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Star Wars: The New Sith Empire - Episode 2b: It is Time...


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The ancient stone chamber was shaped like a giant cog laying flat on its side. Within each of the cogs ‘teeth’ rested a throne and upon those thrones sat carved warriors of old; ancient warriors, powerful warriors, warriors who had earned their immortality in stone through blood, fire, and sacrifice, ever immortal, ever vigilant.

This day their gaze fell upon warriors just like them. The hum of lightsabers echoed within the chamber as the static clash of parry and dodge impressed the unmoving spectators. Blue struck green in a vibrant lightshow of spins and acrobatics that defied conventional laws of physics. The warriors, one male and one female moved quietly as they crossed one foot over the other in a quiet dance that slowly led them in a circle, waiting for their opponent to strike.

The man was tall and slender to the point of being gaunt, but moved with the type of agile grace that a Twi'Lek dancer would kill to acquire and he kept his dark hair pulled back in a pony tail. Each of his attacks was like the striking of a snake, swift, deadly and accurate.

The woman was bronze skinned with a calm demeanor and unshakeable resolve. For every attack he launched she was ready to deflect it but the stale mate of their conflict was getting them nowhere.

He launched an attack and she parried it with ease. Taking advantage of the opportunity he spun around behind her and elbowed her in the spine, staggering her forward and off balance. He swung bout bringing his blue saber in a high arc and just as she spun about to face him, still staggering, she had her emerald blade there to parry it. With her arms high to parry the attack she had no defenses for the foot that found it’s way to her chest. Again she staggered back several steps as her opponent used the kick to launch himself into a backward flip.

He didn’t pause. The moment he landed he dashed and leapt at her, seizing the moment. He smirked as he landed, as she swiftly slid to the side, calling on the force she centered on herself pulled herself swiftly to the side, safely away from his strike and buying herself enough time to regain her footing.

“That’s cheating.” He grinned and said calmly.

She smirked back while raising her green lightsaber up in a dueling stance. “There is no ‘cheating’, there is only improvisation.” Her eyes glossed over and the focus she possessed grew even more intense as the Force flowed through her offering her keen fighting abilities that border lined on precognition.

They were a perfect fighting duo, one covered the weaknesses of the other and when they sparred like this it offered them the opportunity to test their ever-growing abilities against their weaknesses, namely, each other.

“Round two then?” He smiled with a sweeping bow, knowing that her impressive defense just got even more difficult to breech.

“Bring it.” She replied, knowing that now he’d pullout all the stops and quit toying with her, making his acrobatic attacks even more difficult to defend against.

Silently the warriors of old gazed upon the warriors of today. Round two had begun and thus far the spectators were pleased with the performance…

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Have at it for a few posts you two. No rolls, just free form, have fun.
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The tall, gaunt male studied his human partner, black gaze reflecting the blue-green light of both of their sabers. On the pale skin of his face framing the obsidian shards of his eyes, alien markings glowed with a soft electric blue light as he, too, drew on his inner focus and let himself become one with the Force, feeling it's energies moving around and through him, his opponent, and their surroundings. The present, future and past merged into an endless Now, and the male, orphaned member of a warrior race known as the Nagai, took a two-handed grip on his lightsaber and raised it above his head, leaving his midsection entirely unguarded as he twirled the energy blade once in a slow, taunting flourish. The woman was not fooled, did not move to take advantage of the apparent showboating, her lips tightning in a thin smile as she felt the immediate futures coming to a point as sharp as the spaces between atoms. Playtime was over.

The male nodded once, a salute to his partner, and attacked. Up-left to down-right, then spinning the blade and reversing it's course with deadly speed that would have dismembered an unwary assailant. Halfway through the return stroke the blade changed course again in a zig-zag pattern that left afterimages in the still air, striking first at the left wrist, then at the right shoulder. The woman blocked steadily, her bronze skin gleaming in the moving light of the sabers, her focus never wavering from the ever-changing Now. The challenge was considerable, for there was the urge to predict further ahead, to try and second-guess the Nagai's strategy. But the woman knew her partner, knew the perfect edge of formless, patternless strategy he spent endless meditative practice sessions on attaining. Whilst gifted enough in other areas, it was the single-minded focus of his saber-practice, his devotion to the art and science of combat - these things were how her partner expressed his oneness with the Force.

