Thursday, April 26, 2007

Chapter Three

The guts of the gunship had been stripped down to their bare essentials and were as dark as the obsidian exterior. A quartet of jaundiced glo-sticks swung from the roof web, providing the only illumination and this, combined with the heady odor of engine oil and seven men, was too smothering for Scarp. He sat on a tub of something that had to be explosive, and rested his head on the cool metal of the exposed fuselage, staring through one of the vertical slits the troopers used for view ports. Below him a parched orange flatbed of Kiffu sped past in a blur, the solid color broken once or twice by the darker ruins of long abandoned lightning harvesters.

Kiffu truly was a ghost planet.
As he tried to quell the anxiety gnawing away at him, Scarp kept one ear on his brother and Sgt. Calz.
Pel was standing, hanging onto the overhead webbing and facing the old warrior.
“How long until we reach Miner’s Rest?”
Calz flipped open his holo-projector and the circling buildings sprang up into the gloom, surrounded by numerical data and flashing triangles. A green dot pulsed in the center of the stack.
“ETA fourteen minutes, twenty seconds. That green marker will be our ticket out of here.”
“Great, some more down-time.” The sarcastic voice drifted from the front of the ship and one of the other clones laughed.
Calz chose to ignore it and removed his helmet, fixing Pel with a tired stare. “OK, Jedi. We all know why we’re here, and you’ve made a wise choice to come along with us. However, I’ll be honest, I’ve seen what Jedi can do, and I admire your… abilities, but I don’t think we totally trust each other, and with good reason.”
“I sense no hostility in you, Sergeant.”
“That’s what I’m talking about. You can quit with the mind reading. I don’t want you probing around in my head, and believe me, I’ve worked with enough of you to know when it’s happening.”
Calz hadn’t raised his voice at all, but his words couldn’t have made more impact if he had broadcast them through a Flaff’ert Horn.
“Understood, Sergeant.”
Pel studied the grizzled warhorse for a few seconds, at once amazed and saddened that a person who had not yet reached twenty years of age could look so old. He reflected on the Sergeant’s attitude toward him.
Everything truly had changed.

A little over a week ago, this trooper would have been calling him General, Commander or even Sir; now he was just ‘Jedi’. It was extraordinary how the word could be made to sound so contemptuous, but he understood how conflicted Calz and his men must have felt. Pel, Scarp and the younglings were the first force-users the troopers had met since Order 66, following their decision to ‘take matters into their own hands’. By now the lies had spread far and wide, propagating the belief that the Jedi Order had turned on the Republic, but thankfully there were clones that had begun to question their orders, ‘free thinkers that slipped through the Kaminoan nets’ as the Council had once described them; secretly encouraging their individual liberation.

“What about them?” Calz indicated with his thumb toward Soolad, Janst’orr and Lig huddled together on a stack of storage lockers in the middle of the deck, surrounded by dark armored troopers.
“The younglings?”
“We don’t need kids getting under our feet when we’re working.”
“I assure you, they won’t get in your way, Sergeant. These children could be more helpful than you seem to think.”
“We’ll see about that. I’ll admit they seem to be taking this pretty well.” He rubbed a raw scar on his chin and looked at the tiny padawans. “Do they even know what’s going on?”
“Not yet,” Pel smiled, “but they soon will.”

Virus, once known as CT-2206, gazed down at the trio of younglings and raised an eyebrow. The Bith looked like his eyes would burst at any second, and the little tentacle-head returned his stare with a frown. However, the one in the middle, the one with aqua stripes on her head tails, held his look and smiled in return.
“I’m a healer, too,” she suddenly said, taking him doubly by surprise.
The scout trooper, Peko, cocked his head and looked at Lig.
“You can talk then.”
“Of course.”
“So how‘d you know Virus is our medic?”
“The Force told me.”
Peko threw his hands up and strode around Virus to join the busy pilot in the cockpit.
The medic knelt down in front of Lig and removed his helmet.
“Don’t worry about Peko, he’s never got used to you lot…”
Janst’orr’s teeth flashed, but not in a grin. “What do you mean, ‘you lot’?”
“Force users, “ replied Virus unapologetically, “you freak him out.”
“We freak him out?” said Soolad quietly, turning to look at the other visors bearing down all around him. Lig placed her hand on the back of Soolad’s neck, and he relaxed instantaneously.

