her shoulders. The desire to entwine his fingers in the loose curls of her hair was overwhelming. Almost.
He wondered idly if he’d viewed the holo message from his sister in the common room so she might see it, too. The thought of her knowing more about him made him smile.
He considered the position they’d gotten stuck in while he watched her. Her peaceful stillness seemed paradoxical when compared to the turmoil he felt. He couldn’t believe he’d tried to kiss her like that on Hoth, but at the same time he wished to the Core and back that she hadn’t moved at the last second. But she hadn’t been offended or angry, just sad. Or something like it. She hadn’t asked him to leave her alone. The only thing she’d asked for was patience.
That was feeling more difficult than if she’d just told him to lay off. But he liked that, too. It would have been different if she’d been like the stoic Jedi he’d met before, but that wasn’t Aitahea. She constantly demonstrated the Jedi serenity that was so famous, but punctuated it with moments of genuine compassion and personal investment. Maybe it was a product of her sense of empathy, but… he liked it, whatever it was.
Aitahea shuddered suddenly, catching Erithon’s attention. He frowned as he crept closer; she didn’t look right, too much like the other time he’d observed her meditating on Hoth, searching for the Sith girl. Was she trying it again?
Stuck like this again, completely useless, he thought, kneeling in front of her. “Come on, Aitahea, snap out of it,” he muttered, grasping her shoulders. The Jedi didn’t respond, other than to flinch slightly, eyes still closed. Well, at least he hadn’t hurt anything startling her.
The next few moments were agonizing, but Aitahea finally opened her eyes. Erithon kept a firm grip on her arms, afraid she’d pass out like the last time, but she remained upright, if a little pale. She blinked repeatedly, green eyes flickering over his face, bewildered and lost.
He nodded and was about to add a witty remark when tears started coursing down her cheeks. Erithon started, shocked to see such a raw emotional response from a Jedi, even from Aitahea. She covered her face as she sagged forward and sobbed quietly, shoulders shaking under his hands.
Erithon frowned and without further thought gathered her into his arms, a little awkward as he smoothed a hand over the pale hair he’d wanted to tangle his fingers in just a little earlier. He wasn’t sure what else to do.
Aitahea stilled almost immediately, hiccupping softly as she swiped the last tears from her face and shifted in Erithon’s embrace. She glanced at him fleetingly – eyes full of ghosts – before turning her face away, silvery hair a sudden barrier between them, and moving to rise.
“No.” Erithon tightened his grip, one hand still on her arm and the other around her waist. She turned her face back to him, an expression of perplexed irritation clear in her red-rimmed eyes. He narrowed his eyes right back at her, mouth in a tight line. “You need to tell me what’s going on.”
She continued to strain against his hold for a moment before slumping back onto him with an exasperated sigh. Erithon felt a moment of intense relief; it was a bit of a bluff, holding her there, and he most certainly would have let her go in another second. But something was going on, and she needed to share it. The gamble had paid off, thankfully. She was still rigid in the circle of his arms, but after a final tense moment she leaned her head against his chest and sighed deeply.
“Talk to me, Aitahea,” he requested, and after a long pause and a deep breath, she began.
Though she’d kept her voice soft and quiet, Aitahea’s throat felt raw after her long tale. Erithon had listened patiently as she recounted her shattered childhood and the disconnected memories of Coruscant and Isme that continued to plague her. She described the botched exploration of the Rakata sacrifice that had trapped her in the same horrible visions. Her fear. Helplessness. Despair.
Suddenly and inexplicably exhausted, she let her head drop back against Erithon’s shoulder, deliberately ignoring the press of guilt that came with the motion. The Force take her hesitation and confusion; she felt safe here, with him. He hadn’t let go of her while she spoke, just shifted to settle them in more comfortably. Her back pressed against his chest, his arms a comfortable weight around her shoulders. Once in a while, when her voice broke in mid-sentence, he’d simply press his forehead against her hair and wait.
Now, he gathered her close and pressed his face into her hair again. Aitahea blinked and reached up to place trembling fingers on his forearms where they wrapped around her. Their thread of connection in the Force was flooded with his concern, his awareness and appreciation of her fragility, but around all that he saw her as… strong. Courageous and steadfast in her efforts, despite how personal and devastating they could be. He was like a mirror, but instead of a simple reflection, she saw all the potential and skill he witnessed. How her fears had been temporary, and how she’d already overcome so many. How much he admired her. Cared for her.
Aitahea’s skin tingled where she felt his breath on her shoulder, and her cheeks flushed hot. She pressed her lips together, sending her gratitude back along the thread. Thankful for his patience, his trust, his guidance and dedication. She didn’t expect him to be able to sense her efforts as directly as she understood them, but she realized at least something had gotten through when his arms tightened around her.
Suddenly bold with the contact and dizzy with uncontrolled emotion, Aitahea twisted in his grasp to face him. Erithon looked up at her, eyes filled with a tangle of tightly-reigned desire and uncertainty. She laughed huskily, appreciative of the reflection of her own feelings, and clutched at the fabric of his tunic with shaking hands.
Smiling, Erithon reached out a hand to pull one of the bright curls from her shoulder, letting the tendril loop around his thumb before pushing it back over her shoulder, fingers brushing the fabric of her tunic. Aitahea knelt still and breathless, watching his face with wide eyes.
He ran a thumb across her bottom lip, fingers cradling her chin. Aitahea couldn’t repress the heady shudder that slipped through her. His eyes were shadowed, need as plain as words, but nothing compared to the feelings she sensed rolling off him. She echoed them back, trembling with the intensity.
“Aitahea?” he whispered, voice full of hope. She simply nodded her answer, defying all her uncertainty, reveling in the moment of unrepentant indulgence. Erithon smiled brilliantly, and moving quicker than she could understand, had his fingers tangled in her hair and his lips warm on hers.
He held the kiss for what seemed all too short a period to Aitahea, and she was a little disappointed when he pulled away. Erithon gazed at her in quiet wonder for a long moment, a curious smile playing over his lips. “What is it?” she breathed, a trickle of doubt chilling her.
Erithon grinned again, keeping one hand entwined in her hair and sliding the other around her waist to pull the Jedi tight against him. “Just… you,” he assured, kissing her again. That kiss, and those that followed, lasted quite some time.