Minds as well as bodies were locked in this struggle, each move playing out into the next as though the dance had been rehearsed. In a sense it had - they had sparred many times - but each dance was new, every time the steps were different. He relished this, enjoyed the contest for the sake of the contest alone. There were few among the other apprentices that could hold him at bay for any length of time, and none like his partner. Her defence was a solid core of practical, economical maneuvers that took him time to find his way through. But let him slip up, let him become too focused on attack, and she would take advantage of it with the calm ruthlessness of a holochess player putting their opponent into check.

He kept his moves fluid, ever-changing as he whirled around her, trying to shift her balance onto one foot or the other. The hum and crackle of their sabers was a constant sound, rising and falling with rhythmless cadences. He spun left, swinging the saber one-handed in a spinning whirl towards her knees. The woman blocked, launching herself forward in a shoulder charge that was a feint, causing her lithe opponent to roll back in a crouch, saber raised to take advantage of the non-existent opening. If there was any annoyance at having been faked out he didn't show it, instead coming fully up with an aggressive sidelong attack that looped high over the block, forcing the woman to bend backwards, her feet backpedalling frantically to keep under her torso as she wove her saber through a tight defensive pattern.

For a moment the two paused, reestablishing their fighting equilibrium as they looked across the sparring floor at one another.

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The seemingly-chaotic dance of the young Nagai was, Shaya knew, as deadly as it was beautiful, as dangerous as it was compelling to watch. He had spent long hours over the years devoted to honing his art, and it could be called nothing else. She marveled, as a bead of sweat tickled the back of her neck in the brief silence, that his skill would only continue to grow with time.

"Form from formlessness," she said quietly, apropos of nothing, and with the same undertone of admiration her voice always held when they tested each other thus. "I don't envy the poor son of a mynock who opposes you in earnest."

Slowly, the tip of her saber shifted to the side as she altered her grip on the hilt. For the briefest of moments, it was a purely defensive posture, but the virtues of the sands do not count immovability among their number. As she darted forward, he dashed in to meet her, and the low, rolling sweep at his ankles met only emptiness as he vaulted into a somersault over her head, twisting to bring the bright blue blade arcing by her shoulder.

His earlier attacks seemed languid as a barrage of dazzling feints and strikes left the human apprentice gritting her teeth. To her credit, she had already learned the uselessness of watching his blade, but his obsidian eyes rarely offered more than a flicker of insight into his next move, and never beyond. Simply remaining present in the fight was a test in itself, and even knowing how he did it didn't make it easier to endure.

But, endure she must, and so endure she did.

She couldn't hope to match his speed as a flurry of attacks from what seemed to be every direction hummed past, setting her back-stepping along the outer edge of the wheel. Each block, each parry and twisting dodge was, for her, a calculated risk, a pawn sacrificed to strengthen her position on the board.

Shaya lunged, and Dar'Krin swayed backward, bending like a reed in the wind until the emerald tip of her saber glowed inches from his nose. In the space of a heartbeat, she pivoted, crouching low and bringing her foot sweeping under him; he was off-balance, and thus vulnerable, but she was a half-second too slow. By the time she'd begun moving, the Nagai was already leaping backward onto one hand, his saber deactivating for the briefest of instants as his momentum carried him, twisting, through the air to land on his feet again. In spite of herself, the patient apprentice grinned, bringing her free hand up just as he reached the apex of the handspring.

Implausibly, Dar'Krin found himself sailing backward as a concussive wave of Force energy caught him in mid-air, leaving him sliding across the smooth floor as his opponent offered a brief flourish of her fingers, granting him a moment's pause to recover.