She smiled sweetly at the medic. “Where are we going, Virus?”
“Your bosses didn’t tell you yet?” Virus reached into a pouch on his belt and pulled out a long, cuboid container. He depressed a button on one end and a drawer slid out of it, revealing several tiny globes that seemed to quiver with the vibration of the ship’s thrusters.
“Thirsty?” he said to Lig, and he reached in, taking one of the gelatinous spheres and popping it into his mouth.
“Very,” she replied, and took one of the globes from his outstretched hand.
“What are you doing?” hissed Janst’orr, “it could be poison!”
“I don’t think so,” replied Lig, and she placed the ball onto her tongue. As she bit down it seemed to explode in her mouth, filling it with the sweetest water she had ever tasted and squirting out onto Virus’s chest plate.
“Don’t waste it!” he laughed, and then offered the container to Janst’orr and Soolad.
A quick check to see that Lig was still breathing was all it took for the other two to hastily grab a globe each and ram them into their mouths. They hadn’t had fresh water for days.
The look on their faces was enough to tell Virus that the treats were appreciated, and he hid the container back in his belt. “They’re Felucian grub polyps, pretty good eh?”
Soolad swallowed hard, then coughed. Janst’orr looked like she was chewing a swamp-wasp.

Virus nodded his head toward Pel as he continued. “When we met your boss here, he said you lot had been hiding that harvester for a week now.”
“That’s true,” said Lig, warming to the clone very quickly, “Masters Pel and Scarp brought us here for survival training, two days before the…” her voice petered out in a whisper.
“Before the order came through, I get it,” Virus sat fully on the floor of the deck now, his armored legs splayed either side of the younglings’ seats, “looks like the training paid off.”
He studied the little Togruta; her delicate features and tiny frame.
What was the Jedi Order thinking of, training children for the war?
He suddenly saw the irony in his line of thought and smiled ruefully to himself.

Lig looked at the troopers surrounding their little party, hanging on every word.
“Do you all have names?”
“Sure,” replied Virus, “we used to have numbers.”
“Before we became aruetiise, “ hissed the trooper next to Soolad.
Calz’s head snapped around and he looked vibro-daggers at the armored man. “If I hear that one more time from you I’ll be letting you off this crate, and we won’t land first.”
“Sorry, Sarge.”
Virus looked at his Sergeant, then back to the younglings. “You’ve already met Sergeant Calz,”
“Why is his armor different?” interrupted Soolad.
Virus looked back to Calz. The old man was deep in conversation with Pel. The reverence for him was palpable in Virus’s tone. “He’s one of the originals. He’s done it all. Refused promotions so that he could stay with his squad, and paid the price by being dumped on every backwater poodoo mound in the outer rim. I’d follow him to the end of the galaxy.”
“Looks like you’re gonna.”
The children turned with Virus to the source of the comment; it was the trooper who had just been reprimanded.
Virus winked at him. “All the way, Rece.” He turned back to Soolad who seemed to be most enamored with the statuesque troopers. “This is Rece, formally of the 38th, joined us with Peko, our scout.”
Soolad looked to the front of the ship and could see the top of the scout’s helmet above the brace.
Virus continued. “Rece can drive anything, as long as it weighs over sixty tons.”
“That’s just my speeder, ner’vod,” added Rece, a touch of lightness finally in his voice.
“On the other side of the cabin is Digger, he’s from my battalion, the 442nd.”
“Yeah, despite Virus’s best efforts, I’m still standing,” Digger chuckled from behind his visor.
Virus craned his head back to the cockpit. “You haven’t met our pilot yet. Another original, he served with the Sarge. Hey, Carud, give the kids a wave!”
A black-gloved hand appeared, silhouetted against the violet stained sky, and did a mid-air salute.

