Much has changed.
We finally arrived on Coruscant and there, among the great city rising from the plains and forests, we met with the Council. Rasha and I presented Kazem’s notes and Saber, as well as Senator Kern’s crest and the gauntlet we retrieved from Hadrian IV. The mood was dark and, after some back-and-forth with Senior Councilor Pellius regarding whether or not one should delve into the dark side to learn its weapons and methods, we were sent away.
Rasha and I were assigned to Master Arik, a Chiss, who subscribes to the new way of learning. Heavily adopted as a more disciplined and less flexible training method due to mounting pressure from the Republic, the new method involved classes of Jedi in meditation, studying tomes and filing reports. In short, none of the wandering, practical lessons and hard labor of Master Drax’s more traditional ways. We found little tolerance for this new method, which I could see holding us back both presently in our quest to understand the Stranger and the events surrounding his death, and in the future with regards to our growth as Jedi.
While training individually, Rasha and I overheard an altercation between Aris Blade, the man who slew the Stranger, and Pellius. Aris threw down his lightsaber and marched out of the chamber. We followed him, begging to go with him wherever he would go. He denied our request. I pleading – explaining that we, too rejected the new ways; that we, too, felt there was yet more to learn from the Stranger’s war path; and that we, the last of Drax’s students, should have our training completed, to honor his memory. He told us he would not take students or babysit us, but that we could travel with him to Dantooine and, there, look for a new master or school. We agreed.
The next morning Pellius warned us that if we left with Aris, the Council would no longer be able to help us. Far from condemning us, he made it clear that two paths were diverging – the old way of Knights wandering the galaxy, learning as they went, making peace where and how they could; and the new way: a consolidation of training methods and power in a central place, where the Council’s political power could both rival and be checked by the Republic’s. We left with Aris that day.
On the long voyage to Dantooine I struggled with what I was faced with. Just a month ago I was training under the watchful tutelage of Master Drax. Now I have returned to Coruscant to find the Order bending to the wishes and will of the Republic. I have arrived at this conclusion: The Order of Jedi Knights cannot remain objective in its dealings with the Republic if the two are one and the same. The Republic, understandably disturbed by the still recent events of the Stranger and Exar Kun before that, wish for greater and greater control over the Knights to prevent the emergence of more Sith. But the matter of training Jedi (and of dealing with our mistakes) is the Jedi’s alone. The politics of government and trade are theirs. I can’t say that the two should never meet, but I believe they are inextricably unaligned by nature.
I can only hope Drax would agree.
On Dantooine we spent some time asking around for schools looking for students but found nothing to our liking. Our late Master’s name and our prescience on Hadrian IV at the end of the war granted us several such meetings, as well as a few with individual masters willing to take on trainees. None of them were quite right. Eventually we were summoned by a courier saying Aris had sent him.
We found Aris inside a small grotto in the cavernous underground city we had been wandering. He looked ready for travel – or battle? – dressed not in his usual flamboyant and flashy clothes, but in wraps and a hood. He motioned to a room beyond where he sat.
At first I thought I was looking at an advanced holocron, but there he stood: Vodo-Siosk Baas. The ancient Master, teacher of Exar Kun himself. If anyone could provide guidance to two lost students – who quested for answers to one seduced by the dark side no less! – it would be he. Aris had come to meet with him, I suppose, and gather information for his mission. Baas instructed Aris that we were to be taken with him that we “yet had a part to play.” I would not force the will of any creature, so I asked Aris if he would indeed take us. He reluctantly said yes. He explained that we would be traveling outside the Republic blockage of the Outer / Unknown Regions where much of the Stranger’s war had been raged. There, among the ash and ruin, Aris believed he could find clues to the Stranger’s origins, his methods … his power.
We took Ariss ship as far as Ryloth, where it dropped us off. Rasha and I agreed to try and book passage beyond the Blockade via a smuggler. We found one, who demanded the outrageous sum of 25,000 credits. On the way to confirm the price with Aris, we noticed we were being followed. Rasha and I broke off, I left first from a cafe and our follower pursued. Rasha left then, watching the watcher.
We were separated from Rasha when the mysterious follower and I boarded a train ahead of him. There, the man just watched me until I tried to leave. He gave me a small data chip and said nothing. I plugged it into my data pad on the plaform.
Later I replayed the message. It showed the man who had been following us in an alleyway. Suddenly, Aris was there, too. He handed Aris a wrapped package and Aris handed him a stack of credits. The package was unwrapped and revealed to be the left-hand counterpart of the gauntlet we had found in the Northern Pit! We decided not to tell Aris.
While Aris spent the week rounding up the money he needed, we tried to get in touch with the informant via a comlink frequency at the end of the video he had given us. In time, we met him in an alleyway. He claimed that we wouldn’t believe him and that, for now, he could not reveal his identity. He said that Aris was touched by darkness, that he wasn’t what he seemed. He said that the Stranger was looking for ways to come back more powerful than ever, and the Aris would facilitate that: knowingly or otherwise.
He didn’t give us much information. We decided to watch Aris – we knew only slightly more about him than we knew about this Informant, and significantly less than that about the Stranger. Yet our lives were becoming inextricably linked to all three. We left within in the week, bound for whatever rock Aris would have us land on.
In the past, I have always imagined myself growing old and wise, a peaceful and attuned master on some quiet world training eager students in an understanding of the force. Perhaps there was a time and place where that would have been possible. Now, it seems, my hand is drawn instinctual to my lightsaber, my mind bent to unraveling the mysteries of the Sith. We travel once more into the darkness, to fight the darkness, perhaps watched by the darkness. Rasha and I are yet learning the ways of the Force, and yet so great a burden as this even the Council shies from. We have chosen a crusade of shadows – of darkness and light.
I only wish Drax were here to guide us.