"Improvisation," she said simply.

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Dar'Krin rolled smoothly to his feet before rubbing his posterior theatrically. Shayadri chuckled softly, which caused the lean warrior to raise one elegant eyebrow and smile in his slyly playful way at her.

"Improvisation." he echoed in that oh-so-mellifluous voice, the tone and cadence of which lent a flirtatious come-hither mood to practically anything he said, whether it was pointers on lightsaber technique or complimenting her hair. "It was well done." he said earnestly with a fluid bow, still smiling as he straightened. Attuned to the Force, Shayadri could feel him drawing it tightly around himself, creating a barrier to ward off further Force attacks she might throw at him. She'd helped him master that centering and hardening of one's personal Force, the invisible shield that would help stave off what the saber could not. Dar'Krin raised his saber again, and Shayadri did likewise, prompting him to smile again.

"Improvisation." he said again, and attacked with a slow series of strikes. Up, down, left, left, right, down, up, right... Shayadri picked them off on the outer ring of her defensive sphere, not giving ground but simply moving to keep her defenses aligned towards Dar as he slow-waltzed around her. "Improvisation is the handmaiden of Lady Adaptation, who both heralds her coming and carries her train." he continued conversationally, his focus tightening as his attacks sped up, becoming faster but still, for Dar, basic maneuvers. Shayadri essayed her own counters which Dar'Krin parried in turn, the sabers flickering back and forth like the tongues of Devaronian Hornsnakes now as he built the rhythm of the dance.

"Oh no you don't." Shayadri told him in a low, intent tone, all too familiar with where this was going. He would build and build the speed of his strikes, boxing her in until finally she would end up with his saber barely brushing her hair or clothing. She had to break this rhythm, force the music of their energy blades to a lower tempo. She went with a wide left-to-right sweep and followed along behind her saber as Dar'Krin cartwheeled over the green blade, sending herself into a forward somersault and roll to put distance between them. He'd have to close again and start to build the tempo once mo-

Her saber came up guided by the Force and barely knocked away the blue-white blade that had hissed towards her before she'd even finished standing and turning around. She spun on one knee, realising that Dar'Krin had followed her through the move and had barely lost any rhythm at all in the doing. She kicked out with her free leg for his ankles, only to see the Nagai leap into a high twisting somersault even as his lightsaber knocked her emerald blade wide and clear, his dark ponytail level with her eyes as he looked down into her face and smiled merrily...

And then he was behind her, the tip of his saber a bare inch from the side of her neck as she started to turn. Shayadri sighed, smiling a little as she shut off her saber. Dar'Krin did likewise, then offered her his hand.

"Improvisation inspires further improvisation. Your success strengthens me." he told her with a broad smile. "Your saber technique still needs work, though." he added clinically. "Who else among the apprentices have you been practicing with? I spotted some Foldro in your wrist work. He blocks like a bantha." He grinned at his lovely partner, hand still outstretched as he hooked his saber onto his belt.

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"He does, doesn't he?" she smirked good-naturedly, clasping Dar'Krin's wrist as he helped her regain her feet. "Askar, now and again, and Marit, when I can pull her from the archive. Neither can push me quite so hard as you do, though." Again, there was a note of admiration in her voice as she rubbed her sweat-damp forehead with the back of her arm and glanced appreciatively around the chamber. When she'd been younger, she'd been a little afraid of the stoic figures gazing down on her, but these days she'd simply begun wondering what stories they could tell, what they'd seen, what she could learn...

Her companion cleared his throat, and the flush of exertion that suffused her skin deepened slightly.

"My apologies," the young woman offered with a somewhat rueful smile. "I was drifting again, wasn't I? It's probably nearly time for a cup of tea, then, if you'd like to join me."