Lig had left her crate and moved closer to the bandaged man. His head was drooped and fresh bacta dripped down to soak into the bandages covering his face.
“Who is this?” she said, sidling closer still.
“That’s Rev, short for Marev, it means ‘fist’
Lig looked more closely at Rev, and then placed her hand on his leg. He didn’t move. Virus watched her, curious.
“He’s first in and last out, which is why he usually ends up this way. He fought with General Windu.”
“Why is his armor different?” Soolad had edged forward to get a better look, but he still wasn’t brave enough to fully leave his seat.
“You like that?” Virus grinned, he’s scrapped so many SBDs now, that he’s taken to wearing their head plates, confuses the hell out of mechs, and scares the muck outta wets.”
Suddenly Lig’s tiny voice cut in.
“His head is broken.”
“What?” Virus shuffled over to where Lig stood, one hand on Rev’s bandaged forehead, the other on his arm.
“His head is broken. Master Pel?”
Pel looked over Calz’s shoulder and caught her look.
“Yes, youngling?”
“Can I mend him?”
Pel looked at Calz. The sergeant shrugged. “As long as she doesn’t kill him.”
Pel nodded at Lig, then noticed that Scarp was intensely watching her. Lig was Scarp’s pride and joy; it was inevitable that she would become his padawan. However, then there was the matter of training Soolad and Janst’orr.

Lig closed her eyes as Virus studied Rev’s vitals, displayed as a series of projected colored lines on his thigh plate. Other than the throb of the engines, all was still. Virus suddenly realized he was holding his breath and exhaled slowly, quietly, turning off his external mike so as not to distract the little force-user. Then, as soon as she had begun, Lig pulled back and smiled. “Everything’s back where it should be.”
Virus studied the lines, which were indeed reading normal rates for a fit young man. He leant forward as Rev slowly opened his exposed eye.
“How do you feel, Rev?”
The wounded clone coughed, and then spat a clear globule onto the deck. “Headache’s gone.”
Virus shook his head slowly and looked at Lig.
“He had a fractured skull.”
“Now it’s better.”
Sergeant Calz nodded curtly at Virus, then turned back to Pel. “She may be of use.”
“I’m happy to hear that, Sergeant.” Pel looked over to Scarp, who was beaming from ear to ear; the first time in many days.

As Lig sat back down, Janst’orr’s eyes followed her, and Lig could detect a trace of fear in her. Before she could act on this, a high voice sounded out.
“I’ve seen clones before,” it was Soolad, feeling braver now that the grub polyp had re-hydrated him a little, “and they’re white. And shiny.”
“Not all of them,” replied Virus, “you never seen RC’s?”
“He means commandos,” interjected Janst’orr, determined not to be left out of the conversation.
“Republic Commandos, missy,” corrected the medic, “and what about ARCs? Pretty as a shrill-hen, some of them.”
“Why are you called Ashes?” asked Lig.
“It’s a long story,” started Virus.
“And one that can wait,” interrupted Sergeant Calz, suddenly slinging his DC-15 onto his shoulder, “ETA three minutes.”
Virus jumped to his feet. “You kids better go sit with your bosses. Time for the Ashes to go to work.”

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Chapter Two

The charged particles of Kiffu’s air stung like scatter-shot on Pel’s exposed lower face, although he knew the sensation he felt was just electro-static pinpricks, and that no physical damage was actually being done to him.

Through the enhanced display of his swoop goggles, he could see Scarp’s towering frame holding fast; his legs splayed in readiness, his twin blades creating a diagonal slash above and behind him. Pel could also see three tiny heads – actually two tiny heads and a Bith forehead – peeking out from behind a fallen column. He knew how confused they all felt, and he was acutely aware that the dark shape looming up behind him symbolized extinction to their tiny group. He tried to ignore the remorse eating away at his stomach.
‘I should have warned them…’

As Pel brought the bike to a stop, the staccato throb of the gunship’s engines grew louder, no longer masked by the whine of the swoop’s jets. He didn’t need to look back to see where it was, and instead leapt from his ride, barreling towards his brother with his hands outstretched.
“Scarp! No!”
It was too late. The gargantuan knight had already drawn back his arms and let fly with his broadsaber, which was now spinning above Pel’s head and in direct line with the gunship.
‘Typical Scarp’, Pel thought as he skidded to a halt and twisted to watch the weapon’s gently looping trajectory, ‘bring the ship down, then finish them off face to face’.

As Pel considered his course of action, time seemed to slow to a crawl. Around him, dust motes floated lazily on the air, kicked up by his own feet, settling into the folds of his dark green, Kiffuan poncho. The stammering roar of the gunship’s thrusters became a low and steady heartbeat, and Scarp’s saber rotated gracefully through the air, its multicolored blades creating kaleidoscopic pinwheels in the sky. As Pel watched it, he knew he had one of three choices. Try to leap for the weapon and grab it, bring it down with the force, or deactivate it. The latter choice seemed the most immediate and he stretched out with his mind until he saw the long hilt of Scarp’s saber, found the activation button, and slid it down, just as the weapon reached the gunship and bounced harmlessly off the cockpit. This entire action had taken fractions of a second, but to Pel it felt like a two-hour workout, and he paused to catch his breath.