The two clicked their sabers onto their belts, walking in companionable silence through the tall, narrow door that hissed open in one of the cog's "teeth." Their strides fell into the same easy rhythm as they moved through the hallways, traversing the labyrinthine paths that, once, had been meant to muddle the movements of intruders. Now, they were used as a metaphor in a multitude of lectures on the tangled nature of destiny or the mazes of the mind... and as an intricate playground for mischievous young apprentices. The bright-eyed young human smiled fondly at the remembrance of her own days running through these corridors with the others as they plotted ambushes in "war" games with elaborate, draconian rules that changed with the players. Had it really been that long ago?

Shaya rounded the corner and brushed her fingers through the dark fringe across her brow just as the first tentative wave of dizziness hit; she'd almost waited too long today. To distract herself as they made their way to the common room, she began silently counting the number of steps she took, and made an effort at idle conversation.

"We haven't had the chance to train together often lately. How have you been keeping yourself?"

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"I secluded myself." Dar smiled as paced alongside her. He'd noticed her waver as they rounded the corner, and kept a lightly concerned eye on Shaya as they made their way. "I came across a fascinating set of exercises in some of the old datapads. They were written around the time of the Emergence, but the author claimed that they were copies of older texts that predated the First Galactic Empire." His dark eyes shone, and the Nagai's wonderfully melodic voice was filled with the deep passion he had for his art and all things related to it. Shayadri had to smile - he'd not always been this animated. When first he'd come to join them as a child, newly orphaned in the perpetual wars that ravaged his homeworld, Dar'Krin had been withdrawn, solitary and quiet. That had changed the first day he'd been handed a training saber. The snap-hiss of the blade's ignition under his thumb had kindled an equal brightness in his eyes and mind, and the first clumsy steps as he'd begun to learn the Shii-cho form had been as the first steps of a newborn plainsrunner before it broke into a fast canter.

"They're Jedi exercises called Cadences." he explained as they entered the common room, moving together to make a pot of tea. "They use wax cylinders about so big-" he measured roughly a foot with his hands "-with slight depressions at the top, into which you place a ball-bearing. The first step of the first Cadence requires one to draw and strike with the saber, vaporising the ballbearing but without scarring the wax." They moved to sit at a low table, relaxing on the cushions across from one another.

"Once you can do that, you place two such cylinders, each one 10 degrees either side of straight ahead. Even this part has a lesson contained, because the ultimate aim is to place the cylinders precisely, without use of tools - thank you." he smiled as Shaya poured the tea, waiting for his own to cool as he continued his explanation. "Again, you must draw and strike twice, in flowing motions, without harming the cylinders. Then with three, again spacing them at 10 degree angles, then four, and so on until you have nineteen cylinders arranged in a 180 degree forward arc." He motioned with his arms.

"The end objective of the First Cadence is to be able to strike all 19 ball bearings precisely, alternating the order from left to right, or starting at both ends and working inwards, or even randomly." Dar'Krin grinned like a boy regarding a particularly challenging tree to climb. "When the swordsman can do it two-handed, left-handed, right-handed, and blindfolded - then and only then can they advance to the Second Cadence. It's hard, but I'm making progress."

"And how many Cadences are there?" Shaya asked, eyes wide as she sipped her tea. Dar shook his head in disbelief.

"Five." he said in a quietly awed tone. "Supposedly only the best swordsmen, true masters of the saber and the Force, could master the last Cadence." Both of them reflected on that for a long moment, drinking slowly from their cups.

"So what about you?" Dar'Krin asked with a smile, setting his cup down. "Other than picking up bad blocking habits that I'll have to break you of, that is." he teased gently.

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  • 2 weeks later...

As she considered the question, Shaya idly stirred her tea, plucking the slim, aromatic black stick from the cooling liquid and resting it on a small saucer nearby. A shadow momentarily darkened the vivid hue of her eyes, and her lids fluttered closed. Dar had only to wait for a few moments before they lifted again, and she offered him a faintly apologetic smile as the sensation of vertigo passed.

Feeling somewhat steadier, the dark-haired young apprentice shifted on her cushion to settle comfortably back on her heels.

"More tests," she said evenly, and the Nagai nodded in patient understanding. "Progress is slow, but they keep reminding me that any forward movement is a good thing. Perhaps, within another year or two, it will no longer be an issue." The smile that followed was genuine, and warm enough, if somewhat slow to form. "Otherwise, I've been trapped in the archive, languishing amongst the records of treaties and incursions." The young woman's smile broadened slightly, her lips quirking upward impishly at the corners.

"I somehow doubt that 'languishing' is the correct term, in this case," her companion observed wryly. "I'm more inclined to believe you were holding our poor, beleaguered archivist hostage until he agreed to let you hear those Anzati recordings they retrieved."

"Hmph!" she snorted in mock-indignation. "I was languishing, just pining for some strapping young Zabrak to lead me starry-eyed from the dusty halls of archaic lore and into the bright sunlight of worldly knowledge." Dar's only response was an arched eyebrow, but it spoke volumes about his skepticism. Finally, she relented, and what had been a moderately mischievous smile broke into a full grin. "My room mate has spent the last few days regaling me with tales of the love letters she found, tucked away and encrypted, in some of the older records. Apparently, one of the previous archivists had a Zabrak, ah, companion, and they would meet at the colony from time to time, when their duties allowed it. He was part of a security detail on a trade vessel, though she never mentions which one. Yaritza thinks it's all terribly romantic, particularly since they could never truly be together." Shrugging as her smile faded by degrees, Shaya took another bracing sip of tea and sighed contentedly at the soothing warmth that spread through her.

"Admittedly, I'm perhaps not the best candidate for conversations about star-crossed lovers, temptation, and clandestine twilight meetings, but it does break up the monotony somewhat. Especially," she added with another hint of mischief as she raised her cup to her lips, "if she happened to mention a certain Nagai."

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"I was wondering which strapping young Zabrak you might be referring to for a moment." Dar'Krin observed in his mellifluous tones, sipping his own tea. "The only Zabrak here is Mistress Kordelli, and I was trying to picture her as a strapping young Zabrak." He grinned as he mentioned the elderly woman, strong in the Force but apparently frail until one looked in her eyes. "I confess, some things are beyond even the Force to encapsulate-"

He paused as Shaya's last words sank in. Did she mean that she would find the romantic stories more interesting had they featured him? Or that Yaritza had mentioned him in connection with the tales. The girls talked about him? Within the flashing blue walls of his saber's dance the young warrior was alert and attentive to all things, exhibiting prodigious talent worthy of being called genius. But his dedication and endless practice when other duties allowed meant that the Nagai spent little time socialising other than at mealtimes or similar gatherings, and though he swiftly formed a keen understanding of a person's personality as it related to combat, other cues tended to pass under his radar.

"So..." he said slowly, affecting deliberate casualness of manner. "Does a certain Nagai often come up in conversation between you and Yaritza?"

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"Mmm," she replied with all the eloquence allowed to a young woman with a mouthful of warm, fragrant tea, and nodded as she swallowed. "From time to time, yes." Her turquoise eyes were guileless beneath her lashes as she smiled across the table at him. "I'm a little surprised that you hadn't noticed already." Tilting her head slightly, she appraised the young warrior's striking tattoos and angular features with quietly reserved admiration. He'd seen that same expression before, when she'd watched him practice his forms, and wondered with a creeping sense of unease if it suddenly meant something else altogether. Within the current context of the conversation, that was beginning to seem more plausible with each passing moment.

"You and I have known each other for so long, it seems fairly natural." She shrugged again, very slightly, and turned the warm cup in her hands. "There's very little I don't know about you, after all. Your company is enjoyable, you are physically quite attractive, and you have many fine qualities. I don't believe a certain fondness for you is unreasonable, all things considered. Your skill and dedication alone have earned you a considerable degree of respect and admiration from many." Again, she smiled at her companion before lifting the cup once more to her lips and taking another long, slow sip.

Inwardly, the bronze-skinned young woman allowed herself a mental chuckle, staving off the hint of guilt that arose from tormenting him. It was, after all, purely in jest; while he could undoubtedly best her in physical combat, social warfare was another matter altogether.