Suddenly an object flew past his left shoulder, missing him by an arm’s length, and he saw the broadsaber snap back into Scarp’s mighty gloved hands as if on elastic. In an instant, Scarp had re-ignited the blade and was thundering towards Pel.
“Scarp! No! Stand down!” shouted Pel over the sound of the gunship behind him as it commenced its landing cycle.
“Are you insane?” yelled Scarp in return, reducing his speed not one iota.
“Trust me, brother!” replied Pel, and he sent a soothing pulse into Scarp’s mind, attempting to cool the giant’s blood.
Scarp was almost alongside Pel when he finally slowed, looking at his brother with confusion, but not turning off his saber.
“Scarp, trust me,” repeated Pel, this time more quietly, trying to keep the situation as calm as possible, “this isn’t what it seems.”
Scarp stopped and looked first at his brother, then at the military ship settling down behind him.
He adopted a defensive stance and spoke out of the side of his mouth, never once taking his eyes from the craft.
“Then, what is it, Pel?”

Lig watched the unfolding scene with wide eyes. The turmoil from the brothers’ minds bombarded her senses and she had to lean on Janst’orr for support. Masters Scarp and Pel were talking out of earshot, their voices reduced to whispers, and Lig couldn’t make out anything that was being said. The high-pitched howl from the gunship’s engines had finally subsided; the last of the dust clouds had settled, and Lig watched as the brothers walked steadily toward the craft.
“What are they doing?” Janst’orr sounded concerned. The little Nautolan’s voice always rose in pitch when she was troubled.
“I don’t know,“ replied Lig, “but they wouldn’t leave us.”
“How do you know that?” whispered Soolad as he bunched closer to Janst’orr than he had ever dared before.
“Master Pel is very calm, and Master Scarp’s anger has faded.” Lig’s quiet voice, along with the waves of tranquility emanating from her tiny frame, was immensely soothing, and her companions relaxed a little.

Lig turned her attention back to the two Jedi Knights as they reached the ship. The orange dust had settled enough for her to see the craft quite clearly now, and she marveled at its shape.
‘How could such a thing fly?’ she wondered as she looked at it.
The gunship did indeed look graceless, like a large bovine creature, belly-flopped onto the ground and wheezing gently. The entire ship was matte black, including the plasti-glass cockpit and weapon blisters, so black in fact that it seemed to suck the strobing blue light from the sky, creating its own, irregular, void. Heat shimmers rose from the tail section, creating glittering eruptions in the electrified air.

She watched, eyes wide, as her masters waited under the left wing of the craft. Then the entire side of the ship appeared to lift off and slide back, and a figure emerged. Lig heard Janst’orr catch her breath sharply, and felt her reaching for the training saber. She nestled closer to her, and reached around to rest her hand on Soolad’s shoulder, then the three of them began to breath as one; slowly, deeply.
The visitor was as tall as Master Pel and looked like a droid; however, Lig recognized the unmistakable curvature of a clone trooper’s armor, and the way in which those soldiers held themselves ramrod straight.
“That’s a clone!” whispered Soolad, “Aren’t we supposed to be fighting them now?”
“Not this one,” hissed Janst’orr, regaining some of her old spunkiness, “otherwise Master Scarp would have his head off already.”
The land may have been tinged with blue and violet, but Lig’s eyes had adapted to the color-shift many days ago, and yet she was having trouble picking out the features of the clone trooper’s suit.
“Aren’t they normally white?” said Soolad, deciding he had to ask all the unspoken questions of the moment.
“Yes.” replied Lig, peering harder as a second clone trooper exited the ship and joined his comrade in conversation with the Jedi brothers.
Suddenly Scarp turned in the younglings’ direction and indicated to them to join him.
Lig immediately stood up and began to skirt the edge of the column. Janst’orr leapt forward, her head tentacles flapping wildly, and grabbed Lig by the hood of her cloak.
“You’re not going out there, are you?”
“Why not, Jan? Master Scarp wants us there.”
“It could be a trap!”
“I don’t think so. I sense no hostility towards us. Coming Sooly?”
Lig looked for the little Bith, but he was already up and over the column, and jogging towards the gunship.
“For such a big head, he’s got very little brains…” grumbled Janst’orr as she allowed Lig to pull her towards the meeting between supposed enemies.

Scarp looked down as Soolad skidded to a halt, putting Scarp’s tree trunk of a leg between himself and the nearest trooper. The Bith’s eyes were wider than they had ever been, and his mouth folds quivered nervously.
“Calm yourself, youngling.” Scarp smiled at Soolad, then he stepped aside so that the armored visitor could see him better. “Sergeant Calz, this is Soolad G’att.”
The clone took a step forward and looked at the youngling. At least Soolad thought he was looking at him; for all he knew, the soldier could have had his eyes shut behind that visor.
“Force user?” Calz asked in a gruff and emotionless voice.
“They all are,” replied Pel, as Lig and Janst’orr arrived, “this youngling is Pidluk Lig, and this is Janst’orr Fenakkom.”
Sergeant Calz seemed to take more interest in Janst’orr than the others.
“She is a Nautolan.” It was a statement, not a question.
Janst’orr wanted to pipe up, but she felt voiceless, staring into the dark blue visor of the clone. Pel spoke for her. “Yes, she is.”
“I’ve seen them fight. Skillful warriors, underwater.”
“And on dry land, I think you’ll find,” added Scarp.

During the brief conversation, three more clone troopers had stepped down from the gunship’s running plate, and now stood facing the Jedi and their padawans, their weapons cradled in their arms.
Lig took this opportunity to study the five soldiers before her. They all wore full complements of armor, although there was something different about the Sergeant. Lig suddenly realized that he was wearing phase 1 armor; he looked just like the holo-recording images of the troopers from the Geonosis battle, the start of the Clone Wars. The other four troopers wore phase 2 armor, although two of them had different shaped helmets from the rest. None of them were the color they were supposed to be. Lig had only ever seen the clones wearing white or off-white armor, with the occasional splash of color to designate their division or rank. Aside from one olive green shoulder-piece on the Sergeant, all of them were dark gray, the color of smoke from an oil fire.

One of the other troopers, the one who wore the lightweight uniform of a scout, hefted his long DC-15x onto his shoulder and looked at the Sergeant.
“Five Jedi, Sarge! We hit pay dirt!”
“Stow it, Peko. I consider this lot three and a half.” Calz took a mini-projector from his belt and flipped it open in his palm. Several tiny buildings winked into view and rotated slowly in a red lined hologram.
“No time for socializing – if we’re getting off this dirtball, we’re doing it now.”
Lig looked up at Scarp, bewilderment in her dark eyes.
He looked at her, the twinkle gone from his eyes. “We are leaving, young one.”
The clone troopers moved as one, jumping onto the gunship as the engines powered up. The scout, Peko, fired up Pel’s swoop and steered it into a rear holding bay.
Pel looked at the other two younglings, who stared back at him, equally confused as Lig.
“Listen to us, younglings. Our best chance for survival rests with these men. We have to leave, now.”
“But, Master –“ began Janst’orr.
Calz’s rough tones drifted out from the interior of the gunship. “Today, gentlemen!”
Pel grimaced, and then took Janst’orr by her hand as Scarp scooped up Soolad and Lig, depositing them into the ship, yelling over the roar of the repulsors.
“We’ll explain on the way!”
The brothers leapt in as the gunship began to climb and the door slid shut.

Inside the belly of the black, metal beast, Lig gazed at the soldiers hanging onto webbing on either side of her. A sixth, helmet less, clone sat strapped into his seat, wrapped in bacta bandages, seemingly unconscious. Behind him she could make out the head of the pilot. One of the clones, wearing heavily dented phase 2 armor, leaned in close to her; so close she could see her own frightened eyes in his visor.
“Welcome to the Rang, missy.”
Scarp’s massive hand gently gripped her shoulder, and she heard him whisper in her ear.
“It’s an old language. It means, Ashes.”

Friday, April 13, 2007

The Suns of Solamonn: Chapter One

Slender tendrils of lightning chased each other through the violet clouds of Kiffu, crackling and whispering as they collided and dissipated into the atmosphere. The air at ground level was dry and constantly charged, evident by the fine hairs standing to attention on Scarp's nape. The Jedi Knight ran his massive hand across the back of his neck, flattening the hairs temporarily, and then gazed at the sky, half expecting one of the electrical charges to smite him down like a burst from the fingertips of a Sith Lord.