"Tell me, Dar'Krin. What are your thoughts on the matter?"

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"Ahh..." Dar'Krin was flustered, there was no other word for it. Shaya was probably the closest friend he had out of all the apprentices. They'd grown up together, some common chord drawing them to find each other's company ideal. From childhood they'd been a perfect team in games and exercises both. Whilst he was probably the most skilled of the apprentices with the saber, in the team sparring bouts there was none whose dance better complemented his own.

And she was lovely, too. He'd appreciated that in an abstract fashion before, admiring her growth from coltish skinny girl to beautiful woman. Now his black eyes studied the bronzed face across from him with fresh appraisal. They were very close... but that close? He'd had no idea. And yet... And yet the thought wasn't repellent. Simply unexpected.

Shayadri was still watching him with her startling eyes bright over the rim of her cup. Dar realised that in this, as with everything, honesty was probably best.

"I'm flattered." he said slowly, a faint tilt to his head as he smiled. "Really. I had no idea that... That is, we are close, are we not?" Nagai didn't blush, but if they could Dar'Krin would have been. "I honestly hadn't thought of you in that way - Not that I couldn't, mind!" he added hastily. "You're a fine friend, none finer could exist. You've been tirelessly patient with me when I had difficulties studying the, ah, less physical subjects. I would not be where I am today if you hadn't shown me how much can be learned from proper study. And you're very beautiful, of course..." he trailed off, looking somewhere between flustered and lost as he gazed into her eyes.

"I'd just never thought of such things." he said, looking down at the cup in his hands a trifle forlornly. "I've been blind to it. I'm sorry, Shayadri."

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The conversation hadn't quite gone as Shaya had intended; she'd only thought to tease him a bit with Yari's infatuation, reveal her hand, and then they'd laugh and move on as they always did. It was Shaya's turn to blush, as she was more than capable of doing so, and a roseate flush bloomed beneath the bronze of her skin as their eyes met. She'd had no idea he would have considered her... No, she hadn't meant for him to look at her like that at all. Still, a tiny part of her wondered...

"No, no, you shouldn't apologize," she countered firmly, cutting off the line of her own thoughts. "I should have been more careful with my choice of words." It suddenly occurred to her that, clever as he was, he might simply be playing along in an effort to leave her off-balance. Curiosity got the better of her, and she resolved to change tactics. "I am the one who is flattered, that you would think so highly of me," she conceded with a gentle smile, all the warmer for its sincerity, and briefly bowed her head in acknowledgment of the compliments. "You honor me, even in my carelessness. I meant only that it was natural for Yaritza to seek me out, to speak of you, given our familiarity. You are a true friend, indeed, to speak so kindly of an old woman like me." Her bright eyes sparkled with good humor at the long-standing joke; despite only a few months' difference in their age, that difference had long been a source of good-natured teasing. "But I wouldn't do either of you the disservice of trying to insinuate myself into your, ah," she hesitated, searching for the proper phrase. "Good graces. She simply hasn't gathered up the courage to tell you herself."

Reaching across the table, she rested her hand on his forearm and, still smiling, shook her head. "You give me far too much credit, my friend."

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"Oh. OH." Relief flooded Dar'Krin's face and voice. "I see now." He clasped the hand resting on his forearm with his free one, chuckling as the tension left his lanky frame. "I am doubly the fool then, it seems." he smiled and shook his head, a sly grin crossing his features. "I should have known that you were more sensible than to fall to such distractions, old crone." With a wink and melodic laugh, he patted her hand companionably and picked up his tea cup, quashing the very faint pang of... something that came and went like a minnow flickering under the water. He didn't follow that feeling, didn't act on the impulse to argue her point about giving her too much credit. He prefered to leave the door safely re-closed. It made things simpler.

"So Yaritza, hmm?" he asked with a raised eyebrow. "Well, I had no idea. Perhaps I should spend less time in monastic seclusion and more time in the stuffy archives." he suggested with a good-humored grin.