Despite being slumped upon the fallen column he claimed for a seat, Scarp Hed'n was huge. He was one of the few humans who could rival a wookiee for height and girth, and combined with his armor and robes this made him an imposing figure. Even now as he sat, weary and unfocused, desperately trying to clear his mind so that he might meditate, he looked immovable.
Scarp's long hair hung unbraided and wild, framing his thickset, heavily scarred features. His eyes were tightly closed but, had they been open, their color would have rivaled the arcs of blue energy coursing through the skies above.

He grimaced and tightened his grip on his broadsaber, twisting the pommel into the dusty ground at his feet. His two-handed weapon had not been used for almost a week now, but he never let it out of his grip, even when sleeping, and he relished its support now more than ever.
Scarp shook his head again, trying to dislodge the waves of sorrow that washed over him, but he knew it was to no avail. Like his younger brother, Pel, Scarp was acutely sensitive to ripples in the living force, and the recent acts of utter evil and misery had pummeled him relentlessly for days as he listened to the screams of his betrayed brothers and sisters. It had been eight days since Pel had received a coded message spelling out the actions of the Republic and the details of Order 66, and this explained that single day when both brothers had been crippled by the psychic screams of the Jedi Order. Even now, new, terrified voices added to the mix, and Scarp knew that the survivors of the initial purge were being systematically hunted down. Meditation had never come easily to either brother, and Scarp was starting to believe that he would never know inner peace again.

"Master Hed'n, Master Hed'n! I'm doing it! Look!"
The tiny voice came from behind him, and Scarp opened his eyes, twisting his upper body to gaze at the latest efforts of the youngling.
Dwarfed by the towering ruins of the abandoned lightning harvester they called home, a tiny Togruta girl in Jedi robes kneeled before a dancing collection of levitating rocks. She looked at Scarp, excitement in her jet-black eyes, and the rocks fell to the ground. Her face fell equally fast and she sighed.
"I was doing it, Master Hed'n."
Scarp attempted a smile of encouragement, but it came off feeling like a sneer so he masked it quickly.
"Focus, Lig. Keep your mind on your actions, don't look for approval."
"Sorry, Master."
"And don't apologize to me. Save that for Master Pel, he is the disciplinarian."
"Yes, Master."
"Now, try again, and focus on the rocks until you see nothing but the rocks, feel nothing but the rocks, until you are the very rocks."
"Yes, Master."
Scarp finally managed a smile, then turned away from the aqua-striped youngling and scanned the far ruins.
"Now, where are the other two?"
Pidluk 'Lig' Sha'Ligg pulled herself to her feet and stared in the same direction.
"They are sparring, Master. Out by the wells."
"Thank you, Lig. Strange that I could not sense them."
Scarp threw back his hair, rubbing his temples as he stood, throwing the little Togruta into shadow. Sliding his broadsaber into his back sling, he began to stride towards the collection wells, and Lig gathered up the hem of her robes to scurry along in his wake.

As the knight and padawan reached the sunken levels of the harvester, the unmistakable hum of a training saber reverberated the parched air around them, followed by the short yelp of a child. Scarp rounded a pockmarked wall and leaned against a plasti-steel pillar that thrust seemingly without purpose into the sky. He watched as two children, a male Bith and a female Nautolan, squared off on opposite sides of a dark rimmed sinkhole. Lig sat at Scarp's feet, leaning back as far as she dared to rest upon his shins. She knew this would never have been allowed back at the temple, back when her universe made sense. Her comfort seeped into Scarp's consciousness, muting the swirling troubles echoing in his mind, and calming him, so much so that his breathing became deep and slow.
'She truly is a remarkable healer', he thought to himself, gazing down at her budding horns, a smile creasing the skin around his azure eyes as he noticed her perfect meditative form. Scarp then turned his attention back to the other younglings.