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  • 4 weeks later...

"Mmmhhh," Shayadri agreed around a mouthful of tea, swallowing as she nodded. "You might upgrade your social status slightly, from 'recluse' to 'hermit,'" she teased gently, the corners of her eyes crinkling. "She's been making lots of inquiries about you, at least recently. Although," the young woman added thoughtfully, "looking back, I suppose she's actually been mentioning you obliquely for quite a while, now... Ah, asking if I'd spoken to you, how you've been keeping yourself, your preferences in food and entertainment, that sort of thing."

Reluctantly, she took the last sip from her cup, closing her eyes for a brief moment as it warmed her from the inside, smoothing over the rough edges in her mind.

"Do you..." she hesitated, blinking curiously up at her companion as a tiny crease appeared between her brows. "Do you think that sort of relationship is a distraction? I mean," she added quickly, "I know there's no rule against it, and that we're encouraged to express ourselves, but when do you think it's appropriate? Once apprenticeship ends, and we're not focused quite so seriously on training, or later than that? Or," the dark-haired girl pursed her lips as her brows arched speculatively, "even earlier than that? It could simply depend on the people involved, I suppose... But it does seem to take up a lot of time and attention." There was a brief pause, in which she realized, in the context of their previous conversation, how that might be interpreted. Her colour deepened and she rushed to add, "Yaritza's, I mean."

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"Of course." Dar'Krin said smoothly, his rich voice carrying a tone of teasing amusement that gave the lie to his wide-eyed ingenuousness. "That is whom we were talking of, wasn't it?"

"Yes." Shayadri asserted firmly, her blush deepening further even as the corners of her mouth crooked in a grin. "Definitely." Dar laughed and relented, his smile matching hers as he sipped his tea. The silence was companionable for a few moments.

"I think such relationships are appropriate as long as they strengthen both parties." the Nagai warrior said reflectively as his black eyes contemplated the steaming liquid in his cup. He rolled the vessel between slender fingers, studying the swirl of the tea as though it contained answers. "If the relationship proves to be a detriment, not so much in time and attention, but emotionally, then I would say it is unhealthy and the parties involved should examine that." He raised his onyx gaze to her.

"I certainly think that apprentices, though they should bond, should concentrate on their training first. The Echani philosophy clearly states that we come to know ourselves and each other through combat. The dance teaches us of our opponent who, whilst we are apprentices together, is also our friend." He smiled at her warmly. "One should certainly be unwise to develop feelings for someone they know nothing about."

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The door to the small slid open with a hiss followed by the heavy foot falls. A dark figure approached, his face concealed by a reflective visor that eerily resembled the head of a mantis. His armor was a deep red, almost brown, and bore the look of several years of use judging by the scraped and mars on its surface.

"It is time." Came a modulated voice. "The Saarai-kaar summons you. You are to be granted an audience, immediately."

It took Dar'Krin and Shayadri nearly a moment to compose themselves. While talented within their ranks, they were still nobodies in the grand mix of the politics and prestige within their order. No one was granted an audience with the Saarai-kaar and neither could remember the last time he personally demanded others to stand before him... unless they were in trouble, serious trouble.

The walk down the corridors was silent one, the armored man simply led them on and occasionally looked over his shoulder to assure himself they were still there. The Apprentices were quite familiar with the compound, but where they were going was a chamber they were forbidden to enter. Once there two massive granite doors a full eighteen feet tall with ancient carving and designs all over their surface. The man waited patiently, saying nothing.

Stone ground upon stone. The doors moved backward sliding until they finally each slid opposite the other. Shayadri noticed first, then Dar'Krin that there were no mechanical components to this door, those were solid granite blocks and they were being moved with nothing but the power of the Force! There was no hesitation in the way they slid, the movement was constant, focused and fluid. One block would have been a task for a master of the Force, but two at once?!

The chamber beyond was a bleak and dark place that felt more like a tomb than a room in which to conduct a meeting. The man motioned for them to enter and followed in behind them. There was no light save for a spot on the floor where the man led them to and stepped away. One by one in a half circle strating directly in front of them and moving out in unison in both directions light activated and shone down upon a man or woman sitting above them. The Saarai-kaar was in the middle and to each side of him were the eight members of his council.

The Saarai-kaar possessed no name, having sacrificed it when he adopted the title nearly a century ago. His face was obscured by an overly large hood, and under that was the visor to a helmet some say he'd not removed since he put it on ages ago. "Be at ease, young apprentices." His voice boomed through the dark, hollow chamber.

"Long have we watched over this galaxy. Long have we maintained the balance until the Sith arrived in force a decimated the stars." He was in moving, like a golem. "The rate at which their power grew is most unnatural. A new, 'rebellion'," They could each detect the hint of sarcasm in his tone at the mention of the rag-tag nobles with blasters calling themselves a rebellion. "Has formed in the Outer Rim territories. You have been chosen as the best and the brightest of our future to complete two tasks. First, assess the merit of this rebellion. We've too many plans in motion for them to get in our way. Report this to us and if they are deemed unnecessary in the battled ahead, we will deal with them as we move on the Sith."

"Second. The Sith must have a Dark Side Nexus of incredible power under their control. Find it, and report its location to us." There was a moment of silence and the Saarai-kaar lifted his head slightly, as if to gaze off into nowhere for a moment. "Begin your search on the planet Ryloth. Be there in the five days time. 21º 18' North, 157º 51' West."

Dutifully the two apprentices simply nodded and exited the chamber, they made it several steps when they were given one last instruction. "And bring a needle and thread."

The granite blocks slid back into place, sealing the chamber once more. The man who had led them here stood in the center of the hall and simply nodded politely at them as they collected their thoughts...

Click to reveal..
I was intentionally vague on why you two had been chosen and the Saarai-kaar is not really the question and answer kind of guy.

You will be provided a ship for this trip. It won't be much, but it'll get you there.

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  • 3 weeks later...

Although she remained superficially composed, it was evident to Dar'Krin from years of familiarity that Shaya was deeply shaken by their experience with the Saarai-kaar. Not only had their summoning been completely unexpected, they'd been issued personal directives. Apprentices. Her fingers laced and unlaced themselves in a very elegant form of hand-wringing, and her luminous eyes had taken on a glassy, distant quality; both were tell-tale signs of intense inner disquiet in the normally calm young woman.

Why had they been chosen to stand before the Saarai-kaar? They were clever, certainly, and skilled within their own ranks; that she could admit with neither smugness nor excessive pride. They were also apprentices, hardly suited to tasks of such magnitude and import when experienced defenders would eagerly have gone in their stead. Surely, there must be some plan, some design being drawn forth, but what was it? It only made sense in the context of a test of some sort, but their leader never involved himself in such trivial affairs as the examinations of apprentices. Even if it were true, what were the standards for success or failure, and how were they to be judged?

"And," she hesitated, her brow furrowing with incomprehension as she asked aloud the question that weighed most heavily on her mind, "what possible use could we have for a needle and thread?"

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  • 2 weeks later...

"Sewing something up?" Dar'Krin suggested deadpan, a sparkle in his black eyes. Shaya looked askance at him, and the slender Nagai shrugged. "We could stand here guessing, or we could simply pack the needle and thread and embark on our assignment." He smiled broadly. "Our first assignment. We've been entrusted, you and I. Don't tell me you don't feel honored by the Saarai-kaar's trust?"

"Concerned, more like." she shot back, a small smile playing around her lips as she sighed. "But you're right. We should pack - not forgetting the needle and thread. Ryloth..." She glanced at the large doors behind her and shrugged. "A desert world. Bear that in mind, my friend."

"I certainly shall." Dar'Krin said with a flourishing bow before he spun and strode off towards his quarters, excitement obvious in his gait. Action. Adventure. At last!

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