The Nautolan, Janst'orr, twirled a training saber in her left hand and smiled, reminding him for all the galaxy of Master Fisto. Janst'orr's coloration was decidedly darker than Kit's, but this only served to add contrast to her brilliant grin. If it hadn't been for the soothing thoughts of the little Togruta at his feet, Scarp would have surely relapsed into mourning for his lost friend. Suddenly the Bith threw his hands out before his scrawny, black-clad body, and Janst'orr flew back in a flurry of tan robes into a pile of stone flakes, scattering them into the air like razor confetti. She clicked off the training saber and threw her arms across her face to shelter from the inevitable rain of sharp stones, but it never came. Tentatively pushing one head tentacle from her face, she risked her large eyes to gaze at the cloud of stones, which floated above her head as if suspended on Kaleeshan glass threads.

"Very good, young Soolad." Scarp acknowledged the young Bith's skill with a trio of slow handclaps. "Now, allow Jan to regain her footing."
"Yes, Master Hed'n." The padawan nodded his bulbous head as he motioned with his hands in the air, drawing the shards of stone away from Janst'orr and allowing them to fall harmlessly down the collection well.
Scarp was impressed. He gently pushed Lig forward as he walked over to Janst'orr who was picking herself up sheepishly. Soolad walked around the well's perimeter to join him as he reached the little Nautolan.
"Your control has developed well, Soolad. You have a mightier force push than any youngling I have ever known."
Janst'orr shot Soolad a curt glance, and then craned her head to look at her master.
"It's not fair when he pushes me over like that."
Scarp immediately forgave her outburst, knowing full well that Pel would never allow a youngling to speak to him in such a manner.
"It is perfectly fair, youngling," he gently chided, "you held the weapon, Soolad merely held his ground."
The Bith approximated a grin beneath his cheek folds and winked one saucer-like eye at the fuming Nautolan.
"Shoulda let me use the saber, Jan."
Janst'orr bit and took a step toward him, her tapered fingers toying with the buttons on the saber's hilt.
"Master Hed'n gave it to me, Sooly."
"And for a very good reason, Jan," interrupted Scarp before the younglings could begin scrapping, "you have certainly proven yourself to be the blade master of our little class, might I ask where you picked up that flourish?"
"You mean this?" Janst'orr flicked on the saber, twirling its bright blue blade dangerously close to Soolad's face before shutting the weapon off. "I'm practicing Ataru. Master Yoda always let me..."
"Form four is a little advanced for a youngling," Scarp said, cutting her off, "I would prefer that you practice what I have shown you."
"But I've done that, Master."
Scarp cocked one eyebrow and fixed her with a hard stare; a stare known to whither wroshyr saplings. "Really?"
Two large pieces of sponge stone, hard enough to bruise, suddenly flew from the ground and seemed destined to connect with Janst'orr's chest. In a blur the blue blade simultaneously flashed on and cut through both missiles, repeatedly.
Janst'orr snapped off the saber and returned it to her belt.
Scarp poked at the pieces of sponge stone on the ground with the toe of his boot.
"Hmm, eight pieces. Master Yoda would be impressed."

Suddenly Lig snapped her head to one side and cocked it as if listening to a faint tune.
Scarp looked at her, and then realized whom she was sensing. He smiled as Lig and the other younglings ran to the edge of the ruins to watch a small dust cloud grow ever closer to their location.
“Master Pel is returning!” Soolad climbed onto a fallen column for a better view.
“Perhaps he brings food!” exclaimed Janst’orr, jumping onto Soolad’s perch and jostling him for the prime spot.
Scarp reached out with the force and probed his brother’s thoughts, but was surprised to find that Pel had clouded them. Try as he might, Scarp could not penetrate the swirling shroud that Pel had created, and the first tiny warning tingles began to dance on his scalp.
“Younglings, get back to the center of the structure.”
“But why…” Soolad began, however he was cut off by Scarp’s sharp rebuff.
“Obey me, youngling!”
Shocked, the little Bith slowly started to climb down, followed by Janst’orr.

Lig, however, had not moved. She pointed one tapered finger in the direction of Pel Hed’n. “There’s something behind him.”
The other two younglings paused and looked in the direction she was pointing. Scarp squinted as he looked past his brother’s rapidly approaching swoop, then his face fell in alarm as he recognized the unmistakably bulbous silhouette of the object in the sky behind him.
In an instant he had unsheathed his broadsaber and snapped it on, its red and blue twin blades combining to create a violet swath of energy. “Get behind me!” he yelled.
“What is that thing?” asked Soolad from behind Scarp’s leg.
Scarp narrowed his eyes and called on the force for strength.
“That, Soolad, is a Republic gunship.”